Friday Snippet: Lady Wyre’s Regret

Continuing the free-read prequel to Lady Doctor Wyre .  This snippet is a little long but there was no good place to break.  In this section, Sig (aka Lord Regret) is introduced to a stranger who may be familiar to some of you who’ve read the The Shanhasson books.  If you need to catch up, part 1 and part 2.

If people thought the hardest part of an assassin’s job was the killing, they’d be dead wrong.  For Sig, it was the endless waiting for his next contract. 

Wallowing in grim regrets, he tossed back another shot.  As the years went by, he’d discovered that his memories became harder to dull with mere alcohol.  His numerous killings didn’t torment him.  No, a more dreadful guilt weighed upon his chest, suffocating him more and more each day.  Only killing managed to blot that darkness out for a short while, and not even the most famed assassin in the universe could kill every single day, not if he wanted to be well paid for his work.

So he found himself alone and desperately drunk in the Black Stump Saloon at the edge of what the locals called the Outback, a wasteland of barren, torn ground already raped of its resources to supply the planet’s main port and only—but mega—city, Sydney.  Absolutely nothing on the surface of Terra Australis made the planet worth inhabiting, but the deep, rich veins of gold, diamonds, and ore certainly did.  The wealth of natural resources combined with the depth of those veins and the harsh living conditions made for a most excellent penal colony.

Every port had a place so dark and disreputable that its own inhabitants were afraid they’d get their throats slit if they ever stepped foot in side.  Thieves, rebels, and wanted criminals somehow managed to find their way to these hellholes as effortlessly as homing pigeons flew home to their coop.  On a planet of convicts, their harsh keepers, and a handful of men so desperate to make a pound or two that they’d work side by side with the worst murderers and thieves in the galaxy, the Black Stump Saloon was especially dangerous.

Alien-made rotgut burned like acid down his throat.  Flames crackled through his veins, cramping his muscles, but he still gave a jerk of his head to the shaggy, unkempt barkeeper for another round.  His body might be feeling the nasty affects, but his mind remained wretchedly clear.

If even the foulest whiskey in the most vermin-filled bar in the universe can’t help deaden the memories any longer, then I’d better get busy finding the best way to stop my breathing for good.

“Be wary, my friend.” 

The stranger’s voice drew his attention to his left.  A man slid up to the bar beside him, so silently that even the barkeeper—who carefully kept the entire bar in his line of vision at all times—involuntarily jerked back.

Dark, gleaming eyes met Sig’s and not even a sardonic wink could disguise the man’s silent threat.  Instantly, every cell in his body went on high alert, causing another firestorm of agony to tear through his burning muscles.  That kind of lethal grace and unflinching stare meant only one thing.

This man is as good a killer as I am.

“Dying by Shee ale is a hard way to go.  I’ve seen men tearing their own skin off, trying to make the burning sensation end.  If you really want to die, there are much easier ways to accomplish it.”

The implication that he would certainly be able to accommodate a death wish gave his words a cold, heavy weight.  Sig didn’t allow his body to tense with alarm, but he mentally took a quick inventory of the weapons he had on his person.  Perfect for throwing, thin silver blades were strapped to each wrist beneath his coat.  He had a longer, heavier dirk tucked down his spine in a back harness, and two more throwing blades in each boot.  Not to mention the lazor surely stashed beneath the bar.

Of course an assassin’s body was his best weapon.  While Sig took great pride in his agility and quick-handed strikes, he wouldn’t be able to surprise this man, who undoubtedly outweighed him by at least thirty stone.  The man was solid muscle and topped him by another foot, yet moved with the silent glide of a predator on the hunt.

Why haven’t I ever heard of him before?

Using his best high Society voice which had made him famous, Sig drawled, “If you can recommend another way to dull painful memories, sir, then I would love to hear it.”

The stranger’s dark gaze flickered over him, so sharp and deep that Sig unconsciously held his breath.  “Ah, you have my sympathies.  I know what it’s like to be haunted by a living nightmare.”

