by Jenifer Nipps

Karma threaded her way through the crowded market of another nameless city.

She wore a blue peasant skirt with a white shirt. Her brown curls were pulled back and tied with a blue ribbon at her nape. Her white, sightless eyes were covered with a black blindfold and her black leather slave collar stood out in contrast to her pale skin. No one here recognized that for what it was though. She almost fit in except for the twin swords strapped to her back.

The guide her master sent with her was lost far back in the crowd. She could still hear him calling for her. “Karma! Karma!”

Those who could hear him thought him just another deranged lunatic among the beggars and thieves that peppered the market.

The corner of her mouth twitched in a small smile. :You chose my name well,: she silently admitted to the presence in her mind.

She felt her master’s approval. He never tired of hearing that from her. :Go to the butcher’s stall,: he instructed her through their telepathic link. :Maybe he’ll know who we’re looking for.:

Obediently, Karma changed her direction. She purposely jostled a few people in her path. They clutched at their money pouches and other valuables to guard against pickpockets. They didn’t trust the blindfold that said she was blind. Too many other beggars and thieves disguised themselves as one of the blind.

As she moved through the market square, she felt the stares. They weren’t staring at her. Not exactly. But at the swords she wore. And then the whispers started.

“One of the Chosen,” a woman whispered.

“A blind Chosen?” her companion asked.

“All the Chosen are blind.”

It was wrong, of course. All of the Chosen were not blind. Just Karma. Her master’s Chosen. There were three of them. Blind, deaf, and mute. Karma, Fate, and Destiny. And all had a telepathic link with their master.

Karma sighed. It never failed. She was always identified as one of the Chosen. No matter what she wore or what she did. She might as well always wear her fighting leathers if she had to wear the cursed swords.

:Patience,: her master reminded her. :They too may feel the wrath of the Chosen if they are not careful.:

Karma sidestepped around a merchant and a would-be customer arguing in the middle of the street. She seemed to pay no attention to them. Her goal was the butcher’s stall at the end of the next row.

# # #

Karma wore her black leathers with a waist-pouch containing the tools of her trade along with the ever-present swords. Her blindfold and collar were securely in place. She slid through the shadows, avoiding the moonlight, along her way to the merchant’s house. He was the same one she had stepped around in the market earlier.

:But you already knew that,: she accused her master’s presence as she stalked the merchant’s house. No one was home other than the servants.

:No. I only suspected it.:

Karma climbed the wooden fence and feeling her way, she climbed to the second-floor balcony just outside the master suite. She would wait for him there.

She sensed that the moon had reached its zenith before she heard any sounds that told her the merchant was home. Someone opened the balcony doors and stepped outside. She melted further back into the shadows and slipped inside once it was safe.

This was the sitting room of the master suite. The merchant stood in the middle of the room facing the dark hearth. No fire blazed now, in the heat of summer. He was giving the last instruction of the day before he retired for the night. She paid them no heed.

The room was dim, lit by only a few candles by the door. Karma made her way undetected into the merchant’s bedchamber. She allowed herself to smile when she saw the empty bed. He either had no wife or she had her own chambers. That would make her job easier.

:Unless he pays her a visit before coming in here,: her master said through their link.

:He won’t.: She found a good place to hide while she waited for the merchant.

:You are too certain of this.:

:No,: Karma disagreed. :But I know the habits of men. If he meant to pay her a visit, he wouldn’t be in his own chambers giving orders right now.:

Her master didn’t answer. Either he believed her, or he thought the night itself would prove her wrong. Probably the latter. And when she was finished with the job, she would be punished for doubting him.

Bloody hell! she thought, being careful to shield her thoughts, I’ll be punished anyway.

Shrugging against the inevitable, Karma leans against the wall beside the wardrobe. Even the light of all the candles in the room wouldn’t penetrate there. She could stay hidden until morning if she needed to. There was also the advantage that she would know when he entered the room, but he would not see her.

Slowly, so it wouldn’t make any telltale noise, she slid one of her daggers out of its sheath. She was careful to avoid touching the blade. The poison smeared on it would kill her as quickly as it would the merchant.

She didn’t know how long she waited but her patience paid off. She heard the merchant close and lock the door in the sitting room. He muttered under his breath about ungrateful servants as he started to undress.

