Prince Raeyn was dead.
At least that’s what they said, no matter where you went. Orion had been the first who’d told me and that alone was reason enough not to believe it. Wouldn’t be the first time that he’d made a mess by passing on wrong tips. It wouldn’t really have mattered all that much if Orpheus hadn’t gone fucking ballistic about it.
So there we were, all but kicked out into the street, because the boss wanted information. Not that it was very hard to get what we wanted. There wasn’t a better way to go hunting for information than the Marché Noir.
The streets were buzzing with talk and I’d doubt the Watch would be able to shut them up, even if they tried. Ain’t happening every day that one of them royals died. What made it even better was that the Eye himself had done it.
Not a clue where that one came from, but it didn’t matter. True or false, it was the number one topic and if talk could have lit lanterns, the entire core of Helos would’ve been bright as day. Since it didn’t, the usual would have to do and that made it harder and harder not to run into people as you pushed your way through the masses. If business had been picking pockets tonight, we’d be rich. It wasn’t, but that still didn’t mean I was very good at resisting temptation. A bit honest thieving here and there couldn’t hurt none. Wasn’t as if anyone was watching anyway.
The Marché Noir was safe. As long as the bribes kept coming, the Watch would keep their noses out of the market. No need to say that most of what you could get at the Marché was drugs and anything else that the Watch didn’t want honest folk to get their hands on.
Tonight all that didn’t matter and there could’ve been a fucking raid and nobody would have cared. Raeyn was dead and everyone and their dog had something to say about it.
“I don’t believe it,” Ares said next to me. “Not before I’ve seen the body.”
“Now ain’t we morbid, huh?” The comment was out faster than I could think. One look at his face was enough to know that it had hit straight home. Something was nagging at him and I’d bet it had nothing to do with whether or not Raeyn was dead or not.
He hadn’t slept again. I’d have sent him back to the Shadow, but I knew he wouldn’t listen. With that kind of stuff Ares was as stubborn as a mule and there was nothing I could do about it. That and I really wasn’t in for Orpheus throwing another of his fits.
“I’m serious, Damian. Why would the Eye kill his own heir? And don’t tell me you honestly believe that story about him being Cursed?”
“Who knows?” I shrugged. “That’s obviously what they believe.”
“But that’s just the point,” Ares got back at me. “Maybe that’s exactly what the Eye wants them to believe? Nice, smooth tale to dispose of an inept heir, don’t you think?”
I shrugged again. Honestly, I didn’t care and I had a feeling we’d find out soon enough anyway. Everyone knew that nothing good came from the royals.
Thing that got the city all worked up wasn’t so much Raeyn’s death as it was what’d come next anyway. Nobody here pretended they’d had much love for the prince. He’d never been around much to begin with. Not unless his father dragged him out of the Palace.
So yeah, Ares had a point there and we all knew how Sirius Nymeron loved to play cat and mouse, making people think whatever he wanted them to think. But this?
“I don’t know. I just don’t think it makes sense. None of it. Maybe-”
Whatever I was about to say was cut short by a high-pitched scream. That sort of scream that means trouble and sure as the Seven Hells there was half a count of Redcoats to go along with it.
“What the-” I didn’t get to finish the sentence.
Saying Ares had gone white didn’t even begin to cover it. Eyes wider than ever, he just stood there, looking as if someone had just hit him with a sledgehammer. And then, sure as fucking hell, he grabbed me by the arm and dragged me forward, right into the middle of that fucking mess.
“What the fuck is wrong with you? Stop!”
I could just as well have yelled against a wall. Ares didn’t even blink.
I heard Dahlia Laras’ voice before I saw her. Then everything seemed to drown in a mass of color.
Something inside me froze when I realized what was happening, what had made the entire Marché Noir fall silent as if thunderstruck. As far as I was concerned it wasn’t far off.
The colors hit me like lightning bolts, flaring to life in front of my eyes. I had never seen anything like it and part of me wanted to run, while the other part just stood there, staring. I couldn’t have moved even if I wanted to. Everything seemed to bleed together and I dimly felt Damian holding me back, dragging me off to the side. Even from the shadows I could still see them.
Two of Laras’ lackeys were holding the boy down, pinning him against the cobblestones. He probably wasn’t even eighteen yet, but the panic in his eyes made him look even younger. Young enough not to know that struggling wouldn’t help him. Nothing would.
The other two kept a girl in check. She could have been the boy’s female copy. Twins.
Her blue eyes were wide with fear, one of them backhanded her harshly, silencing her wailing.
“I haven’t done anything!” the boy cried and finally stopped trying to wriggle free. Laras stalked over to him, her face giving away nothing but mild apprehension.
“Oh, don’t worry. We’ll find out about that in a minute,” she said in that sweet voice of hers. If anything she sounded bored, but experience had taught me never to underestimate her. Dahlia Laras only looked like a fragile porcelain doll, but inside, she was as cold as steel. I tried not to remember how often she had used that tone on me and what had followed.
