I shake as I walk out of the room. I know what I’ve agreed to- and I know that it could cost me my life. But no one refuses the Queen.
I close my eyes, trying to block out the image of the bloodstained floor. We hadn’t even gotten a chance to say goodbye to Samantha. She’d gone straight to the Queen. And never returned.
I breathe deeply, trying to control myself. Slowly I stumble to a stop, then sink down against one of the walls. I knew the Queen would assign me to the task eventually. I just didn’t think it would be this soon!
I breathe in, then out. And then I hear footsteps.
I look up, and see another girl walking towards me.
She sits down next to me. “Samantha…?” she asks hopefully.
“Dead,” I say briefly. I hate seeing the grief that clouds over her face. Samantha and Iya were close. They shared a dorm room, and often trained together. I hate to see Iya in pain now, but it can’t be avoided. This has been the same for Samantha and the 12 others that came before her. They are all dead now.
“So… she’s sent you out?” Iya asks, trying to mask some of her relief. She was sure it was going to be her next.
“Yes,” I reply. I cannot seem to muster any emotion to put into my tone. I am just exhausted. “I knew it was coming.”
Iya hesitates. Then, ever so gently, she puts her hand on my shoulder, and whispers soft reassurances. “You’re the most skilled Devia we have. If anybody can do this and come back alive, it’s you. All of us… well, our thoughts are with you. You’ll be here for dinner tonight, won’t you?”
I hesitate. I should be leaving as soon as I can. I only have a month. A month to complete an impossible task. A task that 13 others have failed. A task that I might fail as well.
A task that, in the end, could take my life.
Then again, all the more reason to stay. Just for tonight. I have to admit, I wanted one more night with my friends. One more night to spend with the other Devias. One more night. That was all.
I nod. “Just tonight.”
It’s amazing how rash drinks can make a person. As the Queen’s personal elite force, the Devias are technically forbidden to drink. However, on a night like this- a night where we send out one of our own- we forget those rules. Just for one night.
As the sky grows dark, our party slowly grows more and more rambunctious. Finally, we reach the late hours where most of us are too drunk to think straight. In a way, this is when our parties are the most enjoyable. Tasa and Maria are dueling in one corner, Brenna, Lydia, and Calla are having a drinking contest, and Ella is passed out at one of the tables. My best guess is that she had been participating in the drinking contest minutes before.
And then there is Tallin. She sits in the corner, silent and unmoving. I don’t like Tallin. None of us do. She’s too silent. Too frightening. She never participates in the drinking or dueling. Rumors surround her like flies surround a corpse. She rarely speaks to us.
Of course, Tallin is strange for a girl as it is. Even for a Devia- a girl trained to be one of the Queen’s elite assassins- she is unnatural. First, there is her name. It doesn’t end in a, like a proper girl’s name should. Then there is the silence that surrounds her like a black cloud. Her dark eyes. And then the event… two months back…
As the Queen’s elite assassin group, our only friends are each other. We are one family- we do our best to protect each other. But Tallin… two months back, we found her standing over a body, holding a knife stained with blood. One of our own. Tallin warned us that reporting her to the Queen would do no good. She even hinted that the Queen had ordered the attack herself. Why? Why would she do that? Why kill off one of us?
My pulse skyrockets. I look up, and see Tallin approaching me. What does she want? What could she possibly want?
Except… she doesn’t come to me. She goes past. Then she turns back, beckoning to me. Ordering me to follow her.
I look around, wondering if anyone sees this. No one. They are all lost in their drunken activities. Unlike the others, I have consumed no drink tonight. Neither has Tallin. And now she wants me to follow her into the darkness of the hallway.
I don’t want to go. You never know what Tallin might do. But she beckons again, more urgently, and so I ignore my instincts and go.
Instantly, I am plunged into darkness. The hall is unlit. The lights have been put out. Why?
Tallin. She means to kill me, I think suddenly. I hear the whisper of steel, and turn. Light from the door glints off a blade. I leap back, already preparing to scream. But the scream never escapes my lips.
“Shh,” Tallin murmurs gently. “I don’t want to hurt you, you idiot.” Slowly, she slips into the light of the door. I see the dagger in her hand now. She is holding it out towards me, hilt-first. She looks up, meeting my eyes. I can see that she means for me to take it. Why?
I take it from her, awed at how light the blade is.
“Is this Ironcast?” I whisper.
allin shakes her head. “No. The Queen would not allow us to get near her Ironcast weapons. This is as close as you will get.”
“Why?” I ask softly. “Why me?”
“Because if any of us can succeed, it’s you,” she replies.
I dare to ask the question that keeps me away from Tallin. The question that we all wonder. “Why her?”
She knows exactly who I’m talking about. The girl she killed. Her expression darkens. “Because she ordered me too.”
“Who?” I insist.
“The Queen,” she hisses. “And do you know why?”
“Why?” I ask. I am trapped here. I cannot run. I can only listen to her.
“Blackmail,” she replies, lowering her voice. “If you grow too smart, she cuts you off from the rest of the world. She forces you to do horrible things. She will ruin your life, then, when you are utterly and totally alone, she will turn you into her weapon. And you must obey. The rumors about me? Most of them are from the Queen. You can’t always believe what you hear. Remember that.”
I stare at her in shock. This girl is speaking treason to me! Every word she says could be a death sentence for either of us. Why? Why would she do something like this? What does she want?
“Tallin-” I start, but she cuts me off.
“My name is Tallama,” she whispers. Then she ducks away, vanishing down the dark hallway.
I stand there in silence, holding the dagger, watching her as she disappears.