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There’s nothing deadlier than a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and nothing sadder than a sheep that doesn’t know it’s a sheep. Take for instance the maleborn seated to Arya’s right. Tall, olive skin, not much muscle on that one, but he’s lean with a face even a mother would find hard to love. A half a second glance from the corner of her eye as she sat down beside him had helped her perceive as much. He’s no more than twenty cycles and he reeks of failure, lack of a proper soak, and ill intent. Arya can feel his eyes watching her every move when he thinks she’s not looking. Hope that she drinks her fill and stumbles out onto the street ripe for the picking gleams in his eyes.
Brawler’s Bay Tavern is where every low-life in the badlands gathers to drown out the voices in their heads, telling them how shitty they are. The redolence of disappointment, broken dreams, insobriety and unmet potential are all wafting in the atmosphere. Between windows heavily covered with dust no one can see through, to the injustices going on on the inside, the battered wooden table and chairs poorly put together, and wooden floors littered with trash from wall to wall, its no wonder the whose who of criminals all flock to this place.
Another sideways glance at the failure and Arya learns everything she needs to know. Two, one in each boot…blades…both dull. Two at the hip…also dull. Probably from the lack of use and care, Arya guesses.
Keeping her eyes trained on the stein in front of her, she beckons the would-be wolf. A viper lying in wait. It wouldn’t be the first time her youth caused those around her to underestimate her. She orders a few more rounds before staggering from the Tavern into the unforgiving night.
It isn’t long before she hears the sound of footsteps behind her, and she can smell him. He smells of sweetsmoke and he keeps close, waiting for the perfect moment to pounce. A couple of socialites approach trekking in the opposite direction. She can’t help herself and bumps into them, hands quick as lightening.
“Pardon me,” she staggers and nearly falls on her face. The male socialite quickly reaches out to steady her and loses his watch in the process. When they’re sure she’s steadied herself, the couple carries on, unaware. And as their silhouettes disappear Arya smiles at her newly weighted pockets.
Failure is still on her heels, watching and waiting from a distance. Spotting a dark alley, Arya staggers towards it and failure follows, closing in. His heavy footsteps draw closer, carelessly, and his guard is down.
Five feet…three feet…two feet…
He grips her shoulder hard and she smiles…a wolf’s grin. Grabbing his wrist and twirling around to face him, twisting his arm in the process, Arya drops him to his knees.
Her boot is quickly at his neck, pressed against his throat. A sharp blade springs from the tip of her boot and failure begins to scream. She yanks on his arm for good measure, dislocating his shoulder and hisses, “Shut it or I’ll cut you from ear to ear.”
Failure does his best not to make a sound but the pain in his shoulder is excruciating. Arya slaps a shackle on the wrist she holds in her hand, reaches around to grab the other and shackles it in place behind his back.
“W-who are you?”
“However much they’re paying you I’ll double it,” he pants, wincing from the pain.
If only it were that simple. Arya had things to make up for, and wrongs to right. This was a start. She had half a mind to put a blade through his trachea just to watch him bleed out, but that wasn’t her charge. This was punishment for the last bloodrun she’d gone on. If you ever want to get underneath an assassins skin…steal their kill, claim their glory, or send them to capture their prey alive.
Patience and mercy were never something she had. She itched for the spray of blood. She had half a mind to sink one of her blades into him and suffer the consequences, but the bruises were still fresh on her person. Quieting the ache in her bones to kill him, she pulled him close, pulled at the fabric of the world around her and winnowed them both into an awaiting cell.
“No! NO!” Failure shouted at the vision of Dax, right hand of the Majii standing before him.
In his red leathers, a mask covering his face from the chin to the bridge of his nose, those unearthly green eyes, his hulking frame and the malice in his eyes…Dax would strike fear in anyone.
“Anan’s cock,” Dax feigned surprise, “she canbring one back alive. And in one piece too.”
“Sod off,” Arya narrows her eyes at him.
“Now-now pretty pup,” Dax smirked, “there’s no need for that kind of language. You’re being rude to our guest.”
Arya looks to failure who looks to her with confusion. Dax’s fist cracks across failure’s jaw and the man falls like dead weight to the floor. Won’t be hearing a peep out of him for a while.
She turns to leave the room when Dax calls out to her, “He awaits you in his chambers Red Daughter.”
Arya stops momentarily before continuing out of the cell and closing its doors behind her. The Majii wanting to see her could either be a good thing or a bad thing. She could never tell. Ever since she was a little girl, he’d taken her under his wing…mentored her. With that kind of favor also came harsh discipline. Usually at the end of someone’s fist, but never his. He would simply give an order and turn a blind eye. Tell her he needed to break her in order to mold her. That in order to be a Red Dragon she had to be moldable. Her skill had to be exceptional.
Red Dragons were one of the most feared assassin houses within the planes. They hailed from the Redlands and only traveled between the planes to complete charges. Failure to complete a charge successfully usually ended with a beating as well. And if you were ever captured outside of the Redlands during the commission of a charge, Anan help you. A devout Red Dragon would take his or her own life, but if you found your resolve weak…you’d be dead by dawn anyway.
