Kaleria finished buttoning up her blouse as the pale pink rays of the sun began to stab through the gray dawn. She wanted to look into Asher’s eyes, but…
“You stare off into the distance a lot,” she murmured quietly. Asher blinked, and then looked at her. His eyes reminded her of storm clouds. She could have sworn they used to have more color, more brightness. Then again, that was a long time ago.
Asher touched her face, and muttered, “Yeah, sorry. I was just-“
“Thinking?” she flashed him that smile, that knowing smile. “My, that’s not something I expected much of from you, Asher. You have changed!”
“Ha, very funny. You haven’t, you know.”
“I think I have. A lot of things have changed, actually. Even the Corporation. They’re a lot more subtle now, a lot more clever. My branch hasn’t had to kill anyone in months, and we’re meeting all our goals on schedule.”
“Clever doesn’t necessarily mean less ruthless, though.” Asher’s gaze began to wander again, and Kaleria ran her fingers through his tangled, messy hair to bring his eyes back, locked onto hers.
“Clever means more dangerous, Asher,” she whispered. “People are starting to ask questions.” At this, Asher sighed, stood, and began dressing himself. He noticed the way the brilliant red hues of the rising sun were splayed through the morning mist.
Asher grabbed her hands, suddenly very serious, and asked in a low voice, “How much do you know?”
“I know she’s doing well. Very well. Even I have trouble shadowing her some days, losing her for hours at a time. And I know that the man who checks on her every now and then continues to scare off recruiters. And I know you had a hand in training both of them.”
“And operatives have started to take notice and wonder why they can’t recruit her?”
“Yes. Asher, she’s brilliant. But the few times we’ve managed to get an agent face-to-face with her, she’s refused. She’s the only person that’s managed to refuse recruitment and live. They want her that badly. What’s the deal? Who is the man?”
“I don’t think even he knows who he is right now. But the deal? That girl… Look, she’s got to kill me.” Asher brushed a lock of hair from her face and tucked it behind her ear.
“Yeah, I kind of owe her that. Besides, look at me. Look what I’m becoming. Twenty, thirty years down the road, imagine me sitting on the government of a mighty city out here, relatively unchecked.”
Kaleria laughed. “Come on, Asher. We both know you’d use such a position to keep things in Balance.”
“Right. I’d try, anyway. But I’m worried. The Corporation’s changing, I’m changing, and the political landscape of the region is changing. The scales might tip too heavily towards true evil, and then what will we do? That’s where she comes in.”
“So she’s the ace up your sleeve, huh?”
“Yeah, I never play fair. Just understand: I killed her, once, and she didn’t really deserve it. So I went dark for a while, and set things right with her. And I promised her that at the end of all things, I will certainly deserve to die for one reason or another, and she’ll be the one to do it. And if she has to tear down the whole Corp to do it, so be it. That’s why she’s being trained.”
“Alright. But what if you die out here?”
Asher laughed. The dawn sun was chasing away the early morning mists, and his friends would soon wake to the smell of breakfast cooking in Svetlana’s kitchen. “Come on, Kaleria. Me, die? Out here? No chance. I’m the Shadow Lord now, remember?”
“Oh, my apologies, Shadow Lord!” Kaleria kissed Asher on the cheek, her breath hot against the cool, rough skin. Her face became serious. “I must get going now. I’ll let the Corp know you’re doing fine, and I’ll try to check on the girl when I can. You know, it’s funny… I thought we’d never get a chance to see each other again. There’s always something… something I’ve wanted to…”
Asher put his finger over her lips. Gods, those soft, warm lips. “No, don’t,” he said sternly. “Don’t fall in love with me. Kaleria, I’m a monster.”
She nodded, biting her lip. Then she patted the crotch of his trousers and gave him a playful wink. “Yeah, I know. Goodbye, Shadow Lord.”
“Goodbye, Kaleria. Just don’t wait another 15 years to catch up with me next time, alright?”