His hand flew to his side, where the knife was at his belt, and threw it across the room before she could do so much as blink. He didn’t hesitate. Gideon hated to think that Adrienne might be proud of that, and it wasn’t what he was here for.
He went still when the dagger sunk into her chest. It wasn’t a direct hit to her heart like he’d hoped, but it was deep enough to be fatal.
The Comtesse’s mouth had opened, and her eyes widened. Her hand flew to her chest, below the dagger, and the peered down at it.
And then the area around the dagger started to glow red. Aelina glanced back up and raised an eyebrow.
“Did you know what you were doing when you came to kill me, or did you figure it out on the way? I must say,” she stood up, “it was a stupid plan. I have healing magic, boy. Did you really think a little dagger was going to hurt me?”
A haze suddenly filled his mind and Gideon blinked heavily as Aelina stepped daintily over to him. Her shift left little to the imagination, small as it was, but she was smaller.
Her lips didn’t move but it was her voice he heard. Before Gideon could collect his thoughts, he was on his knee, bracing an elbow on his raised leg. He fought to keep his chin up, something inside him screaming at him to bend his head to. Bend his head to his ruler, to the Comtesse.
She pulled the dagger free from her chest. The red magic swirled around the spot she’d removed it, but the dagger glinted gold in the light of a single candle at her bedside. She hadn’t been awake before, not with the one light on- the flowerbox had woken her. Some assassin you are.
He narrowed his eyes as she flicked the dagger away. It flew through the air and out the window, but Gideon couldn’t shake the image of her holding it from his mind. It was an iron dagger. There hadn’t been any gold on it when Malika had given it to him.
“I should have known there were more of you,” Aelina sighed. “That is how you escaped, isn’t it? Doesn’t matter. I won’t make the mistake of letting you die on your own this time. I’ll take care of that for you.”
She turned away from him and Gideon’s heart leapt into his throat. “Wait,” he said through gritted teeth. He felt like he was wearing an iron collar almost too tight to speak. Aelina paused. “Why aren’t you killing me then, if you won’t make that mistake then?”
“Stalling won’t save your friends,” she said. “And I don’t very well need to kill you if I don’t need iron bars to keep you still, do I? Not until after they’re dead, of course. I can always use more fighters like you.”
A lump rose in Gideon’s throat and with the phantom pressure there, it hurt. He swallowed it away. It didn’t help much. “Why do you want to release magic? I know why Von Brandt wanted to. What about you? You already have magic, what does releasing more do for you?” He wasn’t sure keeping her talking until figuring out what he was going to do was going to work. She already knew what he was doing.
But he wasn’t going to let her walk out of her room and sent people about Carter, Isha, and Malika.
Aelina faced him again, her mouth curling upwards. She tilted her head. “Do you suppose you’re clever?”
“I’d call it curiosity actually.”
Her eyes narrowed for just a second. Then she took a step away from him, backing towards the door. There were guards filling the Comte’s Hall. There was probably at least one outside her door as well.
“Let me bring them back,” he said, before he could think better of it. “Unless you’re tracking them the way you tracked Shiloh, how do you know where they’re going? You don’t.”
“I have guards all over the city. They can’t leave,” Aelina pointed out. She had straightened out, however. Her arms crossed over her chest. She wasn’t quite smiling anymore.
If Gideon could have, he would’ve raised an eyebrow. As it stood, he could barely keep his chin level. “You’ve never had someone smuggle themselves out of the city?” he asked. “Have you ever had a pirate queen smuggle someone out of your city?” Aelina’s lips parted, ever so slightly, but Gideon latched onto it. “You didn’t know who it was with us? I’m guessing you don’t know about her forces then, or what they’ll do if they think you hold their captain hostage?”
“They’re not a danger to me, or the city,” Aelina said, dismissively. She turned away from him, but this time, approached a little table that held shined goblets and a pitcher of what looked to be wine. It looked like the wine Finn had gotten in the vials he’d given Gideon.
“Then let me go. If I’m not a danger, why are you keeping me on my knees? Nothing I can do can kill you, clearly, and I have no weapons.”
Aelina stared at him, even as she tipped her head back to take a sip of wine, for a long several moments. She set the goblet she’d drank from aside. “Maybe I like to see men kneeling after underestimating what I’m capable of.”
“Let me go,” Gideon repeated. He stopped resisting the crushing weight against his head and allowed his chin to dip forward. His eyes never left Aelina’s. “Jacques has told you about the coteries. I wasn’t raised to love, to care. I was raised to be a weapon. I could be yours. I’m better than Finn is. Let me bring them back to you. You might be able to find them, you might not. Are you going to have your half-decayed army wander the city, with all the citizens? What about the fact that even if Finn catches Shiloh, she’s already gotten rid of the magic again?”
This was all an incredibly stupid plan. Gideon was laying everything out for her, giving her everything she needed. She had no reason to let him go, not when she held all the power over him. Quite literally.
She watched him for another long few moments, and then picked up the wine pitcher and poured into a separate goblet. The weight constricting around Gideon suddenly left, and his limbs didn’t fell paralysed anymore. He let out a long breath and got to his feet slowly.
“You know, I don’t enjoy killing people,” she said. Gideon forced himself not to raise an eyebrow. She held out the goblet she’d just poured wine into and held it out to him. “How do you know Shiloh doesn’t have the magic anymore?”
