Behind him, there was the slow, easing creak of a bowstring dragged back. In the humming afternoon breeze, it was a gentle crack, easing in between one moment and another, almost missed, and so divisive it couldn’t be ignored. One hand on the balcony railing, and one hand wrapped around his mug of coffee, Declan stilled.
The trees threw their shadows on the paving stones beneath his feet, each leaf flicking at its own time, flashing jewel-sharp sunlit gaps between them. The bow’s shadow appeared too, just behind and to the left of his heel, a curving line that refused to come out of the shade. The tip poked up beyond the gray fluttering leaves, and the arrow-head pierced a patch of sunlight.
Declan took a deep breath, and the archer behind him did too, with another slow creak.
“If you’re here to kill me,” Declan said carefully. “You ought to take ten steps back.”
The breeze hummed, and the shadow of the bow turned from steady to stone.
“You’re too close,” Declan explained gently. “It’s easy to miss at this range.” Then, one foot at a time, he turned, put his back to the rail, and looked down the length of the arrow at Aveera. The head was pointed directly at his throat. The feathered end of the shaft sat just beside her mouth.
She eyed him without moving, her expression serious, but calm. The bowstring was pulled all the way back and Declan could imagine the snap and whistle it would deliver if she let it slip off her fingers, but she stood, just on the edge of slack.
“How could I miss?” she asked.
He moved quickly, darting out with his free hand to tap the front of her bow to one side. He expected to hit the wood hard, for it to sting against the palm of his hand, but it never landed. She pulled the bow down in one smooth motion, then back up behind his hand as it passed.
Declan took a deep breath, and slowly leaned back against the rail. Aveera flicked a look at his coffee, still perfectly unspilled.
“You’ve gotten better,” he told her.
“And you’re still pretending you’re harder to kill than most,” she returned.
Declan nodded carefully. “I suppose you’re the better judge.” He lifted his chin, just a little. “Am I harder to kill, Avi?”
She blinked, a little longer than was advisable for someone standing opposite an enemy. “No,” she whispered.
He started to pull in a long breath, unsure if she would let him reach the end of it.
“But, you underestimate how hard it is to kill an average man,” she said. Circling to the railing, she sat down and swung one leg over the side without lowering the bow. “Caled told me to fire a warning shot. Consider this a gentle notification that he’s watching.”
In one smooth motion, she dropped her arm and fired. The shaft gave a short sharp whistle, then clacked into the paving stones. A chip caught Declan in the knee, and he flinched away. The arrow stuck in the mortar between stones, pointing back at an angle at the empty rail.
I’ve been associating with thieves, apparently. All my friends robbed me of the first line of this piece, then ran off and wrote fictions of their own. Be sure to check them all out.
And have you heard about my book giveaway? It’s only open for 7 more days.