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Rosaline's Assassin (Panthers of Brigantia Book 2) by Lisa Daniels (1)

Chapter 1

Well-Intentioned Eavesdropping

Rosaline smiled as she removed her glovesMost of her life had been relatively calm and predictable, and she had grown to believe that it should stay that wayHowever, having gotten to leave three times in the last year, the druid was finding that leaving wasn’t quite as uncomfortable as she had remembered it on previous occasions

Perhaps I am seeing things differently because of IgnacioHe is more talkative and engaged with me when we go outNo one else has ever treated me like thatThen again, everyone else is so much older than I am that they may view me as a child as wellThe idea that she and Ignacio had something in common had never struck her before, but Rosaline found that the idea was not distasteful

She snuck a look at the two assassins as they talked about something that had happened a few months agoOrion looked as pleasant as ever, his perfect facial features reminding her very much of her fatherAt least with the druids, Orion always seemed more like a father figure than an assassinRosaline herself had certainly looked at him that way after her own father had diedHe appeared to have a particularly proud look in his eye as he watched Ignacio, though

Ignacio was nothing like the other assassins, at least not when he was visitingHe was lively and his emotions did not seem to be calculated, but more genuineThe way he treated everyone was far less flirtatious or muted, and when he was around, Rosaline felt that the world took on a slightly different appearanceOf course, he was considerably younger than her, tooShe might be one of the youngest druids, but he was the youngest assassin—and given his age, he really should have still been in trainingBut Rosaline had seen him, had monitored him as he progressed through the training, and no one could disagree that his skills and assessments were anything less than masterfulWhen he was away for long stretches of time, she began to forget about the more endearing side of him because he was a completely different creature when passing judgmentThen he would come home, and she would find herself looking for him to experience more of his unique perspectiveShe had expected being an assassin to change him—it had changed so many others, she had heardBut at least when he was here, Rosaline could still see the same young cub who was eager to experience life

And a small part of her was jealous

Rosaline realized that she was staring at Ignacio as a cold voice called out to them“OrionIgnacioGlad to see you made it back alrightI hear it didn’t go quite as smoothly as expected.”  The voice did not convey the emotions it claimed to feel, but no one expected Darius to express any emotionsHe was there, somewhere, in the shadows where no one else could see him, not without the ability to see into the darkness

With a smile, Rosaline turned to head to her chambersFor someone who almost never left, Darius managed to know almost as much about what occurred in the outside world as the most accomplished assassinsShe had no idea how he knew, thoughNo one expected an assassin to be an open book, but Darius was more like a bound and locked bookRosaline had never seen him before, and didn't know many people who hadFor an assassin, he was incredibly unusualAll of the rest of them were more than happy to go out and complete tasks, and they tended to be the center of attention with their lively personalitiesDarius was something else entirelyStill, his presence in their home made everyone feel more at easeThe idea of him leaving would probably make a lot of the druids revolt

Rosaline couldn’t help but laugh a little at the idea because it was so outrageous

“Rosaline,” a voice called out from behind her

She turned, her expression changing from one of amusement to one of surprise. “Yes, Ignacio?”

“You did great out thereI dare say you didn’t need us at all.”

Orion’s eyebrows went up and his eyes shifted to a corner of the room, no doubt where Darius wasRosaline gave them a couple of seconds to respond before she said, “Of course I needed you for that trip.”  Her smile widened, “It seems strange that you wouldn't notice that I got lost anytime I was left alone for a few seconds.”

Ignacio’s smile slipped a little, “That was totally my faultI shouldn’t have left you.”

Orion stepped between them, “Just say thank you, Ignacio.”  His eyes were on his strange weapon as he cleaned it

“But I—”

The cold voice from the shadows spoke up, “Very kind of you to say, Rosaline, but your attempts are pointless at the momentIf you will please excuse us.”

The sound of footsteps walking away was the only indication that he was leaving—and Rosaline knew that Darius was intentionally allowing his footsteps to echo to indicate his departureNo assassin was as undetectable in the place as he was, so anytime he could be heard, it was because he wanted to be heardAs Darius moved further away, Orion slid his weapon into a sheath on his back and followed, not once turning to look at herIgnacio gave her a shy smile, “Thank you, Rosaline.”  With that, he hurried after the other two assassins.

