Chapter Ten

Fresh fury numbed the blinding pain for a moment, as he saw the light flicker in Sendoh’s eyes. You are a friend. Perhaps my only friend.

He gritted his teeth and let his hands drop to his sides as he rose, stumbling, and glared with hate across the clearing where the mysterious mage still stood. He realized dimly that his cloak was stained with blood. Sendoh’s blood. He turned slightly, ignoring the excruciating agony that threatened to rip him apart, holding it at bay by sheer will. And he saw, with torture-clouded eyes, the slim pale hands reach for the signature chain whip of the Haka Assassins.


I’m not going down without a fight, Sendoh hissed as he raised a fist and wiped the blood from the corners of his mouth. The were-shifter had fed off the terrible aches of its bloodlust, and chose now to circle him, taunting him. It only served to make his ebbing blood boil.

He staggered as his vision dipped, but he struggled fiercely, moving with indomitable spirit as his other hand, slippery with the dark red liquid that trickled down his body, reached for the slim sheath that cased his sword. I won’t go that easily.


Mixed emotions filtered through the mental blocks as Kogure watched, only barely aware. The pain was growing steadily, but the message in Sendoh’s eyes as the latter turned and glared at him for that one split second was clear enough.

Don’t give up, Kogure.

He turned his concentration inward, regulating his breathing, slamming up the shields he had been too panicked to do earlier. The pain receded, then doubled and pushed against his defenses with brutal force. The shields held as thoughts flooded his straining consciousness.

Anger still burned, stoked with the knowledge of cruel betrayal. We’ve done so much for you, Archduke. And you finish us off like this. Such cowardice. You are afraid to be discovered?

I will not give in.

His body was still functioning, and he could run. As he steeled himself to do what he would have to, Sendoh turned and caught his eye for a moment. And then, imperceptibly, he nodded.


With a snarl, Kogure pushed back at the probes with all his might, bursting them and shattering the pressure that threatened to envelop him. He didn’t have much time; he could sense the mild surprise behind the already-rebuilding mental blasts.

He ran.


Maki stood at the window, looking down onto the palace grounds below. It was a restless night. Unconsciously, he sighed softly.

To serve my king, my country…to live a life worthy as I deem it, with glory and honor and loyalty…

It wearied him, and yet it galvanized him. It gave him mission, and for that he supposed he was grateful. Better a mission fraught with dangers, for the good of the people, than a senseless existence.

An image of a tall woman, her skirts sweeping lightly the blades of the grass, and a half-smile upon her face entered his mind, unbidden, again. He growled to himself.


We know no one, and no one knows us. There is only one place left.

He ran, unstopping, his feet making swift progress as the remnants of the mental blocks crumbled away. He ran until he could run no longer, and looked up to see a silhouette standing at the top of the guard tower.