deadliest of gifts

This is another scene from a novel I worked on a couple years ago; I've already shared a couple of scenes here. The scene below occurs between those two snippets, and involves his former mentor's attempts to send him a warning – one that involves a great deal of personal cost.

The scene opens at his house of residence and business.


“I can’t.” 

“Yes, you can.” My voice was quiet but held more than enough steel to keep her focused on me. 

“I c-can’t. I tried, really I did, but I can’t do what he’s asking, it’s too much.”

I’m not often inclined to interrupt people; I consider it not only rude, but counter-productive. Given enough time, most people will respond to silence by saying or admitting things they hadn’t intended to share. Silence is a weapon of strength.

In this case, however, I had more important matters to attend to. “Stop.”

She glanced up but did not meet my eyes. I gripped her right wrist tightly and drew it behind her back, a move that forced her body up along mine. With her pressed close enough for me to feel each deep breath, I lowered my head to her neck and spoke in a soft but clear voice, “Who do you fear more? Him, your husband, or me?”

Her body, already wound like a steel coil, tightened even further. “You,” came the ragged whisper.

I pulled her even closer, knee nestling against the top of her thighs, “Why?”

"Because…you…make me…want things.”

I closed my eyes, enjoying the warmth of her trembling body and breathing in her scent – cloves, with a hint of licorice. “No,” I said and then lowered my lips so that my next words were spoken against the curve of her neck, “I don't make you do anything. You will do it because it is what you desire. What you need. I am simply giving you,” I smiled, “permission.”

She did not respond verbally, but I felt it in the lines of her body: the way her thighs tensed and then parted against my leg, the way her deep breaths came just a bit faster – and in her pulse, which I could feel in the heat under my lips. I held her a moment more and then released her abruptly. The hand holding her wrist spun her out until she faced the doorway she had fled from. She paused for a moment, shivering, and then stepped back into the room.

I watched the door close behind her and took a moment to straighten the cuffs of my tailored shirt, adjust my black overcoat, and pick up my cane from its resting place against the wall. I waited several minutes to see if she would need more convincing but the door remained closed. I turned and proceeded down the hallway.

My cane rapped sharply on two consecutive doors. I was several feet further down the hallway when I felt Elayne fall into step just behind me and to the left. Isabel joined her on the right a second later.

I knew it was coming, but it still didn’t stop me from smiling; Elayne’s voice was low and sultry, “You know, for all the crimson you wear, I begin to wonder if you have a thing for blood. Or maybe it’s your plumage – you almost look like a cardinal preparing for a funeral; is it mating season for dead birds?” I didn’t answer, but spared a glance towards Isabel who was trying to hide a smile. I shook my head and continued down the hallway.

*           *           * 

Downstairs consisted of just one rather expansive, if sparsely decorated, greeting room. There were two exits: the stairs, which I now walked down, and a rather large set of doors on the other side of the room. The room itself was empty of furnishings with the exception of a few tasteful tapestries and an antique secretariat beside the stairs.

In the silent seconds it took reach the first floor, I considered my two companions and their attire. Isabel’s slender frame was accentuated by the sleek midnight blue gown and her black hair was kept in a single elegant braid along her back. Elayne’s hair was also black, but where Isabel’s was the color of onyx, Elayne’s was a softer, charcoal black. She was shorter then Isabel and all curves – a fact not hidden by her violet gown, slit to mid-thigh. I was keenly aware of them, a connection intimate in its subtlety; at the bottom of the stairs they took up positions to either side of me.

The woman waiting in the center of the room was one I recognized. Her green eyes were a bright shade of emerald and not easy to forget – no matter how much I disliked the person they belong to. Just behind her was a man who stood a good foot taller then the woman. He held himself still and without expression. He did not appear to be armed, but I could not see his hands. That made me uneasy.

“Keili, what is so urgent that you felt it necessary to come to my place of business when you know you are unwelcome here?” I kept the tone of my voice relatively restrained despite my growing unease. I knew Keili and had a solid understanding of what she was capable of. This man, however, was unknown and therefore quite dangerous. Elayne and Isabel must have felt me tense – they glanced at each other and stepped a bit closer.

Keili smiled. “Master M, I am here to convey a message.” she said and touched the black butterfly clasp that held her pale blonde hair in place. I found the color of her hair less impressive than her eyes, but as a whole, she could be considered beautiful. I glanced again at the man behind her. She noticed my gaze shift and added, “This is the messenger, Joseph.”

