The removal of minorities from Marquette goes without trouble, the few concerned individuals already resolved to their fates. The Dream as well as the main street are exempt, which makes my establishment even more popular among travelers, with our reputation reaching farther than ever before. Meanwhile, the new district opens and it takes more effort than I expected to keep it well provisioned. Many of my suppliers refuse to even enter the place and I am forced to arrange my own system of distribution, which in turn leaves me in a position of monopoly. I could easily make their lives hell if I so desired, and the memory of Nami’s remark is ever present.
On the military side of things, our militia sees immediate deployment when a warband led a by a Sauk named Black Hawk tries to resettle the land they had ‘ceded’ in ‘treaty’. The group is made of fighters from several tribes and meets with some initial success, including raids on settlers where they kill, mutilate and scalp men, women and children. This triggers a massive exodus of isolated settlers. They arrive in Marquette in small groups, bringing their families and cattle in great convoys that settle in fallow fields at the edge of town. Small circles of tents pop out of the ground like mushrooms after rain, filled with harried men and women with dangerous eyes. They stay there in insalubrious conditions that even slums cannot match.
The newcomers are wary of everyone, including each other. Tension and distrust lead to more trouble for my new district. I have to deploy Harrigan’s squads more than a few times in the following weeks to knock some heads before they can come up with stupid ideas. The hatred between newcomers and ‘true’ Marquette citizens burns bright.
Paranoia runs rampant. Most of the fighting occurring between militia and Indians are skirmishes, but hearing the reports, thousands of bloodthirsty savages were soon going to descend upon the town to rape and plunder to their hearts’ content. I don’t even think they had a thousand men to start with.
The panic makes people feel cornered and aggressive. Marquette becomes a powder keg of tension and deep-seated resentment. I am forced to have the few Creek under my employ wear white armbands at all times to differentiate them from hostile natives. All public gatherings are forbidden and any brawl suppressed with a heavy hand before they can degenerate into large scale riots.
Then, because a catastrophe never comes alone, May brings us a cholera epidemic. Seeing people soil themselves to death really makes me appreciate my own immortality. We even lose a few girls, which frustrates me to no end. Diseases are not opponents I can simply massacre. Against this unseen enemy, I am powerless. Without means to retaliate, I decide to stop our normal operations to help fight the epidemic and between this, renovations and investing in weaponry, this year will definitely end in the red for me. That’s fine, it’s an investment.
This complete mess reduces the time I could spend on aura training, running outside with Metis and sparring with Nami. The poor Ekon girl is growing restless in such a small city, so starting from June, I allow her to roam around the land and get back to me if she finds anything interesting.
At the same time, news of the war restores confidence in the militia after their triumph at Horseshoe bend. That epic battle was just thirty men killing eleven but hearing the commoners speak of it, it might as well have been a new Waterloo. All the same, settlers start to head home which reduces the burden on the town.
I no longer understand mortals. I kill eleven men all the time and you don’t see me parading on the street with a flag. Bah.
In any case, my mood massively improves when my latest purchases make their way to town in a large convoy.
June 3rd, 1832, Marquette
“I told you to call me Merritt! And why are you laughing maniacally in the corridors? That’s not good for your image.”
“I am most pleased.”
“Whatever happened that has you so merry?” Meritt asks, the very image of suspicion.
“My special delivery is here. Let’s go, let’s go. Quick!”
We leave the Dream behind with John in tow. I walk through the evening crowd who parts to let me through. Some of them even greet me. My reputation has improved a lot since I spent my own money on civic duties, to the extent that even some respectable citizens have disregarded the origin of my wealth. A pleasant development.
The trip is fast. In only a few minutes, we reach the warehouse district and my destination.
“Where is it? Where are they?” I ask the first man I recognize.
The foreman stops backing when he realizes he has hit a wall and that answering my question is the safest way to save himself.
“In… in here!”
I disregard the poor sod and enter a smaller barn to find my little precious things well protected under tarps. Yesssss. They’re here!
Behind me, Merritt and the man confer in low voices.
“Why is she laughing like that? I was so scared.”
Fools! Can’t they see the magnificence before them?
“John! Help me take off those covers.”
We remove the tarps to reveal shiny gaping steel maws, all sweet and lubricated.
“Are those… Oh. Oh no.”
