Katera and the Assassin, Chapter 1

I've recently edited this chapter, so am putting up the latest version. I'm REALLY happy with it now and will try not to touch it again. Will be publishing soon, so should really focus on other parts of the book that need it more. But here's the latest draft for your enjoyment.

Chapter 1

Told by Katera


I lifted my head slowly, drowsily, tearing apart the crusty sleep in my eyes to look around me. I had been dreaming, one of those deep dreams where you can’t tell reality from the dream world, when someone had started shouting. They were shouting in my dream, but now my eyes were opened, they were still shouting.

The voice quickly became clearer, and louder. I stood, turning about in my cage and moving so that I could look out of the wide, low window into the dark compound beyond. There was no one. I looked left, still, no one. But then my eyes followed the wide flagstone path, leading through the open gate and to the mansion, and that is where I saw him. I could hear his footfalls now, pounding heavily on the stone as, in a panicked voice, he was shouting ‘DAVIDSON! DAVIDSON, WHERE THE FUCK ARE YOU?!’

A moment later he burst into the compound, banging the old wooden gate against the wall in his haste. It was, of course, my cold and heartless owner, bathed in the silvery light of the full moon. I’d recognise his voice anywhere, but I've never seen a look of frantic terror on his face before. He, the master, who controls the lives of everyone around him and relishes in that control. Seeing him fearful piqued my attention further. He ran past my window as if running for his life, continually shouting for the guard that patrolled this part of his estate.

He was completely panic stricken. What a lovely sight I thought.

Then it went nearly silent.

For a long moment I could just make out two men talking beyond the corner of my barn where I could not see them, one in breathless gasps, the other speaking calmly and reassuringly. Then absolute silence fell onto the compound like a heavy snow fall. It was as if all the animals on the estate, every creature in the trees and on the ground, were holding their breath at the same time. I realised I was holding mine too. I strained to look out of my window to the left, and to the right, but could see nothing. Even with my perfect night vision, I could see nothing out of the ordinary.

Faintly, ever so faintly, a series of high-pitched beeps risked venturing into the silence of the building and reached my ears. They were coming from the far end of the hallway that ran down the centre of the large barn where I was kept.

At nearly the same moment I heard footsteps as a tall figure, moving out of the shadows and through the open gate came into view. As the stranger neared my window I could tell by her movements, that it was a woman. She didn't seem in a hurry, and walked casually, confidently and gracefully. She carried no apparent weapons, and apart from what just happened, could have been out for a leisurely midnight stroll. She was tall and wore a long black coat, fastened down the front with silver clasps. It hung heavily over her slender frame, nearly touching the ground. Even from here, even in the darkness, I could see she had piercing green eyes.

A flash of bright white light, accompanied by an ear-splitting bang, burst from the left of my window, momentarily lighting up most of the compound and the many trees nearby. In that brief instant, dozens of birds took flight from nearby trees and rabbits quickly scurried back towards their holes. But what I did not see was the woman fall down dead.

The flash of light was almost instantly followed by a much smaller, circular, blue flash of light and energy that came from the woman. But her pace did not slow, and she barely flinched.

Another shot rang through the crisp night air.

I was watching the woman more closely now, keen to learn more. A section of her heavy black coat, just over her heart, quickly turned a shiny, reflective silver. It looked liked a hundred small, silver triangles interlaced and overlapping each other. They flashed, then emitted a blue ring of energy that faded almost instantly. Stopping, I presume, the bullet that was fired.

A third gunfire shattered the peace outside my window. This time the woman spun around in a full circle, letting a knife fly expertly from her fingertips, making a whirling sound as it sped towards its target. A knife that wasn’t in her hand a moment before.

There was an intake of air, a heavy thud and then quiet settled over the grounds once more as the mysterious woman continued, ominously along the path. Although, she had quickened the her pace ever so slightly.

I became aware of hurried footsteps running down the hallway of my building, which ended with my pitiless owner bursting into the room outside of my cage. I spun around in trepidation as he ran in. Paying me not even a glance, he raced straight across the room from the door to the rack of hunting rifles he kept mounted on the opposite wall. The scent of fear emanating from his sweaty body saturated the large room.

Footsteps, so soft no human could hear them, drifted in through the door as he fumbled with the lock on the gun cabinet. I began pacing back and forth behind the bars that separated us, while he managed to throw open the glass cabinet door with a bang and pull a rifle from its rack. Hurriedly he ripped open a box of shells that were in a small drawer in the cabinet.

The woman entered the room, nudging the door open with the knuckle of her index finger. It squeaked loudly in the large conference room. I stopped pacing, my attention now drawn back and forth between them.

