City of Whispers Imperial Assassin Book 1 by Katt Powers Genre: Epic Adventure Fantasy
A disgraced assassin. A sinister plot. Will her one shot at redemption send her to the grave?
Dhani Karim is furious. Wrongfully expelled from the Imperial Assassins, the snarky killer is forced into a lowly unranked position in a remote desert colony, working with a guy who’s clearly damaged goods. And when they barely survive an attack on what should have been a routine assignment, she fears clearing her name could cost her life.
Struggling to navigate a land where she’s the only person who can’t wield magic, things get worse when she receives a death threat and her unwanted partner vanishes. But when the clues lead to a violent cult, Dhani finds herself in a race against time to stop a bloodbath that will consume thousands of innocent lives.
Can she expose a deadly conspiracy before it causes a massacre?
City of Whispers is the thrilling first book in the Imperial Assassin fantasy adventure series. If you like kickass heroines, high-octane action, and off-the-charts snark, then you’ll love Katt Powers’ gritty tale.
Buy City of Whispers for a pulse-pounding page-turner today!
Spring 1493 (Jhiriyan Calendar) Izurum, Talmakhan Region, Imperial Colony of Tizrak
No one expected a group of figures to burst out from the temple’s bone-white walls,
revolvers in hand—shiny new pieces, gun-metal grey, oiled, and glistening.
After all, no one expected to die at a wedding.
Certainly not the priest, suddenly standing cheek-to-jowl with two black-clad,
pistol-wielding men, nor his attendant as he was thrown head-first down the steps.
More men streamed out from the temple’s cloying darkness, others stormed in through the
The priest’s mouth opened in a horrified, round-lipped gasp.
For a gut-squeezing moment, Dhani Karim stared through the heat shimmer, watching the
scene unfold. The band stopped playing. The fiddler’s cheeks paled. A long way away, like a
voice calling out across a field, her mind added the words nationalist cult to wedding and
came up with massacre.
Then, the shooting began.
Wedding guests scattered from under the marquee, cried out, and fell. Chairs flew
sideways, a platter piled with naan and a jug of wine wobbled and shattered on the ground.
Beyond the dribbling fountain, Fikret grabbed Esmille and scanned the crowd for little Rivek.
His shoulders sagged in anguish. The child was nowhere to be found.
A woman shrieked the nationalist cult’s name, and then: “RUN!”
After that, the hiss and sizzle of people hurling the killing Flame at their attackers turned
the afternoon fiery red.
A bullet smashed into the wooden arbor a hand’s breadth from Dhani’s ear. Splinters and
crimson bougainvillea stung her cheek; blood blistered on her skin. A bolt of scarlet flame
scorched the air just metres away, close enough it tugged at her solar plexus. Her knuckles
popped as she reefed a blade from its holster.
Now would have been a good time to develop the ability to hurl Deenjah or some other
kind of magic. Creator above! She’d settle for tossing sparkly pink fairies if it gave her an
advantage. She stole a glance at her olive-copper skin.
Nope. Not going to happen . Still a Jhiriyan Homelander. Still mute to the Flames. Blades
and batons would have to do.
She crouched low and ran, retracing her steps beneath the bougainvillea-covered walkway.
A bullet whizzed past. A man screamed and cried out to the Gods. Burned hair and charred
skin choked her nose, making her gag. Sweat stung her bleeding cheek.
At the end of the walkway, she made a hard right, angling for the temple’s western steps.
A desperate flanking move, sure, but one that might— might— just save lives.
Especially if she could get her hands on a gun.
On the temple balcony, the priest had somehow fallen over. His ample form lay prostrate
on the tiles, his legs peddling frantic circles in the air. Slowly—somewhere around the speed
of waterlogged continental drift—he rolled onto his belly and began to elbow his bulk
towards the temple’s main chamber.
As people scattered, an old man and a small boy, both wedding guests, stumbled and fell,
blocking her path to the temple steps. A ginger cat tumbled out of the child’s arms and onto
the dirt. It froze, arching its back and hissing.
A hooded man rushed in to cut off the pair’s escape, wielding a pistol. Dhani skidded to a
Time could have slowed if the Creator, Father Ulgan, Mother Yamir—heck, even a
long-forgotten, one-eyed tortoise god with foot fungus—had even the slightest sense of
Time didn’t slow. It zeroed in for a direct collision, delivered to the gut with a bull camel’s
The hooded man wheeled, aiming the pistol at the old man’s head.
The small boy bounced to his feet, screaming for his great-grandfather and Selti —a
common name for Tizraki cats—to run. Tears glistened on the child’s pale, dirt-streaked face.
His bright blue tunic had a rent down the centre, exposing a grazed belly.
Dhani unclipped her steel baton, testing its weight in her hand. Adrenaline flooded her
mouth with a sharp, metal tang.
Behind the mask, the gunman’s eyes bulged like saucers. He gripped the gun with both
hands, its muzzle cutting a shaky arc from the old man to the boy to the spitting ginger cat.
Dhani took aim. Maybe the Gods cared after all. Either that or the gunman’s trembling
muzzle said he feared their judgement in the afterlife.
“ Please, don’t!” the old man begged, trying to rise on trembling arms. His great-grandson
cowered, now wailing for his mother.
Shots popped off on the other side of the temple courtyard. Women, men, children
screamed. A blaze of red Flame rent the air. Another. The wedding marquee fell, ballooning
inwards like some great, dying sea beast.
