“We all miss Reisa,” my friend told me. “And we all want to see that bastard pay, believe me, but this is too much.”
I scanned the faces of all the others who’d joined me in this little meeting. It wasn’t just the party’s leader talking for himself here. Everyone was worried. All eyes were on me. Ah, they planned this meeting together, didn’t they?
“You’re right, of course,” I responded evenly. “As much as Luce and I love her—loved her—I don’t know if she would ever have condoned torture in her name.”
“So you’ll talk to Luce, then? Do you think she’ll listen? She seems so far gone…”
“Yes, I will. She’ll see reason,” I said.
“Because I don’t know what we’ll do if she continues down this path. We’ll have to stop her.”
A few solemn nods all around. Sorrin—the poor kid who’d had to step up and take on the main healer role—found something fascinating to fidget with instead of meeting my gaze. The kid really admired Luce.
Something fundamental had changed for them when they caught a glimpse of just how far Luce was willing to go to track down Reisa’s killer. Even I had been shocked; I’d had no idea the knight had the capacity for such bloody-minded ruthlessness buried inside her. She’d always been so high-minded and serious about her principles, yet now the corpses of her victims—gods, she really did have victims now, didn’t she?—proved that her quest for vengeance superseded anything else for her.
The party had become afraid of Luce, so instead they hoped to persuade me. I took a moment to compose my words, trying to figure out how to persuade them to withhold judgment against the knight I cared about so deeply.
“She’s drowning in grief. Reisa was always the heart of our group, and without her we’re all a little lost, right?” There was a desperate edge in my voice that I hoped they interpreted charitably. “But I’m sure I can remind Luce of what’s most important. She’s not our enemy!” I pleaded for them to hear me.
A hiss from the shadows spoke up. “Are we quite sure about that?”
“What are you implying, Vigus?” I was surprised that our moody—and most ethically flexible—party member was inclined to care about this sort of intervention at all.
They stepped partially out of the shadows, permitting the dwindling sunlight to fall across the wicked grin on their face. “The whispers on the wind tell me our knight does not intend to shatter the Infernal Core. She means to claim its power for herself, and in doing so become an even greater threat than the one we mean to destroy.”
“Bullshit,” I snapped, my uncharacteristic swearing gripping everyone’s attention. “I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing here, but you will not drive a wedge between friends to suit your hidden agendas.”
Several of the others nodded, some with even more hostility in their eyes than I allowed in my voice. It really took no effort at all to convince them to distrust someone who’d never given any of us much reason to offer trust in the first place. Vigus grimaced, silently stepping back into the darkness.
I addressed the group again. “She will listen to me, I promise.”
I still had their trust, it seemed. A wave of palpable relief passed through the rest of the party, body language loosening as my words soothed the tension. It was clear they had not been at all sure whether I would see things their way. After all, Reisa was as much my girlfriend as she was Luce’s.
My hands, however, were still clean, and I was always the gentle voice of reason, wasn’t I? No wonder they approached me first.
“I’ll go see where she is and have a heart-to-heart with her,” I told them.
“You were right,” I told Luce, approaching the lonely knight who kept herself apart from the rest of the party these days. “They’re plotting against you.”
She scowled. “What did they say?”
“That you’ve gone too far, that Reisa isn’t worth it, and that they’re going to stop you if you don’t give up on revenge against her murderer.”
Luce tightened her grip on the oversized sword she carried. Even now, with dusk’s failing light sliding toward true night, I could see how her jaw clenched in anger. When she spoke, it was with barely suppressed fury at the party’s betrayal.
“Nobody stands in my way,” she said to me.
I wrapped my arms around her waist. “They were never going to understand. They didn’t love her like we do.”
She turned in place to look me directly in the face. I saw regret in her eyes, a hint of doubt, and an iron core of determination. “They’re a liability.”
“What are you saying? They’re our friends, Luce.”
“No. If they aren’t with me, they’re against me.” She broke away from me, pacing in a circle. “It would be easiest to kill them in their sleep during my watch tonight.” She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, and I could see how hard it was for her to plan something that she never would have considered scant months ago.
“Don’t you dare try to stop me. I don’t have the heart to… just don’t.”
The look of murder in her eyes raised goosebumps on my skin. I had never had reason to be afraid of Luce before. She always used to feel safe—not exactly harmless, but a protective presence—yet in this moment she felt like a completely different person. She held herself the way one might hold a blade to my neck, with calm poise that could turn into deadly motion in a blink.
I felt my heart pounding in my chest. Luce waited for my answer.
“Take Vigus out first,” I advised. “Somehow they know what you’re planning, and I suspect they’ll be sleeping with one eye open around you.”
The knight stood in silence, absorbing my words. “You’re not going to try talking me out of killing our so-called friends?”
“I won’t stop you if this is what you want,” I said, closing the distance again and stroking her cheek. “But every step you take down this path has to be yours.”
She pressed her lips to mine, and I kissed back with more passion than ever. She scared me, and somehow that made me want her more than ever.
“Besides,” I continued when our mouths parted, “there’s nothing hotter than seeing the real you emerge from that stiff and proper exterior you used to present to everyone.”
She turned to go, but before she got too far I added, “oh, and please don’t wash their blood off your hands before you fuck me tonight.”