"You are going nowhere, fry," I say with a grin, ignoring the fear that rises up when I think of innocents like Alvin taking up arms with the rest of us. But the chances are that, like so many other little ones, he will be forced into battle before he is ready. I'll do my best to make sure that doesn't happen. "Show me your stance."
Alvin takes up a ready position, his feet too close together and his shoulders sloped. I adjust his body to fix his form and run him through a couple of drills while Gavin offers the boy helpful tips. It's enough to push away the remaining storm clouds of memory, the movements easy and familiar, and I half wonder if Adelaide sent the boy over. She's always been good at reading my moods.
My smile fades as I imagine Alvin fighting. I was his age when I begged Leonetti to let me pick up my first sword. And two years later I was in my first skirmish when the country estate where we were staying was overrun by House Barghest. Leonetti tossed me a blade and demanded I defend myself.
"Darling Seabreak, if you would be of my House, you will fight like a Kraken," he said with a crooked grin, his weather-beaten skin and tousled salt-and-pepper hair making him seem less like the ruler of a prosperous House and more like a rakish pirate.
On that day I killed my first man, and too many since.
"I miss him, too."
Miranda, Adelaide's older, more earnest sister, stands nearby, her long dark hair braided and her tan skin already darkened with oily soot. Even though the girls share a mother, Miranda has no idea who her biological father is. But Adelaide is the spitting image of Miranda, just without the recklessness. Miranda offers me the inky soot pot, but I shake my head. My skin is naturally dark enough that I do not have to worry about blending into the shadows.
"I think you and Adelaide must have cast some forbidden blood spell to read my moods," I say, changing the subject as I begin to ready myself for the night ahead. I do not want to talk about Leonetti, about how we were not there to keep him from being kidnapped. Instead I wrap a dark scarf around my hair, tucking it tight around the tops of my ears.
"Blood magic? Even with your smoked lenses you have no game face, Darling. Why is it you think you lose all of the time?" Miranda asks with a laugh.
I grin. "Because all of you Seabreaks cheat." She shrugs.
"But your moods are also as easy to read as a Gryphon manuscript. You should work on that."
"It's never a problem in the dark."
Miranda shrugs. "Only you would think spending life in the gloom was the solution to a simple annoyance." She says it without any heat, but the words sting anyway. My instinct has always been to hide in the shadows when things go wrong. Perhaps that is why I was glad to join the Barbs when Leonetti asked me last year. They get praise for skulking about in the dark, not censure.
But after tonight, no more. I've sworn I'm finished with all of the treachery: the assassinations, the hostage taking that never quite goes as expected, the sabotage. All of it ends tonight, after we've freed my foster father. I have played my role in this endless war. Now I will step aside and let someone else take the stage. Someone like Gavin, whose appetite for violence sometimes seems unquenchable.
"We'll set out as soon as the light dies," Miranda says, cutting through my thoughts. "You and Gavin will be going all the way into the governor's mansion. I'll be remaining on the beach to make sure our exit is flawless."
"Are you certain?" Despite my weariness of killing and treachery, there are few things that bring me more joy than being lead on a mission. I like doing a good job, even if it creates far too many sleepless nights.
"Of course I am. He's got invisibility, and you've got the healing. My poison boon won't do much on a rescue mission, and I've sent the rest to see to the warehouses along the wharf. It's just the three of us. I'll be waiting with the boat so we can make a quick getaway." She lays a cool hand on my bare arm. "I want you to be careful, though. I will not lose another family member tonight."
Gavin pops into existence next to us, grinning as we both startle. "Are you kidding? If anyone gets in our way, Darling will slice them to pieces. They'll be dead before they even realize they've lost their heads." He's also foregone the soot, for obvious reasons. He winks at me before disappearing once more, and I roll my eyes at the way he shows off his boon. Maybe if my gift didn't require a measure of pain, I would be more inclined to show off as well.
This excerpt is from the ebook edition.
Monday we begin the book THE QUIET PART OUT LOUD by Deborah Crossland.