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Venomous Hearts - Sample

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“I see you, Maddy,” Hart murmurs, “within the magic tricks.” “And I see you Hart, the man who drugged me, put me into stasis, and sent me to the home world to be made into a monster.” Madelyn returns, ten years after the rebel attack on Vaelyn City, as Justice, charged with acting on the behalf of the dead, and her first job is tracking a serial killer who has her power in his sights. Hart has waited for her return and is not about to let this opportunity to win her back pass him by. Becoming a Justice, however, has not come without cost, and Madelyn is not the same girl that Hart drugged, put into stasis and sent to the first home world. Can Madelyn forgive Hart his betrayal when the one murder she cannot seek justice for is her own?

Romance / Scifi
Age Rating:

Chapter 1

Don’t do it Maddy, I told myself firmly.

The street was lost behind smoke, but the sounds of battle continued to rage around me. The flashes of the Other’s weapons slicing through the haze interspersed by the sharp bark of the projectile weapons used by the rebels. Something exploded, nearby, and my ears rang from the sound.

The man in white coveralls was attending the injured, his movements confident and sure. His silver hair and white clothing standing out amongst the chaos. I could hear the rise and fall of his voice, reassuring some in their language, and others in mine. “You’ll be fine, just a flesh wound,” he said, and: “Don’t worry about that right now.”

A figure, mostly hidden within the smoke, a rebel by size, paused, and raised a weapon. “I’m a medic,” the man in white protested in my language, seeing him, his hands held up to show they were empty of weapons. “Tending the wounded.”

Blood exploded from him, spraying across the white. He fell forward, and the rebel stepped out of the smoke, looking down at the injured. “Please,” a woman begged. Bang. Bang. Bang. The rebel man turned and ran back into the smoke.

I choked on bile as their shades rose, bewildered by the sudden death.

The medic moved. He took something from the black box he had carried and pressed it into the wound with a sharp exclamation of pain, before falling onto his back and lying still again. I could see his chest rising and falling.

After a moment, he lifted himself to his knees, and checked on the wounded. “Oh, no, no, no,” the brokenness in his voice was terrible to hear. He stood awkwardly, a man in a great deal of pain, still clutching the black box. A projectile exploded out of the smoke, and grazed his cheek, causing it to blossom red.

He went down again, on to his knees, and began to shuffle forward, pushing the box with his good arm. It was slow going, and dangerous. People ran through the smoke all around him, and his bright silver hair was a beacon.

Don’t do it Maddy.

I ran out, throwing up a shield around us as I skidded onto my knees beside him. I grabbed the box in one hand and wedged my shoulder under his bad arm, making him cry out in pain, but this way, my body supported his and we crawled the rest of the way to the building, the smoke curling around my shield.

We leaned against the inside of the wall, panting, and listened to the cries of those out in the smoke. I released the shield. He looked down at me, his eyes impossibly blue. “Thank you,” he whispered.

It takes time to descend through the atmosphere, through the traffic, to the landing zone. For a moment, it is as if I am still on the first home world, and not returning to my own.

The signal comes, and the transport descends, coming to rest with a barely perceptible bump on the tarmac. “We apologize for the delay,” the Other pilot tells me, turning on his seat but keeping his eyes averted. “And hope you enjoy your stay at Vaelyn.”

“Thank you.”

The door opens, and I can smell the ocean. I let the air wash the scent over me. It has been a long time since I have been home, and it has changed much in the interim. But, I think, so have I. The city scape is unfamiliar now, new buildings replace old, and billboards flash, advertising wares. It is more like the first home world, then the city of my memory.

“Justice Madelyn?” a first world Other woman walks over to the vessel. The blacks she wears have been altered in design, I note. These new blacks would not fit so easily beneath armour, but then, the wearing of armour is falling out of fashion, and more of the blacks contain built in armouring.

“I am Maze,” she informs me. She is nervous, and not sure what to make of me. Seeing me, unmasked, she relaxes a little. I am just a young woman, to her mind, barely out of childhood. I wear darkened lenses over my eyes, something common for the home worlds, but less so here.

