Batman watched silently in the doorway of the Wayne Manor dining room as Catwoman moved slowly but smoothly through the three sword kata she knew. At the conclusion of the last one, rather than resheathing Ra’s al Ghul’s Dragon Blade, she planted its tip firmly and defiantly into the spot where Alfred left each day’s menu next to her plate on the table.
“Hey, that’s an original Robert Adam made by Chippendale,” he heard himself blurt out, falling far short of the Bat-bravado than he’d intended to announce his presence.
Selina—and, in a nanosecond, she had transformed from Catwoman into Selina—smiled up at him.
“I would have bet anything you wouldn’t know Robert Adam from Calendar Man,” she noted, the smile becoming naughtier but no more feline. “I’ll get it fixed tomorrow—but only after Alfred sees it and pries it up. I want to make a point.” At which moment she flicked the edge of the blade with her claw, and at the sound of the clink, she seemed like Catwoman again.
“I take it Ra’s is gone,” Batman graveled. It was obvious from her behavior that he was, but asking allowed him to regain a sense of his own “Battitude.”
“Oh, he’s gone alright,” Catwoman laughed. “He’s about as gone as you can possibly be without thinking the voices in your head are other people. Are you ready for this one? You won’t believe it, you seriously will not believe—I mean, even after barbecue and swords and Iceberg and Ubu, this is just nuts.”
“He wants you to find the demonspawn for him, so he can sic her on his new nemesis: Greg Brady.”
“It’s killing you holding back a lip twitch right now, isn’t it?”
“I can turn the other way if you want to let it out without my seeing.”
Before Batman could respond, there was a soft cough from the doorway. He was startled to see Alfred look past him somewhat coldly and address only Selina:
“Begging your pardon, Madam, there is yet another guest to see you on a matter of, of some delicacy,” he announced formally, faltering only when his eyes riveted on the table. Alfred composed himself quickly and stepped neatly to the side, to reveal Harvey Dent following behind him.
Harvey regarded Batman with as much disgruntled surprise as Batman regarded him. Alfred examined the sword sticking out of the table with considerably more disgruntlement, leaving Catwoman to end the collective stalemate.
“It’s like Time Square in here tonight, isn’t it. What can I do for you, Harvey?”
Harvey shot a final, suspicious glare at Batman before giving Selina his attention.
“I really didn’t want to bother you with this, Hon, especially after the scene with the Hairdo this afternoon. But I see you’re being ‘bothered’ anyway.”
“Should I go?” Batman growled sarcastically.
“Yes, do,” Harvey said bluntly. “Anyway, Selina, the reason I came back: I thought maybe Alfred could point me to a historical society, daughters of the revolution or one of those groups that restore old houses. But he insisted I talk to you about it. I don’t see why when it’s to help out… well… she’s not exactly your favorite person.”
Harvey paused awkwardly, noting that Batman had not left.
“She?” Catwoman asked archly, “Harvey, you didn’t start ‘gardening’ again, did you, because I really don’t—”
“No, it’s nothing to do with Ivy. It’s for Talia al Ghul that I’m asking—and before you say anything else, the answer is no. No-no-no-no-no. I would start ‘gardening’ again before I’d get sucked into that al Ghul disaster. But she needs a job, and much as I’m trying to get her out of Gotham—for her own sake as much as yours, now that Lurch is roaming around—she simply will not budge while Greg Brady is here.”
Catwoman looked happily from Harvey to Batman.
“In billiards, I think they call this a bank shot,” she quipped.
Harvey had a very particular mental scale by which to gauge women’s behavior, good and bad. +10 he thought of as “Pretty Petal.” -10 was “REVENGE FOR IVAN, REVENGE FOR IVAN, DIE PLANT-KILLER DIE!”
The hysterics that broke out when Talia al Ghul saw she was being taken to a catlair were a –6, rather like the time Clayface drew Poison Ivy’s name for the Secret Santa and gave her potpourri.
