Revenant Eve by Sherwood Smith


  We burst back into the main hallways. I ran past the others, desperately looking for some of the mounted weapons the von Mecklundburgs had decorating the walls.

  There they were! Some were so cold to the touch they numbed my hands, and I snatched my fingers away. Finally I found a swept-hilted rapier that gleamed with a faint bluish cast to it. It came away from the wall freely. I swung it, smiling. It fit my hand as if designed for me.

  A bit farther along, Aurélie found a shorter rapier, seconds before uglies closed in from both sides. Jaska dashed in, his sword humming.

  The air filled with the clash and ring of metal, grunts of effort, the stamp and hiss of feet on the floor. Aurélie fought with difficulty, enduring the handicaps of a ball gown. I sympathized thoroughly. Her fluttering ribbons and filmy draperies got in the way at every turn.

  Mord was the first to skewer one. The ugly imploded with a sharp pop! like a branch breaking, and then disappeared.

  Fighting at Mord’s side, protecting his useless arm, Jaska burst three in quick succession. Surprise made me falter for a split second. A skinny ugly with a generous collection of warts got past my guard. Its sword glanced off my shoulder, sending a shock through me, kind of like electrical static and a hit with an ice cube at the same time. Where I’d been hit, numbness followed.

  Now I was pissed.

  My years of fencing had been competitive, with safety fully in mind at all times. Twice I’d been in real fights, once against mercenaries in this very castle. I’d gone for wounding, not killing. The second fight was against vampires, and that time I didn’t care how or where my blade struck, because the vamps were already dead.

  In my mental taxonomy, the uglies categorized themselves with vamps, as things instead of people, so my only reaction was triumph when I popped two of them in succession. As sensation painfully (pins and needles to the max) returned to my shoulder, I looked around.

  Mord nailed the last one, then sank against the wall, his face blanched. He must have taken a bunch of hits. Jaska pointed at the servants’ door, almost invisible in the plaster wall.

  “That way.”

  Elisheva sprang to open it. We shot through, Jaska last. He slammed the door on a fresh supply of uglies and scanned the hall.

  No King’s Guard in sight. From a long distance came the sound of violins and flutes and merrymaking, heedless of the fighting.

  The five of us made our way down the hall, poking our heads into rooms as we sought mirrors. We found three, and every one of them was blackened.

  “I hear the demons coming,” Mord gasped, his voice hoarse. “Uncountable, a vast stirring of wings.”

  “How do you hear what I cannot?” Elisheva asked.

  Mord opened his eyes, his face a mask of pain. “How can I see the pattern of the birds shifting in and out of the world as they fly about in the air?” He sank back.

  “He’s not recovering. There were too many blows.” Elisheva turned to Aurélie. “You can heal him quickly.”

  “How?”

  “Try touching this stone. It appears to be an early type of our healing stones.” She pointed at one of the gleaming gems in Aurélie’s necklace. “Repeat these words, and see him whole and healed in your mind.”

  It took a couple of tries, but when Aurélie succeeded, we saw a flash of glittery gold light around Mord.

  He straightened up, his coloring normal. “Thank you,” he said to them both.

  “We must find a portal,” Elisheva said. “We can go to another place where the mirrors have not been enchanted.”

  “Enchanted,” Aurélie repeated. “But this looks like the von Mecklundburg castle. I hear the music.”

  “The Nasdrafus doesn’t take us out of the world entirely, it makes manifest the unseen,” Elisheva said over her shoulder. “I’ll find the nearest portal.” She pulled out her prism and held it up to her face as she ran. “This way,” she said, pointing.

  “How do you use portals?” I asked.

  “I haven’t actually seen it done,” Elisheva said. “But they taught us to see the place you want to go, and you step through and find yourself there. But you must be familiar with your destination.”

  Jaska trotted near, running without a limp. “Is this the way you want to go? We’re nearly at the doors to the top of the fountain terrace.”

  I remembered that terrace from the turn of the year, when Tony tried to make the blood pact with vampires. Only they didn’t show up because they were all down in Riev.

  My neck prickled at the memory. If I felt any sense of refrigerator cold, I was going to run like a rabbit.

