Over the past few days Branna had been planning just how and where she would take the Major, as well as planning revenge on the idiot who had almost got her captured. Well, killing the King was going to take a few weeks—she had to keep herself entertained somehow due that time, and killing the person who’d betrayed her seemed like a good place to start.
And, besides, to kill the King she needed her hands on this Major and have his mind under her control.
Under her request, her spies had managed to access the data mainframe in the castle’s supposedly impregnable data bank. No one ever suspected servants as being able to hack firewalls and hard drives without being noticed, not to mention then storing one file of interest on a USB stick and being able to hand it to the Silent Assassin.
That file of interest being on one Aleksander Hale.
The name sounded . . . vaguely familiar, a twitch on her mind. She’d brushed it off, almost as immediately as it had come, for she’d probably have just heard it somewhere else.
Not that it mattered where she’d heard it, because she didn’t care for his name. She just cared for what he could do for her, would do for her. Which was why she needed to become familiar with everything about him, background, personality, card usage—the whole lot.
She needed him, so she needed to know about him.
Which was why she was spending the next few hours in her apartment, shutters down and door locked, doing what one could term as homework. Voluntary homework.
Placing her silver bar, which cleverly also acted as a computer, on the small table she’d pulled from her kitchen area, she slotted the stick into the USB port on the side. Immediately the projection screen switched on and up, covered in smaller screens stacked on top of each other, like a set of cards on digital solitaire.
But sorting through dozens of files on a small screen would take more than a few hours and she needed to get ready for her night’s entertainment soon enough. So to make it easier for herself, she spread the fingers of both hands wide and hovered both hands over either side of the screen until the computer registered her—even her metal hand, because it was programmed to pick that up—and then threw her arms wide.
The files scattered into many screens, hovering over the wall she was facing. Some were simply filled with writing, other’s photos and a few videos on pause. They covered the whole wall, hovering just over it in perfect clarity.
Branna cocked her head to the side, staring at a photo, before she brought her hand over it and pulled it back towards her in a pulling in action. The photo came closer and therefore larger.
It was a photo of a young man in the standard uniform for soldiers, cropped blonde hair a little unruly and looking like it hadn’t been combed that morning, and his eyes stared intensely at the camera—the deepest shade of green, not quite dull but not quite bright.
The pair of green eyes she had locked up in her memory flew past Branna’s mind, and she gripped the table edge to ready herself from the shock of the familiarity between those eyes and these eyes.
She shook her head. I’m seeing things, things that are not there.
But still . . . “Who are you, Aleksander Hale?” she whispered to the air, to the photo, taking a step closer. “You look somewhat familiar, but I’ve never seen you before a few days ago. Who are you?” She made a dismissing action with her hand and the photo floated back to where it had been, shrinking in size once more.
“H.A.N.N.A. bring up Aleksander Hale’s biography,” Branna said, addressing the built-in computer system. For a few years Branna had thought that the name for the system was something technological and brilliant, but really it just was just an acronym for Here’s A Nifty Nerdy Automaton—complete and utter nonsense really.
“There are two biographies, miss,” the system replied, clipped accent female.
“A biography concerning Major Aleksander Hale’s life, and a biography concerning his army life and achievements.”
Branna sat down in her singular plastic chair. “Bring up the biography about his life.”
“Very well, miss.”
A scanned page was brought to the forefront of the projection, with yet another photo of the Major in the top right-hand corner of it. Branna’s eyes skimmed the page, taking in the information easily. The biography didn’t reveal much, just his age—and he, well, he was really young for a Major, only nineteen years of age—and some background details like the fact that he’d been born and lived just outside the city slums in the Shambles.
For the next half-an-hour she scanned through various files, coming across nothing of much importance in any of them, before pulling out the stick and putting the bar back into phone mode.
“H.A.N.N.A. connect me to Natalia, live feed, please,” Branna murmured, stretching her limbs before getting up to walk off the stiffness in her left leg. Sometimes, after periods of having it unable to be straight, her leg went tense and numb and didn’t operate properly.
“Of course, miss,” the built-in AI replied.
Branna walked over to her small wine fridge whilst the dialling tone rang through the room, a soft chime, and retrieved one of the bottles from it, then reached up to pull a large wine glass from the shelf overhead. She unscrewed the cap and poured the liquid until the glass was three-quarters of the way full.