With his back to her, Karma acted. She nicked the back of his neck, right where it started to slope down to his shoulders, with her dagger. It wasn’t a large wound, but it was enough for the poison. She would have to wait to be certain it worked.

“What’s this?” the merchant demanded, reaching up to feel where she had cut him. He drew his had away, looking at the blood on it.

“’This’ is your karma, merchant,” she said in her soft voice, barely above a whisper.

But he heard her. As he turned to face her, his knees gave out and he was forced to kneel in front of her, naked from the waist up. “What do you want, Chosen?” His voice trembled. Was it from fear or from the poison?

Which poison did her master even coat her daggers with? She never knew. She never asked.

“What I want doesn’t matter. My master demanded the price of your life. So it is done.” She slid her dagger back into its sheath.

The merchant slumped forward, landing on his face near her feet. Karma took a step back as he tried to reach for her. “Mercy?” he pleaded, turning his head so he wouldn’t be speaking into the floor.


Nothing more was said. Soon even the sounds of his breathing stopped. Karma knelt and placed her hand in front of his nose.


She felt where her master had taught her that she could feel a person’s blood flowing through them.

Again, nothing.

For one last test, she lowered her shields and listened for any sounds of his thoughts in her mind.

Finally satisfied, Karma left the room and found her way back to the balcony doors. They had been locked, but it was of no matter to her. They were easily unlocked from the inside. She closed it behind her. The unlatched door would be attributed to a careless servant.

She carefully climbed back down and over the fence. She reached the safety of the trees at the edge of the merchant’s property before the pain hit her.

The force of the pain in her head dropped Karma to her knees. She doubled over, retching, clutching her head in her hands. :Mercy?: she pleaded, much as the merchant had not long before.

The white-hot shards slowly receded from her mind. :Next time remember who you would dare to question, bitch.:

The intensity of her master’s mental voice nearly matched that of the headache he had punished her with. :Yes, master,: Karma replied, wincing. She noticed something warm coming from her nose. She reached a hand up and touched it, smelling what came away with her hand.


He made her bleed. That was a first. She felt him gloating as she got herself into a sitting position and leaned her head back against the tree. She pinched her nose to stop the bleeding. :Why?:

Her master didn’t answer at first. She had decided he wasn’t going to. After a short time, she moved her hand away from her nose. The bleeding had stopped. he finally answered. :You must be reminded who you serve.:

:I would not forget,: she said, getting to her feet and leaving the merchant’s home. There would be a well near the market square. She would wash her face there. No one would be there this time of night.

Karma also understood what her master had not said. She was getting stronger, yes, he admitted. But before too much longer, she would be beyond his ability to control. He would have to rely on fear tactics to keep her in line.

She reached the well as that realization hit. She cranked a bucket of water up out of the well. Soon she would have a decision to make. To continue to serve her master or to strike out on her own.

To do that might well be to order her death.

# # #

Karma returned to the inn to find her guide there and waiting. He was angry. “Yer stupid, Karma! Yer damned stupid! Ye know I’m t’ guide ye….”

She slapped him, knocking him from his chair, as she walked by to her own bed.

“What’s that fer?” he demanded, picking himself up off the floor.

“That’s for your attitude,” Karma said, removing her blindfold. “You know damn well that your main job is to take the focus off me. Not to guide me. I get around better without your help.” She looked in his direction with her white eyes. “You wouldn’t even be here if the master hadn’t insisted.”

Her guide shuddered at being the center of attention from that gaze. “Th’ master punished ye today,” he said without thinking.

Karma stiffened. “That is none of your concern.” She removed her leathers and put on the nightrail that waited on her bed.

“Is it?” He studied her. Karma sat on the edge of her bed and endured his scrutiny. “You still have some blood on the corner of your nose. The target’s? Or yours?”

Karma glared. Her guide could swear that the white of her eyes became more intense at that moment.

“He made you bleed?” He sounded disbelieving.

“He did.” Karma got under the covers and laid back on her pillows. The guide tried several more times to get more information out of her, but she wouldn’t answer.

# # #

Another week and another city. Karma convinced her master that the guide was only a hindrance and called more attention to them than was needed. He finally agreed and let her go alone.

