Hey Y'all! So here's the chapter you've all been waiting for! I hope you all enjoy it, I'm really sorry it's taken so long to update, but I wanted to get it right.
HUGE thanks for my beta Deceptionist, who worked wonders on this chapter!
I'll stop blabbering now, but please read the author note at the end, it's IMPORTANT! =)
My skin prickled at her closeness, horribly aware of her presence now. I stiffened under her touch, not because of the possibility of her strangling me, but because of how her gentle touch sent shivers down my spine.
She started to massage my tense muscles, and despite my inner turmoil, I began to relax under her soft hands. She was clearing my mind from all the worry and angst I had been feeling earlier. My only thoughts were of her now, as she invaded both my senses and my mind.
"What would you do," she started to ask me, " if suddenly the world was perfect and you had no one to spy on?"
"I'd be bored," I replied with amusement. Surprising myself that I had managed to talk while she was kneading my shoulders, with her warm body was pressed up against my back like that.
"Come on, seriously. A change of profession." She dug her thumbs into the muscle at the base of my neck and I bit back the moan that threatened to escape my lips. "A fire dancer?" she suggested.
I almost laughed at the thought. What possessed her to imagine me as a dancer? I may be quick on my feet while I'm fighting – I had to be. But that didn't mean I could perform complex dance moves while swinging fire above my head. I almost laughed at the very plausible notion of setting my hair on fire.
She dug her thumbs back into my neck again, rubbing in circular motions, bringing me back to the present. "No." I answered her ridiculous suggestion. "An arms teacher?" I suggested instead. That seemed far more logical than a fire dancer.
"No. It's a perfect world. No weapons allowed." She moved her hands down my back, and I suppressed a shiver of pleasure. "How about a scholar? You've read all these books lying around haven't you? Or are they just to make it difficult for someone to sneak in?"
I ignored her comment on my untidiness. "Books serve me in so many ways. But I doubt your perfect society would need a scholar on murder." I smiled at her idea of a perfect world; she of all people should know that the world could never be perfect. There was always going to be conflicts and people wanting to be better than everyone else.
Her hands paused for a moment, and I almost groaned as disappointment flooded through me at the thought of her ceasing her touch.
"No definitely not." She replied, and I sighed in relief as her hands moved again, resuming that familiar torture on my skin. The thought of removing my under shirt to feel her soft warm hands on my bare skin invaded my mind, and made me tingle. I quickly shoved it aside. Now is hardly the time, Valek. I chastised myself as my thoughts wandered to images that made my body react in ways it shouldn't.
"A sculptor?" I said, desperate to distract myself from my very rampant imagination, "I could carve extravagant statues and we could redecorate the castle and liven things up. How about you?" I quickly asked, trying to cover up letting the 'we' slip from my mouth.
She didn't seem to notice as she pressed her fingertips into the small of my back. I was unable to stop the shudder that shook my body, as her hands were gradually getting lower and lower down my back. Damn it, Valek! Focus! "What would you do?" I asked her again.
"Acrobatics." She said automatically, and I wondered if she hadn't meant to let it slip. The happiness in her voice when she said it gave away her passion for the art. Suddenly everything made sense. Her flexibility during training, her somersaults and flips when she was unsteady on her feet or wanted to surprise her opponent, to gain the upper hand. The image of her swinging effortlessly through the trees during the fugitive exercise.
"An acrobat!" I exclaimed. "Well, that explains a lot."
Before I could say another word, her hands slipped around to my stomach and all thoughts fled my mind. My stomach twitched slightly under her fingertips. What was she doing? Her hands slipped lower to the waistband of my pants, and before I could stop her, she started to unfasten them.
I almost let her do it. To allow myself to give into the temptation she was always leading me into. But reality came crashing down on me, and I quickly grabbed her hands, stopping her before it got out of control. I knew if I let her carry on for another second I would lose any self-control I had left, and the thought of her regretting it in the morning tugged at my heart.