“It’s a little early for such a big drink, isn’t it?” a lilt female voice asked.
Branna scowled and whirled around, glass in her left hand, and took a drink. “It’s three in the afternoon, and you know it will do me no harm,” she answered. “I didn’t truly expect you to answer, are you on a break?”
The woman on the other side of the projection screen smiled and fixed her gaze on Branna, but due to the fact her eyes were fully the colour of pearl with no pupil it was a little unsettling. Well, unsettling for most people, but of course the Silent Assassin wasn’t most people.
“You call, I answer,” she said. “I am but a simple android who serves humans.”
“Natalia, please, quit with the melodrama.”
“Yes, I am on a break.”
Branna took another sip of her wine before sitting back down in her chair. “Doesn’t the darling Major Hale believe he’s given you your name?”
Natalia nodded and ran a hand through her short, blonde curls. “Yes. Oh, he’s such a genius, giving me a name that was picked out a while back.”
Branna let out a short laugh. “And how old did you say you were again?”
The assassin smiled. “And he had no suspicions that you were lying?”
“I may be an android, but I’m a mighty fine actress.”
“And that’s why you’re my favourite of my two spies.”
“Aw, shucks! You’re such a sweetheart,” she laughed before becoming all serious once again. “Now, is there a reason you called me?”
“Techinally H.A.N.N.A. did—I just asked,” Branna murmured and took another drink. Her glass was only half full now. “I was wondering if you had any updates for me? I haven’t seen the Major in a few days, and I’ve been looking very carefully.”
“Gosh, you sound like a stalker!”
Branna sighed. “Have you spoken to him as of late?”
“Not since that little encounter where I had to pack some of his stuff.”
Branna perked up, eyes widening. She had not been told about this before. “And why were you packing some of his stuff?”
“Um . . .” Natalia looked away for a moment, biting her bottom lip. “He’s gone away for a few weeks. Apparently the King has set him a personal mission.”
Natalia laughed nervously. “Yeah . . . but I overheard a conversation between the Generals whilst I was walking down a hall, and apparently his mission is to find you.”
Branna’s expression was completely deadpan, obsidian eyes unreadable. “And why didn’t you tell me this when you gave me the bloody USB stick? Which, by the way, doesn’t really tell me much except background details.”
“You didn’t ask so I didn’t tell.”
Branna sighed through her nose and slumped her head against the table, banging her forehead a couple of times before glancing back at Natalia. “Sometimes I really consider recalibrating your head.”
“Do you even know how to do that?”
“ . . . No,” she muttered after a moment. “But you should really have been programmed to say things off your own back.”
“I was, kind of.”
Branna gave her an unamused look. “Next time, tell me when you have something of importance.”
Natalia nodded and then a look of contemplation crossed her features. Androids were remarkably expressive. “Don’t you have a . . . date to get ready for?” she asked, making the inverted commas hand gesture when she said the word ‘date’.
A cold smile slowly split the Silent Assassin’s lips. “That I do, that I do.”
If there was one thing Branna Drummond hated wearing, it was wigs. Having to bundle her raven curls up so she could fit a wig on properly was one of the most annoying things she ever had to do. But it was necessary, as was the cover she’d slipped on over her left arm to conceal the metal with skin, because her ‘date’ didn’t know who she actually was.
Branna had not let the man she was meeting see her face the three times they had met. No, she’d worn her black cloak with the deep hood pulled over her head with a mask over her mouth to mess with her voice, and they’d met in dark places.
The man who’d fed her the false information that had led to her almost capture those few nights ago, Lord Loxley, was the one she was meeting.
And Lord Loxley was one the one she was going to kill tonight.
Not that the man had idea of that, because for all he knew he was meeting with a high-end courtesan at a hotel just outside the city centre, for a meal and some . . . entertainment.
So Branna shoved a blonde wig on her head and sorted it out until it looked right, with no black strands on show. The thick blonde strands fell in delicate waves and stopped halfway down her back.
Once she sorted that out she shrugged out of her silt nightgown, leaving her only in her lingerie, and walked over to the long clothes bag hanging on the top of the door that separated her two rooms.
She’d already applied all her make-up: concealer, foundation, eye shadow, eyeliner, mascara—the works. Her lipstick she was putting on last, after she’d put on her dress.
