“For people who know about this thing—” the Diamond Raven warned.
“For people to know about it is truth! Is all of us who rotted for the Tzar laid to rest! Is everything that went wrong put better!” The deserter was foaming at the mouth. Raizel took a step back. He only spoke louder. “This is the thing that makes it all better! Do you understand? This is the truth that I deserted for!”
“But what is it?” Raizel asked for the third time.
It is a spell so dark your eyes cannot comprehend it. It is a spell so nasty that your mind will shy from it. It says that the Tzar who won the Seventh War did so with the darkest of magics. It says that he bled his own people’s souls to do so, and did so knowingly. It may shake the foundations of your world. It may change everything. It may change nothing, save that people will know exactly how far their Tzars will go to hold on to this Empire.
Raizel shuddered. To either side of her, the deserter and the Diamond Raven twitched and shuddered as well.
“What…” asked the Diamond Raven carefull, “Was that?”
“That was the spectre that gave me three questions in return for destroying something for it.” Raizel couldn’t help but feel a little smug. “I’m sorry.” She bowed to the deserter. “I can’t. I can’t post this for you, I can’t let people know. It’s too dark. It could hurt too many people.”
“You have to! I gave up everything for this!”
“There will be someone else.” She felt bad. “There will. But I can’t – I can’t risk what’s going to happen. Besides, we really have to get to to the train station.”
“May I?” The Diamond Raven looked, she thought, nauseous.
She shouldn’t have agreed without knowing what he wanted to may, but the echoed shudder of the spectre’s voice in her mind was making her twitch. “Sure.”
He put his hand on the deserter’s forehead, just above the big D brand, and murmured a couple quiet words. The deserter fell to the ground.
“Did you-” She stared at the crumpled man, horrified.
“He’s sleeping. I know, no rest for the deserter, but he’s been carrying that burden a long time. Let’s go before the curse wakes him.”
Raizel started walking at a quick clip, having no problem with that idea. “Do you think I should have taken it? Posted it?”
“No. No, oh, that didn’t last long, here.” He grabbed a gate door and ushered her inside. “No. I don’t think you could have touched it without taint.” He shut the door and ran his hands in a complicated gesture over it. “Now shh, wander through this garden and breathe it in. Think about the flowers, look, this one could be pretty behind your ear. Here.” He plucked a flower, an orange one with streaks of red and yellow, and slid it behind Raizel’s ear. “There you go. Smell this fruit. It can be used as a spell component in a long, complicate spell, and it can also be used to make a very nice juice. There, and this one-”
His voice was completely different than normal as he explained various plants to Raizel, meandering with her down the paved paths of this little garden. It was made to seem much bigger than it was, she realized, by the use of screening plants, curving paths, and random wide spaces to let in sunlight. It was quite clever, if done almost entirely for show. She tried not to gawk. She didn’t want the Diamond Raven to think she was some sort of – well, some sort of mountain person. She found herself smiling, almost laughing at herself. “And this one?” She brushed her fingers over a midnight-hued blossom.
“That one will take your fingers off if you touch it again, missy.” The voice came from directly behind them. “And what are you doing here in the garden of the Mayor?”
“The Mayor…!” Raizel glared at the Raven. He shrugged apologetically and they both turned around slowly, carefully. Gardeners’ tools could be deadly to more than just weeds.
The gardener – Raizel assumed it was a gardener – standing before them was wielding a rake but did not, for all that, look all that threatening. She was a short woman, coming up to Raizel’s chin, and although she had a fierce glare, it did not look like an accustomed expression for her. Three of her pockets were wriggling, which just added to her strangeness.