"Sebastian! No!" Leona screamed, jerking out of her nightmare in a tangle of sheets and limbs. The room was pitch black but she was still trapped in that place between sleep and full wakefulness. Leona saw shapes and movement before her eyes that momentarily coalesced into a figure, unseeing eyes wide, falling backwards like a log. "No!" she screamed again, as she finally freed herself and backed into the headboard.
The door burst open and Leona threw an arm up over her eyes to fend off the glare. Then the djinniyeh said, "You will wake the ship."
Leona dropped her arm and turned her face away to reply, "I am sorry. It won't happen again."
"It will," said the djinniyeh. "Even the most experienced soldier trembles in the aftermath of a kill. It is what makes them most human."
Leona squeezed her eyes shut, put her hands over her ears and tried to block out the words. The image still came back to her. Sebastian, a crimson bloom unfolding just above his heart on his royal blue vest, his teeth stained red as he choked on his own blood, his eyes glazing as the life went out. It had not happened like that but it did not matter to her. It was quickly replaced by another image, of another magician, older, bleeding out in his dressing gown amid the ruins of his house in a dark, filthy street. Sebastian again, and the man who shot him, smiling at her, as if he had not done anything wrong, as if he had merely swatted a fly.
"This way they know you're serious."
She opened her eyes and drew her legs up, then wrapped her arms around them. "I did not mean to," she said.
The djinniyeh turned to leave but paused and said, "It does not matter what you meant to do. A man is dead." Then she turned and walked out of the room.
Leona took a deep, shuddering breath and stretched her legs out. The ship was silent except for the persistent hum of the engines. She hated the quiet, and it had been her most constant companion in the days since they left the Union and headed west. They were going to the Orient. The East City was there and would be much easier to locate now that they had the Book. But almost no one on the crew would speak to her, not even Alphonse, because she had killed Mr Diamond.
Lord Aries had been content, at first, to accept Captain Nemesis' claim. The crew of the Sylphide had their precious cargo to secure and a speedy exit to arrange. There was a Union platoon in the area that had received the Zephyrine's distress signal and responded as quickly as the blizzard would allow. In fact, they had arrived just as the Sylphide took off, emerging through the mountain route the League had taken to escape. Leona had watched them through the window until they were too high up for the light of the courtyard to carry. Mrs Howard, who was with them, also provided distraction with her sheer delight at their recovery of the Book, no matter the method. She happily regaled the crew, well, those around to hear it anyway, on how they had managed it.
The Garnet sisters, of course, had been forced to lead Lord Aries down to the Book. He had removed it himself, by means she could not disclose and Leona did not care to know, and now the whole thing was in the airship's cargo hold for them to gawk at. Leona had already spied the way the area had already filled with trees and plants. The sisters had been released once the Book was safely on the ship again, though Lavender had supposedly sworn to have them all killed. And that was the point when Lord Aries asked, "How did Hugo die?"
Leona had flinched and looked over at him, panic turning her system inside out. She was feverish and ill, scared and confused and angry all at once. She started squeezing her fingers in her hands waiting for the inevitable, and that was when Lord Aries said, "Ah…so that is how it is." Leona's heart skipped a beat and she folded her arms, digging her fingernails into the flesh. "An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth."
The ship had fallen silent. Cedric was standing behind Leona's chair, where he had been since they entered the ship. Leona remembered him gasping for breath on the street. She could imagine him doing it again but this time, Lord Aries would not let up. Then Lord Aries walked out of the room without a word, without lifting a finger and she had not seen him since.
In place of Noor, who was absent as her master, Cedric had been appointed, unofficially, as Leona's guard. She said nothing to him but he had had plenty to say to her. He made it clear that he was not her "manservant" and that he hated having to watch over her and if it was up to him, she would have been pushed out of the ship already. In fact, just before bed that night, he had promised that once they got to Qing he was going to sell her to the first merchant they got. That was when Leona finally snapped and asked if he wanted to find out just how Mr Diamond had died.