  I followed Jaska, swinging my sword from hand to hand and glorying in being able to move again, to turn my head and look wherever I wanted. And no ill effects! Even my hair hanging down to the back of my skirt wasn’t matted up after my long snooze and then swordplay.

  We burst out of the doors and ran up the long curving marble stair to the secluded garden behind the Sky Suite, where the ducal family lived. In the center of the garden stood the huge, shallow, marble fountain that reminded me of a Greek kylix.

  Elisheva slowed, turning in a circle as she gazed into her prism. “Somewhere here is a portal.”

  The light was strange, with an aqueous quality of shifting color, and directly overhead, between the thousands of leaves, discs of liquid sunlight shimmered.

  “Was it not evening?” Aurélie asked.

  I’d forgotten the time. Jaska and Mord looked around, and then from the door and over the wall at the sides boiled a bazillion uglies, screeching and gobbling.

  The four of us with swords took up defensive stances and met them head on. It felt great to be back in action! Mord laid into them, sword humming. He was so fast that he cleared a swath around Elisheva, who cried, “Your necklace, is it a religious symbol?”

  “No—yes—I don’t know how to answer that,” Aurélie gasped, and hopped out of the way of a cleaver the size of Texas. She poked at the ugly’s short, bowed leg, but all it did was stumble. I reached over and popped it.

  Elisheva persisted. “Is it bound up with your faith?”

  “It’s from my Nanny.” Aurélie threw Elisheva a distracted glance. “It is said that the cross wards evil. Should I have a cross, or—”

  “Only if it has power for you, otherwise it is a piece of wood or metal,” Elisheva said. “If your necklace—”

  She didn’t get past that. The fountain itself was the portal. From the air over its lip poured a fresh set of uglies, who homed straight for Elisheva.

  Mord shouted something and attacked with fury, Jaska at his side. I waled in from the other side, but there were too many of them. The uglies poked and pricked Elisheva with their weapons. She stiffened, head arched back in anguish. From her hands flew the prism in a sparkling parabola, and a tiny golden thing.

  She fell. The uglies swarmed, grabbing her arms and legs. The high screeching gibber was not nonsense, its patterns were too regular: My Latin wasn’t all that great, but I made out, They said bring her to the garden, our garden in Lutetium!

  And they were gone. All of them. With Elisheva.

  Two objects hit the ground. The prism smashed into tiny shards, but the golden thing bounced. I swooped down and caught it up in my hand. Beka Ridotski had one—it was a Kemah, a golden amulet. There were nine fields, with tiny Hebrew letters and words engraved on each.

  Mord appeared next to me, and stretched out his palm. I glanced up. He was much taller than I—maybe Alec’s height—his face tight with misery. The moody music genius had fallen hard, in no more than two days, for the fierce Salfmatta-in-training.

  And now she was gone. Maybe dead.

  I dropped the little golden amulet into his hand, then Mord turned an angry look Aurélie’s way.

  She faced him steadily. “I cannot kill.”

  “Those things are demon-spawn. Evil.”

  “They are living,” Aurélie said. “I won’t take away a life. I tried to stop them the way I did
before, attacking their legs or arms, but they took no notice.” Her voice went husky with unshed tears.

  “They carried Elisheva off. Alive or dead, we must find her,” Mord said, poking with his sword in an effort to locate the portal.

  “Paris,” Aurélie said, her black eyes reflecting the weird light as she looked from one of us to the other. “They took her to Paris. I heard them say it, didn’t you? What does it mean, to put her in a garden?”

  Nothing good, I was afraid to say.

  “The portal,” Mord said. “How do we get into it?” He slashed the sword through the air next to the fountain.

  For once I knew what to do! “I can’t get us to Paris, but I think I know who can,” I said quickly as telltale gibbering sounded from somewhere below the wall. “More uglies on the way!” I said to Jaska. Then to Aurélie: “Your Piarist Sisters. They know about Vrajhus, right?”

  “But how do we get to Vienna?”

  “Elisheva said you can only go to familiar places. Well, I am familiar with Vienna, and I am almost certain I saw a portal there, once. Take hands!”

