“That’s enough, Saphira,” Jeremy cuts in. He walks to me and extends a hand, but the Marquis grabs and twists it behind his back. As big and muscular as Inspector Jeremy Simmons is, he groans and bares his teeth as he leans backwards into the Marquis’ clasp.
“If you ever try to touch her again, I’ll break every bone in your body,” the Marquis threatens. He’s taller and leaner than Jeremy, therefore more agile even without his engineered powers, but he’s also so much stronger. His ivory features are locked, and his black eyes angry coals.
“Please, Kieran, don’t hurt him,” I plead. “He’s innocent.”
The Marquis keeps his glare on Jeremy, his sweet lips drawing in a hiss. “I’m not so sure.”
“Better tell him the truth. That he should be on our side.”
“What the hell is this?” Jeremy groans and tries to struggle from the Marquis’ grip, but without success.
“Please, just listen to him, Jeremy.”
“Saphira, what is happening?” Mum is puzzled, her hand gently touching mine.
I look straight into her eyes and tell her the story in a few short sentences – that Catherine Lancaster, Lord Lancaster’s daughter, had been raped by a group of men from this town, and that my father, Gunnar Lothar, killed her in the end. Mum gasps and takes a few steps back, gripping the rest of the chair where she sat as we walked in.
“Your father was one of them too, Inspector Boy,” the Marquis hisses in Jeremy’s ear. “The lucky bastard died before I got my hands on him, so don’t give me reason to take it out on you, his son.”
Jeremy struggles like a wounded animal, kicking the air in front of him, but unable to release himself from the Marquis’ hold. “You fucking bastard!”
The Marquis is inhumanly strong, and Jeremy’s struggles don’t move him an inch. He turns his vicious black glare to Lord Barkley.
“What about you, filth bag? Could it be, that you were one of them as well?”
Lord Barkley is still sitting in his chair, the cigarette burning his fingers but he doesn’t seem aware of that. He looks stunned at Kieran, unable to utter one word.
Mum presses her fingers on her temples, shaking her head. “This can’t be. This can’t be happening.”
I approach her carefully, searching her gaze but she looks down, then sideways, then upwards, avoiding my gaze.
“It is, Mum,” I say gently. “If you’re honest to yourself, you’ve always known. But you’ve tried to silence your sixth sense.” As I did through compulsive painting, but this is not about me, so I keep the remark to myself. The Marquis’ voice cuts in, making me look at him and Jeremy again.
“And you, stupid shit,” he addresses Jeremy, “you find out all sorts of stuff but not the essential. You spoiled, superficial and incompetent brat. Didn’t you ever at least suspect of all the bastards in this cursed place? Or, what, are you covering their arses?”
“Wait a second,” Mum says, her voice faint, her eyes wide on the Marquis. “What happened with Catherine Lancaster was decades ago. What have you got to do with it?”
I clear my voice and hold her shoulders as I speak, so I can support her if she falls. “Kieran was Lord Lancaster’s stable boy, Mum. He and Catherine were secretly in love, and the night she was raped he was beaten almost to death by Vladimir Pukov’s people – Pukov was part of the group as well, and Dad wanted me to marry him even though he knew this.”
Mum looks stunned from me to the Marquis, then to Lord Barkley, who sits silent in his chair.
“But,” she whispers, “I knew Catherine. We were friends. We grew up together, just like you and Vivien, Lauren and Jeanie. Lord Lancaster said she had run away with the stable boy. It came as a shock to the rest of us, we knew nothing, I . . .”
“Lord Lancaster couldn’t take the pain, Mum,” I say. “He spread a story he could at least try to live with.”
Mum slumps into the chair behind her, and I support her by the shoulders as she does. Her eyes are fixed in awe on the Marquis. “But that means . . . How old are you?”
The Marquis looks at her, but doesn’t answer.
“My God,” she whispers. “And Saphira? What role did she play in your plot?”
Pain cuts through my chest, and I sink my head.
“At first I wanted to use her in my revenge on Catherine’s tormentors,” the Marquis explains. “I wanted to have her lure them to places where I could kill them right before her eyes, torment her mind and soul in the process, and in the end have her father find her mad from everything she’s witnessed in the same place Catherine was found. I considered it an act of kindness – to her, not Gunnar – not having her sleep with all those men too. I took the decision to go easier on her than initially planned after I got to know her. She made a painting of me, and she . . . I fell in love with your daughter, Mrs Lothar. It sounds impossible, coming from a monster like me, whose soul has been frozen for decades, but it’s the pure truth. I don’t expect you to give us your blessing, but I’d like you to know that for her sake I decided to drop all thoughts of revenge. But unfortunately, this town’s troubles won’t end with that.”
Jeremy has another fit of struggling, and this time he makes it out of the Marquis’ arms – or the Marquis let him go, since he doesn’t look surprised. He and Jeremy now face each other. The Marquis arranges the collar of his suit jacket, while Jeremy flexes and glares.
“This town’s biggest problem is you, devil,” Jeremy growls. The Marquis smiles at him like a prince at a powerless angry peasant.
“I’m not the one who set the Grants’ house on fire and tried to kill Vivien. That was Ivan Basarab – the Slayer – whose true name you should be busy finding out. He’s one of this town’s honourable citizens, killers, filth bags that you now have no more excuse to ignore.”
“You need proof for all these allegations, de Vandenesse and, right now, all I truly got is proof that you’re a killer. Guards!” Jeremy calls.
Quick steps stomp closer and louder from the corridor, and policemen burst in. They take out their guns and focus on Kieran as if they’ve been waiting for this command all along. I scream and want to run to Kieran, but one of the policemen stops me and keeps me away from the scene as more men pour in. This is indeed a trap they set up for Kieran.
Kieran looks left, right and relaxes. A smile pulls one corner of his sweet mouth, and that is the last sight I get of his human self before his skin starts losing it’s opaque consistence, turning into something jelly-like and transparent, then into increasingly metallic scales. His eyes spring into slits, and his serpent tongue shoots out of his mouth as he gives out a piping hiss that sends an unbearable buzz through all our ears.
I squeeze my eyes shut and press my hands to my ears, but the buzz still pierces through. Only when it stops I dare look up again to see all policemen scrambling up from the floor, the terrified looks in their eyes and the confusion as they grope around testimony that the Marquis had been right – nothing of the security here has anything on him.
The door is open, with no trace of the Marquis, while Jeremy is the only person standing, however stunned with a gun in his hand in the middle of his sprawled men.
Someone breathes hoarsely behind me. I turn to see Ronald Lord Barkley, and realize his knotty hands are clamped around my shoulders. He shakes and can’t take his eyes off the door.
“I didn’t have anything to do with it,” he whispers.
“Excuse me?” I try to get away from him, but his fingers sink into my shoulders, keeping me in place as a human shield.
“I didn’t have anything to do with their dark practices. I was part of their group of friends all those years ago, but I never participated in the terrible things they did.”
I shake myself from his grip and hurry to help my Mum up from the floor.
“What in all Saints’ names was that?” She exclaims, looking desperate and brushing invisible cockroaches off her body. She’s horrified, hysterical, making it hard to help her up. “He’s a monster! A monster!”
I struggle with her to help her calm down, and it’s a real fight until she manages to get a grip.
All previous episodes.
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