This town was known for the mercenaries and soldiers who passed through. For this, Karma wore her leathers. No one gave her a second glance, not even at the two swords she wore on her back. The only thing about her that brought any notice was the fact that she wore both a blindfold and slave collar.

And in this city, there was no doubt what the collar represented.

She was walking by a bowyer’s shop when someone put a hand on her arm, keeping her from going any farther. :The city guard,: her master informed her.

:As if I didn’t know that!: To the guard, she said, “Is there a problem?”

“Where is your master, slave?” the guard demanded.

“At his home.”

“And why are you here?”

“To do my master’s bidding.” Karma noticed several others circling around her, hands on their sword hilts, in case she tried to fight or flee. She kept her smile from showing on her face.

Six against one might be bad odds against an ordinary slave. Especially a blind one. But few slaves had Karma’s training.

“Likely story, slave,” the guard said, still gripping her arm. “What, then, is your master’s name?”

“I don’t know. He is only ‘Master.’”

The guard sneered and looked around at his companions. “’He is only Master,’” he mocked. “What is your name?”

“Karma.” She let down her shield that kept other people’s thoughts from intruding on her mind.

Comely wench. I’d take her now if…

He didn’t finish his thought. Karma seized hold of his mind with her own. :You’ll what? Rape me and share me with your friends? I don’t think so.: She searched for and found the pleasure and pain center in his mind. A light touch sent something akin to ecstasy coursing through the guard.

He moaned softly. His companions exchanged a look. What the hell? Karma heard clearly from the one closest to her. She glanced his direction, not releasing her hold on the guard beside her.

“Seems your friend had plans of raping me and sharing me with you. What is the penalty for rape in this city?”

For raping a damned slave? came the thought.

“No, bastard. For raping a Chosen.”

The one behind her coughed and fell to his knees. “Death,” he whispered.

“Is that so?”

As one, the guards nodded.

“Very well.” Karma turned her full attention back to the guard beside her. His eyes wide with horror as he realized the truth of Karma’s words.

“Mercy?” he pleaded.

“No.” Karma found the center that regulated life for this guard. She clamped down on it and his pleasure and pain center at the same time. The guard choked off a scream and was silent. His grip became lax on her arm. She shook him off. He fell to the ground beside her.

“Anyone else care to try?” she asked. She turned as though to go into the bowyer’s shop. The guards in her way parted to let her pass. She stepped over the fallen guard and walked out of the circle. But she kept her shield lowered.

Get her! Karma felt one of the guards who let her pass come after her. She turned back around, drawing one of her swords as she did.

“I wouldn’t recommend it.”

The guard stopped where he was. “Forgive me, Chosen.”

“No. That is not my choice. You will answer to my master.” She turned, keeping her sword at the ready. She walked up to the bowyer’s shop and disappeared into an alley nearby.

Karma sheathed her sword and blended into the shadows of the alley. The thoughts of those near her, even those inside the shop at her back, clamored for attention. She ignored them all and waited.

She didn’t have to wait long. The remaining guards rushed into the alley looking for her. “No slave will abuse the city guard!” their new leader said. His rage battered at her shield she kept around that part of her. “Find her and kill her. I don’t care who she belongs to.”

Karma sent a question to her master. She soon felt his assent. There were only four guards in the alley. Evidently they had left the fifth with their fallen companion. She drew her daggers, making little effort to keep them quiet. The guards were making enough noise that they wouldn’t hear her. She waited, listening to their shouts and their thoughts to determine where they were.

Karma threw one dagger. It caught its target in the throat. His blood spurted red from the wound. She heard him gurgle and knew she had caught his airway too. He fell and blood spouted from his mouth as well.

Karma didn’t wait long. She changed her position and threw her other dagger, catching another guard in the eye, killing him almost instantly. He fell not far from the first. She drew her swords and heard the soft zing echo off the walls around her.

“I am no one’s slave. I am one of the Chosen,” she said, stepping forward to meet their challenge. Her soft voice carried clearly to the two remaining guards.

“The Chosen ones are a myth!” one said, rushing ahead.

Karma raised her right sword, catching the guard across the chest. The wound bled freely though it was not life-threatening.

