Chapter 1

Calen groaned when he heard his twin sister Caylyn get up for the day. It was just barely dawn and she was already going out for her assignment. This was one reason why he never took an assignment where his patron wanted it to be done in the morning. He was an absolute maiji in the mornings where his twin sister was so hyper about it. She really was too perky in the mornings. All his family were. He was starting to hear his older brother otside in the practice courtyard, as well as his aunts and uncles, not including his parents. It really was too early.

He pulled his pillow out from under him to put it on top of his head in an attempt to drown out the noise. It wasn't working. Withing ten minutes, his Uncle Jayber was already starting to round up the youngsters of the family to do their morning drills. He could hear them going about their staff exercises; the hitting of solid wood hitting solid wood was just too much to bear. Calen wanted to scream until he couldn't hear anything more.

And then, to top it all off, Caylyn came back up and pulled the covers off him. Calen shot out of the bed with a yell.

"Caylyn!" he shouted at her furiously. "That was me, sleeping!"

"You need to get up brother dear," she said unrepetantly grinning at him.

"Some people would like to get some sleep around here!" he said hotly.

"Oh, come on," she told him, "Stop with the pretense and get out of bed to dress like a good boy."

"I'll have you know, I'm seven minutes your senior," Calen told her loftily.

"And what difference does it make? With you galivanting about like a young dandy?" she told him in an admonishing voice that never failed to make him feel like a three year old.

"I do not!" he said as he got up to go his chest to sift through his clothes and find one suitable for the day.

Rich as they were from the king's coffers, they didn't spend it all that much. His clan was a clan that decided that living frugally was better than squandering it all about this way and that. Calen secretly agreed with it although outwardly, he gave the appearance of as his twin would say, a young dandy.

He finally picked out a marroon colored tunic to go over his white under shirt and a pair of dark brown britches. Calen supposed he had to get out there to do morning drills with the others. Just about every single member of the Shikkart clan went to the practice court and did their exercises, even if it was only once a day. As Uncle Jayber always said, "At least you're practicing. That keeps you from forgetting it entirely."

"Come on brother dear," Caylyn said, "Let's practice before I have to go and finish my assignment."

Calen pulled a face but followed her down the stairs and the hallways to the courtyard. He wondered why it was that of all the generations of assassins in their family, it was Caylyn and him that was chosen to start off as early as the age of thirteen when the eldest who had gotten their first assignment in clan history was at the age of sixteen? To his oppinion, thirteen was too young an age and unethical to be calling to start a killing assignment proffesionally.

They went out of the practice courtyard and got a wooden staff without any urging on Uncle Jayber's part and started to do their morning exercises. The courtyard was big enough to fit the whole clan of Shikkarts that was living here in Mastri. The clan here, in Mastri, lived and served under King Jaymin. Recently, through no fault of theirs, His Majesty had suddenly gotten suspicious at the amount of loyalty they had for him.

Calen was sensible enough to know that the rumours of Jaymin and his family that he had heard were somewhat true if not entirely true. It was said that too much interbreeding had set the family up for insanity and too much ambition made the king too wary of things that were not there in the first place.

Calen swung his staff and Caylyn swung hers to block his, immediately changing directions afterwards to try him in the shins. Calen went through their morning exercises without any effort at all. By now, the two of them were so well versed in the drills that they could do it in their sleep. It was sad really, when all they had to occupy them was this.

Half an hour later, their practice came to a stop when Uncle Jayber, who was finally satisfied with the progress of the youngsters, declared it was breakfast for everybody. Everyone rushed to the armory to put away their weapons, making it look like a herd of people when it was usually a whole line of them. Apparently,Uncle Jayber decided that he didn't want to keep order today. Or there was something so troubling that it took up more of his thoughts than the mass of people at the moment.

The twins look significantly at each other. Something was up. Something that was not going to be good news to the clan. In the clan, good news were often a fatal sign of some drastic change.

Calen only hoped that it wasn't something too fatal. That way, the famly could still be rebuilt again, if there was to be a massacre. Wait a minute. That was not his thoughts. Those were his sibling's. Calen knew for a fact that it wasn't his. His thoughts tended towards the opposite,where his twin was the gloomy one.

Now, even though they were thirteen and a girl and boy at that, their minds were as linked as the day they were born. The link was that forged between twins and could not easily be broken. Even as they got older, the other would always be able to hear the other's thoughts.So it was with them. Calen pushed the thought back to his twin and went to the dining hall to get his breakfast.

He waited in line as the cook dished out the preferred dish out to each individual. He waited no longer than five minutes before it was his turn. The cook looked up and gave him a baleful stare.

"And what'll ye be having?" the cook asked him, as if he would begrudge every bite that came to Calen's way.

"That there trukey's fine," Calen told him, "And some gravy please. With a bit of bread to go with it."

He got what he wanted and went looking for a drink and an empty seat at the many tables in the place. With ale in hand along with his tray of food, he found that his sister had saved him seat. He gratefully sat down on it.

"Um...turkey," Caylyn said, "If only I had my favorite sauce on it..."

"Caylyn, stop it," Calen said, complaining. "Your bloody thoughts are spilling over. I'd like it as not that I don't hear you wanting to spew the cook's guts out for dinner for the state of the breakfast fare!"

Caylyn sighed and dutifully closed her mind off to give her twin some private thought space to think with. He really was grouchy in the morning. Any other time and he'd just give a growl and laugh it over with. But once he'd had his breakfast and ale in his stomach, Caylyn knew that he would be better. He was her twin after all, and she his. They knew each other's patterns.

Calen sighed when he heard that he had to take a new assignment today. Couldn't he have some rest? Really the king was too ambitious. Every single day, there was a new person to be killed. Every single day. Calen couldn't remember when the king had let even a single day pass. It was so obscure an idea for him that Calen often thought that if there was a day the king missed, Calen would be cheering the king on to stop passing orders to have people killed every single day.

His father was standing before him, frowning at Calen, waiting for him to give his answer. Calen sighed.

"All right," he said in resignation. "What did the man do? Kill the king's daughter?"

His father snorted. "As if. No, he wants the man dead for …hm…." Here his father looked down at the papers the messenger had given him.

"Looks like he found an assignment suited to you after all," his father told him.

"Well? What is it?" Calen waited impatiently for his father to tell him of the assignment.

"The man's gone and killed off his serfs, and under the imperial law the man' s not supposed to do anything of that kind unless he has explicit orders from his liege lord or king," his father told him.

"Well then, that wasn't so hard now was it?" Calen told him smiling. "I'll take it, Pa." He hummed a tune under his breath as he went to get what he needed for the assignment. His father, Gaiver shook his head at the boy's humming. The boy was entirely too free with his life. It was as if he didn't really care for the life of an assassin. Still, he was a good boy and he never complained.

Calen took his daggers and hid them in his sleeves with special sheathes for his wrists. He slid more into his ankle high boots and decided that it was all he needed. He had the magic to go with it. Uncle Jayber had decided that the twins were old enough and they had passed their first rites as assassins. So he had thought them the special magic that allowed one of them to kill someone silently and efficiently. Only the Shikkart clan knew how to use it. No one else.