Kassina grunted with exertion, sweat dripping from her brow which was strained with a cinch of concentration above the blindfold covering her eyes. Her ears were keyed in for the sound of breathing, which her opponent was carefully monitoring from his distance. The hard wooden floor should have been idle to catch the soft squeaks of soles scrapping against the wood, and the tiny thud of footfalls as they approached. However, her partner for this training session was equally as skilled in controlling the telltale signs of approach as she was. He would not give his position away until he struck, and the young woman knew that if she did not catch him before that, she would be landing on her ass rather roughly. He was playing with her though. She felt a soft breeze trickle through her hair a few strands fluttering in the stirred up air before all was still again. Most people would have spun around instantly to make their attack, but not Kassina. Rather than turn to face her attacker, she pulled the wooden staff in her hands towards her spinning it until it was held against her side. With a sudden jerk of her arms, she swung the weapon to the right, smirking with satisfaction when the staff encountered a solid form. The blow was met with a loud growl, the wooden practice weapon stopped and tugged forward nearly knocking the blindfolded girl off balance. Her head was thrown back with a laugh and a wide grin, the blindfold ripped off to shoot her cousin Silicius an amused look. “Don’t be a sore loser, Sil. I’ve been training with you too long not to be able to predict your moves.” The dark haired male scoffed, his chiseled face softening into an arrogant smirk. “You catch on too fast for your own good. You’re going to get cocky one of these days and it’s going to throw you off your game.” The young woman returned the scoff with one of her own, her eyes rolling in their sockets skeptically. “Hardly. There hasn’t been anyone who has been able to catch me off my guard yet. Other than the people inside this castle, I don’t believe that anyone can.” Her chest puffed with pride, the same cocky grin her cousin sported crossing her lips. Kassina knew she had every right to feel confident, after all, she had been trained by the best. Her family would not be the ones to attack her, and although they had their enemies, the girl hardly worried about them at all. She had never crossed paths with any of them, never seen them at work, but she knew her family had caught enough of their members that their skills could not possibly rival her own. The Durand family were no match for her, and she had no concerns at all that they posed a threat to her or her family. The feud between the two families was over a century old, the final casualty of the bitter rivalry her beloved grandfather, whose body had been mercilessly quartered and disemboweled before being placed on display in front of their family home. That had been five years ago, and since then there had been several near misses on the parts of both families, a few of those resulting in the deaths of normal citizens that were unaware of the families’ true role within the kingdom. By all pretenses, the Montatraeus and Durnands were noble families, their lands passed down from generation to generation, and their wealthy established through various business dealings. What no one knew was that their lands were a part of their cover of sorts, but their wealth was accumulated through slaughter. Death was their business, and lately business had been very good. Their latest target, an ambassador from Eswelia, the country to their south, had brought them in quite a few coins, an assignment that Kassina had taken care of herself. The man’s crimes were numerous in both his country and her own, and it had been a joint decision between the two kings to end the man’s life. Kassina had been sent for one reason alone; her looks. She looked harmless, completely unthreatening to anyone who caught sight of her. Throw her in a gown, with her callused hands covered with gloves and her decorative tattoos hidden away and she was simply a young lady at the tender age of eighteen complete with dimpled smile and hazel eyes that sparkled with mischief, she blended in anywhere she went. The moment she was behind closed doors though, the act slipped away and the cold, heartless killer was unleashed. She had spent the majority of her life training, perfecting her skills and learning everything she needed to know to become the most notorious assassin in her family. She had not quite reached that goal yet, but she had certainly started to make a name for herself with the assassination of the ambassador. No one had even believed the man had been executed, her method of death completely undetectable. The news had been that the man had simply died comfortably in his sleep, but Kassina knew better than that. No, if anyone had given the body a thorough examination, they would have found the smallest mark between his toes, a venom toxic enough to paralyze every muscle in his body within minutes. Normally she hated such methods, preferring to get her hands dirty, but the situation called for a delicate touch, and she had delivered. A tapping against the training room door brought the two cousins to attention, their eyes moving to stare at the lord of the castle, her father. His thick, long brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail at the nape of his neck, his face stoic and unreadable. He was handsome with a square jaw, and straight roman nose, everything about him flawless save for the black patch covering his left eye. “Kassina. I require a word with you in private.” Was all that was said before he stalked off down the hallway, returning to his study where he would await her. The two cousins shared a look of confusion, the older of the two shrugging his shoulders. “Better go see what he wants. It must be important if he pulled you out of training.” That was her thought, and her fear. Her father rarely bothered her whenever she was in the training room, and the fact that he made a request while she was still there meant the news was of the utmost importance. “Perhaps I have another assignment. It would be a bit strange receiving one so soon after my last one.” She shrugged, and thrust her staff into her cousin’s hands. “You may want to clean up. If it’s bad I’m certain that the rest of the family will be hearing it shortly afterwards. With that she left, following the same path her father had taken before her. He was seated behind his desk when she arrived, a slip of parchment in one hand, and a look of deep contemplation in the other. He motioned for her to enter the room and close the door behind her, to which she complied a feeling of apprehension filling her once the door was closed behind her. An hour passed before the young woman emerge from the room, her face a mask of anger and her eyes wild and furious. “You can tell the king to go to hell! I’d rather slit my own throat than bare a child with that filth!” She stormed down the hall, oblivious to the rest of her family who had all gathered to watch Kassina’s tantrum, each one looking perplexed by her outburst. Normally the most obedient of the Montatraeu children, no one could believe that the girl was screaming at her father the way she was. She rushed to her room, the halls of the castle echoing with the thunderous sound of her door slamming closed behind her. Alexistar soon stepped out from his office, the others in the family attempting to scurry away before he could catch the staring, but the clearing of his throat held them still. “I would suggest that you all begin preparations. It seems there shall be a wedding in a month’s time.” The curiosity within the hallway was palpable, each person staring up at the head of the household eagerly for more details. The man pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed under the weight of the stares, his head shaking slowly. “The king has ordered that Kassina be married to the eldest Durand boy, or we all face banishment.” There was a murmur of outraged whispers, but the patriarch held his hand up to silence them all. “It will be discussed over the evening meal. For now, allow Kassina to cool off and come to her senses.” He left them to retreat back into his study, not missing the rush of excitement that his words had created. They had no say in the matter, and he would not listen to their suggestions for weaseling their way out of the decree. He would give them all time to let the news sink in and address them when they were all more reasonable. For now he had several messages that would need to be delivered including on to the king to comply with his wishes, and another to the Durand family to request a meeting between Kassina and her intended over dinner the following evening. Once the letters were handed off to his butler to be delivered, the man sank down behind his desk with a glass of whiskey and a cigar, hoping that the two luxuries would help prepare him for what he faced later on that evening.