Dhani drew back her arm, muscles tense, mind narrowed on the gunman and his
shakier-than-a-twig-in-an-earthquake aim. The gunman twitched the weapon from the old
man to the boy—then pointed it instead at the hissing, spitting cat.
Her entire being cinched. Oh no, no, no, you don’t .
No one— no one —killed a cat in front of Dhani Karim.
She flung the baton with every fibre of strength she possessed. It spun through the air as
the pistol cracked, the cat--
Hindquarters bunched, the cat sprung upwards , a prodigious leap, claws extended, fangs
bared, and attached itself to the gunman’s thigh at the exact moment the spinning metal baton
crunched into the side of his head.
The man dropped as if his bones had leapt clean out of his body leaving behind a fleshy
sack. The pistol fell from his grasp, clanged on the paved walkway, and spun, coming to rest
next to a potted miniature lemon.
The child’s jaw swung, though whether it was at the sudden appearance of a
blonde-haired, copper-skinned Jhiriyan in a sea of raven Tizraki heads or the baton strike to
the gunman’s skull, Dhani couldn’t say. She moved at once, ready to offer a hand up to the
A click-click stopped her before she’d taken a second step. Another masked man emerged
from behind a trellis on her left, pistol clutched in a white-knuckled grip. Its cold, dead eye
glared directly at her head.
“ Time to die, Metalskin bitch .”
Two days earlier…
Dhani Karim strode towards an arbor covered in eye-watering crimson bougainvillea. The
morning sun stung her neck, hot and raw with the promise of a skin-blistering day. A fly
buzzed her ear. She punched the insect to oblivion with a white-knuckled fist.
The bastard had frisked her. Frisked her!
Even after the five-minute march across the compound, fury still burned on her cheeks.
Reporting for duty at Izurum’s Regional Command should have been easy. Standard
Ha’filu— Secret Service —protocol, outlined in precise and excruciating detail within the
Service manual, no space for ambiguity. She’d present her orders at the gatehouse then hand
over her knives, her dagger, her metal baton, and the bracelet on her wrist that doubled as a
garrotte. In return, the security detail would hand her a receipt.
But to be frisked by a bull-necked local with over-friendly fingers?
Not on today’s agenda. Not on any day’s agenda.
Likewise not on the agenda—ever—had been having her breasts groped, her butt grabbed
and her crotch fondled. The guard responsible had at least one cracked rib after her elbow had
suddenly slipped , but it offered little consolation. Sooner or later, she’d have to return to the
gatehouse and retrieve her weapons from Touchy-Feely the guard. Maybe this time, she’d
crack his head. Ai Creator! Happy days.
And today of all days, she didn’t need the attention.
Her gut tightened at what lay ahead. In response, her heart began to pound. She cycled
through a well-worn mantra, drawing solace from a fast-dwindling supply.
No emotion. No weakness. No retreat.
Her destination loomed at the end of the arbor-sheltered walkway: a squat, single story
blockhouse shaded by a wide verandah. The building boasted the same tired,
complete-the-form-in-triplicate colonial architecture she’d encountered the length and
breadth of Tizrak Yirda: rows of louvered glass windows covered by insect screens, a lone
entrance door likewise shuttered behind a screen. The stone and timber verandah posts, the
terracotta tiles, and the potted geraniums—she’d seen it all before. Even the blowfly battering
the door’s wire screen like a tiny, single-minded siege engine was nothing novel or new.
Thump. Thump. Thump.
She drew breath, inhaling dust, heat, pinyon pine, and cinnamon. Her fingers brushed a
communique in her pocket—brusque and short—commanding her presence at nine bells. She
squinted up at the sun. By her calculation, she was ten minutes early. She forced her
shoulders to relax, attempting to ease the tension in her neck.
Four hundred and twelve days. An entire year in purgatory at the Empire’s steaming
arse-end, pushing paper about a desk. Her sole opportunity to clear her name, and even then,
there were few guarantees.
The General claimed this was the only option the Service’s brass would accept. She’d
never quite believed him. A flick of a pen, a slight perceived by some faceless Kishaat caste
bureaucrat she’d never met, and any chance of rejoining the Ta’Hafiq, the Imperial Assassins,
would be gone forever.
And Creator only knew, in her life—lowly Gishatriya caste, the child of a drunk and a
money-laundering dockside bar owner—certainty had never been a friend.
But what choice did she have?
For the time being, she was an unranked Secret Service operative—a dirt-level, lowlife
pond scum nothing .
She pulled the screen door open and stepped into the building’s cool. A foyer with the
usual array of Imperial regalia greeted her.
Behind a lone battleship of a mahogany desk, a thin-faced local adjutant stared back at her.
Several years her junior, the adjutant wore a charcoal grey uniform and sported a scruffy
goatee. Affixed to the wall behind him was a two-metre tall Jhiriyan coat of arms, the
Empire’s sinuous gold dragon superimposed over its royal blue cedar, gloss enamel on
polished brass. Elsewhere, a large wall clock, also enamel over polished brass, emitted an
Alongside the Imperial arms—predictably—hung a pair of sepia portraits: one of the
Emperor Safid, the other of Tizrak Yirda’s current ruler, portly Prince Attomir. The Prince
beamed out at the world through his unruly two-tone beard, happy with his lot in life. The
Emperor didn’t smile. Safid Ereldemore never did. His thin lips and weary gaze simply
pressed down on Dhani, damning her to her predicament.
No use delaying. She snapped the papers from her pocket and offered them to the waiting
“Operative Karim reporting for duty. I have an appointment with the Regional Controller
at nine bells.”
