There wasn’t much they could do. Asha knew that. Conlan knew that. Hell, even Lorcan, who wasn’t even here, probably knew that. Asha watched as the guards led innocent men, women, and children, some of whom couldn’t even walk yet, into the fortress. Once they were inside, there was no getting them out. Even from her place in the tree, she could hear their screams, them begging to just let their children go in peace.
“You know there was nothing we could have done.” Conlan spoke softly next to her. Yeah. That’s what they always said.
“There’s always something that can be done.” Asha watched as the last of them were led in, the fortress doors locking behind them. She stood up, weightless as a feather, and hopped from branch to branch until she landed on the ground with a near silent thud. Conlan’s landing wasn’t nearly as graceful as hers, but then again, he didn’t have her training.
“Asha.” He spoke gently. “You know we can’t think like that. It’ll drive us insane.” She shook her head, her eyes trained on her combat boots that were practically coming apart at the seams. She leaned against the trunk of the tree, tucking her simple black V-neck shirt back into her jeans. And then her eyes fell on Conlan. He wore the exact same thing he did everyday – muscle shirt with faded jeans and combat boots. It was practically their uniform.
“We could have warned them. We knew the troops were headed that way.” Asha said, walking towards their base. They’d been trying to rescue these people from them for three years, and they had barely made a dent.
“Asha…” his voice was soft, consoling. She hated that voice – she hated even more that he was right. There was no point. The only way they could have saved those people was by killing the soldiers, and with the rest of their team on the other side of the continent, her and Conlan were hopelessly outnumbered.
“You know what I’m going to say.” Asha stopped, turning around to face him. She’d been pushing and begging for years. If they wanted this to end, they needed to get to Riona. The Queen. She ruled their continent of Sarinami and she had no intention of giving up the throne.
“We can keep trying to save people. But you know this won’t really stop until Riona is out of the picture.” Conlan sighed, running his hand through his long strands of golden brown hair. She stared up into his eyes, eyes she could read like the back of her hand. After working together for three years, they knew each other’s moves. Each other’s tells. And she knew that he was getting frustrated.
“How many times do we have to talk about this?” He demanded, pushing past her. “We’re not ready. We don’t have the troops.”
“That’s what you always say!
But we can start chipping away at her guards.” Riona had three guards on her at all times and ten guards total. They were the group of highly skilled, extremely dangerous, sadistic men that vowed to protect her with their lives.
Asha trailed behind him now. “We can do it, Conlan. We can start slow and put an end to this by the first snow. If we round up the whole team we can finally put an end to Rione. Why won’t you just do –” Conlan whirled around, his green eyes blazing. His hands came up around her shoulders and he had her back to a tree before she could even blink. Every line of his body was pressed to her, his hands clutching her shoulders, his breath coming out in ragged pants, brushing her face. Both of them knew this wouldn’t hold her for even a few seconds. If the knives strapped underneath her clothes weren’t a clue, she could have him flat on his back before he could even apologize. But the point was made. Conlan didn’t need to use words to show that she had pushed him too far. His green eyes blazed with rage but there was a deeper emotion, a lingering sadness that seemed to only come out when he lost control.
“Don’t push me Asha. The team isn’t going to take any stupid risks and neither are you.” With that, he turned around and stomped through the forest. Asha took her time, pushing away from the tree. She never knew why he refused to even attempt to get to the guards. He never allowed them to get too close to Rione. If she was coming into the area, they would disappear before her horse could even touch the soil.
She walked through the forest, following Conlan’s footsteps, back to their base. Their base was a sad excuse for a campsite. There were eight tiny tents and a makeshift table where they would lay out their battle plans.
“I’ll take first shift.” Conlan said, his back facing her. He didn’t even look at her as he grabbed his assault rifle, his weapon of choice, and headed back into the woods. She wasn’t about to argue; sleep was a luxury they couldn’t afford most of the time. Asha headed back into her tent and slipped on her camisole and shorts and threw her short black hair into a messy bun on top of her head. She laid down on small roll up mattress and tried to get a few hours of peace. She tossed and turned, thinking about the people they had let go into the fortress. She knew there was nothing her and Conlan could have done, but it made her furious to think that innocent people were being tortured and she was helpless to stop it.
Rione, the queen of Sarinami, was ruthless. She dominated over the land with an iron fist. Those in her favor lived lavish lives and were well taken care of, but those that opposed her, had ties to others who opposed her, or didn’t fit her perfect mold were persecuted. They weren’t put to death. No, they were dealt a fate much worse. They were tortured - broken beyond repair. They were made examples for anyone else who might want to go against Rione. If you were born in poverty, had an occupation she didn’t approve of, were born with any illness, or plagued with a deformity, you made her black list. You never knew when the soldiers would come for you, you would live every single day scared for your life.
Asha turned onto her back, her arm thrown over her face, covering her eyes. She had found this team when she was only seventeen years old. She was trekking through the mountains when she came across the most beautiful man she had ever seen with his hands tied behind his back and chained to a tree. She hid behind a bush and watched as a man in the queen’s guard uniform stood in front of him demanding to know about the team’s location. He had just stared up at the guard with a sexy as sin smirk on his face, his cold deep blue eyes shining with mirth and told him “fuck off.” The soldier growled and unsheathed a dagger.
“You know if you had told me it was that kind of party, I would’ve brought my whip.” Mr. Dark and Dangerous said, his mouth curling at the sides.