:I'll handle this,: her master sent. His presence shoved Karma to the side without waiting for a response.

“I am Justice,” her master boomed in a harsh voice through Karma’s mouth. She would be unable to speak for days after this, but he cared only for the guards in front of them. “I am Master over the Chosen: Karma, Fate, and Destiny. You have awoken my wrath. You will be Judged.”

Her master’s presence receded back to his place in Karma’s mind. She sought out the two guards before her. “What is your choice?” she demanded, her soft voice already rasping from her master’s abuse of it.

The guards looked at their fallen comrades and fled. We’ll be back, one thought as he ran. Karma raised her shield back up and the clamoring of people’s thoughts ceased. She moved slowly out of the alley, stopping to retrieve her daggers, cleaning the gore off of them on the guards’ tunics. She sheathed the daggers, vowing to do a more thorough job of cleaning them once she reached the inn.

# # #

The next night, once again wearing her leathers, Karma found herself going into a large house through the servants’ entrance. Many of the servants were dressed in the same manner as she was so she drew no additional attention to herself.

Thankfully no one spoke to her. She would have been unable to answer. Her voice had been damaged from her master’s use of it the day before.

:Who is our target?: she asked her master’s presence.

:The mayor,: he answered. Smug undertones colored his mind-voice.

If Karma was surprised, she hid it well, even from her master’s constant presence in her mind. She had learned to shield herself well from things she didn’t want him to know.

He directed her up the service stairs and into the Mayor’s private suite. Karma entered his bedchamber and sat on the chaise near the hearth. There she would wait.

Karma sensed the shadows in the room lengthening. Soon a servant would come light the candles before the Mayor ventured upstairs. This one time, she would allow herself to be seen. She would be out of the city before morning anyway.

Pursuit was always a possibility of course. But the Major would not be found until morning. Karma would be gone long before then.

:Still, why take the chance?: she asked while she waited.

Her master gloated. :To teach this town a lesson. The servants will tell that a Chosen One waited for the Mayor and carried out the Justice that had been called for.:

:And who called for the Justice?: she asked without thinking.

A servant came in to light the candles. She observed the servant’s every move, including the side-glances that were cast her way.

:I did.: His tone made it clear that no further questions would be tolerated. :Since when do you question me, Karma?: he demanded.

Karma felt a rush of guilt and a flush creep up her face. :My apologies, master,: she said.

:We shall see.: And his voice quieted in her mind but she knew he watched.

A candlemark later, the Mayor entered the outer room. Functionally both a sitting room and a study. “Yer lady wife’ll be sore upset,” a manservant said.

“She’ll get over it,” the Mayor dismissed the servant’s comments. “Just have the jeweler bring some of his best wares and let her have her pick. She’ll be happy.” Boredom underscored his words.

Karma smiled. So much for wedded bliss, she thought. She felt her master’s amusement at her observation.

She heard the servant leave. She drew her dagger as the door closed. The Mayor stayed in the outer chamber a while longer. She was beginning to think she would have to go to him to complete her task. But he finally entered the bedchamber.

He was the type who wanted no assistance from any servants in getting ready for the night. He left his sword belt in the outer room. A move that was distinctly to Karma’s advantage.

He seemed not to notice Karma at first. Then, “Who are you?” he demanded.

She stood to her full height. But even then, she only came to his shoulder. “Karma,” she managed in a hoarse whisper.

He noticed her blindfold and her collar. “What do you want, Chosen? My bedchamber is hardly the place…”

“For my master’s justice? Yes it is.” She plunged her dagger into the base of his throat where his lifeblood pulsed. “This is your karma,” she mouthed, her voice given out from the minor strain of the whisper.

She stepped back, removing her dagger at the same time as blood poured from the wound. He fell where she had just been standing. With every beat of his heart, blood sprouted fresh.

Karma didn’t wait to see that he was dead. No one would be coming into this room until morning. It would be far too late for him then. She stepped over the Mayor’s body. There was enough life left in him that he grabbed for her ankle as she walked past. His grip was weak and easily shaken off.

She continued out the way she came in. No one would know until morning. The Mayor himself had blown out the candles in the outer chamber. The candles in his bedchamber would dowse themselves before too long. There was no danger of fire.