“I am here to escort you to your accommodation.” She automatically offers me her hand to help me down from the vehicle – made by Others, the step for them is a small jump for me. She realises what she has done, too late. I accept the helping hand, though I do not need it. It is offered with courtesy, and I have been schooled in manners. She releases my hand as quickly as she can politely do so.

“Thank you for taking the time to meet me,” I reply, politely.

“Nexus was very happy to receive your application to return to Vaelyn,” she leads me across the tarmac, following the walkways painted in blue upon the black. “We might look like a civilised city, now, but we’re very much in our early days. The legal system is still developing. The people are not used to being actively pursued for their crimes, nor are they used to handing the pursuit of justice over to a legal team.” The blue painted walkway leads to a glass building, the doors of which hiss opened at our approach.

We enter the foyer of an immigration terminal, all glossy floors and uncomfortable waiting chairs. Our arrival is not noted; we are invisible. Just more black clad people, moving through the foyer after a long journey. There is a queue at the registration desk, but it moves briskly.

Maze does not take me to the queue, but through the organized bureaucracy, to a door painted the same bland grey as the walls. We enter the back areas of the terminal, less glossy here, with scrape marks along the walls showing the passage of people and luggage. We press ourselves against them to allow a trolley of luggage to pass.

“Your luggage arrived this morning, and has been delivered already,” she told me, following the luggage carrier, but turning off at a door. There is a busy office within, projections flickering, and many voices talking. They fall silent as we enter.

She walks over to a desk. The man stands. “Justice Madelyn,” he clasps my arm in the traditional greeting between soldiers. I have never been a soldier, but the greeting can also be used between professionals. He is wary, however, of the bare skin of my arms and the scars that ride there and releases me quickly. “I am Reed. I oversee immigration for Vaelyn. I have your documents here if you will...”

He hands me a ppc device. I flick through the documentation on it, and sign the bottom, adding my handprint, before passing it back to him. “Great,” he nods as it finishes processing. “I hope you find Vaelyn changed for the better.”

“It certainly couldn’t get worse than it was when I left,” I reply.

I did not leave voluntarily, but neither of us mentions that.

He looks up, meeting my eyes through the tinted lenses. He is not afraid of me. “Yes, true.”

“My weapons?” I prompt.

He takes the sealed box and places it onto the desk before me. The room watches as he does so. They haven’t seen a trained and powered Justice in their lifetimes, the power has died out amongst them, and the curiosity is universal where-ever I go as a result. I press my hand to the surface of the box, and it opens.

The gloves rise from within. I put my hands out, the scarring on my arms showing the last ten years of wear, as they bind themselves to me, the metallic black, overlapping scaled tendrils winding around fingers, crossing the backs of my hands, cuffing wrists, before curling up to elbows.

The death’s head mask rises, and I take off my lenses, keeping my eyes closed. I press it to my face where it adheres like skin and set the lenses back over the top of it. “I’m told your Arcana wield many of the same weapons as I do,” I ask. It has long intrigued me, the similarities reported between Justices and Arcana.

“There’s a theory that Arcana are a mutation of Justices,” Maze replied. “There are a lot of similarities.”

“And a lot of differences.” I cannot wield fire, or water. I am curious as to their relationship to death.

“Yes, but the mask,” Reed gestures to his face. He has not taken his eyes off the mask since I put it on. “The Arcana wear it when they fulfil the duties of a Justice.”

“Mmm,” it interests me that they do so. I have studied all the records on my ability, studied with those who have studied it before me, but it is hard to learn an ability that no one has actively wielded in thousands of years.

I take the athame as it rises and put it to my hip where it adheres. The whip goes to the other side.

The final object in the box does not rise; it is not empowered. I reach in and retrieve it. I attach it to the chain around my neck and settle it between my breasts. The silver death’s head grins at Reed. It is empty. I am to go to the medics to have it filled.

“Right then,” Maze swallows back her discomfort. “Shall we?”

No one looks at me as I leave.