The sudden scowl on the adjutant’s face read like a newspaper headline: a twist of the lip
and a cool, thousand-yard stare. She knew the look immediately, knew the familiar sting of
guilt as well. Despite two hundred years of famine-ending colonisation, the occasional piped
sewer, and a standard currency, there were still Tizraki nationals who resented the Empire
and every Jhiriyan Homelander who’d ever drawn breath.
“Your appointment has been moved to ten bells, Operative Karim.” The adjutant tapped
his writing nib on an open register, a gesture equal parts go away and I-don’t-give-a-fuck.
“There’s your name, second from the top, inked in at ten. The handwriting’s mine.”
It took less than a moment to scan the man’s precise calligraphy—perfectly straight,
perfectly neat, perfectly smug— and decide they’d never be friends. It took another moment
and a slow, calming breath to stop herself reaching out and squeezing his neck.
The wall clock ticked out three seconds. She sucked on a cheek. Let her fingers drift over
the empty knife holster on her thigh. Had second, third—even fifth and sixth thoughts about
what to do next.
Perhaps this was an omen. It wasn’t too late to leave.
Not too late to flip both the Secret Service and Safid Ereldemore’s tired sepia stare a
resounding middle finger. With her skills, work wouldn’t be hard to find. Here on the
Continent, there was always someone willing to pay an assassin or a discrete, highly trained
Instead, her boots rooted themselves to the lifeless grey tiles.
Call it duty, call it loyalty, call it stupidity . Even she wasn’t cold enough to tear out the
hearts of the only people who cared. She owed the General and his wife the blood in her
veins, the breath in her lungs, her name, her honour, her fealty. To herself, she’d made a
blood promise, clear your name of the heinous crime you didn’t commit.
The adjutant sat back in his chair, waiting. His beady gaze flickered to the door and back,
once, twice, and again.
“Will there be anything else, Operative Karim?”
Dhani eyed the short, windowless hall that ended in the Regional Controller’s closed door,
hair on her still-sweaty neck prickling. But what had she expected, really? Bethsehal
Shalamir had to know by now that her newest unranked operative was a disgraced former
assassin. Pond scum, indeed .
“As a matter of fact, there is something else, Adjutant…” She searched the desk for a
nameplate, found it half-hidden by a newspaper and a small brass statue of a Tizraki
horse-and-snake hearth god she couldn’t name. Ziraat-something. How ironic. Named after a
Tizraki folk hero famous for his continent-sized ego and outrageous red hat. “Perhaps
Adjutant Ziraat, you could explain why I wasn’t informed of the change earlier?”
“I only know what the Regional Controller told me.” Ziraat’s too-sharp chin and its fine
black fluff jerked to the left. Clearly, he wanted her gone. “Seat’s in the corridor if you care
to wait. Your partner’s not here yet though.”
Her partner. It took two full breaths and a clenched jaw just to keep the fury contained.
She’d never needed a partner before. She didn’t need one now. Another slap to the cheek.
“I’ll wait,” she said.
Ziraat’s lips flattened, unhappy with her decision. His rodent-gaze flickered to the screen
door and lingered, before finally settling on the empty knife holster strapped to her thigh. He
squirmed in his seat as if caught thieving, guilty tattooed in his narrow, shifting gaze.
Dhani glanced back at the screen door and beyond but there was no-one there. The
blockhouse courtyard stood empty save for the trellised walkway and its garish crimson
bougainvillea. She scowled at the bougainvillea. Everywhere Jhiriyans went it was always the
bloody same: bougainvillea, Imperial portraits, records, ledgers, and accounts. Oh, had she
mentioned bougainvillea? A shrug and she let it pass.
Nothing she said or did would change a thing. She was a tooth on a tiny cog, an
insignificant, nameless component in the great, hulking gears comprising the brass, iron, and
steel of the Imperium. A low caste nobody. No living family. No home. The name she now
used not even the one she’d been born with.
With a final glare at Ziraat-named-for-a-bloviating-hat, she turned on her heel and took the
first seat in the corridor. Resting her head against the wall, she closed her eyes.
First battle completed. Let the year in purgatory begin.
The Regional Controller’s office matched her personnel file, a space so ordered and
predictable, Dhani stifled a yawn.
Three floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled with manuals and ledgers but devoid of personal
effects. Two chairs were upholstered in utility brown. On the far wall, maps of the Continent
and Tizrak Yirda hanging plumb-line straight. A desk that suggested an obsession with
neatness, bearing nothing more than a set of orders carrying General El’Meshid’s signature,
two gold writing nibs, and a bottle of ink.
Behind it, Regional Controller Bethsehal Shalamir sat waiting, lips neatly pursed on a
cut-glass sharp, perfectly proportioned face. Coming to attention, Dhani fixed her stare on a
point just above the Regional Controller’s golden blonde head. To her right, her new partner
did the same. Overhead, a ceiling fan clicked.
“I’ll make this brief,” Shalamir began, voice crisp as the white silk scarf draped around the
high collar of her periwinkle blue shirt. She didn’t offer them a seat; Dhani hadn’t expected
it. “General El’Meshid gave me no choice but to accept both of you into my command, so
I’m going to tell you the same thing I told him. I don’t want either of you here. I have no time
for traitors or…” The woman’s cobalt glare drilled holes in Dhani’s skin. “Murderous
A long pause followed, the fan’s errant click counting out the passage of seconds. If the
oversight with the appointment had been a prelude, the dry, stale taste in Dhani’s mouth
foretold the main act.
Before leaving the capital, she’d read Shalamir’s file and tried not to fall asleep.
