Chapter 15


Dragon-kin, this... this is...

I push through the doors, catching my knuckles on the metal of the latch. Even the pain is more than I can handle right now.

I haven't been clumsy since I was eight. Nothing, not once, like it was a stupid testament to my father or something, like a proof that he taught me well. I haven't hurt anything since then; not a cut, not a scrape, barely even a bruise since I broke my wrists and I was little and my father was there.

And by the time the bones had healed, my father was dead and my magic was gone.

Perhaps it wasn't a testament, then, perhaps it was some stupid guilt. I had never fallen off anythingbefore I fell off that wall, and I hadn't broken anything either. But then, suddenly, I had. And before it could all go away, everything that mattered had gone instead.

The blood trickles through my fingers, sticky and slick at the same time, like I'll never be able to wash it off my skin, and at the same time like I'll never be able to hold onto anything properly again. And then I am on the floor, kneeling on the cobbles like a pathetic parody of somebody's saint... only I am a dirty dark magic cripple; the complete opposite.

Pariah, Kiara, worthless, loveless.

The stickiness is almost worse than a pain I can barely even remember, the pain of snapped bones, and I just want to scrape it off, scour away all the muck and the taint and the hurt until I am nothing but bare flesh and blood anyway.

I had taken no more than two footsteps out the door before I dropped, and I am still here now, sobbing into the cobbles; wailing, choking, not even capable of making real proper sounds, just some kind of weak gargling that hardly makes sense anyway.

The sun continues to shine, warming my trembling, naked shoulders and it just makes everything worse not better, not like it was supposed to, not like I had promised. Because it just hurts so much now, that I want it to rain. I understand crying when it is raining, I understand grief beneath the dark clouds. But this is just like the world never cared, like it had fooled me all along into thinking we shared our tears together.

Pathetic, Kiara, blind creature.

I would have thought I was used to upset by now, but this is a whole kind of different. Different pain, different fear. I am just a girl, sitting alone and naked on the street, and no one even cares.

And none of that is the worst; not the boy who tricked me, who knew his magic would never work on my body, but it could find my clothes. Not the boy who followed me all night and made me smile, just for his stupid punch line. Not Melissa, who set this whole thing up, playing on my weakness, knowing I would fall for the competition, knowing I would be unable to prevent myself from hoping when I saw him or when he said my name. When he just said my name, because nobody ever does that without a sneer.

No, none of that, none of that at all.

The worst, the worst, is that I am still sitting here, even if it cannot really be called sitting, and I am so hopelessly, pathetically alone. All I have managed is two steps from the door and the blood is drying beneath my fingernails and no one can even be bothered to take those two steps to follow me.

There is no Martha. Martha isn't here.

Because she has a new life now.

No place for, Kiara.

And she has duties now.

Two hundred guests over the girl that brought her up. Two hundred placid, grasping strangers over the only girl that knows she still sleeps in her mother's old night gown, because it is all she has left of the woman that died.

And she has a new man now. A new love now.

Replaced, Kiara. Discarded, Kiara.

I slip sideways, until my face is in the dirt and the old confetti from earlier, all going mushy like just being near me has prompted it to rot. I will stay here, I decide; naked and shameless and alone, until the wedding is over, the weekend is over, and the world is back to normal with its carts and horses. I will wait until someone takes pity on the natural order of things and runs over the girl that should have been killed off anyway.

That is the intention anyway, as I clasp my hands to my knees, rubbing bloody fingerprints all up my legs, and crushing my face into the muck that society would rather have in its bed than consider looking at the little cripple girl with no magic and no hope.

But as I settle sideways, dizzy and faint from all this panting and wailing and heavy, heavy pain, the street stretches out before me, disappearing past half the city, over the seawall and away into the distance.

I blink, the pathetic keening petering out to nothing as I just watch, watch the lazy rolling waves and the distant horizon. The blurry horizon.

I was going to do it anyway; I was going to leave. I was going to be free and wild and unknown. And I was going to go East eventually, where magic was born and a man can be what he likes, buy what he likes. I was going to do it anyway, I was going to fix myself anyway.

