Chapter Seventeen

Even as he watched, the man who stood before him laughed, a merry smile of cheer, as pale skin was swallowed by a sheet of glowing blue, the brilliant color blending and growing in the darkness, before hardening into a smooth coat of glinting scales. The scales emerged like wildfire, blazing down from the chest to the feet, which were suddenly bare, and up the neck, winding up the fine veins that pulsed with an inhuman light and patterning the skin like a painting. This close, he could see the gills that opened up at the side of the pale blue neck, the delicate lines of the fins that were embroidered along the long, silvery arms.

This is the one who was sent to kill us. But no, it is not a beast.

This is a creature of darkness.


Seeing Sendoh smile, Maki turned and picked up the package from where he had left it earlier, on the side table.

"Here." Trying not to seem too awkward, he held the gift out.

The younger man cocked his head and grinned at him. "For me, Captain?"

He flushed, half with annoyance at the title, but mostly from a warmth that ran through his body with the ease of speech they had with each other. "I believe so."

Sendoh reached over and took the package, the paper crinkling and rustling as he brought it onto his lap and stared at it for a moment, leaving it unopened. Then he looked up.

"What is this really for, Captain?"


A demon of shape-changing. He had not expected anything like this, not when he had seen it rip Sendoh apart, not even when it had looked at him and snarled, its blood-red eyes glistening with tears of greed. Like the Were-Kin of legend…they who can mask themselves so into the image of a loved one or an enemy, a leader or a fool…

When he had returned to the palace, he had dismissed the mental chains he had been nearly dragged under by as a result of a drug, one that had been wafted through the air, claiming his senses. He had been wrong.

So it is true. The Archduke has the living of myths in his army. He has sent them to kill those who no mortal could defeat. The Haka Assassins. Us.


From the darkness, a taller figure emerged, hooded. Kogure kept his eyes fiercely closed, struggling against the unphysical bonds that his mind raged against, the burning that he remembered from before. Only now, alone, it seemed unparalleled, as he gritted his teeth and the first blast broke against his will.


The direct question caught him off his guard, and in that instant he couldn’t think of an answer, but Sendoh looked back down at the unopened gift and continued speaking, softer this time.

"We’ve faced each other down with swords to our hearts. I’ve lied to you, made use of you. And above all…I am a killer, Captain." His voice was plain, tired, his tone harsh and frank. "Why do you play around with your words and actions like this? Why are you being so nice to me?" His gaze rose, and this time, as he pinned Maki with his stare, the captain could see the ruthless, disciplined, and coldly detached eyes of the assassin behind the smiling mask.

And he hated it. He didn’t want to be shut out. Not now—and—his mind suddenly established, not ever. He answered the only way his instincts told him to.

Moving rashly, and before common sense could kick in and deter him, Maki, Captain of the Prince’s Guard, leant over and kissed the Haka assassin lightly.