1 - Escape

Her head feels light with the hair cut off. Shiomi is slowly turning, looking through the large room. The strangeness of the place intimidates her. Stone walls, thick and heavy fabrics on the floor massive furniture cramming the space, large paintings on the wall, a heavy wooden door on weird hinges leading out to the hallway. They brought her here a mere half hour ago. There are two armoured men with halberds outside - she remembers what those weapons could do to a human body - flashes of her grandmothers belly ripped open, entrails spilling - the look on her face, screams and smoke, desperation welling up.

Shiomi closes her eyes, breathes deeply and calls up the mantra of acceptance, her lips moving, whispering the ancient words until she is once again ready to face this nightmare. A large four-poster bed at one wall of the room, blood spilled all the way up to the canopy and far into the room. His body limp, the eyes open in fearful realisation of death. Selestino Mendez Álvarez de Toledo y Maura his name was... had been... does a dead body still have the name of whoever it was when they lived?

Kincaid told her that he'd been the one ordering the attack on her village. All to get hold of her - the girl with hands of healing who knew how to brew a potion that would ease the effects of malaria. She remembers the sweet rush of hatred as she rammed the concealed scissors that she'd stolen into his throat, using the momentum to rip his neck open, severing the large bloodvessel. A dark coldness gripped her heart as she locked onto his eyes waiting for the soul to depart. The smell of blood everywhere, red spilled even on the fine silken dress they had draped her in after grooming her, shaving and combing, massaging her trembling body with perfumed oil to prepare her for the master's bed.

She rips the dress off, using it to wipe the blood that stuck to her skin. Water would have been good - looking around in the huge room that feels like a dark cave she finds it hard to get her bearings. No water... Shiomi is shivering in spite of the warm Caribbean breeze as she stands gazing in the candlelit darkness of the Spanish Lord's bedchamber... Somewhere must be the dead Lord's clothes. She spots them on the floor next to the bed - fortunately on the side that was not soaked. There is a black silken shirt, embroidered and adorned with lots of frills and lace. She cuts some of them off before she slips into it. The man's shirt is very loose around her neck, far to big. His breeches are also much too large for her but she cuts the spoiled dress into strips that she uses to bind the legs of the trousers just above her ankles. She takes his dagger as well and ties it to her leg to reach it easily without encumbering her.

Now for a way out. She has no chance of getting past the guards in the hallway; so barefooted, Shiomi walks quietly along the wall searching for some other way out. Heavy draperies are hiding a window ... night sky outside... the silvery white disk of the full moon the only familiar sight; shedding it's cold light over the town that expands out beyond the Spaniard's estate. A few lanterns and torchlights can be seen, the ocean far down, spreading from the harbour to the dark horizon. It takes her a while to work out how to open the window.

The warm night breeze carrying exotic scents strokes her face. She bends far over the sill to examine the exterior of the thick granite wall. The surface is coarse and jagged. It offers more holds than the cliff she used to scale accessing the Shrine of the Untiring Wind. Shiomi decides to risk the climb. She turns around intending to once more look over the room for anything useful, but the blood saturated air chokes her. Evil spirits lurking in the shadows reaching out, grabbing. Retching, she moves back to the wall, climbs out on the ledge and starts the descent.

She hasn't realized how exhausted her body is. Now, just a few feet below the sill she feels her strength draining away. Soon her arms and legs start trembling. 'Keep moving'. Controlling her breathing she quietly hums the mantra of endurance, the words in her mind, the melody just a droning sound in her ears, comforting in its familiarity. 'Don't think of the height, don't look down, keep going... relax... move like water, move like wind...' sideways now to avoid another window. There's some plant creeping up the wall. 'Reach that plant, it might make things easier'. Slowly she's creeping along the wall towards the vines still more than an arm's-length away.

Kincaid Taerlach McRae is watching the lithe girl move along the wall, carefully picking her way. So she'd done it! She had actually killed the Duke of Alba's heir, thus ending Kincaid's assignment. He had not even gotten his hands dirty. The beauty of it brought a smile on his face. There'd been plenty of witnesses as he delivered the girl. Even the old Duke had heard his warning:

"Don't be fooled by her size, she's dangerous. I will not be held accountable if anything happens to you."

He knew that Selestino would not listen, could not listen to such a warning. It would surely incite him take unnecessary risks. The Duke's son envied Kincaid with increasing jealousy, the veteran who'd won his father's respect with such ease. Who had bested him in any weapon-training match and refused to enter the social parquet which was the only competition the young aristocrat was sure to outmatch the soldier ... dead now, or dying. No alarm had been raised so far so he might even get the girl. The pressure in his loins is almost painful. He wants her, never before has he waited so long to claim a woman.

He saw her for the first time on Formosa Island about half a year ago. Deep down in that dungeon-cell in the City of Kilai where they had thrown her after the raid on her village. Curled up, sobbing quietly, bruised and filthy, covered in blood. In the far corner the five other virgin girls taken from the village wailed and pleaded in their strange tongue. The stench of the place took his breath away, brought up unwelcome memories. The boy holding a lantern pointed over to her, "Shiomi - her name" he said.

Kincaid ignored the pile of weeping girls and stepped over to the quiet one. He noticed how she tensed, slightly shifting her body pulling her legs underneath. He prepared himself to block her when she jumped, up hurling herself at him head forward, trying to push him to the side by ramming her shoulder into his groin. Sidestepping, he grabbed her arm and shoulder and slammed her into the damp dungeon wall, intending to bend her arm behind her back but she turned and wiggled from his grasp, scratching and kicking.

Constraining her took considerable effort, he wasn't gentle though her resistance amused him. She fought quietly, breathing hard, her small frame generating amazing strength. Of course she was no match for him and in the end he shackled her wrists, wrapped her in a blanket and threw her over his shoulder, leaving the cell not looking back.