But I couldn't. Not when she was drunk and confused and wouldn't remember it the following day. And when she found out... She'd hate me for taking advantage of her.
"Yelena, you're drunk." My voice was hoarse from the desire that was pulsing through my veins. It took every ounce of my rapidly diminishing willpower to pull away from her, releasing her warm, tempting hands from my own as I stood up, turning around to face her.
She looked up at me in surprise, her soft full lips parting slightly as I bent down to pick her up, scooping her into my arms, and it took everything I had to stop myself from leaning closer to press my lips to hers. I wondered absently if they were as soft—or tasted as sweet—as they looked, but quickly dismissed the dangerous thought.
I reminded myself I needed to take her to her room before I lost control. I lifted her up and was surprised at how perfectly she fit into my arms. I didn't say anything as I carried her to her room, because I couldn't think straight with her so close to me, let alone form a coherent sentence. I'd made a fool out of myself already, and I wasn't about to make it any worse.
I managed to open her door without jolting or dropping her, and laid her on her bed gently. I desperately wanted to join her, to give into temptation and show her how much I cared about her. But I knew I couldn't. She was drunk, and I wasn't in any position to take advantage of her like that. I knew if she tried to seduce me again – sober this time - I wouldn't be able to stop myself. I wished that she wouldn't, while a huge part of me was begging her to.
I stepped away from her quickly, desperately trying to get my mind to focus on anything but her lying so invitingly on her bed. "Get some sleep Yelena," I told her softly as I left her room and pulled the door shut behind me.
As soon as the door clicked, I lifted my hand from the cold door handle, to my hair. My other hand soon joined it and I tugged at my long black curls. I walked over to the couch and sank back down in the place I had just vacated. It was still warm, and I leant back letting the overpowering lavender scent of Yelena surround me.
My thoughts kept returning to the feel of Yelena's hands on my back. I groaned at the memory of her hands slipping round to my stomach, I combed my fingers through my hair as she lowered her hands to my pants, starting to unfasten them. Damn it. It was hard enough to resist her without this memory taunting my every thought.
I hoped desperately that she would forget all about it in the morning. That we could return to our undeclared friendship without any awkwardness. But even in the small chance that she forgot it all, I know I never could. After all, how could I?
I let out a low groan, and stood up. I needed a distraction and I knew just the thing: finding out the new successor.
I had planned this out during the meeting, I'd done it before with the first successor – and almost got caught mind you, - but the Generals had got so drunk off the brandy, nothing could rouse them from their deep slumber. Something I was very grateful for.
I walked up the stairs to my room; I needed to get changed into my sneak suit and get my supplies. The envelopes were easy to get into, all I needed was a small candle and a sharp blade and the seal was no problem at all.
I walked back down the stairs a half hour later. As I walked past Yelena's rooms, her soft snoring was could be heard through the door, and I allowed myself a smile. I quietly opened the door and peeked in. She was sleeping on her back, the covers underneath her, just as I had left her.
The smile stayed on my face as I walked over to her sleeping body and gently lifted her up enough to pull the covers from underneath her. I laid the thin bottom sheet on top of her so she wouldn't get too hot, and tucked it in around her. Her snoring had stopped and she stirred slightly.
I froze. Don't wake up! I screamed in my mind. She sighed quietly and the deep breathing resumed. I relaxed. That was close. Some of her soft brown hair had fallen in front of her face, and I tucked it behind her ear. My fingertips lingering on her warm skin. And then, instead of walking quickly out the door as I should have, I let my own desires win my inner battle. Just before I reached the door, I turned back and bent over to her again.
Unable to stop myself, I leaned down and pressed my lips against her forehead. I lingered there for a second, revelling in the sweetness of her skin beneath my lips, before reluctantly pulling away. I stroked her cheek gently, and quickly made my way back to the door. With one last glance at her sleeping form, I opened the door and shut it quietly behind me, unable to remove the smile from my face.