Branna took the zipper of the bag between her left thumb and index finger, and then pulled down until it fell to the floor. A few minutes later she was wearing a black dress fashioned entirely of lace, but with lace flowers clustered thickly so as to cover the body modestly enough. It had a high collar with an illusion neckline, and had only one sleeve—the left one. The entire right side had a see-through side panel on it, from just under the arm to the floor, to reveal the skin there.
She slipped on her shoes, black stilettos, before standing in front of her mirror to apply her lipstick until her lips were the exact colour of blood. It was her war paint.
If you’re out to kill, might as well look good doing so and enhance what you were born with.
Branna Drummond was skilled in using her body as a natural weapon. It was her first weapon, after all.
The vintage Jaguar, a 21st century model with a personal android chauffeur—courtesy of the Sept, of course—that had picked her up outside the entrance to her building now dropped her off outside a great, but not imposing, white building that looked to be from the Georgian Era. The pleasant metallic sign said it was the Hotel du Vin & Bistro.
She’d looked around the hotel for herself a few hours after arranging her meeting with Lord Loxley, going under the appearance that she’d been looking for wedding reception venues, and found everything to be normal. It was a rather boutique place, and the decor was ageless—well, apart from technology and medicine and architecture, not much had changed in the way of decor and fashion, so it’s appeal and agelessness probably stemmed from that.
The chauffeur opened the door. “Miss McKellen,” the male android said, and of course he hadn’t mixed up her name with someone else’s, her identity was an important secret to be upheld, and Branna was meeting Lord Loxley under the pseudonym of Catherine McKellen, a high end courtesan recommended by the Queen of Courtesan’s, Michelle Everhart, herself.
They were all lies, of course. But Branna relied on lies upon lies; so many that they shrouded her like a black cloak of mist.
Branna stepped out from the car with feline grace and walked into the hotel via the open doors.
In the reception she was met by a young man with cropped black hair. “May I be of assistance?”
Branna batted her eyelashes at him and smiled sweetly. “I’m looking for a client I’m having dinner with—Lord Loxley.”
The young man’s wide eyes disappeared and he nodded. “This way, miss, Lord Loxley specifically requested the private dining room.”
Two minutes later she was standing in the doorway of the private room. It was a modest size, big enough that the candlelit table for two looked odd in the centre of the room. Stood by one of the floor-to-ceiling windows was a middle-aged man in traditional suit and tie.
The man’s hair was greying and thinning, and when he turned to face Branna the start of old-age was visible in the lines on his face. The front of his fitted shirt was straining slightly against his midriff.
Branna curtsied as best she could considering her dress was all but welded to her skin. Though the act of curtseying, and bowing, had once been seen as an old-fashioned gesture of good nature and etiquette, after the second renaissance post-civil war, it was now a customary form of politeness when meeting someone new. So Branna curtsied, because even though they’d met they hadn’t met properly.
“Good evening, Miss McKellen,” Lord Loxley murmured, his eyes raking over every inch of her body to drink her in. The assassin bit back on her urge to be sick, or pick up one of the steak knives and plunge it in his chest.
Walking directly passed the knives without even so much as grazing her fingertips over the blades, she stopped in front of the sleazy lord and planted a kiss straight on his mouth. That kiss would come in handy to her later.
“Now, now,” Loxley said. His breath smelled strongly of brandy, Branna reeled internally at the smell. She hated brandy. “I knew courtesans were forward, but let’s save that for later, shall we?”
Branna smiled and ran her sharpened nails over the front of his shirt before placing her hand flat on his chest. “I’m not really hungry,” she whispered and wormed her fingers into the gap between two of the buttons, fingertips grazing over chest hair. She resisted against pulling away sharply. Another thing the Silent Assassin detested was chest hair. “How about we go to whatever room you’ve booked and you can show me your lordly ways? We can always order room service, I’m sure we’re going to work ourselves up an appetite.”
“You are very forward. I just hope you’re as good with action as you are with words, I’m paying a high price for your . . . company.”
Well, if you’re impersonating a courtesan you might as well reap the profit, even if you had no intention of doing just what courtesans were paid to do.
Branna battered her eyelashes and gave a smile. “Oh, trust me, my lord; I am that good I’ll leave you unable to move.”
Lord Loxley smiled a lob-sided smile and badly disguised desire and lust glistened in his eyes. Branna bit down the bile rising in her throat. She could do this—as well as assassin training she’d been trained to act and entice her victims. Her training had been split by two mentors, Matilda and the Queen of Courtesans, so that when she was old enough she would have the allure of a courtesan and the ferocious danger of the assassin she was.
