One

"Who are you, what do you want?" Claudius was intrigued by the mysterious woman, she was cloaked from head to toe in an unsightly cape, all he could see was her lips. And they seemed to glitter a luscious red in contrast with her skin.

"I come for a favour, good sir."

A lovely light voice, he smiled at the figure. "And what favour might that be? It's a little late for a lady such as yourself to be about these parts. Dangerous men lurk in the shadows."

"I have heard that you are a dangerous man"

Claudius's smile turned into a proud grin. "And what if I am? What would you want of a dangerous man?"

It seemed almost as if the skin that wasn't covered by her flowing cape turned a light shade of red. She blushed, and Claudius began to leer.

"You 'want' a dangerous man?"

The woman nodded. "I could pay you"

"Pay me? Doesn't it usually go the other way round?"

"I suppose, sir, that it does. But I assure you, this would be a service to me, and I wish to pay."

Well, a free lunch was a free lunch. "Come inside." Claudius stood from his leaning position in the doorway, opened the door, and left it there as he sauntered inside.

He could hardly hear the light shuffle of her cloak, nor the click of her shoes. It unnerved him momentarily, but he dismissed the thought as she smiled up at him. The door clicked shut, and she turned and bolted it swiftly

"Why don't you uncover now?"

The shrouded woman smiled, her red lips glittering against her pale skin. Claudius felt a wave of anticipation, if the rest of her was as pretty as those lovely lips, well, it would be a good night after all.

"I think you should see the colour of my money first, that way you can be sure."

Claudius wasn't bothered really, he would get his due in the end. He nodded, and held out his hand. The woman raised hers; the cape covering her arm as she extended her hand, Claudius heard the clink of gold, and grinned. Then he noticed the pattern on the cloak, one he felt he should know, so intricate it was, that it only showed up now he was close. A weaved mix of concentric circles and curved daggers. He shivered, but kept open his hand. Money was money.

The coins fell into his waiting hand, and he drew it back eagerly. A chink of sunlight drifted over him and he saw the emblem on the golden coins.

Claudius dropped the money with an aghast cry.

The woman smiled even more, but somehow her expression had turned from simpering and innocent to calculating and cold. A feline smile. A smile he knew well enough to fear.

"Athenta!" Claudius gasped.

The woman nodded graciously, and almost languidly drew back the hood of her cape, and allowed the entire garment to sink to the floor. It didn't make a sound. Claudius gaped at the woman before him: a navy kerchief tied across her forehead and under her hair; and what hair! Bushy and wild, a mangrove tangle of auburn curls that flowed across her shoulders and down her back. The kerchief could hardly contain it. A tight, fitted, black colonial jacket strained across her chest, and a skirt flowed out over her hips, and only just touched her knees. Heeled black leather boots adorned her feet, and it was only now he noticed the tip of a sword hiding swinging from a silk scabbard behind her. But her face, that was what truly captured him. Pale skin, darkened red lips that seemed to glitter in the half light, elegant eyebrows atop two mahogany coloured eyes that darted quickly to follow his slight movements. The eyes with their think black liner and large curling eyelashes were obscured slightly by a pair of narrow half framed glasses, but far from making the creature comical, the spectacles merely added to the danger.

Claudius gulped, and began to back away.

Athenta advanced on him. "You sold yourself out, Claudius. You sold me out. I suppose you should be thankful I managed to intercept Clytia before the damage was done. Pity though, I liked her."

"You- You didn't. No, I can't believe you would-" He couldn't control his stammering, it only came on when he was stressed, and he hated it for making him seem weak.

"Claudius, oh Claudius. You didn't like her did you? Oh!" A mockery of remorse showed on Athenta's face, and Claudius hated her all the more for it. "You did... goodness me. You've killed both her and yourself then, haven't you." The words came quickly, and swiftly. Slipping from beneath her jewelled lips like vipers. Claudius shuddered and backed away further.

Athenta still advanced, as soon as Claudius's foot hit the chipped bricks of the wall, he knew he was done for. Her curved sword whipped suddenly into view, and all Claudius saw was a flash of silver before he was pressed back against the wall, cold metal stinging into his throat. He gasped for air, trying and failing not to breathe. And yet still Athenta smiled that cold, harsh, and above all, unforgiving smile. Well, it wasn't over yet, he could still take her, she was just one woman for god's sakes! Yes he could take her, and her little empire would fail. Slowly, Claudius stretched his fingers to fumble with the pistol tucked into the belt on his hips.