I knew it was foolish to do that. I shouldn't have even gone back in there in the first place. But curiosity and my own feelings had gotten the better of me. I didn't even want to contemplate what could have happened if she had woken up. It would have ruined everything.All this time and effort it took me to gain her trust, and within a second of folly I could have lost it all. The mere thought made my stomach churn and my heart clench.
Especially as she didn't feel the same way. She couldn't. After all, who would fall in love with a master assassin?
For the first time, I hated my job. Perhaps, if I had been a normal man, with a normal life...
And with that heartbreaking revelation, I made my way to the balcony. With the moon illuminating my surroundings, I slipped my hands into the hand grip I had dug into the stone wall years ago. With my hands firmly in place, I started my ascent up the castle wall to the guest bedrooms above my suite.
I could have easily entered their suites via the hallways, but I didn't want to risk being seen. Nor did I want to run into the possibility of one of the Generals wandering drunkenly around the castle and spotting me.
At least with climbing the castle walls to their rooms, I had less chance of being seen and getting caught, and it would be easier to sneak in through their windows than their doors. They probably had them guarded anyway.
Loud deep snores surrounded me as I made the last few handholds to the first window. Luckily the shutters had been left open, and I was able to climb through swiftly, and land without a noise. Not that it would have woken up the intoxicated general anyway.
I dug the flint and small candle out of my pockets and ran the stone across the stone wall quickly. I held the candle against the sparks, and thankfully it lit quickly. It was only a small flame so it wasn't too conspicuous. But it allowed enough light to illuminate my surroundings and find what I was looking for. The leather briefcase was lying on top of the desk. I undid the clasps with one hand, and took out the envelope.
It took only a few seconds to break the wax seal, and then note down the code on the small piece of paper I had in my pocket.
The general was still snoring loudly by the time I had tucked the paper back inside the envelope and remelted the back of the wax seal. I quietly climbed out of the window and into the crisp night air. I tried not to think of the fact I was now roughly four hundred feet above the ground. I swallowed the nausea that was forming in my stomach. A master assassin afraid of heights. Now that really would have been an amusing thought, if it wasn't true.
The rest of the night followed in the same way. I didn't get caught once. Not even close. They really did have a blast at the brandy; must have been the stress of a new successor. I bit back a smile.
By the time I had finished and was climbing back down the wall towards my suite, it was an hour before dawn. I wondered if Yelena was awake yet. Probably not if she was still drunk.
I jumped the remaining distance to the balcony, landing on the balls of my booted feet.
"Valek?" a voice whispered from behind me. I didn't need to turn around to know who it was. I'd recognize that voice anywhere.
I turned and couldn't help but smile at her shocked expression. I must have given her quite the fright climbing down the wall towards her. I wondered briefly what she was doing out here an hour before dawn, before I realized she must have gotten up for a drink.
I removed my dark glasses then, but kept my hood up.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"Reconnaissance. The Generals tend to stay up late after the Commander leaves the meeting. So I had to wait until everyone had gone to bed." I explained to her before walking into the suite. The codes on the paper were burning a hole in my pocket. I was eager to find out whether my suspicions of Brazell were correct.
I pulled my hood down and lit the lantern on my desk. I took out the paper from my pocket, and spread it out on the desk before continuing my explanation.
"I hate a mystery. I would have let the identity of the Commander's successor remain a secret, as I have for fifteen years, but tonight's opportunity was too tempting. With eight drunken generals sleeping it off, I could have danced on their beds without waking them. Not one among them has any imagination. I watched all the General's put their envelopes from the Commander right into their briefcases." I motioned for her to join me, I trusted her enough to help. "Here, help me decipher this."
I handed her the paper, and I saw her read the code quickly, though obviously none of it would make any sense to her, but she still looked confused.
She probably wondered why I was confiding in her, but if my estimation of the new successor was correct, then I wanted to see her reaction. But despite her hesitation, curiosity must have gotten the better of her, as she pulled up a nearby chair and sat down next to me.
