A long whistle resonated in the air, commanding Dragon’s immediate attention as he automatically ducked. He steered Carellian to the right a moment before an arrow flew past his ear, missing him by a hairbreadth. Instead, the long dart hit his draglet’s head before hurtling in the chasm below.
The arrow prickled Carellian’s thick skin, irritating the temperamental draglet, who jerked abruptly to the side with a loud whinny.
Thrown from atop his seat, Dragon reached the reins with his hand, his fingers grasping the leather and missing. A loud curse escaped his mouth as strong winds slapped his hand further away, making for him impossible to catch the flying straps.
At the last moment, he gave a wild kick in the air and hooked his left boot in the leather straps of the draglet’s harness before he ended up dangling upside down. The hazardous position gave him an interesting view of the ragged landscape of the Rocky Domes that rose toward the sky, like megalithic, oblong eggs emerging from the Green River below. One of the white and pink granite walls grew dangerously close as Carellian flew flush to the surface.
Dragon pushed his head up, exercising his tight abdominals and climbing back on his draglet. “I’m starting to get old for these shenanigans.” He sat in between the animal’s large shoulder blades. Grabbing the leather reins, he patted the feathery, blue fur in between Carellian’s spine ridges. “Steady, boy.” His voice and firm touch had the desired effect to soothe the draglet.
“Let’s go back to the convoy.” With a gentle tug, Dragon steered Carellian away from the Rocky Dome.
The rest of his party flew several kilometers ahead, carrying the royal palanquin and his two betrotheds to Sol Palace. After a year on Lupine and away from his court, he had needed the respite of a few hours alone to gather his thoughts. Valerian, his lieutenant and friend, protested his decision, but Dragon was the High Lord and his word was law on Solaria. As the supreme leader of his planet, Dragon expected threats to his person and the occasional assassination plot, but since he had returned to his planet, it looked like it was open season on the monarch. Maybe, he should have listened to Valerian.
His majestic steed lowered his wings to catch a lateral thermal and spiraled down toward the valley below.
A shadow darkened one of the clouds drifting slowly under Carellian, and a moment later, a shiny glint caught Dragon’s attention. His thigh automatically pressed against his draglet’s powerful flank, veering the steed toward the disturbance.
The javelin impaled his shoulder before he ever saw it coming.
An upward breeze engulfed Jade’s hood, caressing her mask sitting on her high cheekbones. The scent of her prey reached her nostrils. Surprise emanated from the man. She blinked once and steadied her breathing.
Unhurriedly, Jade took her aim. Her clockwork wings drew backward as she propelled her arm forward, releasing a second javelin.
She used arrows to destabilize her prey, but preferred javelins to make the kill, they were her weapon of choice. It took an entirely different set of skills to master the deadly art of the javelin, but when her throw aimed true, Jade was glad for the long and harrowing years spent training as an Assassin. Not that she ever had a choice in becoming a member of the infamous mercenary association. But she did have a choice in becoming the best Assassin she could be.
The javelin gracefully soared high in the sky before it curved in a perfect arch, directing its poisonous end toward the target’s heart.
Killing a dragon shifter took lots of preparation and nerves of steel. Only a few Assassins possessed what was needed to successfully complete such a mission, but killing the Solarian High Lord required a commitment to the cause only Jade had.
The Assassin Academy, otherwise known as the Academy, had fixed her broken body when she first arrived at the steps of the white palace on Celestia, sold by her family for the next meal. The Academy infused her with nanites that had knitted her back together and prolonged her life’s expectancy beyond the mortal scope. She could still be killed, but otherwise, her ageing had been slowed considerably and she could live in the prime of her youth as long as shifters did.
A shattering roar broke the eerie silence. The prey’s hand snapped forward, grabbing the javelin a mere moment before the black, sharp point would perforate clothes and flesh, injecting paralyzing toxins into the man’s chest.
Jade took a calming breath, centering her thoughts on the task ahead.
Plans change. Assassins adapt.
One steady hand reached for her belt, fingers grabbing the head of the third javelin, her last one. Deftly, with the ease of a lifetime of practice, her thumb and index finger snapped the leather hoop and freed her weapon. She commanded her mechanical wings to open wide to stabilize her and prepared for the kill.
Her body tensed in anticipation. A smile tugged at her lips. Her shoulder rotated as her arm moved up, muscles flexing and extending. Like a missile, her weapon of choice shone in the morning light, catching Coral’s pink rays. The moment the javelin left her hold, Jade experienced a feeling akin to physical release.
Her lips parted as she heard the familiar hissing of the heavy spear cut through the air. Next, her prey would gasp and fall from his mount. Jade would finish him with her dagger before he reached the ground a mile below. She would give him the respectful death a dragon shifter deserved, still flying.
Her eyes locked with the man’s. Her ritual. Before every killing, she would honor her victim by acknowledging them as her peers.
His gaze didn’t betray any fear. Atop his draglet, he sat with an elegant poise, back straight and long, blond locks streaming away from his face. A handsome face that wasn’t contorted in pain, but maintained an uncanny composure, as if he weren’t injured. The first javelin had rooted itself deeply inside his shoulder, and the poison must have already spread through his system.
Eyes the color of the clearest sky stared into hers before, at the last possible moment, he moved out of the spear’s trajectory.
A powerful emotion possessed Jade as she watched her last javelin missing its target and spiraling down, useless. Jade recognized the feeling as rage, but deep inside, an inexplicable sense of relief pulsed, trying to emerge. She pushed the conflicting thoughts away, her body already in pursuit.
Plans change. Assassins adapt.
She pulsed her wings forward, catching a thermal. The wind propelled her closer to her prey.
Man and draglet hovered as a single entity, unmoving, as if waiting for her…