Saturday Short: The Tea House at the Crossroads, Part III

The sages said there was a hush before a storm, but the assassin never found that to be true. Before a storm there was always the scent of rain, the rush of wind, or the sound of thunder. Trouble likewise was always proceeded by a warning. Most people simply did not pay enough attention to such things and claimed trouble found them unawares.

The tea room was not silent, though to the unobservant it might have seemed so. The scattered few others in the room were pretending nonchalance, wondering whether to stay or go and which would be the safer option. Their choice was made for them as the sound of galloping filtered in from the road, followed by a snort from beast and rider and the sound of boots on the porch.

The assassin set down her cup of tea and did not look at the door as it slid open. Trouble entered in the form of a man, neither short nor tall, neither thin nor large, with nothing to distinguish him from anyone else in a crowd.

“Peace be on your Path,” the tea mistress said.

The man did not reply, but walked straight towards her leaving dusty footprints across the tatami mats.

As he stepped up to the counter where the tea mistress was worriedly rubbing a cleaning cloth over the spotless wood the assassin knew this trouble would not pass by quietly.

“You are the tea mistress.” It was a statement not a question.

She nodded.

“Then bring me your coins.” He drew out a knife and held it to her throat. It was wicked with more teeth and sharp edges than necessary to do its work and it offended the assassin.

The tea mistress trembled like an ash before a cyclone’s blast and reached blindly for the money box. She yelped as the thief nicked her neck, drawing a drop of blood with his carelessness. And the Path roiled black around him, like den of snakes awakened before the spring.

“You do not belong here.”

He turned around, still holding the knife against the tea mistress’ neck, glaring. “Sit down before I slit your throat.”

The assassin did not reply, but neither did she sit down.

“I said sit, woman.”

The assassin again said nothing as the others in the room held their collective breath.

“I said sit down!” He pointed his knife at the assassin, the tea mistress forgotten and she seized her opportunity to duck beneath the counter.

Still the assassin did not move nor say anything.

The thief stalked towards her. “I will teach—”

He never finished as the assassin threw him to the floor and removed his knife from his grasp in one swift motion. His head cracked with a thud against the mats he had so carelessly soiled. And as he tried to sit up, his blade bit into his neck giving him a mark that was a twin of the one he had inflicted on the tea mistress. His was not made carelessly.

“You have no honor,” the assassin said.

He hissed at his attempt to rise, but he could not move from under her grasp.

“Go now and I will forget this offense.”

He spit in her face and laughed. “You are in no position forgive.”

And she felt the unmistakable cold touch of a blade to the side of her neck.