Actions

Work Header

Virgo at Hades' Gate

Chapter Text

The Magician woke him with breakfast rolls, dressed in Father Theo’s clothing.

Don’t think about that. 

Don’t think at all. 

Just do what he says and pray this turns out somehow.

The Magician explained Edan’s role as, using some makeup and a small mirror, he finished his own transformation into an older man – a Father of the church.

They’d hit the Regicide’s targets first, then rescue Cora as a reward for Edan’s cooperation, he said. “You made up with your church. I need you to do the same thing.”

“Y-you mean with the Vespan church?”

“Oh, no. We’re fine there. You need to mend bridges with Gaston Lares.”

Edan choked, a bite catching in his throat. 

He gulped down a mouthful of water.

“W-what?” 

“I need you to apologize to your father. It shouldn't be so hard. I assume you haven’t even met him.”

Edan shook his head, dumbly.

“Right – we’ll tell him this is part of the penance demanded by your church. That you’re not even sure if he’s heard how you’ve disgraced the family yet, but you have , and now you’re being forced to apologize in person.” 

The Magician turned around, and his transformation into a much older version of himself was shockingly good. He was smiling. “If you act frightened and resentful, you’ll be right in character. You don’t have to pretend to like it. You just have to be there, and let me do most of the talking.”

“Is-is my father on your – your list?”

The Magician turned to pack up his supplies “Just do as I say. And be your innocent, frightened little self.”

Edan glared at his back and tried to finish a final bite. It tasted like dust.

Gaston Lares. The man he’d never met, but who’d had the audacity to demand some form of control over him – some allegiance. 

And Father Theo – 

Edan gripped his water tumbler, trying to not think. To not start crying in the company of his murderer.

His stomach twisted painfully around the meager breakfast.

“Am I helping you murder my father?”

The man didn’t respond as he pinned Father Theo’s button to Father Theo’s collar. 

Finally, he told Edan to give him one specific command, suppressing the lightly glowing eye-rings in his eyes. In the daylight, they were just visible, if you knew what to look for, and then made Edan swear to give him any Obligation he demanded in the moment, if the situation went sideways.

“Sideways?”

The Magician smirked. “You’ll know if it has. Don’t worry.”

 

On their way through the slowly waking city, the Magician stopped at a wine-seller to purchase an extremely expensive bottle of wine in a basket, which he promptly dumped on Edan to carry.

After a half hour of walking, they stopped in front of a huge townhouse in a row of lavish houses. The Magician stepped up to the door and pulled the bell rope. 

A servant opened the door to the Magician's gentle smile. “Good morning, sir. My name is Father Theo, of Cresley. And this is my ward, Edan Lares. We’ve come to see Guildmaster Lares, if we may.”

The servant’s eyes widened, and he insisted they come in at once – that he’d notify his employer immediately.

The hall was equally opulent. A polished wood bench sat along one wall, beside an ornate table. On the table stood a fine porcelain vase with flowers and a silver tray for calling cards. 

Edan dropped his eyes to his toes. They stood on polished marble. 

Such a waste. A man could live comfortably on half this wealth and use the other half to meet the needs of fellow humans.

Of course Gaston Lares would indulge in such a selfish lifestyle.

Does he deserve to die though?

Cora. He was doing this for Cora. Gaston certainly wasn’t any kind of a father to Edan, either. Not like –

Stop. Focus. Just do as he says and get through it. Don’t think about it .

The servant returned. “Please follow me, sirs.”

He lead them up a massive carpeted staircase to a rich door. He gave a soft knock before opening the door and standing back.

Edan’s heart was racing, he noticed. And his palms were wet. If not for the damn basket, he could have wiped them on his slacks.

He looked up.

Gaston Lares looked – like him. A small frown formed in his well manicured brows above a carefully trimmed imperial and narrow beard. Then, a false smile spread across his mouth. “Come in my son – come – meet my guest.”

He wasn’t alone.

Several men sat around him in the massive study.

Edan’s stomach twisted again. One was Father Pierre. 

The Father rose, extending a hand to the Magician. “Father Theo! Welcome to Vespas. I’m Father Pierre.” He shot Edan sharp glance. “And Edan and I are already acquainted.”

Gaston’s eyes narrowed. “You know my son?”

Father Pierre smiled. “I do.”

“You never mentioned that before.” Gaston’s voice had become a bit chilly.

“And you never said you had a second son.”

The Magician glanced around the room, a disarming smile on his face. “How wonderful – Edan has a brother.”