  Jaska grabbed Aurélie and Mord, and I grabbed Aurélie, casting my mind back to the day after I first met Alec, to that weird door I’d seen for only a moment in Vienna, in the Crypt of the Emperors.

  “Follow me,” I shouted, focusing on the faint sheen of light directly in front of the fountain. I started toward the fountain as if I was going to bump into it, but once again felt that falling-into-jello sensation.

  FORTY-FIVE

  WE STUMBLED INTO DARKNESS. Our eyes adjusted to dim, flickering light that resolved into a reddish glow.

  “We are in hell,” Aurélie whispered.

  “No,” I said. “That is, I am reasonably sure that this is the Kaisergruft, the emperors’ crypt under the Kapuzinerkirche, the Church of the Capuchin Friars. If I’m right, we’re behind the grave of Countess Fuchs-Mollard. This way.”

  We emerged from the narrow inset past Emperor Joseph’s plain sarcophagus into the wider area where Maria Theresia and her emperor gazed in stone effigy at one another. The weak reddish light turned out to be votive candles.

  We seemed to be alone in the crypt. No uglies, no monk attendants either. We emerged in the New Market section of Vienna’s inner city, but it was not my Vienna. I turned to Jaska, pointing my sword at the street. “Lead on.”

  “The legation,” Jaska said. “Hippolyte is surely still here. We can equip ourselves with funds, which we can use to get necessary supplies.” He flicked his hand over his silken clothes and smiled at Aurélie, gorgeous but wildly out of place walking on the street in the daylight, wearing a ball gown. Not to mention the sword.

  “What means ‘okay’?” Aurélie asked again, looking up into my face.

  It was so strange to be walking beside her instead of bobbing helplessly behind or in front of her, always facing her. I could look away! “It’s an idiom for assent,” I said as I scanned the passers-by.

  Aurélie stated in a sunny voice, “You will have to tell me more about where you come from. But if you don’t mind, later? I am so distracted here. For the first time, I’m seeing ghosts.” She smiled up at Jaska, and he smiled back at her.

  It was great to see great-Gramma and Gramps hooked up at last, but that private, tender, shared smile hit me like one of those cold rapiers, right in the heart. I’d thought I was one step from being done, and here we were, once again, far from Dobrenica.

  Okay, pay attention or you really won’t get back, I told myself, and looked around. I expected to see people in early nineteenth-century clothes, but I didn’t expect to see them shimmer. Not all did. There were bunches of them in the fashions of older times who didn’t shimmer.

  “We have to be still in the Nasdrafus,” I muttered, eyeing a couple of guys riding by, their hats low, swords at their sides. Both turned in their saddles to stare at us. Mord gazed back with his best mad-prophet expression.

  From a side street came a foursome of swaggering tough guys in musketeer bucket boots, billowing trousers, and swashbuckling wide-skirted coats decorated with yards of ribbon, their hair (or wigs) long and curly.

  The pair Mord was busy glaring at leaped off their horses and attacked the four bigwigs. We backed away except for Mord, who assessed rapidly and decided to fight in aid of the outnumbered two, though they’d started the brawl. Swords flashed, and all four swashbucklers fell groaning in the street. The two winners rammed their swords back in their sheaths with the hoo, lookit me! manner of a high five, failed to acknowledge Mord with so much as a nod, then mounted up and rode on.

  From buildings all around servants emerged, moving with the same odd, drifting slowness of the seraphs. But these had no wings. They bent over the fallen, shrouding them. Was there a kind of shadowy mist blurring the air between the crouched and the recumbent figures? I took a step nearer in an effort to see, though my nerves tingled with warning.

  But then the servants, or helpers, straightened and backed away, and the four rose, straightened themselves out, picked up their weapons, and moved somewhat aimlessly down a narrow side street. They shook their heads as they went, and swung their arms.

  So we couldn’t be killed as long as we were in the Nasdrafus, was that it? Awesome! No wonder there were no after-effects from my being gone so long.

  “Elisheva must be alive,” I said, looking at the others. From their expressions, it was clear that the same idea had occurred to all of us.

  “Legation is this way,” Jaska said.

  He’d lost the sheath to his cane back in the von Mecklundburg castle. He leaned on the point as he began to walk, probably from habit as his limp was completely gone. Aurélie paced at his side, but Mord lingered, his head up.

