Content warning: violence, some blood
Maman had started jumping at noises. The shuffling of an animal through the trees behind the house, or even a sudden movement from the child could make her eyes bulge from her skull while her hand clasped at her chest.
The child thought it might have something to do with the Bad Things. Maman scolded her when she snuck out of doors, though that was hardly novel, but now she did so with a tremor in her hand and a catch in her voice that made the little girl heed the advice no matter how her legs ached for use. There were also the whispers from customers – blood, death, murder. A monster. And then there were no more customers. That was when Maman had started jumping and shaking at every noise.
For a while the child thought maybe the Bad Things were her fault; Maman never did like many people to see her, and whenever anyone did they stared at her with an expression the child still couldn’t name, even after all of the books Maman had brought her. Some asked whose she was, which she didn’t understand. She was Maman Tee’s, just like Maman Tee told them in the same voice she used to scold the child when she ran about the house too quickly. Perhaps the customers no longer came because of her.
But then Maman started coming home with cuts and bruises again, and she realized the Bad Things were outside. Maman Tee was afraid that someone – or something—outside was coming for her, and that made the child sad and frightened. And angry. Sometimes so angry that she shook and began pacing more than usual. But then Maman would sing to her and settle her and teach her from one of the books so that the rage subsided.
Until the day the men came. They knocked on the door in broad daylight, but Maman did not answer the door. She stood like a wild animal, wide eyes deer-like in their terror. Another knock and she motioned to the child to hide amongst the rags they called a bed. She grabbed a dull meat knife from the counter.
The child hid as best she could, but her legs trembled and ached like never before, and she was certain that they would give her away. She watched through a gap in the blankets and straw.
The door burst open with a slam and the men fell on Maman like wolves. The child smelled the blood before she saw it, and without meaning to she rose to her feet. The room spun, and her legs exploded with pain that made her scream. The room looked strange, as though she were viewing it from Maman Tee’s shoulders. The men looked up at her and their eyes widened the same way Maman’s had at their knock. They backed away and the child could see the axe, and Maman’s arm on the floor.
She screamed again, and then it was the men who screamed.
Genevieve’s mouth tasted like blood. Her tongue stung where she had bitten it while Darnell popped her left shoulder back into place. The arm hung now, uselessly, while the other was heavily bandaged. At least she had use of her right hand which she used now to write a list of instructions for the Mayor. She paused to roll her neck and stretch her stiff fingers.
Yes, if she survived this mission she would most certainly make it her last.
Darnell knocked and then entered with a tray of warm pastries and a pot of tea.
“Oh, thank God,” Genevieve said, snatching for the food and then wincing in pain. “Damn it.”
Darnell brought the tray closer so she could reach. She stuffed the food into her mouth, thankful that only Darnell was there to see her.
“You were right,” he told her, “The Governor has invited you to dinner tonight. Seven o’clock.”
“Of course he has,” Genevieve said, carefully pouring a cup of tea and spilling only a little on the silver tray in the effort. “He’s a coward, but a proud one. Now he can say he faced a formidable opponent – we slaughtered his entire collection of followers after all – but he’ll carefully omit the fact he did so only after we were half-murdered by those same lackeys.”
“Admirable,” Darnell sneered, sitting down on the edge of the bed beside her chair. His hair was unusually tousled and there were dark circles under his eyes. He had the odd bruise and bandage, but for him the night had taken its toll in other ways.
“Oh, he’s done worse things, believe me.” Genevieve took another bite of pastry, grappling with the impropriety of asking Darnell if he was going to eat anything so that she might have his as well. She judged the pallid colour of his face and decided her share would have to be enough.
“Forgive me for saying this but… I’m still not convinced this plan is the wisest course of action,” he admitted finally; Genevieve had been waiting for his protest all morning.
“You think we should just kill him and have it over with?” Genevieve pretended to consider the possibility, as though she hadn’t determined her course of action the second the College had assigned the mission to her. “He might be harder to kill than you think. The College hasn’t seen a Beast his age since well before the Outbreak.”
Darnell opened his mouth to riposte.
“Besides,” Genevieve continued, “I’d hardly call that justice.”
Darnell’s mouth closed and his brows deepened in concern. Before he could recover there was another knock at the door and the Mayor entered.
“Perfect timing, Monsieur Mayor,” Genevieve said, discretely brushing away any stray crumbs from her skirts, “The list I mentioned is here.”
The Mayor approached, his eyes lingering on the sling and bandages as he took the proffered letter. When he finally forced them down onto the sheet of paper he nodded thoughtfully. “Yes, yes I believe this will all be quite manageable. Although…”
“Yes?” Genevieve asked, half-expecting another protest about her health and the immense risk of the task at hand.
“I have been informed that the Governor has also made… certain arrangements regarding the contents of your meal,” the Mayor glanced over the paper once more and frowned, “I would like to avoid those arrangements, but if you fail… the butcher and the baker may find themselves in a precarious situation.”
“Of course,” she said, smiling with child-like glee at the way the pieces were all falling together. “Inform them they are to go ahead with their arrangements. It would be best for Monsieur L’Amie to feel he has the upper hand.”
For the briefest moment it looked as if the Mayor were about to say, “He doesn’t?” but instead he gave a humble nod and turned to leave.
“How is your daughter, by the way?” Genevieve asked.
The Mayor turned back to her, his head lowered in awkward humility. “Much better, Mademoiselle. Her energy is returning and she spends much time in the gardens, though she misses Jacques’ company.”
“I apologize. It was my carelessness…” Darnell began, but the Mayor waved him off.
“No. I cannot regret any action taken in pursuit of my daughter’s freedom.”
Genevieve grimaced as she recalled the previous night’s events; a question had been aching in the pit of her stomach since she had awoken that morning. “Monsieur Mayor, I wonder if you might know the fate of the child I saw last night? Etienne, I believe was his name. I’m afraid my shot was not as true as I’d hoped.”
The Mayor dropped his head once more and Genevieve cursed herself. Blast that Beast that knocked me over, and blast my poor aim.
“He lives,” the Mayor answered, and Genevieve had to cover a sigh of relieve with a polite cough into the back of her gloved hand. “Though the surgeon had to remove his eye to retrieve the capsule lodged within.”
“Damn,” Genevieve swore, paying no heed to the Mayor’s surprised smile.
“Again, a worthy price. His mother may fuss about the eye, and perhaps the hair and teeth, but she is grateful to you. I made a personal visit this morning to check on the boy and she couldn’t seem to decide whether she was elated or furious.”
“You can assure her that the hair will grow back. The boy is young, so some of his adult teeth may still yet come in on their own, but I cannot promise. We are working on serums that may aid to regenerate…”
“Thank you, Hunter Gregoire,” Mayor Valis interrupted. She nodded, noting the pity in his smile, “I wish you luck tonight.”
He departed, and for a moment there hung a heavy silence between the two Hunters. Genevieve let the quiet envelop her, willing it to be a comfort rather than an omen. She took one more sip of tea and requested they review the details of the plan one final time, her pain fading with her growing determination and certainty that there was no room for failure.