Father Pierre answered for Gaston. “Oh, yes – Flavien.” He shot Gaston another sharp look. “Frankly, I’m disappointed in the boy. You said he’d be joining us this morning –?”

Gaston glared across his desk at the Vespan Father, open hostility in his eyes. Then he glanced back up to Edan and the Magician. 

“Please – sit.” He indicated two more chairs. Then he nodded to the other two men in the room. They sat back in opposite corners, watching the exchange in alert silence. “Edan – this is my Magician, Armand.” He indicated the other, an older man. “And Dougray – a Magician serving the Vespan church.”

The Vespan church.

Cora.

Mother Liliane. His stomach clenched, and Edan nodded, unable to speak.

Fortunately, the Magician – the Regicide, sat beside him smiling and nodding, as if this was perfectly normal. But something about his smile turned Edan’s insides cold.

“How wonderful to meet you both here like this,” he was saying. “What a surprise to find Father Pierre here. You were on our list to visit anyway.”

The man smiled back. “Oh?”

The Magician grimaced. “I’m not sure you’re all totally aware yet of the – indiscretions this young man in my charge has committed. But as part of his penance, he’s been commanded to make a formal apology to yourself, Guildmaster, and to Father Pierre. But first –” he reached for the bottle in the basket Edan held. “The church of Cresley sends their warm regards with this gift.”

Gaston had been glaring at Edan, but then his eyes widened with pleasure as he saw the bottle’s label. He grinned. “Apologies always go down better with such a vintage. Armand – send Molly for some glasses.”

The Magician slipped out, returning a minute later with a tray set with four glasses and a corkscrew. He placed it on the desk and returned to his chair.

The Regicide sat up, uncorked the bottle with a flourish, and poured. After handing out the three glasses, he took one himself, swirled it, smiled, and took an appreciative sip. Father Pierre and Gaston’s eyes seemed to follow his motions, not drinking themselves until he’d swallowed several times.

Edan tested the dark liquid himself. It was a good vintage. A warm, fuzzy feeling seemed to flow from the sharp taste, and he began to relax a fraction.

Then the Magician shot him a pointed glance. “Now, Edan.”

He took a deep breath and set his cup down. “F-father. I-I –” He took another breath. Just apologize. He didn’t have to mean it. His face was hot. He dropped his eyes to the desktop. “I-I made s-some – rash – I-I s-said – things. About – a-about M-Magicians. A-and I-I was w-wrong. T-to question. Ch-church teaching. On this.”

Father Pierre’s expression softened instantly. “Because of Cora?”

He nodded dumbly.

Gaston glared. “You said these things publicly?

He nodded again.

“Before our Assembly, I’m afraid,” the Magician put in, his voice vaguely sad. “The boy was upset. He acted rashly, and said things he quickly came to regret. Returning to the church, he begged for absolution, vowing to do any penance we require. Naturally, Guildmaster Lares – you may choose to forgive and restore, or cut him off. That is out of our hands, but we’d urge you to consider forgiving your son.”

Edan nodded, staring at his hands that had clenched into fists in his lap. “A-and the same to F-Father Pierre.”

The Magician gave him a nod. “Of course,” he grimaced again. “Of course – I must warn you, Father Pierre – that our First Father does have grave concerns about how you’re teaching the Magician Cora. I’ve not come purely on a journey of penance, but also to call your church to change in this.” He pulled the letter from an inner pocket. It carried the seal of the Church of Cresley. “Our First Father signed this himself. I planned to visit your church, but I could entrust this to you here.”

Father Pierre coughed. “I’m sorry – I think – you should come to the church as you planned. And –” He flushed. “Don’t – don’t mention that we met. Here.”

The Magician’s eyebrows came together. “I’m not sure I understand you, Father.”

Gaston snorted. “What my distinguished friend is saying is, he doesn't want his First Father to hear about our private dealings.” He grinned at the Magician he’d introduced as Dougray. “It’s fortunate for him that our First Father isn’t a Nobleman.”

Father Pierre tossed back the rest of his wine, glaring. “And you said your damn son would be here! Where is he, Lares?”

Edan shifted, feeling the tension in the room, but the Magician beside him was politely studying his wine glass.

Pierre turned, the words coming out in a quick rush. “Armand – where is Flavien? Speak honestly.”

Gaston pushed to his feet. “How dare –?”

The Magician’s voice from the corner was cold and flat. “I don’t know. He slipped out sometime last night and hasn’t returned.”

