Assassin's Heart(3)

By: Sarah Ahiers



A boy. I wasn’t tall, even at seventeen, but I was certainly bigger than a child. And no child would run around wearing a dark cloak at night, unless they wanted to impersonate a clipper, and that was illegal. And a death sentence if a member of the Families caught them.

No harm done, though. I dismissed the woman with a flick of my wrist. She bowed in gratitude and slid inside. The door closed with a click.

I returned to my mark.

The street seemed to heave below me.

It lasted barely a breath. Maybe just a bit of dizziness from turning too quickly, or the colorful lights of the brothel confusing my eyes. And if I were any other person, any other clipper even, I would’ve shrugged it off.

But I wasn’t.

I brought my fingers to my throat and felt my pulse, counting the beats. A touch fast.

I closed my eyes, quieting my thoughts, trying to listen to the messages of my body. Maybe I was being too paranoid.

My stomach rolled violently, like a snake coiling around its own tail. I shoved my mask to the top of my head and barely managed to stumble to the alley before I vomited.

My skin burned. This wasn’t a normal sickness. No, this was something much worse. I quickly recalled my evening. The water skin. Which meant it was fast acting. Vomiting followed immediately by pain.

Could be three possibilities.

“Lea?” Val dashed over.

I sat on the ground, my spine pressed against a building, and tried to catch my breath. Wait—breathlessness left only two possibilities.

“What is it?” Val dropped, ignoring the puddle soaking his knees as he knelt before me. He reached out, then paused, his hands floating over my arms, unsure what to do. His wide eyes appeared white behind his mask.

My cloak bunched around me. I struggled against it, my hands shaking to reach a pouch on my belt. Limb weakness. That ruled out all but one. No time left.

I batted the cloak. Val sprang to action, jerking the cloak away from my hands and body. My stomach rolled again.

“Poison.” I gasped at the pain blazing across my skin and through my flesh. “I’ve been poisoned.”





two


“GODS, LEA!” VAL PUSHED HIS MASK TO THE TOP OF HIS head. Worry and panic etched lines across his face.

Free of the cloak, I unbuttoned a pouch on my belt. It held nearly a dozen vials, each tightly stoppered with a scored cork. I ran my trembling fingers across the symbols known only to me, searching for the right one. My heart raced faster and faster.

My finger traced a loop with a line through it. The antidote. I yanked it from the pouch. My hand shook. The vial tumbled from my grip. The glass clinked against the stone street before it rolled away into the shadows.

Tears squeezed from my eyes. I didn’t want to die like this.

The poison raced through my organs. It would attack my stomach, my heart, my brain. Once the full seizures started, no antidote would save me.

I groaned, reaching into the darkness. The poison turned my body against me. My arms jerked like a wounded seabird.

Val pushed me aside, his hands struggling against mine. The scrape of the vial as he snatched it from the street was the most beautiful sound I’d ever heard. He jerked the stopper out with his teeth and pulled out a dagger with his free hand.

“In your mouth or in your veins?” He clutched the open glass and the dagger in his gloved fingers, waiting for my answer. My voice emerged as a groan.

“Lea!” he shouted. “Which one?”

The poison rushed through my body. My head slammed the brick wall behind me. I opened my mouth as wide as I could, hoping he’d understand.

Val brought the vial to my lips, his other hand restraining my head. The liquid poured into my mouth, tepid and sharp. It tasted terrible, like soap soaked in urine.

Val clutched my hands, keeping them still. He took deep breaths and watched me closely, his eyes wide, his mouth tight, lines of worry creased in his forehead as he waited to see if I would die.

My breaths came easier and my heart slowed its racing pace. The pain in my stomach faded. I took a deep breath and Val sagged in relief.

“Gods.” He looked at the street before he reached for his mask. His fingers trembled as he pulled it down. He’d hidden his fear, and any other emotion he didn’t want me to see. These were the things I loved about him, knowing he cared so much that he couldn’t hide it from his face, that he needed the mask to hide it for him. That he’d been scared, yes, but had reacted calmly. He had kept himself under control when I’d needed him.

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