Rosaline smiled after them, “It was my pleasure.”  With a quick intake of breath, she was about to head toward her chambers when something about the encounter struck her as being wrong

Why didn’t they just leave in the first placeDarius was going to talk about the mission until Ignacio called out to meThat seems odd.

Her beautiful brow creased into a few worry lines under her light arctic-blue hairRosaline brushed her bangs out of her face and pushed the strands behind her earShe had her hair styled into a pixie cut, thinking that a change would be nice, but it had proven to be far more annoying than she had expectedAt least with long hair, she could pull it out of her face with relative easeHer long fingers scratched the back of her head as she pondered whether she should get back to work in her room or if she should give in to her curiosityBeing exposed to the outside world was definitely dangerous for someone like herRosaline was a priestess who had taken the vows that would prepare her for becoming a high priestessHer mother had always pushed her in that direction, wanting her daughter to succeed where she had notA part of Rosaline had always been apprehensive about the idea—it had been her mother’s dream, not her ownHer mother had lacked the intellect and talent to accomplish anything more than the priestess role, so she had desperately wanted her daughter to attain the level of a high priestessThere was certainly a need for new blood among the high priestessesRosaline had loved her mother, but the idea of reaching the upper echelons had never really appealed to herEveryone else seemed to think it was perfect for her, thoughBy the time she had matured, no one had shown any interest in her at all as a material creature, not even Caspian, which had stungNot that she would admit it

Rosaline could still remember the discussion she had with the assassin when she was less certain of her pathShe had pulled him aside a few months before she was to take her vows, perhaps hoping that he would talk her out of itOr maybe he would show her another way

“Caspian, do you think that I… will become a high priestess?”  The doubts raged in her mind as Rosaline looked into the eyes of the famous assassinShe had heard how he never missed an opportunity to explore a woman who presented herself so willingly

His startling green eyes had not even flinched as she looked down, and he placed his hands on her shoulders and murmured, “I could not imagine a better path for you.”

She could not see any desire in his eyes or any doubt about what he was sayingAny tension or hope that the encounter might turn into something more were dashed, and she looked down at the ground, not wanting him to see how unhappy those words made her

His voice was gentle as he asked, “Was that not the right thing to say?”

Her head shot up, the smile firmly fixed on her face, the smile that had gotten her through so much“Of course it wasIt was exactly what I should have expected you to sayThank you, Caspian.”  She picked his hands up from her shoulders and pushed them back to his chest“Probably best not to have you touching meAs slim as the chance may be, someone could get the wrong ideaWish me luck.”  With that, she turned and quickly walked away

“I wish you the best, RosalineMay it bring you the happiness you seek.”  Caspian’s voice sounded a little off, but Rosaline wasn’t going to turn and lookThis was her path, everyone seemed to believe itCaspian had seduced almost every other druid she had known, slept with nearly every magic-using mark he met, and flirted with everyone else

Clearly there is something lacking in meNo one can look at me and see anything but a high priestess who gives herself to the needs of the many at the cost of herselfThere is something wrong with me that I don’t see itIt doesn’t matter if I have doubts, no one else doesI need to set the doubts aside and work toward the goals I’m given

Rosaline never cursed the path that she had walked, she just never felt the calling the way her mother hadWas following through with someone else’s dream enoughThe last time she had seen her mother was the day Rosaline had taken her vowsSince then, access to her was restricted, and only the druids who were in either political or spiritual power could talk with herRosaline had missed her mother, but not as much as she had expectedWhat bothered Rosaline was the lingering doubt

Could adding someone so full of uncertainty help establish the balance that was neededSeveral of the high priestesses were too old to continue—they should have faded long agoThere just weren’t enough women to replace themNo one else had been willing and qualified in a long timeRosaline was one of the few in the last 500 years who had shown promise of making it beyond being a priestess, so it seemed like the logical thing to doBut she was so much younger than the others, and she had far less life experience, having been prepared for the path almost since she had shown a superior intellect and unique abilities.

