The wicked heroine, p.31
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       The Wicked Heroine, p.31

           Jasmine Giacomo

  Chapter Thirteen

  She’s here. Nearly three years’ wait, but she’s finally here.

  The dark-clad figure ghosted along behind the woman as she slipped quietly down the halls of the Temple. She doesn’t see me. Good. This will be easier than my master feared.

  The woman liberated a horse from the stables and rode across the night-shrouded valley floor toward the city proper. He trailed her, his own mount’s hooves already muffled with thick felt.

  She threaded her way through the sparse night traffic and dismounted at one of the public stables at the top of the trade road, then slipped away in the direction of the palace. The man shadowing her dared not approach the building, lest he alert the patrolling guards, so he hunkered in the darkened gardens to wait for her reappearance. Attracting attention was not his purpose.

  Less than an hour later, she reemerged, heading back in his direction. He eased a long dagger from its sheath, hiding its gleam among the shadows of the shrubbery.

  She neared his location, taking a last glance over her shoulder at the sprawling palace building. I’m almost disappointed to deal with such an unaware creature, he thought, lunging out of the bushes, blade singing toward the woman’s throat.

  His steel bit into her flesh, and his glove and sleeve felt the hot splash of her blood as she staggered away, breath bubbling in gasps.

  Laughing? She’s laughing! The man frowned in puzzlement as his target stood straight and faced him in the dimness beneath the trees. The wound in her neck healed over, and she swiped a sleeve across her skin, sopping the blood away.

  “Congratulations,” she said. “You worked up the courage to attack after all. I wasn’t sure you would. Good thing these clothes aren’t mine.” She plucked at her bloody tunic. “You want to die quickly, or slowly? I’m leaning toward quickly, myself. I’m in a hurry.”

  “Had to be sure I had the right woman,” he said, gesturing with his bloody blade, his voice raspy from disuse. “My master wants me to give you a message, thief.”

  The woman stilled, green eyes narrowing. “You’ve been waiting for me from the beginning.”

  He nodded. “My master says you must come to the Dragon Temple and submit yourself to his authority. You must hand over the key you stole. If you do not, he will kill all those that you bring with you. Just like the last time you attacked us, and the time before that. My master’s power is great: greater than any Hand’s before him since the age of the Great Tome itself. None will survive his wrath if you come to destroy his inheritance.”

  “You done?” she asked, her expression bored.

  “No. What my master has not yet learned is how you intend to destroy the Great Tome of Ages this time. But I have.”

  The thief’s eyes locked onto his. “And how did you manage that?”

  “It’s my gift.” He smiled. “You take her, she’ll die with all the others. You have no chance.”

  Her eyes blazed. “She’s my secret. I’ve done more than I should have to protect her from all of you. I see no reason to stop now.”

  The woman’s hands blurred toward him in the darkness. The man raised his dagger to defend himself, but he felt her strip it from his grasp. She whirled away from him, lost in the shadows. He pivoted to track her, drawing another blade as he did so. A split-second later, his first dagger entered his heart from behind, and he gasped with the shock of it.

  As he sank to his knees in the gardens, he heard her voice one last time: “If you didn’t know you were coming to Vint to die, you have my pity.”

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