Chapter 1 – Aydin
Perhaps today will be the day I finally kill my brother. My entire body grinned at the thought of it.
The Grand Master pointed his authoritative finger at me, mere inches from my face. “Keep your guard up, Aydin. Drayke is your brother, but you know he will not hesitate to kill you if given the opportunity.” The hardened scowl, so at home on his face, shifted slightly as a flash of a confident father appeared in his brown eyes. “Make me proud, son.”
How proud would he be if I did kill Drayke this time? Would that pride emerge? Or, would he have me beheaded for murdering his eldest son, a fellow member of our clan? No, not likely. Drayke was psychotic, a horrendously unstable maniac. And he just so happened to be in a particularly violent mood today. Maybe it’s culprit was the savage heat that had been bearing down on our realm for the past month.
Or maybe it was just because he’s an asshole.
Drayke’s brown eyes glared like daggers as I approached him in the center of the dirt pit. The Grand Master, along with ten other higher-ranking members of our clan of murderers, observed us from behind the waist-high stone wall surrounding the pit. Drayke’s recklessness got the best of him, as it usually does when it comes to fighting me. He charged full-force with a bellowing war cry before I even reached the center of the pit. A quick side step into a fluid half turn allowed me to easily dodge his solid kick, slamming my elbow against the back of his neck. But Drayke’s built like a Vayne – tall and thick with muscles like iron. My strike did little to injure him, not that I expected differently.
My right fist was already shooting through the air as Drayke spun on his heel to face me. With a loud crack my knuckles landed perfectly right between his eyes. His head snapped back from the blow, though it did not falter his advancing kick to my knee, which I narrowly escaped with an agile (and extraordinary) back flip.
But the moment my feet met the dirt ground, a freezing, sharp pain exploded inside my skull, nearly dropping me to my knees. I stumbled one step, yet managed to remain standing.
Unfortunately, Drayke witnessed my momentary break in focus and took his shot like the opportunistic bastard he is. His black boot struck the left side of my face, splitting open my skin, but I still didn’t break
I didn’t feel it either; every pain receptor in my body must have been too preoccupied with the freezing agony tearing around inside my head to register the blow.
I wiped the blood from my left cheek with my bare forearm, if for no other reason than to prove to myself that I was, in fact, injured, if only slightly. Red smeared across the hair and skin.
Of all the formidable skills forced upon me through my twenty-six years as an assassin, ignoring pain proved to be the most instrumental for such an arduous line of work. Acknowledging pain causes one to lose focus; a mistake an assassin pays for with his life.
Drayke watched me with eager eyes and a sinister smile. I spit a bloody tooth onto the dirt and gave him my red grin. As masochistic as it may sound, the metallic taste of blood comforted me. Tilting my head, my neck popped as I prepared to finish this folly. I advanced towards my brother with long, careful strides; my next move pre-loaded in my mind.
Knowing full well the extent of Drayke’s skills, one wrong move on my part and I would be dead before the Grand Master could call the match to an immediate halt.
Drayke was very good.
However, even on his best day, his skills were inferior to mine. His victory would require a mistake from my end, and such a feat had not happened in ten years. The single time it did occur, Drayke knocked me clear into a coma for three weeks; a coma from which I should not have awakened. Since that day, when my eyes reopened to this world of death and gore, I swore that I would never let my guard down around him again.
And I never have.
Drayke arrogantly assumed that he would be able to catch me off guard a second time. With a twisting jump, he launched the back of his boot towards my face, just as he had done seconds before.
Utilizing my superior reflexes, I parried his kick and swept his supporting leg out from under his body, catching his neck in midair with one hand and slamming his back to the ground.
Drayke’s breath exploded from his body with a violent grunt.
I pinned him to the ground by his throat, squeezing just hard enough to render him helpless. Any harder and his windpipe would break. “Only a truly skilled fighter knows to never use the same move on your opponent twice, Drayke. What the fuck were you thinking?”
Drayke replied by wrapping his right leg around my left, hooking his foot around my ankle, and attempting to buck me off with his hips and roll away. He quickly discovered just how futile his attempt was. I possessed more momentum than he was able to break through. Drayke’s fists alternated, slamming into my sides – pounding my kidneys. When that did nothing to loosen my grip on his neck, Drayke moved on to striking my face, or at least he tried to. My body loomed over him in such a way that his fists landed primarily on my shoulders.
Keeping my arms locked-out straight, I lifted my right knee off the ground and moved it to his diaphragm, further restricting his ability to breathe; ready to crush his throat at any moment.
Drayke was no longer my brother, through sworn oath or by blood…he was my mark.
The ripping pain in my skull crawled forward into my eyes, over-taking my vision and all sense of reason. A blood lust stronger than any I had ever experienced drove me on.
I applied more pressure through my knee, pushing upward until I felt Drayke’s lower ribs pop. His face twisted with agony and rage as his mind worked frantically to find a solution to his dire situation. Blood vessels swelled around his brown irises. He was entering tunnel vision.
Adding injury to injury, I landed a solid blow with my right fist to the left side of his face. The resounding crack echoed across the silent pit; blood sprayed out of his mouth and across the dirt-covered earth. I wrapped the lower half of my leg under his, hooking my foot across his instep. With the slightest torque of my leg, I twisted my mark’s knee to the breaking point; any further and his anterior cruciate ligament would tear, rendering him useless for months. I held it there, in limbo.
My mark let out a rough groan of anguish, like metal dragging over rocks. He would be disguising a limp for weeks, assuming I could fight this all-consuming rage and allow him to walk away with his heart still beating. His feet kicked as he tried to free himself from the clutches of death. He was panicking.
Another push to his diaphragm, and more of his ribs cracked against my knee. My mark tried to suppress the pain, but it betrayed him with another deep grunt that I clearly wasn’t meant to hear.
My mark’s death was in my hands. My brother’s death was in my hands. I had only to execute him.
Kill or be killed.