We walk back into the foyer of the terminal. We are no longer invisible. Eyes and whispers follow me through the room.

We walk out another set of glass doors. I am not used to seeing so much sky, it draws my eyes upward as we cross an area where personal and transport vehicles wait to collect new arrivals and their possessions and whisk them off around the city to their accommodation. We do not get on one, but rather continue walking, between the first row of buildings.

“Nexus has invited you to join him for his evening meal,” she says to me. “Briar and Thorn, and the Anaz and her husbands will be attending, along with other leaders of this world.”

“I don’t eat in front of others,” I reply. “But I will attend once the meal is complete.”

“Yes,” she swallows. “He has offered to have appropriate food made available, of course.”

“That is kind,” I am amused. “But they will not want to eat, having watched me do so. I need to attend the medic centre.” The drugs are wearing off, and I can feel the addiction rearing its cruel head within my veins.

“Yes, of course,” she does not alter her path which tells me she had been advised what my needs would be upon my arrival.

The streets are busy here, but the crowd parts like a tide before me. They do not know what I am, but they can feel me, and what they feel, frightens them.

I catch one by the arm, a man of my people, and lower my lenses, drawing my power as I meet his eyes. He pisses himself, the urine running down his leg, pooling in his boots, and collecting in a puddle by his feet. “We’ll meet formally soon,” I caution him, and release his arm.

I return my lenses to cover my eyes.

Maze looks like she might vomit. “What did he do?” she asks me as we resume walking.

I glance at her, amused. “I only deal with one type of crime,” I remind her.

“Of course,” she realises her mistake.

I recognise the building for what it is immediately. It adheres to the requirements the Others have for such places, tall, glossy, and efficient looking. The sign is more discrete. In a city this size, they do not need to advertise its location; everyone knows. The glass doors open at our approach and we enter a foyer.

Behind the curve of a desk, the three Others manning the reception stand. One presses a device at their ear. “The Justice is here,” she murmurs. “Welcome,” she greets us with an uneasy smile. “The medic will be down in a moment to escort you to a room.”

So close to satisfaction now, the addiction’s claws are sharpening. It has been a long time since my addiction has gone so long unsatisfied. The drugs help, but they form their own lesser addictions. The elevator doors open, and a medic steps out.

“This way,” Maze tells me, sensing the increase in tension within me and cautious of it.

We enter the elevator with the medic and they both press against the walls. Considering how much bigger they are to me, it should be humorous, but I am beyond humour. My hands clench at my sides. “We have found a potential substitute,” the medic volunteers. “It’s a combination of several local venoms. There will be mild differences, and we will need to refine it.”

“Fine,” I am curt. I know I am imagining it, but I can almost smell the acrid scent of the venom on the medic’s skin.

The elevator doors open, and the medic all but leaps out of the elevator. Maze waits for me to follow him, and trails behind. There is a reception area on this floor, too, with medics busy behind it recording details of their patients into the AI. They fall silent and still as we pass. The medic uses a handprint to open a door: “She’s here,” he says to the person within, and steps to the side.

I enter the door and smell him before I see him. Lemon verbena. He has not changed. Ten years is nothing, and an eternity. His silver hair is longer now, the braid a thick rope over his shoulder. He wears the white coverall of a medic over blacks cut similarly to Maze’s. The room is a laboratory, the walls lined with refrigerated shelves and tables. He turns from one, to greet us, his eyes the same clear blue of my memory. The smile on his handsome face is strained. “Hello again, Madelyn,” he says.

“Hello Hart,” I reply, as if seeing him again has not constricted my chest and stabbed a dagger through my heart. I know I appear very little different to how he last saw me, and yet, also, much changed. “You have something for me.”

“I’d like you to try the locally made product,” he turns and reaches for a container.

“Tomorrow,” I tell him. The addiction is in my throat and wants to scream at him; it will not accept substitutes. “I was not permitted the treatment on the journey, and woke from stasis some turns ago,” I explain, and reach past him for the vial containing the venom.