“Cat Cosmetics! Cat Cosmetics, Cat Cosmetics! How dare you? How dare you, you, you, you miserable… vile… loathesome… You guttersnipe! You duplicitous, two-faced FREAK!!!”
Harvey was torn. If Two-Face was still around, he would have slugged her by now. But the phrase which tempted Harvey Dent to do the same was an expression Two-Face would have reveled in. “Duplicitous two-faced freak,” indeed.
Harvey reminded himself that his half, the good half, would never strike a woman in anger; the rough stuff was entirely Two-Face’s domain. Although, it was certainly permissible to slap a raving hysteric, regardless of gender, especially if they were about to have a screaming fit outside a criminal hideout, attracting twenty-two kinds of unwanted attention.
He drew his hand back to threaten if not actually deliver such a blow, when the door of “Cat Cosmetics” burst open, and in a single, violent blur of movement and PAIN, Harvey found himself thrown backward onto the sidewalk by a… a fist-sized truck ramming into the right side of his jaw.
He massaged it, slowly, sensing a painful toothy throb underneath the flat stinging that covered his whole cheek.
Attacks that swift and vicious seldom stopped at a single punch, but when Harvey caught his breath sufficiently, he saw that his assailant was too occupied with another matter to pummel him further.
“There, there, baby, it’s okay,” Greg Brady was saying while Talia continued her hysterics (albeit of a weepier sort) into his chest.
“A-hem, very nice,” Harvey coughed as he stood. “Glad I could help.”
Greg nodded. And Harvey waited for some sign that Talia was ready to resume human interaction…
He waited, while unintelligible sounds, alternately livid and weepy, continued to stream into Greg Brady’s shirt.
Harvey checked his watch.
He looked at Greg, who shrugged.
After two full minutes of this, Harvey decided he really had given this misadventure enough of his time. He cleared his throat and told Greg that he had a message to deliver, from Catwoman.
The name brought a more emphatic round of angry garbled sobs from Talia, but Harvey had already decided to direct his comments to the more rational party. This Greg Brady surely was the kind of henchman who could be trusted to follow simple instructions, so Harvey cleared his throat a second time and delivered his message: Brady and Talia were both to wait at the lair until they were contacted, Harvey didn’t know by whom. It might be the great Bat-pest himself, might be Robin or Batgirl or Nightwing, it might even be Catwoman… (pause for another outburst of teary ranting and raving, largely inaudible but definitely containing the words “feline” and “slut”)…
“We talked about that,” Harvey said sternly, shaking his finger. “’The Feline’ also said that, since you’re here, there’s a box of Magnolia cupcakes, help yourself, no point in letting them go to waste.”
“Cool,” Greg said.
“mrfphwmplfr,” Talia added.
Harvey nodded, turned, and walked alone into the fog, feeling like Bogart at the end of Casablanca.
The oblique shadow that fell across the floor of the Gotham Imperial’s Honeymoon Suite was enough to announce Batman’s arrival, and Ra’s addressed his adversary without turning his gaze from the window.
“I have witnessed the sunrise from atop Mount Fuji, Detective, from the Temple of Karnak, and from the Valley of the Kings. But never have mine eyes beheld the coming dawn with such a sense of triumph. I have suffered the slings and arrows of ‘A Really Bad Day’ in Gotham, and I have survived.”
“Coming into my city was your first mistake,” Batman pronounced coldly. “One you can easily remedy.”
“The Demon’s Head does not err, Detective. Brady, like you yourself, has lived less than a single lifetime. What hope can such a man have against the timeless wisdom of Ra’s al Ghul.”
“The timeless wisdom that led you to crash a barbecue so you could give Selina a pair of swords,” Batman remarked flatly.
Ra’s said nothing for a long moment, seeming to study a ring on his right index finger. Finally he turned and met Batman’s eyes seriously as he spoke.
