Stepping out into the halo of a streetlamp, Marise shied from its light. The Upper District didn’t seem so majestic, so unobtainable. Instead, the nighttime felt as uninviting as the Dregs, leaving her checking her pockets. In the distance, the neons of the bars flashed, highlighting the layers of steel and glass.
She imagined the shocked faces of the drunkards if she shifted a vein in front of a full room, the incomprehension, the fear, the loathing. Shaking her head, she pushed the thoughts away. She’d stick to the shadows for now. No reason to reveal her power, not when she didn’t have the best handle on it.
She moved through the city, a stranger in this part of town, but it opened before her, welcoming her into its arms. Darkened alleyways sparked to life with clouds of steam, highlighting hunkered bodies. Although she hadn’t kept track of the buildings she’d branded, something led her to the untainted. Perhaps her benefactor had a hand in that.
She still had qualms about accepting his offer, but the promise to shape the future through her art — well, she wasn’t sure she believed it. And its talk of gods and the ability to turn the tide for Raine, that she’d considered the strongest plus. It was necessarily for Raine, but she didn’t see a downside to a little good will.
Avoiding the blue of Oki’s vein, she turned down a row of shops. Like so many burning eyes, their displays lit from below, making all the carefully placed product glow with purpose.
Framing herself in the window’s reflection, she stared at the clothing, jewelry. She placed a hand against the glass. Hot breath swept down her neck, brushing aside a strand of hair. She looked past herself. When she turned her head, he stood there.
While he didn’t smile, he was striking with that white suit, his swept back reddish brown hair, and hawkish eyes.
“You seem displeased.”
Marise smirked, watching the way the shadows played across her in the reflection. Even with the tattoo completely flat on the back of her pale hand, she could make out the sweeping lines. She curled her fingers into her palm, let her hand fall to her side. She stood in front of a sleek dress, the lights making it appear she was clad in the vibrant fabric.
“That isn’t you.”
He placed a hand on her shoulder. The fabric parted under his touch. She reached up to catch the shredded jacket, but grabbed his scarred hand instead. For one moment, he seemed to relax.
They stood there alone like a scene on a postcard.
“You are needed elsewhere.”
Her arm fell limply and she turned to face him. She stared up into his gold-flecked eyes. He cupped her chin, held it there, his fingers cold and blazing hot all at once. He smiled, then turned her head back to the sprawling complex of Na Creidmhigh.
Eyes hardening, she said, “What’s there—?” but found him gone.
She stared at the swirling lanes of water that curled around the building, the center of the entire city, the start and the end of these veins she’d affected. She fought to push down the fear, but it sat there like a stone in her gut, unwilling to move.
Withdrawing from her reflection in the storefront, she pulled aside her makeshift bandage from her hand. The cut stung in the humid air, but she didn’t care. She ran a finger along the scab’s fine line, then ripped it off and dipped into the gushing fount. Kneeling beside Oki’s vein, she reproduced her symbol, then left it behind.
As she approached the house of the old god, she hoped she’d see Raine again.