Masking Intentions

BY : BronxWench
Category: Fantasy & Science Fiction > Slash - Male/Male
Dragon prints: 985
Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of characters to real persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. All rights reserved by the author, and reproduction is prohibited.

AN: Reviews are cuddled, and replied to at: http://www2.adult-fanfiction.org/forum/index.php/topic/25864-bronxwenchs-review-replies-original-fiction/

For Pippychick, who always makes me smile. Melin le!

 

Masking Intentions

Prologue

"What do you call this?" The tall man wore a mask, featureless leather with the suggestion of a muzzle, and golden antlers which arched over his head. His eyes were shadowed by the mask, and the sprog at his feet looked up as if mesmerized.

"You asked for candidates. This one was plucking dried figs from a merchant's table as though this one could not be seen. Is it not a talent you can use, great Stag?" The man's voice was as oily as his robe, stained with the urgency of a sycophant.

"Is this so, sprog? Did the figs vanish at your whim?" The Stag turned his terrible visage downward, and the sprog shrank away. When no answer came, the Stag made a sharp noise and pushed the ragged creature away with one sandaled foot. "This one cannot even speak."

"I speak." The sprog dug in filthy rags, and pulled out a clean cloth. He held it up, and only a faint tremor betrayed his terror.

Gears whirred as the Stag extended a gauntleted hand to pluck the cloth from the grubby appendage. He unfolded it carefully, and found himself looking at plump dried figs, a generous handful of them. He turned back to the oily man.

"The merchant was truly unaware?" The Stag's voice conveyed the frown his mask hid.

"Completely," the man confirmed. "Look at the fruit, Majesty. It is worthy of your table. No merchant would leave such treasure unwatched, and yet he saw nothing as the fruit vanished."

The Stag produced a small leather purse, which he tossed to the man. "Go." The jingle of coins rang out as the man fumbled to catch the pouch. The Stag ignored the man in favor of looking down at the sprog again.

"You are a thief, it seems. I have no use of thieves, but there is the smallest chance I can mold you into something useful. It will be hard, and you will learn to hate me before I am done with you, but you might earn yourself a mask, and a place among the Court." The Stag lifted his head, indifferent to the sprog's scrutiny. "The poison in the figs would not have harmed me, by the way. You may live long enough to learn why."

***

"Again." The Stag was implacable, strong bronzed arms folded over scarred chest. He watched the sprog, and the sprog stared back, eyes curiously light in a land where eyes were as dark as hearts. He shifted one foot, impatient, and the sprog moved, the spell broken.

The blades the sprog held were sharp and coated with a deadly toxin, a gift to those chosen to dwell in the Palace of the Sea, to those who wore the masks. It was part of the test. The sprog had earned no mask, and the toxin would kill him were enough to reach his blood. The Stag watched the sprog take a breath, and then a burst of speed blurred the slender silhouette to near invisibility.

Bare feet made no sound, and the sprog appeared to run up along the sandstone wall. A twist, a flip in midair, against the aching cerulean of the sky, and the sprog was behind him. The Stag evaded the attack with languid amusment, and the sprog's blades skittered across marble tiles.

"What was your mistake?"

The sprog leaped to his feet. "I failed to distract you."

"Correct." The Stag backhanded the sprog with casual violence, watching the delicate spatter of crimson blossom against the sun-glazed sandstone. "And now you are dead. Misdirection is your cloak, and will save you when the shadows are scoured away. If you want to wear a mask, you must earn that right. Prove it to me."

The sprog did not flinch. He pressed the tip of one blade to a fingertip, watched as blood welled from the prick. Only then did he drag the back of his hand over his split lip. The Stag knew precisely how much toxin had entered the sprog's body, and the effect it would have. Pain sparked behind those pale eyes, and the Stag smiled. The effects were calibrated with razor precision. The sprog would not die this time, but his blood would burn like acid until night's coming.

"Again."

***

"If you move, it will hurt more." The Lord Lorekeeper's voice was as dry as the sand on the floor of his workroom. "I'm not doing cosmetics here, you know. This needs to function."

