Chapter Twenty One

Sendoh gasped as he felt his life’s blood draining away, soaking his robes. He was vaguely aware that outside the unbearable noise, the high laughter, was a voice that was crying, screaming, pleading and begging. The world started to grow cold, as poison concocted from Mitsui’s words sank into his flesh through the blade, a burning, acid warmth that melted him from the inside, consuming the core of his being.

He sensed the dry gurgle and cold, cold happiness as the voice invaded his mind. I’ll take them all down with me, Sendoh. You can be with your beloved captain now.

He felt a flare of shock, but Mitsui continued, his hands still clawing at the Haka assassin with an iron grip. Oh yes, Haka. I stole thoughts in your head, read your mind, just as I read Kogure Kiminobu’s, just as I read the captain’s, and the king’s. So open and easily forgetful of danger, so innocent, all of you.

Maki. Sendoh felt a ache in his heart that had nothing to do with the venom spreading through his veins. Would Maki have to die, too?

He gathered his strength, and looked down at the magic-master, whose eyes were closed in a final effort to destroy. And he felt it, the small package that pressed painfully against his hip. It was the gift.

Maki’s gift.

Sendoh reached numbly for it, his fingers clumsily fumbling with the paper, which had singed and was crackling under the fire that bathed them both. His hands met cool metal. A blade. The captain had given him a dagger.

At any other time, he would have laughed at the irony of it all. He finally realized that the crying that banged on the remnants of his shredded consciousness belonged to the man whom he had unknowingly given his heart to since that day he, as a Haka assassin, had been for the first time unveiled by another man’s sword.

He yanked the blade out of its casing, feeling sticky liquid on his hands as he twisted the dagger slowly and brought it up, straining against and struggling with Mitsui’s grasp and fighting the urge to pass out. The heady feeling had spread to his head, fogging his senses, making the world roar in a silent canvas of blinding color.

With a scream at the agony that accompanied the action, he sank the blade into Mitsui’s arm, slashing violently, as the magic-master’s eyes snapped open in shock and pain. His arm torn off, Mitsui staggered back and fell to the ground, staring wide, wide, and unseeing with the blood that gushed out of his body in a crimson river of death.

Sendoh could feel the world spinning as the dagger slipped from his fingers, swirling and rushing up to meet him. The maelstrom faded to quiet, and a soothing breeze slid gently over his face as he collapsed.


The guards watched silently as the captain of the Prince’s Guard fell to his knees beside the broken body, reaching out with disbelieving arms to cradle and hold the dying man.


His mind refused to accept it, even if the hot tears that threatened to spill from his eyes told another story. He looked down at Sendoh, and tightened the embrace, pulling him closer.

"Why did you do it?" he asked harshly, his voice raw and choked. "Why couldn’t you just stay where you should have stayed—"

A trembling hand rose barely enough to touch his lips, just a ghost of the callused skin on fingertips that passed with a fleeting smile on the pale face.


With soft but audible crackling, brackish green flames lit from within snaked out, racing through veins outlined beneath the skin with cold silver light, before enveloping and devouring the Haka assassin.


His hands encountered empty air, the scattered black ashes blown carelessly against him by the unforgiving wind.

He bowed his head and screamed inwardly, torn between wanting to rage and lose his reason, or give in the sudden hollow emptiness that filled his heart like a gaping black hole.

And a single glint of moisture shone on his cheek in the moonlight, as Maki cried.