Authors: Mia Amano
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 Mia Amano
All rights reserved.
The call of a lone cricket pierced the cool night air as Amina clung to the wooden beam, gazing down on the sleeping figure below. With slow, silent movements, she lowered herself on a silken rope, her padded feet touching the floor noiselessly.
She’d scaled the high walls of the fortress and evaded dozens of guards. She’d entered the room through the roof, removing several ceramic tiles.
At night, she was in her element, all but invisible to the naked eye.
As Amina crept towards her target, she started to draw the longknife strapped to her back. It slid soundlessly from its sheath. Stealth was her specialty. In her village, there was no-one as agile and silent as her.
That’s why she’d been chosen for this particular job.
The man she’d been sent to kill lay asleep in his bed, entangled in the silken sheets. Amina drew closer, taking time to study her victim. The full moon cast pale light through a high window, illuminating him where he lay.
Even in sleep, he looked every bit as formidable as the stories made him out to be.
Amina took a deep breath, unable to draw her gaze away from his still form. She watched the steady rise and fall of his chest. She couldn’t help but admire the hard, elegant features of his face. The only softness was his full, sensual lips.
His torso was bare, and she could make out the outline of hard muscle and broad shoulders.
In that instant, she almost regretted having to kill him.
But this was the infamous Tarak Chul, the ruthless Akuna warlord who had singlehandedly captured back the Western Borderlands from the Eratean Empire. His skill in battle and his cruelty were legend.
On silent feet, Amina reached his side, her longknife raised.
In the clutches of a deep sleep, Tarak Chul did not stir. She was a wraith, a silent assassin. Amina knew how to conceal her
, her life force, so that even the most hardened warrior wound never sense her coming. She was Inue, born of the tribe that were known for their stealth and prowess in the art of assassination.
And she was one of the best.
Tarak’s long, black hair framed his face like a wild, dark halo. Bathed in the faint moonlight spilling through an open window, there was something almost otherworldly about his appearance.
Amina blinked, having almost become mesmerized, caught in his spell. She told herself not to be stupid or superstitious. There was nothing different about this man. He was flesh and blood, just like everyone else. He breathed, ate and bled, just like any other human.
Amina took a deep breath, gripping the longknife in both hands, aiming for Tarak’s heart.
Her downwards stroke was swift and decisive, and always true.
As Amina brought the knife down in a killing arc, she met hard resistance. A sudden, viselike grip surrounded both her wrists. Dark eyes opened, staring through her, and for a moment, she almost thought she caught a flash of crimson.
Tarak was awake.
How had he sensed her?
Amina gasped in pain as his hands tightened. The longknife fell from her hands and he twisted his body to avoid it, allowing it to drop, clattering across the wooden floor. Tarak held her still, staring at her with deadly intent.
Clenching her teeth, Amina tried to wrench herself out of Tarak’s grasp. But he was too strong. For the first time, her concentration wavered, and she lost the fine control she had on her
, allowing her killing intent to spill forth.
She couldn’t remember the last time an opponent had shaken her this much.
“What glorious killing intent.” Tarak’s voice was low and deep, his words rounded with a slight Akunese accent. But he spoke in Eratean, the universal tongue. “You must be exceptional, woman, to evade my guards.”
Amina wasn’t sure, but she thought she detected amusement in his tone.
“How did you sense me?” She couldn’t hide the surprise that bled into her voice.
“You forgot,” Tarak continued, speaking softly and slowly, “that when you climbed the southern wall, the scent of the night jasmine growing on the wall would cling to you. That was your mistake.”
Amina blinked. Was the man even human, that such a thing could wake him from sleep?
She didn’t let such thoughts distract her for too long. As Tarak reversed his grip on her wrists, Amina brought up her leg into a savage kick. Her foot connected with the solid flesh of his stomach, and Tarak grunted in pain as Amina jumped back, settling into a fighting stance.
She was light on the balls of her feet, ready for any attack. What she didn’t expect was Tarak’s speed. He rushed towards her, trying to grab her arms. He was fast. But Amina was faster. She danced out of the way and kicked again, catching Tarak in his thigh.
There was a swift exhalation, the only sign she had caused him pain.
In the faint moonlight, Amina realized that Tarak was naked.
As Amina reached for the short dagger she kept strapped to her thigh, Tarak recovered his balance. He moved with the measured steps of a master fighter, feinting to the left, dodging to the right, a dark blur in the dim light. Amina drew the knife and held it out in a defensive stance. Tarak danced back, wary of her blade. He was too close for her to throw it. She would have to make this quick, aiming for his belly, delivering a swift, killing thrust. Stabbing him in the neck would be difficult for her; he was too tall, too swift.
Disembowelment was safer. Men rarely survived such wounds. If they didn’t bleed to death outright, they eventually died of sepsis.
Amina came in low and fast, aiming for Tarak’s belly. But he sidestepped, spun and grabbed her wrist, squeezing the fine bones in a grip like steel. Amina gasped in pain, the dagger clattering from her hand. She lashed out with her other arm, landing a solid punch to his face.
