The Demon’s Surrender, Chapter One

You know what October means, sooner or later. Here is the first chapter of The Demon’s Surrender.

My next blog post is going to be something very exciting. Wait and see. But til then I hope you think this is exciting too. 😉


THE DEMON’S SURRENDER
Chapter One
Summer Past

Magic was like a special guest in Sin’s life. It appeared all too rarely, stayed for a brief interval, and she spent the rest of her time preparing for it to come again.

She had taken the day off school so she and her dancers could set up the lights. She and Chiara had spent an hour singing into Phyllis’s new music boxes, which echoed back their voices transformed into strange sweet melodies. Then she’d had to rush away and help Carl set up his display of knives with luck stones in the hilts.

The magic had been worth waiting for. The Market at Dover Beach was one of the most beautiful Markets she’d seen this year.

The musicians were high on the white cliffs, streaked with shadows by the twilight, and the Market itself was being held on a platform a few steps up from the shingled beach. The sea lay sparkling and still in the curve of the bay, like water held in the hollow of a pale hand, and fainter than the light of the stars Sin could see the night-time lights of the French coast.

There were other Goblin Markets held in other countries. She wanted to dance at them all one day.

For now she was glad to be at this one.

Sin was watching Toby while Mama put the finishing touches on the fortune-telling stall. The lanterns swinging over their heads cast rainbow gleams over the surface of the crystal balls, in the depths of the jewels on Mama’s hands. Sin rocked Toby and Mama sang a Goblin Market song to them both as she laid out the cards.

Hush little baby, don’t say a word
If you have two marks never get a third.
Hush little baby, don’t you cry.
Mama never falls and demons never lie.
Hush little baby, don’t say a thing.
Mama’s going to buy you a magic ring.
And if your ring won’t give you a wish.
We’ll be all right, baby, just like this
.”

Sin smiled. “Who are you planning to dance with tonight?”

“The best-looking man who asks me,” Mama replied, and they both laughed.

Mama was in a good mood for the first time in a long time. She had been sick too long after Toby was born and Victor had left with no word ever since to Mama, the woman he’d said he loved, or to Toby and Lydie, his children.

He wasn’t Sin’s father, and they were better off without him, but money had been tight since he went. What tourists really paid for were answers from demons, and to get those you had to dance. Mama had been too sick to dance, and she never accepted help from anyone. She’d never even let Dad help after he left. They had barely been able to scrape by on what Sin made dancing.

But now Mama was finally ready to dance again, they would be all right. Just like this.

“How about you?” Mama asked.

Sin just smiled, which meant she was holding out for Nick Ryves. He hadn’t been to the Market in a couple of months, so he was due back.

Nick and Sin weren’t exactly friends. It was hard to be friends with Nick.

He was the best dancer she’d ever seen, though, and that made her like him. Sin respected talent, and it was hard to dislike anyone when you loved to watch them move. Besides, you learned a lot about people dancing with them. That was why Sin made sure to dance with every new dancer once.

“Don’t tell me it’s Nick Ryves.” Mama wrinkled her nose. “That boy’s creepy. I’m saying this as someone personally acquainted with fifteen necromancers.”

Sin shrugged. “He’s better than his brother.”

“I don’t see what you have against Alan,” Mama said, predictably. “He’s very gifted.”

Alan Ryves was the kind of boy all the parents and grandparents and busybodies of the Market thought everyone should be like: perfect, studious, ever so polite and ever so politely disdainful of the dancers. He got up Sin’s nose more than anyone she had ever met.

“I know. Being so boring and yet so irritating at once, that’s a gift.”

Mama did not respond. Sin glanced up to see her mother’s eyes had gone wide, pools of brightness reflected from the lanterns, and Sin immediately twisted around to see the threat.

There was no threat. There was just Alan Ryves and his annoying face, and at his shoulder where Nick always stood there was… well, there was Nick.

