Chapter Eighteen

Rukawa slipped out of the kitchen gates as quietly as he could, slouching and pulling the thick brown cloak closer about him as his footsteps hurried down the marbled platform before landing, with a quiet impact, on the soft ground.

The memory of the moment, days ago, still burned into his mind like embers on bare skin.

But he couldn’t give him up.

For inexplicable reasons, Rukawa remained attracted to the Haka assassin. He had been directly rejected, but for the first time as a king, it did not bother him as much as inflame him.

He needed to see him again. Talk to him. Needed to, because his confession, though it had hurt, had ended up changing nothing at all. With resolution, he headed towards the corner of the garden where he had seen the coppery-haired man disappear into a few moments earlier.


Maki pulled back, logic warring crazily with heart-thumping exhilaration and something that felt too close to fear for comfort. But as he drew away, slim, loosely bandaged hands reached up and curved lightly, softly around his body.


Even as he battled against the mage, Kogure had forgotten about the other physical presence that stood in front of him. As he clenched his jaw unnoticeably, controlled, a weight slammed into him from the side and caught by surprise, he faltered, crashing to the ground. As he fell, his hand automatically fell to his side and loosened the chain, years of practice and battles of bloodshed making him unsnap the clasp, and hurl the dangerous metal through the air wildly, before his shoulder came into contact with the ground and he yanked back.

He heard a howl of pain, an inhuman screech as scalding black blood spilled on him, soaking through the material of his robes and burning into his skin as the blades on the chain flashed back, dull with success. The pressure of the probes on his mind intensified, until he felt like screaming, but he held it back, climbing to his feet swiftly and struggling to maintain himself.

Bloodlust began to course through his veins. A small smile tipped his lips. He would get rid of one and then the other. With that thought, he turned back to the creature, torn from the shoulder to forearm, the creature that growled and hissed at him. And then he lashed out with the chain again, spinning it with all the skill and sense that he had acquired ever since he had trained to become a fighter. The creature ducked, but the very end spike of the chains caught him again, this time in the chest, slashing a semi-deep wound before it retracted. He closed himself to the pain that was building up, the blinding weight that threatened to crush his skull, and focused with dim determination on the creature as it lunged. This time, it avoided the chains, and he heard more than felt a sharp ripping as razor claws sliced into his body. Crimson splashed in the deathly quiet.

The force pummeling into his mind intensified, and he bit his lip hard, choking on the blood that filled his mouth. And then blinding heat flamed into his consciousness.


Rukawa reached the small gates that blocked off the main garden, and climbed nimbly over it, turning the corner that was hidden from view by the tall trees. It was silent in the evening, other than a sudden strange hissing…as he spun around, what he saw froze him.

A sudden burst of light from the shadows of the clearing jolted him back from paralysis as he saw it strike the wounded Haka assassin in the middle of the triangle that he now formed with the intruders. And if anything, the pain and devastation rang louder in the stillness because the man made no sound.

A second ball of energy grew as a slim, glinting blue creature circled the man at a safe distance. Horror filled him.

He’s going to die.

Without thinking, Rukawa plunged forward, past the safety of the darkness that had been shielding him, and in front of the Haka assassin, just as the burst of crackling energy was hurtled their way.