The girl’s face contorted in horror and fear, a scream echoing through the halls as she stared at the blood-soaked figure before her.
For Raven Saunders, walking down the spiraling central staircase, it was like looking in a mirror. Had it only been a few weeks ago that she’d been inducted? Only a few weeks since she’d finally been allowed to join Jesse’s life the way she’d always wanted. She’d known, of course, that he’d been hiding something since she’d met him, had hoped that maybe one day he’d trust her enough to reveal the truth.
She’d dated him for more than two years, nursing that pointless hope, before he’d finally brought her into his world.
But back then, weeks and lifetimes ago, Raven hadn’t believed. Not at first.
After all, who in their right mind would believe that their boyfriend belonged to a cult of murderers and criminals? After she’d met them all, the claim had seemed even more ridiculous. Jesse had let her doubt, hadn’t tried to reassure her, until the day she’d accidentally walked in on Bara sewing the gaping knife-wound in Wyth’s side shut.
The half-assed explanation that “negotiations” had gone badly hadn’t stopped her from screaming, from running from the house and locking herself in her apartment. Jesse had been forced to break down the door and drag her out from under the bed before he’d been able to calm her.
Those fears seemed so laudable now, watching them played on someone else’s face. It was always entertaining to laugh at someone else’s pain, and the girl who’d received the name Tera did not disappoint.
Of course, seeing Zes walk through the front door practically dripping blood might have frightened even Vier. Dix smiled and continued her slow descent, savoring every moment of the drama unfolding below her.
But, no matter how she laughed now, Dix could not deny that the child was a mirror into her past, a phantom of the Raven Saunder’s she’d once been. The girl she would never be again. Dix had learned to put her talents to use, after becoming the tenth Card. She had a record now, or would if she’d ever left any evidence. But only her calling card marked her crimes, not a print, not a particle of DNA, nothing to tell them who she really was.
Because, like some of the others, she’d practically been born for this life. Dix had to thank her Gypsy roots and her mother’s obsession with nature for the fact that there was no actual record of her birth. According to the government, she’d never existed and never would. And Dix planned to keep it that way.
But this girl, this Tera, who now stared in silent horror at the bloody specter before her, wasn’t meant for this life. She’d been documented. She’d be caught in an instant if she ever worked up the nerve to commit any real crime. But maybe, just maybe, she’d be good enough to survive for at least a short while.
But she’d never catch the traitor. She’d never fulfill her duty as Tera. This child would fail, and they’d be left exactly as they’d been before her arrival. They’d be left incomplete.
Dix only wondered who would actually kill her. Would the traitor end her? Would she die because of her own innocence, her own stupidity? The possibilities really were endless, thrilling and intriguing in that way unsolvable puzzles always were.
From the bottom of the stairs, Dix watched Tera stand in mute horror, staring at the dripping specter before her as Zes calmly walked toward his room. He shouldn’t have been so calm. By rights he ought to have been afraid, terrified even. Zes had broken a rule, an almost sacred taboo, and she could tell just by looking at him that he wasn’t sorry. He’d do it again, without even a second thought.
Ace wouldn’t kill him. Dix knew that, knew that Ace had a soft spot for his brother’s friend. But he would certainly be punished. He’d endangered them all, after all.
No one undertook tasks for personal reasons, used their talents for personal vendettas or quests. At least, that was the rule. But there was a way around it, one they all knew and accepted. Ace simply had to agree to and assist in the planning of the undertaking. It was simple, and smart, really. Ace was cunning, clever. It wasn’t just this newest Ace, either. Apparently that was a requisite for the Ace, just as swift fingers were necessary to be Dix. Swift eyes and caution in Tera.
But Zes had disregarded that, and now only time would tell exactly how much danger he’d put them all in.