No loose ends. Ever.
Determined to win favor in the eyes of the only father she ever knew, Arya suffered more beatings by the age of ten than most would suffer in a lifetime. With every beating she hardened. She fought harder…smarter…faster. By fifteen she was skilled in over one hundred different tongues, all forms of hand-to-hand combat, and every weapon known to man.
Why didn’t she just leave, you ask?
Simple…she had nowhere else to go and remembered nothing of how she came to be. She only knew the Majii, his temple, the Redlands and the Red Promise. It’s all she’s everknown. The Red way is as rooted to her as the blood in her veins. Still she’d often have dreams…or memories. Of which, she wasn’t sure. They never made any sense.
The Majii’s door was open, him waiting. Set behind a dark wooden desk, pouring over paperwork, he sat. His desk hid his size well. The Majii was tall with tanned skin and curly hair cropped close to his head. A red robe of crushed velvet with gold embroidery and trim hung over his shoulders, draping his statuesque frame. He had jewels draped across his fingers on both hands and his neck. Attire fit for a King, and that he was, in theory…King of the Redlands. A King without a crown.
Without looking up from his papers he motioned for Arya to take a seat in one of the black tufted chairs on the other side of his desk. After several minutes of silence, poring over his papers like a madman, he finally put them aside and met her glance. His icy blue eyes raking over her.
“I see you’re still in one piece.”
“Yes father,” she nods.
“How many times must I tell you, I am notyour father?”
It’s true, he isn’t. But she didn’t know who was. All she knew was the Majii. He’s filled that role for her, but whenever she slips and calls him father, he sets her straight. He’s at least a hundred cycles older than she, but he doesn’t look a cycle over twenty. That’s how it is in the Planes, Seelie or Unseelie. Once a Dom or Dame peaks, they no longer age. It’s what makes them a danger to humans, their allure.
“Pardon, mi Dom,” Arya inclines her head.
“Call me Malich.”
“Malich,” she mimics.
Malich’s eyes roam her length. The look in them always made her uncomfortable. It wasn’t the look of a father admiring his daughter. It was something else. Something less…appropriate. He stood from his seat, closed the distance between them and circled around behind her, stopping to sit on the desk facing her.
“How old are you now? Seventeen cycles?”
Arya nodded in answer, swallowing hard. Throat as dry as a bone. Quick as lightening and with a firm grip, he cupped her chin in his hand, forcing her to look him in the eyes. Her heart pounded in her chest as fear rose inside her. She forced it back and stilled her nerves.
“Use your words girl,” he commands.
“Yes…yes Malich, I’m seventeen.”
He releases her and smiles that slithering smile of his. “Have you taken a lover yet?”
Arya stiffens, not sure what his angle is. “No Malich,” she shakes her head.
“It’s a waste, don’t you think? A girl with curves such as yours and no one to share them with?”
At first she’s not sure what to make of his words. Whenever they discuss her love life his words are always sugarcoated venom. Offended, Arya replies, “I am aRed Dragon.”
“Hardly.” Malich huffs. “Perhaps with more training, obedience and less of that temper of yours. You’re nothing more than a child playing dress up as her favorite hero.”
“You wound me Majii,” Arya deflates, eyes downcast. “I know all tongues, all weapons, all forms and I’m one of your best. No one is better than I with the blade.”
“Malich!” He pounds his fist down on the table in front of her.
Stammering, she says quickly, “M-malich, my apologies, but you wound me. I would give my life for you. I would kill all to lay the world at your feet, so why do you wound me so?”
“In order to master excellence you must first master yourself,” he offers a kind smile. “I’d start with that temper of yours.”
Arya opens her mouth to protest but Malich is already on his way back to his seat, giving their conversation no more thought. “Consider your punishment lifted. Report to the Dragons Lair and resume your training with preceptor Killian.”
She stood, bowed and left his chambers, headed for the Dragons Lair. Her entire life she’s tried earning the approval of the Majii, but she always fell short, never quite measuring up.
“Holy Anan, look who’s back,” Killian claps.
Arya rolls her eyes. Normally she’d tell someone to sod off, but the last time she took that tone with Killian, he sliced through both her lips. Not enough to kill, but enough to maim. It took twenty-one moons in the infirmary, and the help of a magus for her to heal. She learned a valuable lesson that day.
He doesn’t look like much. He’s short, less than two meters. His skin is the color of mahogany and he’s very handsome, with more muscle than all her comrades combined. His physique, set in a small frame, is nothing short of exquisite. He’s quick as lightening, fierce and his precision is deadly.
“Join your comrade’s, you’re just in time for today’s lesson.”
Arya inclines her head and takes her place at the front of the class. One of her comrade’s, who’d taken her place at front, takes up a new position in the back.
Training always starts the same way, Tai Chi, followed by blindfolding and sparring against each other. As Arya improved, her sparring partner would get switched out to match her new skill level. Her skill level is so high now that only alumni are allowed to spar with her.
