Skir was ready when the door opened. Two guards entered first, spreading out to flank the door. They did look up, even right at her perch in the rafters of the long hall, but neither noticed an extra shadow. They resumed advancing, and their lord followed, a badger Imperial eating a fruited muffin. He was decked thick in the furs of at least three people, likely hiding armor underneath. Behind him, two more guards followed, in turn looking at her without seeing her.

As the group drew closer, the guard pairs drawing closer together each time they passed between floor sconces, an unexpected scent puffed up to her. She kept her breathing slow and even. Something herbal, somewhere between citrus and almond and willow, something with a good bite in any strength, but just a hint now…

When she recognized it, she had to resist the urge to laugh. The hawk tribe called it "roughwort", and sold it as a medicine. The mink tribe called it "skunk's pitcher fang", and Skir had bought it several times for use as a poison. Its scent was coming in puffs from the lord's breath, which indicated someone had poisoned the muffin using a dose like the hawks would rub on their beaks. A sixteenth of that would kill any mammal.

Her target wasn't long for this world… but there was the matter of claiming responsibility. Unfortunately, that meant she only had to do the hardest part of her job. She readied two caltrops with her right hand, her left hand on the hilt of her sword.

Rather than drop in the middle of the group, she waited a bit longer and dropped behind the rear guards. Her long spine compressed with her landing, then sprung to drive her sword up under the chain hauberk of one of the guards, carving a savage furrow across spine and ribs.

That gave the lord time to react. The two lead guards were trying to pull him down, the remaining rear guard was moving to get between him and Skir, but the lord was idiot enough to turn to look. She flung the caltrops at his face, angled just right, and they struck home - one lodging in the muffin, the other drawing blood from his face. The Empire had legends of tribespeople using small thrown blades as a vehicle for poison, let them think her caltrops had delivered the poison.

She pulled her sword back, standing rather than retreating clumsily, and she blocked the rear guard's sword with the flat of her own. Blocked, rather than parried, so she could store his muscle power in her spine…

At the bottom of her compression, she turned her sword to release his, and she leaped — instead of driving that force into a bulky guard, using it to spring halfway across the room. He stopped to bellow after her, as she was ducking through the door, but she was glad she ducked as two pistol shots whizzed through where her head had been moments before.

Kystarin Liata Skirliatorin Scirocco