It wasn’t that Sin did not recognize him. It was unmistakably Nick, all dead-white skin, dead-black hair and drop-dead stare, but those sullen too-sharp and too-strong features of Nick’s had clicked into place: he was almost as tall as his brother now when he’d always been short. Muscles that had made him look squat before, like a surly full-grown goblin rather than a kid, fit on his new frame in easy rippling lines as he walked.

He still moved like a dancer, smooth and sure.

This was Nick made new under the burning lanterns, light racing golden along the angular line of his cheekbones, fire kindling in the depths of his black eyes.

Mama whistled.

Sin smiled absently. It wasn’t that she was not interested by Nick’s sudden ridiculous good looks. She was just distracted by something even more unexpected.

She found herself feeling a little sorry for Nick.

Sin had always been a cute kid. She’d known that ever since she could remember: there was no way not to know, when she and Mama had to use it. She’d been using curls and ribbons and a sweet smile to get people to come to Mama’s stall and have their fortunes told since she was five years old.

She’d been dancing almost as long. First just to amuse the tourists, providing entertainment that was more about her smiles and her pretty costumes than the fact she could dance, and then for the demons, when it was only talent that really counted. But making it look good never hurt.

She was used to attention and admiration. But it did change when you grew up, new and sometimes unexpectedly painful like aching muscles.

Last year she had been at the stall of a potion-maker she’d known for years, and he’d given her a present because she looked so pretty that night. He’d spelled out her name in dandelion seeds, shining like stars in the moonlight.

He’d spelled it Sin. She’d always spelled it Cyn before. But now people looked at her and saw something different.

Mama had put her arm around Sin’s shoulders as they left the potion-maker’s stall.

“So make the name yours,” she’d said.

A stage name was the truest name a dancer could have. She’d learned to use what people saw when they looked at her. She’d always been a performer.

Heads were turning as the brothers moved through the crowd, and Nick did not look even slightly fazed. Sin saw him meet a few gazes for an instant and then let his eyes slide deliberately away, his mouth curling. Nick, who never wanted to talk or play or be friends, looked as comfortable as he did in the dancing circle with the demons. As if he had always known he was going to be beautiful.

Nick had never been one for performance. But it looked like he knew how to use this new power he had as a weapon.

She could understand that.

Sin rose from her place by Toby’s crib, and took a moment to let the lights of the Market and the wind from the beach wash over her.

Her mother caught her eye and winked. “Go get your partner.”

“Oh, I will, but Nick can wait,” Sin said. “First I want an audience.”

It was the night of the Goblin Market, a night for seeing someone in a new light.

She thought Nick was human at the time.

*

Sin spotted her mark right away. He was a guy in a suit who had the air of someone who’d been to the Market a few times before and who was trying to give the impression it had been more than a few. He was also handing over a lot more money than the German book of witchcraft he was paying for was worth.

“Welcome to the Market,” Sin said.

When he spun around, she was already positioned so that the fairy lights caught the red glints in her hair and left her face wearing shadows and a slow scarlet smile.

It was a lot like placing her mother’s crystal balls on the stall so they were shown off to their best advantage. Sin wasn’t for sale, but it did no harm to let tourists believe she might be.

The man visibly hesitated, then swallowed. “It’s not my first time.”

“Oh,” said Sin. “I could tell.”

“I guess,” the guy said, his eyes travelling over Sin’s bright clothes and gleaming skin. “You’re one of the attractions?”

“I’m the star attraction,” Sin murmured. “Follow the music when it starts, and you’ll see me dance.”

The man took a step towards her and she felt a flash of triumph. She had him, like a fish on a line.

“What are you doing right now?” he asked.

“She’s busy being underage,” said the most annoying voice in the world.

They both looked around to the book stall, which Alan Ryves was leaning his bad leg against, a book in one hand and his usual expression of righteousness on his face.

