“I quit the League tonight.”
Dr. Sheridan Belask paused at the deep, thickly accented voice coming out of the darkest corner of his office. He looked up from the electronic medical files he was reviewing on top of his obsidian glass desk, but couldn’t see even the smallest trace of the man hidden in the shadows.
He was used to that.
As a trained League assassin, Nykyrian Quiakides was literally one with the blackest night. No one ever saw him coming or going.
They only felt the sting of death as he dealt it to them.
Even though Sheridan was a doctor sworn to save any life he could, this brutal killer was the only man he’d ever trusted at his back and with his family.
Or more to the point, the only man he’d ever trusted with the deepest held secrets of a past he’d been running from his whole life.
“You can’t quit. You can only retire.” A euphemism that meant ritual suicide whenever assassin duties became more than a League solider could mentally bear or their bodies became too scarred or too damaged to carry out their missions any longer
No one voluntarily left the League.
Nykyrian stepped out of the shadows so that the dim light highlighted the white blond hair that was braided down his back- an assassin’s mark of honor. His solid flat black battlesuit hugged every sharp curve of his well muscled body. The outline of daggers were embroidered in dark blood red down the sleeves- the only external designation an assassin bore. Nykyrian’s daggers held a crown above each hilt, letting the universe know he was the most lethal of his kind. A command assassin of the first rank.
As always, Nykyrian was calm and watchful of the shadows as if expecting someone like him to come for him at any moment. Somber. Cold. Lethal. Traits that had been drilled into him as a child. In all the years Sheridan had known him, Nykyrian had never once smiled. Never once broken that staunch military training that had left him emotionally bankrupt.
The most disturbing thing of all was the fact that his eyes were hidden behind a pair of opaque shades. A safeguard used by military assassins to keep those around them on edge since there was no way of telling where they were looking or what they were thinking.
Or more precisely, who the assassin was targeting.
Nykyrian’s handsome features were as stoic as his rigid stance. “I refuse to complete this mission.”
Sheridan frowned in confusion. This wasn’t the steadfast, merciless man he knew. The one who didn’t hesitate at any brutality.
“Yeah, right. You have to complete it.” Harsh though it was, it was the law of the world in which they lived. Once a target was given, it was given. Succeed or die. There was no third option.
The last thing Sheridan wanted was to see the only brother he’d ever known ruthlessly hunted and executed. Better someone, anyone, else die than Nykyrian.
“They sent me after a child.” Nykyrian’s tone was flat, deadpan.
Sheridan’s blood ran cold as he finally understood the one line neither of them would ever cross no matter the necessity. The one line that had once saved Sheridan’s life when Nykyrian would have killed him.
Sheridan glanced at the holocube a few inches from his hand where his own infant son smiled out with an untainted innocence neither of them had ever known.
Nykyrian continued, “The League wanted an entire family swabbed.”
That was icy cold, but far from unheard of. It should probably bother Sheridan that his best friend killed for a living, but then given his own brutal past, it didn’t effect him at all.
The world was harsh and it was bitter, especially to those who couldn’t protect themselves. He had firsthand, personal knowledge of that fact, and it’d left as many scars on him as it had Nykyrian.
Besides, he knew the side of Nykyrian that no one else had ever seen. The side of him that wouldn’t harm a child no matter the cost to himself.
Nykyrian was nothing like the monsters in their pasts and neither was he.
“If you don’t kill them, the League will kill you.”
Nykyrian cocked his head at a sudden noise outside. It sounded like the whisper of a patient lift whizzing by. He didn’t speak again until it’d passed and he was sure no one was coming in to Sheridan’s office. “I swabbed the father before I realized there was a child in the house. She was asleep in her mother’s arms when I went for her.”
“And you refused to kill them?”
Nykyrian gave a subtle nod. “The mother and child are safe in a place where the League and their enemies will never find them.”
“Are you…” Sheridan didn’t bother finishing the sentence. Of course Nykyrian was sure. He didn’t make those kinds of mistakes. Sheridan’s current life and safety were living proof of that. “What are you going to do?”
“What I’ve always done. Stand and fight.”
Sheridan let out a bitter laugh. How easy Nykyrian made it sound, but he knew what the League was capable of. They both did. “They’ll come for you with everything they have.”
“And I will fight them with everything they taught me to be.”
A chill went down his spine. What they had taught Nykyrian to be was a predator of the first order of insanity. May the gods help them all. This was the one man who wouldn’t go down without a costly head count. Nykyrian was the best they’d ever trained and the League had no idea exactly what it had created.
But Sheridan knew. He’d looked into the eyes of Nykyrian’s madness and seen the horrors those shades concealed. He knew the rage that they both kept under a tight leash for fear of what it could make them do.
The lengths they would go to, to make sure no one ever hurt them again. They might appear calm on the surface, but inside their battered souls screamed for vengeance and release.
Most of all it screamed for appeasement.
Nykyrian moved forward and placed a small silver disk on his desk. He pushed it toward Sheridan. “I’ve erased every trace of our friendship and every part of your past. You won’t see me again.” For your protection and for the protection of your family. Nykyrian didn’t have to say the words. Sheridan knew the unbreakable bond they shared.
Brothers to the end, even through the fires of hell and beyond.
Nykyrian took a step back toward the shadows.
“Wait.” Sheridan rose to his feet.
“If you need me, aridos,” he said, his voice tight with sincerity as he used the Ritadarion word for brother, “I will be there for you.”
Nykyrian’s tone was still deadpan and emotionless. “If I need you, aridos, I’ll be dead before I can make the call.”
And then he was gone like a ghostly whisper on a harried breeze.
Ill with what his friend had done, but understanding it completely, Sheridan sat down and pulled the disk to him. He cracked it open to find the small chip that all assassins had embedded in their bodies. It was what the League used to keep track of them. Nykyrian must have dug it out of his flesh and crushed it to keep them from finding him. The final act of severing himself from their ties.
An act that in and of itself was a death sentence.
He cringed in sympathetic pain, remembering the day when he’d dug a similar device out of his own young body. The blood, the pain… there were some memories that never faded over time. They were too brutal to be forgotten.
And what an eerie memento given the fact that this chip was what had led to their friendship… He would think his friend sentimental if it wasn’t for the laugh-ability of that.
Closing his eyes, he held the chip in his fist, wishing things had been different, that they had been different. That they had been born those kind of normal people who Sheridan treated in the hospital wings everyday. People who had no idea of what horrors truly existed in this universe.
Yet he was proud that given all Nykyrian had been through he’d still retained his soul.
That through it all, the monsters had never taken his will or his decency. Everything else had been stripped out of him just as it had Sheridan.
And because of Nykyrian, he was living a life he’d only dreamed of having. He owed everything to that man.
A man who most likely wouldn’t live to see the coming dawn.
He released a long, disgusted breath. Life wasn’t fair. It was something he’d learned at the back of his father’s fist in early childhood. All he could hope was that Nykyrian would finally find the peace that had always eluded them both.
Even if he had to die to find it.