The man who claimed ownership of me spun around, rifle in his right hand and a fistful of rounds in the other. He stank of terror, something I’m sure he had never experienced before.

After a brief moment of indecision, he let the rounds drop to the floor and wrapped the fingers of his now free left hand around the barrel of the gun, pulling the butt into his shoulder. The many rounds hit the floor clattering and rolling in all directions, making a melody of metallic noises until a heavy silence enveloped the room.

'Stop there or I'll shoot!' Said my owner, his voice more steady than I expected

The stranger took a confident step forward. 'The gun isn't loaded.' she said calmly. Her scent could not be more different than his. She wore a sweet perfume of confidence that mingled nicely with the leather hide of her coat. Now that she was up close I could see that she had long, fiery red hair braided back into a long pony tail with a thin leather thong running through the braid.

He pulled the hammer back and repositioned the rifle more snuggly into his shoulder. 'Yes, It is!” He exclaimed, excreting desperation from every pore.'

A smile crossed her lips, that were lined with blood red lipstick, but the smile did not reach her eyes as she continued to close the gap between them.

'I'll pay you! I'll pay you anything you like!' he blurted out.

'I've already been paid.' she said in a matter-of-fact tone as her thick soled boots tapped lightly on the stone tiles.

'I'll double it! Triple it!' his voice was shaking now, so was the gun.

She chuckled. 'Now, now. You know how this game is played. It doesn't work that way.' She glanced over at me while she spoke, blinking slowly as she turned her head. She was speaking with slow, deliberate words with just a hint of condescension.

She stopped walking within arm's reach of the rifle pointing directly at her chest and looked back at the man standing before her. 'You said you'd shoot. So go on, pull the trigger. Or are you not man enough to kill someone yourself?' She asked mockingly.

The man before me raised the gun a little higher, so that it was now pointing directly at the woman’s face.

A long moment passed in absolute silence as beads of pungent sweat dripped from his pitiful forehead, falling to the floor with imperceptible splats.

'PULL IT!'

He jumped and the gun went click.

'Hmm, bored now. Hosiebegonis,' the woman whispered under her breath while tilting her head ever so slightly to one side. Then a long tongue of jet-black smoke seemed to erupt downward from her right hand. The smoke was no sooner there before it dissipated. Where the smoke once was, now hung a thin, shiny sword. The sword was so thin, that as she raised her arm it virtually disappeared when viewed directly along the edge.

With a quick, but sweeping swing of her arm, the sword cut effortlessly through the air, and just as effortlessly through my owner’s pathetic neck. Silencing his scream before he could even form it.

His head was the first thing to reach the floor, which it did with a thud and a squelch, not unlike the sound of a melon hitting the ground. It teetered to one side, his eyes were still wide open and a look of dumb shock was now forever etched on his slack face. The rifle was next to clang onto the tiles, quickly followed by his body, which sort of crumpled to its knees before flopping backwards. The metallic scent of his blood filled the air as it spread across the shiny stone tiles of the room.

The woman casually turned and started to walk away, as she did so there was another wisp of smoke that, for the briefest of seconds held the shape of the sword. When it faded, the sword was gone.

She neared the door and almost had one foot through when she came to an abrupt stop, standing perfectly still for a long moment, tilting her head slightly to one side as if listening for something. I too cocked my head and listened. But there was nothing to be heard. No alarms. No guards running to my now dead owner's rescue. Only silence.

What could she be listening for?

Turning slowly, she looked directly at me. My ears rolled back and I lowered my tail.

Crouching down low, she approached the bars that separated us.

I backed into the corner, my skin prickling as my fur stood on end. There was something about her, something deep and dark in her piercing green eyes.

She used those eyes to stare, unblinking, through my eyes and deep into my soul. Or, at least that’s how it seemed.

I longed to pull away. To look at the headless corpse on the floor. Even that would be better than this, but I could not escape her piercing eyes. Was I next on her list? Was her job to kill everything and everyone?

Finally, breaking eye contact with a smile and a blink, she said, 'my, my, you are a beautiful creature. Intelligent too.'

She looked around my cage, full of loose straw, a large tub of water and a half gnawed deer leg. Then she scanned the outer room, which had a large table in the centre with seats enough for a dozen people. In fact, my owner had sat at the head of that very table earlier today, along with several very rich and powerful looking men. There had been an argument and one of the men had stormed out of the room, ranting and swearing. That was the only notice I took of my owner's day, until now that is, as I was bored with him showing me off as his most prized possession.

The woman's gaze returned to me, 'let me guess. He never knew, did he?' She asked with an inquisitive smile. 

I hissed, a long low hiss, which made her smile for some reason.