She could do this; she could keep up this act for long enough for her revenge to be fully enacted. All she needed to do was smile, batter her eyelashes, and tease.
“Well then, Miss McKellen, let me show you to our room. I booked the deluxe suite,” the old lord said and held out his arm. Branna took it and allowed the man to show her out, casting a quick wink to the waiter just about to walk in with a wine list. “You can show me just what that body of yours can do. I bet it’s as delightful without that dress as is it with it.”
Oh, how I wish I could kill you right here, right now. But you have no idea who I am, and that makes it so much sweeter.
Within a few minutes they were in the room Lord Loxley had booked, a large, open-planned room split into three sections by two dividers, a bathroom area with two freestanding tubs and a walk-in shower, a sitting area with two sofa and a large area carved out of the divider for the projection screen, and finally a super King size bed behind the second divider. As soon as Branna had entered the room she’d found the music bar and flicked through the projection until she found a suitable song to play throughout the suite: personally she would have preferred the lyrical song she’d come to think of as her theme, but the player was only kitted with classical and jazz music. So she’d put on a familiar, almost sombre song that would gradually rise in tempo, hitting its crashing climax when her mission was about to be completed complete.
Four minutes. Two minutes until the mission is frozen.
“I thought I was paying for your body, not to sit on this bed whilst you waste our appointment at the other side of the room,” Loxley’s voice rang out over the sound of the music, which Branna had been slightly swaying to until this moment. Now a scowl crossed her face.
When you’re dead, I may just bathe in your blood you filthy excuse for a man. It will be a pleasure killing you.
Branna glanced in the window, her reflection bouncing straight back as it was night outside, and shaped her lips into a sweet, seductive smile. “I apologise, my lord, I was just picking music.”
“It’s a rather dull piece, don’t you think?” came his reply. Branna bristled; this song was one of her favourite pieces from the 21st century, and came from a movie soundtrack but because it was instrumental she’d found it on the player.
“It’s may be a little slow, but it’s highly dramatic,” she replied as she walked over to the bed, where the lord was laying in only his trousers, his hands behind his head. Branna fought away from the revulsion, and instead reached behind herself to the zip on the back of the dress, pulling it down slowly whilst she said, “And I’m nothing in not dramatic.” Her dress fell to the floor: she daintily stepped over it, and made a performance of suddenly seeming self-conscious now that her metal—save for the arm—was on show, she lowered her head for a moment before glancing back up, battering her eyelashes and giving a little pout. “I hope you do not mind the left side of my body, my lord. I was unfortunate to be in an awful accident a few months ago and this was the only way to save me. Though, Miss Everhart does say it makes me more appealing and therefore more valuable, because how many high lords can say they’ve had the company of a half-android?”
Lord Loxley mulled this over for a second, lifting himself so he was leant on his elbows, and then shrugged his shoulders. “Your right side more than makes up for it.”
The Silent Assassin kept the snarl well and truly in her throat and climbed over the end of bed to straddle the lord’s hips, pushing him bad down, just like she’d been taught to do in her last few lessons by Michelle.
“Well, aren’t you going to take these off?” he asked, gesturing to her lingerie.
Branna smiled. This is exactly what she’d wanted him to say, because she wanted him to find the weapon that couldn’t have been seen through her dress. She leaned down, her lips against his ear as she whispered, “I was thinking you’d do it. Bra first.”
He shifted slightly underneath her before his arms slowly came up, his hands skimming down her chest then her sides, until they moved around to her back. And that was when he felt it, the coolness of the metal underneath his fingertips that was not her left shoulder blade or left side of her back. “What the—” he got out before his limbs started to shake slightly. His hands dropped to his sides as the shaking became a bodily convulsion. And then it stopped just as soon as it had started, leaving the lord unable to move anything apart from his eyes, which stared up at Branna in wide horror, and his mouth, which he has open as he tried to form words. But no words would come, only a strained whine.
The smile on Branna’s blood red lips became wider, menacing, dangerous. She reached behind herself with both hands, taking the hilt of the flat knife she’d slid into the small loop she’d sewn into the back of her bra, so the blade lay flat against her spine between her shoulder blades, and brought it around so that she twirled it tip first on the flesh over the lord’s heart. It was a long blade, no more than a few millimetres thick, with an even flatter hilt, but strong nonetheless. Strong enough to pierce the heart.
