The killer had slipped in while the king was away, in the middle of the day. He didn’t particularly want to kill the king, and didn’t have anything against the man, but he needed the money — for himself and for his daughter. He had drugged the king, who was thoroughly asleep by the time Illum had bound him with cord. The king stirred while Illum was putting on the gag, but did not awaken. Illum had taken the king’s own stiletto, and his rifle as well. The man wouldn’t need them anyway, seeing as he would soon be dead. If the realm could compensate for loss of the king’s own life (and it could), the realm would be able to compensate for a few of the king’s possessions. Joranil il Cori, first of his dynasty, dead in his own bed. The thought was supremely riveting.
The whole city would want his head before the sun went down. Hell, every hold from north of Tyr to the edge of the badlands would be after the head of the king killer. Bounties would even be placed in the free-holds — perhaps not Haen or Ish, but definitely Daedor, Aedrol, and Vral Eshrol. Maybe even Yssylil-iq, if loyalists of Cori were as loyal as they would have the king believe. Heads would roll left and right under any hint of suspicion. It was inconsequential; Illum would not be caught.
The king was stirring. Illum had waited so many hours for this moment. He took the king’s own stiletto and slowly brought the tip to the man’s neck, letting it ever-so-slightly press into his skin. Where would he puncture the man? Between the ribs was tempting, but the throat would be cleaner.
The king bolted awake, the cord digging hard into his wrists and ankles. He started to scream. Illum grabbed the stiletto with both hands and thrust it downward into the man’s neck. Right between the collarbones, severing the larynx. The blade slid into him with — and this was something with which Illum had to contend with — a bit of resistance. The sound of ripping skin was deafening in the silence of his bedchamber. Illum pulled the knife out and thrust downward over, and over, and over. An ecstasy, scraping between the ribs, grinding against the bones. Severing tendons and separating muscles. He tried to scream but merely gurgled and choked. Blood was filling his lungs. Blood was bubbling in his gagged mouth. Blood, there was so much blood.
A couple of minutes later, Illum stopped. The king was thoroughly dead, to say the least. All that was needed now was a shower and a change of clothes. Illum had been looking forward to the shower — so few operating showers left in the world (they had been a common utility before the collapse of the Grand Inos, but since it’s dissolution the expense of installation and continued operation made them a luxury reserved for kings, the wealthier of dynasties, and the upgraded.)
He stripped and threw his clothes into the fireplace. He got into the shower, closed the glass door, and let the hot water hit his sore body. The past few days had been rough. The past month, really. It took him a long time to get the credentials to even get in the hold, and the process of doing so was arduous at best. Now that he had completed the job, N’gresso’kk’akk il Aia would pay him handsomely. Hell, he may even be granted barony and an estate. Imagine — the dynasty of Illum. Illum il Illum. The words sounded so beautiful, so perfect. He would even be venerated as a god in Yssylil-iq, if his dynasty ever made it there. This was what he thought about as he let the water wash the blood from the stiletto. The first in any dynasty was a god to those people. Illum would never understand it, but he wouldn’t complain. Being a god didn’t sound half-bad.
Getting out of the shower, he would have to decide what clothes to wear. The options were limitless — the king’s own wardrobe! Would he wear a royal coat, or perhaps a cape? Jodhpurs, or perhaps a doublet? Again, the options were limitless. The gold-stitched green doublet stood out to him, he could wear that with a pair of slacks. Yes, it would match the gold of the stiletto perfectly.
Donning his noble attire, he set out to make his escape. First, he would slip out of the keep, Then, he would hire a cab to take him to Ish. Electric cars weren’t an advent in the kingdoms. He would hire a horse-drawn cab to take him to the border of Ish, and from there he would lie low for a while before heading to Aia to collect his reward. Just thinking about it made him tingle with excitement. He would be able to upgrade to his heart’s content. He had his eyes set on a cortical synch for months now. Perhaps he would get an adrenal cortical stimulation array and a respective microsensor installed for better performance. He would definitely go for a cortical input. If he could afford it, he might even opt for the cellular reconstruction apex. A chrome apex wouldn’t be half bad, either. Faster reflexes, stronger bones, greater endurance, and virtual immortality… he would finally get the upgrades of his dreams.