“So perhaps what you should do right now is leave,” he continued, in his gentle voice, the one he used as he limped around the Market charming every old biddy in the place. Such a nice boy, they all said.

Nice boys were such a pain.

“Er, so I’ll just be,” said the tourist, and then stepped backwards and away, into the crowd.

Alan gave her a little smile, as if he expected her to thank him for scaring away her audience. As if he’d done something nice for her, and he was expecting her to be pleased. There were fairy lights over his head, too, making his glasses catch the light and his red hair seem to catch fire. He looked even more ridiculous than usual.

He was wearing a T-shirt that said ‘I GET MY FUN BETWEEN THE COVERS.’ It had a picture of a book on it.

“Hi, Cynthia,” he said.

“What is wrong with you?” Sin demanded. “Besides the obvious.”

Alan’s smile twisted in on itself, and Sin bit her lip as she realized what he thought she’d meant. She hadn’t been thinking about – well, she had been, it was hard not to notice – but she hadn’t intended for him to assume she was talking about his leg.

She didn’t feel like losing any ground before the ever-so-saintly Ryves brother, though, so she just sneered, turning her face pointedly away to look at the rest of the Market. There were a lot of sights that deserved her attention far more than Alan.

One of them was the sight of her little sister Lydie, being carried past in Trish’s arms. Trish made fever wine during the day before the Market, but at night she often volunteered to babysit.

“Lydie,” said Sin, and brushed a kiss at the golden curls at Lydie’s temple. Lydie looked past her and reached her arms out for Alan.

“Hi, sweetheart,” said Alan, his voice turning slow and sweet as honey. Lydie’s arms stretched forward, questing and imperious, and Alan leaned his weight against the stall and reached out to hold her.

Sin had to look away as he lurched.

“You’re so irresistible to women, Alan,” she remarked. “Pity your charm only works on those over fifty or under five.”

“Poor me,” Alan said. “I just missed my chance of dazzling you. You’re what, seven by now?”

He gave her the smug look of a boy a bare three years older than she was. Sin rolled her eyes.

“Same age as your brother,” she remarked. “And he’s looking pretty grown-up these days.”

Alan’s stance shifted suddenly, and Sin realized that there was one of the Ryves brothers at least who was not entirely comfortable with Nick’s transformation. Alan’s T-shirt might as well have read ‘MY BROTHER IS JAILBAIT. IT’S MAKING ME ANXIOUS.’

Sin smiled with glorious and terrible joy.

“You’ve seen Nick,” Alan said, his voice suddenly wary. “Did you talk to him?”

She raised her eyebrows. “I’m sorry. I wasn’t aware that he needed a signed permission slip to play with the other children. I have seen him. I had a lot of fun looking.”

“Yes, all right, Cynthia,” said Alan, who apparently felt he needed to use her full name at all times in order to achieve the maximum possible level of condescension. “Look, I’m just – I’m just saying, maybe be a little careful.”

“Careful?” Sin repeated. “You’re telling me to be careful of your own brother.”

Alan colored a deep unhappy red. Sin did not give a damn.

Market opinion was divided on what Nick thought of Alan, their guesses ranging from ‘total indifference’ to ‘sullen adoration.’ But Alan had always seemed to love Nick, sticking close to him, taking care of him as Nick scowled about it. It was the only thing about Alan that Sin actually approved of.

She reached out and pulled her sister out of his arms, rocking Lydie when she made a noise of extreme dissatisfaction. She pressed Lydie’s cheek to her talisman, the enchanted web of net and crystal against her heart.

“I can’t count the ways you make me sick,” she said conversationally to Alan. “Besides the obvious.”

She wielded the words with vicious, deliberate emphasis like one of her long knives, and saw them cut deep. The color drained out of Alan’s face.

“Stay out of my way,” Sin ordered. “And don’t you dare interfere with any of my audiences ever again.”

“He was a creep,” Alan mumbled. “It’s wrong to objectify women.”