And her master’s justice had been done again. But the question lingered for this one. Why?

Four kills in two days. With no discernible reason.

:Go to the harbor. Find a ship and come home.: It was an order. And one that Karma did not dare disobey.

# # #

Her master had alerted the servants to Karma’s arrival. The guards he always had stationed at the entryway of the manor held the door open for her while she climbed the steps to where they stood.

Neither one spoke, but Karma felt something akin to sympathy coming from Gregory, the older one. She paused briefly. “That bad?” Her voice had recovered on the time she was on the ship.

He nodded.

Karma squared her shoulders and strode into the main entry. The steward waited for her to escort her to where the master waited. She didn’t need to be lead. She knew where he waited. The steward was to make certain she went where she was supposed to go.

They went up the grand staircase and down the hallway. Their footsteps echoed on the stone floors. At the end of the hall, the steward stopped in front of two heavy oak doors. He opened one for her and Karma went inside. The steward would go no farther.

Karma heard the muffled thud as the steward closed the door behind her. His footsteps sounded back to her for a time. The rugs were thick beneath her feet. She had heard the servants say that the rugs were a dark red. She knew several chairs were scattered about. Two before the summer dark hearth. And directly in front of her, the master sat at his desk, watching.

When Karma could no longer hear the steward, she walked forward, approaching her master. She was even with the chairs before the desk before she stopped and knelt.

The master was angry. She didn’t need to hear his voice to know that. It came off of him in waves that would have knocked her over if it had been actual moving air. As it was, she bowed her head in subservience to him.

He didn’t speak. Nor was his presence in her mind: a sign of extreme displeasure. “So you questioned me in the merchant’s house. And you questioned me in the mayor’s house. Obviously the first punishment was not adequate.” His voice was quiet and devoid of any emotion.

Karma said nothing and tried to prepare herself for what she thought was coming. Since the last time, she had figured out how to shield the areas of her mind where he could hurt her.


Karma obeyed the order. The compulsion he used in addition to the word forced her to whether she willed it or not.


Again, Karma obeyed. The compulsion forced her to remove even her blindfold. But the slave collar stayed. The magic-cooled air in the room was a momentary welcome relief to her bared skin.

She heard her master scoot his chair back. She heard, too, the rattle of a chain as he stood. She stiffened, knowing that his anger was worse than she had thought.

He rounded the desk and stood in front of her. He looked briefly at her white eyes. She might not be able to see what he was going to do, but there was no doubt that she knew of it.

Still, the blow sent her to her knees. The side of her face throbbed where he struck her with the chain. She felt blood flowing down her face. Her tears freely mixed with it. But she did not cry out. To do so would invite more of the same.

“Who is the master here, Karma?” he bellowed.

“You are,” she said softly.

“I can’t hear you!”

She lifted her head. “You are, master,” she said louder.

He grabbed hold of her collar and jerked her to her feet. “And best you not forget it, bitch.” He attached the chain to a metal loop on her collar. He pulled on it, forcing her to follow or be choked.

He attached the chain to an iron ring in the stones of the hearth. “You will stay here until you give me that which is rightfully mine. Respect. Obedience with no questions.” He left, not waiting for her answer.

Karma didn't kow how long she was there before someone came to see to the wound on her face. There was nothing to let her know the time of day. Or night.

She jerked away from the healer's touch. The simple movement tightened the collar, choking her until she relaxed her posture. "Go away," she managed to say through dry lips.

"No," the healer refused. She lifted a hand to touch Karma's face. "If you weren't blind before, you would be now." She paused, then, in a quieter voice, she said, "Damn him for waiting so long to send for me."

"How long?" Karma asked.

"Two days from what I got from him. And I'd bet he hasn't even let you have as much as a drink of water in that time." The healer worked as she talked, putting some kind of salve on Karma's face.

Karma shook her head. "Why now?"

"Shush." The healer fell silent and Karma felt the torn flesh knitting back together under the woman's hand. "You master will be back in soon. Just tell him what he wants to hear, Karma," she said getting ready to leave.

"Thank you," Karma whispered.

The healer acted as though she didn't hear. And perhaps she didn't. She left as Karma's master entered.