Shulim— earl in Jhiriyan—Bethsehal Shalamir, thirty-six years old, unmarried, youngest
child of a noble House of middling rank. Despite her relative youth, Shalamir had carved out
a reputation in the Ha’filu as a fixer —an officer sent to restore order in places where Imperial
discipline lacked. Her record read like a romance of rules, protocols, and tradition
complimented by two dozen perfectly executed covert operations. The file held no surprises
about what to expect during her year in Izurum working under Bethsehal Shalamir: boredom,
more boredom, paperwork, paperwork, paperwork, and sore feet .
“Very well, let’s get this finished and the pair of you out of my sight.” Shalamir turned her
attention to the looming figure at Dhani’s right. “Captain Gorshayik, I’ve had a brief look
over your personnel file.”
“Yes, ma’am,” came the rumbling reply in deep, Tizraki-accented Jhiriyan.
Street thug had been Dhani’s initial impression when she’d first set eyes upon Parvan
Gorshayik. The fleshy scars on his throat and cheek didn’t help, nor did his oak-tree arms or
bear-sized height. That he’d once been a historian in a university archive was as hard to
imagine as him working undercover on some highly classified secret mission. He looked like
he belonged in a dockside bar, throwing unruly patrons out by the scruffs of their necks.
Gorshayik shifted his weight and the Regional Controller continued, “Five operatives
under your command died because you chose a course of action you’d been advised against,
Captain Gorshayik.” Shalamir’s eyebrow lifted. “You will not repeat that kind of treacherous
Shalamir tipped her chin towards the Emperor’s portrait hanging behind her desk. One
delicate eyebrow arched. “I may not agree with the current regime on many things, but I do
understand why they’ve given you a second chance, Captain. The Service needs Colonials
like yourself, natives who fit in. ” Her fingers brushed her scarf again, smoothing out a crease.
“Personally, I’ve always found you Tizraki lazy and far too fond of food and wine to be
reliable, but who am I to question the Imperium?”
Gorshayik didn’t react to the insult. Shalamir didn’t seem inclined to care.
“Operative Karim.” The woman’s gaze settled on Dhani. A knife-like smile thinned her
lips but it held no more warmth than a thousand-year-old corpse. “I’m not privy to the
misdemeanour which had you thrown out of the Ta’Hafiq but given what little of your
somewhat unorthodox personnel record I’ve been permitted to read, I can only assume it was
a vile and despicable act.”
Dhani set her gaze on the Emperor’s sagging jawline and bored stare. Her gut churned. A
farce. A complete lie. In her head, discipline shrilled the Ta’Hafiq’s mantra: no emotion. No
weakness. No retreat. The reason she’d been suspended from the Ta’Hafiq—the Imperial
Assassins—was classified information, privy only to those in the oxygen-starved heights of
the Secret Service far beyond Shalamir’s rank. Not that that would deter a noble from asking
and, of course, expecting an answer she’d never get.
“You don’t want to be here, Karim, and we both know it,” Shalamir continued when the
silence grew too grim. “Eight years in the Ta’Hafiq and fifty-three confirmed kills. You think
you’re too good for Internal Affairs, don’t you? But if you ask me, a failed assassin is nothing
more than a liability to the Imperium, a festering canker that needs to be lanced.”
Dhani met the challenge with an impassive stare. Shalamir had the first part correct; she
didn’t want to be here at all and she was too good for Internal Affairs, but the words failed
assassin set her blood aflame. She flared her nostrils, staring at Shalamir’s white silk scarf
and its embroidered House motif—some kind of pudgy, leaping antelope. Ten years ago,
rebuking a member of the Shaliaat—Jhiriyah’s noble caste—would have been unthinkable.
Indeed, in the Homeland even now, she wouldn’t have dared. But here at the Empire’s
far-flung edges, after years of busted bones, burned brain cells, blood and sweat, she refused
to be cowered.
“May I ask a question, ma’am?” Dhani fixed her gaze on the wall again, her voice a droll,
clipped monotone, a polite register of Jhiriyan, low caste to high.
Shalamir waved a dismissive hand. “Go ahead.”
“Did you support the old regime, ma’am?”
The woman’s olive-copper skin blanched. Beside her, Parvan Gorshayik inhaled a sharp
breath. Dhani tightened her jaw. Let Shalamir suck sour lemons on that. A noble in
Shalamir’s position should have known better than to mention her political allegiances at
all—especially to a junior operative from a lower Homeland caste.
“You know very well what House Shalamir thought of the Emperor Mishal’s removal,
unranked Operative Karim.” The blade-like smile returned to the Regional Commander’s
lips, chasing the moment of surprise from her face. “But it’s ancient history, fifteen years
past. House Nohirrim is gone and House Ereldemore ascendant. The Empire has moved on.
And besides, we’ve all sworn an oath to serve the Imperium, haven’t we?”
Dhani studied the Emperor’s portrait again. The thrill of a meaningless victory coursed
through her veins like a Deenjin’s Flame. Score one for Karim. Another notch to carve on her
favourite embroidery hoop.
“Indeed we have, ma’am,” she said, toneless and flat. “ May the sun never set on the
Beyond the window, Ziraat the adjutant passed by, locked in animated conversation with a
brawny man dressed in a pauper’s blue tunic. The Regional Controller frowned at the pair,
checked the time, then cleared her throat.
“Captain Gorshayik, Operative Karim, enough of this pleasant banter.” She opened a
drawer and removed a brown folder. “A man named Scythe has information pertaining to a
case one of my senior operatives is working on. I want you to find Scythe and bring him in.”
