IT WAS THE BEST OF TIMES UNTIL IT WAS THE WORST OF TIMES.
We had never been allowed to go away for the weekend alone together before. So our holiday at Martha’s Vineyard was a rare and special treat, sweet as only things that come seldom and do not last can be.
Those two days were long and sunshiny and warm. When I think about them now, I remember the pale amber of the sky at sunset, like light shining through honey. I remember the last time I was purely and uncomplicatedly happy, as I used to be when I was a child and my mother was alive.
Happiness is self-sabotage, a mean trick that your own mind plays on you. It makes you careless, makes you lose your grip, and once you lose your grip, you lose everything. You certainly aren’t happy anymore.
I was very stupid. It was because I was happy that I made my first mistake.
In the weeks that followed, I made more.
Ethan and I lingered in the sun-drenched orchards too long and missed the train we were supposed to catch, a direct train back home with plush seats and clear walls that Light magic pulsed through until the walls themselves looked like they were made of diamond. Staying an extra night was out of the question: Dad would have panicked, and it would have been all my fault. I was responsible for him. Taking care of him was my job and my penance.
We had to catch the last train home to Light New York. It was one of the commuter trains that wound through the sky on rails that shone like glittering threads, stopping at tiny stations on the way. This kind of train even stopped in the Dark cities. Ethan and I bought the tickets and stood on the platform, reassuring each other in voices that did not sound terribly assured.
“It might be fun,” said Ethan.
I told myself he didn’t know any better. Rich people think like that about slumming it, putting on other people’s lives like a disguise at a party. It is fun only because they can cast off the mask at any time.
“Why would it be fun?” I asked.
Nevertheless, I felt my shoulders relax as the train came into view. The train was an older model, but magic made it a shining rope of Light in the night sky, like a crystal necklace suspended between the stars.
It was just a train like any other train. The buried had their own compartment and would not be allowed into ours. We had reserved a private train car. Nobody, from the Dark or Light city, would have the chance to recognize me.
I made my next mistake. I promised myself everything was going to be all right.
Once you lose something, it tends to stay gone. This is especially true with chances.
The train streamed, sparkling, up to the platform. I saw a glimpse of the car carrying the buried ones with its black-screened windows, and then Ethan and I boarded the train. Moments later, we were in our own tiny room, tangled together on a bunk. The moonlight flooded into and ebbed away from our small window, tide-like, with the movement of the train.
We would be traveling all night.
I don’t always sleep through the night. I tear myself out of sleep, heart pounding, sure something terrible is happening. I have trouble feeling secure. Except with Ethan.
I only sleep well when I sleep beside Ethan. I fell asleep in the flickering light, warm in his arms, warm as kissing and skin had made the tiny space between us. The train was rocking, gentle as a boat on a calm sea, and he was stroking my hair.
“I love you,” he murmured to me, and I knew he would keep saying it even after I was asleep.
In the two years since my father and I had escaped Dark New York, I’d woken a hundred times to night terrors that vanished as soon as I opened my eyes. It was bitter irony that I didn’t wake when the real danger was coming.
I didn’t wake until they ripped Ethan out of my arms, and then I sat up in the bunk with my heart pounding and my eyes full of moonbeams to find the nightmare was real. Once the dazzle cleared from my vision, I saw six armed guards dragging my boyfriend out of our compartment and onto a platform. He was fighting, but they had already bound his hands with Light, a shimmering coil of magic around his wrists that he could not escape. They pressed him, struggling, onto his knees on the shadowed-dark stone, and in the cool moonlight I saw the flash of a blade.
I threw myself out of bed and hurled myself out onto the platform. In two bounds, I was in front of Ethan, grabbing the sword, my feet on cold stone and my hands full of cold steel.
All guards carry Light swords, blades tempered with Light magic, to prevent Dark magicians from messing with their minds, and the swords are precise and deadly, unstoppable, whether you are a Dark magician or someone born with no magic at all.
Most Light magicians are not taught to defend against guards’ swords. They are meant to be used for our protection, used against our enemies. No normal Light magician would be trained to fight their own guards.
But I was.
Pain burned a line into each palm, but I hung on. My rings pressed against the Light-gleaming blade and blazed. My blood stained the blade, blotting out some of the light, but the guard gasped and found he could not move his weapon.
“Don’t you dare touch him,” I said. “I’m Lucie Manette, do you hear me? He’s Ethan Stryker and I’m Lucie Manette. If you hurt him, you will pay for it in blood.”
I knew it was a mistake as soon as I spoke. The guard’s face showed not submission but angry confusion: he obviously recognized the names, but it was as if I’d said that we were the hero and the cute talking animal from a fairy tale. It didn’t match up with any of his ideas, so it didn’t convince him, and it wouldn’t stop him.
It had been two years since anyone had doubted my word. It had been two years since I had dealt with anybody who wanted to hurt someone I loved, and I had forgotten how to bear it.
“He’s a traitor,” the guard said. “We have a warrant and a witness who swears he saw him passing vital security information to a fugitive member of the sans-merci. The fugitive was apprehended and killed, and the plans were found on her. The witness described this man with absolute accuracy. There is no possibility of error.”
One of the guards wearing Light rings gestured, and Ethan’s face was reproduced in light against the night sky, as if an artistic comet had traced his profile onto the darkness. His face shone for a moment, and then the magic faded and the lights went out.
“You know the penalty for ...