February 2020 – Desaevio Tower, Portland, Oregon
“It is done, Father. The Ferrymen will kill Anders Halstein and take Lӕvateinn for us.”
The man now calling himself Corin Desaevio glanced up from his reports to see his son, Sebastian, standing just inside the doorway. He could not help the smile that formed at the sight. His son. One of the two fruits of his loins. One of his heirs. Definitely one of the two best things he had ever done. Corin waved Sebastian to a chair across from him.
“Where’s your sister?”
Sebastian flashed Corin a quick grin as he sat. “We got a call that the FDA is questioning some of our findings on that new cancer treatment we’ve been testing. Sabine went to deal with them. Don’t worry, she’ll play the humans’ game. This is one drug she actually cares about.”
“Indeed,” Corin nodded. “Cancer runs far too rampant in this world today and doesn’t discriminate in who it affects. I’ll speak to her more about what the FDA wants when she returns. For now, you said the assassins’ guild has received and accepted our orders?”
Something flashed in Sebastian’s pale blue eyes, eyes even lighter than Corin’s own ice blue. They were only a shade or two darker than white. Intriguing, arresting eyes. Especially when set against the olive skin tones and dark mahogany hair Sebastian inherited from his mother. A woman Corin had long since forgotten. Even before he returned permanently to this realm.
“They have,” Sebastian began.
The hesitancy in his normally clipped, decisive voice made Corin frown.
Sebastian grimaced. “I know I’m not as adept at reading people’s intent as you, Father. But I know Constantin Mavros was not happy with our suggestion of using Rieka Drake for this mission. If I had to place a bet, I would wager he intends to send someone else. Most likely one of his own sons.”
Hubris, the voice, Corin’s constant companion, hissed inside his head.
Corin nodded in agreement with that voice, knowing his son would take it as a nod of understanding.
“Constantin Mavros, self-proclaimed ‘Charon’ and leader of the Ferrymen. I know it was Constantin’s grandfather’s overthrow of the old regime that brought this assassin’s guild to our attention over forty years ago but changing the rules of leadership from the best ascending to the position of Charon to a bloodline inheritance has weakened the guild. Constantin’s sons are strong, for mortals, but no match for the guardian of Loki’s sword. Being descendants of Ares might aid them in dealing with Halstein’s berserker side, but that bloodline will be useless against his other side.”
“Even Rieka Drake might have difficulty against witch-blood,” Sebastian pointed out.
Corin conceded that point with a nod. “But she will be more difficult to kill and has more intelligence and cunning than those in the Mavros Family. It’s why I waited for her to grow up before sending these orders to the Guild. The Mavros grandfather had that same cunning, but it has been lost in years of soft living.”
“A lifetime of training as assassins is soft living?” Sebastian smirked.
“The Mavros Family has been in charge of the Guild’s cover businesses since before they overthrew the old guard. While they do still train as assassins, it’s only enough to continue as guild members. From what I’ve seen, most of the jobs they’re sent on tend to be easy ones. However, should Constantin be so foolish as to disregard our advice and send one of his sons after Halstein and the sword, we can only hope the boy proves more resourceful than we give him credit for.”
Sebastian frowned then. “And if Halstein kills him?”
“Knowing the mindless rage and bloodlust so many descendants of Ares possess?” Corin shrugged. “I would imagine that if his son dies Constantin will turn his fury and the blame that should rightly be his onto the Storm Syndicate.”
Corin watched his son’s features turn stony with resolve. Sebastian nodded and stood.
“Then we’ll be ready.”
Ferrymen Guild Hall, Thessaloniki, Greece
Constantin Mavros sat at his ornately carved antique desk. The same desk used by countless Charons over the millennia of the Guild’s existence. While it had changed over time, going from a simple wood table to something more ornate, the heart of that desk remained the same piece of wood. That plank saw so many orders for assassination cross over it; so many gold coins for the deceased’s trip across the River Styx passed from hand to hand. And here he was, handing over another execution order.
But while the desk and title of Charon remained the same, the faces always changed. In his role as Charon, Constantin never went without his black hooded cloak—a symbol of his office as one who allows souls to pass from one life into the next. By handing out orders to his worldwide network of assassins, he was essentially doing just that. For a price. And, of course, those who hired the Guild to hurry along the deaths of their enemies also needed to provide a gold coin to ensure those they sent to the grave could make payment for the crossing. That rule had been mandated by their founders shortly after the end of the Trojan War. No one wanted to see another long, drawn-out battle that resulted in countless deaths when the underlying reason was something personal to a powerful individual. Like a wife running off with a lover.