She pushed the folder towards Parvan Gorshayik. “This is what we have on Scythe, Captain.”
The big Tizraki took the folder, opened it, scanned the documents inside, and snapped it
“Ma’am?” he said.
“The case Scythe has information on? What is it?”
“Not your concern, Gorshayik. Find Scythe and bring him in. That’s your mission.”
Gorshayik offered the file to Dhani. She accepted the folder and studied its frugal content.
Well, that was interesting. A single page. Nothing, nothing, and more nothing . She closed the
file and found Bethsehal Shalamir watching her.
“That’s it, ma’am?” she said. “Four names and the same half-paragraph of nothing we’ve
just been told?”
The Regional Controller rolled her eyes and laughed. “Oh, my dear. You have a lot to
learn, don’t you? This isn’t the Ta’Hafiq. You won’t be treated like some kind of deity and
handed encyclopaedic case notes researched by a suite of operatives whose names you’ll
never deign to ask. You’re the operative here. You walk the streets, you flap your jaw at the
inns, the souks, the caravanserais, and ashishqa dens. You saddle your behind to a chair and
do your own research.” Her gaze wandered towards Parvan Gorshayik’s coal-dark hair. “I’m
sure your new partner will be happy to refresh your memory regarding basic Secret Service
procedures.” Shalamir’s expression cooled. She flattened her palms to the desk, fingers
spread. “Now, both of you are dismissed.”
Dhani inclined her head and saluted, touching the fingertips of her right hand to her heart.
Her scalp prickled, her mouth dried and soured. Too simple, too easy. For all of Shalamir’s
posturing, all she wanted them to do was find someone and bring them in? There had to be a
It came as they reached the door.
“Oh, and by the way,” Shalamir said in a voice like a trap snapping shut.
Dhani paused. Gorshayik froze, his deep brown eyes twin points of flame. When they
turned about, the Regional Controller’s lips had thinned to a razor-smile behind her elegantly
“I’m returning to the Homeland for my brother’s wedding,” she said. “I want this Scythe
found before I leave.”
“And when would that be?” Dhani asked.
“Three days.” Shalamir beamed, showing her neat, white teeth. “And Karim?”
“Ma’am?” The honorific stung her throat.
The woman switched to Court Jhiriyan, a hard, hacking register only nobles were
permitted to speak. “Fail to find Scythe and I’ll slap a court-martial on you for
insubordination so fast, you won’t be able to blink.”
The office they’d been allocated resembled a broom closet, only twice as cramped.
Located in a grim, flat-roofed blockhouse near the compound’s centre, Dhani cracked open
the door and stuck her head inside the room. One look and she inhaled dust, dirt, gloom, and
claustrophobia in that order. She shoved at the door. It banged against something unseen and
refused to budge, forcing her to turn sideways to squeeze through.
More of the same awaited within.
Two heavy desks jammed together—one obstructing the door—both scoured with cuts and
ink smears. A pair of threadbare, lumpy chairs. A set of faded maps of the Continent and
Tizrak Yirda, years out of date, hanging next to a grimy window with a torn insect screen. A
brass lamp ancient enough to qualify as a museum relic and a bottle of desiccated ink, no lid.
On one corner of a desk lay a dead cockroach, legs crossed skyward in eternal
repose—probably succumbed to depression—and everywhere a layer of fine, red desert dust.
Dhani wrinkled her nose. Three days , Shalamir had said. Given the size of the office, she’d
be lucky to last three minutes.
Behind her, Parvan Gorshayik grunted at the door, shoved it twice, and forced his way in.
Dhani stepped back to make way and collided with a chair.
“Welcome to paradise,” she said with a sweep of a hand. The chair settled back on all four
“How did you get here?”
“I beg your pardon, Captain?”
He glared. “How did you get here? To Izurum? Your personnel file doesn’t mention you
She arched an eyebrow at the rebuke. Not quite the response she’d expected. Was he
pissed off about the office? The heat? The unfortunate brown roach on the desk?
A glance at him said no to all of the above . Gorshayik’s eyes burned holes in her skin, his
expression that of a man so perpetually angry at life, fury had engraved its autograph on his
being. Otherwise, he looked little different to any other Tizraki man: a strong jaw, olive skin,
glossy black hair, and a full, neat beard. A straight, slightly broad nose, lips neither full nor
thin. The devotional horse-head necklace at his throat said he followed Father Ulgan, his deep
blue tunic with its white and gold embroidery on the cuffs and seams smacked of expensive
tastes. She cocked an eyebrow. Either he’d dressed to impress Bethsehal Shalamir or he had a
penchant for fine clothes. A tunic like that had probably cost at least a week’s wages.
Time began again as he tossed the file onto a desk. It slid towards her, clearing a path in
the dust—a revealing gesture, forceful but measured, an act of will. Parvan Gorshayik was
that kind of man.
She caught the file before it collected the roach. The insect didn’t deserve the disrespect.
“I believe I asked you a question, Karim.”
So that was how it was going to be. She raised her chin. Parvan Gorshayik wouldn’t be the
first—or last—bully she’d worked with. “I came to Izurum the same way you did, Captain.
Steam train from Istanakhand to Dursay, coach from Dursay to Talmakhan, then another
from Talmakhan to here. The coach down from Talmakhan was delayed a day because the
River Gilgit flowed out of season. Desert’s full of surprises.”
“Your orders were to travel with me.”