The alumni are the elite soldiers within the Red Legion. There are twenty of them total and whenever Malich needs someone high profile dead, he sends them. Arya would give her left tit to be one of the alumni. To fight amongst some of the greatest soldiers known within the planes. But at the moment it appears to be impossible. In order to be elite, you have to be chosen by Malich and although she’s fucking surgical with any weapon, Malich seems unimpressed with her skill overall.
Still, one can dream…
Once the lesson is over Arya and her comrades retire to their quarters. It’s been three moons since she last lay in her own bed, and the soft cushion of her mattress is calling her name. As she nears her room, she notices comrade Lumi leaning against the wall beside her room door, waiting. Lumi is beautiful. Arya would recognize her fair skin, long wavy black hair that fell to her waist, thin build and piercing eyes the color of honey from anywhere.
“You’re back,” Lumi smiles a serpent’s smile. Arya has known her since they were both ten cycles. As far as she can remember Lumi has always been up to no good.
She wouldn’t have it any other way.
She remembers the day the deadly beauty was brought to the Dragons Lair. The alumni had rescued her from a pleasure house. They had orders to bring all women and children to the Majii for him to decide what to do with them. He gave every female employ and the children were sent to the Dragon’s Lair for grooming as future members of the Red Legion. The men were all slaughtered.
“Anything interesting happen while I was absent?” Arya smiles back.
“I wish,” Lumi rolls her eyes inviting herself into Arya’s room. “This place is as boring as a canoness’ sex life without you here to liven up the place.” She flops down backwards on Arya’s bed, and then rolls over onto her side, propped up by an elbow.
A long gong resonates throughout Dragon’s Lair. Lumi was quickly on her feet, she and Arya hastening to the door, their right fist pressed to their chest over their hearts.
“Novices, today is your lucky day,” Killian smiles, “four of the Alumni have fallen, which means there are four openings available. The Majii has chosen four of you to replace them and will announce his choice in the combat room. Please join us.”
Arya and Lumi both glance at each other, eyes wide. This is the opportunity of a lifetime. It’s what all Red Dragon’s aspire to become someday. It’s rare that alumni would fall. There hasn’t been an opening for as far as she can remember. Who knows when she’d get another opportunity like this? As quickly as her smile came, however, it faded. Graduating to become alumni meant Malich would have to choose her. The likelihood of that wasn’t very likely.
“What are you waiting for, let’s go!” Lumi grabbed her by the wrist and practically drug her to the combat room. They took their places on the combat room floor, arms folded behind their backs, feet out a shoulders width.
Arya looks around the room at all of the novices, sizing them up and comparing her skills to theirs. Lumi was deadly and an obvious choice. Although she and Arya were friends, Lumi was also Arya’s fiercest competition. Feria was another fierce competitor. Her knowledge in the dark art of poisons gave her an edge over Arya. Then there was Rayu. His strength combined with how well he mastered all other forms of combat made him a candidate for graduation as well.
Malich entered the room and it went deathly quiet. Dax stood beside him to his right and the preceptor for the Alumni, Mekhi stood to his left. “When I call your name, please step forward,” Malich instructed.
Arya waited with baited breath. Even though she knew it was a long shot, she still hoped. Malich cleared his throat and called the first name. “Lumi.” Lumi let out a triumphant sigh, flashed Arya a comforting smile and quickly stepped forward. She bowed to both Malich and Mekhi.
“Rayu,” came the second name. As he stepped forward to claim his position, tension swelled in Arya’s chest as anxiety took over. “Feria,” Malich spoke the third name. Only one position left now and Arya held her breath, the suspense proving unfathomable.
It had to be her. No one left was even a fraction of the assassin she was.
“Anwar,” Malich spoke the final name.
Arya couldn’t believe it. Anwar?He was nowhere nearthe caliber of soldier she was. She could dance circles around him and then some. Unable to hold her tongue as Anwar took his place beside the others, Arya stepped forward, hurt written in her expression and in her voice. “Is this a joke?” She seethed. “I could rip him in half with one arm tied behind my back and my eyes closed.”
Dax stepped forward to greet her. “Mind your tongue in the presence of the Majii,” he warned.
“Malich?” Arya searched his eyes, wanting to understand.
“To master ones skill, they must first learn to master themselves.”
Arya and Malich stood, eyes locked, and Arya’s temper brewing just beneath the surface. This was a slap in the face and he knew it. He’s taking her friends away, leaving her here alone. He’d be all she has left. Something told her this was the way he wanted it to be and her being left off his list wasn’t an accident.
Reluctantly, Arya inclines her head to the Majii and watches as her friends are taken from the room. Lumi looks back in the moments just before Dax closes the door and she gives Arya an apologetic smile.
Arya and the rest of her comrades are dismissed back to their chambers. There’s no way she’s staying in this place. For the first time since making this her home Arya realizes she will never get ahead…never progress…never be what she aspires to be. He won’t let her. She’d never get past the front doors of the Red Keep without a charge.ns220.127.116.11da2