“That’s right Merritt. Feast your eyes upon those state-of-the-art, rifled, limber-drawn twelve-pounder field artillery guns. In a revolutionary new technique, they use balls that are fractionally larger than the bore so they engage with the grooves for that sweet, sweet spin. It will drastically improve precision, see? With that, I can put a hole through a man’s belly button large enough to place a hand while leaving his crotch intact at two hundred paces!”
If their faces are any indication, I lost them at ‘limber-drawn’. Bah, it doesn’t matter that those heathens cannot appreciate the good things in life. I laugh and pet my little babies. Just wait until I drag you to a field for some testing and, oh, what is this? Besides the two expected guns, there is a third form. A small, stubby thing under a red cover. I pick a small envelope attached to it and excitedly read its content.
Please accept this humble gift as an expression of my appreciation, and of my hope for your success. Now that you have a mage in your service, I am sure you will find a use for it. It was, after all, your prize.
With all my friendship.
A moment later, I lift the cover and am left speechless. Merritt walks by my side and after inspecting the intricate work before her, asks:
“What is that, it looks like a gun?”
“This, dear Merritt, is a Skarbrand runic mortar, a wonder of magical engineering that can send fiery spells to incinerate foes from a mile away. And you will be its operator.”
The redhead’s eyes widen in wonder as even she can tell what terrible destruction they will be able to inflict together. Perfect, this is just perfect. I bask in the afterglow of all these explodey things I now own. Oh, I am so very happy. If only Papa could see me! Yesterday a rifle, today, artillery guns, and tomorrow, who knows? A ship of the line? So many problems I could solve by the generous application of scorn and gunpowder. I almost can’t wait for live targets.
Whatever storm comes to find me, I hope they will be ready, for I sure as hell am.
I only have two weeks to train the poor artillery crews, a thankless task that involves a lot of math and a lot of screaming, before something unexpected happens. At midnight in the heart of June, I feel a powerful magic pulse coming far away from the East. Its power shines like a beacon, demanding attention.
It has started.
June 19th 1832
I don’t think I have ever felt such a powerful aura other than from the Herald. It tastes sharp and surprisingly focused. Since it’s a mighty spell I do not understand, I naturally assume it is bad news. I decide to head out first to check what we are against while Merritt, John and the odd squad pack things up. They will join me at a safe house before dawn and I do hope the situation will be solved by then, though I do not harbor much hope. With my own pack always prepared, it is only a matter of getting changed and riding out.
The buildings of Marquette and civilization fall behind me as Metis and I rush across the plain. This is my most hated time of the year. I have to spend so much time in slumber that every second is precious, and most are spent handling the Dream and all my new projects. I am glad to steal this moment for myself with only Metis, the night and the endless sky. I have no need to consider politics, be it with the humans or my fellow vampires. There is no appearance to keep or expectations to fulfill. The plane is vast beyond compare, especially for me, who grew up in the swampy South. Sometimes, a gust of wind comes to caress my skin and brings the scent of sap and dried vegetation, making the grass around us dance like waves on the ocean. We cut a way through that sea and leave meadows, forests and the vast fields behind, always in the middle of an endless green only matched by the endless midnight blue above. Life is vibrant around us as insects and beasts hunt, mate or die, and although I do prefer winter, I have to admit that there is a charm to this season.
The Nightmare is also happy to let go, I can tell. I may be able to outrun her on short distances but for long runs she is without a match. There is also something exhilarating about trampling the ground on top of a hellish, flesh-eating warhorse who doesn’t know fear. I already have a spear. I am just missing a banner and a helm, as well as some fancy warcry like the knights of the round table. What should I scream when charging? What do I fight for?
Blood, freedom, and gunpowder?
I try it as well as a few others as we make good way until something attracts my attention and I stop.
Before me, a bend in the road goes around a lake reduced to a pond by dry weather. A few trees mask the path ahead, and a peculiar shine attracts my eye. I close my eyes and focus.
Heartbeats, at least two. This is an ambush. I’m so excited! In all my years, I have never been the target of a robbery unless I was looking for it. Could it be that I finally got lucky? I could use the distraction to feed a bit before the inevitable showdown.
As I slow Metis to a canter, she snorts in anticipation. Sometimes, I cannot tell how smart she really is. Obviously, she is smarter than some humans. I just don’t know exactly how much she understands. We pass the bend and the trees hide the moon, casting us in an extremely deep shadow. The pond is currently to my left and to my front and right the plain goes on seemingly forever dotted with the occasional tree. The largest white oak I have ever seen stands at the top of a small mound, and on one of its lower branches, someone has installed a noose. How quaint!