Dhani sucked on a cheek. Either it was an oversight on his behalf or an outright lie. The
only orders she’d received had been the formal letter instructing her to ‘… report to Ha’filu
Regional Command in Izurum’ and a date.
“Standard operating procedure. Partners who work together, travel together. You’re
supposed to know these things.”
She flexed her jaw. Released the tension from her cheeks and smoothed any trace of
emotion from her face. Difficult , was how the General had described Parvan Gorshayik,
difficult, damaged, but underneath, a good man and a valuable operative. None of the latter
was on display as Gorshayik watched her, probably trying to anticipate her next response and
outmanoeuvre it. Heat flared in her gut. Good man, difficult man , it didn’t matter either way.
If they were to survive a year working together, it was going to begin with respect.
“My apologies, Captain,” she said, forcing a too-sweet smile. “But if you check my
personnel file, you won’t find mind reading listed amongst my skills.”
“Lose the attitude, Karim.”
“Attitude? Are you always this rude or did seventeen angry hornets fly up your arse and
His cheek twitched but he didn’t respond to the insult. Instead, he continued the rapid-fire
interrogation. “You’re not staying at the safe house in Geraktin. Why?”
“In my experience safe houses are rarely safe.”
“You don’t trust the Service?”
She flared her nostrils. Who she trusted and who she didn’t were none of his business.
Needless to say, his name wasn’t on the list. “I don’t trust anyone, including the Imperium.”
“Yet, you work for the Empire. I assume you’ve sworn an oath to serve it?”
“I work for the General . That’s all you need to know.” Dhani folded her arms and studied
her nails. They needed a trim. “I’ve run missions in Izurum before if you must know. I have
my own lodgings in Faissa.”
“You’re going to relocate.”
“No, I’m not.” She jerked her chin about and returned his glare. This was going nowhere
and they didn’t have time to waste. “If you’re done with the power games, Captain, can we
get on with the mission? The clock is ticking.”
The comment hung in the air between them. Dhani counted five seconds and then ten.
Gorshayik watched her with a force so smothering, every hair on her body registered the
threat, and of its own accord, bristled in defence.
Then, he moved, his fists slamming down on the nearest desk.
“Karim, listen to me.”
The uncanny prickling on her flesh vanished. She released a breath she hadn’t been aware
“I know you don’t want a partner,” he continued, “and I don’t particularly want you as a
partner either, but for the time being neither of us have a choice.”
“Impressive, Captain. Are you always this perceptive?”
Gorshayik swore under his breath, the desk groaning beneath his weight. His attention
fixed on some point on the wall beyond her, his mouth thinned to a hard line. He drew a long,
“Very well,” he said. “Let’s clear the air. I’m sure you’re aware of the recommendation
I’m supposed to write regarding your behaviour? The one you’ll need to rejoin the
Ta’Hafiq?” He paused for effect. Dhani refolded her arms. Of course, she knew. The Review
Board’s request for an independent recommendation was the only reason she’d agreed to the
posting at all—one frail thread of hope in a tapestry of deceit. “After we’ve worked together
for nine moons, I’m to provide commentary on your rehabilitation along with evidence
you’ve demonstrated remorse and compassion after your…” His tone darkened.
“ Indiscretion .”
Her cheeks cooled. Through the window, a pair of Homelander women ambled down a
covered walkway, their pace suggesting they were locked in an all-consuming conversation.
Their neat, blonde braids and subdued black clothing had Ha’filu written all over them.
So he knew . Parvan Gorshayik knew about the slave woman and children she’d been
framed for murdering in the rotting backstreets of Casa-del-Toro, the world’s most dangerous
city. That he knew the entirety of what happened that night—of the betrayal from within the
Ta’Hafiq’s ranks, of a mission gone to hell and the gaping hole in her heart—was doubtful.
The Ta’Hafiq was an organisation shrouded in secrecy. A covert operative in the Secret
Service’s general ranks would never be privy to such information.
Gorshayik continued, “I’m willing to concede there was a reason for your actions in
Casa-del-Toro, otherwise General El’Meshid wouldn’t have given you a second chance. I’m
also aware that the General and his wife hold some deep affection for you.” He paused long
enough for the silence to become uncomfortable. “I’d hate to inform them their trust has been
The women in the courtyard disappeared behind the walkway’s crimson bougainvillea.
Dhani cycled through three calming breaths. Parvan Gorshayik was right on both counts. The
only person she’d killed in Casa-del-Toro that night had been the man she’d been ordered to
kill. And Behzad El’Meshid—sober, stern and caring—had pulled her broken body from a
pile of refuse a decade earlier, given her a new name, a new life, and most importantly, a
purpose. In comparison, her real father—a cheerful but ineffectual man—donated sperm then
hurried off to celebrate at the nearest whiskey vat.
“Very well, Captain,” she said at last. “You’ve made your point.”
“Then we can move on.”
“We can.” She turned away from the window. “But let’s get a few things straight. First,
I’m not moving to Geraktin. I use the lodgings in Faissa for several reasons, anonymity being
one of them.”
He gave a curt nod. “Acceptable. And the rest?”
“I agreed to this partnership as a means to an end, nothing else. I don’t do small talk, I’m
not here to be your friend, and I keep my private affairs to myself. I don’t know you, and
don’t assume you know me from what’s written in my file or the rumours you’ve heard. But I
promise you this. Whatever our differences, we will find a way to work together. I intend to
clear my name and rejoin the Ta’Hafiq.”
Someone passed in the hall outside, footsteps slowing as if to eavesdrop before quickly
hurrying on. She waited until they’d faded before speaking again.
