Kilarra Calvennis stood in her boyfriend’s bedroom preparing for the worst betrayal of her life. She strapped on her armour slowly, fussing with the buckles with sweaty, shaking hands. She was nervous and excited, all at once.
She was about to undertake a test—one of many she would have to pass in order to become a Red Mantis Assassin. The target was her father. He wouldn’t die—this wasn’t an official assassination. It was just a break in. A simple test of skill, stealth and loyalty. Get into her father’s office without being seen, knock him unconscious, remove all the documents in his office, and slip away without being caught.
She could do this. She knew she could. So why were her hands shaking? And why was her heart fluttering like a panicked bird trapped in her chest?
Kilarra sighed. Her father deserved everything that was coming to him. He was one of the many corrupt nobles that dealt in lies and bribes. Just one among hundreds, but his methods sickened her. She had rebelled against him and against her country. She tried to bring about change, first with words, and then more drastic measures. None of it worked. In the end it wasn’t her father that had changed, or Taldor… It was her. And it wasn’t for the better. She did more harm than her father ever had.
“It’s his fault,” she reminded herself aloud. Her voice shook, but she continued. “He deserves this. He brought it on himself.”
She slipped her hands into her black and red leather gloves, grabbed her helmet off her boyfriend’s bureau and left the room.
Bastien grinned at her. “You look beautiful, love,” he said.
Kilarra smiled. If her father was everything wrong in the world, Bastien was everything right. He was her beloved. Her mentor. Her life. He pulled her up from the life of gangs and crime that her father had driven her to and stood her back up. He gave her purpose. He gave her love. He was intoxicating. So when Bastien confided in her that he was an assassin, she accepted that. And when he asked her to worship his strange mantis-god, she prayed with him. And when he said that she was gifted and that he wanted to train her to be like him, she was proud.
She would do anything for him.
“I’m ready,” she replied.
Bastien nodded. “You are.”
She kissed him goodbye, slipped her red, mantis shaped helmet over her head and crept out the window onto the roof. If she had to rob her father to prove herself to Bastien, she would do so gladly.
The trip to her father’s office was short and uneventful. She kept to the shadows and stayed quiet. She slipped in through an open window on the third floor and crept down the dark halls with ease. There was a light around the edges of her father’s office door. He was in there, just as Bastien said he would be. She reached for the doorknob and hesitated.
This would change everything. Whatever happened between her and her father… Whatever he discovered and whatever she did… There was no going back. After tonight Bastien would take her to train among his fellow Red Mantis Assassins. He would train her to kill.
She never wanted to kill anyone. She still didn’t. But the thought of letting Bastien down made her sick to her stomach. She didn’t want to disappoint him. Not after everything he had done for her. She wanted to make him proud. She would make him proud. No matter what.
Kilarra took a deep breath and turned the doorknob. She cracked the door open and glanced inside. Her father was at his desk, back to her, clutching something at his chest. She moved in silently and shut the door.
He didn’t notice her. He didn’t hear her coming. But something about the way he was twitching in his chair put her on edge…. And the smell… Smelt like…
Kilarra inched across the room, hands shaking, afraid of what she would see.
Her father jerked erratically and fell from his chair, landing in a heap on the floor. A letter opener protruded from his chest.
“Dad!” she exclaimed.
He flinched when he saw her and tried to scream, but the blood in his mouth made it come out a wet gurgle. She tore her helmet off, and tossed it aside. It’s black insectile eyes watched her accusingly from across the room.
Her father’s eyes widened. He gurgled again, trying to speak, but she couldn’t make out what he was saying.
Pain exploded across the back of her head. She fell to the ground in a heap. Her ears rang and her vision blurred. She reached a shaky hand to her head. It was wet. And something was in her hair… She looked at her fingertips and saw they were covered in blood.
The killer was still here. How could she have been so stupid?
Kilarra crawled forward, but the blow she’d taken to the head had been fierce. Her arms were shaking and she couldn’t focus.
Behind her she heard laughter. It was familiar, but… wrong. Cold and cruel where it had once been warm.
“Ba- Bas- tien..?” she whimpered.
“I thought you’d be harder to take down than that! Didn’t you learn anything from me?”
