A Rock And A Hard Place Chapter 21
“Again?” I asked in exasperation.
That was probably not the smartest or best or most common reaction when faced with an assassin, but seriously. Interrupting my bath again? Rude.
The assassin didn’t reply. He shot forward toward me, knifes at the ready, and I jumped up in the tub, fists up. The moment he was close enough I started throwing punches. One of the knives caught my left arm and the other the back of my right hand.
I growled low in my throat and leapt at my attacker. He wasn’t expecting that and we tumbled to the ground with me on top. I pinned his wrists down so he couldn’t slash at me or use whatever technique he had used to drop Aaron the first time. He tried to throw me off, but I was determined not to go anywhere.
Suddenly, his head flew up and he butted me hard, making me see stars and loosen my grip for a moment. He took advantage of it and threw me off, quickly following me, knives aimed at my chest and throat. I caught his nearest knife in my hand and held on as it cut deeply into my left palm, punching him solidly in the side of the head hard enough to send him back a pace. I held onto the blade and yanked it from his grasp as he went back a step. Quickly, I flipped the knife to my right hand and went after him.
We each grabbed the wrist of the other that was holding the knife and grappled. He was stronger than me and I began losing ground.
Just then, Aaron burst in, breaking the assassin’s concentration and I took advantage of the moment, dropping to the ground and sweeping the man’s feet out from under him. Swiftly, I climbed on the assassin’s back and pressed my knife to his throat. He froze under me and I sat there for a moment, getting my breath back.
“Throw your knife to the side,” I growled when I could speak.
He did and it slid to the far side of the bathroom, thunking softly against the wall.
“Now hands on your head.”
The assassin complied and I felt cloth touch my shoulders and cover my back. Glancing up I saw that Aaron, red with embarrassment, had put my robe on my shoulders and was looking away.
“Thanks. Will you bind him, please?”
“Gladly,” said the MAGI, probably grateful for something to do.
I heard him begin a chant and watched, still sitting on the assassin, as the man’s arms were forced behind his back and his wrists touched and then stuck together. The assassin grunted and when Aaron stopped chanting, I stood up, pulling the robe closed around me, and moved to the door.
Opening the bedroom door, I called down the hall.
“Lolani! I need some bandages!”
Leaving the door open, I walked back to where Aaron had hauled the assassin into a sitting position on the bathroom floor. The MAGI looked at me, concern covering his face as he saw the blood dripping from my hands and arm. I didn’t give him a chance to voice his concern though.
“I want to see who this slug is that keeps trying to kill me.”
I stomped forward as the assassin began trying to squirm away, but Aaron grabbed him and made him sit still. I reached for the mask and pulled it off to reveal the last face I expected to see.
He was looking at me, sad and ashamed, bronze eyes that matched mine gazing up at me pleadingly.
“Etti, I’m so sorry. I had my orders before I knew who you were.”
“And you went ahead with them even after you knew who I was?” I demanded, feeling hurt and betrayed. “How could you? Why were you trying to kill me anyway? Who paid you?”
“I had my orders. I can’t go back on orders once I’ve received them. It’s not possible. I am magically bound to complete my jobs when they’re given to me.”
His gaze was pleading for me to understand, but the pain in my hand and the pain in my heart left room for little else.
“Who ordered the hit?” I demanded, voice deadpan, eyes blazing with anger.
“I was ordered by Meister Ran-Kal-Tur of the Ort-Hak Sect to kill the liaison bound for Teranan who was to settle the dispute between the Elves and Wizards.”
That caught me off guard. I looked at Aaron, his confusion as evident as mine.
“What did you do to piss off a Goblin mob boss?” he asked.
I shrugged, completely lost.
“I don’t know. I’ve never even met a Goblin mob boss so I don’t know how I would have pissed one off.”
I looked back to my father, who was now looking a bit confused too.
“Wait, what do you mean you’ve never met him?” he asked, worry creeping into his voice. “He’s the one you borrowed six hundred Kelt from and then ran away without paying. That’s why he tracked you down and hired me to kill you.”