Standing in the hall and listening to the silence after the assassins had left, Rosaline couldn’t stop herself from questioning where her life was headedBut does that make it the right thingDo I actually want to spend my life that wayLocked in a room forever keeping the balanceI am not certain that my actions were even right for this missionAt some point I was not even in control of myselfCould that possibly be good for a high priestessTo know that she cannot always control herself?

Over the years that uncertainty had been far less pronounced, but it was still there in the back of her mindAs she stood there, considering how Darius had taken the other two assassins away in such a bizarre manner, Rosaline found herself unable to stave off her own curiosityLooking in the direction of her chamber, she shook her head, then quickly moved in the opposite direction.

Rosaline held her head up, ensuring that she looked like she was going somewhere with a purposeTo her relief, the assassins had gone into a small courtyard area for guests near a reading roomPicking a book up from the shelf, she sat down in a chair near the window so that she could hear what they were saying

“Look, Ignacio, you have been doing more than just what was required, but I am not certain that going to Ishtar is a good ideaThat would be dangerous even for Orion to do right now.”  The voice was Darius’s, and his tone had emotion in it

Uncertainty and concernCan he feel emotionsRosaline found herself analyzing everything as her eyes skimmed over the pageShe immediately pushed that idea to the back of her mind because there was something far more important going on outside the walls

“I’m not sure that it is a good time for you to be heading to that countryEven you must be aware of what is happening in Ishtar now.”  Orion spoke next, and there was no doubt from the way that he spoke that he had expected something like this

“Of course I have heardNo matter how much you try to keep me in the dark, I am aware of what is happening in Ishtar.”

“I don’t think you are aware.”  Darius sounded more like himself, and his reply was almost bitingRosaline smiledIt was a good thing that Darius was there—he would never let Ignacio go to IshtarThe idea of anyone going into that gods forsaken country was monstrousEver since the champions started to distance themselves from Ishtar, the druids and assassins had made a point to avoid the country as much as possible, with only the rare judgment being made for magic users who had gone too farThat had proven to be even more distressing as it quickly became obvious that the majority of the seers over the last few years were either being influenced by the Unwashed or were completely under their control

Nearly everyone in Marlyon knew that the Unwashed had taken it overNot Ignacio, thoughHe would be completely unprepared, and at his age, it could have cost him his lifeAs the only new assassin in several hundred years, he wasn’t someone that they could afford to lose

“I am neither a child nor a fool, DariusEveryone may be keeping secrets about what is going on, but I no longer have to rely on druids or assassins for information.”

Rosaline was startled by a familiar, surprisingly contagious laughOnce he was able to speak, Orion said, “I seriously doubt anyone would take you for a fool, IgnacioJust a little naïve.”  The druid felt her stomach drop as she realized that the conversation was not going to go the way she had believedDarius may be present, but even his opinion would be swayed if Orion thought that Ignacio could handle himself in IshtarAfter all, Orion had been Ignacio’s primary mentor, and whatever he decided would be taken as the best assessment of Ignacio’s abilities“As long as you promise to exercise as much caution as you did on this last trip, I see no reason you shouldn’t be allowed to go to Ishtar.”

Rosaline fought the urge to stand up and argue with themDarius was her last hope, but she didn’t hold out much now

A few seconds of silence met Orion’s words, but it went exactly as she had expectedDarius sounded almost indifferent as he responded, “If Orion thinks you will be alright, then I see no reason to keep you here longerAs long as you are back within…”

Rosaline tuned out of the conversation as her mind began to reel from the newsIgnacio was beginning to be treated more like a full-fledged assassinWell, he wasBut the idea of him being in the kind of danger that had already taken so many lives almost terrified herHe was too youngToo inexperiencedBefore Ignacio, Orion had been the best pupil the assassins had ever had, and he was almost twice Ignacio’s age when he was allowed to leave on his own without directives

Suddenly Rosaline was brought back into the present when she heard something like a chuckle from Darius, a sound that was as beautiful as it seemed improbable“I understand, IgnacioDulce has always been important to youOrion, I believe you have heard the latest on her current position—”

“As have you, Darius.”

