Another balcony took shape before his eyes, open to the nocturnal sky, couchant balusters of limestone standing unmoved even as white hands grasped their parapet and drew a woman over it, as tall as he and sewn into an open robe gown of insolent, poppy-red silk. She attended to its skirts, brushing them down around herself and putting back her head, touching white fingers to the fortune in heavy pear diamonds at her ears. Their facets threw galaxies against her neck when she turned toward the lanterns, sharing their coldest qualities with her skin; dressers had employed the great length of her black hair in an intricate serpentine arrangement and trimmed it with a host of stars set en tremblant on silver pins. But the bow of powered scarlet painted on her mouth could not prevent it from sliding back in a carcharhinid smirk as her green eyes rolled toward him, or dampen the intent that had drawn her past the dozing guards, through the brief jardin and into the hôtel particulier.
"Kala'amātya... if you would only dance, we might not meet so often." she remarked sourly, referring to the blur of revellers sweeping past the glass behind him. “But I do not wonder that you cannot... on nights such as this, I suspect your dead witch rises from her noyade to torment you.” She pulled her fan from her sleeve and pushed its pearl-trimmed loop over her wrist. “Helaine serves me from her grave.”
Her smirk dimmed a little at the sight of him, his garments of black silk and lustrous oyster satin merging with all that was sleek and cryptic about him, forcing her to content herself with the thought and not the sight of wounds concealed in his last profound.
"I would give much to know what you see when she returns to you... do you feel her, thrashing in the water, knowing she would have begged your help if she could have drawn breath?" The scene resolved as clearly in her mind as his, a woman's bare feet walking the cold stones of a whale-grey square, its scurling crowd struck silent under a leaden sky. Rana shook her head as though brought to some admission out of modesty. "I do own, with all my art I could not have contrived her death if she had not gone to the drudenhaus of her own will... it does not vex me to say that. I questioned her guards in my eagerness to know how she fared. They feared her still and would not tell much... save that she kissed the rack... all the faces of the scum who paid to use her there, blessing those that fucked her in her chains and tore the hair from her head as keepsakes, for they bore no earthly likeness to you.” Lifting her fan, she stroked the length of her own throat. "Did you think that you could love her, Kala'amātya? This is what these creatures crave." she observed. "And did she not ponder where you might have learned such a thing, cutting throats and burning tents?" His taciturnity began to round on her, as it so often did, his shape framed by the doors into the mirror-lined ballroom from which he was preferentially exiled, and she was expressly debarred. "These drabs would do well to rejoice, since you'll have no other... what could be more loathsome than your attentions?”
Edward looked toward her as though the question was the first thing he had heard.
“Ask that of my brother.”
The crowded chamber behind them was full of tintinabulatory laughter and soft plumed fans wielded by its trussed and spangled inmates as birth and fortune pursued each other beneath a ceiling painted with a vining legion of classical famille rose heroes and cavorting beasts. Dancers swept the parquet on painted slippers and buckled kidskin, the men engulfed to their waists by the vast pannier skirts of their companions. William gossiped with an heiress as they quartered the room in each other’s arms.
“Sachiin is mine after all this time and all your great works... though it is my dearest wish that I could poison him and throw him into the sea..." Leaning over the balustrade on an elbow, Rana spat down into the garden. "I would feed his flesh to crabs rather than see him use it to delight another... what might I have done with the world if I had not been so occupied in addressing his impiety?” She turned another smirk on him. "March to Cataya and back once more... beg him to abandon me, and stare until your eyes bleed. He is my creature still."
The sarabande concluded, and the dancers excused themselves from one another, trading compeers or retiring to the shallow rank of spectators lining the walls with their fans beating the flush from their faces. William returned to the corner beside the door, where he lifted the jewelled hand of another girl, clad in a violet coat and gown of iris-blue. Edward turned to consider the scene through the small panes.
“In his devotion he has mistaken Céleste for you, even by the chandelier.” he observed.
“You may no longer distinguish one whore from another but I am able... he dances with the ugly farmer’s daughter. The one called Céleste is consumptive, it is said, though I will make trial of her infirmity." She found the pair in the midst of her promise, eyes bleached to a pale chartreuse by the sight of them. Edward leant against the stone behind him while she choked down rage.