It wasn’t him. It couldn’t be. He loved her.
There was motion beside her, and then pain. The man who sounded like Bastien kicked her so hard in the chest her whole body was lifted off the ground. She fell on her back, her head cracked against the floor with a wet crunch.
And there above her, smiling, was Bastien.
“Why?” she whimpered.
“Sorry, love,” he replied. “But I’ve always loved playing games.”
He struck her again, knocking her unconscious as a tear streamed down her bloody, swollen face.
When she woke up Bastien was gone, but she wasn’t alone. The guards had found her, bloody and beaten, clutching a bloody letter opener in one hand and her fathers coin purse in the other. Her gear was missing. Her father was dead. Bastien was gone.
She would have done anything for him. Anything.
He took everything from her but her life.
Six Years Later…
Kilarra stepped out of prison and into the busy, sunlit streets of Oppara for the first time in six years. She looked around, and took a deep breath. Slowly, a smile spread across her scarred face. Gods, freedom smelt good.
As she opened her eyes her smile slipped. A woman in a military uniform stood in front of her. She was middle-aged, blonde, clean-cut.
“Who wants to know?”
“Officer Landau. Agent of the Crown.”
“I didn’t do it,” Kilarra replied.
“Do what?”the woman asked.
“Whatever it is you think I did.”
Officer Landau smiled. “I think you’re the woman who spent six years of her life serving jail time for killing her father. The same woman who spouted tales of mantis headed assassins for years.”
Kilarra sighed. “And what? You want to hear it again? You want to laugh? I’m out now. A free woman. ”
The officer smirked. “Yes, convenient, isn’t it? Serving only six years of a life-time sentence.”
Kilarra’s frown deepened. Landau was right. Officially she was being let out for good behaviour, but that was clearly a lie. Kilarra hadn’t been good in prison. First she had cried, and then she had yelled, and then she fell in with a bad crowd all over again—or rather, she made her own bad crowd. “Leave me alone,” she growled.
The woman raised an eyebrow. “Why? So you can track down who hired the Red Mantis Assassins and beat them bloody? So you can hunt down your mom, or your grandmother or you brother or any number of other potential suspects and wind up back in the prison you just left by days end?”
Kilarra repressed a frown. That was exactly what she had been planning to do. She plastered a smile across her face and fluttered her eyelashes sweetly. “I’m reformed.”
“Whoever hired you did so for power, or money, or some other petty reason. You weren’t the target, you were the scape goat. It wasn’t personal for them. But this person—this guy you were with. Bastien. He made it personal, didn’t he? Isn’t that who you should be getting revenge against? The man who betrayed you?”
Bastien. The sound of his name sent a wave of anger surging through her. If she ever saw him again she would cram his stupid mantis helmet down his throat. Focus…”Did one too many blows to the head make you deaf, Officer Landau? I said I’m reformed. I’m not going to kill anyone. I’m not searching for vengeance. And I’m not talking to you.”
“That’s too bad. See, I’m recruiting for a special assignment. Grand Prince Stavian the Third has entered into an agreement with—“
“Spare me the politics. It’s boring.”
Officer Landau continued as if she hadn’t been interrupted by a dirty ex-con, but Kilarra could tell her smile had turned cold. “It’s called the Mantisbane Pact, and its purpose is to send agents to kill the Red Mantis Assassins, destroy their organization and assassinate their god.”
Kilarra froze. “Achaekek…” she breathed.
The soldier smiled. “Got your attention, have I?”
“You’re looking for people to assassinate a god?” She burst out laughing. This woman was clearly mad. “How’s that working out for you?”
“Finding brave enough—”
“Crazy enough, you mean.”
“Driven enough volunteers who might actually be able to get the job done is… difficult. Which is why I’m here.”
Officer Landau grit her teeth. “I’m giving you the opportunity to apply for the team. There’s no guarantee you’ll get in. There’s other volunteers just as driven—”
“As you. Now are you in or can I wash my hands of you?”
Kilarra smiled. “Well with a sales pitch like that, how can I refuse? Where do I sign up?”
“Pack a bag. The applicants sail for Kyonin tomorrow.”