“No,” I said slowly. “I’ve never borrowed money from a Goblin mob boss, much less six hundred Kelt. Phyre, I’ve never even met a Goblin.”
Now we were all starring at each other, bewildered. I tried to think back over the whole misadventure and puzzle it out. If it had nothing to do with the liaison mission itself, then it was all about the liaison. Or who was supposed to be the liaison. My eyes widened as it dawned on me. I looked at Aaron, horror covering my features. It seemed to dawn on him at the same moment as he looked at me.
“The liaison,” we said together, eyes wide.
My father was looking between the two of us, still confused.
“What’s going on?” he asked.
We both looked at him, but I was the one who responded.
“I’m not the person you were after. You were sent after the original liaison. I was a last minute replacement.”
Looking back to Aaron, he finished the thought.
“He must have gotten wind that the Meister had tracked him down and so he split before he had to on the mission and deal with the fallout of his actions. That dirty little snake!”
Now it was my father’s turn to look horrified.
“You’re saying I’ve almost killed my own daughter because of a mix up?”
“That’s exactly what we’re saying,” growled Aaron, looking suddenly very dangerous and angry.
It was that moment that Lolani came in, carrying bandages. The poor Bird looked ready to cry when she caught sight of my hand and immediately pulled me to the edge of the tub to sit down while she stopped the bleeding and wrapped it. I realized as she made me sit that I was getting a bit dizzy from blood lose so I didn’t fight it.
I took the opportunity to close my eyes and shut out the insanity that had invaded my life all of a sudden. We all sat in silence as Lani cooed and clucked over me. I simply tried to clear my mind. When she was done with the last of the bandaging, I opened my eyes and looked at Aaron.
“This is your fault.”
“How is this my fault?” he demanded.
“You’re the one who brought me into this in the first place. Therefore, your fault.”
The MAGI sighed.
“Putting that aside for a moment, what do you want to do?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, technically, you’re the big authority here right now, so you’re the one who gets to decide what we do with him.”
I looked over at my father as though seeing a stranger. Magically bound or not, how could he have done it? How could he have tried to kill his own daughter? The girl he had raised by himself. The girl he had claimed to love more than anything in the world. The girl he had taken hit after hit for. How could he turn and kill her with his own hand? Magic could only bind so far. If he truly loved me as much as he claimed, the moment he realized it was me, he should have been able to break the bind.
“Etti?” I heard Aaron said quietly.
I looked over at the MAGI and made my decision.
“Let him go. Send him away. If he ever shows his face in front of me again, I will do to him what he planned to do to me. I never want to see his face again, especially in my House. Get him out, Aaron. Throw him out now.”
“Are you sure?” he asked cautiously.
“Get him out!” I shouted, surprising us all.
“As you wish,” the MAGI said quietly.
He hauled my father to his feet and marched him to the door. My father paused to look back at me pleadingly.
“Etti, please,” he whispered.
“Get out,” I snarled, low and dangerous.
Then Aaron pushed him out the bedroom door. I stayed where I was for a moment, transfixed, and then slowly I stood. I moved to the window and pulled back the curtains to see Aaron marching my father out the front door. The MAGI stopped him a few feet from the house, said something to him, and then released the binds. My father moved a few feet away from Aaron, rubbing his wrists, and said something in return. The MAGI’s face darkened and he snapped something at the Elf who’s face was a mix of sadness and anger.
Jaw tightening, my father turned and began walking away. Aaron and I both watched him for several long minutes until he was out of sight, Aaron by the front door and me from the window. When he was gone, Aaron looked up at the House and met my gaze with a sad one of his own, and I turned away, closing the curtains again.
“Mistress?” said Lolani quietly.
I gave the Bird a small smile and, forgetting the bath, I moved to the bedroom and sat on the edge of my bed, wrapping my arms around myself as I tried not to cry.
“Mistress, can I do anything?” asked the worried Bird.
I shook my head.
“No. Just leave me be for a while.”
“Of course, Mistress.”