The Regicide coughed. “Your glasses are empty – sir. Father. Allow me.”

Gaston glared, his face as red as Edan’s must be. “Please,” he growled.

“And then – I believe – Edan and I should be going. We still must visit the church.”

Father Pierre shifted uncomfortably. “Yes – right. Just – this is a delicate – situation. You see. You churchmen of Cresley – you just don’t have the – the political intricacies we have here in Vespas. Just – it would be better for everyone if you never mention this.”

The Magician nodded, smiling, and served another round of drinks. “Of course. I swear on my priestly oaths that I won’t mention seeing you here this morning.”

Father Pierre smiled. “Thank you, Father Theo. Edan? I’d love to see you – come by my office, will you son?”

Edan nodded to his toes.

The Magician rose. “Then we will take our leave of you both. Farewell Guildmaster Lares – please consider forgiving your son.”

Gaston glowered up at them, then nodded. “I’ll think on it. Thank you for your visit, Father Theo.”

The Magician gave them a smile. “Saints bless all in this house.” Then, a hand on Edan’s arm, he drew him from the room.

The servant met them on the landing and escorted them to the front door.

Outside on the street, the Magician took off at a rapid walk away from the house. When they were out of sight, then, he ducked into an alley and began to strip off his priestly vestments, muttering in a rush, almost to himself. “ Damn Flavien – he was supposed to be there, too – Armand will still be under liegeoath when the poison takes effect – Dougray will be fine, I think –”

Edan stared. Some part of his mind was telling Edan that the Magician expected him to follow and remove his signs of his priesthood, but –

Poison?

Where? How? Was Gaston – was his father – right now – dying?

He’s not my father. 

His throat tightened anyway.

The Magician continued to talk. “ – damn it – wake up! You can’t walk in there with those on and not draw attention.”

“Huh?”

The Magician hissed with impatience. “I know where Flavien is – he only goes one place when he gives Armand the slip. Damn that man – to choose this morning to go.” 

“B-but – poison? You – m-my father –?”

The Magician wadded his vestments into a bundle and then, with a quick glow of light, they vanished. “Yes – keep up, damn it – he should be well on his way toward dead, and if he’s got a bit of a wit left, he’ll know it’s us and send Armand on our tail.” He grinned nastily. “Or send him straight to attack the church.” 

“How?”

“Do. As. I. Say. Now.”

Edan nodded, and fumbled with his outfit. His hands were shaking. Somehow he got it all off, and the Magician vanished it all as well. Then, hailing a coach, he rattled off an address, and they were off.

Edan stared at the plush seat across from him, careful to not look at the Magician. 

He felt like he was moving through a thick fog. The kind that obscured the senses and left you – especially a Nobleman – lost, disoriented, and afraid.

He’d just met – and then helped murder – his father. With the same man who’d just murdered Father – 

The fog wasn’t thick enough to numb the pain there. Not yet. Maybe not ever.

So this is how it feels to be a murderer .

It didn’t feel like – anything. 

Saints – was this all a horrible illusion? Or a dream? Maybe – maybe he’d wake up and Father Theo – 

No, he couldn't do that to himself. This was real. There was no convincing himself of anything else.

The coach stopped, and the Magician jumped out. Edan followed more carefully into a world of noise and smells and jostling bodies. This was far from the wealth of Gaston’s neighborhood.

The Magician pulled him toward a door. A drunk slumped against the step. “Listen carefully – with luck, he’ll be passed out in some corner. With less luck, he’ll still be awake and playing at cards. If I can use poison, I will. But this could go sideways quickly. I may have to use magic. Tell me to kill Flavien Lares at a time that I choose.”

Edan nearly tripped. “K-kill?”

The Magician spun around, snarling. “Do as I say, damn it!

Edan stuttered out the words, and the Magician lead the way, inside.

The air was thick with tobacco smoke and the fumes of alcohol, as men hunched around card tables, their eyes red with drink and sleeplessness. 

The Magician stopped at the door, scanning the room. He peered into the corners, his eyes jumping from table to table. 

He hissed in frustration. “He’s not here –  Gale bloody damn it –” Grabbing Edan’s arm, he drug him along as he wove his way to the bar at the back of the room.

A red-faced man was pulling a mug of beer when he looked up and saw them. His face split into a wide grin. “And what would you gentlemen be drinking, then?”

The Magician leaned against the bar, and answered in a low tone. “We’re here to meet Flavien Lares – he said to come here – but we don’t see him. I’m afraid we’ve missed him.”

