Revenant Eve by Sherwood Smith

What would that have to do with telling time? Nothing is as it seems.

  I put up three fingers. “Seraphs, three. Named Uriel, Raguel, and Jeremiel.”

  “Seraphs?” Ruli repeated. “Aren’t those the names of angels?”

  “Angels? There really are angels? Seraphs seems less…” I searched for a word and shrugged, “Biblical? But even then, I just don’t believe they’re angels, however they call themselves, or even if they have smoky sets of wings.”

  “There are seraphs in the Bible, too. Kim, what’s going on?”

  I gave her the fastest rundown in history. Not always in order, and skipping huge wads, but she listened all the way through and then said, “I’d be skeptical, too. If they said call me something, it could be they wanted you to believe they were angels.”

  “So you think they’re something else? Like what?”

  She shrugged. “Demons.”

  “Those beautiful creatures? I thought the uglies were the demons.”

  “Demons can look like anything and will claim to be angels. Some say they were angels once. Everyone says two things about angels: They are made of light, and they don’t lie, even by indirection. So, for instance, a real angel—if there are any, and I haven’t met any—would never claim to be a demon.”

  “I’m pretty sure they even said that the uglies were the demons. Demon-spawn. You know, the gargoyle creatures. They go pop if you stab them. They carried Elisheva away!”

  “That’s because they must execute the will of the demons, even to die. And die again and again, until they…” She lifted a shoulder, “disappear, a piece at a time. As does everyone who comes here and gives the demons life.”

  “Life?”

  “I’d better show you. It won’t take long.” She led the way across a square and down an alley to a picturesque street of what in Paris had been grand houses, with sculpture all around doors and windows. The fleur-de-lis was prominent, and coats of arms. We walked inside an open one with light spilling out, and the civilized resonance of violins and violas and winds in a restrained minuet. The marble hall opened onto a magnificent ballroom filled with guests as quiet servants in black livery moved about, carrying trays and candles. No one paid us the least heed as couples with snowy white wigs promenaded down the center of the room, the women in panniered gowns polonaised with lace and ribbons, the men in fitted silken suits, tight in the body and legs, the coats with skirts that accommodated their small-swords, their high-heeled shoes glittering with diamond buckles.

  We passed arched openings into little anterooms. A couple canoodled in one. The woman was wearing a mask. “The mask means that her identity is officially not known. Probably she’s sneaked away from her husband,” Ruli said. “There will be a demon, dressed as a servant, to bring them whatever they need, while feeding off them.”

  “Sucking their blood?”

  “Call it the energy of their relishing illicit lust. Angry lust.”

  “So they feed off sex.”

  “It’s not the sex so much as the man’s intent to steal from some other man, and the woman’s intent to cheat this other man. Anger and violence—destruction in all forms, that’s what they feed on. The two will get a little weaker, the demon a little stronger.” She glanced at me, and laughed when she saw the horror in my face. “It’s a teacup. War gives them a river.”

  In a gallery at the end of the hall, a couple of men dueled with rapiers. “Ah! Here you go,” Ruli said. “Watch.”

  Before we’d taken two steps, one of the duelists stabbed his opponent through the heart. He fell, and servants flowed out of the gloom of the corners to tend him. The creepy thing was, they seemed to bring the darkness with them. The gallery was lit by chandeliers on stands, so the lighting was uneven on the gigantic paintings of posed noblemen and generals astride rearing horses. But the shadows above were not as obscure as those between the kneeling servants and the fallen.

  “Those servants are demons?”

  “Yes.”

  “And they’re feeding instead of healing that guy?”

  “That’s difficult to define, here. Both, I guess you’d say. It’s not healing in the sense you understand it. The man will shortly be back on his feet, but he’ll be a little slower, a little weaker, a little unsteady.”

  “Do the victims know?”

  “They might. Some do, some don’t. They find their way here by various means. Or find themselves here. Ignorance,” she added with that mocking smile, “is no excuse.”

  “So the Nasdrafus is all about creatures that feed on others?”

  “This part is,” she said. “Where you have come.”