Amina caught a flash of teeth in the dark as Tarak grimaced. Or was that a smile? He didn’t falter. He caught her other hand and twisted, forcing her backwards.
The man’s fighting style was unorthodox, unpredictable. And he was terribly strong. In terms of size and power, Amina was outmatched. One-on-one combat wasn’t her strong point.
The reason she was so good at her job was her stealth. Most of the time, her victims never knew she was coming. She had never expected Tarak to wake up.
Gritting her teeth through the pain, Amina raised her knee, aiming for Tarak’s groin. But he anticipated her move, and sidestepped. Gathering momentum, he pushed her towards the bed. Amina landed on her back amongst the silk sheets.
Then, Tarak was on top of her, his warm, naked body pressing into hers.
Amina froze, feeling the heat from his bare skin seeping through the thin material of her tunic. She was clad in light, skintight black from head to toe, with only a thin slit revealing her eyes.
In the shadows, she was all but invisible.
Amina struggled, but Tarak held her down. “You know,” he whispered, placing his lips beside her ear, “if you had climbed the northern wall, I would be dead right now.”
Amina remained silent as Tarak lifted his head and met her stare. In the faint light, she could just make out his dark, piercing gaze.
“Now who is the genius who sent an Inue assassin to kill me?”
“If you know about the Inue, then you know we never reveal our clients.” Under his hard body, Amina was tense, her heart pounding. But she kept her voice low and steady. Tarak’s eyes were like dark, bottomless pools, ringed by shadow. As she stared into their depths, she reached within herself and started to regain control.
She didn’t dare move.
She could feel the lean, defined contours of Tarak’s chest and stomach pressed up against her. She could feel his rough hands, like steel, wrapped around her wrists.
She could feel the hard length of his erection.
Her breath caught.
With great effort, Amina exerted her will, controlling her wild
. Her hammering heartbeat slowed. Her breathing became more regular. And the roaring flame of her
, the spiritual energy that all warriors learned to harness, was tamed. Slowly, she restrained it, down to a flickering flame, then nothing.
She would show this warlord nothing of herself.
He had already unbalanced her far too much.
Tarak remained silent, inclining his head, as if curious. She wasn’t sure, but she thought she caught the corner of his mouth quirk upwards. The faint moonlight filtering in through a high window revealed only so much.
A sliver of fear crept into Amina’s heart.
This was Tarak Chul, the infamous conqueror of the Borderlands.
She was as good as dead.
Tarak took a slow, deep breath, as if savoring something. Amina became aware of his complex, masculine scent. It wrapped around her, rich and earthy, reminding her of a new spring morning after the rain.
Unexpected desire spread through her, making her nipples hard, warmth seeping between her thighs.
Her body betrayed her.
Tarak didn’t move.
“What are you doing,
?” She used the old word, from the language of her people.
Conqueror. “Call your guard. Kill me.”
“Now why would I do that?” He leaned in close, so his face was almost touching hers. “An Inue as skilled as you is a rarity. But you won’t kill me now. You’ve missed the one and only chance you will ever get.”
“How can you be sure of that,
“I know you now, little Inue. The feel of your body, your scent, the force of your
. You can’t hide from me.”
“You’re quite sure of yourself,
“I have to be. Comes with the territory.” His voice was soft, almost gentle.
This man seemed so different from the rumors. The stories told of Tarak Chul, the Conqueror, the Warlord, painting him as a ruthless, fearsome warrior. Some superstitious folks even thought he was something
, part demon, perhaps.
But the man pressing his body into hers radiated sensual heat. He was all too human. And he sounded a fraction amused. He was toying with her. Amina pushed away the cold fury that threatened to overtake her, finding that elusive centre of serene, still nothingness within her mind.
It usually worked.
But not this time.
Tarak shifted his weight, lessening the pressure on her body. “If you promise not to kill me, I’ll release you now.”
“You know I can’t make that promise.”
“Get to the point,
. Enough with the games. I’ve failed. I know what the price is.”
“There is no price.” She could feel the warm caress of his breath on her cheek. The fine hairs on the back of Amina’s neck tingled. This was too much.
In a swift, fluid motion, Tarak rolled off her, springing to his feet. He retrieved her longknife from the floor. “I can call for my guard now, and you will die, or you can retreat, and leave alive. It’s your choice, Inue.”
Amina sat up from the bed, rising to her feet. This was absurd. Was Tarak Chul allowing her to escape?
He was mocking her.
“Go, little Inue. Live to fight another day. That’s one of the strengths of your people, isn’t it? You know when to retreat.”
Amina felt for the thin wire garrote concealed in a hidden pocket at her waist. She had one weapon left. She’d packed light for this job, mindful of the high fortress walls she’d needed to scale. She would kill for a poison dart right now. She hadn’t expected it to be this difficult.
She could try to use the garrote, but without the element of surprise, she knew her chances of succeeding were slim.
She knew when she was outmatched.
Tarak was twice her size. In one on one combat, he had the advantage.
“Your arrogance will be your undoing, Warlord.” Amina stepped across the room, fighting to get her emotions under control. For the first time in longer than she could remember, she had failed to make a kill. And for some, unknown reason, Tarak Chul was allowing her to live.