Agamemnon’s needless war resulted in so much bloodshed that the Greek powers remaining created a guild of assassins to deal with such matters expeditiously. While being looked down upon and treated as dishonorable murderers, the Ferrymen’s Guild quickly made a fortune off the grudges and enmity of the ruling classes. Even more so when Rome overtook the Greek city-states. Those same self-righteous elite who snubbed the assassins and forced them to hide in the shadows were always clamoring to use their services, not wanting to dirty their own hands with the blood of their enemies. But none of those hypocrites seemed to realize the true stains remained on their souls. Not wielding the dagger did not make them any less guilty of each death. The gold coins the Guild demanded for the souls they took gave proof of that. Even in this day and age of financial transactions across fiber optics and offshore accounts, no Guild contract would be completed until the client provided a gold coin to pay for their victim’s passage across the River Styx.
Not even the Storm Syndicate was exempt from this practice. Constantin’s grandfather might have made a deal with the secretive organization, allowing the Mavros Family to maintain control of the network of assassins. And they even provided ways and means of replenishing the ranks after his grandfather’s purge of all those who preferred the old ways. But while the Guild would handle without question the assassinations the Syndicate ordered the Ferrymen still required that acknowledgment of the Syndicate’s culpability in those deaths.
From beneath his hood, Constantin watched the assassin before him read through the orders. He felt a momentary burst of pride. Andreas, the youngest of his sons, had grown into a fine specimen of a man. Only twenty, Andreas already had multiple kills under his belt. Constantin knew that of his three sons, Andreas was the most like him. Single-minded and ruthless. While his eldest son, Petros, was technically heir to the position of Charon, Constantin had been toying with bucking the tradition his grandfather had begun and naming Andreas his successor. After all, ending traditions seemed to be as much a family trait as lust for power. Had his grandfather been alive, Constantin was certain the old man could not argue with that.
“Charon, I understand the orders you’ve given me, but this says Rieka should be sent on this mission. Why…?”
Hidden within the deep hood’s shadows, Constantin frowned, the irritation that had been plaguing him since his trip to the United States still niggling.
“The Syndicate made a suggestion. But they do not know my people as I do. Therefore, I have the last say in who I send. You’re good, Andreas. Good enough to carry out this task. And in so doing, earn not only the Syndicate’s approbation for the Guild…”
Constantin took the unprecedented step of pushing back his hood, reminding Andreas of just who he was speaking to.
“…But also, for the Mavros Family. I have heard rumors that the Storm Syndicate is looking to fill spaces on their Shadow Council. It would be good to have a member of the Guild sitting on it. Especially if that member happens to be a Mavros.”
Andreas bowed in acquiescence. “Understood, Father. I’ll complete this mission and make you proud.”
“I know you will, son,” Constantin allowed himself a smile before pulling up his hood again. “You may go. And send in Rieka if you would, please. She should be waiting in the reception room. I have another job for her.”
Andreas bowed again and left. Constantin watched as moments later the office door opened and a woman strode forward. Rieka Drake. She was well-named by the breeders who sold her to the Guild shortly after her birth. The woman had the prowling gait of a wolf and the fierce fire of a dragon in her eyes. Constantin had paid the equivalent of one hundred thousand US dollars for her. He considered the investment successful. Rieka was one of their most dangerous assassins. Of course, having been trained in the ways of death from her very birth, that was only to be expected.
The same age as his second son, Jason, Rieka grew up side-by-side with Constantin’s children. But he never considered her one of his. When Petros called her his baby sister, both Constantin and his wife quickly corrected the boy. And when Jason showed signs of susceptibility to Rieka’s strange beauty, Constantin did what he could to kill it quickly. An “accidental” slip of a blade after one of Rieka’s training sessions marred the porcelain perfection of her face with a scar that stretched from her hairline, across her nose and down the cheek on the opposite side. Of course, Constantin did punish the child who inflicted the wound. He had to for form’s sake since he was supposed to be impartial. But the money placed into that child’s account after his caning helped the child overcome that. Rieka herself did not receive anything to make it better when Jason and Petros were both found at her bedside while she recovered, and Constantin ordered her caned for attempting to seduce them.