  This was so disturbing, my mind couldn’t grapple and reached for a side issue. “They can’t see us?”

  “Not now. You were willing to follow me, and I chose to keep us invisible.”

  “Wait. I don’t get it. You wish things, or will things?”

  “Watch.”

  She didn’t do anything but suddenly the winner of the duel and his seconds looked up. Their expressions changed from surprise to a smarmy interest.

  “What are you doing in my house?”

  “Women? Of the streets, perhaps?”

  Ruli smiled at me. The men blinked, then turned back to talking among themselves as Ruli said, “Now I want us invisible.”

  I tried. See me, I commanded mentally, and sure enough, one man pointed with his rapier. “There’s one of ’em again!”

  Don’t see me, I shouted mentally.

  “Sangdieu, de Châtelet! You’re seeing phantasms.”

  Ruli lifted her shoulder in a shrug, and sent a stream of smoke in the direction of the bewigged aristocrats. “Let’s go.”

  We walked out. The clues were fitting together into a puzzle of horror.

  “The uglies are controlled by demons, and demons lie, and they are like vampires who vacuum up life energy. Oh, hell. That forest of maples.”

  “A convenience, masking the truth with acceptable symbol.”

  “So she’s being drained of blood?”

  “Not blood, Kim. Think beyond the purely physical. You know that is not your physical body, it’s your memory of your body, n’est-ce pas?”

  I fingered my perfect hair, still not the least tangled after all that wild dancing. Nor was I sweaty. “Oh.”

  “None of us go near the demon grounds. The Place de Grève has belonged to them for centuries.”

  A sudden thought. “Do demons fly?”

  “They can, in the form they often take.”

  “Would they seem to stream across the sky, to one who can see them?”

  “They can,” she said.

  The clues inexorably locked together. “So, if great numbers—thousands—are flying somewhere, where are they going?”

  “To the slaughter, of course,” she said. “As I said. They are drawn to death, the more violent the better. Then they can proliferate.”

  “So in Aurélie’s time, those shadows I saw around Fouché and Napoleon?”

  Ruli tapped her cigarette on an iron railing topped with fleur-de-lis, and watched snowy ash drift into the garden to vanish among perfect flowers, not a petal withered, not a leaf grown old. “First at the trough are the strongest and most dangerous,” she said. “I am surprised you survived that.”

  Aurélie’s necklace had protected her, even as it drew them. I saw it now, but I didn’t explain that. I was too sickened by a realization I could not escape. “What have we done?”

  “You have not done anything,” she said. “From what you’ve told me.”

  “That’s just it. While we’ve been having fun, Elisheva is…I don’t get it, how fun could be evil. It seems a cheat. If the demons had threatened us, come at us with weapons, we’d know the rules. We could fight back.”

  “Violence is best. Destruction next. They get little from what we were taught as the seven sins. Worst of all for them are the emotions at the polar opposite of destruction.” Ruli took another hit off her cigarette. “Di
d you ever read The Adventures of Pinocchio?”

  “Collodi’s book? Yes, I struggled through it when I tried taking Italian my second year in college. Oh. This aspect of the Nasdrafus is like Toyland, is that it? Except here the donkey ears are more insidious and interior? I’ve got to find the others.” I faced Ruli, urgency poising me to run. “Thank you.”

  She gazed back at me, her eyes so like mine, yet so different. “Remember your promise to me,” she whispered, and was gone.

  Promise—yes. I’d promised if she ever turned evil, I would push her into the sunlight. With a great sense of relief I let her go.

  Remembering what Ruli had said about time (time does what you want here) and place (in the Nasdrafus, affinity, connection…), before I took a step I shut my eyes, willing myself to see Aurélie.

  And there she was, not far away. Then I began to run. Wish and will, I repeated to myself, willing the shadows to recede. Where had I left my sword? Back at the theater, blocks away.

  They’re gonna send uglies after me. I tried to halt the thought. I didn’t want to end up willing them to come after me because I dreaded not being able to fight them.

