Arya watched Mekhi’s technique, studying his every move, countermove and defensive moves. He moved with grace, his strikes were precise, and his feet were light. He reminded her of a dancer the way he wielded his weapons.
She was paired against Jemma, Mekhi’s favored disciple, for the last battle of the day. Her father was Nephlim but even as a half-breed she towered over every other girl easily. She wasn’t half bad with a weapon either and had trained with Mekhi the longest. Malich had sent her to Mekhi three cycles back.
Arya inclined her head to Jemma and with speed she hadn’t expected, Jemma had knocked her on her arse. Her pride injured, Arya rocked back on her shoulders and flipped herself onto her feet. Their bout hadn’t even started yet and Jemma was already taking cheap shots.
Mekhi’s lips curled into a smirk. It gave him satisfaction to watch Arya have her arse handed to her. She took note but kept her eyes trained on the half-Nephlim in front of her. Jemma chose two shorts pears to extend her already far-reaching arms. She was hoping to keep Arya at Bay while simultaneously beating her offensively.
Arya chose twin great swords, her favorite aside from her twin scimitars and the bow and arrow. She met Jemma in the middle of the combat circle, inclined her head and took a stance waiting for Mekhi to begin the match.
Mekhi nodded and Jemma attempted another quick strike but this time Arya was ready. She deflected Jemma’s blow and gave her a light shove to set her off balance. Anger flared behind Jemma’s dark eyes. “Tell me,” Jemma circled her, “How often did you have to polish the Majii’s cock to get here?” Arya bristled. Jemma was trying to get underneath her skin. She tried to block her out, but Jemma wouldn’t let up. “I hear he fucks like a lion, is it true?”
“Shut up and fight,” Arya glared at her.
“Perhaps I’ll find out for myself,” she smiled.
Arya lunged, but Jemma spun out of reach and opened up the skin at the small of her back with one of her spears. Arya cried out in pain and fell to her knees. Jemma could have finished her then, but she didn’t. That wasn’t her angle. She wanted to humiliate Arya in front of her peers.
Arya looked to Mekhi who nodded to Jemma. This was a setup. He wanted to make an example of her in front of everyone.
“If you think allowing the Majii to sheath his cock between your legs will afford you the respect of an alumni assassin you are sorely mistaken,” Jemma taunted her. “Some of us have worked hard for cyclesfor what you’re hoping a night in his bed will give you.”
A spear flies overhead and Arya leans back, just out of reach only to have a second spear open the skin in her abdomen. She dropped to her knees a second time, holding her abdomen. She pulled her hand away and stared at her blood. “It’s just a little blood,” Jemma smirked. “We all bleed the first time.”
It was the last jab at her relationship with Malich she was going to take. Jemma raised a spear to strike and Arya waited until the last second before she twirled out of the spears reach, grabbed hold of it and gave it a hard tug. Jemma came staggering towards her and with a sweep of her feet Arya had her flat on her stomach. Pressing her sword against Jemma’s throat, Arya warned her to surrender. Scared for her life, Jemma held her hands up and surrendered. Her eyes were wide with shock that she’d been beaten. Gasps and murmurs filled the room.
Mekhi ordered the sparring session over and Arya shoved her face into the floor. “If anyone else wishes to goad me to anger,” Arya pointed her sword at the lot of them, “understand it’s the quickest way to lose your tongue.”
“Anan’s cock,” Nezra, Jemma’s closest friend gasped. She rushed to help Jemma up off the floor. She glared at Arya who returned her glare, tossing her swords at Nezra’s feet.
“I suppose I have you to thank for that little show out there,” Arya sliced her eyes in Mekhi’s direction, seething with anger.
“You fared well,” Mekhi merely nodded. Arsehole!
“Exactly what the hell were you trying to prove?”
“Nothing,” he shakes his head before whispering to her, “You can never leave him now you do know that don’t you? There are things you will learn and things you will not like, but you must remain at his side.”
“I am in his service, he will command me as he wishes,” she nods.
Mekhi tends to Jemma, and Lumi and Rayu quickly surround Arya, grinning from ear to ear. “How the bloody hell did you do that?” Lumi demanded to know. “She had you dead to rights and you turned the tables.”
“I don’t know,” Arya shrugged. “I just got tired of her mouth.”
“Did you see Jemma’s face? Served the bitch right,” Rayu laughed.
“Nice work out there,” Jax approached, eyes on Lumi as usual.
“I’m sorry, were you complementing me or my friend?”
Jax finally tore his eyes away from Lumi, “You.”
“Thank you,” Arya nods.
“What do you want Jax?” Lumi pins him with a glare.
Arya isn’t sure if Lumi is playing hard to get or if she really despises Jax. Her body language says she’s into him, but the scowl on her face is a different story. She doesn’t trust him. With all of the lessons going on in secret, Arya can’t blame her cautious friend. Jax is Lumi’s equal in every way. He’s incredibly handsome, fair skinned, and at least six feet tall with defined muscles. He’s quick on his feet, he’s smart, and he can con the undergarments off any woman he wishes with a simple gaze.
