“Fairies may be the smallest sentient race, but they are good at evening the odds.”
***World Assembly, Imperial Flagship***
“Willow, shrink this. Willow, enlarge that. Willow, play with the kitten,” I mumble as I crawl through the airship's ventilation shaft, followed by Blueberry and Maple, two fairies who I had to conscript for this job. They aren't trained assassins, but they are the most capable fairies I managed to find.
“Quit whining, Willow. You have no idea how good of a job this is!” Blueberry complains from behind me. “Yes, we have to crawl through a dusty ventilation shaft, but the rest of the day we can live in our luxurious new hive.”
“And we have food,” Maple adds.
“Assuming that we come back!” I stop crawling and turn around, facing my partners in crime. The pale faces of my two accomplices look at me expectantly. “Do you two have no issues with this mission? None at all? I mean, I am a trained assassin.” For what it is worth. “But you two lived for your entire lives with the hive. Don't you have any moral issues with abducting someone?”
Blueberry blinks. “It's not my place to question the orders of our queen and the master. At least we aren't sucked dry of energy by Nova. Serving her is way better than dying as nothing more than a flask of energy. We even get to have everything we ask for. Energy, space, a new hive...”
“And food!” Maple doesn't fail to mention the most important thing.
Blueberry grimaces and shakes her head. Her green mane of hair bobs from left to right and she spreads her wings, shoving Maple. “Yes, yes, we get it. We have food. Gods, Maple. Stop mentioning food. Do you have anything else inside that brain of yours?”
The male fairy looks down and plays with a mote of dust. His long, orange hair falls down and covers his eyes, making him look even more gloomy. “I am sorry. I get regular sessions with the hive's counsellor because of my fixation. She says that the life with the assassins damaged me. The men got the least f... consumables...”
“Yeah.” Blueberry pats his shoulder, then two unemotional fairy faces look at me. “Why should we care about what happens to a single human who serves the Empire? From what I heard, being a slave in the Empire isn't much better than serving the assassins.”
I cough and turn around, crawling forward. It's too easy to forget that my people had a harsh life. All too often I find myself thinking that my service to the assassins allowed them a passable existence. The culture shock of coming back was horrible. I still feel like an outsider. My people try to treat me as one of them, but they can't do anything about the fact that I wasn't with them for most of my adult life.
The assassins were smart enough to take only young fairies who don't really understand what's going on. I was ten when they started my training. That's an age at which a child still can be programmed and trained.
I turn my attention to the here and now. This mission has absolutely no room for failure. If we get caught, Joyce would have to deny that she has anything to do with us.
Luckily, entering the airship's ventilation system wasn't hard. It's something almost nobody expects. Firstly, because there aren't a lot of fairies in this world. Secondly, because most fairies don't want to have anything to do with the other races. It's why being a fairy assassin worked so well.
We reach another access cover of the ventilation shaft. After crawling through fifty metres of ventilation shafts, we passed several of those entry points. I peek through the grating. The room on the other side is dark, but I can see a large bed. Lying on top of it is a snoring man. He is fat enough to look like a large ball. “We finally found him! And… I should have brought more people.”
“Just shrink him a little further than us. It will work out if all of us work together,” Maple says and reaches for the grating, but I stop him.
“Do you see the runes at the side of this grating? They are holding a safety enchantment in place. The empire may not expect fairies on their airships, but they aren't stupid. Those runes check the air for poison.” I point at a set of engraved runes which connect the grating with the ventilation shaft's wall. To the untrained eye, the runes are a complicated pattern of swirls and circles.
Blueberry tilts her head, clearly not understanding. “I don't see the problem. We aren't poison. What do those runes have to do with us?”
I get to work, carefully disassembling the runes with my dagger. “Poisonous gas could take out the entire airship if it gets into the ventilation system. That's why all air ducts have to be carefully sealed and enchanted. Not a single leak can be allowed. Most airship captains are automatically alarmed when their ship’s ventilation system gets compromised. At the very least, simply opening the grating would result in a technician checking up on the cause for the rune's failure.”
“Why do you know so much about military airships?” Maple asks.
“In my time as an assassin, I was never hired for low-profile targets. Those can be taken out by anyone. The ones I got sent after were people in high political or military positions,” I explain.
Blueberry cuts my story short. “Until you got caught by Nova. How did she catch you? Did you also crawl through the ventilation system? We might want to avoid making the same mistake twice.”