  “What’s that music?” he murmured.

  I didn’t hear anything but street noise. Jaska, Aurélie, and I looked around. No music. That was odd. Well, everything was odd.

  The New Market district wasn’t far from the narrow street off which the legation was located. People came and went into the building, which was typically baroque, above the door a winsome gargoyle staring at us.

  As I looked up at that stone face, the deep-carved eyes sparked, and a forked tongue flickered out from between the sharp teeth.

  I jumped back, and when everyone stared at me, I pointed up with my sword. “Did you see that?”

  Of course the gargoyle was now totally still.

  “Wait below,” Jaska said. “It will be easier than having to explain.” He shot a covert glance at Aurélie’s gown and my outfit, and ran upstairs.

  We stepped inside the building, standing to either side of the door. The floor was a pattern of mosaic tiles, the walls supplied with homely pegs for coats. In the future, those would be mail slots.

  I looked out into the street, wary of uglies or other nasties. All the passersby were slightly odd in one way or another; that is, they looked like highwaymen from some romance, like soldiers of the late 1700s. Some of the women tripped along in full ball gowns, others in more ordinary clothes, but I spotted one woman wearing a brace of pistols, high boots, and a frilly shirt, her hair tumbled down her back. Her hat reminded me of musketeer hats, and at her side, on a baldric, she wore a bell-hilted rapier. She swaggered along, definitely looking for a fight.

  Mord stood with his eyes shut, his head slightly tilted. “That music,” he murmured.

  Jaska ran downstairs. “I was not visible to them. Nobody in the legation office could see me,” Jaska reported. “And they…” He paused. “The edges of their clothing shone with a faint light.”

  “They shimmered,” I said. “Like the people dressed in—” I was about to say early nineteenth century clothing, but altered that to “—everyday clothing. I think they are the ghosts, here in the Nasdrafus, unlike the rest of us.”

  “Yes! And so, in the world on the other side of the portal, we would be ghosts to them,” Aurélie said. “If they can see ghosts,” she added as an old woman carrying a basket of market
goods under a checkered cloth passed within a pace of us. Her edges shimmered. Surely she would have noticed someone in a ball gown, but she walked along, her gaze passing right through us.

  Mord said, “Hippolyte would see you, surely. He saw ghosts, remember? That was why he joined the Freemasons.”

  “But he’s not here. We can try at his lodging or push on to the Piarists.”

  “They might not see us, either,” Aurélie said.

  “How about the one the prioress mentioned? The sacristan who had visions in her dreams?” I asked.

  Mord was now staring at the mosaic, which was laid out in squares about a yard wide and long, the tiles six-pointed, fitted in patterns of threes, their colors a soft golden, cream, and sky blue. He turned to Jaska. “Is that the same pattern that was here when we visited this place, before I left for Eisenstadt?”

  Jaska looked down. “How strange.” He glanced around. “Everything else is the same, but the floor should be the check pattern, white and black marble squares alternating. Not this mosaic. What can that mean?”

  “Is it Freemason work?” Mord asked.

  Jaska looked surprised, then shook his head. “Weren’t they outlawed when Franz came to the throne as emperor the year before last?”

  “Perhaps marble slabs were laid over the mosaic,” I suggested, “but we don’t know what it means, to be seeing this instead of the marble.”

  Jaska looked up. “It reminds us that we must not expect things here to be the way we have experienced them. We’d better get to the Piarists.”

  We all agreed. “Should we hire a coach to get there faster?” Aurélie asked.

  “We have no funds,” Jaska reminded her. “And I have misgivings about drawing any more notice than we can help. Slow as it is, I suggest we walk.”

  We kept up a brisk pace, Jaska striding along freely. When we reached the bridge, we looked around in all directions. No uglies.

  We started over the bridge. Seen from this vantage, the city looked subtly different. I tried a slower scan. The palace was the same, except for some of the side buildings that seemed to have an after-image, or a shadow twin. I made out ghostly forms—the famous dancing white horses called Lipizzaners. Real or not, they pranced proudly, silky manes drifting, tails flashing, their riders dressed in Imperial uniform.

 
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