She was in a half-sitting position instead of laying on the hearthstones. He had been absent from her mind since he chained her to the heart. As he approached, Karma felt him re-entering her mind at the same time. She carefully and quickly shielded what the healer had told her.

"Karma," he said in greeting. He dropped her clothes on the hearth beside her. He knelt and removed the chain, allowering her to sit up fully, even to stand. "Get dressed. I have an assignment for you."

So that was the reason for the healer. She couldn't go out in public looking the way she did. She couldn't even wear her blindfold the way her face was. "Yes, master," she said, her mouth and throat still dry.

He grunted in reply and stood. "Come to me when you're done." He walked away, leaving Karma to take care of herself.

She dressed quickly. He had brought her blindfold, a skirt, and a loose shirt. Her boots weren't there. She assumed they would be waiting for her over at her master's desk. She finished tying her blindfold as she walked over to where he waited.

"Who is your master, Karma?" he asked.

"You are," she answered clearly with no hesitation.

"Will you question my motives or reasons again?"

"No, master," she said knowing that if he found her shields he would break them down and find the truth behind the lie.

"Good." He handed her the boots. "This is your assignment," he said as she put them on.

# # #

The guide accompanied Karma again. It wasn’t said, but she knew it was to keep an eye on her and make certain she did exactly as she was told. He would report back to the Master everything that Karma did while she was within his sight.

As if the Master wouldn’t know anyway because of their link. It was just another excuse to punish her.

Their destination was an inland village instead of a coastal city as most of the others were. Karma wondered at this but did not say anything.

The village was small and had but one inn with an attached tavern. The market square was sparsely populated. There would be no losing her guide here while she made her investigations. She felt her Master gloating within her mind.

Behind her carefully constructed shields, Karma seethed. She was careful to let some of her emotions and thoughts show. Otherwise her Master would know the existence of the shields. :Stop at the baker’s shop,: he instructed, interrupting her thoughts.

Karma slipped in the door as another customer was leaving. Their backs to the door, the baker and her apprentice didn’t know there was anyone else there.

“M’neighbor’s ‘usband be a real brute!” the apprentice was saying. “Beats ‘er alla time for nothin’.” She shook her head and started kneading the dough in front of her. “Nothin’ we can do ‘bout it though.”

At a silent prompting from her master, Karma left the bakery as quietly as she had entered. :That’s who we want. Today, the guide will follow the apprentice home and tell you where to find them.:

Karma almost asked why but stopped herself. She had no wish to make a scene where it would be witnessed. Instead, she said, :You’ve always known before.: It was an observation. Not a question.

He didn’t answer. Within her shields, Karma wondered if he ever really knew or if it was something he made up as they went along. She was not a compassionate person, but the thought of being sent to kill just for the sport of it chilled her. And made her determined to figure out a way to escape her Master that would not result in her death.

# # #

It was as the guide had said. A small house flanked by two others at the dead end of a dirt street in a poorer part of the village. Such that it was.

Karma didn’t have to wait long to be a witness herself to what the baker’s apprentice had said. She waited in the shadows of the lone tree that was left standing in a lot across the street.

From her vantage point, she could clearly hear the voices of the two in the house. One was harsh and slurred with drink. As they grew louder, Karma wondered if she would have to enter the house or if they would come outside.

She needn’t have worried.

Not long after, the husband stormed out of the house, dragging his wife by her hair. “Wanna see th’ whore git what she deserves?” he bellowed into the night air. The neighbors ignored him. And the woman’s pleas for help.

:This happens to often,: she observed to her Master.

:Then give them my justice,: he replied.

Karma crossed the street, drawing her unpoisoned dagger as she did. With all the noise the man was making himself, he didn’t notice the newcomer until she stopped directly in front of him.

“One whore t’ ‘elp another, eh?” he scoffed, drawing a knife. He still held his wife by her hair.

Karma didn’t answer his question. She sliced his throat with her dagger before he could cut his wife’s throat. The knife fell from his grasp. His wife grabbed it up. Karma stepped out of the way as he fell forward. “This is your Karma.”

She noticed the man’s wife had circled around behind her. But with her shields up, she could only guess at the reason. And she guessed that it was to put a barrier between herself and the man who called himself her husband.

