Nahata: The Coyote Lord
Red carpet lined the halls and Nahata knew immediately she was entering into the more regal part of the compound. Gold gilded columns of obsidian and shimmering glass chandeliers were around every corner. Statues carved from white stone sat on pedestals like gods to be worshipped.
She shoved open the kitchen door and with feigned confidence, strolled to the otherside. Everyone in uniform was too busy rushing around to even glance at her. Some were tending to the food, others were cleaning countertops or stacking together glistening plates.
Nahata strode into the dining room and just like the others in uniform did, she scooped up a silver tray and began clearing away empty plates and glasses. All the while, her gaze leapt from face to face until she caught a glimpse of both her target and Lord Anjien. She almost nodded to him but stiffened and averted her gaze.
She thought back to the moment when he handed her the vial of poison, the darkness of his tone stopping her heart mid-beat, “The entire vial. Do not fail me or it will be your life on the line.”
She passed by his table without so much as looking at him. Either he was testing her abilities or he was giving himself an alibi to their crime. Which, it was a crime, wasn’t it? She knew that killing the colonel was illegal and she might even be arrested if she were caught. She might be executed. But if she failed, she knew Lord Anjien would definitely have her killed. She was better off taking her chances getting on his good side. She had to play her role.
She slipped back into the chaos of the kitchen, setting aside her silver tray cluttered with dirty plates and glasses. Before she could slink over to the wall of wine, someone snatched her by the elbow. She spun around, brows pinching in annoyance and she almost retorted something sarcastic until she met the hard gaze of one of the cooks.
“You can’t just leave those there. You’d ought to know better. In the sink.”
Her lips pressed into a thin smile. She hoisted up the tray dramatically. “Yes, of course, your majesty. Wouldn’t want to send the whole kingdom into an uproar.”
He grumbled and he looked as if he might shove her but then he sucked down a sharp breath to calm himself. “We have too many guests tonight.” He shook his head and waved her off. “Hurry. Into the sink with those.”
She rolled her head away and spun around. Foolish, she chastised herself. She almost made a scene. That would have made the whole mission a disaster. Which would have put her in the path of Lord Anjiens fury.
Nahata put the tray down into the sink then hurried before anyone else could stop her. She grabbed a bottle of dark magenta wine and pulled the cork out. It was easy to do it and meant that countless others had enjoyed the bottle that evening.
She poured the dark liquid into a set of crystal glasses then removed the vial from her dress. She looked at the silver hues swirling among black. It reminded her of the desert night sky, a sea of sparkling stars that spanned from one horizon to the next. As she held the vial in palm, she could feel it pulsing against her skin like a heartbeat. Or perhaps it was her own heart, she couldn’t be sure. It was occurring to her that she was about to take another life, the second life within a matter of days. This was different, she convinced herself. The colonel deserved this after what he had done.
She emptied the vial into the glass and watched as the dark wine swallowed it. Nahata tried not to shudder as she hoisted the tray and swaggered confidently back through the dining hall. She avoided eye-contact with Lord Anjien, focusing her gaze on the colonel and his glittering canine mask.
“My lord,” she cooed, copying the tone that Merletta always used. With an elegant flourish she set the poisoned glass before the colonel and then another in front of the woman beside him. “A gift for you, my lord and lady.” She rolled her hand towards a nearby table where finely dressed soldiers were sitting in uniforms clustered with their war medals.
The colonel smiled widely, a laugh bursting out of his throat. It was a hoarse and sticky laugh, throat thick with food. “Be sure to give my thanks. And a glass of their own.” He winked and he might have reached out to stroke her if she hadn’t spun away so fast.
When she looked, Lord Anjien’s chair was already empty. He hadn’t stayed, after all.
Nahata didn’t wait to see the aftermath of the poison or the events that might unfold. She followed Lord Anjien’s orders. She moved back through the kitchen, tossed the tray into the sink with the rest of the dishes, and marched through the halls from where she came. She was careful not to draw attention from anyone or to remove her mask. She didn’t want to be recognized or to be followed. And she supposed being a servant made that task all the easier. No one even acknowledged her.