The man laughed. “Oh –  Saints! He won’t be out here   – didn’t he explain –? Oh – never mind –” He waved a pudgy hand at a door. “You can wait in the kitchen an’ I’ll send Kat to let him know you’re here.”

The Magician smiled, thanked the man, and – his grip still on Edan’s arm – pulled him through the doorway.

Compared to the noisy chaos of the public room, the kitchen was peaceful. Currently empty of human inhabitants, a pot of stew bubbled above a low fire, and a row of thick loaves were rising on a sideboard.

Edan let out the breath he’d been holding, and the Magician let him go. 

The Magician glanced around the room. “We’ll be alone – I’ll do this quick and dirty. We don’t have time for a plan.” He glanced back at Edan and grimaced. “I don’t think I’ll need it, but – in case he’s got the chance to speak – I need to make sure he can’t gain control over me. Tell me to defy any Obligation from Flavien Lares that interferes with my ability to kill him.”

Edan gaped. In his mind, he saw Cora drop to the floor, gripping her head. “But –”

“Damn it – I know what I’m doing – just give it to me.”

Edan managed to get that Obligation out as well. 

Then, they stood there, waiting.

Kill Flavien Lares.

Edan would be more than party to murder – he’d be the driving power behind it.

His stomach twisted violently.

This – this Flavien. That man would be his – his brother. Well, half-brother.

Parricide. Fratricide. 

This is who I am now.

A man who looked achingly like Gaston entered the kitchen from another door. “Hello? I’m sorry – do I know you?”

The Magician started forward, smiling. He raised a glowing hand, and the floorboards shifted, sending Flavien sprawling. He fell with a cry and a gasp onto his face.

A knife was in the Magician’s hand as he took two long steps forward at nearly the same moment.

A small voice screamed. “No – stop!”

Edan spun around to see a sticky little face appear at the door. The boy skidded to a halt, wide eyes on the Magician, and a woman – a girl? – caught him. She froze at the sight of the Magician as well.

What –?

The Magician, too, glanced his way, and nearly tripped. He froze, glancing between the man on the floor and the child, now squirming in the woman’s arms. 

A look of horror filled the Magician's eyes, then, it shifted to cold determination. He turned, and started forward again.

But his hesitation had given Flavien the chance he’d needed to shout a command to not move – for an hour.

A shudder seemed to pass through the Magician’s body, and his hand shook, but he started forward again. 

Flavien struggled, trying to push to his feet, eyes now wide with fear. “Stop –  damn you – don’t move!”

The Magician raised a hand, and the floor seemed to grab the Nobleman, dragging Flavien to his knees. Something between a grin and a snarl filled the Magician’s face.

And finally – Edan’s mind caught up to his eyes and ears. His own voice seemed to reach him from far away. “Please – can we talk this out? Please, can we not kill a man in front of his own child?”

His child . The Obligations that controlled Armand. Edan turned cold. The boy would inherit them the moment the Regicide’s knife ended Flavian’s life.

But the Magician stopped. His voice was shaking and strained. “Lares – rescind all Obligations and I’ll talk.”

Flavien choked out the words, and the Magician’s shoulders slumped. He rolled them back, and flexed his hands. “Right – understand this – if you give me any Obligation – I won’t stop again – I will kill you.”

Flavien nodded, shooting a warning glance at the woman. She placed her hand over the child’s mouth, pressing him against herself. Now they stood there together, wide-eyed and silent.

“Okay,” Flavien said, his voice soft and shaking. “Okay – w-what do you want from me?”

The Magician grinned sardonically as several beads of sweat rolled down the side of his face. “I’m the Regicide. Perhaps you’ve heard of me. I just killed your father – and I’m here to kill you too.”

Edan stepped forward, hardly thinking about what he was saying. “N-no – you – Armand. You said – you’re here to free Armand.”

Flavien blanched. “If you want – Armand – I swear – I’ll release my father’s Magician –” He glanced at the frightened woman and child. “Just –” he choked, his face draining of the color left. “My – my son. Are you going to – ?” He swallowed. “What can I do? To convince you – to – to – not –? Please – not my son .

The Magician – the Regicide – clenched his hands into fists. He shot the woman and boy a look. “You kept them secret.”

Flavien nodded. “Yes,” he whispered. “You think my father would approve –?” he laughed bitterly. “So that’s not a concern anymore. You say – he’s – he’s really dead?” There was pain in his voice, and he looked up, into Edan’s eyes. “Why?” 