“Test him, Loran,” she commanded flatly, watching one of the men holding the boy place his hands on the blond’s head.
The colors didn’t even flicker apart from the burst of light that seemed to erupt from the Watchman’s hands. It was bright enough that it temporarily blinded me and I jerked my head away trying to escape.
Still, the colors remained, spots dancing, leaving negative imprints behind my closed eyelids. When I opened them again, it was still the same. The boy shrouded in a wavering miasma of blue, the same blue as the man holding him down. Only the one Laras had called Loran was surrounded by a white glow that was slowly receding.
I knew it before Loran shook his head.
“It’s not him, Captain.”
And then I saw it. Everyone around me shrouded in the same blue, some lighter, some darker. Only the girl gave off a faint orange glow. I could barely see it, but recognizing what it was, made me gasp.
“It’s her,” I whispered breathlessly, still dazed and unable to take my eyes off her. I remembered having seen it before. It had been years ago and back then I had shrugged it away as a figment of my imagination. The realization of what it was that I’d seen, that I was seeing now brought up something between a hysterical giggle and a sob.
The Curse. Oh Gods…
For a moment it felt as if Laras was staring directly at me, as if she could read my very thoughts. But her dark brown eyes were utterly dispassionate when she focused on the girl and spoke again.
“Now that was a rather disappointing performance, wasn’t it?” She made a dismissive gesture towards the boy, but you didn’t know Dahlia Laras if you as much as thought that she was done with the matter. She didn’t carry the soubriquet Iron Maiden for nothing. I’d argue the Maiden part, but once she’d set her mind on something she wouldn’t let go.
Laras’ gaze rested on the girl again. She hadn’t made a single sound since Loran had Touched her twin, but her mind was screaming with panic. I would have covered my ears if I thought it might help, but I knew it wouldn’t. Just as I knew that I was the only one who could hear her and that thought alone was enough to make me want to run. If only I could have as much as moved.
Distantly, I felt how my hands clenched around Damian’s arm. He said something to me, but I couldn’t make out what it was. He still held me and I couldn’t tell him that it wasn’t necessary. I couldn’t have moved as much as my little finger.
This time Laras did the work herself instead of leaving the testing Touch to one of her flunkies. If anything, the orange glow only intensified when she seized the girl’s head. A small gasp and the approving smile on Laras’ face were the only outward indicators that she had found something. And then she began to draw on the girl’s mind and I wanted to scream.
Sudden pain exploded between my eyes and I felt my knees buckle underneath me. I would have fallen if it hadn’t been for Damian who still held me in a tight grip. I felt my nails digging into his arm, my hands all but claws, but he still didn’t let go.
I heard someone scream, but no sound came across my lips, my ears filled with the sound of my own breath coming in ragged gasps.
Just when I thought that I couldn’t stand it any longer, ready to give in to the pain rendering me all but mad, it was over.
With the pain, the glow around everybody faded, all that remained was a dim residue around everyone that I could see.
The only one who didn’t give away anything was the girl and the sight of her brought back the dream I’ve been having over and over again.
The dream of the night my father had died. Now I knew what he had seen. One glance at the girl’s ghastly face, near lifeless, drained of all color. Same as her eyes…
Gods, their faces. Their Eyes…
They call it a humane solution. The only one that doesn’t kill.
People disappear and what is left behind… Ah, Gods…
And nobody knows. Nobody fucking knows.
Now I knew what he had meant and I knew. It had been a warning and I remembered Arturiel’s last words before he had killed my father.
Resistance against the Empire means death.
…a humane solution…
I shook my head, finally able to break free of Damian’s grip. I managed to stagger into the shadows just far enough that no one but Damian could see me falling to my knees and vomiting.
For a moment I just knelt there, retching while my head still pounded with the aftermath of what I had just experienced. I tasted bile at the back of my throat when I opened my eyes again to find Damian kneeling next to me, regarding me worriedly.
“Dieux, you just scared the living fuck out of me,” he said after a while. “What the fuck was that?”
Trust in Damian to get to the point. “I-,” I took a deep breath, trying to make my voice work. “I don’t know… I just saw- Oh Gods-” I shivered and caught myself rocking back and forth on my heels.
Damian licked his lips as if to say something. Without another word, hugged me hard and for a while we just sat crouched there in the dark, hanging on to each other as if our life depended on it. None of us said anything. For this we didn’t need words.
I closed my eyes, trying to make the image of the girl’s vacant eyes go away, but she just kept staring at me with those dead, knowing eyes.
They call it a humane solution. The only one that doesn’t kill.
They were wrong, but this was worse than death. Far worse.
I couldn’t take it any longer and opened my eyes, forcing myself to concentrate on Damian who helped me to my feet again. His smoky gray eyes lingered on me for a while before he whispered, “That’s what the Curse is like, ain’t it?”
A jerky nod of my head was the only answer I was able to give him. Yes. That’s what the Curse is like and it’s only beginning.