Noin looked into the case as Zechs beamed. It was a beautiful knife, over three centuries old and gleaming as if it were newly made. The worn handle, which was made from a deer's antler according to the information card, still held imprints of elaborate patterns tracing around a few semi-precious stones set into it. The blade gleamed, almost as if it were a light source all it's own. Zechs was absolutely enraptured.
"I don't know who wold let such a beautiful piece of work go to auction," he grinned, sparing a glance toward Noin, "but his loss will be my gain." He turned back and did not see Noin's look of concern. She did think it was an excellent example of metal working, but something about it seemed to radiate warning. If she were the type, she would have attributed the feeling to the supernatural.
If she were the type.
When the bidding finally started later that evening, Zechs confidently started high, ignoring the dirty looks that maneuver brought him. He calmly raised each bid as tenacious bidders tried to out do him. Slowly his competitors dwindled to one plainly dressed man.
The thin and haggard face of the man reacted as if struck every time Zechs raised his hand to renew his claim on the blade. He watched in quiet desperation as he was again and again rebuffed. When the cost reached over 1,000,000 credits, he fell silent. His doleful eyes flinched away as the auctioneer announced the winner of the auction.
Zechs and Noin collected the prize and moved to leave the auction house. Noin watched, amused, as Zechs ripped open the box and pulled the now sheathed blade from it. "Look, Noin, would you look at it?" It was odd to see the normally reserved Zechs behaving like a child at Christmas. Odd, yet pleasing, bringing a smile to the woman's face.
"It looks like it hasn't been used, Zechs, not once."
"I know... and yet it's over 300 years old... someone must have used it. Look at how worn the handle is."
He re-sheathed the knife and moved to put it back in the box before he noticed the man who had been his final opponent in the bidding. The couple stopped short, watching warily as the man's eyes darted between them. He licked his lips as if his mouth were dry before speaking. "S-s-sir," he managed, wringing his hands, "I... I would like to buy that knife!"
Zechs's eyes sparkled, a chilling half smile on his face. "Then you should have kept bidding, shouldn't you?" He took Noin's arm and began to lead her past the man.
"I didn't have the money on me," he said as they passed. When they showed no intention of stopping to hear him out, he made a grab for Zechs' arm. I'm willing to give you a fair price!"
Zechs stopped and looked at the man's hand on his arm, then at the man. His gaze was steely, but he said nothing. The man continues. "I'll pay you double what you paid if you only let me have the knife.... I think that's more than fair..."
Noin and Zechs looked at each other. Both knew that Zechs had paid a high price even for the craftsmanship and beauty of the old blade. "And how," Zechs intoned, "do I know you'll actually pay me, friend?"
The man shrunk as Zechs turned his withering gaze back on him. "You've already admitted that you don't even have enough to cover what I've paid. Now you expect me to trust you to take the knife on the promise of twice that amount?"
"I..." The man straightened. "I give you my word, sir."
"A man's words are only as good as his actions," snapped Zechs. "What I've seen from you don't speak highly of either."
Zechs shook the arm off, but the man persisted, moving to cut him off and again clutching at his arm. "I'll give you what I have," he breathed, shoving a hand in his pocket and pulling out a sizable roll of bills, "and send you the rest." When Zechs made no move to either take the money or hand over the knife, the mans face grew desperate. "Please, sir, that knife is VERY important to my family!"
Noin and Zechs pulled away, walking a few steps. The man pointed and cried out, voice breaking, "that knife can bring great riches and glory, or suffering and death!"
Zechs whirled, angry to the point of breaking. "So that's your game, is it?" He sneered as the man cowered even across the feet that separated them. "What sort of fool do you take me for? An actual curse?! And, don't tell me, you are it's immortal guardian, am I mistaken?"
The man stepped back in the face of Zechs's anger, and Noin's, who had stepped up beside him. But he didn't back down. Instead he pointed a shaky finger at him. "You have no idea what you're dealing with! That knife will bring you only death!!"
Zechs smiled, the cold predatory smile that he'd often found himself wearing in battles. "You will get this knife only if you can embed it into my heart and pull it out yourself."
The haggard man looked sad and determined. "Be careful what you wish for," he moaned, almost apologetically. "You just might get it."