Edan’s stomach lurched painfully. He was going to throw up.

And he knew one burning truth. This was wrong. 

Cora, Armand, Magicians and Nobles all aside, this was wrong.

The Regicide wasn’t here to rescue Armand. He was here to kill and destroy. 

 “I rescind all Obligations.” Edan blurted out the words as he spun and ran from the kitchen. Out through the public room – dodging tables and confused faces – and out into the street.

The Magician caught up with him in the alley. A hand on his shoulder that slammed him face-first into the brick wall. His words hissed through clenched teeth. “You –!”

Edan didn’t try to fight him. “Did you know – about the child?”

The Magician stepped away, releasing him. “No. But it makes no difference.” His voice sounded hollow now.

“He’s a child!”

“So was Armand when they kidnapped him. The boy’s a casualty of war. A necessary evil.” 

Edan drew himself up. 

It was like that moment in the Assembly when he’d denounced his church. He’d been vibrating with his own sense of rightness. He’d been so sure of himself. Then he’d fallen into the abyss. Without Father Theo.  

There was a strange calmness here. 

“I’m here to kill you.”

The Regicide meant to kill Edan too, once he outlived his usefulness. 

“No.”

The Magician’s eyes narrowed.

“I-I didn’t mean that as an Obligation,” he gasped, the words coming out in a jumble. “I mean – I won’t. I won’t stop you with my words, but also I won’t help you. I don’t know what’s right anymore. But I know this isn’t it. If that means my death right now at your hands, go ahead. All I can do is hope to the Gale or the Saints or daemons or any power in this Dusk – if there be such – that is good and just, that you will have the same compassion for Cora that you have for Armand.”

The Magician’s hand twitched, and he glared. Then, he looked away, shoulders slumping. “To free Cora, I’ll have to kill that bitch holding her.” His voice was cold and bitter.

Edan winced. “I-I know. A-and I’m – I’m prepared to help you. But – just – her. No others.”

“Fine,” the Magician muttered.

“What?”

“Let’s go get your friend.”

Edan gaped after him, then sprinted to catch up.

Cora. They were going to rescue Cora.

And then?

That was up to the Regicide. Until then, he was going to do what was right. 

 

~ ~ ~

 

They stopped at the inn to wash up. The Magician made their vestments reappear, and he applied new makeup. 

Edan sat down at the table. “R-Regicide?”

The Magician turned, an eyebrow raised.

“I-I need to know. Your plan. I-I need to know everything. About rescuing – Cora.”

“I see.”

“I’d like to know – are you – prepared – t-to tell me?”

The Magician slid into the other chair, smirking. “No. I’m not.” He raised a hand, forestalling Edan’s next question. “To be blunt, I don’t know. Lillian wasn’t a part of my plan. I don’t know her habits. Her office. I’m walking into this blind. So –” he grimaced. “I don’t think we need much of a plan, frankly. If you can get her alone with the two of us, I can kill her. It won’t be clean, but it’ll be effective.”

“Must – must we – k-kill her?”

The Magician snorted. “Feel free to share your idea of how you propose to convince her to release your friend from all Obligations.”

Edan looked away, remembering that horrible moment. When she refused to allow Cora her own mind.

“No,” he whispered.

“So death it is.”

He didn’t have to sound so satisfied about it.

Edan nodded miserably. Death it is.

“I’ll need two basic Obligations to pull this off – to protect your friend, and to kill Lillian.”

Edan nodded, thinking. “Will you allow me to place a limit on those, that they can only be followed by not killing anyone other than Mother Liliane?”

The Magician scowled. “If I said no, you’ll pull out.”

Edan nodded again.

Damn it – fine. Give them to me.”

“Protect Cora – and yourself – from all harm. Kill Mother Liliane. But you must not intentionally cause the death of anyone other than Mother Liliane as you follow these Obligations.” He grimaced. “A-and – I personally am excluded from ‘anyone.’”

The Magician raised an eyebrow. “Another death command, if I choose.”

“Y-your original plan. I’m one of your targets, aren't I?”

The Magician laughed humorlessly. “I’d hear how you worked that out.”

Edan took a deep breath, his eyes still on his hands. “The way you appeared so quickly in Cresley. B-but your – m-my family. Is here. In Vespas. Y-you followed me back to Cresley.”

“Indeed,” he muttered.

 

They pushed through the midday crowds together, but neither man spoke. In their priestly vestments, at least people sometimes avoided jostling them.

