Authors: Livia Blackburne
Rollan nodded a greeting as they approached. He was a big man with messy yellow hair, about ten years older than Tristam. “That’s all of us. Kyra, give us an update.”
The men gathered around. “Ashley’s a low-ranking member of the Guild,” said Kyra. “If he keeps his patterns from earlier this week, he should be home. He’s a good
fighter, so be careful.”
It had taken Kyra considerable time to track him down. After the Palace pardoned Kyra’s crimes, she’d agreed to help Malikel track down the rest of the Guild and bring them to
justice. The first assassin, a taciturn man named Jason, had been easy to capture. But as word of Jason’s imprisonment had spread, the rest of the Guild went underground. Kyra found nothing
for weeks, until finally she’d run across rumors of Ashley hiding in an old house in the beggars’ sector.
“Kyra, scout the house,” said Rollan. “Brancel, go help her.”
Kyra kept her head low as she and Tristam set off down the street. The streets here were narrow and dirty, with the upper stories hanging over the lower ones and blocking the light. She could
sense the handful of loiterers and beggars on the street giving them suspicious looks. The Palace folk stood out here despite their efforts to blend in. Their clothes were too nice, and they
carried themselves too straight. Well, it was too late to do anything about that. She quickened her steps and turned into an empty alleyway.
“You’ll be climbing up here?” Tristam asked quietly.
Kyra nodded, pleased that Tristam knew her habits well enough to anticipate her movements. “Give me a boost?”
He checked over his shoulder to make sure no one was watching, then joined his hands to form a step for her.
She pushed off him and pulled herself over the edge of the roof. The old wooden shingles felt as if they’d come apart if she bent them hard enough, and she was glad she had gloves to
protect her from splinters. “Thank you. You’re a decent stepladder.”
“You know,” came his voice from below, “in some circles I’m known for my combat skills and quick strategic mind.”
“And here I thought it was your pretty face,” she said under her breath.
Kyra looked down from the roof to find Tristam’s mouth quirked in a mischievous smile. “You think so?”
Their gazes met for a moment, and the flutter in Kyra’s stomach was not at all convenient for running a mission. She scowled and traced the line of the rooftop with her gaze.
“I’m off, then.”
This entire street was lined with cheaply constructed boarding-houses, favored by landlords who often rented out each room to a different family. Kyra had to use a soft step and watch her way
carefully so she wouldn’t tread on any rotten tiles. There was far more creaking and shifting underneath her feet than she would have liked.
The assassin, Ashley, lived in an attic apartment. These rooms had windows that protruded out of the roof under slanted eaves, and Kyra counted them as she climbed over each one, finally
stopping at the fifth. Though the shutters were closed, there was a thin gap where they met. When Kyra put her eye to the crack, she could make out a man sitting on the floor, doing some work with
his hands. She had only seen Ashley once or twice during her time at the Guild, but it was definitely him.
Her target found, Kyra crept to the very edge of the roof. About ten people walked the streets below. Though they all could have seen Kyra easily in the afternoon sun, Tristam was the only one
looking up. His eyes met hers, and then he walked casually away.
Her message delivered, Kyra went back to the window and waited, straining her ears for any sound from within—hard to do because the street noise below was louder. She thought she heard a
faint knock—not loud enough to be someone at Ashley’s door, though it could have been Rollan’s men knocking on the building’s main entrance. She risked another peek inside
and saw Ashley pause in his work and inch his way toward the door. He held a dagger in his hand. Kyra drew her own blade but stayed put. Her orders were to wait by this window in case he tried to
The door to Ashley’s room crashed open and Rollan’s men rushed in. The clashing of blades scraped Kyra’s ears. A man screamed in pain, and Ashley pushed past the Red Shields
out the door as Rollan yelled a command to follow him. Kyra squinted through the crack, trying to see who’d been hurt, but there was too much going on. She jostled the latch. When it
wouldn’t budge, she stepped back and aimed a kick at the window. The flimsy shutters gave way, and she swung herself into the room.