Only, I always knew I wasn't. I always knew that was never going to happen.

But as I lie there, bloody, dirty, and empty, the waves just continue to lap against the distance. It is quiet now, now that I have stopped my strange, panicked sobbing. Everything is quiet, I am quiet; inside and out, just still, just watching.

It feels as though something important is happening.

It feels as though something dangerous is happening.

And then I am up, even though I am still naked and bleeding, and the sting in my hands is not going to leave. I am up even though I cannot really handle it because the last time I actually hurt, I was eight and all I needed to do was look at my father and he would smile and sit me on the lap and tell me the kind of stories designed to fool a child into thinking an assassin's real job was saving princesses.

Nothing has changed. I am still alone and crippled and the victim of a stupid boy and his stupid games. But even so, even if nothing ever changes, something is different.

The distance continues to just hover there, muggy and blurred, only a tiny scrap of it; as irritating as a splinter and just as narrow.

Something is different.

Something dangerous is different.

I can see more now that I am standing; still like my father taught me, poised and ready, tensed up like a spring, though I could not even begin to describe why.

The waves just lap; lap, lap, lap against the distant sky.

I watch a seagull circle the wall and drop itself into the crisp, blue desert.

It is not enough.

I cannot see enough.

And I snap, a different kind of snapping from before. This is a crazy snap, a 'lost my sanity' snap. I know it but I cannot change it.

Another cut, just a tiny one on the pad of my fourth finger, so small I cannot even find it beneath the crusting ooze of the greater scrapes of my knuckles. But it is enough, enough to bring me back to myself; clinging and dizzy and halfway up the side of the clock tower, climbing blind.

'Calm and empty' my father had once said, 'emotion is not the assassin's friend. Emotion might get a man killed but not an assassin. An assassin is not a man, he is just an empty thing until he gets the job done.'

I stop, sliding across to a windowsill so that I can look pensively down at the distance I have travelled without realising. I wonder what my father would think of his little girl now, I wonder what he would think when he realised just how well she had managed to perfect being empty.

I wonder what he would think of her as she is in this moment; naked and standing on a fifth floor windowsill in the bright light of day.

He would think she had lost herself entirely, and he would probably be right.

But I am not finished yet, not until I can see it all and I can make my decision. Besides, this is the first time I have not felt completely empty in about a hundred years.

I begin to climb again, but focused this time. There is always salt in the wind this high up, because it blows in from the sea, and it is finding its way into the cracks on the back of my hands, stirring them into that stinging torment again. I do not want to risk splitting anymore skin, I cannot handle this for much longer.

I wonder if I am the only one that knows. I wonder if anyone else knows about the salt, or the way the horizon over the mountains is purple but always blue in the East. I wonder if anyone else knows that there is a hollow on the clock tower and, when it rains, it fills up and, somehow, from the salt in the wind and the magic evolution of time, that little puddle has become a lake, and in that lake the crabs and the sea shells and the little red anemones thrive.

I doubt it. I doubt anyone knows, I doubt anyone cares.

But I care, though. I care for the little things, and the for granted things, and the loveless things.

By the time I pull myself over the lip of the guttering, fingers slotting into holes that became sculpted to my grip a long time ago, my mood has stilled.

I stand above the clock, feet settling into that tiny lake until the ripples have stilled and continue to wait beyond that point, wait until the clock strikes the next quarter hour, whichever one it is, and the deep peals vibrate up through the soles of my feet.

It is only then that I look up, after I have almost integrated myself into the flow of time itself by the pealing of the bells, like I have slotted myself out of this petty scheme of life and into something grander, the great ocean of time that never stops and never looks back, even if it is at a pathetic cripple girl, trying to dip her toes into something big.

No. Time magic is just a stupid game of mine, one I indulge in when I feel a little narcissistic and I want to feel that terror of actually believing my stupid fantasies, believing in a magic that exists beyond the human form, and that it might actually sweep me away.

