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Violence Advisory: This scene will contain some blood and violence. Discretion is advised.
Kalinvar stood over his desk, stroking his beard and running numbers in his head.
It’d been days since he’d sent out his secret weapon and precious jewel, Yeselda. She should be on her way back by now, but her next report wasn’t due for another few days. So it left him to agonize. Waiting was—
A knock on the door reminded him that despite his rising agitation, duty called nonetheless.
“Enter,” Kalinvar grumbled in the customary Vádigón language, the only one allowed spoken among Maddokar the Dark’s forces. He didn’t bother looking up as his guest entered the room; his gaze was still fixed on a map of the area surrounding Ásana and Leténja.
“Generallll!” greeted a giddy voice that forced Kalinvar to suppress a groan.
“What do you want, Delisk?” Kalinvar growled, barely glancing up from the map.
“I’m certain I’m interrupting your vital work, General, but I have urgent news!” The assassin leaned against the doorframe, delicately resting a hand on his pallid forehead. A sly smirk crawled across his dry, cracked gray lips. “My master the Dark must be notified immediately!” He giggled like a child barely withholding a secret.
Kalinvar clenched his fist. He hated Delisk more than any of the other Vádigóns in the Dark’s employ. At least the other generals despised him from a distance, across the table at structured meetings. He could ignore their barbed words and glared daggers, their airs of superiority.
But Delisk wouldn’t—and couldn’t—leave him alone. As an assassin, Delisk answered to the General of Spies: Kalinvar.
“Then petition the doorkeepers for an audience. I’m busy.” Kalinvar crossed the room in two long-legged strides and moved to shut the door on the assassin, but Delisk wedged his foot between the door and its frame.
“Please, sir,” Delisk implored with sudden remorse and sobriety. “You’ll want to hear this.”
Does he never give up? Kalinvar sighed. He stepped aside to allow the Vádigón room to enter.
Delisk slipped into the quarters with characteristic grace, swinging his lithe limbs. His long, dark hair flowed with his slightest motion. He skipped behind Kalinvar’s desk, trailing his fingertips along the back of Kalinvar’s chair.
No fewer than four different methods of murder trailed through Kalinvar’s mind as he watched those traipsing fingers.
“I again beg your forgiveness, my beloved General, but this is of utmost importance!” Delisk insisted. “Believe me, were it not, I would have waited until you were quite at your leisure.”
Oh, I’m certain you would. There was only one real reason why Delisk would be reporting directly to him rather than passing a message: he’d found something that would at best irritate Kalinvar and at worst threaten his position.
No Vádigón cherished working alongside a paltry human, and Delisk had chafed ever since being placed under Kalinvar’s command. But Delisk was the Dark’s best assassin, and Kalinvar had proven himself the most successful head of spies. So here they remained, each equally despising the other and eager to seize on the first ill-timed error.
As Delisk prattled on, Kalinvar approached his chair and clapped his hand on the back of the seat. With the two so close in proximity, his movement forced Delisk to take an instinctive half-step away from the chair and the desk.
In that moment of motion, Kalinvar slid his hand under the desk drawer, slipping a concealed knife into his palm. He sheathed it in a hidden scabbard on the back of his belt as he sat on the edge of his chair.
Better safe than sorry.
Meanwhile, Delisk continued rambling, skirting the desk until he was leaning over it much as Kalinvar had been a moment before. “…While I was in Leténja—you sent me there recently, as you may recall—Well, you’ll never guess who I happened to see there. At the very place my mark was.”
So close. All it’d take was one swing of his arm… Aim the blade right between those lolling yellow eyes…
Delisk giggled, clapping his hands. “Alright, I’ll give you a clue: it was an acquaintance of yours, General. An… old friend, you could say,” Delisk’s voice dropped to a conspiratorial purr as he eyed Kalinvar carefully. “He had a message he wanted me to deliver!”
Kalinvar smiled insincerely, “Indulge me, Delisk,” he murmured as he dropped his hand behind his back.
Delisk’s arm flashed, quick as a cat.
But not quicker than Kalinvar. Metal gleamed in the firelight as a dagger went sailing at Kalinvar. Then came the clang as Kalinvar redirected the dagger away with his own hidden blade.
The sneak attack foiled, Delisk bolted for the exit, but Kalinvar had already hurled his knife. It nicked Delisk’s cheek as Kalinvar vaulted over the desk and slammed into the Vádigón, crushing him against the door.
In this position, one of Delisk’s arms was pinned between his stomach and the door; the other Kalinvar held, bending it painfully. But the Vádigón only cackled.
“Well-played, General! You are learning with age!”
“And you’ve got a nice reminder on your pretty face not to cross me again, you back-stabbing dog,” Kalinvar hissed.
“Attacking the messenger! Dreadful, General.” Delisk licked at the trail of blood on his cheek. “I’m just doing my part to keep you spry.”
“Then try it again. I’ve been dying for an excuse to kill you.” Kalinvar pressed against Delisk’s arm, finally eliciting a grunt of pain. “You may be Maddokar’s little pet, but two attempts on my life, and even he’ll laude me for executing you.”
Satisfied with his ultimatum but still remaining on alert, Kalinvar released Delisk at last, yanking his knife out from the door. “Now, what was it you wanted to tell His Majesty?”
Delisk slid to his seat against the wall, chuckling as he dabbed at the blood smeared on his cheek. He looked up, locking gazes with Kalinvar. “The Tėmanim boy’s alive.”
Kalinvar’s fingers wrapped so tightly around the hilt of the knife that his knuckles went white. “What did you say?”
Delisk’s sly grin returned. “You remember him, don’t you, General? After all, his father gave you one of these to match…” He traced his fingers along the cut on his face.
It was on the same side of his face as Kalinvar’s scar. The deep, ugly scar that had nearly taken his sight in that eye.
Kalinvar loomed over the assassin, shaking with rage.
“Oh, so you do remember. I was beginning to wonder, what with you neglecting to inform His Majesty about the one who esca—!” Delisk choked on the last word as Kalinvar pressed the knife to his throat.
“Oh, I remember quite well. And this is none of His Majesty’s concern.”
“No indeed.” Delisk was still grinning, even with a knife against his neck. “He only ordered you to destroy a city to eliminate one family. And now there’s a survivor in both the lines His Majesty hates the most. Funny… isn’t this the sort of failure that got your predecessor… demoted, General?”
With a wicked grin of his own, Kalinvar whispered, “Your memory’s not bad either, Delisk. But I think we need some more tests to be sure.”
He dragged the knife’s flat against Delisk’s throat. “You tell me every. Single. Detail. About what you saw in Leténja, and maybe I’ll let you leave this room alive. Hm?”---
[Excerpt from The Victor's Blade; all content subject to change.]
From Him, To Him