I can tell the difference between the next potion and the old already; the hue is slightly different. I can adjust. No two potions are ever the same. But not now, when the craving is so vivid. I take the death’s head from my necklace and press the vial into it. It hisses as it fills the dropper.

My hand trembles as I unclip the eye dropper and draw it out of the skull. I remove the lenses, and set them aside, lift the dropper in a fluid motion, and shudder as the liquid hits my sclera. The venom stings like liquid fire, but I embrace the pain. The toxins absorb quickly and race through my veins, sending sparks along my skin. I know the black gloves turn silver.

I place another drop into the other eye and stand, eyes closed, as it winds its way through me. My heart slows, and the ice crawls through my veins as the venom and the power merge. I breathe out, and know my breath hangs as a mist in the air, the last warm breath my lungs will make for turns, until this dose wears out, or I take enough narcotic to warm my blood. The power is cold, and I know the room around me has chilled perceptively.

I open my eyes, and Maze inhales sharply as she sees them for the first time, but I barely register her. I can see the history of death played out around me. It is my power to see the dead, and without the venom I can still see the shades, but they fade with time. The venom places me in a state between life and death, and I see the dead as vividly as the living, no matter how long ago the death occurred.

Venom use is not without cost. It changes the surface of the sclera and blanches the pigment in the iris. Dead eyes takes new meaning when you’re a Justice. As the poison fades, the sclera clears, but the pigment of the iris remains blanched. It also makes the eyes sensitive to light.

I put the lenses onto my belt. I will need them as the venom wears off.

“I am ready to see my accommodation,” I tell Maze.

She visibly shakes herself, dropping her eyes from mine. “Yes, of course.”

“Madelyn,” Hart says quietly. “I am glad to see you.”

I meet his eyes with mine, and he does not look away. “I will come back tomorrow and begin trying the local venom,” I reply.

“I will see you then.”

I turn and walk out of the room.

The hallway is thick with shades. I see nothing of interest, however, and walk through them, absorbing them, their images dissolving into energy dust. Maze does not want to get into the elevator with me and stays as close to the door as she can.

“It is the fear of dying,” I say softly, “that makes your skin crawl around me. It is not fear of me, or what I might do to you, but the fear of what I represent.”

“That’s not reassuring,” she replies. “I still feel like I might piss my pants like that man on the street.”

“Yes, that happens,” I agree.

“I read that the venom stops your heart,” she is curious. People often have a fascination for what terrifies them, I find. It makes me a frequent invitee to functions and dinners.

“My heart beats,” the elevator doors open, and I follow her out. “It just beats much slower.” It would be better, I think, if it did not beat at all, as my mind falls upon the blue eyed, silver haired man we had left behind.

Thinking of him used to bring me pain so sharp that I feared I would die of it. And then I had begun training as a Justice, and I had learnt that dying was far more painful. At least, the first time.

The accommodations she took me to were not far. I had absorbed so many shades by the time we reached them that I could not physically absorb any more energy. The rooms were at the top of the building, and luxurious in appointment. The chests marked with skulls were stacked in one of the spare rooms, as per my instructions, unopened. My clothing hung in the master suite closets. I turned to the kitchen and opened the refrigerated compartment.

“Is everything to your liking?” Maze asks anxiously.

“Fine. What time is the dinner?”

“Two turns to midnight. I’ll send you the address.” She calls it up on her wrist unit and mine chimes as it is received.

“I’ll be there a turn to midnight then.”

“I’ll let him know,” she hesitates. “It’s evening dress.”

“As he wishes. Where are the brothels?” If I have time to waste, I decide, I might as well do it pleasantly.

She looks at me in surprise. “There are many establishments around here,” she tells me. “Depending on your inclination.”

“Surprise me.”

“Very well,” she scrolls through the options in her wrist unit and sends the address to mine. “Have a good time?” she seems unsure what to make of my request.

“Thank you, I will,” I tell her. I go to the refrigerator drawer and select a lung. “You had better leave,” I advise her as I take a knife from the implement drawer. “I am going to eat.”