So there it was – Edan had said it. And the Magician had confirmed it. He should feel more afraid, really. Right now, he just felt – free? 

He felt less guilty. About Father Theo. That hadn’t been his fault. Not really. Saints – the Magician might have just killed them all and taken the letter, if he hadn’t spoken to Edan first.

He watched his long, narrow frame slide through the crowds.

He’d carelessly murdered Father Theo and Brother Francis. And – and Gaston Lares. And Father Pierre. He’d been pushing through a conflict to kill Flavien. Edan had read enough to guess on what that might have felt like. 

But – but he’d hesitated with the boy. 

You’re not the villain you think you are, Regicide.

His heart lurched with an emotion he couldn't quite name. It wasn’t the numb horror that had filled his soul since – since Cora. And Father Theo.

What have Noblemen done to you?

That was a wrong Edan would never be able to right – not alone. But, at least he could help Cora, even – even if that meant another death.

Just before the gate to the church grounds, the Magician pulled him to the side. “Be prepared for anything. I’ll try and find a time to slip poison into her food or drink,” he showed Edan a tiny pouch he hid in the cuff of his sleeve. “But there’s a good chance that will fail.”

Edan winced. This was it. Mother Liliane must die if Cora was to be freed. 

He took a deep breath of the hot air, filled with the scents of the city – and nodded.

 

In the role of Father Theo, the Magician presented the letter to the keeper of the gate. Then, he requested to see Mother Liliane. So his ward could apologize for his behavior when he was here last.

Another acolyte led them to her office. 

It was like nothing had changed. 

Somehow, Edan’s stomach felt normal. His hands weren’t shaking.

He’d made peace with his own heart. With himself. With his own impending death. With the price of Cora’s freedom.

So much of this had always been out of his hands. 

His responsibility was to his friend who he’d wronged. One wrong small enough in this hurting, bleeding Dusk, that he could right.

He glanced up at the white towers of the church buildings overhead. He’d been awed by this, once. 

To stand by his very priestly vows, he had to leave this system. Built by Noblemen, to insulate Noblemen from any objections to their power –  Gale – did they even listen to the daemons they claimed to revere?

It was just the Gale, really. The power behind their power – the one who maintained this inherently unjust system. A system that put them at the top, as they saw it. 

He glanced at his companion.

He’s trying to bring it down – the whole system.  

Take a step out of a cycle, and the cycle breaks. But – such a cost. That wasn’t – that couldn’t be right either. 

There has to be a third way.

Mother Liliane welcomed them into her office, but she frowned when she recognized Edan. The Magician introduced himself as Father Theo, and explained. “While officially we protest your methods, Mother, we also recognize that our brother did not do so in a way that respected your office or church teachings. He is serving penance, and we have insisted that he apologize to each person he’s offended.”

Edan dropped his eyes to her desk top. 

Those tongs sat there – where they had last time.

His hands tightened into fists, and he met her warm gaze. His voice didn’t stutter. “Yes, Mother.”

Sometimes, there is no third way. Sometimes, you have to make a clear-eyed choice and move forward. 

She started to get tea, and the Magician offered to help. 

“Oh no – you sit down Father, and let me serve you. You too, son. We’ll talk once I get tea.”

The Magician’s hands twitched, but he complied, smiling. “Thank you.”

Finally, she sat, tea cup in her hands, and gave Edan a piercing look. “Go ahead, young man. What do you have to say?

Edan spoke his apology.  She nodded, her lips pressed into a thin line. When he ended, she smiled. “I forgive you – and I do not hold a grudge against your church, either.” She shot the Magician a pointed glance. 

The Magician nodded. “As we’d hoped. Now – hopefully it's not an imposition, but we’d like to speak briefly with the Magician Cora.”

She smiled. “Oh – yes. This will be a good chance for both young people to practice how to behave properly. I’ll ask Pat to go fetch her.”

She pulled her rope, a boy appeared, and she told him to bring Cora. 

That done, she turned her attention back to her guests. “So – do tell me all the news from Cresley – how is the First Father there?”

The Magician gave her another one of his saintly smiles. “Oh, the man is very well –” he dropped his voice. “Whatever you’ve heard – he’s actually quite a good man. Desperate to make sure the church is filling its proper role – is serving people. I know some of the Fathers are annoyed by it, but I find it refreshing.” He launched into a story that Edan was pretty sure was made up on the spot. She leaned forward, listening intently, her eyes landing more and more on his face and hands. He finished his cup and reached for the teapot. She moved to protest, but he shook his head. “Oh, no. It’s my turn to serve you, Mother. You sit. It will be my very great pleasure.”