“You should also know the General briefed me a little about your condition …” She
hesitated. The words tasted like cold ash in her throat. Her mother’s voice ghosted from
memory, chastising her for being too blunt and direct. In the end, Dhani simply lowered her
“I’m also sorry about your wife and son,” she said.
Gorshayik’s fingers curled. The glint of a gold wedding bracelet on his right wrist caught
her eye and she looked away. Eight moons was still too soon , she guessed. How did anyone
ever recover from something like that? Most likely they didn’t. Little wonder he had a
“Thank you,” he said, low and hoarse.
Dhani cleared her throat. “So, this operation?” She opened the folder and pushed it
towards him. “Four names and three addresses. Not a lot of information.”
He made a noise somewhere between a grunt and a sniff. “I suspect there is no Scythe and
this is a fool’s errand to keep us busy until Shalamir figures out a better way to get rid of us.”
“Well, at least we can agree about that.” She studied the file again. “Where do you want to
“At the Service archive. We’ll see if any of these men have files.” He tapped a finger on
the last name on the list. “ Papat Yenidogat. A priest shouldn’t be hard to find.”
Dhani frowned. “ Yenidogat? I’ve heard the name before.”
“You said you’ve worked in Izurum previously?”
“I have.” She’d worked in Izurum a number of times over the past few years. Regularly
enough to have several caches containing weapons, clothing and a handful of cash hidden in
the city and its shantytown, Koyulerin, just beyond the southern wall. Like most Ta’Hafiq
missions, however, those she’d conducted here were brief: locate target, eliminate or obtain
target, get out quick . She couldn’t claim a local’s deep familiarity with the city or its
“Do you have contacts you could call on for information?” He looked up in earnest, the
first time he’d expressed anything other than frustration with the entire arrangement. “ Scythe
is an unusual nickname for a Tizraki,” he continued. “The kind of name that begs attention. If
this person exists, someone will know them.”
“There’s one or two people I could ask.”
“Good.” He pulled a brass pocket watch from a pocket and checked the time. He held it
for a moment, gaze lingering on the piece before tucking it away again. “Let’s head over to
the Service archive. After lunch, we’ll start talking to the people on the list.”
“So…that’s the plan? Talk to them?”
“That’s the plan. Unless you have some other suggestion?”
For the sake of peace—and the recommendation he eventually had to sign—Dhani
shrugged acceptance. Don’t piss off the Tizraki bear with a bag of hornets up its arse on the
first day. There’d be a year’s worth of days, four hundred and twelve to be exact, in which to
do the same.
“Talking is fine.” She tapped the list of names. “I’ll take Erdogal Timoyucik and Jursek
Cerevin. Their addresses are in Tergayit on the southern side of the city. You can take Temek
Huyurgal and Papat Yenidogat. I’m sure a Tizraki priest would rather talk to a Tizraki than a
gods-denying Homelander, anyway.”
The fires-of-hell look flickered in his eyes once more and disappeared. He stared at the
file, at the cockroach, at smears of dust on the table. “We’re partners, Karim. We do this
“This partnership will work better if I work alone, Captain.”
“This isn’t the Ta’Hafiq.”
Dhani ground her teeth. A hall clock elsewhere in the building chimed a muffled eleven
bells. Three days. Surely even a man as stubborn as Parvan Gorshayik could understand
efficiency? She found her most begrudging smile and painted it on her lips.
“In three days, I’m facing court martial, Captain Gorshayik . It might not matter to you, but
I’ll wager a hundred dironi that Bethsehal Shalamir already has an execution order drawn up
and a firing squad etching my name on their bullets. I don’t have time to waste.”
“You should have thought about that before you gave Shulim Bethsehal lip.”
“Shulim Bethsehal should have kept her mouth shut about her political allegiances. I’d
rather not know her underwear gets hot and sweaty over an emperor deposed for nation-sized
Gorshayik muttered something unintelligible under his breath. When he looked up, his
gaze locked with hers and held. “Have you ever run an intelligence mission before, Karim?”
“A number of them.”
“From the beginning? Gathered the facts, created an evidence matrix, mapped out a
Checkmate. She sucked in both cheeks. But how hard could it be, trawling Izurum’s
streets for people with bad pseudonyms and shuffling paper about a desk? Her first year in
the Ta’Hafiq comprised the same basic training as every other Secret Service operative when
it came to gathering intelligence. Give her a week, a re-read of a few Service manuals and
she’d be equal to anyone else working in Internal Affairs. After all, as an assassin she’d
sweated blood, pulled muscles, bent bones, and busted her brain harder than any ordinary
operative ever would—all in the name of carrying out the Imperium’s darkest biddings.
“I’ve fifty-three confirmed kills as an assassin, Captain Gorshayik. Finding someone with
a bad alias shouldn’t be too much of a problem.”
Gorshayik stared her down, unmoved. “This is Internal Affairs, Karim. You can forget
about pulling a blade here anytime soon unless it’s in self-defence.” He brushed a finger
along the scar on his cheek, drawing it away just as quickly. “For now, we run this mission
by the Service rulebook, which means we do it together and we do it under my command.”
So they were back to stalemate again. A caustic voice in her head told her to get used to it.
“There are four names on that list, Captain. You take two, I take two. I don’t see anything
wrong with that.”
Gorshayik straightened to his full height. That she had to look up when she was as tall
as—or even taller than—most Tizraki men was vaguely irritating.