I carve a bite as she hastens to the elevator and chew it as I look out the wall of glass that overlooks the city. I wasn’t on duty yet and had turns until I needed to meet with Nexus. I finish my meal and stack the dish and knife into the cleansing drawer, before going through to the master suite.

I put my weapons and mask into the safe built into one of the closets but keep the gloves on. I rarely take them off. I shower, and dress, evening wear as required, choosing a gown in pearlescent white and gold. I put pills and pins into the pockets sewn into the lining of the dress and take the jewelled headpiece with me. My skull charm remains between my breasts.

I set my wrist piece to map, and program in the address. My eyes water in the sunlight, the pain sharp, but the lenses do not go with the evening gown and it will be night by the time I step outside again, so for this short time, I can endure.

It is a discrete property, with tight security at the door. I have to transfer a deposit for their services before they admit me to the foyer. The receptionist takes in the jewelled headpiece and evening gown, and greets me eagerly, despite my odd eyes. “We have a range of experts who can assist you with your desires,” he tells me, handing me a slender glass of stimulant and a ppc, and invites me to sit in the plush seating to make my selections.

I scroll through quickly, make my choices, transfer the funds, and throw back the stimulant and a handful of my pills, feeling the narcotics race through my bloodstream, a counter to the cold of the venom. By the time I am escorted to the chamber and the man and woman I have selected enter, my heart has picked up, at least temporarily, and my skin has some warmth.

They are both strongly muscled, silver haired and blue eyed, dressed in plain white robes, and they look amused as they see me. “Well, hello,” the man murmurs, his voice gentle. “Your first time?” he exchanges a look with the woman, adjusting their routine to suit my apparent age.

“I’m older than I look,” I reply, with a smile. “But you can pretend that, if it turns you on.”

He laughs, delighted. “I am Charm,” he tells me, “and this is Silk.”

“You can call me Maddy,” I reply.

“Well,” he moves to the counter and pours pink into three glasses. “What are your preferences, Maddy? Silk and I specialise in various pleasures.”

“Touch me as you would your one. Talk to me as you would with someone you love,” I accept the pink drink and take a sip. “Gentle and take your time; we have it.”

He takes my hand and leads me to a chair. I sit obediently and watch him kneel before me. He lifts one of my feet and eases the slipper from it, running his hands up my calf as he does, watching my reaction to his touch, gaging my experience for himself, before taking the other foot. He stands, and draws me up against him, leaning down to brush his lips over mine, lingering, sharing his breath. His breath is sweet, slightly citrus in scent; he has taken a dentacare pill before coming to me.

Silk releases the closure of the gown, and guides it open, revealing my back. “This is first world work,” she murmurs, brushing her fingers over the scarification pattern across my shoulders. “It’s beautifully done.”

“Thank you,” I acknowledge the compliment as Charm eases the kiss with a smile.

Silk strokes her fingers through my hair, lifting it to the side, and kisses her way from the bone of my shoulder, to the pressure point below my ear. I sigh beneath the simple pleasure of being caressed. Charm draws the gown down to puddle at my feet, and lifts me out of its fall, so Silk can collect it and drape it over the chair.

He lays me down upon the bed as if I am made of china and stands to release the ties of his robes, letting them fall to the ground. He stands and lets me look, before lying himself upon the bed beside me. We both watch Silk undress. Like Charm, she pauses, and smiles, before joining us on the bed. She leans over me and takes my mouth with hers, as Charm works his way to my breasts. Silk’s kiss is more dominant than Charm’s, I can quickly see how the dynamic of our time will fall into place.

I thread my fingers through her hair, holding her mouth to mine, letting the heat build between us, until we are both breathless, and she brushes kisses along my cheeks before leaning back laughing. Charm kisses my lower stomach, and he shifts between my legs. I wrap my ankles around his strong neck and reach into his hair to direct his mouth, arching up and crying out.

Silk takes my mouth again, and I release my legs from around Charm in order to turn to her, exploring the curves and textures of her skin with my tongue. She moans, arching beneath my touch; “Oh, - ” she cries out and Charm laughs as he curves over my back and eases into me.