"How did you break the wax seal?"
"Rookie trick. All you need is a sharp knife and a tiny flame. Now read me the first set of letters."
I wrote it down, and then reordered the letters into the word siege so I can decipher it. I opened the old black leather book I left on my desk, and flipped through the pages, looking for the siege symbol. When I found the right page, I left it open on the desk, pressing down on the pages slightly so it would lie flat.
I glanced at Yelena out of the corner of my eye, and I could tell she was curious. One, two, three... "What's that?" She asked me, and I bit back a smile, she was far too easy to read.
"It's the battle symbol for siege. The dead King used these markings to communicate with his captains during times of war. They were originally created hundreds of years ago by a great strategist. Read me the next set. They should be numbers." I didn't want to waste any more time explaining, I needed to find out who it is.
After she told me the numbers and I wrote them down, I began to count the lines of text. I knew Yelena was watching me, but I didn't care if I was showing her how to decipher the code. Ambrose only ever used it for his successor, and I'd be telling Yelena who it is anyway. So she won't have any reason to use it after this.
I wrote the number on a clean page, and continued to decipher the message. When Brazell's name was revealed, I froze. I knew I had been expecting it, but it still surprised me that my suspicions were correct. This was bad. Very bad. Brazell was plotting something, and I needed to get to the bottom of this soon, otherwise Ambrose and the whole of Ixia would be in trouble.
Why hadn't I seen the signs earlier? I'd always suspected something, but I should have gone with my gut instinct and left nothing to chance. I could have assassinated him years ago, while I had the chance and no one would suspect anything. Now it might be too late.
My reaction must have sparked Yelena's interest. "Who is it?" she asked me, unable to wait any longer.
"Guess." I wanted to see if she had the same suspicions that I had. It might have something to do with the orphanage. Did Yelena suspect something all along? Was that why she killed Reyad?
She was quiet for a moment and I looked over at her. She looked tired; the effects of the brandy must have caught up with her. I decided to go easy on her.
"I'll give you a hint. Who was the happiest about the change? Whose name keeps popping up during the most bizarre situations?"
Fear swept over her face as she put two and two together and worked it out. She clearly hadn't suspected anything and that both relieved and aggravated me. If Yelena didn't know what was going on - and she'd lived in his orphanage for over ten years - then that left little hope for me. But then Yelena wasn't looking for something amiss, yet I was.
I nodded at Yelena. "Right, Brazell."
If one thing's for certain, I'm going to be keeping an extremely close eye on a certain general during his stay here, and even on his return to MD-5.
Yelena left soon after that, the exhaustion finally getting the better of her, as she walked sleepily to her rooms and shut the door. The lock didn't click shut this time, and I smiled slightly. That meant she trusted me, right?
It was now three days since the meeting, and I could've cut the tension in the air with a blunt knife. The Generals were constantly at each other's throats, starting arguments with everyone they saw. Ambrose was beside himself, and it wasn't helping my mood in the slightest.
I'd stayed up last night in my office, reading through Brazell and Mogkan's files. I tried desperately to find anything amiss. I went through their new factory permit and all the information I could gather on the orphanage. Yet I couldn't find anything the least suspicious.
It was now breakfast, and I was growing more and more frustrated with the whole thing. I finally gave up, and left my office in a foul mood. I needed the take a break, maybe run a few laps and take a few rounds on the sandbags to clear my mind. I needed to think. I needed to find out Brazell's plan, and fast.
When I arrived in the Throne room, I spotted Yelena outside his office. What the hell is she waiting for?
"What are you doing out here? Haven't you tasted his breakfast yet?" I demanded. I knew how much Ambrose hated cold food, why would he make Yelena wait outside? I waited impatiently for her answer.
"I was ordered to wait. He's with Brazell and Mogkan."
Fear shot through me. I quickly pushed past her and burst into his office.