Kdis wondered why he had remembered those particular things, here in the bright oblivion of the workroom. Neither moment was all that memorable, in a life filled with too many similar remembrances. Today would be worthy, though. Today was his Masking, and from the corner of his eye, he could see the Crone, watching.  The Stag had not come, and Kdis swallowed the disappointment he should not have felt.

To distract himself, Kdis considered the Lord Lorekeeper's mask. It was carved from the finest alabaster, so thin it was nearly translucent where it had not been gilded. Gears surrounded the ocular which allowed the Lorekeeper to see the finest details of his work. It was not anywhere as intricate as the masks of the Crown, however.

"Just there. You want the fitting good and tight." The Crone's voice was rich and strong, an unexpected sound from behind the ornate mask she wore. Gilded filigree and feathers of black and deep purple to frame it all, the carved mouth as dark as her eyes. In the susurration of palace gossip, whispers told of her clever hands, and the things she had created. Dark things, which even the Lord Lorekeeper hesitated to employ. She was one of the Crown, and mercy was not something she counted as a virtue.

Kdis flexed his hand. His new gauntlet crawled against his skin, and the button in the palm begged to be pressed, demanded to be allowed to release the lethal blades which rode the back of his hand under ivory ribs. The movement, as slight as it was, earned a hiss of displeasure from the Lorekeeper.

"You are quite undisciplined for an assassin," the Lorekeeper muttered. He twisted something, and gears whirred above Kdis' eye. "That should do it. What do you think?"

Kdis opened his mouth but the Crone spoke first.

"Yes, that will do admirably."

"Sit up then, Assassin. You're presentable now." The Lorekeeper waved a gloved hand at a polished sheet of metal on the wall. "Don't preen for too long. The Stag will expect you."

***

Kdis trailed his gauntleted hand along the palace walls, as much to orient himself as anything. The mask both enhanced and distorted his vision, and like the gauntlet, it felt almost alive against his skin. He expected to lose peripheral vision, but it was augmented by a clever mechanism of gears and tiny polished plates. He could, in truth, see behind himself as clearly as he could see ahead. There was a filter which slid up when he emerged into sunlight, passing through one of the endless courtyards. There was another filter which magnified the smallest of details.

It took the discipline the Lord Lorekeeper thought Kdis lacked to make it to the part of the palace where the Stag held sway. He swallowed the bile which burned along the back of his throat, and rapped on the door with his gauntlet.

"Enter, Assassin."

The Stag was seated behind his desk, dark eyes as unreadable as ever behind his leather mask. Kdis felt the heat of that scrutiny as he bowed his head. "Command me, Majesty."

"There is one you will guard. His life is worth a thousand of your own." The Stag's voice was flat, which spoke volumes to Kdis. "His mask is ivory, with gold lace, and silken cord tipped with a small bell."

Kdis bowed his head again. The optics of his mask shifted soundlessly, allowing him to see the Stag stand, and move to the window. The opening faced a courtyard, and Kdis smelled the moisture of the fountain which graced the garden. The newly masked assassin considered what little he knew thus far, while he waited for the Stag to continue.

Only a highborn would be guarded. This much was known. However, the importance of this sprog--for that was the age-rank such a mask denoted--was magnified by the Stag's words. This sprog was royal, and to be assigned to guard one of the Crown's blood was not a task given to a newly masked commoner. There was more, and Kdis was not being told all of it.

"You will stay by his side at all times. At night, you will sleep at the foot of his bed. He is beloved, and we want him safe." The Stag stopped for a moment, and gripped the edge of the window hard enough for his gauntlet to crumble the sandstone. "The Maiden tells us you are the one to keep him safe. I have said I will trust her vision, although trust does not come easily to me. This is why I have trained you to be exactly what you are."

Kdis bowed his head again, his gauntlet tightening around his arm. "I serve the Crown, Majesty. My life is yours, and I will not fail you." He could not be sure if bringing in a commoner, with no blood ties to the Court, was the Crown's last, desperate hope, or if he was supposed to fail. Either way, his life as part of the Court was likely to be short, but he could not refuse.



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