There was a bloody sword under the bed, kicked there as if a person’s instinct to hide it had only briefly overwhelmed their apathy for getting caught. The mis-matched blankets on the bed fell far enough over the sides to hide it, but the breeze from the window threaded the smell of it out into the open.
Dovev had walked into the room, and felt the wrongness of it before she had settled the door shut again. Inside three shallow breaths, she had found it and pulled it out. Then she sat back on her knees and stared at it, trying to understand who had put it in her room.
It was not her sort of weapon. It was too long, too hard to hide, impossible to slip up a sleeve. She had a knife she always carried with her, long and thin in its own right, but it had always fit in a sheath beneath her knee, and now that she was taller, it lay well between her wrist and elbow. She picked up others as she found them, and threw them away as she needed, but they were rarely bloody, and she would never let them grow a stink like this.
Dovev cocked her head, looked at the sword for a while longer. With the hilt resting against her thigh, the blade leaned away from her, curving up to a point just above her head. It was small enough for her, something she could have used. But she didn’t want it. She wondered whose blood it was.
When the door creaked behind her, she knew the polite thing would have been to put the sword down before she faced them. But there were only two other people with a key to this room, and one of them knew better than to come to visit while her rent was paid in full.
So she stood up slow, letting the tip of the sword point at the floorboard, and turned around.
Tomarin had faltered on his first step through the door, and only made it one more before he stopped in the small, wooden-paneled room. He blinked, but she wasn’t sure if it was surprise, or just the glare of the window light behind her. “Vev?” he asked.
She smiled. “Hello, Tommy,” she said.
“You’re supposed to be runnin’,” he said. He blinked again. Surprise, then.
“You’re supposed t’knock,” she said. “But I am supposed t’be runnin’, and I told you that you could use the room if you needed it, at least ’til the rent ran out.” She shifted the sword in her hands. “Didn’t realize you’d use it for storage.” Questioningly, she looked at him again.
Taking a deep breath, he rocked back onto his heels. “You shouldn’t be here. You’ve got so much heat under you, you’re startin’ to brown at the edges.”
She nodded to herself. “I know. Thought of something on the road, though. Got through the gate, got some fresh air, fresh ideas. Would’a given me a month or two more here. But you did something, didn’t you?”
He didn’t quite look at her, didn’t quite smile, though he did a good job of faking both. “There might be a rumor going ’round that you murdered a woman.”
“Oh,” Dovev said. She forced it to come out lightly. “Anyone one I know?”
“City Watchman?” Tomarin said. “Lieutenant. One of the magistrate’s favorites, actually. But you didn’t know that at the time.”
Dovev took a breath to steady herself and hid it under another examination of the sword. The blood was a grimy brown, uglier now than it had been a minute ago, but she forced herself to keep her smile. “Lieutenant Avvison?”
His face fell a little when she came up with the name so easily. “I guess you did know,” he murmured.
“You’re gonna miss her,” Dovev said. “Sometimes you could talk her int’goin’ easy.” She lifted the sword in her hand, took a higher grip on the hilt. Looking at it was a poor cover for her expression now. It was too hard to see the mess of it and keep the sharpness out of her tone. “And I suppose you left this here so that her family could have proof. So, they could get their truths.”
Tomarin shrugged. “They say everyone deserves to know what happened.”
“And you came back because?”
He gestured vaguely to the chest on the opposite wall. “Left some stuff. I was a little panicked the last time I was here…” He started to laugh, then stopped when he saw the flat way she was looking at him. “I forgot it.”
“Guess you’d better get it and go,” Dovev told him. Lifting her head, she gave him a dry smile. “And I’d better get back t’runnin’.”
He caught her arm as she stepped forward, or tried to. She stopped as soon as she saw his hand come up, pulled one foot back so that she turned out of his reach. Still smiling, she met his eye, ready to brush aside whatever he said next.
“You were gone,” he said.
“I was,” she said. “For four whole days.”
“It was too perfect,” he said. “You just gettin’ yourself run off. Me needin’ someone to pin it on.”
“Perfect,” she agreed. “As long as I’m runnin’ from Kellen and all of his, it won’t be any harder t’run from the City Watch, too.”
“We all use what we have,” Tomarin said.
Dovev looked at him. For a long moment, she thought about bringing her fist up into his face with the weight of the sword behind it.
Then she did it.
Her knuckles burned with the impact, unused to the extra weight. Tomarin reeled. He fell to one to knee and stared at her. She bent down beside him, holding him down with one heavy hand on his shoulder.
“We use what we have,” she told him. “Not who. Why does everyone forget that? I think I’d have t’run a lot less, if folk had better memories.”
He stared at her. “Ow!”
She didn’t apologize. She didn’t even have one to give. “I’m a sneak, not a cutter. I take things, not lives. And when I run, I always leave one path backward, just in case I ever need it. You just took that from me. So, I’m takin’ this.” She held up the sword for him, holding it backward along her arm, so that the blade rested against her elbow, edge toward his face. “And no one’s gonna find it. Without it, the rumors are gonna fade, I think, and someone will remember seein’ you where you shouldn’t have been. So, be careful.”
“Vev,” Tomarin protested.
Shaking her head at him, Dovev smiled. It made her sad, but she kept the curve on her lips as long as she held his eye. “Stupid, Tommy,” she murmured. “You should know you can’t pin a murder on a friend, and then keep her.” Slowly, she released his shoulder. She straightened until she was looking down at him, glad when he kept his eyes on her face rather than try to get up again. “The question is, do you know what will happen the next time you see me?”
He took an unsteady breath. “What?” he asked.
Dovev shook her head again, tightening her smile. “I guess you’ll be wondering about that for a while.”
She left the door open when she went, let him watch her walk halfway down the stairs and slide out the narrow window to run the roofs where no one would see what she was carrying.
The piece above was written off a prompt from the magnificent (and prolific) Max Kirin. Check out Max’s other prompts to see if they have a little inspiration for you.