“This isn’t a democracy, Karim. I’m the captain and you follow orders. If that’s too hard to
understand, then think about the recommendation I have to write in nine moons.” With that,
he took a single stride and banged open the door. Not looking back, he flicked a hand at the
file. “Bring the list. We’re going to the archive and then we’re going out together , whether
you like it or not.”
Dhani snatched the list from the desk and shoved it into a pocket. She didn’t need her
mother’s ghost to tell her this was going to be the longest of very long years.
After a time living in the NSW Southern Highlands, she worked as an anthropologist in the Northern Territory for many years.
A decade ago, she retrained as an archaeologist specialising in human remains and Aboriginal archaeology. She now works as a senior archaeologist for a large ecology and heritage consultancy. She is of Aboriginal descent and is deeply grateful to have spent over 20 years protecting Aboriginal heritage. She is currently writing two series:
The Imperial Assassinseries follows the adventures of Dhani Karim, wrongly expelled from the Imperial Assassins for a murder she didn’t commit. Demoted to a rankless covert operative, she fights to prove her innocence and regain her place in the Assassins.
The Children of Dust and Flame series involves Nimala Sirasena, a young woman forced to become the Empire’s secret weapon to save her adopted family. Nimala must overcome hate, prejudice and her own mysterious background if she’s to succeed and save the people she loves.
Katt currently lives on 24 acres in the Murray-Mallee region of South Australia with her husband, two very naughty dogs and lots of prickles.
She does not like Vegemite and has never seen the movie Titanic.
Can you, for those who don't know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
I’m an Australian and I’m both an anthropologist and an archaeologist. For Americans, it’s really important to note that archaeology and anthropology are totally separate disciplines in Australia - like chalk and cheese.
I’ve always made up stories in my head, even as a small child. In fact, I preferred my own company and my toys even when I was very small, and amused myself for days.
My author journey started when I was about 12. I was horse-mad (yes, I had horses) and wrote horse stories, longhand, on foolscap paper.
Then I started reading fantasy. This was the early 1980s (ok, I’m old), and I read books like The Sword of Shannara, then Lord of the Rings, Duncton Wood, The Belgariad, The Dragonlance series...I was hooked.
From there, it was just natural that I started writing fantasy.
Long story short, I got my first publishing contract in 2002 with Magellan Books. The following year I got an agent, and had an offer on a novel from one of the Big Five publishers.
Unfortunately two things happened. My marriage fell apart, and then I became very ill from a hereditary illness. I almost died four times.
I stopped writing fiction until 2015. City of Whispers is my first novel since 2003.
I live on a 24 acre bush property on the Murray River in the state of South Australia. There’s no street lights, we’re about 30 kilometres from the nearest town and we can’t see our neighbours. I despise streetlights with a passion, so this is heaven for me.
I’m married, have two children and a fabulous step-daughter and son-in-law (who are both huge fantasy readers). We have two very naughty dogs, Wiley and Scout.
What is something unique/quirky about you?
I’ve lived most of my adult life in outback Australia, which means when I’m doing fieldwork, I’ve had to camp alone. This doesn’t bother me in the slightest. Cities are far more scary than anything you find in the outback.
I’m of Aboriginal (Wiradjuri) descent, speak an Aboriginal language (Arrernte, pronounced uh-RUN-duh), and have been through Women’s Law (women’s initiation) for the Two Women Dreaming near Watarrka (Kings Canyon), in the Northern Territory. This means I have pretty serious kinship and spiritual responsibilities to both the land and the ladies who put me through Law. They are my aunties, mothers and grandmothers Aboriginal way, even though they are not blood relations as white people have family. Tell us something really interesting that's happened to you!
Probably the most interesting thing? Hmm. I’ve climbed halfway up Mt Everest. That was the travel highlight of my life.
Where were you born/grew up at?
I was born in Sydney and spent some of my younger life growing both there and in a very famous country town called Bowral. Anyone who’s a cricket fan will know that Bowral is the hometown of the legendary Aussie cricketer, Sir Don Bradman.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
I exercise - no joke. Everyday, I walk or run between 10-15 kilometres. Partly I do this to unwind and I also do it to keep fit for my archaeology job. A lot of archaeology is field surveys, where you might have to walk up to 30 kilometres in a day.
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
When I started winning short story competitions - then I knew I was at a place in my writing where other people thought I could write.
Do you have a favorite movie?
I have a few! Independence Day, LoTR, all the Indiana Jones movies (except the fourth one), Himalaya, Amelia, Love Actually, The Day After Tomorrow, The Lion King, Avatar.
You can probably tell I have eclectic tastes.
What inspired you to write this book? City of Whispers came about as I was REALLY annoyed by how so-called kickass female characters were being written by some female writers. Snarky, stick-thin glamazons who never seemed to train, had no muscles or scars, but were somehow experts with weapons...and they were usually 17 years old.
So I set about creating a totally believable, kickass female character. She’s 28 at the start of the series, snarky, ruthless, morally grey, and a little world-weary. There’s scars, both inside and out, she’s not angsty, knows what she wants but life keeps screwing her 50 times sideways and kicking her down.
I was writing another book (which I will publish), and in it, I had a minor character who was an assassin-bodyguard for an empress.
In 2016, I was out bush doing fieldwork in an Aboriginal community called Wingellina (Google it. I assure you it’s REMOTE), and as I was going to sleep, the idea for the Imperial Assassin series featuring the empress’s bodyguard came into my head.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I’ll finish off the Imperial Assassin series and at this stage have three more series planned. Some are in the same world, but others are not.
Do you have any “side stories” about the characters?
Yes, I do. I share them as short stories or and extra scenes to my newsletter subscribers.
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