She blushed, and, grinning, handed him her cup. Dimples had formed in her red cheeks.

“I see you take milk and sugar.”

“Oh yes – but just a splash and one lump.”

The Magician prepared her cup, and placed it in front of her.

“Oh – thank you Father.”

The Magician was smiling.

She raised it to her lips, and drank. “Do you know – I think you put an extra sugar in here.”

He flashed her a grin. “Oh dear. I must have been distracted by your sweet smile.”

She blushed furiously. Then shooting Edan a guilty look, she fought to straighten her face.

A knock sounded on the door, and, clearing her throat, she commanded Cora to enter.

Edan’s hands tightened around his own cup, and his stomach lurched.

Through a thin smile that didn’t touch the dark circles under her eyes, Cora asked in a hollow voice what Mother Liliane required of her.

Edan dropped his own eyes to his toes. How could he have been so blind to the danger he and his kind posed to her – all those cycles ago?

“Father Theo and Brother Edan would like to speak with you, dear heart.” She turned to the Regicide. “You are totally welcome to use my office – I’ll just leave you two here. Cora –” she turned back to the woman. “You must not do anything you know is forbidden, or go anywhere that is forbidden to you in their company. Do you understand?”

“Yes, Mother.”

Mother Liliane shot the Regicide another glowing smile, finished her tea, and pushed to her feet. “Then I’ll leave you –” she caught the corner of her desk. “Oh dear. Perhaps I really should lie down for a minute –” The Regicide stepped to her and took her hand. “Allow me, Mother, to assist you.”

A spasm of pain crossed her face, but her eyes glowed. “Oh – oh yes! Father. Do give me a hand.”

He nodded to Edan, opened the door, and half-carried her from the room. Cora’s eyes followed them. Mother Liliane waved to her. “I’m – I’m fine dear. You – you stay there.”

The Regicide pulled the door shut behind them, and the last Edan saw of him was a wolfish grin.

Cora was standing in the center of the room, hugging herself, and staring at the wall behind Mother Liliane desk.

Edan opened his mouth, searching for words to say – watching for some hint that her Obligations had lifted.

“C-Cora – I –” He stared at his hands. “I know – ”

She sucked in a breath, the air whistling through her teeth. 

Edan set his cup down, and pushed to his feet. “Cora –?”

She spun around, her eyes narrow. “What have you done?”

“A-are – are you – the Obligations –?”

“They’re gone.”

He sagged against the edge of the desk that had belonged to Mother Liliane. “A-all of them?”

“What did you do?”

He raised his chin. “I did what I had to. This –” he waved his hand around the office. “I did this to you. It was my responsibility to fix this.”

The door swung open again, and the Magician slipped in. Satisfaction on his face. “Cora, I need to know whether you’ve been freed from all Obligations.”

She nodded, eyes wide. 

“Right – then, we need to get you out of here before someone finds her body.”

She stared at him. “Who are you?”

He grinned and raised a hand glowing with his golden light. “Some Noblemen call me the Regicide.”

A knock sounded on the door, and all three spun around. Cora’s face seemed to lose what little color it had.

Edan moved instinctively between her and the door. She stepped away.

The door opened to reveal little Pat. He frowned at them. “Where’s Mother Liliane?”

“Laying down in her room,” the Regicide said.

Then the child was shoved aside. “Get out of here, kid,” said a young man. “Run.”

Armand.

He was glowing with an orange light. 

The wave of magic slammed into Edan, knocking all the air from his lungs and slamming him against the far wall. His vision flashed, and he felt himself collapsing to the floor in a heap. 

His ears rang.

Somehow, he knew that the Regicide had grabbed Cora and sprinted for the door, glowing with his own golden light.

For a heartbeat, he looked back, and his eyes met Edan’s. A fraction of indecision was there, and Edan managed a crooked smile.

Go, he thought. Take Cora and go before any Noblemen arrive.

Armand raised his hands again.

“No!”

It was Cora’s voice. “Let me go –  damn it !”

Armand hesitated, and Cora appeared between them. 

She – she doesn’t have any Obligations to protect her –

He – he just – he needed to open his mouth – and – and speak –

The Regicide appeared –

Edan had Obligated him to protect Cora. He’d make sure she was safe –

A wave of gold slammed Armand back as the Regicide grabbed Edan’s arm, pulling him upright. Edan screamed from the sudden pain in his ribs. “Edan – damn it – tell him to stay in this room for the count of one hundred –!”