“Of course, but you can actually take him part of the way thereGive him some guidance, then make sure he remembers that he isn’t to go doing anything reckless while he is visiting the illustrious, crumbling dystopia.”

Ignacio cut in, “I am standing right here and can hear every word you guys are saying.” 

Whatever else Ignacio said was muffled as Orion replied to Darius, “I will make sure to remind him of his training, but you know as well as I that there is nothing that can be done for the heartWe are both all too aware why he is going to Dulce, and I think that it will be for the bestI know that all of the champions are concerned about her, but the fact that they haven’t done anything suggests that perhaps they need some outside motivationThe lad is quite right to be concerned, but he doesn’t even know whyIt goes to show just how good his instincts are.”

Orion must have released Ignacio as the young assassin asked, “What are you talking aboutWhat has happened to herWhat aren’t you guys telling me?”

Darius spoke over him, “I agree, it will certainly be for the best if he were to convince her somehow that she needs to get out of there, even if it means doing something foolishJust not lethally foolish.”

“Hey!” Ignacio sounded offended, but neither of the assassins paid him any attention

Rosaline was shocked at how humorous both of the experienced assassins were beingGoing to Ishtar was basically a death sentence for a magic user, and they were picking on Ignacio about itBut why is he concerned about someone in IshtarI don’t remember him killing anyone thereShe snapped back to the present as the older assassins talked.

“By the way, Orion,” Darius continued, “I believe that some of the priestesses were looking for youNot only because they wanted your report, either.”

There was a loud sigh that Rosaline recognizedThe priestesses were always so inquisitive when it came to missions, and the assassins avoided them as much as possibleThey weren’t required to talk to the priestesses, but they rarely refused when askedThe priestesses tended to disapprove of the way assassins conducted themselves, and assassins tended to be very dismissive of the way priestesses thoughtBoth sides understood that the other was necessary, but that didn’t mean they had to like each otherDarius was the only assassin that talked to them on a regular basis, but he didn’t seem to mind, as far as Rosaline could tellHe just didn’t present himself the way others did, always sticking to the shadows and meeting only those who required his attentionRosaline couldn’t help but feel sorry for Orion, though, as his relationship with them was a bit more strained than most

Orion’s voice skillfully masked the emotions he had just expressed, though. “I will make sure to talk with them, although honestly I think my account will pale in comparison to Rosaline’sShe was there for everythingShe was the one who took down the majority of the Unwashed and freed the captive magic usersHer abilities are really far beyond what even I had expectedIt’s a shame that she has chosen the—”

“Orion.”  Darius’s voice cut him off before Orion could finish that thought“You forget your place.”

“Wrong, DariusI know exactly what my place is, and I still believe that I am right about what is going on thereIf something isn’t done soon…” his voice trailed off

Rosaline stared at her book, not even trying to look like she was reading anymoreShe had never been very close to any of the assassins; high priestesses never dealt with themOn those rare occasions where she was able to talk with them, most assassins had seemed to view her as a high priestess, talking only as much as was requiredDarius, Orion, and Ignacio seemed to be the only exceptions, and now she was about to lose two of them to missions so soon after returningA part of her wanted to go back out into the world too, but that was not something she would acknowledge, let alone say out loud

Most of her life had been so sheltered, the confines of a large residence being almost her entire worldHer magic had been explored, but never mastered because high priestesses used their magic differentlyThen a few years ago she had been asked to undertake a mission because she was the only one who could prevent a mystic being found in SumariaOrion and Seneca had been sent with her as supportWhen they had reached their destination, it was too late to save the humansThe girl’s fathers had died, but that did not mean that attention would have to be brought to the girlThe killers planned to go to the home of the apothecaries and steal what they couldIf the timeline remained as it was, the young girl would be found out as a mystic and would become a prisoner of the UnwashedAt the time, Rosaline had no idea what that would mean, but she did not like the idea of a young magic user being a prisoner to humans, even if the magic user was a mysticUnable to save the humans, Rosaline ensured that the manner of death that the men had brought on the mystic’s fathers would be tied to their own fatesDruids and assassins were almost exact opposites, with druids working with life, and assassins with deathBut Rosaline was able to tie life and death togetherThe druids and assassins decided that simply judging the bandits was not enough—humans needed to be reminded that this was the wrong pathRosaline’s magic worked in a way that reflected the horrific nature of their crimes back on themselves, creating a warning to other humans not to follow the same pathSomeone had once called it karma magic, but she had never been told what that meant