“A word with you…alone.”
The internal battle going on inside Lumi’s head as to whether she should give in to Jax was one Arya recognized all too well. It’s the same battle she had whenever Malich had breeched the proximity of her comfort. And much like Arya, Lumi gave in to the handsome stranger.
“And then there were two,” Rayu smirked watching Lumi slink away with the handsome stranger.
“Actually, I need to study, I’ll catch you later.”
“Study?” He frowned, “For what?You have the most powerful man in the world at your beck and call, you’re all but guaranteed a position in the alumni.”
“Jealous?” Arya teased. One conversation with Rayu and she’d picked up on his admiration for those of his same sex. She’d caught him eyeing both Ihsan and the Majii a time or two.
Smirking Rayu says, “Just a little.”
Arya laughs and heads to her chambers. One glance at her bed, and the loneliness she felt after a full turn had passed with no word from Malich resurfaced. She wondered if he lost interest. Perhaps she’d given in too quickly, but he’d beggedher to concede.
Never once had she ever questioned herself…her beauty…her desirability until this moment. Had he really cast her aside? She hated herself for allowing him to cause her to question herself. Lying down in her bed, images of their night together filled her thoughts.
His tender touch, the way his lips felt against hers, the commanding gaze in his eyes, and the way their souls seemed to meld into one. She hadn’t known it would be that…exquisite. For hours she lay there thinking about the Majii who’d set her soul on fire and then vanished like a thief in the night, taking her heart with him. She reached exhaustion shortly after the Red Towers had gone silent, all its occupants turning in for the night.
Sometime later, and she wasn’t sure of the hour, but the sound of quiet footsteps awakened her. For a heartbeat her heart thundered inside her chest wondering if he’d returned, but the scraping of steel against leather robbed her of that elation.
Arya kept a stiletto under her pillow for this very reason. Gripping it in her fingers she waited for whomever it was to come closer. Was it a preceptor? Was it a fellow disciple? Whoever it was had picked the wrong girl to mess with. As soon as they got to the foot of her bed she rolled over onto her back, sending her stiletto singing through the air. It hit it’s mark and a male soldier dressed to the teeth in armor bearing a crest she didn’t recognize dropped to his knees at the foot of her bed, clenching his throat as red blood poured from the wound she’d gifted him.
“Who sent you?” She asked, clenching his throat to stop the bleeding. “Tell me and I’ll save your life.”
The soldier’s eyes began to flutter and then she watched as the life extinguished from his eyes leaving only an empty carcass. “Shit,” she tossed him aside. She really didneed to learn some finesse.
Arya crept to her door and peered out into the corridor. Soldiers were lining up disciples and shackling them together. Soon they’d expect the soldier to escort her out of her room. She peered back at the dead soldier and smiled. She had an idea. After dressing, she quickly pulled off his armor and put it on, grabbing several weapons including the dead soldiers’. She dragged the dead soldier to the side of her bed and exited her room. Another soldier approached and she said a silent prayer to Anan. “This one put up a fight, he’s dead,” she spoke in the deepest voice she could muster.
“Aye,” the other soldier nodded. Arya looked down at Lumi who looked down at the ground and smirked.
Masquerading as a soldier, Arya helped the real soldiers round up the other disciples on her wing, but made sure their shackles were easily escapable. They brought all of the disciples into the main hall where Arya noted none of the preceptors were in attendance. Their skill, she hoped, served them well.
“Report!” A man donning the same golden crest shouted to the soldiers. Given the many ribbons and medals pinned to his cape, Arya surmised he must be in charge.
A second soldier hurried over to him and began rattling off their status. “All pupils accounted for or dead, but there is no sign of the alumni nor the preceptors.”
“Are we sure our Intel is correct?” The one in charge asked.
“Then they couldn’t have just vanished into thin air. We have our orders, leave no one alive and findthe preceptors. They have knowledge his majesty finds of importance,” the Captain commanded.
Footsteps at the other end of the main hall caught everyone’s attention. In walked another group of soldiers lead by Jemma and Nezra. Neither of them was in shackles and between the soldiers Arya saw the preceptors. They were all shackled, bruised and bloodied.
Traitor!Jemma had sold them out, but to whom or what Arya wasn’t sure. And Mekhi…he’d taken Jemma under his wing. He’d grown especially fond of her. Her treachery cut him the deepest from the expression he wore.
“Ah, Jemma…you’ve done his majesty well.” The Captain smiled at her.
“You’re welcome my love,” she cast him a sly grin of her own as she crossed the distance between them and firmly planted her lips against his.
“Where is this leverage you speak of?” The Captain asked, looking round the room.
“Tis a girl, Arya…the Majii likes to sheath his cock in that one,” Jemma replied, scanning the room. When she didn’t find Arya amongst the faces she went rigid. “Where is she?” She found Lumi and pointed to her. “Her chamber was beside this one.”
