Illumination 8.4: Every Breathless Moment

To Jehane, everything was movement and stillness: flurries of snow, the cold air passing over her, the warmth that didn’t move, breath passing through her hair. It was all a dance, tinted red, and set to the crashing thunder of the cat Cambion’s attack. The burst of shadow music overwhelmed her mind, echoing and re-echoing in her head. It took close to forever for the sound to fade.

As it did fade, as she reclaimed more of her mind and more of her awareness, she realized that the movement and the warmth was part of the same thing: somebody was carrying her as he moved quickly through cold air.

The snow-covered city. And Malachi. But she didn’t know why he was carrying her.

He deposited her on a bench after brushing snow away. She sat, letting her surroundings filter through her awareness. They were on a rooftop somewhere, still within the snow-covered city. He was better prepared for the weather than she was, in a heavy jacket with gloves tucked through a belt loop. His hands were in his pockets and he looked down at her with impassive patience.

“What… what happened? What’s going on? Why are we here?”

He just looked at her for another moment, then pulled one of his hands from a pocket and raised it. Her own wrist jerked up, and she realized the red chain connecting them wasn’t just a remnant left in her head. A vague, inexplicable disappointment passed through her, and she really wished she’d had a chance to talk to Natalie about Malachi.

That thought led to another. “Are you taking me to Hatherly?”

“Didn’t I say I’d kill you before I let him have you?”

She remembered his hand resting against her throat when she’d been their hostage. “Not.. not in so many words.”

His brows drew together, as if he was puzzled by her response. “No? It’s true, though.”

“Then let me go?”

He opened his hand. She pulled on the chain, which only pulled his hand close to her face. She stopped.

“A joke of Natalie’s cambion. It cannot be cut away. It binds us together, but otherwise it doesn’t exist.”

Jehane’s breath puffed out, white fog. “Then what are you going to do?”

He sighed. “Hatherly is waiting for my report. I suppose I must kill you.”

She stared at him, then held out her unbound hand and played the chord of her stage 3 weapon in her mind. The long-hafted blade nestled itself into her hand.

Malachi’s face moved in something that was almost a smile. It wasn’t like one of Seth’s many grins, but as quiet as Malachi himself. He touched the blade of her weapon with his fingers, and she could feel the touch, deep inside.

Her voice shook as she asked, “Why do you work for him?”

The hint of a smile vanished. “I see the merit in his plan, although it isn’t the merit he believes in.”

“You like the power it gives you?”

“I like the peace it gives them.” He swept his hand out to encompass the city.

She stared at him. “That’s awful.”

He shrugged, still looking at her. The hint of a smile returned. His fingers were still on her weapon’s blade. She could kill him right now and he probably wouldn’t even resist. And she knew she should. The practical consideration of whether she’d then be chained to a corpse, or a severed hand, should not be relevant, not after what he’d just said.

Instead, she said, “Why don’t you want me to join Hatherly?”

“You of all people deserve mercy, which is not what he offers.”

“The mercy you want all of them to have?” she asked. “I don’t want that mercy.” He only looked at her. She wrapped the fingers of her bound hand around the chain. For all that he said it was insubstantial, she could feel it quite well: it was warm, warm as human skin, and as hard as justice. “Do you want that kind of mercy?”

He looked away, dropped his hand. “I have work to do.”

“Killing everybody,” she said, bitter and not trying to hide it. She’d thought he was more interesting than this. She’d thought he was more than the skin of the boy she’d used to know, scraped clean of all humanity. She’d been certain.

He shifted his weight uncomfortably, then stepped away, as far as the chain would let him. She let go of the links she’d been holding, but it wasn’t enough; they were still bound together. She looked down, vision blurring.

His voice, when he spoke again, was different. Strained, cracking. “I’m doing the best I can.” When she looked up again, wiping the wetness from her eyes, his shoulders were hunched, his hair a veil across his face. “Emily—” he began, then fell silent.

She whispered, “What happened to Emily?”

“She died in pain,” he said, his voice flattening.

Jehane bit her lip. “Who killed her?”

From behind Malachi, a new voice spoke. “What have you got there? Oh, very nice. But you’re keeping her all for yourself, I see.”

It was Tainter.

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