She slipped back into the room they had used earlier. It was empty except for her gear neatly displayed on the bed. She changed clothes and switched out the servant’s mask for her own. She caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror. She was becoming them. With every murder, with every advancement in their society, she was becoming Devian.
Just as she had been ordered to earlier, she met Lord Anjien in a different hall in a different guest room. The door was already unlocked and inside, Lord Anjien stood on the other side of the room. He registered her appearance before turning his attention back to the window although there wasn’t much to view except for sand dunes.
Nahata moved further into the room and while Anjien’s attention was elsewhere, she took in his posture, his clothes, the way he stood idly with his hands clutched behind his back. Someone might have thought he was a statue.
The guest room door clicked open then clattering through it was the colonel. He staggered from the foyer to the sitting area where he tumbled into a sofa. Sweat layered his skin as the poison did its job. Nahata caught a glimpse of the colonel’s wife just before the door closed and she didn’t look the least bit concerned about her husband’s illness. Or the fact that Nahata and Lord Anjien were in the room.
“I wonder, apprentice” cooed the general as he rounded the other side of the sofa. He circled the colonel like a vulture circling the dead. “Do you have the strength to kill him? The willpower?”
Nahata lowered into a squat and looked at the wide eyes of the colonel. His mask was different; expensive. His attire looked just as clean pressed and expensive as the rest of the high ranking Dev back in the dining hall. The last time she saw him, he was a simple soldier guarding a dessert wasteland. He rose in the ranks within just a matter of days.
She leaned closer, voice acidic in her whisper, “How many people did you murder to get your promotion?”
He winced. Perhaps he tried to speak but all that came out of his throat were gargling gasps. He tried to reach out and grab her but his hand flopped limply across the floor.
She grabbed him by the throat. Her grief and anger melded into a single emotion. She remembered their conversation back at the compoound. He had been a slave once. He had worked those same mines. Yet, he chose to help his oppressors.
She refused to do the same. Nahata decided there in that moment, she would end the Devian empire. She would kill everyone that tried to stop her or get in her way.
Lord Anjien stood behind her. His voice was in her ear as he leaned down, “You must reach past his physical shell. The Devian body can not be killed. It is the spirit, the soul, that must be slayed.”
Her grip on his throat tightened. She clenched her teeth, desperate to command her magic and order the beast to do her bidding. “We have to protect other people,” she stated flatly, to both the colonel and her beast. “Not just ourselves.”
Energy flared, an aura of blues and violets, rising out of her skin to encase her in ethereal light. She could feel the coyote meld with her, its jaws snapping in consent, its blood with her blood and its skin to her skin.
It obeyed as it seeped through the colonel’s body to the soul locked inside. With parched greed, the coyote guzzled down the other soul as if it were a pool of water in the desert. And she could feel the energy joining hers. Her lips parted and her eyes rolled shut as the souls washed over her. She began shivering. It was like plunging into the sea after being scorched all day by the sun.
By the time she opened her eyes, his skeleton was clattering into the floor. All that remained of the man were bones and glittering flecks of dust that wafted through the air.
The coyote’s energy returned to rest beneath her skin but she could feel it beating inside of her like a heartbeat. Nahata took down a sharp breath and released it with relief. Her eyes met the general’s mask and it was from his nod alone that she could ascertain his approval.
He rose to his feet and moved towards the door. “Return to Merletta’s office. I will meet with you there.” Without looking back, he left and the room fell silent.
She stood up and stared at her hands. Flecks of gold coated her skin and clothes. She would have to clean them but she doubted anyone would care. Another deathmatch, they would assume and she would lie with a smirk. Someone had attacked her, she could say, questioned her authority just as the lion had done.
The lion, she mused at the memory. She had left him kneeling near the armory. She half-wondered if the proud man was still there or if he decided to run away in fear.
She moved through the training compound to the armory where the stench of metal permeated the air. He was still kneeling exactly where she had left him, his arms trembling to support his weight. A few Dev walked past him without so much as looking at him. It was common place, Nahata assumed.
She circled around him, boots scuffing as she considered her options. She had no desire to see another person dead but the thought crept into her mind. For just a moment, she considered, “What’s one more death among the others?”