Noin had remained silent through the exchange, but the man's words struck her with a cold feeling in her chest, echoing in her mind like cluster missile fire. She hadn't realized she had been silent until Zechs brought it up at dinner.
"What is on your mind, Noin?"
"Hmm? Oh... nothing."
She still blushed when he smiled at her like that, patient and caring and not fooled one little bit. "I see. My mistake. Usually you're quite the chatterbox at meals."
Noin shook her head. "It... was that man, from the auction." When Zechs continued to look at her, she continued, embarrassed. "Don't you think he was a little... intense?"
Zechs smiled again, a wholly different smile. "Did he frighten you, Noin?" he teased.
"N-no!" Her face flushed, and she looked down. "Yes... a little bit," came the grudging admittance. "I guess it was all that nonsense about death and curses..." She looked up through her lashes. "Didn't he have any affect on you..?"
"The only thing I have to worry about from him, Noin, is that he might try to steal what he couldn't buy. So I'm putting the knife in the strong box."
Noin nodded, but her mind was still echoing with the man's words, and she found herself wishing he'd simply sell the knife and be rid of it.
A year passed after Noin watched him place the knife in the strong box and place it under the false bottom of the nightstand. In that time, the knife only came out a few times when Zechs wore it at ceremonies. In the times between, Noin would practically forget about the knife. In the times it was out, she dreaded it, feared it, to the point of not wanting to be around Zechs when he wore it. To her it seemed to make him more irritable, and a lot more aggressive. But when the knife was back in the strongbox and stored away, she could forget, and he seemed to as well. And since the last time he hadn't pulled it out for four months. She had completely forgotten about it.
Now she sat, reading, patiently waiting for him to come to bed and sleep. When he did, she noticed with concern that he seemed pale.
"It's nothing. Fatigue, that's all." Zechs waved a hand, collapsing into the bed. "Some sleep, and I'll be all right."
Noin nodded, unconvinced but knowing he wouldn't listen to any protests, not now, at any rate. "All right. Mind if I stay up to read?"
"Not at all. Good night, Noin." With that, he rolled over to sleep, back to her to keep the light from his eyes. Noin glanced back down at her book, knowing she'd really only wanted to be sure he slept well before she let herself sleep.
Within five minutes, her fears were realized worse than anything she could have imagined. Zechs sat straight up, clutching at his chest, breath caught in his throat. His breath rattled after a moment, and he slumped back, eyes still wide in terror. Within seconds, he was dead.
She hadn't even had time to move.
"How are you feeling, Noin?"
It was the most common question in the last few weeks. At first, it was welcome, even though she couldn't bring herself to answer without her throat closing. Lately, though, the answer was always the same. "Fine. I feel fine."
But she didn't feel fine. Something was missing. Zechs was gone, and she was in pieces, and one piece would always be missing. But she had to live with that.
Still, she couldn't shake the feeling that Zechs was not only gone, but taken.
This time the question was asked of the doctor that performed the autopsy. She had avoided this conversation, but the feeling was stronger. She had to know what happened.
"To tell the truth, Noin... I'm confused about your request." The doctor nervously slid his fingers along a file. "From your description that night, he was simply ill and had a heart attack. Sudden, yes, but no cause for much further examination." He looked at her, licking his lips. "Are you certain you want to look deeper into this?"
"I have to know, doctor." Her voice was quiet and steady.
"All right." He opened the folder before him. "For all intents and purposes, Zechs was a model of health. Not only health, but exceptional health. There was no sign that this would have happened. The only reason he died was... a tear in the left ventricle of his heart..." The doctor paused and looked at her. "There was no real reason for the tear... no sign of strain on the heart... if I didn't know better, I'd say he was stabbed in the chest with a knife. But, of course, that's impo- Noin?"
Her eyes were wide and face pale, and her fingers clutched the desk. Words from a year ago flooded into her mind. You have no idea what you're dealing with! That knife will bring you only death!! She began to shake. Without a word, she bolted from the office and to her car.
At home, she tore the strong box from it's hiding place and fumbled the key. Inside were the jewels passed down from her mother for generations, Zechs's antique watch, and the box the knife had been in. She tore the box open.
The knife was gone.
And with a searing pain in her chest, Noin was gone in the next second.