Chapter One Marianna de Montmercy
‘Do you think that makes any difference?’ she asked her reflection gesturing to the walking stick leaning up against the wall beside her. Marianna had asked herself the same question every day for the last eight years. Her answer had never differed. The stick hadn’t changed her perception of herself. The reason behind her needing one had all but made her an invisible.
At thirty years old she was easily still one of the most exquisite women to grace Spark City. Her silver eyes regarded her appearance thoughtfully. She was dressed to blend into the background so that she would not be noticed. All except for her lavender hair with white streaks interspersed throughout the strands. Her hair and the luminosity of her eye colour attracted unwanted attention.
Her official classification was a fifth. Her unofficial classification was the highest number in society. She was regarded as being amongst the rarest of females and had been provided with more security than she was comfortable with by the high council. It was rumoured that Mari had more security attached to her than even Anna herself.
She hated the term ‘invisible’ with every fibre of her being. Mari could not change the circumstances behind her injuries. She had taken to heart the life lessons she had learnt during her healing process to change the lives of many others like her from the city and surrounding rim tenements. She closed her eyes for a few moments and concentrated solely on her breathing. When she opened her eyes she reached out for the book on the coffee table in front of her.
Contained inside was the account of the darkest moments of her life. Each year on the 5th of May as day turned to night and the stars began to appear over the dome Marianna remembered. She remembered the letter she received from her mother urging her to visit her so that they could meet. She remembered the cold calculating looks that she received whenever Elanna had thought she wasn’t paying attention. Mari remembered with cold clarity meeting John Smythe and the way he had made her feel as he kissed the back of her hand with his dry lips.
Next came shock when Elanna informed her that she would be completing the contract with John on her mother’s behalf. Disbelief as she realised she had been drugged to be compliant by something in her food. Elanna herself had guided her hand as she had made her sign the substitution clause.
Some of her most agonizing memories were gone from her mind and the healers had explained that when it was needed the relevant information would be there. Only when she was truly ready to deal with what had happened to her. Until then she would be forever slightly broken.
The next few months after she had been manipulated into signing the agreement were a fleeting montage of pain and overwhelming emotions as she struggled in an unfamiliar environment dealing with a male who had no inclination to do anything but issue orders at her. Mari picked up the glass of whiskey that had sat untouched beside the book. She took a mouthful and savoured the taste before she swallowed it down.
She flipped the pages with one hand as she came to the sketches that depicted her eighteenth season. The year she knew she would have etched indelibly in her memory for the rest of her life.
She had been with child for the very first time when John had sent her flying over a third floor balcony using the momentum from a well-placed kick to her chest. She had died and lost her child during her fight for life in the tense hours soon after. Mari could remember a visit from the leader of the high council only known to one and all as Madame Speaker. The female had seemed genuinely distressed for her beneath her heavy veils of navy blue.
She had shared the silence with Mari allowing her to grieve in peace. Mari took another mouthful of whiskey as she held up her glass to the picture of the woman who had forsaken her duties to run the nation in order to hold her hand. At least before her red entourage had arrived to callously inform Mari that her mother had been found murdered by John’s hands.
Justice had been swift and she had not seen John again. He had been shipped to the territories in the clothes he had been wearing and not much by the way of supplies. It had been assumed by society at large that he had not survived as he had not returned at the end of five years to resume his life. Marianna had not been as easily convinced.
She had just finished her last round of operations, healing sessions and intense physical therapy on the leg that had shattered at an odd angle in an effort to save her unborn child. Mari put down her empty glass with the silent hope that her child was happy wherever she was in the cycle of life. She closed the book and blew a birthday kiss into the cosmos.
Mari moved slowly to the picture window overlooking the city. The high council building was lit up artistically as usual and her silver eyes darkened to a stormy grey. The high council had thrown her to the society sharks after she was mostly healed. Where she had once been treated with respect men attempted to take liberties with her without contracting with her for her time. Mari had appealed to the high council for their protection.
