All Nonfiction Bullying Books Academic Author Interviews Celebrity interviews College Articles College Essays Educator of the Year Heroes Interviews Memoir Personal Experience Sports Travel & CultureAll Opinions Bullying Current Events / Politics Discrimination Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking Entertainment / Celebrities Environment Love / Relationships Movies / Music / TV Pop Culture / Trends School / College Social Issues / Civics Spirituality / Religion Sports / Hobbies
- Summer Guide
- College Guide
- Author Interviews
- Celebrity interviews
- College Articles
- College Essays
- Educator of the Year
- Personal Experience
- Travel & Culture
- Current Events / Politics
- Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking
- Entertainment / Celebrities
- Love / Relationships
- Movies / Music / TV
- Pop Culture / Trends
- School / College
- Social Issues / Civics
- Spirituality / Religion
- Sports / Hobbies
- Community Service
- Letters to the Editor
- Pride & Prejudice
- What Matters
Moonless - Chapter One
I hear a slight hiss of air behind me. It’s virtually inaudible. The Hunters are good, very good. But I’m the best. In an instant I’m whirling around and snapping my foot out. I clip the first one’s temple and he drops like a stone. I kick the second one in the stomach before he has a chance to twitch, and then I’m running. I could’ve killed them. I should’ve killed them. But I prefer not to kill when I don’t have to.
The trees whip past, invisible in the night. Everything’s invisible. I can hear the sound of raindrops hitting the leaves far above. I burst out of the trees and throw my head back, wet hair clinging to my neck. The sky is pitch black. It’s a new moon, and the stars don’t shine here. Nothing pure can survive in this desolate wasteland.
My head snaps to the right. Caleb’s coming, but still a few hundred yards off and making entirely too much noise. I slip silently up to him and whisper in his ear.
“If you make much more noise, the rocks will start complaining.” I hear a sharp intake of breath, but he doesn’t scream. Good. We need to keep our wits about us if we want to make it out of here alive.
“Yes?” I breath back.
“If you ever do that again, I’ll die of heart failure. Then I’ll come back for the sole purpose of taking you with me.”
I grin. “Hey, at least you made it.” Caleb only had five hundred yards to travel, but that’s hard enough when you can’t see your hand in front of your face. Add rain and who knows how many Hunters into the mix, and it turns deadly. Of course, the plan was for me to deal with them.
He is thinking along the same lines. “What happened with the Hunters?”
“I led two of them into the woods and took care of them. There’ll be more out, though, tonight. We still need to be careful.”
“Of course.” He hesitates. “You did kill them, didn’t you?” He takes my silence as answer enough. “Katryn.”
“It wasn’t necessary. If they come after us again, they’ll need to bring a light and we’ll see them coming from far off. They can’t see in the dark.” I say with some satisfaction.
“And neither can I. I don’t like this, Kat.”
“Don’t you trust me? Don’t answer that.”
I take his arm and start leading him up to the castle. I can’t see in the dark any better than he can, but I have my ways.
Both of us know not to talk, not when we’re this close. I use the time to review the plan in my head, over and over again. There isn’t much of one. This is only a routine mission – get in and get out, don’t get caught. Not that this isn’t dangerous, of course. It would have taken many weeks of careful planning and preparation, if it was anyone but me. However, I have my… talents. That and the fact that I can go places where men can’t are the only reasons that I’m a part of the Alliance.
The Alliance is a small underground organization. We creep around corners, recruit as much as we can, and try not to get caught. Layers upon layers of secrecy are necessary. If even one person betrays us, we will collapse like the fragile construction we are.
If we were betrayed, not one of us would escape the King. A shiver runs through me, but I shake it off. Caleb turns toward me. I know the exact look he is giving me. Eyebrows slightly raised, head cocked to the side.
I don’t tell him what I’m thinking. Here, at least, my thoughts are my own. “Just going over the plan. Remember, don’t let the guard wake up until –“
“Until I hear your whistle or shout. I know, I know. Besides, how will you even recognize the talisman? Have you seen it before?”
“I’ll know.” I say shortly. I don’t know why Caleb is asking. He understands – the way I sense things, how I know what’s physically going on around me even when I’m blind. What he doesn’t know is the rest. Nobody knows. At least, nobody still alive.
