A Night with the Master of Assassins

A Night with the Master of Assassins

I know that, once again, the last scene technically centered around Domerin. But when the muse speaks… This scene, like some of the others I’ve written, fills a gap in a story I worked on with my writing partner. Whenever only one of us has characters ‘on screen’ we tend to skip to the next scene we both have characters involved in. I sometimes like to retroactively write those scenes just to see what happens. This might seem like a direct continuation from last week’s Chosen One, but it actually takes place in a completely different world. This time the world of assassins, where Domerin never knew his parents, and meeting them caused a fair bit of trouble.

One last quick note; we’re taking one last family trip this summer, so I’ll be away next week. Tune in on August 6th for regularly scheduled musing, and again on August 10th for the next prompt!
. . .

If it weren’t for the deep blue of the guild master’s eyes, Aeriannan would never have believed she was looking at her son. The resemblance to his father was impossible to deny; it was true, but the intensity lurking behind his gaze made her want to shiver whenever she became its focus.

From the first moment she had seen him at the prime minister’s ball, striding through the crowd to stop at her side, she felt like she had been walking through a dream. How could this be the child fate had so cruelly stolen from her? What had the guild done to him to turn him into such a beast of ice and stone? Even his voice was flat, as if he was completely incapable of experiencing emotion.

Or so she believed until the night at the opera, when the guild master had turned with a smile to speak of the time he spent with the guild children. It was hard to imagine a man as cold and rigid as Domerin Lorcasf playing hide and seek with a cadre of children that only reached his knees, but the fondness in his smile had been unmistakably genuine.

Was it a mask, then? An emotionless shroud he wrapped around himself to keep himself safe? After the disastrous meeting with her husband – should she even think of him like that anymore? Didn’t death sever their bonds? – she shouldn’t be surprised. What kind of life had the guild offered one who lived so long? If it hadn’t been for the fierce and genuine way Master Abolan defended the guild master, Aeriannan might have believed her son had no friends to speak of. What a cold world to inhabit; no wonder his eyes were like ice.

How bitterly she wept that her son – the only child she’d ever have – had become an assassin. And not just any assassin; lord of the assassins, as close to a king as anyone could be in this modern age. Perhaps she should have been proud he had taken so well to the life he’d been sold to, but she could only wish he’d become anything else. Anything but the lonely life of a coldblooded killer. At least then she could have taken him back, re-integrated him into her life and influenced what he would become.

Yet, he had come for her, hadn’t he? In her moment of greatest need, when circumstances became dire, his blade struck to protect her. When she closed her eyes, she could still see him flowing through the shadows, a creature of night, fighting with an ease she could barely fathom. She tried not to see the blood left in the wake of his strikes, or the empty eyes that stared from the corpses of his attackers when the assassins pulled her from the wreckage of her life.

She tried, instead, to focus on him as he was now, calm and steadfast, even with the fresh stitches still carving a bright red mark across his abdomen. It was hard not to be dazzled by the tattoos, especially since the magnificent dragon on his back almost seemed to flap its wings as he lifted his arm and slid it across her shoulders, guiding her deeper into the strange house which occupied a floor in the middle of the skyscraper.

“You must try to get some rest,” the assassins’ guild leader murmured, his voice shockingly reassuring when compared to all their previous conversations.

“I… don’t think I can sleep,” she protested, shaking her head, though she didn’t resist the steady pressure drawing her toward the far door. “I don’t know if I’ll ever sleep again.”

There was a gentle smile on the assassin leader’s lips as he reached for the door knob, but somehow it wasn’t mocking. When he turned his eyes to hers, she got the impression he knew exactly how she felt – impossible though that seemed – and it forced the tension from her back and shoulders. She became something of a rag doll, supported by his endless strength, moved by his calm determination through the arch and into the shadow-shrouded room beyond.

The curtains were drawn against the bright lights of the city, but a thin beam of illumination shone around the windows’ edges, more than enough light for her to make out the wide, four-post bed, the pair of sturdy night stands and the second door that probably led to a private bathroom. He had peeled back the thick blankets and pressed her onto the edge of the bed before she realized what was happening.

“Death is a hard thing to forget once you have seen it,” he said, his voice light and soft in the darkness. “But sleep will come, if you give it enough time. It always does.”

There was such confidence in his voice that Aeriannan allowed him to ease her gently downwards. He maneuvered one of the soft pillows into position to catch her head as gravity gave way beneath her, carrying her into the comfortable mattress. She breathed deeply as he drew the covers over her shoulders, almost believing she could melt into the soft envelope of comfort and allow it to carry her away.

But the moment he stood, a sharp jolt tore through her chest. With a gasp she sat up and snatched his wrist from the air, realizing only belatedly that this had been the first step on her late husband’s journey to death this very evening. She drew her fingers back, but it was too late. She could feel the master assassin’s eyes on her, his gaze intense even when she couldn’t quite make it out.

