The hall of the Emperor of Qin was resoundingly empty. Where once the draperies of silk had fluttered in the breeze and hidden bells had pealed softly until the hall echoed and re-echoed with the volumes of music and the sense of something alive and breathing in the room, there now was nothing. Only the ranks of candles, standing row upon row before the dais, gave any sign of human habitation.
A single figure strode to the prescribed mark, one hundred paces from the dais, and there knelt. The Emperor looked upon the slight figure, not with disdain, but with pride.
“Wind, my swiftest assassin.”
The man so named did not speak, but bowed in acknowledgement. A black-robed courtier scurried to the assassin’s side, proffering a portrait wrapped in light green silk. The assassin took the painting, but did not disturb the covering.
“This is your next target, Wind. A worthy target and one who has sworn to end my life could she but once reach me.”
No trace of emotion marred the swordsman’s face. A second bow and he rose and was gone.
Outside the palace gates, Wind unwrapped the picture. Dark hair framed a face both beautiful and remote, the face of the woman who can kill without compunction and who can love without fear. The unknown artist had painted the background in a swirl of leaves, and had traced the woman’s name in silver characters along one side, but the viewer did not need to need them to know the name of the assassin.
It was Moon.
New Moon, actually, the moon which holds all promise and all knowledge within itself and constrains all to seek blindly by the light of the distant stars alone. But the small community of professionals knew her simply as Moon, and knew a great deal about her as well. Once a disciple and servant to the legendary Broken Sword, she had also trained under Sword’s lover Flying Snow. After their combined death and the failure of Nameless to assassinate the Emperor of Qin, Moon had continued her training, learning the art of calligraphy alongside the art of the sword until she had become one of the greatest in the land at both.
Like Snow before, Moon had rejected Broken Sword’s revelation that the Emperor would unite the land and bring peace to a country which had once known only war. Like his master, Wind had accepted it at last. Nameless had been at last turned by the knowledge that Broken Sword had imparted, the realization that the shattered land could only be unified by one who desired its unity. Wind had seen and studied the calligraphy that Nameless had commissioned from the mighty warrior, the single word “Sword,” and had understood its import. It had been that understanding that had led him to offer his services to the Emperor as a guardian and assassin.
The winter was gripping the northern edges of Qin as Wind rode to find Moon. Windstorms howled off the frozen steppes of Mongolia, carrying ice in their teeth and spitting snow at any traveler unwary enough to brave the roads. The borderlands of Zhao, now empty of peasantry after the amnesty offered to those who would accede to the Qin rulership, lay fallow beneath their blanket of icy snow. The village which had sheltered Snow and Broken Sword also passed unvisited, and Wind continued deeper into the heart of Zhao, eluding the few roving patrols with an ease born of long practice. It was to Sichuan, a town in the far east of Zhao, that he rode.
The whisper of his namesake told Wind of the coming storm as he was yet half a league from the walls of Sichuan. But for that whisper he was planning to turn aside and seek shelter in a peasant’s house, where he could rest both his horse and himself. All thought of such rest fled, however, at the breath of the storm’s warning. Ice was coming, and snow in abundance. The passes which he had taken to arrive in the eastern province were now closed to him; his escape, if any there had been before, was no longer available to him now. To Sichuan he rode, heedless of weariness and the danger which had stalked his path. And, as the day gave way to the half-light of the storm, he located a small unguarded portal in the walls of the village and passed through thence to shelter and safety.
As fate or fortune would have it, it was in the House of the Lotus that the assassin from Qin found shelter. Under the ancient compacts of the warriors, the House of the Lotus was sacrosanct; no weapon could be unsheathed therein save in self-defense. The Petals, for that was the name given the attendants of the House, welcomed him and his steed, taking one to the stables and the other to the main portion of the House. Weapons were carefully removed and sent to the armory in the back for cleaning and honing, while the body of the swordsman was led to the baths and there carefully bathed and oiled. Food was brought, the simple fare of the Petals, prepared without heavy spices or cloying textures. And then the bed was prepared for him, with one of the Petals detailed to sleep at the door should the guest require aught in the night.
The soft scrape of bare foot on earth floor brought the assassin out of sleep and into full wakefulness in an instant. Although no weapons were available to him, it is a poor assassin indeed who does not learn of the weapons that cannot be taken from the hand and which require no honing. In an instant he sprang, fingers sliding deftly to the throat to prevent an outcry, while the hard edge of the bared forearm locked ungently across the side of the next. A simple twist, if indeed this was foe and not friend, and the threat would be no more.