“A man like Brady cannot out-think a man such as myself. If the Dragon Spirits permitted that my wisdom be dulled for a brief time, it was only so I might be led here, to come into Gotham and see what I have seen in this vile city of yours, to taste what I have tasted of your world, and recognize what is to come to pass… Yes, Detective, the Timeless Wisdom of the Dragon, the hand of Fate itself, brought me to Gotham City to ‘crash a barbecue’ so that your Feline concubine would come into possession of my Dragon Blades.”
“Every time you go into that Pit you come out crazier, Ra’s,” he hissed.
“No, Detective, what I glimpse in the Lazarus Pit is beyond mortal understanding, so it is not surprising you call it madness. In the first fevers after emerging, there is madness, and I do not recall what I have seen in the void between life and death, between order and chaos, existence and oblivion… But I recall now, and what I saw, Detective, was your woman. And I was brought to Gotham to see her face to face, that the sight of her wielding my brother’s Dragon Blade would awaken that memory from the Lazarus Pit. There is cataclysm and crisis coming, Detective. There is negation beyond mortal death, and your Catwoman is at the heart of it.”
Harvey sat with Catwoman on a fire escape overlooking the catlair, waiting for the signal.
He was nervous. He wanted to flip a coin, but he knew he couldn’t. So he prattled on about a TV show. It was called Sports Night, and the first time he saw it, Two-Face blasted the television with a double-barreled shotgun. Since ridding himself of Two-Face, Harvey had taken great pleasure in tracking down a DVD of the canceled series, and watching it repeatedly.
“This one episode described Ra’s to perfection,” he told Selina. “Was called Napoleon’s Plan. And it lays out a simple, two-part plan: first we show up, then we see what happens. That was his plan against the Russian army: first we show up, then we see what happens. Hard to believe he lost…”
Catwoman smiled politely, which made Harvey even more nervous.
He wanted to flip a coin. He was about to break an unbreakable rule… He prattled on about the show.
“Anyway, that’s what I think of Ra’s. But there was another episode called Eli’s Coming. And Eli is something bad. A darkness. One of the characters explains it, that sense that something bad and dark is lurking just over the horizon. ‘They say it’s always calmest before the storm,’ our guy says. ‘They say it’s always calmest before the storm. That’s not true, I’m a serious sailor. It isn’t calm before a storm, stuff happens.”
He was about to break an unbreakable rule, and once he did, he would not be able to blame that decision on the coin. Of course, the smart thing to do in those circumstances was to shut up. Just shut up. Don’t say a word, no rules broken, no cheek made into a scratching post. Just let it go…
“I can’t. Selina, I can’t just sit here and ignore it all, pretend that nothing is… Damnit. You and Bruce are so right together, I can’t just sit here and not ask what you think you’re doing getting so chummy with Batman?!”
Catwoman turned to treat such infractions as she always did—but found an unscarred Harvey was a lot harder to threaten than a mouthy Two-Face.
“It’s not like that,” she lied. Then, tempering the lie with a bit of truth, she added, “I’ve helped him before, especially against Ra’s; this is nothing new. You’re helping too, Harvey, helping him and me and the demonspawn; doesn’t mean you’re carrying a torch for anybody, does it?”
Harvey considered this, and then, with the air of a skilled prosecutor, he pointed out the glaring inconsistency in the witness’s statement:
“So why’ve you got high-rent cupcakes in your lair?”
“Gee, let me think: why if I’m not getting it on with Batman, would I have cupcakes in my lair? Um, let’s see: chocolate cake/pink buttercream frosting, yellow cake/purple buttercream frosting with these delicious light blue sprinkles, coconut meringue, and red velvet. Can you say ‘Meow?’”
“Is that the only reason?” he asked grimly.
Selina took off the Catwoman mask, peeled off her gloves, and took Harvey’s hand in both of hers, then looked deeply into his eyes.
“Harvey, I swear to you on that coin Nutmeg stole from you mid-flip the night Jervis brought his Aunt Maud to the Iceberg, I swear to you: I am not cheating on Bruce with Batman.”
