Home > Zaxe's Rule (Assassins of Gravas #4)

Zaxe's Rule (Assassins of Gravas #4)
Author: N.J. Walters

Chapter One


The sweet and savory aromas of the bustling marketplace teased Zaxe’s nostrils. The rainbow of colors—from the clothing worn by the people and the awnings over the vendors’ stalls—reflected the brilliant sunlight, making him glad he was wearing sunshades.

He was home.

Only he’d been gone so long he no longer claimed it as his own. But the scents and sounds triggered memories long suppressed and forgotten.

“You’ll ruin your dinner,” his mother scolded, even as she smiled and held out the plate of sweets to him. “Just one.”

“What’s this?” his father’s large voice boomed, filling the room. “Save one for me.” He kissed his wife and swung his son into his arms.

“You’re blocking traffic.” The rough male voice brought him back to the present. He glared at the man, who put his head down and hurried on.

Being on Zaxus, the planet he’d been named for, was already messing with him. Zaxe wasn’t the name he’d been born with, but it was the one that had been given to him by the woman who’d taken him and his sister in after they’d been orphaned.

He slammed the mental door on all memories. He was here to do a job for the king of Gravas—find and kill Helldrick, the final perpetrator behind the kidnapping and torture of the king’s son. The quicker that was done, the faster he’d be out of here.

Zaxe eased into the shadows, where he was most comfortable, and lowered the hood from his head. Most people would find the heat oppressive. He embraced it. It seeped under the skin, warming all the cold places inside. The light breeze ruffled his short, wavy hair.

He was not the same boy who’d left this planet with his parents two decades ago. His youth and innocence stripped away by the harsh realities of life.

For the first time, his appearance would make the job easier. His size, coupled with his dark skin, made him stand out in many cultures. Here, he could get lost in the crowd—another dark-skinned face in a sea of them.

His communicator vibrated with an incoming call. He knew who it was without checking and thought about not answering, but she’d only keep trying until he did.

And, truthfully, he missed his sister.

“Are you there?” Delphi asked as soon as he connected.

“Yes.” Her face filled the small screen. They were twins, had the same dark skin and black eyes, but that was where the similarities ended. His sister was almost a foot shorter but was no less deadly, her delicate appearance hiding a skilled assassin.

“I should have come with you.” Her voice quivered, and she bit her bottom lip. “You shouldn’t be there alone.”

“You need to be on Gravas.” Their home, at least for now. “You have responsibilities.” Which included a new husband. “I’ll handle this and be back before you know it.”

A shiver skated down his spine, as though Fate mocked his confidence. He ignored it. He was the master of his own destiny now. No one or nothing would change that.

“Promise me you’ll be okay.”

“I’ll watch my back.” It was the best he could do. The life of an assassin was a precarious one. He could have, maybe should have died so many times in the course of his life. But he was still here. The gods weren’t done with him yet.

He ended the communication and slipped the device into a pocket on the side of his pants. His cloak had pockets, but he kept nothing important in them. If he had to run or fight, he’d have to lose the covering. He didn’t want to risk leaving behind anything that might identify him.

He strolled through the marketplace, letting the familiar lyrical language drift into his ears, separating the different dialects—Northern, Southern, Eastern, and Western. The planet was divided equally, each territory ruled by a single family. He was in Northern Zaxus, the place he’d been born and lived the first six years of his life. After leaving his ship at the docking station of the capital city of Badwa, he’d come here to get his bearings.

“Harira. The best in the city,” a voice promised.

Mouth watering, he eased to the side of the dirt and stone street, stopping in front of a stall off to the side. “I’ll have one.” He hadn’t had the hearty soup since he was a boy. The tomato, beans, rice, and spices made it something truly special.

The man’s hair was steel gray and lines radiated out from his eyes, but his step was spry as he ladled up a serving. “Five amants.”

Zaxe dug the local currency out of his pocket. He had that, along with Alliance credits. Handing over the money, he took the small recyclable bowl and spoon.

The elderly man grinned, the money slipping quickly into the pocket in his apron. “You will enjoy.”

Zaxe scooped up a spoonful and blew on it before tasting. Cinnamon and turmeric exploded on his tongue, along with the tang of the tomatoes. A slow smile spread across his face. “You’re right. I will enjoy.”

The man tilted his head to one side. “Forgive me, but do I know you? You seem familiar.”

Once again, an icy claw raked down his back. He had to lock his knees in place and clench the muscles in his thighs to keep from running. In spite of the almost oppressive midday heat, chill bumps raced down his arms.

He set the bowl down on the ledge of the stall. Information was critical to his mission, and starting here was as good as anywhere. “I have not been in Badwa since I was a child.”

“Let me see your eyes.” The old man waved at his sunshades.

Taking orders went against every cell in his body, despite the fact he’d been controlled by others his entire life. Even now, this mission was under the command of the king of Gravas.

Would he ever truly be free?

It went against every tenet he’d learned as an assassin to expose himself in this manner. His job was to infiltrate, eliminate the target, and get out before anyone knew he was there.

I should leave.

This wasn’t part of the mission. There were other ways to get information. Even as he ordered his feet to move, his hands were removing the shades from his eyes.

The vendor’s eyes widened. He slapped a hand to his chest and staggered back a step. “Dagmar.” He dropped to his knees and lowered his head.

Confusion swamped Zaxe. “That was my father’s name.” One he hadn’t heard or uttered in decades. When his life had changed in the blink of an eye, he’d shoved his past away. It was easier to survive if you let go of the memories. His sole focus had been on keeping his sister alive.

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