He gave the barkeeper a short nod and the man brought two steaming mugs.  Sig smelled the mug suspiciously.  No alcohol.  He took a hesitant sip and shuddered at the dark, bitter taste.  “What is this, witch’s brew?”

The stranger laughed as though he’d made a fine joke.  “Merely a drink to help combat the Shee ale.  If we decide to test each other’s knives, I want you to be at your best instead of dulled by drink.”

Since this man obviously cared little for polite Society, Sig forgot niceties.  “Who the hell are you?”

“No one you’ve heard of.  No one you would or should know.”

“But you know who I am?”

“Of course.  Everyone in the galaxy has heard the tales of your marks.”

At least the man hadn’t said his name aloud.  Sig wouldn’t mind a drunken brawl or a nice, juicy contract so impossible no other assassin would attempt the mark, but he would rather not have to kill his way out of the Australis prisons because this fool talked too much.

I’m the bloody fool who decided to risk a drink at the Black Stump when there are countless dives where I could have indulged without a super-secure prison only paces away.

Pain banded his tight chest.  It hurt to breathe.  Hurt to think.  Killing helped dull the pain and keep the nightmares at bay, but he couldn’t…

A loud thwack jerked his head up.  The stranger had slammed the tip of his knife into the top of the bar.  In size, the blade wasn’t that impressive, only as long as his hand, but that edge gleamed in the light, wicked sharp.  The hilt was smooth, aged ivory, darkened over the years by sweat. 

Or perhaps blood.

“A word of advice, my friend.”  The man’s eyes flickered in the dimness like flames licking red-hot coals.  Sig glanced about quickly but didn’t see any fire that would have reflected in the man’s eyes like that.  “Never accept a contract on the woman you love.”

Sig couldn’t help the smirk twisting his mouth.  “That is something I’ll never have to fret about, for I’ve never met a woman I could ever love more than my work.”

Giving him an equally arrogant grin, the man tugged his blade loose and let the knife roll across his palm, back and forth, effortlessly controlling the knife without even looking at it.  “So I thought.”

A vibration in Sig’s pocket made him draw a quick, hopeful breath.  He drew the device out and scanned the incoming message.  “Excellent.  A new job.  I’ve got to go.”

The man nodded and sheathed the blade on his hip.  “Another time, then.  I’d enjoy testing your blade.”

“You never told me your name,” Sig called after the man, trying to memorize his face and appearance so he could search for history on him later.  Long dark hair, dark eyes, and nasty blade.  That’s all I really know.  His accent is strange, but I can’t place it.

“My name doesn’t matter.”  The man paused at the door and glanced back, giving him another wink.  “I’m Shadow and Death, a killer, like you.  We can’t help but find each other again someday.”

“Thank you,” Sig whispered, but the man was gone.  Shaking his head, he stepped out of the main room, searching along the dark hallway until he found a secluded, quiet spot.  A supply closet.  A quick scan confirmed there were no listening or monitoring devices inside the room.

The sender’s message only included a House sign:  the white dove of Wyre.  Was that his contact…or the mark?  Slipping into Britannia would definitely prove a worthy challenge.  Their shields were tighter and more secure than the Australis prisons, keeping the unwashed masses out instead of locking them into their punishment.

He opened a secure channel to the sender.  Since he’d just received the offer, hopefully his contact would still be waiting.  His curiosity burned, a much better feeling than shortness of breath and desperate panic.

A woman’s face appeared on the screen, and not even the small monitor could diminish her classical grace.  The tilted angle of her chin declared her pride and royal breeding.  He’d never been introduced to the Duchess of Wyre, but he recognized her.  Smooth dark hair, chocolate eyes, in many ways a sister to the man who’d just left.  Impossible.  If that man was from Britannia then I’m a Razari lizard.

“Lord Regret, I presume.  Your reputation precedes you.”

Her voice matched those dark, chocolate eyes.  He inclined his head and allowed his own ancient bloodlines to deepen the pride in his voice.  “Your Grace, it’s my great honor to offer my blade in service to you.  Who’s your target?”

She smiled.  Sig’s eyes flared, his chest aching as though that stranger had buried his blade directly into his heart.  “I am.”

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