The sky was a dark purple, the last rays of golden sun dripping down to tomorrow.
In a dark alley, two men and a boy stood, facing each other. The boy and one of the men crouched, ready for action. Both had knives in hand, offensively aimed at the other man. The second man stood with his back pressed against the wall of a building, one hand stretched out protectively before him.
“Please…” the man begged, his voice trembling.
The plea was ignored. The first man grinned and stepped back, whipping his black cloak away. He gestured to the boy.
In a flash the boy was upon the second man, his knife slashing his throat with one precise movement. The man clutched his throat, arching his back as he fell to his knees. Dark blood seeped past his fingers and dripped down his expensive fabrics. He let loose a garbled groan before collapsing sideways onto the ground.
The first man knelt down and grabbed the man’s wrist. A moment later he dropped it into the dust.
“Dead,” he announced. “Well done, boy.”
The boy scowled, wiping his blade off on the dead man’s clothes. “I don’t need you to congratulate me. I’m a better assassin than you’ll ever be.”
The man frowned, but almost as if this outburst amused him. “Is that so?”
“Why else would King Hesher appoint me as the next King’s Assassin while you’re just a minor?”
The man smirked and turned, walking toward the last faded streaks of day, forcing the boy to trot after him. “Yes, I am just a minor, but you’re not King’s Assassin yet.” He cast a glance behind him, smiling wickedly. “Anything could happen between now and then, Conor.”
The boy named Conor stuck his chin into the air proudly. “The king would never give a different assassin the position. I have been destined for the role since I was born.”
“Ah,” the man sighed. “Since you were born. And where, exactly, were you born, boy?”
Conor angrily brushed his hair up under his hood. He hated it. Carredellians had brown hair, not Arenians. He always loathed the insinuation that maybe, because he was an orphan and didn’t know who his parents were, he was Carredellian. An enemy of Arenia.
Despite himself, he couldn’t help wondering where his brown hair had come from. Was it his father or his mother? Or perhaps a grandparent? He didn’t know.
Faulken, a retired assassin, raised the boy—or, more accurately, trained him. From the moment he was brought before King Hesher as a child, Conor was destined to be King’s Assassin. One look at the boy’s strength and agility made Hesher’s mind. And his build helped, too. It was hard to find a small, wiry body in Arenia. Most people had a thick, muscular build and were generally very tall. A build like Conor’s was just the thing for an assassin.
So Faulken trained the boy on the art of killing, bringing him up to be as tough and uncaring as possible. This job made it necessary for him to have a heart as cold and hard as steel, and a soul of the same sort.
At least his eyes were all right. They were a dark blue, the usual color for Arenians’.
“I have proven myself time and time again, Malin. Why do you insist on throwing my parentage back in my face?” Conor said.
Malin didn’t respond for a moment. When he spoke again, he said, “I just don’t want you to come out of this too broken, my dear boy.”
“What could you possibly mean by that?”
“Well…” Malin paused, as if he didn’t really want to say. “What if…” he hesitated again dramatically “what if, like I said, King Hesher doesn’t want you to be King’s Assassin?”
Conor leapt in front of the man, one hand resting over his sheathed knife. But before he could protest, Malin held up a silencing hand.
“Hear me out,” he said diplomatically. Conor frowned, but stayed quiet. “What if King Hesher doesn’t want you to be King’s Assassin?” he repeated. “Think about it. It might make sense.”
“He’s keeping you from things. Important things you need to know.”
Conor folded his arms over his chest. “What things?” he demanded.
Malin eyed the boy slyly. “Well, for one, you’ve never been given a solo assignment.”
Conor dropped his arms to his sides. It was true. He’d gone on plenty of assignments with minors, or in small groups, but never once had he been on an assignment all on his own.
Was Malin right? Was King Hesher trying to keep him from becoming King’s Assassin? Not letting Conor know how to do certain things—like how to execute a solo assignment—and then later arguing he was not fit to be the country’s second-in-command?
Conor ground his teeth. “The only reason I’ve never gone on a solo assignment is because I haven’t ever asked. Just wait. I’ll get a solo assignment. I’ll request one as soon as we get back.”