Chapter Twenty

The group of men who made up the King’s Guard headed towards the side courts, silent in their urgency, their steps swift. As Maki, leading, approached the garden, leaping down from the platform with ease, he heard a plaintive, animalistic growl break the silence, and his heart leapt into his throat. He prayed the king was still alive.

His footsteps pounded the soft grass of the compound as he raced towards the small gates and jumped over it, his hand at the same time going to the hilt of the sword and drawing it from the simple scabbard with a soft clink of metal on metal.

The king lay in a spreading circle of dark red, his eyes open and unseeing in shock, the hood from a stained brown cloak thrown back against the flattened grass. Kogure lay limply half-atop the prone body, unmoving and his eyes closed, a slim silver chain patterned with rivulets of blood lying a short way away from his right hand.

Dangerously close to them, a being of ghastly skin and body screamed again, a low wailing that pierced the ears and made a number of men tighten their grips on their swords in a controlled attempt not to cover their heads. It was injured, tottering clumsily, its claws held to its eyes.

He lifted his hand and signaled, and then men surged forward, surrounding the creature and plunging their swords into its flesh with great effort, as brilliant blue scales glowed and snapped with sickening cracks. Maki hurried to the middle of the clearing, and was about to turn and yell for help when he felt himself frozen in place.


The voice in his head was slyly cool and confident, and sounded almost amused. You again…

I don’t like you very much.

Blinding pain exploded in his vision in white spots and numbing fury.

Might as well get rid of you, too. I already got two birds with one stone…there is another I have to finish after this, but I suppose you would be an inconvenience either way, so I should just crush you now, I think?

The men were occupied with the beast, calling for help from the palace soldiers, so that no one noticed as the captain keeled over in agony. The mental pressure increased, too painful for him even to scream, to move.

And suddenly it was gone. Completely and utterly removed.


Mitsui whirled, too late, as the dagger sank into his heart. The younger of the Haka assassins was breathing hard with the effort and trying not to collapse as the old wounds were torn open, trailing red down the hand that released the hilt of the dagger. He had caught the magic-master unawares, coming up behind him.

A cruel smile blossomed on the mage’s face as he yanked the blade out of his chest and gasped for air, using the last of his ebbing magic to reach out and crush Sendoh to his body.

Making it easier for me, Haka?

I’m taking you down with me.

He sank the dagger to the hilt into the other man’s chest and murmured a spell.


At the soft gasp that penetrated the dark, Maki’s blood grew cold.

That sounds like…oh no…oh no, Sendoh…

His fingers tightened on his sword as he rose, looking about, desperately trying to see past the shadows that obscured his view. As he took a step forward, a sudden flash of color blazed, hot and smoldering, burning sparkling embers against the night. Two figures stood, clasped to each other in the middle of that unholy and inhuman fire.

The shorter of the two figures threw back its head and laughed, a bone-chilling, cold laugh that made the unnatural maelstrom hiss as it swept up the fallen leaves, feeding the inferno with crackling tinder. The laugh was triumphant, a crowing of defiance and pleasure, cruel and sadistic.

"NO!!!!" Maki screamed, his eyes scorched shut by the proximity of the dark magic, his skin scalded as he beat futilely at the energy force that shut him out and away. "NO!!!!!!"