He turned away towards the piles of books as if retreating to a refuge and sounded a little awkward when he said that, as if he really believed it but knew it sounded stupid. Alan was supposed to be so smart: Sin could not understand why he didn’t see that he was insulting her by implying she hadn’t known exactly what she was doing, and exactly what that guy was.

She gave Lydie to Trish and stepped in close to Alan, whose eyes widened slightly. Sin ignored her own surprise that Alan was so tall and leaned in closer still, almost resting her chin against his shoulder, so close she could feel his body heat. She concentrated her gaze until he followed it, and saw who she was watching.

She gave him a slow, sweet smile.

“Guess what,” she said. “I’m objectifying your brother right now.”

She left without another look at him, sliding through the Market. She smiled seeing first-time tourists arrive looking wary about the mysterious invitations they’d received from strangers, looking suspicious, and then seeing their faces wiped clean of everything but wonder. The stalls were full of glittering marvels like treasure chests newly discovered and just opened for the first time, and even the stars shone bright as new coins under lamplight against the black velvet drape of a stall. Sin remembered being very small, walking through the Market holding her father’s hand and dazzled by everything.

Sin was part of the marvels now.

As she listened to the pipers, the music from above changed, became something intense with a beat that rang out to the sky. Sin tipped her head back to see white cliffs painted violet and black by the falling night, the pipers at the edge with their instruments gleaming in the moonlight, and above them walls and a castle keep.

Then she lowered her gaze, and saw everyone was looking at her.

She had already positioned herself under a lantern that beamed white light in a pattern like lace: a lantern enchanted to make everything it touched radiant. Sin knew it was making her silvery dress glow like moonlight on steel, that it made the fever blossoms woven through the pale material and her dark hair kindle with crimson fire.

She sent her body rippling to the music, bringing attention to the shifting whisper-soft material over her skin, to the sway of her hips. Her movement called the other dancers to her, spilling in from every corner of the Market to join her dance.

She swayed a few more times, slow and sinuous. The whispers and gasps of the audience stroked over her like caresses.

When she pulled a fever blossom slowly out of her hair, dark locks unraveling from the flower like ribbons, the noise from the audience rose to an excited pitch.

Clearly, this crowd had been informed that whoever was thrown a fever blossom had the dancer’s favor.
Sin laughed, and threw.

The single point of red drew every eye and painted a fiery streak against the sky, like a tiny falling star.

Nick was standing alone and looking bored, his eyes hooded. He caught the fever blossom in one hand.
Sin left the dance and walked towards him. His lids lifted as she came close. There was a gleam in them.

“You ready to dance?” Sin asked.

“With you?”

“Don’t tell me you were considering someone else.”

Nick smirked. “Why, will it break your heart?”

“No,” said Sin. “I just won’t believe you.”

She saw the glint of appreciation touch his cold face, curling his mouth at the very edges. Nick never showed much emotion, but even the smallest hint of a reaction was like a victory. And he’d always appreciated directness.

“Well, I don’t lie,” he said, tucking away the fever blossom and offering her his hand. “And I don’t want to dance with anyone but you.”

*

The summoning circles were cut, the drums were beating and Nick was in the circle overlapping hers before she spoke to him again. Even then, he didn’t speak back.

He couldn’t. They always used a speaking charm so Alan could talk to the demons for him.

“Good luck,” Sin murmured, and they both smiled because the idea he might need luck was a joke.

The music had started as a trickle and became a flood now, cascading over the sand and into the ocean, echoing off the pale cliffs, coursing like sweet electric shocks through Sin’s bones. Sin could see the tourists’ heads turning even more than usual, as she looked at them with eyes that lured them into drawing closer and Nick stared at them with eyes that said to draw closer if they dared.

The music from the new drums was better, the tiny rattle of skulls adding an edge to the melody. Lines and circles leaped into fire under Sin’s feet.

