Excerpt: The Oracle’s Sprite

Keir could smell blood in the air. He knew that smell intimately from growing up with the Captain of the Guard as his father. He stood at his father’s knee while his father directed the army against the marauding thieves plaguing the people of northern Altnoia. Keir learned to wield a sword and fire a pistol in training grounds soaked with the blood and sweat of the trainees before him.

It was a smell he was all too familiar with, but he had never before smelled it inside his mother’s home. She insisted that blood belonged on the battlefield and training grounds, not on her fancy rugs. Neither Father nor Keir had ever dared allow even a speck of blood into the house for fear of her wrath.

Keir rolled out of bed and grabbed his gun out of the nearby cabinet. A quick peek into the hallway showed him nothing out of the ordinary. He quickly pulled on sturdy breeches and a shirt, over which he clumsily laced a vest of leather armor. If this was only his imagination acting up, Keir didn’t want to scandalize anyone by walking through the halls naked. He tied his sword to his belt, hiking it high, because father had ordered he train with the sword into which he would grow as an adult rather than a child-sized one, and made sure his gun was loaded.

The hallway smelled even worse than his bedroom had: something he hadn’t noticed after his brief glance. Keir carefully peeked around the doorway into the hall. There was a stranger standing in front of his parents’ room at the far end of the hallway; he hadn’t been standing there moments before. Keir didn’t recognize him from any of his father’s men.

“Make sure they’re dead, then hurry up,” the man snarled.

Keir lifted his pistol, aimed, and fired. The man fell to the ground in a spray of blood, a hole in his forehead. Blood and death weren’t something Keir shied away from after everything his father had taught him; this didn’t faze him now. Keir ducked back into his room to reload, then poked his head back into the hall. Two men had run out of his parents’ room at the noise and were exclaiming over their leader’s death. They hadn’t seen Keir yet, but they searched warily for him. Keir killed one of them with another headshot.

It gave away his position, but one-on-one were better odds than trying to take on both of them at once, anyway. He tucked his gun back into its holster and drew his sword. He rushed the lone man and slashed at him. The man clumsily blocked with his own sword; he hadn’t had the training Keir had. After a few more thrusts, Keir impaled the stranger. He fell to the floor, dead.

Keir hurried into his parent’s room and stopped short in the doorway. He gagged, trying not to vomit even as tears blurred his vision. They were both dead, their necks thoroughly cut in their sleep. Blood stained the bedclothes around their bodies, their eyes closed peacefully, as if they hadn’t even known their death was approaching so swiftly. Keir spun around and forced himself to leave the room. He couldn’t do anything for them, but his baby sister might still be alive.

Her room was down the hall in the nursery. Her nurse had no doubt snuck into the kitchen for a bit of fun with the butler once Claire was asleep. Claire still slept in her crib, unknowing of all that had just happened. Keir carefully gathered her into his non-dominant arm, just in case he needed to fight again, and hurried from the nursery. He went upwards, traveling the many steps to the bell tower. In ringing the bell, he signaled warning and death to everyone within hearing distance. His father’s loyal troops would come, and they would find out who had murdered the Captain of the Guard of Altnoia.

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