Read No Quarter Online

Authors: Tanya Huff

Tags: #Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #General, #Fiction, #Canadian Fiction, #Fantasy Fiction; American, #Assassins

No Quarter

BOOK: No Quarter
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No Quarter by Tanya Huff

Chapter One

Motes of dust spun in the sunlight slanting into the upper hold through an open hatch. At the edge of the shadows, a slight, dark figure held a round shield, turning it this way and that so its polished surface caught the light.

"And I thought Bannon was vain," Vree muttered.

*It's not vanity,* Gyhard protested.

As the quiet voice in her head spoke with unusual seriousness, the ex-assassin, late of His Imperial Majesty's Sixth Army, snorted but continued tilting the shield.

*There. Hold it there.*

Vree stared into the makeshift mirror, feeling as though she were seeing her features for the first time. Her dark brown eyes looked too big for her face. Her chin was ridiculously pointed. Six days at sea under an unrelenting late summer sun had darkened the deep olive of her skin. She looked thin and much younger than her almost twenty-two years.

*You
are
young.*

Her lips pressed into a thin line. *You told me you couldn't hear my thoughts.*

When Bannon had shared her body and it had been her brother's voice she heard, their thoughts had merged and, with their thoughts, their identities. It had very nearly destroyed them both. With Gyhard, however, it had been easy to draw the line between them. Until now.

*I can feel strong emotions, Vree.* Gyhard's reassurance was almost gentle. *So can you. There's no need to panic*

*You don't know…*

*I have a good idea.* He'd been there from the beginning. As Governor Aralt, the leader of a rebellion whom Vree and Bannon had been sent to assassinate, he'd stolen Bannon's body. When Vree had appeared, carrying her brother's life, her brother's kigh, tucked in with her own, he'd blackmailed her into helping him get close enough to a young Imperial prince for him to make yet another trade. But a broken piece of his past had taken the prince and they'd ending up chasing him across half the Empire. Together. He'd seen how close she'd come to losing herself in sharing herself with her brother. *I'm not Bannon, Vree. His weaknesses aren't mine.*

*Neither are his strengths.* Until Gyhard had driven them apart, Bannon had been the center of her life. No. Her teeth ground together. Gyhard had not driven them apart. For reasons she could not yet admit, she'd chosen to save his life by making it a part of her own and now had to face the consequences of that decision.

Forcing the tension out of her shoulders, she stared down at her reflection. *Are you done?*

*In a minute.*

*What do you think you're going to see?*

*Who I am.*

*Who I am...Did you hear that?* Brows drawn in, she set the shield aside and started for the ladder leading up to the deck.

*Hear what?*

*Lookout's spotted a sail.* Callused fingers and toes barely touched the polished wooden rungs and a heartbeat later, Vree crossed the deck to a knot of sailors gathered at the rail. "What is it?" It was the one sentence she could say in Shkoden and be certain she'd got it right.

"Pirates."

The word was close enough to Imperial that she understood the meaning before Gyhard finished his translation. Shading her eyes with her hands, she peered back along the side of the ship. Just moving into the current behind them was a sleek, two-masted, narrow-hulled vessel.

"The
Raven
." It sounded like a curse. Two sailors spat over the side, giving water to the sea for luck, and a third traced the sign of the Circle on her breast, muttering, "Probably bin followin' us since the outer islands." When the lookout confirmed the identification a moment later, the crew of the
Gilded Fancy
raced to defensive positions.

Vree put herself in the path of a running sailor and he skidded to a stop. The third night out, she'd barely managed to keep from killing their best knife fighter when he'd challenged her right to the long dagger she wore. After her easy victory, the crew treated her with the same wary respect she'd received from those around her most of her life. While they might not know what she was—had been—they'd been made very aware of what she could do. "Can we…" She hated having to search for words but her Shkoden was up to little more than the most basic of conversations. *Gyhard, how do you say, outrun her?*

When he told her and she repeated it, the sailor shook his head, scalp locks whipping his ears. "No stinking way. They're in the same stinking current, ahead of the same stinking wind, and they're built for speed which we sure as fish shit aren't."

"What will…"

He didn't wait for her to finish. "Happen? They'll board us. Anyone who survives the fight'll go over the side. Less, of course, they've got some stinking skill Edite i'Oceania…"

*i'Oceania?*

*She's claiming the sea as her mother,* Gyhard explained. *It's probably not true.*

*Probably?*

"… thinks she needs—healers, or sail makers, or stinking carpenters. You, don't know what she'll do about you, but the hucksters, his stinking Lordship, and his stinking Lordship's servant, she'll hold for ransom."

The hucksters were a pair of Imperial merchants and His Lordship was a Shkoden noble, who was involved in some way with the ambassador at the Imperial court. Vree knew nothing more about any of them, nor did she really care. As the sailor ran off to join others performing complicated and inexplicable maneuvers with a rope—the decks looked like an anthill stirred with a stick—she took another look at the
Raven
.

Even in that short time, it had pulled closer—close enough to see that all exposed timber had been painted a deep matte black.

*That's conceit,* Gyhard growled. *All that black paint must've cost her a fortune. No wonder she turned pirate.*

Conceit. Vree frowned.

She felt Gyhard stir uneasily within the boundaries of her mind. *What are you thinking?* he demanded. *Vree…*

*I'm thinking that there may be an alternative to going over the side with a pirate's ax splitting my skull.*

*What
alternative?*

She turned from the rail. *The usual one.* Ignoring the chaos growing around her, she made her way past frantic men and women fighting to get the last bit of speed out of the
Fancy
to the arms locker where the armsmaster was methodically setting out bundles of barbed arrows. As he'd spent some years in the Empire and spoke fluent Imperial, they'd not have to waste any of their rapidly decreasing time on translations. "Tell me," she demanded without preamble, "about Edite i'Oceania."