He had reacted to that in the strangest way. He had blanched and sworn that he would burn her to death first, as usual, but Leona was sure that before he walked away, the expression on his face was relieved.
She did not know if anyone had told Lord Aries yet how Mr Diamond had died. She had no real idea herself, though she guessed that what she had actually done was, instead of healing Sebastian, resurrected him by trading Mr Diamond's soul for his. And if Mr Diamond had not been there she would have died instead. Of course, in the end, what it all boiled down to was that Leona had killed him. Like Lord Aries had killed Master Opal.
An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.
There was suddenly the sound of footsteps in the hall and Leona pulled the sheets up over herself just as Lord Aries appeared. He stopped in the doorway, a hovering jackalantan lighting his path, and looked in at her. She stared back, waiting. Finally, he said, "It appears that I have been…lax in my teaching."
Leona did not know what to say so she said nothing. He continued, "There are things about your gift that you do not yet understand."
That was when the tears started again. Leona clenched her jaw to stop herself from sobbing. If Lord Aries noticed he made no comment as he said, "Hugo was my friend, and a true one at that. Did you know that we met in the Orient during my time aboard an aether-junk that worked the route between Qing and Nippon? No, I don't suppose that you would know that."
Leona began, "I did not mean—"
"No, I know you did not," said Lord Aries, cutting across her. "You have no idea what you're capable of. And that is the worst part of this, Miss Ruby. You have no idea of the power you wield and training you to use that power was why I took you in the first place."
Leona looked away from him, unable to stand it any longer. He exhaled heavily and said, "Starting tomorrow you and I are to resume our lessons. You're going to need them in Qing. You have not seen elemental magic until you have gone to the Orient."
Leona nodded. She could bring herself to speak. Then he said, "And Mr Miller will begin giving you lessons in marksmanship."
At this she looked back at him, stunned. He smiled at her and explained, "You inadvertently removed the best marksman I have ever met. I will need you to replace him. Besides, it is always good for a magician to know how to defend himself. The world is a very dangerous place and other magicians are not your only opponents, as you should well know."
Leona nodded at this, swallowed, took a breath and said, "I am sorry. F-for k-killing him. Mr Diamond."
Lord Aries stared back at her for a moment, then said, "Do not tell me that you are 'sorry'. Show me that you can control your abilities. Prove to me that you are worth the trouble."
Leona bristled at this, but before she could respond, Lord Aries asked, "You understand, of course, that this means that from this moment on, you are well and truly my apprentice?"
Leona took another breath and said, "Yes."
Lord Aries lifted an eyebrow and asked, "And that you will respond as such when asked? That you will wear my colours and my symbol and when we return to Londinium that you shall be my ward and not that of the entire Society?"
Leona swallowed and said, "I am a water elemental magician and not very many people know that you can control aether magic too."
Lord Aries waited. She dropped her gaze from him and said, "Yes."
"Good," he said. Leona kept her gaze on her lap. Lord Aries said, "I expect you at the table for breakfast. Do not be tardy." Then he left before she could answer.
Leona remained staring at her hands for a long time. Eventually though, her exhaustion won out over her fear and she lay back down, pulling the sheets up over her head. She was asleep almost before she completed the action, so that she remained with a section of fabric clutched between her fingers at her waist.
Master Opal plucked the sheet out of her hand and drew it up to her neck. Then he pressed a kiss to her forehead and whispered, "Do not be afraid. I will be with you for as long as they will let me." Then he let himself drift back down through the floor to the garden out of space and time that was his new tomb.
A/N: Wire bend, story end…for now. Do look out for book two, The Eastern City of Earth (or City of Earth) where our (mis)adventure continues. Will Lord Aries actually get his hands on the second treasure? Will Leona finally escape Lord Aries? And what is up with the rivalry between Lord Aries and Sebastian? Thank you for being with me so far, I do hope to see you again, soon!