The music had risen in tempo.
“I must confess, Lord Loxley, that I have not been entirely honest with you,” she murmured, pressing a little more weight into the blade so it nicked the skin enough to draw blood, and pulled off her wig with her free hand, allowing for her dark locks to tumble down around her shoulders. “See? My name is not Catherine McKellen. My name is Branna Drummond, the Silent Assassin of Britannia.” She moved the blade so that it ran down the surface of his chest, over the swell of his stomach. “And you have betrayed me. You almost got me captured. Do you know what happens to people who betray me?”
The lord did know, but something had seized his throat so much that now he couldn’t even produce a whine.
Branna leant down again, the blade flat against the lord’s chest, and whispered in his ear, “They do not last long afterwards. I always find those who betray me, and you all die soon enough.”
The lord stared at her in horror as she moved and repositioned her head so her face was inches from his.
“My lips, as red as they are, are laced with poison that does not affect the wearer,” she said. “The moment I kissed you in that dining room was the moment your life was beginning to fade. Paralysis poison is slow working, and makes for a slow death that traps you in yourself. A cruel way to go really. The poison starts with the limbs as stops movement, then it reaches the mouth and stops speech, until it seeps into the brain to start to numb it—finally it reaches the heart, slowing it down until it just stops. A slow and painful death.”
The music was no longer in the background; it was now as if an orchestra was in the room, playing to Branna’s words.
“I could kill you slowly, allowing for the poison to take full effect,” she continued, leaning back, “and I should given the crime you have committed against me, but instead I’m going to wait until the last moment of this song, when it’s reaches its climax and then stops, and when it stops I’m going to plunge this knife into your heart, then maybe slit your throat for good measure.”
She took the hilt of the knife and twirled the blade between her fingertips. “A quick death, not because I’m feeling generous or kind, but because I cannot be bothered to waste another moment in the presence of the scumbag you are.”
She stopped speaking, stopped twirling the knife and instead held onto it, and rose up slightly, moving in time with the music. She knew the notes like the back of her hand, though she could not play them, and had been counting the seconds and minutes in her head so she knew exactly when it ended.
Lord Loxley was trapped underneath her like a rabbit caught in headlights, except that idiom came from being too frightened to move and the lord couldn’t move. He couldn’t move, he couldn’t speak. He was trapped in his own body, left to anxiously await the moment the knife punctured his heart.
The music was reaching its final notes, louder and more dramatic. Branna stopped swaying, took a hold of the hilt of her blade in both her hands, and raised it above her head. She resembled a coiled snake, just about to administer the death bite.
And as quick as she’d raised the blade, as soon as the music played out its final heartbeat of notes, she brought the blade down in one blindingly fast motion, jamming it through the skin of Lord Loxley’s chest and piercing it straight through his heart on the note when the music cut off abruptly. After a moment, after watching the blood start to pool from the wound and pour from his mouth, she removed the blade and, just like she said she would, sliced it across his throat. Blood trickled thickly from the cut down the sides of his neck, pooling and staining the bed cover, and sprayed across her skin and metal.
As soon as carved her initials on Lord Loxley’s chest with her knife, jumped off the bed, wet a towel under the bath tap and wiped her body down with it—though it only left blood smears on the towel because it was white—and shrugged back on her dress, and found the £200 hundred pound worth of rolled notes for her company in his jacket pocket, she pulled open one of the windows and slipped out of the suite. The suite was on the top floor, but the drop was nothing to her, and she landed on her feet in the shadows effortlessly.
The car she’d arrived in was parked a few streets away from the hotel, half blending in with the shadows she kept to as she made her way to the Jaguar. The driver was stood leant against the bonnet, watching something on a small, clear screen in one hand, and an electric cigarette in the other. He looked up when Branna came to halt a few feet away from him, a smile twitching the corners of his mouth. “The deed is done, then?”
She nodded. “The deed is done. Now take me back to the apartment please, I wish to celebrate with three bottles of wine.”
A/N: the song that Branna puts on is 'Adagio in D Minor' by John Murphy, which was originally on the film Sunshine. Go and have a listen to it, you'll probably recognise it from various film trailers like X-Men: Days of Future Past and Gravity. I kept listening to it on repeat whilst I wrote this chapter, so that's why I used it.