I press my lips together and try to suppress my feelings. “That's something completely different. Nova can cheat. On Illum, she is almost omnipotent.” I isolate the magical circle which connects the alarm to the rest of the ship. Then I pour magic into the system while I reroute the magical connections as I was trained.
“I heard that you got taken out by a fly swat.”
Maple brings up the rumour which quickly made its way through the entire hive. I almost make a grave mistake which would’ve triggered the alarm. Scratching just a little further would’ve resulted in severing the wrong connection. I try to ignore the two of them while they discuss the shame of being attacked with a fly swat.
Thankfully, I manage to reroute the alarm before they go into too much detail, or worse, start asking me if the rumour is true.
I open the metal grating carefully. The hinges creak a little, but our target snores so loudly that there is little risk. I time the creaks of the hinges with his snores, opening the grating with three short movements.
After giving the room a very thorough inspection with the monocle which I got from Nova, I decide that it’s safe. We flutter out into the open. The monocle has a similar function as Nova's mask, enabling the user to see mana and to check for hidden traps.
Maple and Blueberry follow me. We already talked about this part of the plan several times, so there is no discussion when we form a triangle around the fat man. My two compatriots take their positions at the bed's corners, close to the adviser's head. I think that Nova called him Hesh.
I land on the railing near his feet and reach out with my magic, latching it onto Maple and Blueberry. They answer likewise and, together, we form the complicated energy patterns which are required for the spell. Hesh is enclosed in our magic and starts shrinking.
The process starts slowly but speeds up until Hesh is no bigger than a human's index finger. That's when the plan fails.
Hesh wakes up! Opening his eyes, he sits up, fully awake. “What is going on!” He screams at the top of his lungs, but along with his size, the volume of his voice was also greatly reduced. Hesh spots me at the end of the bed.
His hand comes up and he fires a fireball. The little spark of flame doesn't even reach me, since I am too far away. Scaled to a human-sized unit, I am more than a hundred feet away from him. When Hesh shrunk, he ended up close to his pillow which is too far for a simple fireball.
Blueberry and Maple don't allow him a second spell. They fly up into the air and dive down on the human, hitting him with their legs and fists, pummelling him into the mattress. Maple even landed a perfect flying knee directly in Hesh’s back, but the man is simply too fat to be taken down easily. He is cushioned by a thick layer of fat on three hundred and sixty degrees.
I spread my wings and fly forward in order to aid them. When I arrive, Maple is on Hesh's back, trying to choke him. The male fairy has his legs around the man, trying to hold him while Blueberry clings to Hesh's legs.
Pulling my blade, I point it at Hesh's heart. Cursing, I aim somewhere else and remember the poison just in time. Sword in hand, I pull a dagger and guide it to Hesh's throat. Noooo... that won't do either! Damned instincts! Maybe a major artery? He will lose consciousness if his blood pressure drops... and then he will bleed out! Maybe Maple can choke him? No, he would have done so by now if he had the strength.
“What are you waiting for!?” Maple calls out. “I can't hold him much longer! He is using strength magic!”
“I don't know what to do! I was trained to kill people, not to incapacitate them!” I confess.
“Assassins!” Rolling her eyes, Blueberry lets go of Hesh's legs and takes my sword from me.
“Wait! That's pois-”
Blueberry grabs the hilt with both hands, turning the blade sideways, and smacks Hesh straight on the head with the flat side. The blade rings and wobbles as Hesh's whole body slackens and buries Maple beneath him.
“My sword!” I complain and take the blade from Blueberry. The blade which accompanied me for my entire life is now bent out of shape!
Blueberry crosses her arms in front of her chest and huffs. “A fine assassin. Was never in a brawl!”
I bite my inner cheek to keep myself from saying something nasty. There is no reason to freak out. None at all. It's just a sword. I am sure that Nova will be happy to repair it if I ask nicely. It will be better than before. I try to put the sword back into its sheath, but it's too bent, so I put it on my belt for the time being.
With Blueberry's help, I manage to roll Hesh off of Maple. The poor fairy male was slowly suffocating beneath the heap of human fat. We quickly check up on Hesh's health, but luckily he is alive. He also wasn't cut by my poisoned blade. A big bump on the head was the only result of Blueberry's misuse of my sword.
Once we are sure that nobody noticed the fight, Blueberry and I take Hesh's arms, while Maple lifts the fatso by his legs.