It had come at a heavy cost. She had effectively gone from being one man’s captive to being at the mercy of the high council. In order for their protection she had to pay a large percentage of any profits from any business venture for the rest of her life. She had reluctantly agreed to any and all terms.
In secret she had begun weapons training. She had known then and still believed quite heavily that the only reason the high council had treated her so favourably was because Madame Speaker had taken a liking to her. The Elders saw Mari as a threat of some sort. She had worked hard learning how to best support her body and move with grace while wielding a knife. She was deadly accurate with her stick and completely lethal with throwing knives.
Mari had kept more than a close eye on the movements at Smythe house where she had been held captive for all those years. She had a gut feeling that John was still alive somewhere in the territories. The man was black to his very soul. She knew he would not rest once he found out that Mari had survived her fall.
As she was walking past an alley one morning she came across a child who had been beaten within an inch of death simply because she had been late home from training. Mari had taken her home on the spot and arranged to have her medical bills sent to her. That one child had been the catalyst to her seeing the others that blended into the hidden places in misplaced shame.
Mari returned to the high council with a proposal. At first she thought that she would be laughed out of the audience room by the Elder who had stared incredulously at her. Surprisingly she had ushered her through to the inner chambers to be heard by Madame Speaker herself.
Her proposal had been quite simple. If she found a female who had been abandoned, hurt or needed help she would offer them sanctuary within her home. The children would be raised with the correct training afforded all the females under Anna’s laws and at in their sixteenth season they would be able to choose whether they wished to contract or not.
If they did and Mari was approached about one of them she would act in the best interest of the female. She would have the potential choosing fully investigated so that she could guarantee her charges ongoing safety. For those who did not wish to contract Mari would train to be useful in the running of the building. Any adult females that she found broken would be offered medical and emotional assistance as well as a home for as long as they needed one.
She wished to turn her home de Montmercy House into a refuge. She had left the high council feeling at peace with herself for the first time in a very long time. Mercy House as her home was now known currently housed over thirty children, twenty women who lived in the rehabilitation centre and her home on the top floor.
Mari leaned up against the glass. She had slowly lost herself in the day to day intricacies of helping those who needed her. Spark City had forgotten Marianna de Montmercy existed and to the world at large she was simply known as Lady Mercy. She had all but disappeared and it was only once a year on this day that she allowed herself the opportunity to remember and heal a little more.
The sharp tone of her com pierced through the silence. She wished that she could ignore it. She knew that she could not. The message was from her personal assistant Joanna. ‘All quiet downstairs. I’m turning in for the night. Need anything?’
Mari replied quickly with a short ‘No thanks. See you in the morning.’ She had found Joanna out in the Rim dragging her small frame along the street with blood dripping steadily from a series of puncture wounds around her back kidney area. She had been determined to make it to the only healing centre in the area without help from any one. The street had all but been deserted when Mari had caught her as she had fallen. She had arranged to have her transferred to Mercy House after they had patched her together and the child had needed somewhere safe to go.
Jo had been insistent about her freedom from the minute she had awoken in strange surroundings. Mari had assured her that no one would ever take that away from her. In Mercy House everyone was afforded their freedom-everyone except Mari herself who could not shake the eyes of the high council. One morning she had been waiting for Mari in her office and had told her she had needed her help. Jo had started speaking and made so much sense that she had ended up staying on as her personal assistant. That had been over four seasons ago.
She had turned into a beauty who had refused to be tamed completely. Jo had retained the wildness of a street child underneath the guise of a well-trained female. Once in a while she would slip up and mention her ‘family’ of ‘brothers’ who had kept her safe. Mari knew Jo still visited them whenever time allowed.
Mari moved away from the window as the glass had grown cool along with the evening air. The rage she usually kept contained behind a cool icy exterior bubbled up from deep within. Mari gasped and clutched her stomach. The white hot pain clutched her insides with sharp hooks. Something wet slipped over her cheek. Reaching up with her fingers she realised with a start she was crying. Bubbles of insane laughter rose from the uncomfortable feeling from deep within. She clutched her mouth frantically trying to push herself back from teetering on the edge of the insanity that was her life.
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