“I see you’ve been busy,” he says, those green eyes trailing over the portrait.
She has. She has scattered herself like breadcrumbs, dusted across a hundred works of art. It would not be a simple thing for him to erase them all. And yet, there is a darkness to his gaze, a mood she distrusts.
He reaches out, trails a finger along the frame.
“Destroy it,” she says, “and I will make more.”
“It does not matter,” he says, hand falling. “You do not matter, Adeline.”
The words bite, even now.
“Take your echoes and pretend they are a voice.”
She is no stranger to Luc’s foul moods, his streaks of ill temper, brief and bright as lightning. But there is a violence to his tone tonight. An edge, and she does not think it is her cunning that’s upset him, this glimpse of her folded between the layers of the art.
No, this dark mood is one that he’s brought with him.
A shadow dragging in his wake.
But it’s been almost a century since she struck him, that night in Villon, when he struck back, reduced her to a gnarled corpse on the floor of Estele’s house. And so instead of retreating at the sight of teeth, she rises to the bait.
“You said it yourself, Luc. Ideas are wilder than memories. And I can be wild. I can be stubborn as the weeds, and you will not root me out. And I think you are glad of it. I think that’s why you’ve come, because you are lonely, too.”
Luc’s eyes flash a sickly, stormy green. “Don’t be absurd,” he sneers. “Gods are known to everyone.”
“But remembered by so few,” she counters. “How many mortals have met you more than twice—once to make a deal and once to pay the price? How many have been a part of your life as long as I have?” Addie flashes a triumphant smile. “Perhaps that’s why you cursed me as you did. So you would have some company. So someone would remember you.”
He is on her in an instant, pressing her back against the museum wall. “I cursed you for being a fool.”
And Addie laughs.
“You know, when I imagined the old gods, as a child, I thought of you as grand immortals, above the petty worries that plagued your worshipers. I thought that you were bigger than us. But you’re not. You’re just as fickle and wanting as the humans you disdain.” His hands tighten on her, but she does not quiver, does not cower, simply holds his gaze. “We are not so different, are we?”
Luc’s anger hardens, cools, the green of his eyes plunging into black. “You claim to know me so well now. Let us see…” His hand drops from her shoulder to her wrist, and too late, she realizes what he means to do.
It has been forty years since he last dragged her through the dark, but she hasn’t forgotten the feeling, the primal fear and the wild hope and the reckless freedom of doors thrown open onto night.
It is infinite—
And then it is over, and she is on her hands and knees on a wooden floor, limbs trembling from the strangeness of the journey.
A bed lies, disheveled and empty, the curtains have been flung wide, and the floor is covered in sheets of music, and there is a stale air of sickness to the space.
“What a waste,” murmurs Luc.
Addie rises unsteadily to her feet. “Where are we?”
“You mistake me for some lonesome mortal,” he says. “Some heartsick human in search of company. I am neither.”
Movement, across the room, and she realizes they are not alone. A ghost of a man, white-haired and wild-eyed, sits on a piano bench, his back to the keys.
He is pleading in German.
“Not yet,” he says, clutching a handful of music to his chest. “Not yet. I need more time.”
His voice is strange, too loud, as if he cannot hear. But Luc’s, when he answers, is a smooth hard tone, a low bell, a sound felt as much as heard.
“The vexing thing about time,” he says, “is that it’s never enough. Perhaps a decade too short, perhaps a moment. But a life always ends too soon.”
“Please,” begs the man, sinking to his hands and knees before the darkness, and Addie flinches for him, knows his pleas won’t work.
“Let me make another deal!”
Luc forces the man to his feet. “The time for deals is done, Herr Beethoven. Now, you must say the words.”
The man shakes his head. “No.”
And Addie cannot see Luc’s eyes, but she can feel his temper changing. The air ripples in the room around them, a wind, and something stronger.
“Surrender your soul,” says Luc. “Or I will take it by force.”
“No!” shouts the man, hysterical now. “Begone, Devil. Begone, and—”
It is the last thing he says, before Luc unfolds.
That is the only way to think of it.
The black hair rises from his face, climbing through the air like weeds, and his skin ripples and splits, and what spills out is not a man. It is a monster. It is a god. It is the night itself, and something else, something she has never seen, something she cannot bear to look at. Something older than the dark.
And now the voice is not a voice at all, but a medley of snapping branches and summer wind, a wolf’s low growl, and the sudden shifting of rocks underfoot.
The man burbles and pleads. “Help!” he cries out, but it is no use. If there is anyone beyond the door, they will not hear.
“Help!” he cries again, uselessly.
And then the monster plunges its hand into his chest.
The man staggers, pale and gray, as the darkness plucks his soul like a piece of fruit. It comes loose with a tearing sound, and the composer stumbles, and falls to the floor. But Addie’s eyes are locked on the bloom of light in the shadow’s hand, jagged and unsteady. And before she can study the ribbons of color curling on its surface, before she can wonder at the images coiling inside, the darkness closes its fingers around the soul, and it crackles through him like lightning, and plunges out of sight.
The composer sits slumped against his piano bench, head back, and eyes empty.
Luc’s hand, she will learn, is always subtle. They will see his work and call it sickness, call it heart failure, call it madness, suicide, overdose, accident.
But tonight, she only knows that the man on the floor is dead.
The darkness turns on Addie, then, and there is no vestige of Luc in the roiling smoke. There are no green eyes. No playful smirk. Nothing but a menacing void, a shadow filled with teeth.
It has been a long time since Addie felt true fear. Sadness, she knows; loneliness and grief. But fear belongs to those with more to lose.
Staring into that dark, Addie is afraid.
She wills her legs to stay, wills herself to hold her ground, and she does, as it takes its first step, and its second, but by the third, she finds herself retreating. Away from the writhing dark, the monstrous night, until her back comes to rest against the wall.
But the darkness keeps coming.
With every forward step it draws itself together, the edges firming until it is less a storm than smoke bottled into glass. The face finds form, shadows twisting into loose black curls, and the eyes—there are eyes again now—lighten like a drying stone, and the cavernous maw narrows to a cupid’s bow, the lips curving into sly content.
And he is Luc again, wrapped in the guise of flesh and bone, close enough that she can feel the cool night air wafting off him like a breeze.