Nor did Rosaline have any idea what had become of the girl afterward, but the men who had caused her pain had died in ways designed to make them regret what they had doneIt was something that humans who knew them would talk about for generationsThe deaths of the bandits would serve as an unforgettable lesson, and it gave Rosaline a sense of satisfaction that she knew she would never get from being a high priestess

The point isn’t about my personal glory but rather what is best for everyoneI don’t have to understand it now for it to be the right path.

The words were like a mantra that she had become accustomed to thinking whenever doubt crept into her mindThis time was different, thoughThe doubt was not just her ownIt was coming from one of the most well-respected assassins who had ever livedA shifter whose life had been extended as far into the future as was possibleOnly one other assassin had been given that gift, though he had learned to view it as a curse

By the time Rosaline was done reflecting, she became aware that the assassins were no longer nearby and the sky had begun to get darkRealizing that she should have already reported to the druids, Rosaline quickly stood up and strode out of the room

Almost colliding with a shadow, she gasped and placed a hand on her chest to steady her heart

A familiar face appeared out of the shadows, the concern obvious in his eyes“I am so sorry, RosalineI didn’t realize anyone was in there.”  Ignacio’s voice was much softer than when he had been talking with his brethren

“Oh, I just, um…”  She remembered that she had been eavesdropping and knew that she couldn’t say that was why she had entered the roomHoping that enough time had passed so that it didn’t appear suspicious, she held up the book she had taken from the shelf, “I just needed to get a book to illustrate some of what I did to the UnwashedA kind of, um, life loop where they will either learn from their mistakes or die.”

“You can do that?”  His eyes were wide, and for a moment she feared that he was about to ask her a lot more questions that she would not want to answerThe memories were far too fresh and the horror on the men’s faces too clear

“Not to all of them, just the ones who didn’t die in the initial time push.”

Ignacio gave a small laugh and tilted his head to the sideRunning his hands through his luscious-looking hair, he bit his lip“I still have so much to learn about druidsAlthough, I guess what you do isn’t, um, it’s not exactly… normal?” 

“Well, it’s just—”  She could feel a blush on her faceIt was something she had heard so many times in her life, and so many people had been unsure how to react to what she could doThe looks on the men’s faces as they had been sealed in the time loop was enough to remind her just how terrible her powers were

She felt a warm hand on hers, and Rosaline realized that she had been picking at her lip, a nervous habit that she had“I think it is really amazing, but I’m sure you hear that a lot, too.”  Ignacio’s eyes were such a lovely shade of greenAs Rosaline looked into them she forgot about how ashamed she was of what she could do and listened to himHe pulled a black cloth from his pocket and dabbed her lipWhen he pulled it away, he looked at it, then looked at her“Are you nervous about talking to the priestesses?”

“WhatWhy would I be nervous?”  She looked at him, wondering if he had read her thoughts

“From the sound of it, the memories have left you unsettledYour demeanor may not give much away, but blood doesn’t lie.”  He gave her a meek smile and held up the clothThere was a little bit of silver on the cloth, and Rosaline knew that it was her blood

“Oh, um,” she gave a small nod, “yes, I am a little nervousThat was a first for me, and I guess I’m still a little…” Her voice trailed off

“A little in shock?” he asked.

She looked down and nodded again

His grip on her hand changed“Come onWhy don’t you practice what you are going to say on meThat way you will be a little more relaxed later.”

Without another word, he gently pulled her down the hall and outside

 

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