Still marvelling at the feeling, Shep took every opportunity to touch his amber finger to every surface he could. Mardz was right; it was startling how realistic everything felt. There were even other side effects, ones that could be turned to use. Running his finger along a metal railing produced a small shower of blue sparks, as did running it vigorously through his hair. The next person he touched after that, a drunk leaning queasily against a wall, suffered a small lightning shock and jerked upright suddenly. Shep turned around and walked away before he could be identified.
The possibilities played out in his mind. Could this be turned into yet another weapon at his disposal? It would certainly be good for prospective clients to hear; marks killed apparently by lightning strike, not a single person around them hurt in any way and no evidence to suggest who it might have been. Perhaps it could even be used at range.
Shep stopped short. The identity of the ideal person to test it on floated across his mind, and, with a wide grin, he started to move in the direction of the Fong estate.
The moon was high in the cloudless sky as Shep crouched in the bushes under the balcony. He had made certain this time that old man was, in fact, in his bedchamber; no distracting wenches to ruin the day this time. Getting in to the estate had been a simple act; the guard, when watched long enough, had needed to relieve himself and had just walked away. Getting out would be just as easy; there was a ladder that the groundskeeper used to trim the taller trees laying down behind the gazebo and it had been the work of a moment to set up it.
Shep flexed his hand and mentally engaged the incredible strength of his climbing fingers. He felt the simulated muscles tightening and placed his hand against the wall. Exactly as designed, the fingers dug in to the brickwork and he lifted his feet from the ground to hang, one-handed, with only the barest grip.
Hand over hand, he climbed; the first floor balcony windows were dark, but the second had golden lamplight spilling out of them. A woman was dancing for a man inside, but this was no whore; the man was in a dressing gown with a cigar in one hand and a brandy in the other, while the woman was wearing only the slightest wisp of silk across her body. It barely covered everything that the man was looking at, and as she sinuously wound her way across to the window she let the silk drop, apparently unaware that she was giving Shep the same show. He smirked, knowing that the darkness outside and the light inside would mean that she couldn’t see anything but the reflection of her own face, and then she pulled the cord that closed the curtains. They swished shut, blocking out the light.
Shep hung there for a minute, allowing his night sight to return, then continued his climb. His grey-black cloak provided the perfect cover against the wall and, in short order, he was climbing over the balcony’s rail.
As he moved his hands along the rail he felt a tiny series of scratches and knelt down to look closer. Sure enough, they perfectly fit his hand and he scowled again at the memory of his defeat. Not this time, he swore.
The general’s window catch was easy to defeat and, silent as a shadow, he was inside the bedchamber. It was plushly appointed; a deep pile carpet underfoot, velvet-upholstered chairs and everywhere he looked there was gold. The deep breathing of the general and the tiny ticking of a clock were the only sounds in the room.
Shep crossed to the bed and looked down at him. How to do it? Suddenly there were options, deviations from the plan. He could see the brandy on the bedside table, exactly as promised, but there were so many other more artful ways it could be done.
Sadly, he flicked the tiny catch on his poison reservoir and moved to the brandy. The heavy glass stopper came out with barely a tinkle and he tapped his index finger against the rim of the decanter.
Shep swore; of course nothing happened. He had forgotten that Mardz had drained the poison out and replaced it with an empty reservoir, not the full one he had gone into the workshop with. For a moment he stood there, incredibly angry with himself and feeling just the tiniest hint of embarrassment. Thank the Tree that no-one was here to see this complete and utter failure.
He replaced the decanter’s stopper and moved back around the bed. A knife, then. Eyeball seemed one of the best bets; less messy than slicing a jugular. Or directly into the heart, though he wasn’t sure that the knife would reach far enough for a clean kill. And once again, he was defeated through lack of preparation, as he hadn’t brought any of his other tools with him.
Shep scowled and shook his head. At this point it didn’t matter what he did as long as the mark died. He looked down at his hand; the amber finger winked up at him, catching the reflected moonlight, and a slow smile spread over his face.
He knelt down and began to rub his hand on the carpet. He began to feel heat almost immediately in the hand, and noticed that a tiny spark of light had grown in the centre of the amber finger, about where his second knuckle was. It grew until it suffused the entire finger and Shep was forced to move his rubbing under the bed so that the glow, now more like a candle flame, did not cause more light than was necessary.
The hand began to feel tense and heavy, almost pregnant with power, and he gritted his teeth. The rubbing movement was becoming harder now, almost like his hand was sticky or like he was trying to push through treacle. The glow brightened until it was as strong as a lantern. He stood up, keeping his hand behind his back.
His shadow fell across the bed, straight across the general’s sleeping body, and Shep paused for just a moment to wonder how her looked. Backlit by the finger’s eerie yellow light, a black shadow standing by an old man’s bed like Death come to call at last. He savoured the thought, the image it brought up in his mind.
Then, quick as a snake, he leaned forward and plunged his middle finger into the general’s eye. With his other hand he clamped down on the general’s mouth, and not a moment too soon.
The finger, amberic power dancing off of it, slid smoothly into the old man’s eye socket and he felt it break through the delicate bone behind the eyeball. It was warm and liquid, and from the very tip he could feel a spongy sensation as he encountered the man’s brain. Almost immediately the finger began to spark and flash, blue and yellow, but strangely remained silent; the old man’s guttural shrieks, muffled by his other hand, were the only noise, along with the frenzied movements of his feet as they jerked up and down under the covers.
Lightning began to dance all over the man’s body and Shep watched as his other eyeball seemed to swell up and pop; eye juices splashed onto the general’s face where it immediately began to bubble and boil. His heaving chest seemed to shrink inwards as a strange smell of cooking flesh reached Shep’s nostrils and he could see a tiny point of burning cloth appearing on the coverlet directly above the man’s heart. Twin wisps of smoke came from his nostrils and the shrieking stopped. Shep kept his hand there a moment longer, then released it. The man slumped back onto his pillow and Shep slid his amber finger out of his skull.
He stepped back, first checking the finger then admiring his handiwork. The finger looked like it always had; the glow had receded and it was once again a perfect model of an ordinary finger, apparently formed of pure amber. The general, on the other hand, was a sunken burned-out corpse, to all appearances having internally combusted.
Shep moved to the window and out on to the balcony. He carefully closed the door behind him and swung his legs over the side, re-engaging his climbing fingers. As he climbed down, he wondered what clients would pay for this sort of display. There were any number of twists he could put on this; divine intervention, people burning up from the weight of the sins in them, or it might even be worth farming this out to the rest of the Silver Hand, for a price, of course. Thoughts of extravagant rewards bought using the money from exorbitant contracts he would soon attract, Shep made his escape from the manor, leaving behind only the remains of his mark.