Monday, July 1, 2019

The Shalafae Archives - First Mission

I pulled in a deep breath, settling myself. A tiny knot of nervous exhilaration roiled in my gut, making me a little jittery. I'd forgotten what it felt like, had mistaken it for anticipation.

The realization I was nervous was a little chilling.

It was my first mission with Elthanael, so nerves weren't actually a surprise. Father had given the elf an accelerated training regime, mostly through direct mental connection. None of it a trauma-based or intimate as my decades of sculpting, but enough that he felt confident letting me out with Elthanael at my back.

Part of my pre-mission jitters were from the joy of having a partner. Father rarely came on these kills. "What's the point of having assassins if I do the dirty work myself?" I didn't feel lonely, hadn't complained about it, but I felt surprisingly better with El here. I'd get to share the joy of the moment.

"Ready?" The golden elf straightened from checking his boots. His thick gold braid rested on his shoulder, casting off the light my hair absorbed. Darkness and hunger lurked in the back of his eyes, stronger than before his training with Father.

I shook my hair a final time and let my wings relax. "As I'll ever be."

Why was I letting myself get worked up? I was the Butcher of Aldeberaan, not some hatchling with soft scales. I had a thousand successful missions to my name, had the best training, the best weapons. I was unstoppable, yet my stomach would not stop churning. If I didn't figure out what was wrong now, I could endanger the mission, no matter how easy it was.

And failing an easy mission would bring fierce punishment.

El tipped his head and narrowed his eyes. "No, you're not. What's bothering you?"

We'd spent the last five years together, honing our skills, enforcing Father's training, and I could still be surprised by how easily we read each other's emotions.

I opened the link between us fully, gave him everything about my condition at once. The opening let me fully taste his emotions, and I frowned sharply. He was as nervous as I was!

We laughed. Neither of us were young or inexperienced. He'd killed his own father as offering to me. I'd stood my ground when introducing him to Father. We'd bonded quickly, worked well together when practicing, and complimented each other's strengths and skills. There was no reason for either of us to be nervous or doubtful.

Yet here we were, shy as two children sharing first kisses in the garden.

"I didn't want to say anything," he told me with a laugh. "Didn't want the fearsome Morrigana to look down on me."

My left brow arched sharply, then a smile broke out on my face. "If that's not the most ridiculous thing I've heard recently." We laughed, immediately relaxing.

"All right, this is just a little embarrassing." Elthanael said, moving closer. He smiled, eyes shining. "But I guess being worried is better than arrogantly assuming everything will go perfectly."

"You're right." I nodded, adjusting my gear, stomach unwinding. "I was actually wondering if my father really thought you were ready to accompany me. Or if maybe..." I couldn't speak my doubts.

"He wants me to die in the attempt?" His smile increased. "After everything he put me through, and the repeated warnings regarding your safety, I think that's the last thing he wants. At least, not if it puts you at risk."

"This is entirely too easy to pose a real threat." I stretched, took a refreshing breath, and nodded. "Are we ready to go?"

"Just like we planned it." Elthanael began drawing the gate rune. I drew my half, and we stepped through the translucent circle of power.

Working with gates was another thing he and I excelled at. Always exactly where and when we wanted, with a minimal use of power. Slipping through magical wards and past living guards was nothing for us. Even arriving in two different locations was possible.

I came into their world in the center of a great hall. El and I had agreed that I would be the one to draw their attention. I was the hybrid, after all, frightening with my wings and tail and claws. This was a peaceful world, full of beautiful peoples, and I was a monster by comparison.

With all eyes on me, they'd never see him coming.

Gasps and murmurs filled the hall, all conversations dying at the sight of my sudden appearance. Their shock was apparent, amplified by the crystal walls. The air hummed with it, and I basked in the emotions.

"So light and airy here." I projected my voice with just a hint of power so it sounded to every corner of the room. Some of the ladies gasped, and several groups drew back. No one left yet, but shock was becoming fear. They wouldn't remain calm for long.

"I kind of want to stay." More gasps, accompanied by excited murmurs. There was a noticeable shift toward the exits, and a suddenly icy taste to the air. "Nobody minds if I move in, do they?"

"Begone, foul beast." A woman stepped forward near the royal dais. Tall, hawkish, the sour set of her mouth ruined her good looks. The distasteful aura radiating from her did nothing to help. "Summon the guards!"

There will be one unlike the others. Someone will oppose you, might speak of violence. That's the one you need to destroy. Father knew there was a corrupting influence near the heart of this culture, just not who exactly. Finding them was my job.

I cocked my head, ignoring the shifting of the others, focused solely on her. I didn't know what she'd done, or why she was doing it, or why no one here was stopping her. None of that mattered. Only my mission did.

Elthanael's short sword punched through her chest from behind, destroying her instantly.

People screamed and ran then. The elf ignored those streaming past him, calmly removing his sword and cleaning her viscous blood from the blade.

I approached him with a smile. "Nothing to worry about." We laughed.

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