Was it her thought or the coyote’s that echoed in her mind.
She squatted in front of him and fiddled with her nails. “Be grateful I can still take pity on you.”
He grew tense then dared a glance at her expression.
“Don’t make me regret letting you go.” Nahata leaned closer, tone dark, “Next time, I swear I’ll let you starve to death.”
Just as Nahata stood up to leave, his fingers fumbled to grab hold of her leg. “Careful... my lord. If you follow him, be sure to hide in his shadow.” He fell sideways into the floor. His legs were too weak to continue sitting under his weight. “You do not know what sort of monster you’re dealing with.”
She easily stepped around him.
“Stay in the shadows.” He huffed breathily, lips pulled tight into a grimace.
Nahata starred. She waited for a moment but then she strode down the hall and didn’t look back. Whatever the lion had to say, it didn’t matter. She might have learned something about her new mentor. But the lion could tell just as many lies. After all, the lion had wanted to kill here a few mere hours ago.
She couldn’t trust anyone.
Nahata returned to Merletta’s office where she found the old crow, unceremoniously, pouring herself a glass of dark red wine.
The irony, Nahata mused.
“How was it?” Kadri patted the space beside her on the sofa.
She smirked haughtily, “He’s dead so there’s that...” Nahata eyed the spot but she was too nervous to sit down. Ever since their first meeting and the way Kadi looked at her, she felt a strange emotion begin to boom. Nahata’s heart was already beginning to pound quicker at the memory of Kadri’s hands on her thighs.
Nahata cleared her throat. “Where’s Lord Anjien?”
Merletta chuckled, that sing-songy sound of hers. “Where do you think, pup? Finishing what you started.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
She sashayed across the room, wine glass held loosely in her grip. The wine, a light amber color, swished around with each step. “He wanted to kill the colonel but why, pup? Why kill someone unless you’re getting something for it?”
“The wife,” she realized.
Merletta tipped her head and wine glass in admittance.
Ideas spiraled in her mind. Did the general lust after the colonel’s wife? Were they having an affair of some sort? No, it didn’t seem like something he would do. But then again, she had only just met the man.
The door opened in a quiet hush and Lord Anjien stepped through.
Her attention fell on him in anticipation. “My lord.”
He moved forward, black vestments gliding effortlessly across the floor. “You did well.” His gloved hand reached up to cup the side of her face. The leather and metal of his gauntlet felt cold against her skin. “Now, to share the details with you. A reward for us both.” Lord Anjien stepped past her to the center of the room. “The colonel was planning to slaughter a slave colony for a science experiment. You stopped him.”
Nahata stared into his back as he moved further to the far wall.
“His death prevented the deaths of thousands of unsuspecting slaves.”
“Why do you care about a slave colony?” The question fell out of her mouth before she registered it. She scurried to add, “If you don’t mind, Lord Anjien, in telling me...”
There was a laugh, metallic and rusty. “I don’t.” He turned just enough to look over shoulder at her. “His wife, however... provided me with important details about something that is pertinent to a different mission.”
Not an affair then, Nahata confirmed.
“Give and take.” Like a dark specter he glided towards Nahata. His voice was dark and low, “She wanted him dead. I wanted the location of a powerful weapon.”
Nahata shuddered and her voice faltered, “I see.”
“By following my orders, we both obtained what we desired.”
“Of course, Lord Anjien.”
“The question at hand is whether or not you know what you desire.”
The doors to the office hushed open before she could even consider the idea; what did she desire?
A guard stepped into the room.
Nahata held her breath, fearful that she would be arrested.
The guard bowed quickly then declared rather loudly, “Grand-general. Your ship has been resupplied as requested. You are ready for departure.” After being waved off in dismissal, the guard turned sharply and marched back through the door.
“Kadri.” Lord Anjien finally looked at the quiet woman still sitting at her spot on the couch.
“Sir,” she replied, a smirk beginning to tug free.
“Inspect the ship. Take Lord Nahata with you. She can settle into her new quarters.”
Kadri jumped to her feet. “My pleasure. Welcome to the crew, Lord Nahata.”