I sensed Yelena had followed me in, but I barely noticed that she was standing behind me. All my focus was on Mogkan. He was standing behind Ambrose with his fingers pressing into his temples. He stepped away as soon as I entered, but he wasn't fast enough. I narrowed my eyes at him and he quickly made an excuse.
"You can definitely feel, Sir, that this is an excellent way to ease a headache."
I have to admit, he was good at finding plausible excuses quickly. But he didn't cover it up well enough to fool me. Ambrose hated physical contact with anyone. Even me. He only shook hands when he had to – to seal a deal. But never once requested someone to ease his 'headaches.'
Animation returned to Ambrose's face and he turned to Mogkan, completely oblivious to my fury. "Thank you Mogkan." He turned to glare at me then, clearly irritated at my sudden intrusion. If only he knew how much danger he was in. "What's so important?" he demanded.
"Disturbing news, Sir." I stared forcefully at Brazell and Mogkan, willing them silently to leave. "I would like to discuss it in private."
Luckily, Ambrose trusted me enough to know it was important, and rescheduled their meeting for tomorrow. Looks like I'd be attending that one as well then, I grumbled to myself. But I knew I had to do it. I swore an oath to protect him, and unfortunately that included attending aggravatingly boring meetings.
My gaze fell on the tray of food on the table. I wouldn't put it past Brazell to poison it. "Yelena, taste the Commander's breakfast now." I ordered her.
"Yes, Sir." She was quick to reply and she sat down at the table and sipped the tea and tasted the omelet.
I watched her intently the entire time. Gauging her reactions. She must have noticed my added concern because she tasted them both again. When she placed the tray in front of Ambrose, I resisted the strong urge to grab it and taste it myself. But I knew I could trust Yelena's judgement. If she said it was clean of poisons, then it must be.
"Yelena, if I have to eat cold food again, I'll have you whipped. Understand?" Overpowering waves of anger washed over me at Ambrose's threat. I felt the strong urge to protect her – something I'd been feeling a lot lately. How could he hurt her? How could anyone hurt her?
"Yes, Sir." Yelena replied without any excuses. Just like she did when she admitted to killing Reyad. Only this time she did nothing wrong. Didn't she say that Ambrose had ordered her to wait outside? It was unreasonable for him to punish her for obeying his orders.
Yelena was dismissed and as soon as the door clicked shut I turned my attention back to Ambrose.
He didn't say anything while I sat down in front of him, he just sat there in his chair patiently waiting for me to explain myself.
I left his office in an even fouler mood than before, if that was even remotely possible. He didn't believe a word I said, and because I had no proof, he ordered me to drop the matter. I scoffed. As if I would.
It took half an hour to explain everything. Obviously, I didn't tell him I knew who the successor was. He probably already suspected I worked it out anyway. All I said was I thought Brazell was up to something, and usually my instincts didn't let me down.
Naturally, he thought I was being foolish - to suspect Brazell of treachery. But no matter what he thought, I was still going to keep a close eye on Brazell, especially Mogkan. There was definitely something suspicious about that man.
I just rounded the corner towards the kitchen when tingles pricked at my skin. I froze for a second then turned and ran towards the source.
Two words flashed through my mind, tugging at me heart. Magic and Yelena.
Because I'm eager to get up to 400 reviews (a little ambitious I know) I've decided to reward you all if you review! Once it reaches 400 reviews, I'll post an ALTERNATIVE version of this chapter on mine and Karl's blog (the link is on my profile) SO it will be a little one shot of what happens if Valek DID'T resist Yelena's seduction attempt!
SO PLEASE REVIEW! The alternative chapter is in post production at the moment, so if you want anything added or it written in a certain style, or if you want it detailed or not please let me know in your review and I'll do my best to include it in the chapter. (Just to warn you, there's only a certain level of detail I'm willing to write! I don't want it too rude! ;)
Hope you enjoyed it,