I strode across to the podium, before the diagram of the human skeleton and circulatory system. The class was small, ten people. I found it to be my optimum class size. Any more and my students began to look like a forest, not trees. Any less, and I might have trouble with my payments.
One tentative hand rose up. She was a slip of a girl. Her demeanor was timid, her hand trembling in the air. None of her classmates took her seriously. They were new, yet. Not all of them quite realized that I wasn’t here to teach them how to fight, but how to kill. Ellen’s ‘fragile flower’ act would serve her well.
Behind her, Ross put his hand up. He was what most people thought of when they thought of an assassin. Quiet, self-assured, quick on his feet and quick with his hands, able to switch between a fight and an innocent demeanor in a heartbeat, agile and strong. His assurance would probably betray him this time; it would be a good lesson.
“Under the armpit. The gate through the ribs to the heart.” I had taught them this last week. It was an easy way to the heart in the heat of combat, but that wasn’t what I had asked for.
“Very good. You’re almost right. If you were in a fight, it would probably be your way in. But the shortest clean path is elsewhere.” Ellen’s hand was still up. I pointed to call on her when the hair on the back of my neck stood up. I opened my hand flat, calling for silence.
It came from the window. Of course, it came from the window, it’s why I held class in a room with a window. I stepped back from the inevitable assault. Something whisked through the air, and severed strands of hair swirled in the air before me. Several projectiles flew right back in the opposite direction, crossbow loaded tangles linked to the threads strung across the glass. They would hold him for a few brief seconds.
I closed my palm to point at Ellen once more. “Ellen. Step up.”
“M-me?” She looked around, playing it to the hilt.
The attacker rushed at me – nobody remained calm when I decided my class was more important than their attempt on my life. The girl I called was obviously nothing, beneath his notice. I leaned back as a blade licked out at my eyes – my counterstroke was at his wrist, but his blade twisted in his hand, and I struck the steel pommel. I wove my blade through the air, passing in and out of striking positions. I struck where I saw weakness, and where I saw strength, I used the threat to force him to react.
Finally, I led him into risk by giving him an opportunity too good to pass up. His blade struck me in the upper arm as I caught his elbow. I bent his arm backward into dislocation. I stomped on the side of his bent leg, shattering the tibia and fibula. With his good arm pulled up behind his back, I looked at Ellen.
“You had a different answer, Ellen? Show me.”
She strode forward without hesitation, without any of her typical timidness. She knew that the incapacitation of pain wouldn’t last long, and this man was still dangerous. She pulled her hairpin out, a few inches long at most. Her hair fell to her knees, and for a moment her hair fanned out like a black wing. She carefully positioned the steel spike at the top of his collarbone and slid it straight down into his heart.
I pressed my fingers to his neck until his pulse quieted, then stood and let the dead weight drop.
“While I did teach you how to go through the armpit in combat, never assume there isn’t a better answer. The shortest open path from the skin to the heart is three inches, from behind the collarbone.”
“Now for your next lesson . . . ” I began pulling my shirt off. I could feel the wetness of the blood from the stab wound I had taken, and the burning that spread down my arm. I cast the shirt aside and looked at the red lines creeping toward my fingers. This lesson wouldn’t have been possible if he’d struck a vein instead of an artery. “Open your pharmacology books to page one hundred and twenty-five. You’re going to identify and neutralize this poison.”