Joseph took a step forward, eclipsing Keili and giving me my first full look at him. More often than not, it only takes me a few seconds to assess people.

Unfortunately for me, it took him even less time to deliver his message.

His hands came forward with a flash of steel. I heard the sound of something solid and sharp meeting flesh and I knew that the two knives had found homes in my companions. I closed on Joseph just in time for him to connect his fist to my face with enough force to throw me off my feet.

The man was fast. And strong. Stunned, I found myself on my back. Listening to my friends die.

As I lay there gathering my wits, I tried to block out the soft gurgling sound of Isabel and Elayne trying to breathe around metal. Dizzy from the punch, in took all of my concentration just to roll onto my stomach. I pulled myself to my knees and risked a glance upwards to see Joseph and Keili watching. I’m not sure what I expected, but they hadn’t move in for the kill. The death of my friends was clearly a message I was meant to survive. By the time I finally found my feet, it was to silence.

Standing there on unsteady feet, I’m not entirely sure what frightened me more – the idea of dying or the fact I was able to press aside the wave of grief that threatened to pull me under. I didn’t try to save them; the cold part of me knew it was already too late. I forced myself to ignore the raw nerves left from the brutal emotional amputation of two people whose ties to me ran deeper then those between lovers or friends. What was left, with the grief locked away? I was scared. Nervous. And something else. Angry.

It started with the incessant pounding in my head and the ache in my bruised cheek where I had been hit. The wetly sucking sounds my friends made while gasping for air. I found the empty places in me where Elayne and Isabel had been and let anger fill them instead.

I wiped blood from my lower lip and looked up into Joseph’s eyes. “That was exceedingly unwise.” I did not let the anger slip into my voice. It was not his to have. Still, he found something not to like in my gaze because his left hand was slowly reaching towards his back again.

I may not be as fast or strong as this man, but this was my home. I stumbled back several feet until I felt the wall behind me. I reached left and my hand found the sliding top of the secretariat. Joseph’s hands were just coming forward again with the glint of two more knives when the crossbow bolt appeared in his neck. His eyes widened, and he attempted to choke something out. I found it rather hard to understand around the obstruction in his throat. He wobbled and let the knives slip from his fingers, reaching up in a vain attempt to touch the bolt in his throat. What he thought he could do now, I hadn’t the faintest idea. There was a soft thud as he crumpled and slid to the ground.

I had two bolts left in the custom made hand-held crossbow, both of which were now aimed at the woman standing four feet in front of me.

“Jaedin, don’t! This was just a warning, a message. Please, Jaedin, I’ll tell you–“ Keili was staring at her dead companion on the ground and her words tumbled out breathless and desperate.

I evaluated the circumstances and decided not to listen through her begging. There was always the off chance she would confess to the true meaning of her message, but it might also give her the time needed to manage an unlikely escape. I released the first of the remaining bolts into the largest target available – her torso; I’m not a perfect shot and I wasn’t going to take any chances. It took her in the stomach; at the distance I was shooting, the bolt hit with convincing force and she doubled over. I sent the last bolt at her head and was pleasantly surprised to see it hit. The shoot rocked her head back and she joined Joseph and my friends on the floor.

I returned to the secretariat to retrieve three new crossbow bolts from a small drawer along the bottom, and a steel lath from one drawer up. I settled the three bolts into their wooden grooves and considered what I knew about the situation; whoever had instigated this attack knew I was weakest against a direct physical assault. I relied heavily on my influence over others to ensure the safety of my home and friends.

I used the steel lathe and slowly pulled back on the hemp string, taking my time as I thought about the implications of what had just occurred. That someone would risk the consequences of such actions meant one of three things. They were exceedingly stupid, exceedingly brave, or exceedingly sure of what I would do next. I had few living enemies left; that they were living precluded them from the first two options.

So. They thought they understood me well enough to guess what I would do next. Did they think I would fly into a rage at the death of my companions and do something reckless? Did they believe I would burn coldly, carefully plan out my revenge, and take my time to ensure their suffering? I settled the fully loaded crossbow down on the secretariat and ran one finger along the smooth wood of its stock. I turned and looked at the two bodies who only minutes before were smiling behind me. There was rage. There was grief. I wanted to embrace both.

But…not yet. I had things to do first.

Whatever my enemies thought I would do, whatever rules they thought were being followed, it wouldn’t help them.

I was about to change the game.

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