The horizon, and the soothing calm that awaits me there... that is the magic I crave today.

I let myself take it in, strange butterfly nerves pulling at the base of my stomach, and watch the waves. Not that it is the waves that I want. I want more than the waves, I want more than the ocean.

It is the sky that I need, long for, like a deep painful ache that pulls my rib cage in tight around my heart. I trace my eyes, from left to right, scouring them across that familiar line, and I realise I have already made my decision. I already know what I am going to do.

I still wait until it is dark though, just sitting here above the clock, above time itself.

I watch as that boy leaves, the one who played so lightly with my heart. I watch Jami fold his hands and guard the door until he eventually consents, disappearing sullenly down the street, a crony at each side and some vapid fairy trailing behind, clutching at the coat sleeve of the one on the right. They have a child with them too, though I hardly notice, not until she notices me. I am surprised and shrink nervously back, but it becomes quickly clear no one else is looking properly as she eagerly points me out.

So I step forward and I watch Jami search for me, then. But he gives up soon enough. When did Jami ever care?

It goes still. I watch the sky; the clouds, the winds, and the invisible magic that I really wish did live and dance up there.

It all just seems so much bigger than the stupid little thing they call Kiara.

Or they do not, most of the time:

Cripple, Kiara. Dark magic, Kiara. Magicless, motherless, dirt.

As the sun sets, the people leave. Not to go home, though. They go to the pub and the beach, to continue the celebration. Only the bride goes home; she has things to do, a husband to care for.

It is cold up here, and I have no clothes but my underwear. My feet are wet from the puddle and my knuckles have scabbed over, cracking so that they bleed anew every time I try and stretch the stiffness from my bones.

But I wait, not really caring if it kills me. I wait as the door opens time and time again, lamplight spilling out onto the street in great swathes of comfortable orange. It almost seems strange how different it is from the cold, soothing blue of my lake and the chill of the horizons. It almost seems so strange how I am up here, how I shouldn't belong down there. But then I see the people, the nameless faceless ones that like nothing more than to make my life a hell, and I know that this is where I fit.

I wait more. The night seems long, like it stretches on forever, though it is young really, and only my soul that is old.

Eventually I see her, walking wearily through the doors. I cannot tell if it is the good kind of weary, of a day spent doing too many pleasurable things, or a bad kind, as though it is all simply too much. She is too far away, both in distance and from this morning, from when we were sisters, so I cannot tell.

This is the moment I have been waiting for. This is the only thing that might sway my already determined mind.

Callum saunters after her but he does not matter, really, even as he takes her hand, even as she tilts her head. I know she is smiling, even if the only thing I can see from this angle are her brown curls and the train of her dress. It does not even matter as he wraps an arm around her waist, pulling her in for a passionate kiss as that pleasant, alien lamplight continues to spill perfectly around their ankles.

None of that matters, none of the Callum matters. I have seen her take his hand, smile, I have seen her kiss him a hundred times, a thousand times, and she was still my Martha.

What happens next is what matters.

They pull apart, though I know their fingers are still entwined together. I think she knows. I think she is still Martha, and there is a still a little of my heart trapped in hers, so she knows.

She hesitates, staring right; towards the sea, towards our old home, and I follow her gaze. She does not realise it, but we stand together, the same person for what I hope will not be the final time.

But it is.

Callum tugs insistently on her hand and she turns away. She turns left instead, following her husband home, and away from where she really lives, where her heart will return alone this night. Also for the final time, though it will be a first as well.

I could not have expected anything else. And it is enough.

I free myself from the pond, staring forlornly down at my blue toes, like real life suddenly matters again, and scrape the hair away from my face. I take my time, preparing myself like my Father had always said, checking my knuckles, cleaning my hands, rinsing the dirt from my face. Eventually I have finished washing, almost like it is my goodbye to this place, this place that has been a haven for half my life, and drop casually over the edge, plunging into a drop I know I will survive, though I kind of hope I will not.

By tomorrow morning, Martha will belong to Callum body and soul. And by tomorrow morning, I will be gone.