“Come on out.” I order calmly.
And two of Judge Sullivan’s deputies exit from the cover of the forest behind me like children caught sneaking. One of them is a blond man who I remember is kind but shy, and the other is a quiet, stocky man with grey chops. I smile lightly. I should have expected this, really, considering the judge’s personality. I just did not anticipate him to be so brazen. Hanging me is sure to gather a lot of attention. What was he even thinking?
One more lanky deputy and Sullivan himself come out from further down the way, I assume they were the ones to stop me, and the men behind were tasked with cutting off my escape. I suppose it could have worked, although I cannot help but feel this is a bit amateurish. I would have placed a man on the other side of the road to shoot down the horse, just in case my prey attempts to flee through the plain. I would also have my men draw their weapons. What would happen if I started to run now, huh? How long before they can fumble their muskets out to line a shot in the dark? So gauche.
The four close on me with what I assume is a vague attempt at intimidation. The effect is ruined by two things. First, they act like meek virgins, which in a way they are. Second, they gawk at my outfit and equipment like bumpkins instead of remaining stoic. Even Sullivan’s eyes are wide in surprise.
I am wearing an innocuous travel cloak, not my battle gown, but I am still riding without saddle and my covered legs hug Metis’ flank almost horizontally, which is unusual to say the least. I am sure they are also taken aback by the wicked-looking spear in my hand. I would find it amusing to act the victim for the following play, unfortunately it is absolutely impossible to appear harmless while riding Metis, even without weaponry. She’s just too dangerous, my sweet little toothy charger. Since I cannot fool them, I just assume the air of supreme confidence I am feeling right now, and since they appear hesitant, I will open the game. I take my most arrogant voice and begin:
“I must admit I expected very little from you and am still disappointed. Highway banditry, really? How have you fallen so low, Sullivan?”
“This is not banditry but justice!” he replies defensively.
“Justice at the dead of night? Without witness?”
“You leave me no choice, witch. Your talons are dug too deep into this town, and the only way to purge the body is to cut off the infected limb. I regret that it comes to this…”
“…but only God can judge me now.”
“He already has, I believe the exact term was ‘you shall not kill’.”
“The exodus also said ’Suffer not the witch to live.’” He replies with fire in his eyes.
“And you are all here, certain that I am a witch? So sure, in fact, that you are willing to flaunt the law to put me to death? Is it your belief and your resolve?”
“Yes,” he replies with increasing fervor, “for we are the hand of God, united in purpose and chosen to deliver His punishment!”
I hope they’re not, or humanity is done for.
“United huh, and where is Douglas?” I ask innocently.
After the loss of one deputy to a bounty hunter, there are only four left and one of them was slightly more integrated with the town than the others. I notice that he is absent. Sullivan hesitates at this reminder that his men are not as devoted to his cause as they look.
“You already captured his mind with your sorcerous ways, he is too soft to do what needs to be done!”
“Have you considered that perhaps, the town keeps me around for a reason and you four may be in the wrong?”
“There is no doubt in my heart! My faith protects me from your poisoned words,” Sullivan replies with conviction, but too late. Two of his men look less than enthusiastic about this whole covert lynching business. I realize that I could just kill all of them and be done with it, but I would have to deal with the disappearance of a high ranking official and his subordinates, who may have informed someone that they were going after me. It would be much more efficient to manipulate the situation to my advantage. I am a Courtier after all, not some bloodthirsty imbecile. Let’s see how fruitful Sinead’s lessons have been.
From the situation, I can see that two of them could switch sides, though Sullivan and the last one are so set in their belief that it would require me to shred their minds to get anywhere. Time for me to make my case, and I feel like justifying myself, for once.
“You believe that my influence comes from hexes, or from some strange pleasure magic that blinds men with the promise of sex. You think me some parasite sucking the life from Marquette, corrupting the souls of its inhabitants. You could not be more wrong. The people of the city tolerate me because many of them remember the time before the Dream, when this place was just one more mud hole on the frontier. They remember life without my work, something that you never bothered to ask about. When I came here, girls were already selling themselves and men were already getting drunk. When I came here, whore corpses would be found once every five months and dead miners once every two. Carcasses were left for so long that you could follow their path to the graveyard by the trail of maggots they left behind, and people were rutting behind barns or on pails of rotten hay like animals. What a sorry sight they all were, sick and covered in sores, with missing teeth and scarred faces. Any pass could end up with a knife to the gut and every bottle of moonshine was poison in waiting. Misery was the norm and chaos the law. This is what I found, and this is what I changed.”