By now we’ve reached the castle. It’s dark, elegant, and undoubtedly luxurious. The poorer the fiefdom, the richer the lord’s castle. I wonder, not for the first time, if Lord Ravanvere knows the power of the talisman, or if he thinks of it only as another beautiful bauble. My objective is the same either way, but much more difficult to accomplish if he knows exactly what it is he holds.
Neither of us speak. There’s nothing to say. We both know our rudimentary plan backwards and forwards. We each take a deep breath and then, at my nod, Caleb steps forward into the pool of light in front of the ominous gate. “Hey there!” he calls up to the lone sentry on the ramparts. The sentry is very drowsy but not exactly asleep. Our spy seems to have gotten the concentration of the sedative right. It would be easier to sneak in if the sentry was napping, but we need him to open the gate. Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing whether the new maid was able to sneak some of the drug into the dinner of the four reinforcements waiting just inside the walls.
The sentry makes a feeble attempt to lift his head, gives a half-hearted swipe at the drool on his cheek, and then abandons the effort. He attempts a menacing “Who goes there?” but it falls flat.
Caleb shows the covered basket he’s carrying. “The shipment Lord’s been waitin’ for. I’m t’ take it t’ the throne room.” He drawls through a thick faked accent.
“Sure.” The sentry gestures to a pulley beside the gate. “Send it up.”
“Oh, no. This is very important. No one’s t’see it but his Lordship.”
“Hey.” The sentry tilts his head to the side, as if a new thought just occurred to him. “How do I know that’s really for the king? You might be just trying to get into the castle.”
I see Caleb struggle not to roll his eyes. “Lord requested it ‘pecifically. It’s extremely important.”
I watch as understanding slowly seeps across the sentry’s face. “Of course. I’ll take it straight to the Lord.” And, if there happen to be any spare valuables inside, he might decide they need to be confiscated. Only an idiot would believe the guard would actually wake the source of his paycheck at midnight to give him a package, any package. But Caleb plays along.
“Yeah, sure.” He waits as the sentry wheels the gate up, with agonizing slowness, until Caleb has enough room to duck under. The sentry disappears from the wall and I give Caleb three minutes, counting slowly in my head. I’m surprised that there is no sound. Caleb is a very talented fighter, but he can’t dispatch five armed soldiers without weapons of his own, and even then there’s a struggle. The basket held two knives and a thin dagger.
I see Caleb appear on the ramparts. He grins and gives me a thumbs-up as he wheels open the gate. I slither under and meet him in the courtyard. We leave the gate open a few feet so that we can make a quick exit later.
He hands me the ring of keys he pulled off one of the guards and I make my way to the door, stepping over prone bodies. Caleb’s done well – there’s not a mark on any of them.
I glance back at him. He’s leaning casually against the wall. Something seems to flicker across his face. A hint of – regret, maybe? But it’s gone too quickly for me to process, and now I’ve lingered too long. He gives me a patronizing smile. I scowl. He knows exactly how to make me want to slap him.
I finally manage to slide the correct key into the lock, and then I’m inside.
What I can see of the interior of the castle is nothing like its modest outer façade. This is only the public entrance, and yet Lord Ravanvere is clearly flaunting his wealth. I’m standing in a long, wide hallway with a high ceiling. About halfway down there is a large portrait of the lord in a gilt frame. During the day there would be sweltering soldiers in full armor lining the wall just inside the door but, for the moment, this grand entrance is deserted.
I steal down the hall, making no noise, as I review the map in my head. This castle is a labyrinth of rooms, halls, and hidden staircases, but my path is simple. This hall leads straight to the throne room, where the lord keeps his jewels and valuables.
There will be more guards in the throne room, but I’m silent. They won’t hear me until I’m upon them.
I stop just outside the wide doorway and breathe in silently. The soldiers are blocked from my line of sight, so I know I am safe from theirs. I take another breath. Then I step in.
Much sooner than I expect, they are all on me. Fifteen men fully prepared for a battle. Nothing like the five drowsy ones I was expecting.
Their attacks are ferocious and they all come at me at once, as if they know my weak point. My strength. I’m very strong for a seventeen-year-old girl, but that’s nothing against these muscle-bound soldiers. My skill lies in extraordinary speed, and my secret talents. As it is they’re all unconscious in sixty seconds, but not before one has sounded the alarm. I don’t have much time.