  “Think about Aurélie, think about Aurélie,” I muttered as I darted around the strolling crowd.

  Paris had become the ideal Paris, though some buildings were blurry and others clear. But my eyes were drawn to rows of pretty trees filled with twinkling lights, the clean sweep of the quay along the quiet Seine, the lovely arch of the bridges. I had to look away from intriguing glimpses—the carving of a king on a bridge, a cute little café with stained glass windows, the sounds of ballet music through the open doors of a little theater—and keep Aurélie firmly in mind, because the lure was there to take just a look. Just a moment.

  I found the two sitting in a tiny booth at a cozy café near a lovely fountain of the Three Graces. Aurélie and Jaska had their arms wrapped around one another, every line of their bodies expressing tenderness, affection, passion. For the first time, they were alone without the invisible ears of Yours T.

  The sight triggered off my sorrow and longing for Alec. Not only for his arms around me but for the broken conversation we’d barely begun.

  They looked up, shocked at my abrupt appearance.

  “We’ve been had,” I said, and at their incomprehension: “The demons are killing Elisheva a drop at a time while we wait.”

  Aurélie jumped up. “Where?”

  “They?” Jaska asked.

  “Demons. Come,” I said and explained as we went.

  “A vampire? You got the truth from a vampire?” Jaska asked, halting.

  “Let’s test the truth of her words,” I said. “It’s still not sunset yet, the sun above the city roofs. Right?”

  They assented, Jaska warily, Aurélie with a troubled expression.

  “Let’s each will it to be nightfall.” And when nothing happened, “Expect to see it. No. See it. The sun is gone. There are stars overhead.” I pointed at the sky.

  And there they were, twinkling peacefully. My heart chilled as Aurélie gasped, her eyes filling with tears.

  “We have done evil,” she whispered. “In wanting to be alone, just the two of us.”

  “Oh, no, you haven’t.” I waved my arms. “No, that was natural. It was good. The mistake, which you made without being aware, was in accepting the manipulation of time.” I thought of Las Vegas casinos, always well lit, no clocks, no windows, the addition of oxygen to keep you feeling fresh and frisky as you empty your wallet. But there was no explaining that! “You were together, at last able to talk things out without me perched on Aurélie’s shoulder. And it’s pretty here, and the bells never rang.”

  “It was temptation,” Jaska said, looking distraught. “Don’t say we didn’t know. We didn’t ask, didn’t want to know.”

  I could see guilt in both their faces, and shame. “There are the trees,” he said, brandishing his sword. “I hope the demons come out. I’ll find out if they bleed or not.”

  Aurélie caught his wrist in her hands. “No. No more killing.”

  “They will send the demon-spawn against us,” Jaska said. “What good do we do if we are overcome and carried away into darkness?”

  She shook her head. “I felt it was wrong to walk away from the Place de Greve. Now I know it was wrong. I feel even more strongly it is wrong to take any life.”

  “They want you doing that,” I said. “They like violence.”

  “But those things are vile,” Jaska said. “Evil and ugly.”

  Aurélie looked down. “The last time I heard these words, or words very like—black devils, ugly, they don’t know better, they need the whip to make them work—it was said about us.” She laid her hand over her heart.

  Jaska flushed to the ears.

  “We all made that mistake about the demon-spawn,” I said. “And I am sorry for my part, but there’s the forest of maples, though I wonder how much of what those seraphs told us is true. But yes, we do have to check,” I said hastily as both began to speak. “However. Without the amulet, which Mord has, how will we find her? I’m trying to see her, but I don’t know her, really—no affinity—it’s not working.”

  Aurélie had been scowling at the forest of maples. “All I see is trees.”

  “And so it is with me. We have to fetch Mord back,” Jaska said in a low, determined voice. His face was tight in that stricken, sickened expression of someone who understands too late how badly they’ve stepped in it.

  Ruli had said that anger and violence fed the demons, but I was still ready to kick the first one I saw. Guilt, regret, betrayal. Three emotions I really hate.

  “Think ourselves at the cathedral. Don’t give ’em the chance,” I said.