A sudden thin pressure on his crotch made him jerk still.

Athenta leaned in; one hand holding the cutlass to his neck, and the other a dagger to his balls. She leaned in and up, resting her weight against him, feeling the entire length of him. It was at this moment she regretted the entire business; Claudius was a handsome man, and Clytia a sweet girl who had been corrupted too young. She hoped he could see the apology in her smile, for there was no other way she would show it.

"Now, now. Claudius, don't you wish to die a man...?" She left the words hanging.

Struggling not to move, and spasming oddly from the cold steel at his crotch and windpipe, Claudius felt compelled to finish the sentence. "I do wish to die a man of dignity"

The pressure at his balls increased, and Athenta gave a delighted laugh. "I never said a man of dignity, I just said a man!" Tinkles of laughter spread across the silent room. "So, if you want to die 'complete' I suggest you don't try anything funny, okay?"

Athenta waited for a reply, while Claudius looked at her in bewilderment.

Then she realised. "Umm, yes, don't nod. Good idea." Athenta checked herself, playing over her mental list. "Aha! Yes, Claudius. I wish to know, before you are dispatched, and trust me I shall make it quick, I wish to know why, why would you betray me? And why would you enlist poor Clytia? I didn't want to kill her, but I had no choice, you understand. Just like I have no choice now. So answer, and I promise to kill you decently."

She waited again, and Claudius's eyes bulged.

Athenta clucked her tongue, grinned wickedly, and then lessened the pressure of her cutlass on his throat. He gasped and sucked in air hoarsely.

"You haven't gotten into much danger, have you Claudius? You are much more a paperwork man, I suppose. I think, that had you thought things through, and had you lead a better and harsher life, you would never have betrayed me. But that is just a line of thought, after all. A mere mental indulgence. Meanwhile, I await you answer." She pressed the dagger at his crotch, and he sucked through his teeth.

"I- I- I did- I did- didn't- I didn't have a choice either. I'm- I'm- I'm- so s- s- s- sorry. Honestly."

Athenta cocked her head in polite confusion, "What do you mean, you didn't have a choice?"

"I c- c- c- c- can't say any more. I w- I w- I w- I wish I could, but- but- but- I just can't."

She gave a disappointed sigh. Claudius was even now looking up at the ceiling, praying, she presumed. His lips quivered in rapid movement. This pious action from a man she knew to be heartless on occasions let a small wave of pity flow over her heart. She sighed again. Then tiptoed to whisper in his ear. Claudius's eyes flew wide open.

"Turn around," she said softly. "Look out of the window, tell me what you see."

Claudius did as he was bid, thankful that the knife at his groin disappeared, but he could now feel the cutlass pressed lightly into his back.

Out of the window; he saw the sunset. It was bright and dazzling, turning all the port and sea into a great orange blaze. A tear welled in his eye. Then two sharp pains spread coldness from the each side of his neck, and the fire faded.

Athenta wiped the blood from her dagger, feeling the fresh death with each derisive wipe. She tilted her head back, and closed her eyes. Remembering again the first time.

She sighed, and bent to retrieve her cloak. While she was kneeling, Athenta gently closed Claudius's eyelids, wiping away the solitary tear.

***

Evander Simmons looked wearily over the docks.

"Let me pass"

He let his gaze wander to where the soft voice originated. A woman, dressed in hooded cape. He looked her over; all that showed was her lips and chin. How odd, he thought. "Be on your way, crone."

"Crone?" disbelief coloured her tone. She stepped up to Evander, and he tried to remember to stand his ground. She was only a weak woman after all, and he had a duty to fulfil.

"You think me a crone?"

He managed to nod, there was something unbelievably commanding about her tone, her presence, her everything.

She reached into her cape, and drew out a silver medallion on a leather thing, the medallion was circular and bore the crest of goddesses helmet.

Evander blinked at the coin, before straitening and managing to stammer, "Are you-? You're part of the crew?" he couldn't believe it, she had to have stolen the emblem. Their secret emblem.

The woman smiled, her red lips shining, and then Evander blinked again, only to feel the cool prick of a blade at his stomach and the woman smiling coolly into his face. He gulped as she drew her other hand up to slip the hood of the cloak off her head. It revealed the navy bandanna, half moon spectacles and familiar face of his captain.

He gasped.

Athenta grinned, "Part of the crew? Oh honey, I am the crew." She re-sheathed the blade in her hip belt, and sauntered down the dock to her sturdy and long lived ship.

Evander slid to the floor and panted, clutching his own medallion weakly.