Edan somehow gasped out the words as another wave of the Regicide’s light knocked Armand back.

As the Regicide dragged both Edan and Cora from the room, he shouted over his shoulder. “I’m sorry Armand – tell Flavian if he doesn’t release you, I’ll be back – and I’ll kill both him and his kid.”

There was no quiet escape this time. The sound had attracted eyes, and too many had seen Father Theo’s magic.

Conjuring another wave of light, the Regicide slammed through the gathered crowd, and they sprinted for the door.

Edan managed to get a few more words out, rescinding his prohibition against killing. 

“Thank you,” The Magician muttered, his breath coming in gasps from running and half carrying Edan.

They’d reached the courtyard when Armand caught up. Shouts and screams seemed to fill the air, but none so far had affected the Magicians.

They were too far from the gate –

A Nobleman would catch them –

“Regicide – open a way through that wall!” Edan pointed, the words coming out in a gasp of pain.

The Magician, glowing with light, shot him a grin, and a door appeared. They sprinted for it.

“Close it behind us.”

The Magician complied, and they dashed down an alley. 

Around a corner. Then another corner.

They paused for a minute to strip off their vestments, then stepped out into the mass of people on the street.

Edan’s ribs were fire and agony. His head pounded, and something was wrong with his eyes –

Cora was free.

Just – get – to – somewhere – safe –

He stumbled, and Cora caught his arm. 

“Thank you,” he gasped. She looked away.

 

~ ~ ~

 

In their room at the inn, Edan dropped to the bed and felt his consciousness slide away.

He smiled – or tried to.

Go ahead, he thought at the Regicide. Cora’s safe.

Saints – there were much worse ways to die, than while unconscious –

 

His eyes hurt.

His everything hurt, actually.

I’m not – dead?

The room was dark, lit by a flickering candle. 

Tobacco smoke.

The dark hour.

The Regicide sat at the table with a book, a cigarette in his hand.

Cora slept in the other bed.

Edan tried to sit up, then fell back with a gasp of blazing pain.

The Magician put down his book, and walked over.

Edan looked up into his eyes. “I’m still alive,” he whispered.

The man sat down on the edge of the bed and put the cigarette to his mouth. He drew in a breath, waited, then blew out a trail of smoke.

Finally, he answered the unspoken question. “Cora insisted. I mean – she was trying to defend you from Armand. I believe her words were ‘if anyone kills him, it’s gonna be me.’” He grinned, studying the cigarette in his hand. “So I’m not sure I did you a favor, kid.”

“I –”

“But,” the Magician interrupted him, his voice steely. “If I ever hear you’ve broken your damn vows – specifically about chastity and fathered another one of your bloody kind – I’ll hunt you down and kill you. Likewise, if you ever even think about wanting more than friendship with that woman.”

Edan flushed. “I – I haven’t renounced my vows – and she’s my friend.

“So you said.”

“Sir?”

The Magician raised his cigarette. Edan took that as an opening.

“Please – I hope – that child. Flavian’s child –?” 

The Magician smirked, but the smile didn’t reach his eyes.

“I rescind all Obligations of mine. I ask only as one man to another – I hope, that if you come to it, that you will – at least – spare the child.” Edan grimaced. “I think – I think you’re a better man than you think you are.”

The Magician blew out more smoke. “Prepare to be disappointed. I left you alive for Cora – you ruined her life – so now you’d better make damn sure this never happens to her again.”

“I will. A-and – ” Edan fumbled for the words he was trying to say. “I’ll pray – to Gale knows what or who – that someday – w-what – whatever you’re looking for – that you find it. That you find something to live for b-beyond – death. That you find peace.”

The Magician pushed to his feet, laughing softly, but it rang hollow in Edan’s ears. “Good luck with that, kid.” 

“And – thank you,” Edan whispered. 

The Magician didn’t respond.

Edan let himself slide back to sleep, and when he next awoke, the Regicide was gone.

 

Cora didn’t speak to him as they packed up what they could, and slipped out into the crowds. Right now, she probably needed his silence more than his fumbling apologies. 

This was Edan’s new life. His old one had died.

He’d protect Cora – and maybe, earn her trust again, one day.

And he’d find – somewhere – within or beyond the Dusk – something that was still right and true and good. He was going to use all he had – natural philosophy and books and writings to search that out.

Or die trying. 

Maybe, Cora would be willing to help him, one day, as well.