It was empty. The door was flung open. A Red Shield named Daly sat in the corridor outside while his comrade, a skinny young Red Shield named Fitz, bound a bandage around his thigh. Judging from
the amount of blood, the wound looked deep.
“He needs a healer,” said Fitz as Kyra came closer. Kyra crouched next to them, relieved that the injured man hadn’t been Tristam, then feeling guilty for thinking it.
Together, she and Fitz helped Daly to his feet. They had just started hobbling toward the staircase when Tristam and Rollan came running back up.
Rollan shook his head when Kyra caught his eye. “Gone. He went out a trapdoor.”
Kyra sagged under Daly’s weight. All that time tracking the assassin down, and he was out of reach again.
Rollan’s brows knitted together as he took in Daly’s condition, and he motioned for Tristam to take Kyra’s place. “Back to the Palace. Everyone.”
Rollan made the decision to continue hiding their livery as they helped Daly back to the Palace. There was no need to broadcast weakness on the Palace’s part. The party
did get its share of curious looks as it marched, but nobody stopped the group, and nobody asked any questions. Rollan dismissed Kyra when they reached the Palace gate.
“We’ll have to consult with Malikel about the next step,” the knight said. “But he’ll be busy entertaining the Edlan and Parna delegations for the next week. He may
not be ready to deal with the Guild until after they’re gone.”
As the others entered the Palace, Kyra gratefully headed back home. Idalee was probably cooking dinner by now, and Kyra wanted to be in a place where she didn’t have to hide her
frustration. The merchant sector was starting to empty out for the evening. A wide avenue lined with shops had only a handful of people walking through. Kyra had just turned down a smaller street
toward home when a wire looped around her neck.
Kyra almost didn’t react in time. Another moment of hesitation, and the noose would have closed. As it was, she fell back into her attacker and managed to snake her arm between the wire
and her neck so the metal dug into the wool of her tunic instead of the exposed skin of her throat. She ducked and grabbed the knife from her boot with her free hand, twisting around so her blade
touched her opponent’s stomach just as his grazed her throat.
Bacchus, James’s second in command, wore a frightening grin as their eyes met. His wire was still tight around her arm, and his knife held steady at her neck. But he didn’t press his
“You’ve gotten quicker,” he said. There was no trace of fear in his expression. Now that James was imprisoned, he was probably the highest-ranking man in the Assassins Guild.
Kyra wondered what the Guild had been doing under his leadership.
“Put your blade away, Bacchus. It’d be a pity if we both died tonight,” said Kyra. While Bacchus looked calm enough to have been taking an evening walk, every muscle in
Kyra’s body was taut. Her arm was going numb.
He snorted. “Why don’t you withdraw yours?”
“Because my word means something, and yours doesn’t,” she said through gritted teeth. What would happen if she changed shape now? It had worked with James, but Bacchus could
just as easily stab her while she was distracted.
To her surprise, Bacchus laughed and stepped back. He loosened his grip on her arm, and she flung the garrote to the ground. Kyra kept a firm grip on her blade and scanned the street around her.
The few people who had been around before had all fled.
“If you’re trying to scare me into stopping my work with the Palace, it won’t work.”
Bacchus spat on the ground. “You snagged one of our lowest-ranking men and failed at snagging another. I in’t losing any sleep.” Kyra couldn’t tell if he was bluffing.
“I didn’t come to kill you,” he added. “I bring a message.” Kyra eyed the garrote on the ground, and he shrugged. “James said to leave you alive. He didn’t
say how alive.”
James? Kyra couldn’t help looking around. “Where is he?”
“Where you left him,” he said. “But he’s got a message for you.”
“How did he get word to you if he’s still in the dungeon?”
The assassin gave Kyra a look that conveyed just how stupid it was for Kyra to expect an answer to that question.
“He tells you to think carefully about what you’re doing against the Guild. You think you’re helping the city by cooperating with the Palace, but the wallhuggers aren’t
your friends. They never will be.”