  Guilt might have driven us, but suddenly we stepped off the bridge, and there was Nôtre Dame, from which drifted the rise and fall of plainchant, the Latin soothing and melodic as it promised forgiveness and redemption.

  Not five hundred yards from the church entry, there were the hordes, squealing, hopping, lumbering, weapons waving in the lurid red and purple light.

  Jaska gripped his sword, but Aurélie put out her hand. “Wait.” Her forehead was taut with tension, her lips compressed. She began to glow with that blue-silver light: the necklace.

  “Go free,” she said in French, and in stumbling Latin, “Animas vestras sunt liber, ire in libertatem.”

  Your souls are free, go in freedom.

  Red eyes, green-glowing, yellow, snake-pupiled and black, lidless and bulging, the demon-spawn gazed at her, then some scampered and scuttled off into the darkness, squealing and howling in triumph. Others waved weapons and advanced menacingly, maybe confused, but definitely angry.

  Jaska gripped his sword, stepping in front of Aurélie. Wrong it might be, but he was going to defend his lady.

  “Did you expect gratitude?” came Uriel’s beautiful voice. “Command gives them purpose.”

  Aurélie did not answer, nor did she need saving. The light intensified to an eye-watering radiance, and the uglies and the fake angels stayed well back of it as we slowly walked to the cathedral. The presence of the necklace might have drawn the demons to us, but they could do nothing to it, or to any of us in proximity to it.

  We reached the steps. We reached the narthex, then the nave. The plainchant enfolded us, and Aurélie staggered then straightened. Jaska and I each took one of her hands. “It’s nothing, I was dizzy,” she said, her deep voice huskier with strain.

  We hustled into the bell tower, through the jello, and back into the emperors’ crypt in Vienna.

  Aurélie lit the way with the necklace, throwing back the shadows to reveal the baroque glory of Maria Theresia’s and her emperor’s sarcophagi.

  Aurélie and Jaska paused, staring at the sarcophagi, and I knew what was hitting them: the reminder of Time. The memento mori, a young couple (one royal, the other about to be) gazing at the remains of another royal couple, aware of their youth and beauty, so fleeting.

&nbs
p; “We could stay,” Aurélie whispered.

  Jaska shook his head. Just once. For him, there was no choice: He would go back to the uncertain world, where he was maimed in one leg, where he would grow old and die, because that’s where his responsibilities lay.

  Aurélie gazed up at him. She didn’t say anything, but I saw the way her fingers tightened on his.

  They’d made their choice, and so had I. Like there had ever really been a choice, in spite of the craziness of my dancing, of the stage.

  All the more reason to appreciate every moment we get with one another, I thought, the longing to see Alec so strong I felt it in bones and nerves.

  “As fast as we can,” Jaska said in Dobreni.

  Aurélie might not have known the words, but she understood the intent.

  Mord was shocked to see us.

  That’s the word—shocked. Like he’d forgotten our existence. All the way to the St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Aurélie whispered to herself, depending on Jaska to guide her as she concentrated on willing demons to stay away. But when they walked into the profound sensorium of that music, they froze in equal shock.

  Music had been the solace for all three for most of their lives. Complex and compelling harmony filled the enormous space. You could listen to that forever, I thought, giddy with elation.

  As Mozart directed his orchestra and choir, I could see the effort Jaska expended not to get lost in the song. He took Mord aside and filled him in. I could see the impact as each point hit Mord, and I mean hit. His fingers tightened on the sword he wore at his side, his breath hitching as if he was stabbed by an invisible knife: demons, time, Elisheva left to suffer, and we have to get out of here as fast as possible.

  I’d been dreading Mozart’s turning into a demon and threatening us, or trying something worse, but in a way, the torture was more exquisite, as Mord stood there divided between his lifelong love, music, and his new love.

  Mozart said sadly, “Another unfinished composition?”

  Mord said, “We have been tempted by the seraphs.” His voice flattened. “And we are lost.”

  “No you are not,” Mozart retorted. “You’re only lost when you surrender will. Here—I have a gift. It may help you.”

 
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