Karma felt a sharp thud as the woman drove the knife into her back, above her right shoulder, and again at the base of her neck. She didn’t know if the woman struck her again or not. All the while she shrieked at Karma for killing her beloved.

Beloved? Karma wondered as the sounds of the night and of the woman’s cries faded. Karma floated in a void, empty of sound and perceptions of space.

She drifted in and out of consciousness over the next few days. All she remembered of the time were some disjointed sounds that made no sense if she thought about them.

She opened her eyes, aware that she was not wearing her blindfold. She was propped up on her side so the wounds on her back wouldn’t be aggravated by her lying on them.

As she became more awake, she also became aware of her injuries. Fire exploded in too many places to count on her back and on her stomach when she moved involuntarily. Her head pounded and her side hurt when she breathed. She heard someone groan and realized it was her.

“You’re awake.” It was an observation, not a question.

Karma tried to answer, but only managed a hoarse croak.

Soft footsteps brought someone closer to where she laid. Gentle hands helped her to get a drink of water laced with some kind of herbs. When she was done, she heard a solid thunk as the wooden mug was sat on the table.

“You were saying?” the person prompted. “By the way, I am Corynne, a healer. And you are one lucky young woman.”

“That answers one question,” Karma said, wincing at the pain it took to speak even that little bit.

“Hush now. You can ask questions later. Rest while you can.”

Karma slept. But it was fitful and filled with interruptions by her Master, demanding to know what was taking so long and why they hadn’t left to go back home yet.

She didn’t remember if she answered him or not. Only that finally she was able to get the deep healing sleep she needed.

# # #

A fortnight behind schedule, Karma and her guide finally left the inland city. They had been given no further instructions about where to go next.

Karma felt her master’s presence, sullen, in her mind. :What was I to have done? Died?: she finally demanded.

:There was no danger of that.:

:Oh?: Karma knew this to be a lie. From what Corynne had said and from her own inspection of her injuries. She knew how a wound felt to the touch when it was meant to have been a death thrust.

:Besides, if you had, there are others who could replace you.: And with that, he was gone. Or so it seemed. Karma had learned, though, that he was rarely truly absent from her mind.

Except for that time most recently when she was chained to his hearth.

“There are others who could replace me?” Karma hadn’t realized she had spoken aloud.

“Beg pardon, Karma?” the guide asked.

She shook her head, bringing herself back to the present. “It’s nothing.”

But inside she seethed.

First there was his treatment of her. Then his arbitrary selection of targets. And now he told her that she could – no, she would – be replaced.

He expects me to drop dead at his command. Then he’ll have someone easier to control. Someone more to his liking. It won’t happen!

In three days’ time, they were back home. The whole trip, Karma had been working her way around the telepathic link she shared with her master. So far, she had succeeded in not drawing his attention to what she was doing.

She had to find a way to sever it. Perhaps the only way to do it would be to kill him.

That would not only free her, but also Destiny and Fate. Karma knew she could make her own way. But could the other two? She didn’t know them very well. Their master had forbid any kind of interaction between the three.

And anyone who seemed to be a friend was killed with one of his harsher poisons.

So Karma worked around the link. If he could no longer speak into her mind, he would not be able to locate her. She would be able to leave his control and flee.

To where?

# # #

Karma had little time to work on her problem after the arrived back at her master’s house. Her healing wounds had convinced him that they honestly had no choice in being so late.

He didn’t beat her or chain her to the hearth again. Instead, he put her to work with the servants. Cooking and cleaning. He tried to make her sew, but even with her extended senses that he had trained, that proved to be a task better suited to those who could see.

A fortnight passed in this manner. She even served Fate and Destiny when they were home. It chafed at her. She who was the first Chosen. Though she wasn’t entirely certain what that meant anymore.

Karma was finally summoned to her master’s study.

“You have done well,” he said, extending her daggers to her. “Don’t touch the blades.”

“Why both?” Karma asked as she took them. She smelled the poison smeared on them.

“You’ll need them. Your next assignment will be a challenge. A test, if you will.” He explained what she would need to do and dismissed her. He smiled when she left.

