Mallory Jane Everley stood over her parents’ grave—and her own—once more. Morning dew glistened on the headstones in the dim pre-dawn. The twitching remains of a ghoul lay not twenty feet away.
It was finally over… she hoped. She finally knew for sure who had ordered the hit, and why. Maybe now… now she could truly begin to heal.
Then, why did she feel so conflicted?
Well, that much was obvious. A part of her wanted Hunter’s head served up on a platter. Weiss’ too, for that matter. That witch had the nerve to sit there sipping wine and not show one shred of remorse. Neither did Hunter, for that matter.
“You did good, Mallory.”
Doc’s words echoed in her ears again, for perhaps the thousandth time since he’d uttered them.
She liked Doc… back at the Meat Grinder, when she was actually still employed there, she thought she might have even REALLY liked him. She could never kiss that mouth, but she found him even-tempered, calm, analytical… logical in contrast to her intensely warring emotions that she ever labored to keep under control.
Last night and this early morning, she was losing that battle, terribly. Likely no one could blame her for it, but still.
“You did good, Mallory.”
She stared down at the graves, unsure.
Doc’s words had come at the perfect moment, truth be told. She had already had the thought crossing her mind, when he spoke up and reassured her—even if it likely wasn’t his intent. He probably was simply congratulating her. But truthfully, in that moment, she had been wondering if she had truly done justice this day. Should she have taken a more hardline approach? Turned Hunter and Weiss in, and let the case run its course, however brutal the result might be?
She always played nice, not wanting to confront it head-on, but she knew Doc was capable of committing unspeakably horrific acts. She still didn’t want to know what he’d done to Helen Petley. But yesterday in Ravidras Manor, she felt like she should have been more like Doc… brutal, vicious. But then, there he was, pleased with her handling of it.
“Did I really do justice for you?” she asked, kneeling at the grave. What would she say, if she returned to the Feasting Hall of Cayden Caylean? If her parents were there and she saw them, what would she tell them? Could she truly say justice had been done?
She set her sheathed rapier on the ground as she contemplated. She was fully aware that ghouls could still come after her in this early hour… She secretly hoped one would, so she would have an excuse to lash out and release the raging fury within.
“Yeah… that revenge thing,” Cayden echoed in her mind, “don’t do that. It’ll be bad for everyone.”
“Sometimes revenge and justice are the same thing,” came Larch’s voice.
“But if I didn’t take revenge,” Mallory murmured at the headstones, “then did I deny justice too?”
No voice came to mind to answer that one.
Over a hundred thousand gold was paid to her… It had only taken a thousand to tear her life apart. Both were mind-boggling sums, in her mind. In her destitute youth, she had seldom laid eyes on more than ten gold at once. Even by the loftier standards she had grown somewhat accustomed to in adventuring, this was an extraordinary fortune that beggared belief.
But what price could be put on the lives of her parents?
And why did she feel so filthy, as if she had just been paid off?
She had grown used to not knowing the truth, in a way. Thinking, theorizing, all the what-ifs. She had gotten used to the anger, and the hurt, and the loneliness. These, she had learned to control somewhat. But now, knowing the full truth… and having made a deal with the couple who had destroyed her life… this was entirely new.
She did allow herself some small congratulations for successfully foreseeing the reasoning of it all.
“Maybe my parents were involved in some bad stuff too,” she remembered saying. “Maybe there was a reason they did this. If so, at least I could understand it.”
Well, she had half foreseen it. Hunter and Weiss’ reasoning didn’t pass muster—perhaps no reason ever could—but the logic was there… cold as it was.
“I don’t know if I really did well yesterday, or not,” she said softly. “On the one hand, blood can only be repaid with blood. But on the other hand… I’ve always striven for forgiveness and grace… even if it’s completely undeserved. And yesterday, I… I had imagined that day for so many years, but when it came down to it, I… didn’t have the strength to do either. I couldn’t forgive… not in the face of such brazen remorselessness. But I couldn’t… end them either. Because I just couldn’t do that to Vanessa and Quinn. So instead I… I feel like I took a bribe.”
She fell forward against her parents’ joint gravestone, and punched her own stone. She sobbed and wailed. How was she to find a path forward now? How was she to begin to heal?