The sharp tip of the slim blade pierces the skin stretched over two ribs. It goes deep and punctures the heart. A gasp deflates her chest as she looks up at Daniel.
He holds her tight, and his hand twists the knife. Blood trickles down at first. It drips down her tight black leather vest, and it soaks the white cotton shirt underneath. As her breath starts to break, the blood flows freely, coating his hand and the silver handle in warm crimson. It’s merely a shade away from the colour of her long hair. It flows with urgency, as if eager to leave the body.
Ivy looks down at the knife stuck deep inside of her, for a brief moment. She recognises the intricate design of the precious gem setting on the ivory handle. Her family presented him with this ritual knife on the evening of their engagement dinner. This is the first time that its blade tastes Etherean blood. She gives Daniel an accusatory look, and tries to push him away. He won’t let her go.
‘For what it’s worth, I truly am sorry. And I do love you.’
‘You… call this… love?’ Ivy slowly loses her ability to speak, along with the light in her bright emerald eyes.
Daniel sighs, and tightens his hold of her. She seems lost.
‘You should’ve come with me when I asked you…’ he replies with a trembling voice, filled with regret.
A fragment of silence slips between them, before the mocking tone of Claudius thunders across the room.
‘You planned to leave and not finish your job, my boy?!’
He’s been standing there for a while, watching this entire scene unravel before him. The look on his face is that of a delighted child inside a patisserie, moments before he jumps with joy and vivaciously states that he wants that cake, and that pie, and the bonbons and everything else he can fit in his stomach.
Daniel pays no attention to his presence. He’s busy watching his beloved Ivy die slowly, in his arms. Her hand grabs hold of his left arm, as her legs give in. She drops the sword she’d intended to use against Claudius. It hits the floor with a heartbreaking clang, the sound of defeat, the sound of something that she’s never felt before.
‘I wanted to tell you… I’d hoped your feelings would not change and that we would elope together… Away from all of them’, he tells her gently. ‘Why couldn’t you just leave them to their fight? Like I was ready to do, just to be with you…’
Ivy’s face is losing colour, but her eyes flare up in wild green flames at the sound of his question. It’s a pity her body refuses to listen, otherwise she’d cut him in twelve pieces and scatter them across the ocean. Her eyes say that, but not her voice. Her voice is faint, and there aren’t many words left.
‘I’ll find you… I’ll find you in the Great Ether, Daniel…’, she can barely hold her eyes open, but she won’t die before making this promise. ‘I will find you… and I will tear you… to pieces… You will beg me to stop… But I will have… an eternity to pay you back for… for what you just did…’
The final beats of her heart find Claudius in her blurring field of vision. He looks down on her, over Daniel’s shoulder, and a grin slits across his face.
‘The only one blessed with eternity in this room is me, darling!’ he booms victoriously as Daniel flinches at the sound of his voice.
Ivy tries to focus her sight on Claudius. She smiles vaguely, eager to promise him an equally terrible fate, and her mouth opens but only silence and blood trickle out of it. She has no more words left. She has no more time left. Not even a second.
Daniel slowly gets down on his knees, holding her tight and bringing her down with him. As her head touches the cold marble floor, the last glimmer of life leaves her eyes. He quivers and sobs as he drops a kiss on her soft lips. He can feel the chill of death now. His bloody fingers close her eye lids, smearing her with dark red. Her lips are still arched faintly.
Claudius tries to ignore the shudder rippling through him at the sight of that smile. That smile always promises things he desperately tries to avoid, when it comes to Ivy Spencer. The smile of the mother telling that child in the patisserie that if he eats too much cake, his teeth will rot. Killjoy. He takes a deep breath, and pats Daniel on the back.
‘The Alchemist is dead’, he declares victoriously.
‘The Alchemist is dead’, Daniel repeats with barely any voice. ‘The Alchemist is dead’, he repeats with a bit more conviction. ‘The Alchemist is –‘
‘Yes, she’s fucking dead!’ Claudius interrupts him and rolls his eyes. The weakness of his subjects is never a pleasant sight. ‘Now get her ready for delivery. Her family will never forget this gift.’
Daniel sighs and nods, without turning to face him. A few tears streak down his cheeks as he swallows his sobs. Claudius looks down and sees him shudder. He can’t resist rolling his eyes again, but he keeps his tone grave and glorious.
‘And alert the Rebels. The Division will be out for blood and will pay us a visit. We must be ready to… welcome them.’
Daniel finally parts with Ivy’s lifeless form, and stands up to face his king. He nods and wipes the last tear off his face. A moment passes before Claudius puts his hand on Daniel’s shoulder:
‘Listen, if there’s anyone you should be angry with right now, it’s THEM. Not I. I would’ve forgiven you. Well, not straight away, but I would’ve forgiven you, because you would’ve taken this bitch as far away from me as possible. As long as she is out of my way, I’m happy. She wouldn’t have had to die if shed been out of my way. But THEM, Daniel. It’s THEM you want to hate. Look at them when the anger consumes you. Look at them when you decide to avenge her death. Look at them, because THEY are the ones who kept her here. I’m sure she asked her parents if she should go away. I’m sure she asked that Etruscan witch, and that Northerner, and that Oriental fellow. I’m sure she asked. And just as I am sure that she asked for their self-absorbed opinions, I am also sure that they ALL told her to STAY. Hate them, Daniel. Hate THEM.’
Daniel feeds on his words with the greed of an opium addict getting a fresh dose. Claudius always has this effect on him. He turns and twists everything to his advantage. He removes any doubt or guilt off himself and meticulously places it on everyone else, so at the end of the day, when his followers feel regret or anger, all Claudius has to do is put his hand on each of their shoulders, in his casual and friendly manner, and tell them that he’s definitely not the one to hate, but someone else.
The equations of responsibility that come out of his brilliant mind are often difficult to disprove. And it doesn’t even matter, once the anger is fed and fully sated.
‘Draw them into the library upstairs?’, Daniel asks, after a deep breath and a quick glance at Ivy.
‘Yes. Tomorrow, I will show you all why I am your king, and no one else!’
Claudius overflows with pride. It didn’t irritate Daniel before, but now it does. It used to inspire him, but not anymore.
He looks at his king and nods, with no hint of enthusiasm nor a sense of urgency at the sound of his command. He’s no king of Ethereans. Not yet, he always says, the king without a crown for now, but just for now.