It's late, Sonea thought blearily, hours till dawn. Why am I awake?
Something cut into her neck and hand pressed firmly down over the skin. Her eyes flew open.
A dark figure was looming over her. Shocked, she drew on her magic to shield, and was alarmed to find her power trickling away, leaving her exhausted and helpless. Who ever it was, they were a Black Magician.
She drew in breath to scream, but a second hand covered her mouth.
"If you try and call out to anyone mentally, I'll kill you, understand?" Her attacker's voice had a familiar accent. Sachakan. Takan? He didn't know Black Magic. Then who else?
With a rush of fear Sonea remembered a night over a year ago when she had returned to the High Lords Residence to find a magical battle in the basement. Akkarin had killed a man with Black Magic in front of her, but before he had the man pleaded for his life. Akkarin had said the man had been a Sachakan assassin sent to kill him – had another one been sent?
The window was open, the curtains blowing inwards in the breeze. She had opened them herself as a respite from the summer heat, giving the man a perfect entry route.
The man released her mouth and pulled her roughly up from the bed. She staggered slightly due to the exhaustion of being drained. She thought briefly about attacking him physically, but rejected the idea for now – he could easily strike out at her with magic, or stab her or drain the rest of her energy. He pressed his knife to her back, keeping his other hand around her still bleeding neck and forced her to walk across the room to her door.
"Open it," he hissed in her ear as she hesitated.
He followed her out into the hall, keeping the knife and his hand against her skin. He pushed her down the corridor, passed three doors, until she stood outside Akkarin's room.
The man dug the knife in a little deeper, a wordless instruction. With a trembling hand she reached for the door knob and opened the door to the High Lords bedroom.
She could only see his silhouette on the bed as he sat up.
"Sonea, what -?"
"Hello Akkarin," the assassin said, propelling her forward into the room.
She heard a hiss of anger, and was suddenly dazzled by Akkarin's globe light. He was already up from the bed, the ceremonial knife she had seen him use before in his hand. Though his hair was tousled from sleep and all he was wearing was a set of night trousers, he somehow looked even more frightening and intimidating than he did in his black robes.
"I wouldn't do that. You forget I have a hostage. Your pretty little apprentice here. I'm surprised you let her sleep unprotected. I would have her in the room with me." The man leered and pressed his body against Sonea's back.
A muscle was ticking in Akkarin's jaw and the knuckles of the hand holding the knife were white.
"Drop it," the man said, tilting his chin towards Akkarin's hand. When he didn't obey the assassin squeezed her neck tighter until she let out a strangled cry. "Drop it or I'll kill her!"
Akkarin's dark eyes flickered to hers briefly, and he bent down as if to put the knife on the floor.
No, he'll kill us both! Sonea thought. Unable to do anything else, she stamped on the assassins foot as hard as she could, at the same time pushing his hand away from the wound on her neck.
"Sonea, move!" she heard Akkarin shout. She felt the knife move to cut into her back, but threw herself away from the assassin before he could get a hand over any injury.
The two men were already throwing strikes at each other. The assassin aimed one at her, but Akkarin shielded her. He seemed to have the upper hand, burning with a cold fury she hadn't seen in him last time he fought. Already he was closing in to attack with the knife. She backed away until she hit the bed. The knife slashed through the air and suddenly Akkarin's hand was over the man's shoulder. The assassin cried out in horror and pain before collapsing lifeless on the floor.
"Master? Are you alright?" Takan was at the door, his eyes taking in the dead man on the floor, Akkarin's bloodied hands and Sonea sitting ashen faced on the end of the bed.
"We're fine Takan," he replied, wiping his hands on the material of his trousers. He held out the bloodstained blade to the servant. "Can you clean this for me? I will need your strength later."
"At once Master." Takan took the knife and bowed before leaving.
Akkarin gazed down at the dead assassin for a moment, before his eyes slid to her. He walked slowly towards the bed, his expression inscrutable. He reached a hand towards her bleeding neck.
He froze, his hand still outstretched. Then, slowly, as if not to frighten her more, he eased himself to his knees so they were on the same level.
"I'm not going to hurt you, Sonea. I'm going to heal you, if you'll let me." His gaze was dark and steady, so after a long moment, she nodded.
He touched his fingertips to her skin, and immediately she felt the skin heal and her exhaustion leaving her. Though he couldn't replace the magic taken from her, he was easing the physical weariness.
"Thank you," she whispered when he was done, staring down at the floor.
"Did he hurt you anywhere else, Sonea?"
She shook her head, still not looking at him.
"He didn't … touch you in any way?"
"No, High Lord."
She glanced up at him then, and saw that his expression was relieved. He stared at her for a long moment before taking her hand and lightly pulling her upright. He had hardly ever touched her in the past, no doubt trying to avoid scaring her, but she now found his cool skin soothing and reassuring.
"Come on, you look like you could use a hot drink."
She tried not to look at the dead man or step in the growing puddle of blood as he towed her out the door. The Residence was dark around them as they went down the stairs, Akkarin's globe light providing little illumination.
"What …" She cleared her throat. "What will happen to … to ..."
"Takan will take care of the body," he told her matter of factly, guessing what she was going to ask.
Sonea had never been in the Residence's kitchen. There was a scrubbed wooden table in the centre, which she sat down at. She watched as Akkarin heated the kettle with magic and filled two cups with familiar, pungent smelling powder.
The High Lord of the Guild likes raka? She thought, surprised. Most, in fact all, magicians she had met had hated the smell of the stimulant so beloved by the dwells.
He placed the steaming cup in front of her and sat at the opposite side of the table. The raka was dark and strong, exactly how she liked it.
They sat in silence, drinking their raka. In the semi-darkness she could see she strong planes of his bare chest, including dozens of scars that could only have been made from repeated lashing with a whip. His arms were also scarred with hundreds of thin, shiny lines, like knife marks. If he noticed her staring, he didn't show it.
She longed to ask hundreds of questions, but couldn't find her voice.
The room slowly lightened as the sun rose over the Guild grounds. She could see servants roving about on the paths, and knew that her day was to start soon.
"I have to go," she said eventually, breaking the long silence.
Akkarin's gaze shifted from the window to her. "Do you want to be excused from lessons today Sonea? I'll tell your teachers you are ill if you would like to return to sleep."
"No, thank you, High Lord. I think … I think I will need the distraction they provide," she replied.
He nodded, seeming to understand. "I'll see you tonight then."
She rose and bowed, hurrying out of the kitchen. She went to her room to dress, knowing the Viola would soon be there to assist her. When she reached her bedroom she could already sense Akkarin's magic over her windows, protecting her.