“I doubt Céleste’s consumption." he continued, sliding a silver box from his waistcoat and flipping up a lid worked with a repoussé scene of Dionysus and his feminine retinue, from which he took a taste of opium and clove, voice planed of all inflection by undisguised loathing. "The footmen can give good account of her vigor, though they’re stationed in the gatehouse. She comes to us alone, or en compagnie, some of them more beautiful than she, others not so favoured, but this is Paris, so if they are not handsome, they are learned." Rana cursed the patrician colour of his gaze, its ideal hue lending his judgements an authority she deplored, an irony of which she suspected him perfectly cognizant. "I pay well for what is lavished on Sachiin gratis... as you say, I am neither charming nor dégagé, nor are my tastes." The clawing scent of jasmine climbed the wall, breathed across the balcony by the warm air rising from the stone, and she struck at it with her fan as though it were some corporeal nuisance. "When Céleste has had her fill her friends do willing service, and sometimes their husbands... their maids, the stable hands, the kitchen girls... I cannot rebuke his liberality, since he will have anyone, save you." He smiled, the expression never more mirthless. "And after all this, because you are never far from my thoughts, I send him to the second arondissement with enough money to last the week. Despite my depraved counsel, or because of it, it is to Céleste that he returns... she is pleased enough to have him, and by never striving to command him, she surely does."
He saw his reportage find its mark. She came at him, skirts hissing around her feet like a stirring nest of snakes as she swung her fist at his face and he traded the blow for the advantage it conferred, pinning her to the wall by the doors to keep their altercation private. His grasp on her throat reminded Rana too late of the price of violence against one so grimly versed in it, his hand forcing the side of her face against the stone, detaining her with the impersonal duress he might have applied to any restive animal. He addressed her through his teeth.
"If I still live, it is to teach Sachiin to see you for the nothing that you are... as I am little more myself, I await only the day he no longer pities you. On that morning, I will drag you into the waves and hold you down until you no longer wonder how Helaine fared in the water." he promised.
Framed by the slender astragals beside them, William's paramour responded to his smile by leading him back toward the door where he slid his hands across the satin at her bound waist and she craned to kiss his mouth, using their sudden remove from their acquaintances to enjoy a moment of ardent latitude. A great, serpentine convulsion rolled through Rana's flesh as Edward released her; leaning forward over the wide bloom of her skirt as the crowd shifted and parted them, William's companion laughed and let him go, her train crushed against the door behind her.
Rana smashed her own arms through the panes. The framing splintered as she clutched the sleeves of the girl’s violet gown and dragged her through the wreckage of the door onto the balcony. The noise turned the crowd into salt pillar figures as the girl cried out; her attacker seized her head and dragged it back, fist full of her yellow hair and drew a fat sickle of window glass across the woman’s throat in a grasp that split the flesh of her own cold fingers. Blood jetted thickly at the wall and what remained of the doors, painting them a bright martial red, the colour pouring down over the girl’s powdered breasts and satin stomacher into the deep folds of her skirts. Rana sawed through her throat with a slippery crimson hand, then dropped the glass and forced her white fingers into the wound to rip it wider still.
Swan-like women slumped to the floor, drowning in voluminous, petal-hued moiré as the ballroom echoed with their cries of horror; William threw off the hands that stayed him, leaping the fallen while Rana shed her shoes and picked up her skirts. He caught her bloodied arm and jerked her back over the balustrade, the trembling corpse behind them jostled, slick, limp limbs bruised by careless heels as it was trodden underfoot by a surge of cursing men in their best coats and breeches, drawing their dress weapons and urging William to turn her over. For a moment he kept hold of her, then let her go, watching her slide over the stone and drop into the narrow, shadowed strip of terraced garden. Thinking they could give chase the revellers dashed back into the ballroom and downward through the house while manservants came with a bed sheet of lavender linen to drape the fair corpse, her blood darkening the weave as they transported it past great drifts of senseless beauties.
"Is that enough for you, Sachiin?" Edward asked his brother from the door. William murmured something beneath his breath, and Edward hauled him back, forcing him to gaze down at the slick spilled from the girl’s throat. “Ai’i bahai sahsa’ih si sthi’ani.” he told him, letting him go and striding through the blood into the ballroom. "It is enough for me."