“This little one,” he says to her as he begins to move, smooth and strong strokes that make me moan against Silk’s skin, “knows her pleasures.”

Soft music plays in the background, as we lie in a tangle of limbs and silver hair. I run my fingers through it, and Charm hums contentedly. Silk turns my skull charm over in her hands. “This is unusual,” she comments. “Is it a locket?”

“No,” I lean over to kiss her. “It’s poison.”

A soft chime sounds, and Charm sighs. “Time is up,” he pushes up, a decadence of tanned skin, muscle and hair, and brushes his lips across mine. “Come back?” he asks me. He is genuine in his request, the pleasing went both ways, as the best transactions of this type should.

“Soon,” I agree and watch as they re-tie their robes and leave, blowing me kisses at the door.

I shower in the attached bathroom, and put on the gown and shoes, before pinning my hair up, so that the jewelled headpiece will sit over top. I take the eyedropper from the skull, and take more venom, waiting until the sizzle of it along my veins fades, before strolling out into the foyer. I bid the receptionist goodnight and walk out onto the street.

I pause to pull up the map to the address for Nexus’ dinner. A man places a knife against my throat. “I’ll have your valuables,” he tells me. The venom is fresh in me, and I see in flashes the deaths met beneath the blade that rests now against my skin.

“And I’ll have your life,” I reply, and place my hand over his, the gloves sending the power into him. He gasps, held frozen by its paralytic grip. I turn within the curve of his arm, the knife falling from numb fingers with a clatter to the ground behind me, and I take his face between my hands. He cries out at what he sees within my eyes, the reflection of his own death... I press my lips to him, and draw the energy of him into me, until my hands are empty, and all that remains is dust, blowing away down the street.

I brush my hands off, lick my lips to remove any trace of dust there, and continue on my way.

The guards at the door to the building search me. The pills in my pocket are legal, and the skull and gloves are just odd jewellery to them. They don’t find the blades hidden in the hairpiece jewels. I am permitted entry.

The foyer is filled with people, carrying food and dirty plates from a chamber directly behind it. I enter, without raising a comment, just another guest, and stand before the table. Nexus and his mate are easily identified. He is impossibly pretty, his features regular in a way that speaks of exceptional genes or a good face-modifier. His hair hangs to his waist in a spectacularly straight fall of rich metallic grey. His wife has beautiful eyes and wears an impressive array of diamonds. Her hair is silver in the length, but not at the roots. She is of my people, so I decide it is an affectation or she is of the Arcana I have heard about.

Briar and Thorn are also easily identified; their images are still used to promote the fourth world for immigration. She and Nexus’ mate are deep in conversation, their heads inclined towards each other. Thorn is bored, and impatient for the meal to end, leaning back on his chair and swirling a stimulant in his cup.

I identify the Anaz by her two husbands, big, black haired men. They see me first, frowning and positioning themselves defensively around their wife, the green eyed one lifts his lip in a snarl, showing sharper premolars and canines; they know I am more than my appearance indicates.

Further down the table, is another man and woman. She is elaborately made up, and dressed in what is obviously a costume, and he wears an extensive array of scars, and bruises of varying age. His clothing is of good quality, and well cut. His eyes meet mine and he is not afraid, although he knows just what I am and that I can see the deaths that surround him with vivid clarity. “Nexus,” he says, his voice slightly hoarse as if he has damaged his larynx and has not had it repaired. “The Justice has arrived.”

Nexus fixes his grey gaze on me; a dangerous man, this, the sophistication a thin veneer over the inner darkness. “Ah,” he stands. “Madelyn, welcome.”

“Nexus,” I incline my head, politely. “Thank you for your invitation.”

“I am pleased you have joined us. We have just finished eating and were contemplating changing venues. Dahlia is due to perform in less than a turn,” he gestured to the scarred man and his costumed mate.

I incline my head.