“Please,” she gasped, having no choice but to bumble forward now and hope for the best. “Don’t leave me.” Hot tears welled in her eyes. She tried her best to combat them, imagining her eyelids as a wall past which no moisture could pass. But the heat soon stung her cheeks and she was powerless to halt its flow. “I don’t want to be alone.”

His fingers were feather soft when they slid across her cheeks, relieving them of heat and moisture. “You currently inhabit the safest room in all the guild hall,” he said, again without a hint of mocking or chiding. “The guild master’s quarters are designed to be nearly impenetrable, and he is only a few short feet from us in his own bedroom. But,” he added, and she sensed his smile rather than saw it, “if you prefer, I will remain. Since the city’s guild leader is responsible for my safety, there is no safer place than by my side. Let that reassure you, even if the other security measures will not.”

She nodded, her throat too choked with emotion to allow her to speak further. Swallowing hard, she forced herself to lay back down, though the mattress and pillows seemed to have lost their luster during that terrifying exchange.

Her heart pounded hard in her chest while she watched the guild leader’s shadow move around the bed frame, but it eased when he lowered himself lightly onto the bed beside her. He didn’t fold himself beneath the covers, instead laying atop them, allowing his hair to splay across a single pillow as he came to rest.

Aeriannan glanced in his direction and felt his smile peering back at her. “You’ll stay all night?” she insisted, feeling like a petulant child who has just insisted on sleeping in her parents’ bedroom. A feeling she hadn’t experienced in thousands of years.

“I promise.” Domerin’s voice was soft but firm. She got the impression he was a man of his word, even if his oaths often ended in death. Before she had a chance to contemplate further the fact that she was in bed with a killer, he added, “Let the world trouble you no further. Sleep as best you can.” There was so much hypnotic force in that final statement, Aeriannan had no choice but to obey.

*   *   *

Domerin had long since perfected the art of forcing his body to relax even when his mind refused to follow. Even laying atop the sheets at the farthest edge of the large bed from the eleven woman didn’t alleviate the awkward nature of the situation. It wasn’t that he was laying in bed with his mother that bothered him so much as the fact that his mother was a total stranger to him; a situation most people would have considered tragic, even others of the guild who had been sold into the life.

He had long since come to terms with the fact that he had been unwanted, that his parents had deemed their lives more amenable without him in it, and that the rest of the world accepted him solely because he sat in a position of wealth and power that was impossible to ignore. From the moment Seibel first mentioned his mother’s sudden appearance on the guild’s doorstep, he had been uninterested in following the thread, preferring to let the past stay buried. Especially since it now seemed that he had been wanted by someone after all.

He could no more give this woman back her son than she could give him a sense of belonging in a world that had long since cast him aside. He was what he was, and he could see that troubled her deeply. No one in their right mind wanted to acknowledge the legitimacy of an assassin’s profession. No one wanted to be emotionally close with a person who made their living stabbing others in the back under the cover of night’s shadows. Though plenty of people were willing to feign close ties in order to benefit from the association.

It would have been better if her husband had never tried to make his blood ties lucrative. Aeriannan Shy’aldi could have gone on pretending that her son was forever beyond her reach, forever an enigmatic shadow that she couldn’t see or touch or talk to. Perhaps she could even have imagined he had died; whatever gave her comfort wouldn’t trouble him.

Now he was caught in another tangle, one he couldn’t easily set to rights. He would deny everything, of course, had already begun the process. But he couldn’t hide the fact that he had personally gone into the city to save her from the rogue clans’ knives. It would be hard to convince them he didn’t care for a life he had personally lifted a hand to protect.

Whatever happened, this woman couldn’t go back to her old life, even if it had been waiting for her outside the guild’s halls. That no one would mourn her disgusting bastard of a husband was cold comfort, even for a man as cynical as Domerin Lorcasf.

He was keenly aware that escaping back into the guest house’s living room wouldn’t have eased his passage into sleep any sooner. Though it would have granted him access to Master Abolan’s substantial stock of booze, and that would have calmed his nerves and cleared his mind more easily than anything else.

As it was, he fell into his usual meditative stance, forcing this fiasco’s threads from his mind in favor of simple sounds and sensations. He listened to the soft, unsteady breath of the woman trying feverishly to sleep beside him. He listened to the soft howl of the wind outside, and the distant sound of traffic far below. Eventually these sounds lulled him into a heavy doze, the closest he was likely to get to sleep on a night like this.

