He is the definition of anonymity. A thin beard dabs the tip of his chin, swirling up around his mouth into a mustache. Exposed between facial-hair, he shows a loan shark's smile. Tonight, dressed in black and dark brown, the gray wall behind him contrasts his form. Above his head he twirls a narrow line with a grappling hook attached to the weighted end. Through his hammy grin, he speaks barely over a whisper, "Watch this, little girl, and see how easily the master does it."
Turning around, he glances up at the darkened view portal and lets the hook fly toward the brick opening. As the hook flies, he reflects that his informant was correct about many useful details. The informer gave good description about the temple's architecture as well as the difficulty of finding the reclusive monastery. For two days they traveled from the nearest town, a dirt speck, nothing but a fledgling hamlet bordering an immense forest. The compass directions through the woods were perfect, almost magical in their exactness.
Watching his flying hook pass through the brick opening, he exclaims, "Bull's eye! That is how the master does it."
"Will you be quiet," scolds a woman from darker shadows. She is invisible from sight with the moon-shade as camouflage. "Just get up there and make sure everything is as it should be."
Pulling the rope until he feels the hook catch, he yanks a couple of times to ensure the grapple is secure. With strong shoulder muscles, he pulls against the rope while stepping to the wall. Soft leather boots grip the course stone, his light body nearly walking up the side of the building until reaching the hole. Head first, he pulls himself inside.
Inside, he struggles to gain control of his breath. A soft breeze enters through the portal, chilling the glaze of perspiration upon his exposed skin. Eyes adjusting to the new depth of darkness, he rises first to his knees, then to his feet upon the mosaic tile. As his breathing slows, he notices the delicate scent of incense in the air.
There is no light source in the hallway, but there is a candlelit room to the left.
The information he'd received about the well-lit prayer room served true. He'd also been forewarned that the hallway-right led to the priest rooms. Having been told to bar the door upon entry, this was his first intention. His informant said the monks were trained to kill with their hands in order to protect the prize secured in this temple.
Making less than a whisper of noise, he crept over toward the door. Upon approaching, he heard the latch jiggle from the other side. Stepping quickly into the dark corner by the hinges, the invader held his breath as the wooden door squeaked open. He knew his discovery would lead to alarming more monks, and there could be no turning back empty-handed.
Sandaled feet scrape the stone-tiles while crossing the threshold. The monk's white robes make him easily defined in the dark hallway. He walks toward the prayer room, unaware of the shadow peeling out from within a deeper shadow at his back. Behind the two men, the door shut with a subtle nudge and responsive jingle.
Attacking swiftly, the shadow reaches under the priest's arm, cupping a hand over the monk's shaved mouth. The invader pulls hard, exposing the monk's neck. A short blade slices deep into the side, slicing through skin and vein, piercing deeper into the windpipe. Warm blood bubbles over the hilt, coating the handle sticky.
Resisting, the monk ineffectively reaches over his shoulder as blood fills into his lungs. A heavy scent of copper spoils the fresh odor of incense. Thick warm crimson leaks between fingers clamped over the monk's mouth, muffling the choking gasps. The taller man thrashes, kicking backward, but hitting nothing. The killer shushes softly into the monk's ear, encouraging a calm acceptance of reality.
The air reeks with sweat and blood as the killer strains to keep his victim still and quiet. Blood trickles down his elbow, spilling off the tip and spattering across the stone tiles. White robes absorb much blood before the flailing slows, before the monk's arms drop. His foot lashes belligerently one last time. Blood bubbles through a cupped hand as the last breath exits his lungs.
Shaking his head, he pulls the body into the darkest of shadows while listening. He is terrified more monks are approaching. This job is snowballing, but could it still be completed? His own heartbeat sounds like a native's drum pounding in his ears. His mind hums with adrenaline. No other sounds can be noticed. After a moment of anxiety, he relaxes, realizing it is his own bogeymen, no one is coming.
Poking an arm outside the window, he signals for his partner to come up. Turning to the dead monk in the shadow, he wipes both his blade and hands across the robe's bottom where the blood had not yet soaked. Hearing his partner pull herself through the window, he braces for her scolding.
"Fool! Now we are dead and damned!" She is strong and shapely, lithe, as a well-kept body should appear. A hood is worn over her head and her face mask is tied shut. Fiery black eyes glow like hot coals above her face scarf. She sidesteps the twitching corpse to find her own shadow. From a corner, she whispers harshly, "Why did you kill him? You know the rules. Darren's gonna have our heads!"
"Quiet while I bar the door," He barks as silently as he can. "One dead monk beats two dead thieves, if you get my meaning. So, quit crying and do what you're getting paid to do!"
Stepping toward the prayer room, she offers an offensive hand gesture. Her clothes are similar to his. She moves invisibly on soft shoes through the darkness, but close to the well lit room, she feels exposed in the light.
She stands just outside a circular room where a multitude of white candles burn; a noticeable warmth greets her. Tallow candles burn clean, without wax drippings to mar the room's magnificence. Over a hundred candles burn on golden and silver candelabras, another many candles burn upon golden sconces crafted into the walls. The ornate candlesticks are marked with copper symbols expressing principles and tenants-love, peace, forgiveness, trust, justice, and wisdom-these were the ideals believed to make a deity real.