They rise and move in a disorganised group out through the foyer and onto the road beyond. Maze joins us as an array of transports land before the building. “How was your evening?” she asks me, intrigued by my visit to the brothel.

“Very pleasant.”

She wonders what it would be like to sleep with me, and shudders, deciding that I must have to pay for it, otherwise no one would want to get near me. She isn’t far from the truth, but it doesn’t disturb me. “You’re to go with Nexus,” she tells me.

I obediently join the city’s leader in his vehicle. “You are not what I expected,” he tells me as the door closes, and I feel the lift of the vehicle through the soles of my feet. “The eyes, yes... but the rest. A pretty girl barely an adult.”

“I am thirty,” I remind him. He has my files. “The slow death of a Justice halts aging.”

“There are easier ways of staying young,” he observes. “I was pleased to get your application. Surprised that the home world would let you return, however.”

“I am free, and equal,” I had been in the throes of my first exposure to the venom, when the agreement had been reached between the home worlds and the fourth world that would have made dosing me with it illegal. So close had been another life. “And have been for almost a decade.” The first world keeps my accounts fat, and refuses me no request, for fear I will complain about my treatment at their hands.

“Has it been so long?” he marvels, looking at his mate. “We missed an anniversary, it seems, my one.”

“Still a year off,” she laughs up at him, adoringly. “It’s in your timepiece, my love. You’ll get reminders.”

“Ah, good then,” he strokes her cheek, then turns his gaze back to me. “Are your accommodations to your liking?”


He waits, expecting more. The accommodation is luxurious, but I am accustomed to luxury, and he is used to grateful fourth worlders. We look at each other, assessing. “When will you begin your work?” he asks me when it becomes evident that I will comment no further.

“Tomorrow.” Technically, I have already begun, with the would-be thief and cut-throat, but I consider that a bit of light entertainment.

“What do you actually do?” he is fascinated.

I raise my eyebrows. “If you don’t know, then why did you accept my application?”

“You are the only one of your kind. In fifteen years on this planet, you are the only true Justice we’ve come across,” he tells me. “The only powerful and trained one in all the civilised universe.”

He is a collector of the powerful. I know that about him, so it does not come as a surprise. The people at his dinner table are part of his collection, whether they realise it or not. From the Arcana Briar, through to the scarred Mercury. Nexus does not care what I do, as long as he can claim that he has me, a person no other in the five recognised worlds can claim.

“When there is a murder with a body, I can attend,” I explain, “and the shade will tell me the murderer, or, if the murderer was unseen, I can obtain a sense of that person, and often trace them. Otherwise, I tend to walk the more salacious streets, in uniform or out, and see what I encounter.”

“Does that work?” he wonders.

“I dispatched a would-be thief and cut-throat on my way to you tonight, actually,” I tell him, amused. “So, yes, it can be quite effective.”

“We can wean you from the venom,” Nexus’ mate is fascinated by my eyes. “We are sure that the same state of fugue can be obtained through meditation.”

“I am told the Arcana have a similar power.”

“Yes, not quite the same. It is difficult to explain. Arcana can heal, but it is not the same as a healer, as an example. You can see the shades of the dead without the venom, but you see them better with. It is like that,” she holds her hands out as an apologetic shrug. “The Arcana can teach you how to meditate.”

“Justices have always been dosed with venom.”

“Yes,” she agrees. “But that does not mean we cannot find a better way for you.”

“The only better way is not to make Justices.”

“You’re not interested in being weaned?”

I remember a time before when I had not wanted the venom. “You can’t unbreak something,” I tell her.

“No, but you can mend it,” her eyes are empathetic.

I shake my head. “No, thank you.”

“See, I told you and that medic,” Nexus tells her. I have a pretty good idea which medic he refers to, and it is interesting that Hart has been discussing ways of weaning me from my addiction, seeing as he was the one who sent me off to be dosed with it. “That she would not be interested.” The venom addiction is part of my appeal to him. Nexus likes dangerous things, but better still if the dangerous thing is in his control.

“Nexus,” she protests.

The vehicle lands, and the door opens, ending the conversation.

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