Path of the Exile III

Killing is easy. All one needs is the will to go through with it. Under the right circumstances, anyone can be a killer.

Assassinations, though, were an art form, and there was no-one better at the craft than Athena. Each kill required weeks of observation and planning. It was never as simple as slitting a throat and moving on. The best assassinations were clean and discrete. More importantly, a skilled assassin never relied on one methodology. The value of mixing up the kill ensured the guards always suspected someone else. Most cities would be quick to arrest and execute the known mercenary with a bow if she fired an arrow at every target. It was even more advantageous if the target had known grudges with others. It was helpful to know where the guards were going to look first. On a few rare occasions, Athena was even lucky enough to convince others to do the dirty work for her. With enough liquor, and the old Aphrodite charm, she was capable of convincing moronic men to do just about anything.

That name... It still stung every time she thought about it. Try as she may, that name would always follow her. Foolishness, lust, weakness...this was everything Aphrodite stood for. While the world burned around her, all she could think of was her next party, her next drink, her next lay. She let a man use honeyed words to get what he wanted out of her. Lucifer...that son of a bitch. Last she heard of the bastard, he was imprisoned by the Kingdom in some kind of perpetual torment.

"Good." she thought to herself. Thoughts of her kin started swirling in her mind. She was quite adept at burying these feelings, but this latest contract was stirring all sorts of memories she desired to forget.

Valhalla razed to the ground...

Her people massacred and the survivors cursed...

Hephaestus, her loyal husband, eaten alive by precursors...

This was all her doing- her actions, her fault. Try as she may to forge a new identity, she knew it changed nothing. Aphrodite would always be there, lurking in the deepest corners of her mind.

She shook her head and closed her eyes for a moment to refocus. Set just offered her the most lucrative contract she had ever received. Now was not the time to let the weakness of Aphrodite crack through. Serqet was her target, and that was all there was to it. She would die by the blade of Athena.

Unfortunately, Serqet rarely left the walls of Aaru, making Athena's job that much harder. Performing an assassination inside of a city was always more difficult then catching a target on the open road. There were guards to be bribed, escape routes to be planned, and too many variables to account for. A simple assassination could quickly turn to chaos inside the walls of a city.

The thought made her flash back to a botched job in Tir na nOg several hundred years ago. A less experienced Athena thought her target was dead after stabbing him in the back. It turned he was only drunk and passed out. Later in the evening, the fool woke up, oblivious to the knife in his back, stumbled to the bar, drank some more, and then wound up accusing another bar patron of stabbing him. A fight broke out, rioting followed, and a quarter of the city burned down in a fire. Worse yet, the target survived the ordeal. Needless to say, she was not paid for that one.

"Focus Athena." She whispered to herself, frustrated that she kept slipping into memories. Waiting for Serqet to leave the city was a waste of time, and there was no way she could kill her within the city without it looking like a skilled assassination. It had to look like a sloppy robbery. The only way to do that was to draw her out of the walls. Fortunately, the two women had history.

Athena was personally contracted to protect her on a peace mission to a remote village years ago. She saved Serqet's life when a band of mercenaries attempted to rob them. That mission formed a connection between them, a connection that many would claim was more than friendly. It was true, Athena and Serqet enjoyed each others company in more ways than simply talking. Truthfully, Serqet was probably the closest to an emotional connection Athena had felt since Valhalla. All that mattered was that Serqet trusted her. That trust was all she needed.

She reached out and knocked on the door in front of her. Her nerves were high, her breath was becoming shallow. It had been quite some time since she had last seen Serqet. The door cracked, as a woman peered out, unsure of who could be knocking at this hour.

"Athena!" the woman said, obviously surprised to see her.

"Serqet." Athena responded, sounding unusually flustered. "Can I come in? It is an urgent matter."

"Of course!" Serqet answered as she swung the door open, allowing the two to get a good look at one another.

Serqet was a beautiful as ever, with her olive skin, dark hair, gentle features, and that disarming smile she was known for. Her slightly disheveled hair made it clear she had just been woken up.

Athena moved inside, it was obvious she was on edge, and was trying to stay hidden.

"I usually have some warning before you show up at my door." Serqet said with her typical smile.

"You are in grave danger." Athena blurted out loud.

Serqet chuckled at the notion. "I'm always in danger. It comes with the territory of my work."

"Serqet...this threat is real. Set- he intends to kill you." Athena blurted again.

Serqet hardly looked alarm by the revelation. "Well, I suppose we can inform Ra, have guards assigned to my home, and take more precautions." she said with a shrug.

"You are not hearing me. Set intends to kill you. This is not some lowly noble of Duat! He has the resources to pull it off!" Athena pleaded, sounding desperate.

"Then what would you propose?" Serqet asked.

"He has spies in Aaru. Alerting Ra would simply send him scurrying back to Duat to conjure up another plan." Athena appeared to be in deep thought, and paused for a moment before revealing her plan. "We need to spring the trap, draw him out, kill him before he kills you."

"I'm no warrior, Athena." Serqet quickly answered.

"He waits for you, deep in the dessert, far from Aaru. He knows it is you who has been freeing his slaves. He is waiting for you to try again." Athena explained.

Serqet took a long look at Athena. "How do you know all this?"

"Because he asked me to kill you." Athena honestly answered.

Serqet smiled. "I supposed the fool does not know who he is dealing with, then."

"We get him to reveal himself in the open. Once he does that, one or two arrows is all it will take to remove this threat."

Serqet gave pause, unsure of what to say next.

"Do you trust me?" Athena asked.

"Of course." Serqet said after another pause.

"I cannot leave Aaru until I know you are safe" Athena said, placing her hand on Serqet's cheek.

"I trust you." Serqet said, placing her hand on top of Athenas.

The two of them spent the night together concocting a plan- a plan Athena knew was a farce. Serqet trusted her enough to leave the walls of Aaru without any protection.

They ended the night in bed, enjoying each other's company. Athena could not sleep afterwards. She stared over to Serqet, who was peacefully sleeping away.

What if this was more than a physical connection?

What if she loved her?

Was she really willing to go through with this?

"Get out of my head!" She whispered again, as if she was speaking to someone else. In a way, she was.

She was speaking to the part of her that wanted to turn away from all of this.

She was speaking to the part of her that cared for Serqet.

Never again would the weakness of Aphrodite dictate the actions of Athena.

Never again...