Portrait of an Assassin

The book he'd picked up at the airport had long since ceased to entertain. Nor had the in-flight movie held his interest for long. Tai sat now in his seat with the air of a predator on the hunt; an effortless patience had settled upon him, reminiscent of a coiled snake: all sinuous relaxation one moment, but ready to strike at the slightest provocation. Every muscle in his body was schooled into indifference; he reclined in the narrow seat with his legs crossed at the ankle, book dangling unattended-to in his right hand while his left smoothed his black sweater idly over the flat expanse of his muscular abdomen.

It was Tai's tawny eyes that betrayed him, giving lie to the picture of casual boredom. They took everything in from the youngest child to the oldest man; appraising and measuring like a hawk over a field of mice. Sparkling even in the dim light of the airplane cabin, they reflected with intelligence, peering out of a face that didn't seem to be that of a paid killer. That, however, was exactly what Tai was.

There was something artistic, something primally enjoyable about assassination. It was the way the knife slipped softly between the ribs; the way the garrote delicately severed the windpipe. It was a constant reminder of just how fragile life could be, and almost euphoric to know that the dagger in your sleeve or the slender length of wire in your hands could topple a power structure that had been carefully built up for years.

It wasn't all coolness and chill lack of remorse, though. Every now and then the cool calculating killer was replaced by the frightened, angry boy he had once been and the face of his target became one of them; pleading for mercy, offering money and fame and power just for a few more years of their worthless little lives. Oh, those were the most enjoyable, when that vengeful little boy took over. It was a catharsis, then, a burst of overwhelming sensation and a momentary satiation of his drive for vengeance.

There was no doubting the fact that Tai was the product of long years of training, both physically and mentally. He had been created, had become the harbinger of his deceased clan-father's wrath. And he didn't mind it one bit, even now that he had no formal association with the clan.

The plane descended into Nachton, death on the wing, a vessel borne in a vessel.