His sons always claimed that she was innocent of any wrongdoing, and the three of them had only been caught watching movies together. But Constantin needed Jason and Petros to understand that Rieka would always be beneath the Mavros men. Not only because she was essentially their property, but because her bloodlines would taint the purity of the Mavros’ blood. They had a proud lineage, stretching back to Ares himself. Which meant they needed to marry either other descendants of the Greek pantheon of gods or at the very least, a full human. Anything else would weaken them.
Constantin had bought Rieka in Austria. The daughter of a female dragon. That sort of power was just what the Guild needed, especially since the dragon was moon-white. A harbinger of death with the power of the night behind her. But it was the bloodline from her father that truly shocked Constantin when the breeders gave him her paperwork.
A Fen Wolf. These were not just any wolf shifters, but direct descendants of the Norse deity, Fenrir. Child of Loki who possessed the power to kill Odin. To literally kill a god. Normally, when a female dragon gave birth, the child was a dragon. But since Fenrir’s bloodline was considered as pure as that of any other god, it would always come through. And such was the case when Rieka first shifted at the age of eight. Thankfully, a few other assassins were Warded Shifters, so knew what to expect and how to help Rieka. But all the preparation in the world would never have been enough to overcome everyone’s surprise when Rieka shifted into a massive, winged wolf. The coal-black fur so distinctive to Fenrir’s line was peppered with streaks of a white so pure it glowed blue in the moonlight. Rieka’s wings were the same black and white streaked pattern. She truly was a hybrid, an equal mix of both bloodlines.
That combination terrified Constantin. Had he known she would be equally powerful in both bloodlines, he never would have bought her. Usually, one lineage was far stronger than the other in hybrids. And even then, they were always, always weaker than pure-blooded Otherkind. But with Rieka… No one could tell him how strong she would be because no one had ever heard of a hybrid like her.
When he learned about her shift, Constantin’s first thought had been to drown the orphan freak that moment. Before she learned to wield her powers. But the amount of money he had spent on her, those years of training…the banker inside him hurt at the thought of the waste. So, he did what he had to do. Rieka was to be monitored at all times. And he had plans in place for getting rid of her with little risk to himself. The seeds he had sown within the Guild, among the assassins Rieka trained with, had long since taken root. Not everyone bought into the rhetoric of hybrids being inferior, and he had to tread carefully enough so those words could not be traced back to him, but enough now believed in the superiority of purebloods that destroying Rieka when he needed to would pose no problem.
He never let it, or his disdain for Rieka, show, however. Especially now that she was in her late twenties and possibly peaking in power and strength. He hoped. Honestly, he had no idea when her strength would reach its height, just as he had little idea of what Rieka’s lifespan might be. Another irritation when it came to her. Constantin mostly avoided her when she was in the Guildhall. His only interactions with her anymore came when he sat at this desk, with the full weight of his position behind him and his cloak protecting him. Like at that moment.
“You sent for me, Charon?”
Rieka’s husky voice filled the silence momentarily. Constantin knew those would be the only words she spoke before he told her what he wanted of her. Silence never bothered Rieka. Though she did have the odd habit of training to music. And even listening to it while completing a kill. Constantin did not understand her reasoning. It was simply one more strange thing about the girl.
“I have an assignment for you, Rieka.”
He passed the kill order across the table. Rieka’s startling bottle-green eyes scanned the photograph and information inside the file. It irritated Constantin that she did not glance up before she spoke again, even though he knew she would not see anything except shadow beneath the hood covering his face. It was the acknowledgment of his superiority over her that he wanted.
“It says here that Nicholas Colbert is ‘somewhere in South America’. As locations go, that is not exactly helpful. Do we have any further information to go on?”
“Our client informed me that Nicholas left with his cousin, Tristan Arnaud, in December, from a private airfield in Providence, Rhode Island. In the United States. While our client does believe both Nicholas and his cousin will return at some point, he would prefer it if Nicholas meets his end in another country. But his only real stipulation is that Nicholas not be killed in his cousin’s presence.”
Rieka nodded and closed the file. “It will be done, Charon. The coin for Nicholas Colbert’s crossing?”
Constantin flipped the heavy gold coin into the air. Rieka grabbed it almost faster than he could see. She slipped it into a hidden pocket on her black combat pants. Bowing her head, she pivoted and walked out of the office.