He approached carefully. This was a second chance, and he wasn’t going to mess it up again. His heart was pounding in his ears like thunder, adrenaline like lightning in his veins. He felt like he was back on his first assignment. A merchant, because he had a cart full of supplies from the mainland going to the Capital, and Vasile wanted the supplies.
“The plague going around your city,” Gideon said. Then, he took the goblet and tipped it back. It was warm in his throat, but it tasted like acid. It tasted like familiarity, a darkness waiting to cocoon him. To take him back under its wing. His knuckles were white around the goblet to keep his hands from shaking. He dropped his hand below eye level before the Comtesse could notice.
She took a sip of her own and then raised her eyebrow in prompting. “The plague… what?”
“It’s not a plague,” he said. Her eyes hardly widened, but he could see the surprise colouring her expression. It was in the smallest details, the smallest twitch of her mouth, and the smallest way she breathed a little harder than necessary.
Gideon stared down at her – which was a rare thing, he didn’t get to look down at people often – and her heart squirmed. She had been eleven when her father had died. Had he? Had she killed him? Did it matter? She was young- did she even know what she was doing? Ruling a whole island?
Isha’s dying. Aelina’s trying to have them all killed.
There were patches of Gideon’s past he couldn’t remember, but one thing that stood out to him was how much Isha had always complained about some of her training. She’d been Aelina age when she learned how to seduce a mark into trusting you before thrusting a blade through their chest. Where to touch, how to speak, how to sound.
Of course, he’d never been given any such training, but Isha had gone on in length about it.
Gideon was in a room with a powerful woman who wanted to kill people he loved who could control him without even blinking her eyes. He had no weapons, and if he made one wrong move, he’d become one of her mindless assassins with glowing red eyes and no control of his own self. She’d release magic again, half the island could die. It was control- a step further than even the coteries, and Gideon had no intentions of giving up control ever again.
And he had one chance to escape. I’m so sorry, Carter. I’m so sorry.
He stepped forward and Aelina whirled to face him, ready to command him away from raising a hand to her. Gideon could have swallowed his own tongue in that moment – really would have rather done that – but his hands were quick, at his sides one moment and cupping her face in next. Then he kissed her, and his stomach turned like he was on a ship for the first time.
She went still against him. She was surprised- she’d expected him to attack her, but she hadn’t expected him to kiss her. To be fair, Gideon hadn’t either.
His hands were bigger than her face, and he’d pressed them back over her ears. He wound his fingers in her hair, and then snapped her head as quick and hard to the side as he could.
There was a moment where he didn’t think it had worked, that he’d just messed up her neck by the loud crack. When he pulled away, and there was an absolute shock on her face, and he might have hurt her, but-
She crumpled to the floor, staring up at the ceiling with vacant, glassy eyes.
Gideon stared down at her and pressed his knuckles to his mouth. He’d killed people, in all kinds of different ways. With arrows, with daggers, with his short swords. Gideon had never killed someone with his hands before. Never after kissing them either – not that he’d kissed so many people to start out with.
He hadn’t been raised to love or to care about anyone, but he did. He’d been raised as a weapon, and he was. Gideon stared down at the limp body of the Comtesse in front of him, a woman the same age as him and not even the youngest he’d killed and wanted to come undone. Wanted to be unravelled.
Divines, he’d just murdered the leader of the whole island. He needed to leave.
But first, he hadn’t come here to go out with a flash. Gideon staggered over towards the vanity across the room and began to open the drawers. In the top drawer on the left, he found vials, a little larger than the one Finn had given him. On a dresser against the wall, he found a sewing kit. He searched through it and found a small pair of scissors.
Then, with wobbly knees and hands that shook like leaves in a breeze, he approached the Comtesse’s body again. As he knelt beside her and shifted her night gown away from the place he’d thrown his knife, he wondered about all the corpses. About Finn, and the other guards she’d controlled. Would they be free now? Now that the puppet master was dead, the strings discarded?
There was still a red mist around what looked to be a scar in the place the dagger had sunk in. It was a closer wound now. Gideon took the scissors and carefully made an incision over the scar. It was deep enough to get blood flowing in short order, and he pressed the vial beside the wound and began to catch it.
One he had filled up two thirds of the vial, he plugged it shut with a cork and covered the wound again. The red mist had evaporated, and the wound did not heal now.
Standing up, Gideon turned and only paused once to blow out the candle. He searched the room until he gave up. He collected all the Comtesse’s dresses he could find and began to tie them up until he had what could serve as a makeshift rope. Then, he tied it to one of the posts on her bed and brought it over to the open window. Glancing out, he found no one else had come to investigate the flowerbed.
He forced himself to glance once more back towards the twisted form of the Comtesse. She wasn’t smiling now. Gideon had been angry before. A background, simmering anger, not active but there. Now, he was just tired, and it sunk into his bones.
Weapons had to be sharpened when they got dull. Gideon was tired of being sharp.
He threw the dress-rope out the window and began his descent to the shadows below. When he got to the bottom, he did not go after Malika’s knife even though he could see it glittering in the damp lawn a few yards away.
“Not anymore,” he muttered to the night, to nobody.
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