A current has swept through the city, at once triumphant and intoxicating, and in time, Addie will learn to taste the changes in the air, to sense the line between vigor and violence. But tonight, the rebellion is still new, the energy strange and unreadable.
As for the city itself, the avenues of Paris have all become a maze, the sudden erection of barriers and barricades turning any path into a series of dead ends. It is no surprise then when she rounds another corner and finds a pile of crates and debris burning up ahead.
Addie swears under her breath, is about to double back, when boots sound on the road behind her and a gun goes off, cracking against the barricade above her head.
She turns to find half a dozen men barring her retreat, dressed in the mottled garb of the rebellion. Their muskets and sabers glint dully in the evening light. She is grateful, then, that her clothes belonged once to a commoner.
Addie clears her throat, careful to force her voice deep, gruff as she calls out, “Vive la France!”
The men return the cheer, but to her dismay, they don’t retreat. Instead, they continue toward her, hands resting on their weapons. In the light of the blaze, their eyes are glassy with wine, and the nameless energy of the night.
“What are you doing here?” demands one.
“Could be a spy,” says another. “Plenty of soldiers parading about in common dress. Robbing the bodies of the valiant dead.”
“I want no trouble,” she calls out. “I am simply lost. Let me pass, and I will be gone.”
“And return with a dozen more,” mutters the second.
“I am not a spy, nor a soldier, nor a corpse,” she calls back. “I was only looking—”
“—to sabotage,” cuts in a third.
“Or raid our stores,” suggests another.
They are no longer shouting. There is no need. They have drawn close enough to speak in level tones, pressing her back against the burning barricade. If she can only get past them, get away, out of sight and out of mind—but there is nowhere to run. The side streets have all been barred. The crates burn hot behind her.
“If you are a friend, then prove it.”
“Lay down your sword.”
“Take off your hat. Let us see your face.”
Addie swallows, and casts the hat aside, hoping the dark will be enough to hide the softness of her features. But just then, the barricade crackles behind her, some beam giving way to flame, and for an instant, the fire brightens, and she knows the light is strong enough to see by. Knows it by the way their faces change.
“Let me pass,” she says again, hand going to the sword at her hip. She knows how to wield it, knows too that there are five of them and only one of her, and if she draws steel, there will be no way out of this but through. The promise of survival is small comfort against the prospect of what might happen first.
They close in, and Addie draws the sword.
“Stay back,” she growls.
And to her surprise, the men stop walking. Their steps drag to a halt, and a shadow falls across their faces, the expressions going slack. Hands slip from weapons, and heads loll on shoulders, and the night goes still, save for the crackle of the burning crates and the breezy arrival of a voice at her back.
“Humans are so ill-equipped for peace.”
She turns, her sword still raised, and finds Luc, his edges black against the blaze. He doesn’t retreat from the sword, simply reaches up and runs his hand along the steel with all the grace of a lover touching skin, a musician fondling an instrument. She half expects the blade to sing beneath his fingers.
“My Adeline,” says the darkness, “you do have a way of finding trouble.” That vivid green gaze drifts to the motionless men. “How lucky I was here.”
“You are the night itself,” she parrots. “Shouldn’t you be everywhere?”
A smile flickers across his face. “What a good memory you have.” His fingers curl around her blade, and it begins to rust. “How tiresome that must be.”
“Not at all,” she says dryly. “It is a gift. Think of all there is to learn. And I, with all the time to learn i—”
She is interrupted by a volley of gunfire in the distance, the answer of a cannon, heavy as thunder. Luc frowns in distaste, and it amuses her to see him unsettled. The cannon sounds again, and he takes her by the wrist.
“Come,” he says, “I cannot hear myself think.”
He turns swiftly on his heel, and draws her in his wake. But instead of stepping forward, he steps sideways, into the deep shadow of the nearest wall. Addie flinches back, expecting to strike stone, but the wall opens, and the world gives way, and before she can draw breath, draw back, Paris is gone, and so is Luc.
As she is plunged into absolute darkness.
It is not as still as death, not as empty, or calm. There is a violence to this blind black void. It is birds’ wings beating against her skin. It is the rush of the wind in her hair. It is a thousand whispering voices. It is fear, and falling, and it is a feral, wild feeling, and by the time she thinks to scream, the darkness has peeled away again, the night has re-formed, and Luc is once again beside her.
Addie sways, braces herself against a doorway, feeling ill, and empty, and confused.
“What was that?” she asks, but Luc does not answer. He is now standing several feet away, hands splayed on the railing of a bridge as he looks out over the river.
But it is not the Seine.
There are no burning barricades. There is no cannon fire. No men waiting, weapons at their sides. Only a foreign river running beneath a foreign bridge, and foreign buildings rising along foreign banks, their rooftops capped in red tiles.
“That’s better,” he says, adjusting his cuffs. Somehow, in the moment of nothing, he has changed clothes, the collar higher now, the cut and trim a looser silk, while Addie wears the same ill-fitted tunic, salvaged from a Paris street.
A couple passes arm in arm, and she catches only the highs and lows of a foreign tongue.
“Where are we?” she demands.
Luc glances over his shoulder, and says something in the same choppy flow before repeating himself in French. “We are in Florence.”
Florence. She has heard the name before, but knows little of it, besides the obvious—that it is not in France but Italy.
“What have you done?” she demands. “How have you— No, never mind. Just take me back.”
He arches a brow. “Adeline, for someone with nothing but time, you are always in a hurry.” And with that, he ambles away, and Addie is left to follow in his wake.
She takes in the strangeness of the new city. Florence is all odd shapes and sharp edges, domes and spires, white stone walls and copper-slated roofs. It is a place painted in a different palette, music played in a different chord. Her heart flutters at the beauty of it, and Luc smiles as if he can sense her pleasure.
“You would rather the burning streets of Paris?”
“I assumed you would be fond of war.”
“That isn’t war,” he says curtly. “It’s only a skirmish.”
She follows him into an open courtyard, a plaza scattered with stone benches, the air heavy with the scent of summer blossoms. He walks ahead, the picture of a gentleman taking the night air, slowing only when he sees a man, a bottle of wine beneath one arm. He curls his fingers, and the man changes course, coming like a dog to heel. Luc slides into that other tongue, a language she will come to know as Florentine, and though she does not yet know the words, she knows the lure in his voice, that gauzy sheen that takes shape in the air around them. Knows, too, the dreamy look in the Italian’s eyes as he hands over the wine with a placid smile, and strolls absently away.