“Can’t you shut that mouth for one second? Do you not know what I could do to you?” the guard snarled at him. He grabbed a handful of Mr. Dark and Dangerous’s midnight black hair and tilted his head up, exposing his throat. He pushed the dagger to his collarbone, cutting a deep gash from the edge of his neck to his chest. Dark and Dangerous gritted his teeth a hiss escaping but stared the guard down, refusing to flinch. “I have all day to make you break.” The soldier snarled. Asha had seen enough.
“I wouldn’t keep doing that if I were you.” She said, stepping out from behind the bush. She palmed the kitchen knife she kept tucked inside her jeans. It wasn’t exactly her weapon of choice, but beggars couldn’t be choosers. The guard whirled around, his golden uniform rumpled, covered in dried blood and dirt. The sneer on his face made his would-be handsome face look disgusting. And the way his eyes trailed down from her face to the tips of her shoes made her want to go soak herself in the lake for hours.
“Look what we have here…” the guard drawled, slowly walking up to her. Asha stood her ground, staring up at the guard, her eyes cold as ice. “You’re a pretty one, aren’t you?” He tucked the knife under her chin, tilting her head up so their faces were only inches apart.
“Doesn’t seem like you’d be able to handle her man.” Asha heard the drawl from behind the soldier. He had his head cocked to the side, staring at Asha – the smirk had disappeared from his face. The soldier straightened and slowly turned around, murder in his eyes. “You really have a death wish don’t you.”
Asha took her chance. In an instant, her little kitchen knife was plunged into his shoulder - not deep enough to kill. Asha grabbed hold of his arm, twisting it behind his back, pushing him to the ground on his stomach. Her knee was on his back, his dagger in her hand pushing against his neck. The soldier was gasping for air, his legs kicking into the air, his hands struggling against the weight of her body.
“You have two options. You can either unlock those chains and go back to where you came from, or I can unlock those chains and the only place you’ll be going is into the ground.” Asha whispered into his ear.
“Fine.” The guard snarled, struggling against her hold. “Good choice.” She whispered. She hauled him back onto his feet, his dagger poised at his back, ready to plunge if he even breathed wrong. He reached into his little pocket, which amazingly still had a key in it, and reached around to unlock Mr. Dark and Dangerous from the tree.
“Good boy.” Asha removed the dagger from his back and let the guard turn around. Dark and Dangerous was standing next to her, a solid six foot three inches next to her tiny little five foot two frame. She figured she’d be safe from the guard even with Dark and Dangerous’s hands tied behind his back.
“My Queen will hear about this.” The guard snarled. “She won’t stop until your head is on a platter.” He pointed at both of them before he turned around and ran with his tail tucked between his legs. Asha glanced at Mr. Dark and Dangerous, a smirk on her lips. He was watching her, curiosity lighting up his eyes.
“Well, we can’t have that. Can we?” She murmured before cocking her hand back and letting the knife fly from her fingertips. She didn’t turn around until she heard the satisfying thwamp of it hitting home.
Mr. Dark and Dangerous was just watching her, his eyebrows raised. She glanced at him, her lips turned at the corners before reaching around to untie his hands.
“You can thank me with dinner. I like –“ Dark and Dangerous pinned her against the tree, his hand at her throat, a knife pointed at her.
“Who the fuck are you?” He growled. His hand was squeezing her throat until all that came out were choking noises. Her feet dangled a foot of the ground, her hands came to wrap them around the hand holding her throat.
And all of a sudden, he let her go. She was a heaping mess on the ground as she coughed, trying to get the oxygen back into her body. He kneeled down next to her, the tip of the dagger at her throat.
“You have a really weird way of saying thank you.” Asha murmured, her voice still coming out raspy. She glanced at him from head to toe. His dark hair was cut short and his ocean blue eyes bored deep into hers. The cut on his chest the guard made was still bleeding profusely, but he pretended like it wasn’t even there. Shakily, Asha got back on her feet. Dark and Dangerous did nothing to stop her.
“If you want to kill me, go ahead.” She threw her hands up in the air. “I’m defenseless. You obviously know what you’re doing.” She looked at him, fire in her eyes. “I just want to know why you let that guard torture you when you could have gotten out and killed him.”
Mr. Dark and Dangerous took two steps towards Asha so her back was pressed right up against the tree. She had nowhere to run. Not like that was her style anyways. “I’m going to ask you this one more time. What. Are. You. Doing. Here.” Asha tilted her head up, looking him square in the eye. She wasn’t going to back down from him. If he wanted to kill her, he would have done so already.
“Now that’s none of your business. Is it? All you need to know is I saved your life.” Mr. Dark and Dangerous raised his eyebrows, taking a step back in shock. Asha pulled away from the tree, stepping to the side, outside of his confines when Dark and Dangerous lunged for her, wrapping one arm around her waist, the other holding the knife at her throat. The wound on his chest bled into her shirt until she could feel it running down her skin.
“Either tell me or you’re really going to miss your head.” The knife dug deeper into her skin drawing a line of blood. “Let. Me. Go.” Asha snarled, her hand clawing at his arm. She could have easily broken out of his hold, but he didn’t need to know exactly how skilled she really was. She broke free of him as soon as he loosened her grip and whirled around to face him, her eyes shooting daggers. “Barbarian.” Asha spit at him.
He only smirked and motioned for her to continue. She took a deep breath, wrapping her arms around herself and sat down on a fallen log. It was a few minutes before she started talking.
“I was born Ashavani Danvers but I go by only Asha now. I lived with my mother in her whore house. I was only 7 when the house got raided and every single worker was raped and killed.” Asha squeezed her eyes shut, trying to hold back the memories. She remembered it like it was yesterday. And everything spilled out before she could stop it.