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Chapter Four: Csilla

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Early Redwind

A sword had never felt so good in Csilla's hand. This particular blade was her favorite, not just because of its perfect balance and grooved handle, but because of the throat its steel was pressed against at that moment.

The Scarlet Maiden had docked in Sarva only an hour ago, and Csilla hadn't even had time to order a pint of ale before she saw Flynn Gunnison eyeing her from a corner booth in the back of the tavern. He was either incredibly stupid or his balls were made of brass. Either way, he was a dead man. All it took was a snap of her fingers, and the group of Maidens yanked him into the back alley and forced him onto his knees in front of her.

Outside, in the lane between two buildings, a rotting pile of trash in the corner had grown to epic proportions. Shutters dangled from windows at awkward angles and forgotten garments hung from clotheslines strung between the buildings. Smoke from stale tobacco lingered in the air, scratching at Csilla's throat. A rat skittered by but she didn't tear her gaze away from the traitor at her feet.

"Well, well, well," she mused, shifting her weight onto her hip as she gazed down at him. "Tell me why I shouldn't slit your throat, Flynn Gunnison."

If she inched her sword up higher, she could cut off the smirk that tilted at his lips. But then again, those lips might be the only redeeming quality about him—when they were sealed tight, or pressed against her collarbone. Csilla banished the last thought from her mind. Flynn didn't have to speak a word to get under her skin. He was there, scratching at the surface, just by gazing at her with that spark in his sea-colored eyes. A strand of hair fell loose from his hair tie, its shade reminding her of wet sand.

"I could give you many reasons as to why you shouldn't kill me," he replied. His voice was smooth and warm but his grin was full of mischief. "The question is, which one do you prefer?"

"Don't play games with me," Csilla spat out. She curled her fist so that her sword angled dangerously against the artery in his neck.

Flynn swallowed as his eyes drifted down the steel. "Play games with you? I would never." Lies. Everything he said was a damned lie.

"Why are you here?" With each word, she pressed the blade farther into his skin. All it would take was one sliver of movement to make his blood spill, then his dead body would be forgotten like everything else in the cluttered alley.

"The Incendian king has issued a bounty for you. They've sent the best Scouts from the Obsidian Palace." His eyes watched hers, waiting for a reaction, Csilla was sure. The Scouts were rumored to find what they were searching for. Always. No matter what stood in their way. The thought of them hunting for her made her stomach turn over, but she gave Flynn no inkling that his words frightened her. He continued, "It is safe to assume that he did not find Rhoda's escape tricks very entertaining."

Rhoda snorted from behind Csilla. "They're lucky that I let most of them live," she retorted. Csilla didn't need to turn around to know that Rhoda had crossed her arms over her chest.

"The key word there is most," Flynn replied, glancing around Csilla. "Not all survived the wrath of your blade."

"Would you like to feel my wrath?" The sound of Rhoda unsheathing one of her daggers echoed in the dark alley. "I'd be more than happy to give you a taste."

"I've already tasted your sister's lips—"

Csilla's fist cut off his words, her knuckles colliding with his face. "Enough!" she commanded. Her cheeks warmed as she took in Flynn's cocky blood-toothed grin. She inhaled a deep breath, trying to hold her now-shaking sword steady as she placed it against his neck once more. "So, Incendia has a bounty out for me. What does this have to do with you? Why are you here? Did you track us? What in Sisters' name do you want from me?"

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by Kimberly Vale
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