Then his nose spoke of flowers, fruit and mint, and the touch of his fingers across soft skin told him who it was. Her name, he remembered, was Snowflake; she was the Petal who had been stationed at the door for him.
“What are you doing?” he whispered, easing his grip and setting her a small distance from him. For the first time he realized that the Petal had come to him unclothed, her young body bare to the night and the howl of the raging storm outside. Fear mixed with cold to send shivers through her frame, swaying the tip of her freshly washed unbound hair, which fell in a single dark shimmering cascade below her waist.
“I came, master, to see if you needed anything. The storm has roused me to the point where I cannot sleep.”
Wind scooped up the second blanket from the bed and whirled it around her, hiding the soft skin and cloaking her to preserve warmth. “You are cold. Why go you unclothed at the earliest breaths of winter?”
Even the gloom of the darkness could not hide the beauty of the Petal’s smile. “It is always thus at night, master. No Petal sleeps in confinement; it is a purification for us. It is thus that we rid our bodies of impurity and toxins, so that our dew is sweet and refreshing to any which require it. Cold holds no fears for us, for we are trained in the arts of controlling the body when necessary. I admit that I am not yet perfect in this art, I still shiver when my concentration is broken.”
She fell silent, standing before him clothed only in her hair and blanket, her glory and his covering. Wind cleared his throat, a harsh grating sound in the stillness of the House, and his ears caught the odd echoes thrown back to him from the walls that shielded them from the storm’s fury. The scent of the Petal was still alive in his nostrils and he felt a stirring of something that had nothing to do with cold or fear or battle-readiness.
Snowflake seemed to feel it as well, the atmosphere charging with more than the electricity of the storm. The blanket fell from her shoulders with a whispering crash to pool upon the floor at her naked feet, and then she dropped to her knees before the swordsman. Slanted eyes looked up trustfully at the assassin as her small mouth open and a delicate tongue reached out to flick gently across Wind’s stiffening member. Then the heat of the gi
rl surrounded him as she took him deep into her mouth.
Wind groaned in ecst
asy, beyond caring if another heard him. The Petal’s mouth worked slowly up and down the man’s shaft, teasing it into aching hardness and promising it the delights of Snowflake’s wetness. The smell of her arousal, delicate and feminine, rose to mix with the odors of fruit and flowers, inciting the swordsman even further. His fingers tangled into her hair, holding her head still, and he took her mouth with smooth easy strokes. She moaned at the invasion.
He picked her up; she seemed to weigh nothing to his battle-hardened strength. Laying her upon the bed, he trailed kisses down her body to the enticing split peach that nestled in its light covering of fuzz across the apex of her thighs. She smelled sweet and fresh, like the dew that lay across the lotus in the early morning, and she spread open to his hesitant touch, revealing the smooth wetness of her labia and the tiny erection of her clitoris.
His tongue danced across her, awakening a primal need within her young body and coursing her in flame and fire until every nerve ending in her body thrummed to the rhythm of his tongue and lips. A coil of desire spiraled in her belly, twisting and tautening as he built her to the pitch of ecstasy, and then, with a final twist of tongue across clitoris, the spiral broke and her climax ripped through her body with the force of the storm raging outside.
She cried out in wonder and pleasure, her body convulsing beneath his hands and mouth, and she almost sobbed when he removed himself from her. The need had not broken beneath the orgasm, and the tentative probing of Wind’s member at her still-pulsing entrance reawakened it into full force. She tilted her hips, lifting to meet him, smooth as silk and wet from his ministrations, and he slid deep into her, pushing the walls apart until he nestled fully within her.
Her heat and wetness almost caused him to lose control instantly, and she apparently knew that this might be so. She stilled immediately, clamping down upon his shaft with all her womanly strength, holding him motionless until the need had dampened somewhat. Then she released him, sliding her hips upward to take him into herself as deeply as she could.
At the welcome of her body, he began to thrust deeply into her, sliding himself along her canal until he bumped the matrix of her womb. With every thrust, her moans grew longer and her need more frantic, until she could only beg him wordlessly to pound into her. And when he spilled himself into her, her young softness drank it all in and gasped for more…
Not just outside did the storm rage that night. Held deep within the Petal of the Lotus, the master assassin ignited a new storm of his own, not once, but many times that night…