The soldier who approached Arya outside her chambers after she’d killed his counterpart slowly looked in her direction. He whispered to another and they both turned to Arya, moving to flank her on either side.
Pulling at the fabric of the world around her, Arya winnowed out of the armor into the shadows of the room, and not a moment too soon. A soldier had moved up behind her and driven his sword through the armor. It clattered to the floor in a heap and the soldiers’ eyes went wide with shock. They looked around the room frantically.
Arya knew she had to do something, but what?There were stone pillars and windows covered with heavy red curtains bearing the Red Crest, but nothing she could use against the soldiers other than the element of surprise.
Reaching into the pockets of her black leather pants, she pulled out three throwing stars. Preceptors and then fellow disciples, she told herself. There were three soldiers guarding the preceptors and if she could eliminate the three she hoped the preceptors could break free and pick up where she left off. The Captain she wanted alive.
“What do you want? Have we not been loyal to you?” Mekhi asked the Captain.
“That remains to be seen. It seems as if your Majii believes he no longer answers to his majesty. An error he will soon regret,” the Captain replied.
Eyes wide with fear, Mekhi gasped, “What have you done?”
“Cut off the head and the rest will die. The Red Legion exists because we will it, and it’s high time your Majii understood that.”
“What have you done to him?”
“Nothing yet, but for how long one cannot be certain. His majesty wants an apology and blood. He shall have both.”
Panic gripped Arya’s heart. They had Malich and they intended to kill him. She’d heard enough. Malich warned her never to use her gifts and if she did, she wasn’t to leave anyone alive to talk about it. They were all going to die today…the captain…eventually.
Closing her eyes, she sent the throwing stars singing through the air and they hit their targets with a sickening thud. Three to be exact. Three thuds for three bodies.
“Holy Gods!” The Captain flinched. His men quickly surrounded him.
Arya closed her eyes again and calmed her breathing to barely above a whisper. Yes…they were allgoing to die today.
Winnow…sever trachea…winnow…sever spine…winnow…slit throat. Arya continued this pace, disappearing and reappearing, spraying the blood of the soldiers until only the captain remained standing, his face drained white as if he’d seen a ghost. She winnowed directly in front of him and he staggered backwards, falling onto his backside trying to crawl away.
“What in Anan’s name are you?”
Covered in the blood of at least a hundred men, she pointed her sword at him. The coward. She circled the Captain wondering what would be the best way to pry what she needed from him. “I’m wrath, pleased to meet you.” Arya slid her sword down the Captains throat to his family jewels. “What of Malich? Where do they have him?” She simply asked, careful to disguise her voice from the others.
He sang like a canary. “My orders were to slaughter everyone here, save the preceptors, and bring the Majii’s mistress back to him so he could watch her die.”
Arya narrowed her eyes at him. “How many know the Majii has a mistress?” She asked.
For a moment she considered killing him but a more sinister thought entered her mind. Pressing her boot into his chest and pinning him to the ground, she sheathed her sword. She gripped the stilettos at her hips and sent them singing in the air behind her.
Two more thuds…
“Jemma!” The Captain cried out.
“The Red Legion has no room for traitors, but luckily for you, I have a message for his majesty I want you to deliver.” The Captain glared at her, murderous intent in his eyes. She could see the desire to kill her in his eyes. Smiling, she whispered to him, “You came here to kill one of us and now your beloved is dead. Tell his majesty that if one hair is harmed on the Majii’s head, I will hunt and kill everything and everyonehe’s ever loved. I won’t just kill them…I’ll bathe in their blood and leave their lifeless bodies in his bed beside him.”
“You think you can take on an entireKingdom?”
Leaning in close enough for him to see her eyes underneath her cloak she replied, “Probably not, but the Kingdom will bleed red long before I fall. Now…whereis the Majii?”
The Captain sealed his lips, refusing to speak. Not in the mood for his games and running out of time, Arya unsheathed her sword and put it through his sword hand. His will to survive took over, motivating his lips to move. “He’s still at his residence!” The Captain shouted, “There’s another Captain there, holding him hostage and waiting for my return.”
With a wave of her hand Arya winnowed the Captain into the Forest of Fallacy. The forest was a death sentence. If the illusions the wilderness could conjure up didn’t kill you, then the animals would. If the Captain survived, it would at least buy her the time she needed to save Malich.
Arya turned to her fellow disciples and the preceptors. Focusing on their locks she closed her eyes and weaved her energy through every mechanism within. Finding the locking pin, she set everyone free with the twitch of her fingers. Their shackles fell to the floor.
“I know what you’re thinking and I urge you to reconsider,” Mekhi approached cautiously. He knew who she was.
“They’ll kill him,” Arya glared at him, her voice barely above a whisper.
“Isn’t that what we do here as assassins. Every time we leave this place with a charge we are in essence walking to our deaths. At least when I walk towards death, this time I’ll also be walking towards someone I care for.”
She took a step back and he tried to stop her, but she winnowed a fraction of a second before he got to her.ns184.108.40.206da2