The last time Kyra and James had talked at length, he’d warned her that the Palace would betray her. Was he still trying to sway her to his side? Was he confident enough of her
capitulation that he would show his hand like this?
“And James claims to be my friend?” she asked.
Bacchus’s eyes glittered over his ebony beard. “Trust me, lass. He doesn’t want you for a friend. But he wants you to go talk to him when you finally see clearly.”
“I’ve no interest in seeing him,” said Kyra. “He’s in the dungeon, where he belongs. I won’t fall prey to his schemes again.”
Bacchus didn’t seem surprised by her answer. He spun his blade in his hand and contemplated her thoughtfully. “You still living with the two girls?”
Idalee and Lettie. If he wasn’t threatening them outright, he was smugly reminding her of the time James had blackmailed Kyra by threatening her friends. Hot rage ran through her. “I
swear, Bacchus,” she said. “If you ever so much as hint a threat toward my family again, I will kill James and track you down. You can’t keep me out of your hideaways if I want to
get to you.” It was surprising how easily those words came out.
He laughed at that. “You’ve changed, lass, and I see I touched a sore spot. Don’t worry. Your friends are safe for now. James’s message is simply a request. The rest is
up to you.” He looked her over. “You don’t look like one of them demon beasts.”
Kyra went cold. James had told Bacchus. Why hadn’t he told the Palace?
“Get away from me,” Kyra said.
Bacchus gave a mocking bow and walked away.
T H R E E
ristam let out a groan as he eased the helmet off his head. At least it wasn’t summer, when the leather trapped the sun’s heat in a
miasma of oil and sweat. But even in the winter, he hated how the helmet pinched his temples. The icy breeze blew through his damp hair as he stood outside the guard armory after his morning shift,
standing in line behind his fellow Red Shields to hang up his gear. Each Red Shield had his own armor and basic uniform, but the overcoat that marked on-duty guards was shared, as were the
ceremonial shields and helmet covers.
“I could use a flagon right now,” said a man from inside.
“Aye, me too,” said another. “Though I’ve a craving for a good fine wine. My cousin gifted me a bottle last fall, and I still taste it in my dreams.”
“You’re turning into a right proper fatpurse.” The man raised his voice in a snooty imitation of the other. “‘I’d prefer me a fine wine.’” He cut
off abruptly amidst muttered warnings to hush, and a few men in front of Tristam looked nervously in his direction. He ignored their stares and entered to put away his own equipment.
“Good day, all,” he said after he finished, and left. The room remained silent behind him as he walked out the door.
A month in the Red Shield ranks hadn’t yet inured him to the scrutiny of his comrades. His fellow Red Shields were too intimidated by his bloodlines to give him trouble outright, but there
were constant whispers about “the disgraced knight,” and nervous glances when someone forgot his presence and spoke too freely about the Palace’s noblemen. Every morning, Tristam
breathed a sigh of relief when his daily rounds ended. He rubbed heat into his arms as he made his way back to his quarters.
He’d gone about halfway when someone called his name.
“Brancel!” Tristam turned at the voice. Sir Rollan was coming toward him with long, rolling strides. “Malikel requires everyone’s presence in his study.”
“Do I have time to get changed?”
“No. He wants everyone now.”
Whatever had happened must have been urgent, if everyone was being summoned on such short notice. “What is it?” Tristam asked.
“James managed to send a message out of the dungeon. To Kyra.”
Rollan smiled fiercely. “You’re not the first to react this way.”
Malikel’s study was already filled with people when they arrived. Tristam spotted Kyra right away, standing next to Malikel’s desk and looking unusually subdued. He caught her eye,
and she managed a wan smile in greeting. Was she all right? Had James threatened her? The room was too crowded and too quiet for Tristam to get a word with her. In addition to Kyra, there were the
twenty knights and Red Shields under Malikel’s direct command. The Defense Minister himself paced in front of his desk, his dark eyes cutting through anyone who matched gazes with him. They
waited in tense silence for a few more people to arrive. Then Malikel spoke.