She turned to fire with them, muscles burning as she twisted and turned and pushed them to their limit, blood burning in her veins as she spun. She was never so aware of her body as she was when she danced, of her body as a weapon honed to a perfect edge and a decoration polished until it was perfectly irresistible. Every pair of eyes resting on her, every breath she took away, was a triumph.

Sin never doubted the demon would come.

And Anzu did, golden wings meeting over his head like a crown, empty glass-colored eyes fixed on Nick’s. Nick stared back without flinching: a real dancer, who would never in a thousand years stumble or fall.

Alan’s voice came out of the darkness beyond their burning circle, sure and calm. Sin had to admit, he always knew just what to say.

She’d hardly been aware of her partner as she danced, aside from the fact she could trust Nick never to make a wrong move. But she was always most grateful for Nick when the demons came. Nothing ever frightened him.

Sin looked at him and saw the same satisfaction she felt, the same rush and thrill of daring death and doing it just right, and was absolutely certain that later tonight there would be making out.

Then a magician sent a fireball through a stall.

Merris Cromwell sent the alarm bells ringing for an attack, Matthias and his pipers started playing music to work everyone into a battle frenzy, and Carl from the weapons stall threw an axe at the head of the first magician in the sweeping rush.

Sin and Nick had to stay perfectly still. If they moved, they might break through one of the lines, they might cross the circle, and that meant the demon could tear off your talisman. That meant possession: that meant worse than death.

They were left totally exposed.

“Scared, my beautiful dancer?” Anzu the demon whispered in her ear. “Sure you don’t want to run?”

“I dismiss you,” Alan said coolly, as if nothing was happening. The demon’s fury curled around Sin’s heart like a fist as his balefire started to dim.

Sin lifted her chin and ignored him. Part of dancing was knowing when to stay still.

The demon was leaving, the fire dying. Soon the circle could be broken.

She could only see three magicians, but the three were cutting through the Market people like a spearhead, their demons clearing them a path, their hands streaming lightning and darkness. They rushed down the pier and Sin realized in a moment of cold horror that they were coming straight at Nick.

The circle would not be broken in time.

Then there was the sharp crack of a gun firing, and the head of the man in front exploded. There was another shot and the glint of a knife in the night. Blood splashed hot into Sin’s face. She did not let herself even tremble.

Then there was nothing but three dead men between Alan Ryves and his brother.

Alan stepped over them without a glance, a gun in one hand and a bloody knife in the other.

“Are you all right, Nick?” he demanded, and pulled the speaking charm off Nick’s neck, chain breaking in the hand that held his knife, so Nick could answer.

Nick nodded silently. He had not moved a muscle, and he did not look even slightly surprised.

Once reassured, Alan lowered his knife and looked over his shoulder at the trail of dead bodies he’d left behind. Apparently now he could register the fact he had killed three people in less than a minute and look a little startled and a little sorry.

That was why Sin didn’t like guns. Apart from the fact they sometimes didn’t work on magicians, it was too easy to use them. There was no physical, visceral awareness of what you had done when you used one.

She did like knives. And as the last of the balefire died she stepped out of her circle and drew hers, though there was no threat left to face.

It was excellent that there hadn’t been many magicians, that they had been neutralized quickly, that the Market night could go on. But it left her with the blood racing in her veins, her heart battering her chest as if it wanted to take wing.

She had meant to stay and see Mama do her first dance.

Instead when Nick caught her eye and turned away, she followed.

*

It was dark and cool down on the shore, white seashells and sand crackling beneath her feet. Sin moved towards the shoreline where the surf was kissing the sand in a rush of exuberant foam, looked around, and saw no sign of Nick.

Sin walked along the water’s edge, the lights of the Market behind her, sea and sand stretching to either side, and waited until the moon-iced surface of the ocean broke.

Nick pushed back black hair, drenched and sleek as seal fur, and smiled at her. He might as well have beckoned. The angles of his face looked more sharply cut than ever, his shoulders white and wet, all the planes of his body given gleaming definition by moonlight.