I feel myself getting more animated.
“I made a safe place and opened it to those wretches so that none could feed from their miseries. I brought them safe bedrooms to work and sleep, I brought them warm food and alcohol that was not made from sawdust. I made rules and forced manners to make them feel like people. I lifted them and ruled fairly, and I have protected them ever since. This is why I am tolerated, because I have become the last safety net for desperate people where none would, and everyone is better for it.
“You would know this if you had thought but for a moment, or if you had relied on your powers of observation instead of blind faith to understand the world. You have not. This loyalty I receive, I earned it. You believe John to be spelled? When I picked him up from the streets, I could circle his wrist with two fingers. Oscar? Cut down from a tree where he had been left to slowly choke. Kitty? She was almost beaten to death by her degenerate brother. This is why they accept me, not because of spells but because of the human decency that I showed them where your powdered ladies and respectable gentlemen would not, and you? You come here with your belief that the town is tainted, throwing around your weight and your book, expecting some kind of recognition? You do not even realize that I do more for this place’s well-being in a day than you have done since you arrived.
“When you fail to garner the approval you expected, you do not ask yourself if you have committed a sin of pride. No, you just throw everything you have sworn to uphold down the gutter to assassinate a woman like some vulgar highwaymen, in the dead of night and in the middle of nowhere. You hide like the coward you are because you know the people would not stand this farcical sentencing, because you could not face your own inadequacies. You even hide from your own colleagues! You, a defender of justice? Don’t make me laugh. This is not justice you are seeking, but base revenge for your wounded self-esteem. Come on, look me in the eyes and tell me this is divine will. Tell me you could go back to Chicago and announce what you’ve done without being hanged until death!”
My inflamed declamation is received with stunned silence, and I realize that I may have just gone a little bit overboard. I am myself surprised. Perhaps I did have just a tiny bit of frustration backed up after months of harassment from that self-important cretin.
First to recover is the deputy to my left. He passes a gloved hand through his messy blond hair and addresses his superior with a helpless tone.
“She’s right, we shouldn’t hang her. We should bring her to another town and if she’s really a witch they can burn her just as well.”
“Fool, she will enchant them too! We are committed to this. Just imagine what will happen to you if she escapes now.”
“What kind of justice bears no witness?” I interject.
Inside, I am in turmoil. Not because of the trap, as losing the argument will not be my end. I just came to an awful realization.
I care about Marquette. I really do. I dislike my circumstances and the ensuing isolation from my kind. I hate the smell of burning coal and human excrement. The cacophony of yells, songs and moans that surround my nights make me want to gut them all. And yet, despite all of this, I don’t want them to suffer. They’re mine. I protected them and those who have grown to produce something useful or to serve me well fill my heart with pride. They are the results of my effort, my... my subjects.
Is this what ruling is like? How can master just travel from place to place like some obnoxious vagrant when he could be doing this instead? Nurturing those frail mortals into something that will shine briefly, but brightly. This feels like something worthwhile.
Meanwhile, the argument goes on between two sides. On one end, we have Sullivan supported by the increasingly angry lanky man, who is decidedly on edge. On the other side is the blond man who argues about silly notions like due procedures, the habeas corpus and all manners of nice things that frontier people do not care about. He is supported in turn by Mr. Stocky whose name I never bothered to remember, but who is apparently a firm supporter of the equal application of laws. His muffled but frequent ‘that’s right’ needle blondie forward and give him the legitimacy he needed to face the judge.
A fascinating debate.
No matter how interesting their moral qualms are, however, I should not stay to listen. I am on schedule. There is still the matter of the incredibly powerful spell being woven a few miles East to attend to, and I would rather address this issue before it explodes, or turns everything in a ten miles radius into turnips.
I know just the way.
Sullivan is still wearing a cross on his tie, the prick, and the warning aura that comes from it forces me to avert my gaze. Incredible how much would be revealed if they tried to exorcise me, or if they looked a bit closer at the spear I hold. Paradoxically, it is civilization that is protecting both parties. If they had just forfeited the trappings of law, we could have just gone medieval on each other from the start. I would have torn them apart, of course, but my cover would have suffered from it, to the extent perhaps that I would have had to disappear.
Hm, I really need to focus.
And Mr. Lanky is presenting me with the perfect opportunity. He is not wearing a cross and his paranoid mind is already inventing dangers where there are none. I meet his eyes and wrap him instantly. I push the fear to new heights. He is seeing monsters in every shadow now.