"Good at what she does," he grunted, not bothering to look up. "Almost as good as she thinks she is. Shkoden navy controls most of the sea-lanes through the Broken Islands, but they can't catch her. And the Circle knows they've tried. From what I've heard, her crew adores her. They should. She's made them rich. They'd die for her." He pulled oilskin-wrapped packets of bowstrings out of the locker.

"And some of them are going to."

"What about her? Would she die for them?"

The armsmaster laughed, but the sound held little humor. "Her type thinks they're immortal."

"How would she respond to a knife at her throat?" The tone of Vree's voice lifted the armsmaster out of his crouch and turned him toward her. "Would this pirate call off an attack in exchange for her life? Would her crew listen if she did?"

"Aye, the crew would likely listen," he said slowly, studying her face, a slow realization dawning. "But i'Oceania wouldn't give that order. If she's taken alive, she'll die ashore and she knows it. You kill her, though, and her crew becomes the stinking rabble it was before she forced order on it. Captain Edite's the only thing holding that murdering bunch of cutthroats together. If she dies, they'd fall apart.

If they fall apart…" His eyes still on her face, he closed his fist around the hilt of his short sword. "I can beat them."

Vree nodded and spun about on one bare heel.

"Assassin."

She paused.

"Do it quickly or there'll be no point in doing it at all."

Down in the forecastle, ignoring the fire crew readying its station, Vree unrolled her pack and began buckling on the wrist sheaths that held her throwing daggers.

Up above, she could hear the armsmaster shouting orders. As she understood it, the captain—a thin and hairy man she'd barely seen—commanded all nautical situations and the armsmaster commanded defense. It would never have worked in the Imperial Army, but it seemed to work at sea.

If the armsmaster commanded, then the
Raven
was close.

*You're very quiet,* she said a moment later as she regained the main deck.

*I thought we'd agreed that it would be best if you told no one what you were.*

*I didn't
tell
him.*

*You gave him enough for him to figure it out. He must've been suspicious ever since you won that knife fight…*

Teeth clenched, Vree cut him off. *Look, you can jump into the nearest slaughtering pirate if this body dies. I can't. So shut up and stay out of my way.*

*I can't talk you out of this?*

*No.*

She had a mental image of Gyhard spreading his hands—Bannon's hands because those were the only ones she'd ever seen him wear. *Then I guess I'm along for the ride. Wait a minute! Where are you going?*

Surefooted despite the constant movement of the ship, Vree started up the rigging by the stern mast. *You know that long thing sticking out from the front of the
Raven?*

*The bowsprit.*

* Whatever.* Swinging up onto the bottom spar, she moved out to the end. The armsmaster had obviously said something to his bowmen, for the three she passed stared at her wide-eyed and twisted out of her way as much as their position some fifteen feet above the deck allowed. *I'm going to jump from the end of this crosspiece thing down onto it.*

*You're going to what?* Each word was carefully and separately enunciated. He sounded impossibly calm.

*There's enough rope coming off it that it shouldn't matter if I miss a little.*

*Are you out of your mind!* The calm had disappeared so completely it might never have existed. *That is
not
possible!*

Rolling her shoulders, Vree squinted back at the
Raven
, now close enough to make out the individual pirates crowding the rail. She could almost see the single line that held them together. The line she was about to cut. *It's not impossible, just very difficult. In fact, I'll aim for that rope between the whatever-you-called-it and the front mast and not worry about my footing. I can swing straight from there to the deck.*

*No you can't.
No one
could do that.*

Vree merely shrugged and watched with interest as a flaming ball of pitch landed with an angry hiss and a gout of steam just short of the
Raven
. Familiar with the huge siege engines the Imperial Army used, she'd been fascinated to discover, upon exploring the ship, a much smaller catapult on the carved stern of the
Gilded Fancy
.

The Raven's answer was a canister of metal fragments. The Raven's armsmaster was a better shot. Vree heard the impact; heard wood splinter; heard
someone
scream; could smell smoke.

What happened on the
Fancy
was no longer her concern.

All her attention shifted to the enemy.

*Vree! Listen to me! You
can't
do this! I don't care how much training Imperial assassins go through; you can't jump from a moving ship to a moving ship!*

Concentration broken, she snapped, *How do the pirates intend to board us?*

*That's different!*

*Only in degree.*

*They'll wait until they've dropped sail and grappled!*

*I haven't time to wait, and I know what I'm capable of. You don't. So shut up.

And if you try to take over even an eyebrow, I'll push you right out of my head! Do you understand me, Gyhard?*

*I don't want to die,* he said softly, ignoring the threat neither of them wanted to explore.

*Good. That makes two of us.* But as his concern was in her head, she had to feel it. And the feeling was a distraction. Because assassins couldn't feel. Not while they were working. *Gyhard…*

*At least they won't be expecting it,* he sighed, surrendered, and drew back until he was barely a whisper in the depths of her mind. Vree suspected the whisper would remain even if Gyhard's kigh should find another body.

She forced her attention back to the
Raven
. Looked through the arrow fire.

Ignored the howls of both pain and fury. Found a wild-haired woman in a scarlet shirt and boiled leather armor conducting the attack, a sword in one hand, and a basket-hilted dagger in the other. She marked the defenses and defenders she'd have to pass and found two of the pirate ship's other officers.

Compressing her focus, she shifted her gaze to the bowsprit.

The world became a rope, two sets of movement, and the distance between them.

The distance narrowed.

A grappling iron clanged against the side of the
Fancy
, only a hand's span short.

BOOK: No Quarter
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