Quietly, Lolani slipped out and closed the door behind her. Covering my face with my hands, I laid down, facing away from the door, and gave in to the tears. The sobs shook my body and I buried my face in one of my pillows to muffle the sound. I didn’t hear anyone come in and I didn’t feel anyone sit down on the bed behind me. It wasn’t until I caught the quiet sigh and felt a gentle hand on my head that I realized anyone was there. I snuck a quick glance at the person and hid my face again quickly.
Aaron. Great. Because I needed him to see me crying again.
“Go away,” I muttered into the pillow.
He didn’t get up, but instead began stroking my hair with a gentle hand.
“It’s alright, Etti.”
I scowled and threw the pillow I was hugging at him with all the angry force I possessed.
“It’s not alright!” I hollered, sitting up and finding myself nose-to-nose with the Dwarf.
He tossed the pillow back onto the bed and watched me calmly which only made me angrier.
“How dare you say it’s alright! It’s not alright and you know it! How can it be alright?!” I started beating his chest, trying to get a reaction out of that calm face, angrier than I ever remembered being before. “My own father has tried to assassinate me three times! Reuniting with him after all these years only to find he’s the one who was trying to kill me this whole time! How could he do that?! How could he betray me?! His only daughter and he would have killed me! No! Everything is not alright, Aaron! Don’t you dare tell me it is!”
I was shaking badly and my punches were slowly losing their anger, but I didn’t stop.
“You don’t know anything you mammoth lug! You don’t know anything! You can’t know anything! How dare you tell me it’s alright! You stupid, gigantic, annoying, problematic, pain in the ass! How dare you tell me that!”
My fists came to rest on his chest and I refused to meet his gaze as my vision became blurry again. I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth. No, I wasn’t going to cry in front of him anymore. I swallowed my tears and looked at him again, somewhere between fury and crying, but as I opened my mouth to continue my verbal assault, he suddenly leaned forward and I found myself in a crushing hug.
“Let me go you stupid, stupid--”
I tried forcing my way out of the hug, beating my fists on his chest and arms, but he hung on as I continued shouting insults at him. Finally, I ran out of angry energy and stilled. For a moment I sat rigid as a stone in his arms until the tears hit me again. Then, slowly, I relented and put my head on his shoulder. I was shaking again as silent tears streamed down my face and soaked into his shirt.
He began stroking my hair gently again and I let him, not caring anymore. When my tears finally stopped, I simply sat there, taking comfort in his presence and silently thanking him for letting me lash out at him, even though I wasn’t actually mad at him.
We sat in comfortable silence for several minutes before I spoke in a whisper.
“So, if I thank you a third time today, does that signal the beginning of the apocalypse?”
“Better play it safe and keep the thank you’s to yourself. I’d rather not take any chances.”
I laughed weakly.
Pulling back a bit, I looked at Aaron and gave him a weak smile, wiping my eyes.
“So, how did you come to the rescue again?”
The MAGI shrugged.
“Well, I never left for one thing. When I opened the bedroom door to find him standing there, I thought there was something off. I told him you probably wanted to be alone for a while and he insisted that he would wait in your bedroom because he wanted to talk to you. I let him in and then pretended to leave so he would think you were truly alone and vulnerable. Then I waited.”
I nodded slowly and then sighed.
“This has been one of the longest days of my life. I feel like I just want to lay down and not move for a few years.”
Aaron chuckled and gave me a quick hug before releasing me entirely.
“Then get to it. I’m sure you have plenty of work ahead of you in the morning.”
“Yeah, especially if you show up again. So, please, don’t.”
I grinned and he returned it with his own smile. I pushed back the covers of my bed and snuggled down into them as Aaron quietly left, closing the door behind him.
Closing my eyes with a sigh, I let my mind go blank. Tomorrow was always another day and another day for a Guardian was never dull.
A/N: Oh goodness. That crept up on me faster than I realized. It's done. That's the end. Wow. Well, I hope everyone enjoyed the ride and look forward to more from Etti Antti. I'm definitely going to be writing more of her story. :)