Behind the colonnade, Edward rose from the chair and turned to the tall glass doors, lifting one side on its hinges so as not to disturb the pair behind it. A quietus had followed on the heels of their vociferous and eventually demonstrative passion, and the small frogs in the courtyard pond had raised their creaking voices in salute. Inside, a silver mantle clock ticked too slowly on its neglected movement. Two bodies lay draped over disordered linen on a half-tester bed, its barley-twist pillars ending in proud bulbed finials, almost an allusion to the labours that had exhausted its occupants. They were sprawled in randomized languor, their tanned limbs dark against the chalk-white sheets, the woman formed from dulcet curves and dusk-hued hollows, the young man a study of puissant masculinity with his great browned arms and polished back, broad and thickly-furrowed. He lay face down in the bedclothes; while he did not hear the high whine of the hinges, he knew the drifting smell of an intruder even in the midst of torpor and opened his black eyes.
The white jug on the bedside table toppled to the floor and smashed, knocked by the butt of the shotgun at which he swung and lost, Edward ripping the weapon from his grasp. Flipping it in his hand, he trained its snout on the lycanthrope’s face and punched a tanto blade into the flat of his shoulder, driving it through muscle until it struck the socket and locked the arm immobile. While his victim writhed against the mattress he reached down and shot out the backs of his knees with a pistol, lifting the sheet to keep the spatter from his clothing. On the far side of the bed the girl dropped to the floor and fished with both hands under the mattress, but Edward trained the smoking pistol on her face and she froze again, staring at him.
“No se mueva.” he told her. She complied, until her eyes fell to the bed where her companion strained hopelessly for the knife buried in his back.
“Chinga tu madre!” she hissed, clutching her sheet. "Hijo de puta!” From execrating his intrusion she began a muttered formula aimed at his person.
“Tell her.” Edward instructed his captive. The man lifted his head from the mattress and conveyed that no incantation would prevail upon the stranger; they argued briefly before the girl dragged the sheet free and shuffled toward him at his insistence, wide-eyed with stymied rage. With both occupants secured Edward took out his telephone and snapped a series of brightly flashed pictures of the scene before transmitting them to his client. “Cesaro del Lobos de la Roca... your father wants to talk to you.” he told his victim, setting the appliance down on the bedside table.
“He can go fuck his friends in Praha! And you...” he snarled. “Snake-face bastard... fuck yourself in hell with them... choke like a bitch on their money." Edward stepped back to allow his client to address his son via the speakerphone. When the crippled werewolf began to roar abuse at his father’s cool invective, he took the phone out onto the balcony and requested further instruction from his remote patron.
The lycanthrope’s dualistic vitality yielded so slowly to exsanguination that the entire contents of his veins had soaked the mattress and leaked onto the tiles beneath before his heart and ruined limbs grew still. Lifting the dead creature’s head by its sweat-damp hair, Edward eased the blade in a circle to bisect the tissues of his neck; its razor edge slid between the vertebrae though the skull still did not twist free as easily as most. He allowed the remaining blood to lapse from the required trophy before sealing it into a black zippered bag. Bereft of its handsome terminal, the thickset corpse lay with its back to the ceiling on the sheets beside the bound witch, who had, at the sight of her lover’s desecration, given up her frenzied fight against the ties securing her to the frame. Kohl ran with her tears as Edward took the pistol from the table and walked around the bed with it. He put its snout to the small depression at the base of her skull when she turned her head from him.
“Ándale." she told him, lying still. "You have killed the world for me.”
Though she felt the steel still at her nape, her bitter declaration had pierced his blank surface and flickered in his golden eyes. Fingers flexing on the weapon, Edward knew that he had lost the will required by his employer’s final stipulation. He cut the witch free with hands he scarcely recognised; taking the black bag from the floor, he set it down at the end of the mattress beside the feet of her beloved, insuring that she could commit his sacred entirety to the funerary flames. The woman sat weeping on the bed and the sound pursued him, out onto the balcony and down into the narrow, shadowed strip of terraced garden.
CONTINUED NEXT WEEK
© céili o'keefe do not reproduce