Assassin's Heart(5)By: Sarah Ahiers
I nodded, and he walked to the body in the street. Val knelt over him, then opened the man’s mouth and slipped the coin onto his tongue. The coin would act as a balm and prevent the man from becoming an angry ghost, because it signaled that the person deserved a quick rebirth. Instead of wandering the dead plains, Safraella, goddess of death, murder, and resurrection, patron of Lovero, would see the offering and grant him a faster return to a new life. A better life.
Val returned to the alley. He pulled me to my feet and I remained still, making sure I’d fully regained my balance.
“You should mark your own kills.” I tested my weight on one foot. “It’s close to blasphemy that you don’t, and my father plans to bring down an order that all nine Families must mark their kills.” The Saldanas as the first Family held the most power over the nine Families. Rank was decided by wealth, numbers, territory, and other factors that contributed to status. Once the Saldanas had been more numerous and rich, but ever since the plague, Father worried the other Families would force a vote for a new first Family. If enough of the Families voted against us, we could lose our position.
“I do whatever Estella tells us to do,” Val said. “You have a choice in how you relate to your father as the head of your Family, because even if he didn’t love you, he can’t afford to lose you. I’m pretty sure Estella hates everyone except the face she sees in the mirror.”
“Still, it’s not right, Val.”
“A lot of things aren’t right since the plague, Lea. A lot of things.” He looked away from me.
Val’s parents had both succumbed to the plague. It was what had brought us together, sharing grief over our dead. After that, he’d courted me, in secret of course, because no one could know about us, that rivals were involved romantically. And I let him.
I often wondered what Val missed more, his mother and father, even though they surely had been granted happy, new lives, or the way things had been for the Da Vias before Estella took charge.
“I can’t break away from the Family in this, Lea.” Val lowered his voice. “I can’t break from the Family in anything.”
I didn’t respond. We were clippers. We all served Safraella faithfully. But this wasn’t the first time I was reminded that Val and I lived in different worlds.
Yes, my mother had tried to kill me again tonight. But she’d done it to make me a better clipper. In her own, twisted way she was protecting me by making me stronger. If Val’s Family ever tried to kill him, they’d make sure he wouldn’t have an antidote.
“ARE YOU DONE FOR THE NIGHT?” VAL ASKED. “ARE YOU hungry?”
We headed deeper into the alley, leaving the body in the street for the cleaners to remove. When they saw the coin in his mouth, they could record which Family had been responsible and notify relatives if the body was identified.
“After a job? Always. And I’m going to need some food to help fight off the remains of the poison.”
“Get changed and I’ll meet you outside Fabricio’s.”
I sighed. “Again?”
“We could go to Luca instead.”
“Why can’t we go someplace your Family doesn’t own? It’s so risky.”
No one knew about us. No one could know about us. Not his Family. Not mine. And not any of the other Families, either, though the city of Ravenna belonged to the Da Vias and the Saldanas and none of the others would dare trespass without permission.
He shrugged. “Any restaurant would be a risk, Lea. At least at Fabricio’s or Luca we eat for free and we know the staff keep their mouths shut.”
I rolled my eyes but didn’t push the point. The staff did keep quiet.
I tugged my cloak into place. “Fifteen minutes?”
He stretched his arms. “Ten.”
I laughed. So damn competitive. Of course, I couldn’t stop my muscles twitching at the challenge, even if they were still sore.
He turned, but I snagged his hand at the last second. “Val. Thank you for being here, when I needed you.”
His eyes softened behind his mask. He nodded and squeezed my fingers before releasing me.
“Wait, one last thing.”