That’s right. You are in mortal danger. Your doom has come.
As his terror peaks, I lightly push Metis and she takes a step to the side with a light neigh.
That is enough for my target. His hand, which had been hovering over the handle of his pistol, plunges and grabs the weapon. He is taking it out before he can think.
“Gun!” I scream helpfully.
In an instant, all hell breaks loose. Blondie and Chops raise their carbines while Lanky’s aim wavers between the three of us. Sullivan also raises an engraved musket. I pretend to cower in fear.
From below my arm, I capture Lanky’s mind and force a fearful reflex. His finger tightens on the trigger. The shot sounds incredibly loud in the empty night.
“Stand down!” bellows Sullivan, a bit late. The others hold back at the last moment though tension is at its paroxysm.
“She’s a witch! She is, don’t you see? Burn her, burn the witch!” screams Lanky hysterically. The others do not react, but the moment has broken what little community they had. Sullivan frowns in frustration and barely contained anger, having sensed it too. I am now faced with a choice. I could start a bloodbath, or I could call this a victory and focus on my original task. In the end, pragmatism wins over. I wish I could finish this once and for all, I am just not willing to pay the price. Humility is a virtue I have but too few occasions to practice.
I wish Nami or Sinead were here, we could have done something interesting. Now I am reduced to a gracious retreat.
Time to make my exit.
“I am going to go on my way and let you men solve your problems. I am not stopping for anyone so if you are going to shoot me, you’d better do it now.”
Then I’ll have to run less to skin your sorry hides.
I push a mildly grumpy Metis forward. The smart girl can tell she just missed a meal, though I am not too worried. There will be more soon.
The horse carries me forward through the immobile men slowly, then I start a canter as I pass them by, which quickly turns into a gallop.
I handled this really well and I have no regrets about not hanging Sullivan with his own innards from that stupid tree before setting it on fire. Nope! No regret.
Alright I have regrets but I am proud I managed to act like the adult and patient vampire I am. He is completely discredited now, even in the eyes of his own men, and will no longer be an issue. If he dares show his face in Marquette again I will have him arrested by the militia. I am only surprised that they did not comment on my appearance. My horse and spear should have garnered a few comments at least.
I decide to put this behind me and return my attention to the beacon of power pulsating softly before me. I am almost at the safe house and yet still nowhere close to it. The might of this aura, even at this distance, defies understanding. I have difficulties accepting that something so massive could exist in our reality, for it feels more like the kind of spell the Court of Blue could produce. The closer I get and the more I realize that if this is the work of an individual, then there is little I can do to stop it. I can only hope that they are fully absorbed in whatever this is.
I soon reach the safe house and leave a message to the others, then go on. The vast plains soon turn to valleys, and I start to see more variation in the landscape. The path itself zigzags between rocky outcrops and denser patches of wood. Pines replace oaks and moss replaces grass. All in all, it takes me another two hours before I find something. Just as I am crossing an empty valley, a gap in the ridge to my side lets me catch a glimpse of fires. I circle around slowly and climb a small elevation to see what it is I am dealing with.
In front of me, in a small basin half a mile across, the most peculiar and remarkable of troops has gathered. A hundred men and women from all races and ages mill around in an improvised camp. Tents and wagons are spread haphazardly while the ground is covered with cooking fires, covers and personal effects. The place is messy and without order, a reflection of its inhabitants. Besides one morbidly obese man who looks like he escaped from the circus, all the others are painfully thin, dressed in rags and mismatched clothes and wearing haggard expressions. The whole place feels like the most miserable refugee camp that ever was. The only thing missing is bawling children. And yet, in the middle of it, stands a double circle of individuals chanting and raising their hands. The power coming from them is breathtaking, and the essence they weave is so potent that the naked eye can see it. Twirls of strange colors dance in the air, as ephemeral as flames. Sometimes, I think I see alien landscapes and once, even a city entirely made of bone. Curious, I keep looking, searching for priority targets. My surprise is complete when I realize what is missing.
This place has no leader.
On occasion, one of the lost souls stands up and goes to replace a caster who stumbles away from the circle to a cot or a cooking pit. Small groups gather and break, speaking in soft voices, but there is no focal point, no entity to direct this mass of wretches.
I do not understand. My instincts and experience tell me this is an impossibility. A military troop that large could never function, much less this pile of reprobates. There is more to it than I can perceive.
I need to get there and inquire.