He never slept so deeply anymore that he wouldn’t notice even the slightest change within his bedroom. Not unless the doctors had him drugged for one reason or another. So he caught the soft hitch of breath in Aeriannan’s throat the moment before the nightmare tossed her from sleep, and he was already moving when she shot bolt upright, ready to unleash a scream.

His hands were gentle, his voice reassuring as he lightly caught her shoulder and ordered her to breathe. “It was just a dream,” he said as many times as she needed to hear it, until she allowed herself to be pressed back beneath the silken blankets. “Nothing can hurt you. Not while I’m here.”

His presence seemed enough to reassure her, even if he couldn’t drive the tears from her eyes. She blinked until the last of the moisture slid free of her eyelashes, then rolled fitfully into a new position and began the process of trying to sleep all over again.

To her, it might seem that he spent the night laying awake. She would have no idea how easy it was for him to slide from sleep into a state of high alert and back again. But it meant that he was always ready when she needed him, to whisper soft words as soon as she woke, and press a glass of cool water into her hands when words weren’t enough.

After all, it wasn’t as if he hadn’t experienced such nightmares himself, though he doubted his mother would believe him if he tried to tell her.

*   *   *

Bright morning sunlight eventually managed to thwart the light-blocking curtains, illuminating the room brightly enough that Aeriannan could trace every detail of the decoration, even the colors remained slightly dim. It was luxurious, by any standards, but not nearly as opulent as she expected. The assassins’ guild was constantly surprising her and she still didn’t know how she felt about that.

The guild master still lay beside her, true to his word, though he never had slid beneath the covers. At some point in the last few hours he had rolled onto his uninjured side, once again exposing the magnificent dragon tattoo that adorned his back. Aeriannan stared at it, watching it wriggle and shift along with the steady rise and fall of Domerin’s breath. It almost seemed to be staring at her with the same intensity of the guild master’s gaze. Was it meant to be stalking prey? Or was it supposed to be surveying its grand kingdom? Had the person who penned it into her son’s skin known he was going to be master of all the assassins when he designed it? Or was that simply a convenient coincidence?

For the first time, Aeriannan realized how much muscle lay beneath her son’s skin; how powerful he must be when he wanted, and how quick. But she couldn’t help noticing how thin he was too, as if he might fade away if he stopped eating for a couple of days. Didn’t the assassins take good care of their leader? Didn’t he have access to the best of the best? He always looked so fine at the parties and meetings, dressed in expensive silk decorated with more intricate embroidery than any that had ever adorned the noble woman’s dresses. Yet here, in the early morning glow, he seemed like a wisp or a wraith, likely to fade away if she blinked.

“Are you hungry?”

Aerianan nearly leapt out of her skin when the guild master spoke. How long had he been aware of her staring at his back like a fascinated child?

“A little,” she admitted, trying to ignore the steady flood of fire through her cheeks.

Domerin shifted and the dragon moved with him, seeming to unfold itself and spread his wings as he rose into a sitting position and glanced at her over his shoulder.

“Did you sleep well enough?”

She nodded, uncertain what else she should say. True to his prediction, exhaustion had, eventually, carried her into oblivion, even if it had only been in fits and starts. But glancing back through the haze of fear and fatigue, she couldn’t tell now how often he had been with her when she woke, or if she had merely dreamed the whole thing.

“The bathroom is through there,” Domerin said, indicating a door on the far side of the room. “It will be ready for you. Take as much time as you like.” He started to rise.

Without thinking, Aeriannan’s hand snaked out and caught his wrist. Some small voice whispered in the back of her mind that it was death to keep handling the master of all assassins this way, but the rational part of her believed she would already be dead if that was what he wanted. She waited until he turned and gave her an expectant look to speak.

“I… just wanted to thank you, Master Lor… D…Domerin. Thank you for what you did. All of it.”

He was silent a moment, allowing her pale fingers to rest against his dark skin. Then he nodded, conveying more with that single gesture than she ever would have thought possible.

“It is the only gift I will ever be able to give you,” he said, his voice barely more than a whisper. “Make certain you use it.”

Aeriannan closed her eyes as he slid to his feet, allowing her fingers to fall away from his arm. She couldn’t help but think of all the concessions she had made in her marriage, all the dreams she had cast aside in favor of her husband’s ambitions. All of it portrayed sharpest in this image of her son, a stranger, sliding a black shirt over his shoulders before he stepped into the living room beyond. She didn’t see any sign of daggers, couldn’t guess how he could be armed, but didn’t doubt that he must be somehow.

He was beyond her reach. She had always known it but had never wanted to accept it, had never wanted to be severed from the one tie she had always wanted. She couldn’t get him back, couldn’t give him the life she always hoped to give him.

But maybe now she could live the life she’d always wanted to live.

“I will,” she promised as she slid out from under the silken covers. She didn’t expect letting go to be easy, but she was going to give her best shot.

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