She walked into the surf and he walked out of it towards her: the water of the English Channel was cold even in August, rushing up to meet Sin mid-thigh almost at once and hitting her at waist-height as she waded in deeper, washing the sweat off her skin and all the tiredness out of her muscles, leaving her with nothing but a sweet ache along her body.

She reached out and trailed her fingertips down the ridges of Nick’s stomach, curious, until her hand met the cool shock of water and the leather of his belt.

“I’m a little disappointed,” Sin said.

Nick smirked. “I’m a little shy.”

Sin caught hold of the wet rope securing his talisman, knotted it around her hand, and pulled his head down to hers. He caught her small delighted laugh with his mouth.

His skin was cool and his mouth hot against hers, and she arched up on her tiptoes to get more. It wasn’t like Sin was short: these Ryves boys were both too tall.

Nick rescued her from the passing and disturbing moment when Alan Ryves crossed her mind by solving her problem and picking her up, hands sure on the small of her back and bending her backwards so she was lying on the water like a mermaid in her bed, her hair spreading out with the waves. Then he pulled her back up to him, and she slid her arms around his neck and kissed him again.

“Come on,” Nick murmured against her mouth. “I don’t like the sea. Why don’t we get out?”

Sin smiled. “Why don’t we?”

He carried her out of the ocean and laid her down on the shoreline, the place where the pebbles lay washed by the surf until they looked like jewels. Her soaked hair fanned out in the sand like seaweed, and Sin arched up so he could slide his hands under her back and save her from the chill. He stroked up and down her back obligingly, and slid down her body a little, nudging her talisman sharply to one side as if it irritated him, so the wet rope bit hard against her neck as his mouth opened on it, warm and lingering.

Sin pulled his wet hair a little as a punishment, and arched up against him again.

Then an alarm shattered the silence from cliffs to sea. Sin went rigid with fear: she levered herself up and met Nick’s gleaming black eyes.

“Alan,” he growled.

“Mama,” Sin said, and now they had both named what they had back at the Market, what could be in danger, the spell of a moment was broken. Sin was up and running, not caring if Nick was running too or where he was, only caring that she got back.

She launched herself up onto the cement platform and landed hard, skinning her knees bloody and not caring about that either, rolling to her feet and running.

There were magicians all around them. The first three magicians had been a decoy, something to make them feel as if they were safe from attack. This was real.

Sin saw the tourist Alan had warned away from her, magic glowing in his hand. His eyes went wide as he recognized her.

She was faster on the draw than he was. Her knife was buried in his throat before the magic ever left his hand, and she was running on.

Everywhere across the Market her people were fighting, and they beat the magicians back. Sin was shivering with triumph and exhaustion by the time she finally reached the dancers, ready to find Mama and rest, with her singing that they would be all right.

It was very quiet where the dancers were. It was so still.

Mama was lying face down in her circle. The balefire had all gone out.

Sin stepped into the dead summoning circle, knelt down on the earth and turned her mother over, so gently. For a moment she was absolutely, blessedly relieved: Mama’s breath was coming steadily, stirring the fall of her golden-brown hair over her face, and Sin thought she was just hurt, that everything was going to be fine.

Mama opened her eyes.

All the light and joy of the Market, all the light and joy Sin knew in this world, drained away in the terrible demon darkness of those eyes.

“No,” Sin said, her voice a lonely whisper, drowned out by the sound of the sea, by the terrible sucking silence emanating from the thing that had moments ago been her mother.

“Mama!” came Lydie’s voice, and Sin looked up to see her little sister come dashing towards them, and thought no, no, no with the force of a scream she could not let loose, with the force of a prayer.

Alan scooped Lydie up fast as she went by, turning her face towards his with his free hand, talking to her in rapid, soothing tones, comforting her, not allowing her to see.

There was nobody to comfort Sin, and she had to see.