He hurriedly stashed the rifle and stiletto in his bag as he walked the keep corridors. Nobody was around. He was making his way toward the exit; he needed to put as much distance between himself and the corpse as possible, which meant briskly walking the corridors and not leaving through the main gate. He would take one of the stoops out to the road just outside the bar, where his cab would be waiting for him.
Ause was a maze of corridors and hallways. Originally it had started as a small hold on the outskirts of N’gresso il Aia’s kingdom, given to the baron and dynasty of Ause back at the foundation of the kingdom. As the decades passed, each baron wanted to outdo his predecessor in the number of renovations that were made to the keep. Hundreds of grand chambers, ballrooms, hallways and lobbies, electric displays and defensive bastions were added to the place, enough to rival the king’s own — hence the reason why it became the king of Cori’s court. Unfortunately, floor planning was not their strong suite, and the more the corridors and hallways snaked their way into the landscape, the more confusing the place became. It had taken him days to form his escape plan and memorize all the potential routes he could take to get out of the keep. If all went according to plan, he would slip out without a soul noticing his absence, and he would be in Ish before the week was over.
Ish was a godless city. So many people living below the poverty line, selling life and limb just for cheap upgrades. Many of the people in Ish weren’t even people; they’d get a synch and an input array just to swap into a synthetic body. They’d donate their original body to the company, of course. Illum couldn’t stand the thought of living in a synthetic. It had its benefits, to be sure — mechanical precision, clarity of mind, and guaranteed immortality — but it also had plenty of cons. Not sleeping, not being able to taste food, dulled sense of touch. They couldn’t fuck, either. Plenty of perfectly good synthetics died attempting to recreate sexual intercourse. A damned shame.
He stepped out into the cool evening air. It was colder than he’d have liked, but it was refreshing.
“Going out, Illum?” Kiyye was sitting on the stoop. She was smoking a cigarette.
“Just catching some fresh air, might hit the hookah lounge or get a drink. I meet with a client in a fortnight, figured I’d get there early in case the weather turns. I’ll be leaving in the morning.” A lie, of course. He’d be leaving now, and there was no client.
“I’d come with you, but I have to be sober. I meet with the king in the morning… we have to go over some stuff regarding industry in the free-holds. Nothing too serious. Where are you headed?”
“Vral Eshrol. I’ve got some clients in the free-hold wondering where their product is, they say it never arrived. Could be the warehouse. I won’t know ’til I get there.”
“Will you be back in Cori anytime soon?” Kiyye asked.
“No, not likely. From Vral Eshrol I’ll be headed to one of the other free-holds, likely Ish. The technology-purist protests have generated a fuckload of revenue. Synthetics still have rights but I’d like to invest in cybernetics. Maybe I’ll see if I can get something going in Aedrol, the Radiants are the only upgrade organization in the city — as I’m sure you’re well aware.”
“Damn. How does that even work? Like, if synthetics had rights to begin with — before they were upgraded — shouldn’t they carry over? The rights, I mean. Shouldn’t the rights carry over?”
“I think the argument there is that they’ve become something subhuman. I personally don’t agree, nor does anyone else really — which is why the purists are the vast minority. Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather die than become a synthetic, but I think they’re still people. They may be machines, but… aren’t humans just a different kind of machine,” he paused to gather his thoughts, “…like, you or I are still considered human even if we’re fully upgraded — potentially more so — so why shouldn’t synths?”
Kiyye lowered her cigarette. “I’ve always been inclined to believe that synthetics aren’t more than human, but they’re not less either. Sure, there’s a little quid-pro-quo involved for the company — they generally get the body in exchange for a lower rate of transfer — and it’s a bit disgusting if you really think about it, but-“
A woman’s scream was heard from inside the keep. This was his cue to leave.
“Shit, can’t even have a moment of peace.” She got up. “Well, you have a good evening out. I’ve got to go check that. Be seeing you tomorrow?”
“Alright, yeah. I’ll be seeing you.” Another lie. He would never see her again.
As soon as she went inside he casually walked out toward the road. He’d prearranged for the cab — a horse-drawn coupe — to meet him. All he had to do was show up. He probably had ten minutes to leave the city before the place came down on his head. Once he reached the road, he asked the driver to take him to Ish.
He climbed into the coupe and slowly drifted off to sleep as the city grew small behind him. It was a good day.