# # #

Again, Karma worked her way around the link as she traveled. She permitted the guide to come along to appease her master.

“Why would he want to test me?” she finally asked at one point in their journey.

“I can’t say. I don’t know.” The guide shrugged. He only knew his orders. And that was to keep an eye on Karma and report back everything he noticed.

Karma fell silent again. No sense in talking to someone who can’t, or won’t, answer.

They rode for four days. The small town they entered only had one inn. Karma waited outside while the guide secured a room for them.

:If you fail this assignment,: her master spoke up, :you will die.:

Karma acknowledged his statement but said nothing more in reply.

The guide came back out, along with the innkeeper who was issuing orders for the care of their horses. He solicitously helped Karma down from her horse. As if she needed it. But she played along.

“My guide and I must attend the market before going to our room,” she said, her voice soft yet firm. “You will tell him how to get there, yes?”

The innkeeper smiled. “Ah, lady, if ye need somethin’ from th’ market, th’ inn staff can fetch it for ye.”

“No,” Karma said. “I would prefer to go myself.”

The innkeeper nodded. He quickly told the guide how to find the market and went back into the inn.

“We know how to find the market, Karma,” the guide said once the innkeeper was out of hearing range.

“I know,” she said, continuing the ruse of the guide leading her until they were out of the inn’s courtyard. “But we have never had the innkeeper greet us outside himself.” She dropped her grip on the guide’s elbow and continued on her own, her senses fully extended but her shields still in place.

The guide only nodded and quickened his step to keep up with Karma.

# # #

It was a new moon. Only pinpricks of stars shone in the sky to give light to those who moved about at night. There was no need to keep to the shadows, but Karma did. More out of habit than need.

The entry she sought in this house was on the ground floor. No need to scale fences or balconies.

The servants’ door was unlocked. She wondered idly if her master was trying to remind her of her proper place by always telling her to use the servant entries. As if her slave collar weren’t reminder enough.

She stubbed her toe on a chair that had not been put back in place. It scratched along the stone floor of the kitchen, sounding loud in the sleep-quiet house.

“Who’s there?” a sleepy voice demanded from a room nearby.

The cook?

Karma melted back into the entryway as the cook came out of her room to investigate. Finding nothing, she shook her head and shuffled back to bed.

Karma waited until she heard the even breathing of the cook before she continued on her assignment. This time she avoided the chair.

As she left the kitchen, she sensed the empty space to her left that indicated a staircase. Ahead of her was a small dining room. Without a thought, she started up the stairs.

The third door on the right was slightly ajar. Her target.

She entered the room and closed the door behind her, waiting to hear the click of the lock falling in place.

No lock.

So her master had been wrong on that point. It didn’t matter. She would do the assignment and be gone before anyone could try to come in anyway.

But the room wasn’t what she had been led to expect either. This was no master suite. It was a secondary bedroom. Not servant-class. Not for visitors.

A child’s room.

Karma stiffened at this realization. She felt her master’s humor.

:Remember, you fail, you die.:

Karma nodded and started forward. The floor was clear except for a couple rugs that were no impedance to her. She was beside the bed, listening to the regular breathing of the one who slept there.

She drew her dagger and opened her mind to the sleeping form.

Karma paused. Why one so young? she wondered but did not send to her master. The most he was guilty of was stealing candy from a merchant yesterday. And the occasional pastry from the kitchen.

That pause was Karma’s undoing. As she stood there, the door opened.

“Stop!” a man commanded, seeing Karma poised with her dagger over his son. She felt the panic rolling off of him.

She didn’t stop. She acted.

Karma drew the poisoned dagger across her own arm, smearing the poison into it. The man gave a strangled cry as she cut herself.

Karma held her arm close to her so she wouldn’t bleed all over the bed and rugs.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered.

The man rushed to her, catching her as she started to fall from the effects of the poison running through her bloodstream.

“I’ll get a healer.”

“It’s too late,” Karma said, her speech slurred.

He leaned her against the wall next to where she had stood. He removed her blindfold and took in her features and her white eyes, right before she closed them.

“Rebecca!” he called, grief apparent on his face in the dim light.

Karma’s mouth lifted in a small smile. And she was gone.

© 2002 Jenifer Nipps