The demon seemed to be registering its success, its body coming to terrible life in Sin’s arms, Mama’s mouth curving into a gradual, terrible smile.

Mama was nothing but a shell with a demon inside her, Mama herself caged in the back of her own mind.
That was what happened whenever an ordinary person had dreams of demons and opened a window to let them in. Or whenever a dancer fell in a summoning circle.

In the distance Sin could hear Merris giving the orders to those in the know: orders for taking away a possessed person, for dragging the demon-infested body to Mezentius House where it would be held prisoner until the body rotted away from the inside out, until the body died. The necromancers were coming, the men with chains, those who had spells to throw.

Her mother was still inside there, helpless, with the demon in command.

“Mama,” said Sin, finding her voice in extremity, the words tumbling desperately out. “Mama. I’ll come with you. Don’t be too scared. I’ll come, I’ll stay. Mama, I love you-”

Her voice rose then, in a high childish wail, but she couldn’t afford to be childish now. As the Market people came to deal with her mother, Sin surged to her feet and went to deal with Merris Cromwell.

“You certainly cannot come to Mezentius House,” Merris informed her. “You’re far too valuable to risk.”

Sin had always been awed and scared by Merris before. She’d always seen her at a remove, knowing that her mother would probably inherit the Market some day since she was a Davies and the best dancer they had. She’d left her mother to deal with Merris.

Her mother was as good as dead. Which meant Sin was the best dancer in the Market, and she was the next in line to be leader.

“My mother’s in there,” Sin said. “I’m going to stay with her. And if you don’t let me, I’ll leave the Market.”

It was an insane thing to say. What would she do if she left the Market, especially now Mama was gone, now Toby and Lydie had only her? She couldn’t do anything but dance. She would have to become one of the dancers not attached to the Market, who danced for demons alone, who usually died in less than a year.

It was an insane thing to say, but she meant it.

“You can let me go to Mezentius House, or you can find a new heir. I will not let my mother die alone!”

Merris let her go. Sin promised Trish and Carl all her tips for the next season, anything, if they would care for Lydie and Toby until she came back. Toby was asleep, but Lydie cried, and Sin was terribly grateful that Alan was still holding Lydie, his eyes wide and so sorry for them both. Sin wasn’t going to let herself cry in front of Alan Ryves.

She cried at the House of Mezentius. She stayed with her possessed mother for three nightmarish weeks, cried and bled and screamed and stayed, until her mother died. And then she went back to the Market, still able to dance.

That was one mercy. There was nobody else to inherit the Market, and nobody else to take care of Lydie and Toby.

Sin did not need anyone else. She could do it, just like dancing: it didn’t matter how hard it was. What mattered was never, ever to falter.

She didn’t falter and she did not fall once over the year and more that passed, not when they found out that Nick Ryves was a demon that had been put in a child and raised among them all this time. Not when they discovered that Alan was the greatest traitor imaginable, someone who had chosen a demon above all their own kind. Not when the threat of the magicians became so great and Merris got so sick that they had to make a bargain with the demon and the traitor.

Not even when Alan Ryves, the boy Sin had never liked, gave her a gift she could never have imagined and could never repay, when he put himself in the power of magicians to save her brother.

So Sin was not going to hesitate for a moment now, though a demon had just strolled into her ordinary London classroom with its graying blackboards and harsh fluorescent lights. Sin’s magic world and her normal world were meant to be kept apart, but here was Nick Ryves at her school.

He looked much the same as he had more than a year ago, when he had stood looking down at her with wet hair fringed by moonlight.

“Sin?” asked Nick, who she had thought was human once. He seemed, as far as you could tell with Nick, startled and perhaps even pleased to see her.

Time for another performance, then.

Sin crossed her legs under her rough uniform skirt.

“I’m sorry,” she said smoothly. “My name’s Cynthia Davies. I don’t believe we’ve ever met.”

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