I stand up and carefully make my way down the slope. There are a hundred people and I wager they are too eclectic a group to know each other well. I am confident that with a bit of Charm, I can infiltrate their ranks.
But first, I need to go right. Yes, right. There is something there calling to me, a buzz at the back of my head that I cannot ignore. I am sure that I will find some answers there, and when have my instincts failed me. Quite often really. No, my instincts have never failed me, though following them blindly isn’t always wise. That’s not what I am doing now. I am being very careful. Yes, I can tell now, those below are untrained mages like Debbie. They are no danger to me so I can just keep going and everything will be alright. It is completely safe.
My steps carry me along the edge of the basin and to a small mound that overlooks it entirely. There seems to be a promontory on top of it, but the walls are sheer. I circle around to the right, leaving the camp and its few lights at my back.
The path is deserted. Wait, what am I doing? I am doing what I should do, investigating this strange situation. I keep walking with the cliff to my left. If I can find an easy way up, I will have a commanding view from that promontory I saw earlier. Yes, seems reasonable. I should just claw my way up find a path because I am civilized and do not want mud on my pretty dress.
After only a minute, I find an inviting way in. A tunnel, dug through the stone. A pair of stylized lion statues guard the entrance on each side, below lit sconces. The light and perfume are strangely soothing. This is what I was looking for. No wait, this is wro this is what I was looking for.
Wait. This is definitely wrong. I saw this before. When I was with Bingle and the blood cult. Master had been looking for something in a similar… I am being Charmed?!
A massive wave of well-being flows through my mind and wraps me up in a comfortable cocoon. The presence it reveals gives up on stealth for a more direct approach, and the assault is not something I can stop. It is not something I want to stop. This aura is benevolent, it feels like…
It feels like family.
And this scent. Warm sun on hot sand, flowers, spices. It is so strange yet so familiar.
I step forward, at peace. I will now go and join her, because there is no other choice. I cannot stop myself anymore than I can stop the sun from rising.
The corridor of stone leads up to a rectangular room of stone with a small pond, decorated by climbing ivy. A square hole in the ceiling lets me see the stars and the Watcher. I lose myself for a second in his comforting embrace, and it lets out a cooing sensation, like someone seeing a puppy. A door leads farther in. I pass by a bedroom, a laboratory and a small indoor garden. The place is both luxurious and intimate, like the private quarters of a queen. Then, the passage leads up and I finally step on the promontory.
My mind freezes.
Unadulterated surprise breaks through the fog of the compulsion I find myself under. What I am seeing is impossible, and at the same time there were many signs that could hint at it. I know I am gawking like a bumpkin and cannot find it in myself to stop.
I stand at the edge of a circle once again dug through the stone by means unknown. A pair of chairs and a table with two cups and a teapot stand at the edge of the most complex spell circle I have ever seen by several orders of magnitude. The entire surface of the circle is engraved with golden runes so thin and precise, they are practically a work of art. The exquisite working makes Loth’s efforts look like childish scribbles. This is magic at a scale that should not exist. This is a world changer.
On one of the seats, a woman is resting daintily.
Once, I read of how Helen of Troy provoked a war that lasted a decade, and how Cleopatra seduced the first emperor of Rome. I found the stories silly. Surely, no being is beautiful enough to change the course of history so.
Now, though, I can believe it.
She wears a white toga of delicate make, tied to her waist by a golden cord. She has wavy hair as black as the night and as shiny as stars. Her heart-shape face is sensual and generous, her lips are ruby and her skin is gold. Raphael or Vermeer could spend hours painting the crook of her arm, the shadow of her calf, without doing them justice and still, they would paint a masterpiece. She is beauty made flesh, and I know her.
Once, I drank the most powerful blood in the world and I remembered an ancient ruler, one who inspired an entire civilization. Master did not see her beauty or rather, it did not matter to him. She was there, at the beginning. She guided his hand and his ire. She gave him the flawed elixir of eternal life so he would not succumb to his wounds.
He called her mother.
And now she is here, before my eyes. Her heart still beats, and breath still lifts her perfect bust after more than three millennia. The words form on my lips, unbidden, to confirm the mirage.
She turns and smiles with an otherworldly gaze that even Sinead could not match. I wish I could capture this moment and remember it forever. Her voice is, as expected, exquisite, a vibrant alto with a delicate lilt that enchants the ear.
“Greetings little one. Seeing you here is such a pleasant surprise. Come and sit. Join me. I insist.”