Then this woman, this cold-blooded assassin, stood up and did something to the lock on my cage door. There was a puff of smoke and a muffled bang before the squeaky gate slid wide open. 'I'll leave it up to you what you do, but you deserve better than this,' she said before turning and walking, unhurried, out of the room.

I listened, still motionless in my corner, as her footsteps travelled down the hallway, disappearing into the silence of the night.

Many slow seconds passed before I crept to the narrow opening. The headless corpse didn't even warrant a backwards glance as I made a dash down the hallway. I paused at the door to the outside; quickly scanning my compound for a trap, drawing the cool, crisp air deeply into my lungs. The woman was not there, and her scent led towards the outer gate which was blocked open by a large stone. Without further hesitation, I sprinted through the open gate in the chain-link fence and down the outside of the barn.

When I reached the corner, I saw a man lying on the ground. I crept closer and found the familiar scent of blood. I looked long into his ghostly pale face and saw that his dead eyes were filled with surprise. Next to him was a plastic bag, which my nose told me contained a rather juicy piece of raw meat. He had been on his way to visit me, as he often did. He was a kind man, probably the nicest guard on the estate, frequently bringing me juicy morsels from the kitchen. He liked to watch me lick the bones clean while he outpoured the highs and lows of his life. In a strange way, I shall miss him.

Before me stretched a long but narrow garden. It was not much wider than the building in which I lived, but long enough that a dozen large trees were easily dotted about within the high stone wall that surrounded it. Beyond the wall, to my right, the manor house was dark and silent on its hilltop. It was eerie seeing the house and grounds in total darkness and it made me feel uneasy.

Just then a dim light caught my eye. It wasn't coming from the house, but from a small ship nestled between some trees almost at the very end of the garden. The light flickered as the assassin entered. However, the door did not close and the craft did not take flight.

Leaving the safety of the barn, I leapt to the wall and crept quickly, but silently along in the shadow of the rough stones, keeping low, until I was behind a tree a safe distance from the ship.

If it weren’t for the slight glow coming from the open hatch, I wouldn't have known it was there at all. The ship was black, so black it seemed to suck in all light around it. Even under the bright light of the full moon, it seemed less substantial than a shadow.

With all of my senses I focused my attention, I scoured the opening for movement or sound. But all I could pick up was the slight, sweet scent of the woman through the smell of the still warm engines.

From this angle I could just see her sitting at the controls. But she wasn't moving. The door was wide open and the short ramp leading down to the cool grass was still extended.

What was she waiting for?

Slowly, birds that had been frightened away by the ruckus earlier, started returning to the tree branches above. Still, I watched, unmoving and my shallow breath as silent as could be.

A family of rabbits dared to venture out of their warren not far from the ship. Their movement in the grass distracted me for a moment. Then the barn that had been my home, my prison, for so many years caught my eye. Slowly, I looked back down the dark garden to the bright window. How strange it was seeing it from the outside, looking in through the window that I had for so long looked out of with longing.

Excitement blossomed from the pit of my stomach as I was struck by the reality of the situation. My narcissistic owner was dead, and I was free. No longer would I be his pet, his prized black panther to impress visitors with. No more would he be able to boast that I wasn’t a clone, but the ‘real deal!’ And he would never again gloat about the control he had over me, and how obedient I was to his every command.

But just as I started feeling elated, another realisation struck me that instantly squelched the sense of freedom growing in my stomach. I wasn't really free, not in the slightest. His harness still wrapped tightly around my shoulders and his collar encircled my neck. I knew I could never truly be free, could never be me, so long as they were in place. And I was not able to remove them on my own, or else I would have done it years ago and killed him myself.

I turned back to look at the shuttle. Neither the assassin, nor her ship, had moved. I made up my mind, and with a deep breath, I slowly began to creep forward. I was so low, my belly was virtually on the ground.

Inch by inch I drew closer to the steel ramp. Inch by inch my uncertainty, but determination, grew. Once in reach, I hesitantly touched the ramp with a paw and then quickly drew it back.

Nothing happened.

Raising myself a little more off the group, I gingerly stepped onto the cold surface.

I placed a second paw on the ramp. Still, she did not move.

Soon my nose was bathed in the dim light of the ship and I could see around the corner of the door. In one glance I took in the small rectangular compartment behind where she sat. Watching her reflection in the glass canopy, I could see that she was sitting perfectly still with her eyes closed.

Was she asleep?

Still, further forward I crept until I was entirely on the ramp and nearly in the door.

Then, several things happened in very quick succession. Her eyes popped opened and the ramp below me rose up with a jerk, pushing me into the ship and snapping shut with the door above it. I sprang into the air and spun around, fur standing on end as a hiss escaped my wide open mouth. I pulled my ears back flat against my head, bared my teeth and extended my claws; ready to pounce.