There was a soft buzz, and Selina extracted a small earpiece from inside the cowl and held it to her ear. She listened for a minute, then nodded.
“Show time,” she said with a wink, hurriedly pulling her gloves back on. “Ra’s is on his way. Thanks for helping, Harvey. You’re the best… Oh, and if you ever mention Bats in that context again, I’ll claw you within an inch of your life. Goodnight!”
Then she blew a kiss, and jumped from the fire escape.
By the time Ra’s al Ghul reached the address he was given, the Cat Cosmetics signage had been replaced with a “Crushed Ice” marquee left from Mr. Freeze’s tenure in the hideout. Greg and the still unconscious Ubu were hidden in a back room, along with a leopard print pillow, a bronze Loet Vanderveen sculpture of a stretching cheetah, a Val Saint-Lambert black crystal panther, and another Loet Vanderveen structure of hand-patinated autumn gold finish with more bronze cougars draped over it.
Catwoman had explained all these details as she helped Greg get himself situated in the back room; he listened as he might to Joker’s wild ravings about Abbot, radioactive bat-guano, and Costello.
As soon as voices were heard in the main room, Catwoman adjusted her earpiece to listen in. A slow cat-smile spread over her features. Greg, henchmanlike, waited silently, asking no questions unless and until the villain in charge decided to tell him what was happening.
“He says she’s gotten ‘plump,’” Catwoman reported, “Quite the charmer is our boy Ra’s, isn’t he. I mean, she has put on a few pounds since I saw her last, but you don’t see me saying that to her face. That’s your doing, you know, Giggles. The break-up binge.”
Greg looked uncomfortable. It didn’t pay to argue with a boss, and Catwoman was a name rogue, one of the biggest. But of all the crazy stuff he’d heard from Joker, from Penguin, from Ra’s al Ghul, he really didn’t like this stuff she was saying about a “karmic treadmill” waiting for him and every other “tripod” to work off all the Snickers bars and cookie dough their girlfriends consumed because—
“Uh oh,” Catwoman said sharply, her eyes widening in alarm at what she heard on the earpiece. “Oh my lord, oh my dear lord—Don’t panic, Demonspawn, just don’t panic.”
“I beg your pardon, Father?” Talia asked, her eyes nearly as wide as Selina’s had been at the incredible words.
“I ask if this becoming plumpness heralds a happy event? Have matters with the Detective progressed thusly that you are with child?”
The fragile, infant identity of “Tee” was battered by waves of shame and failure that always assailed Talia in her father’s presence. She looked to the floor and spoke just above a whisper.
“No, Sire, I beg to report that I am not with child.”
Ra’s sighed, as if he was used to such disappointment and really expected no better.
“It is as well,” he intoned. “You must suspend your efforts with the Detective for the present and pursue another matter. Daughter, I wish you to direct all your charms, such as they are, to Gr’oriBr’di. Get close to him and learn what you can. I will not abide a coup from within. Once you have seduced him, report back to me and I shall instruct you how to proceed. It may be enough to lure him to the desert installation where… Daughter?”
Catwoman jumped as a loud crash sounded simultaneously in the outer room and in her earpiece. She looked at Brady, and then past him to the sculptures.
“We might have missed one of the bronze cougars on that black one,” she said, pointing to the sculpture. There was another loud crash from the outer room. “It’s just a guess,” she said with an apologetic shrug.
“What’s going on out there?” Greg asked in a harsh whisper, cut short by another crash.
“Well, my Nepali isn’t that good,” Catwoman said mildly. “But um, I think ‘Lhotte ra morr, alachina harami’ is roughly ‘Fall and die, Unholy Idiot Bastard.”
“Ullu, olchi, morre ko manchi rakches!” Talia screamed, swinging the bronze cougar at her father’s head with all the ferocity of one trained by the League of Assassins—and all the precision of one who flunked out before making fifth-tier ajax. “So you would now have your darling, loyal, loving daughter give her body to your new enemy, Gr’oriBr’di! To Gr’oriBr’di!! You would have me spread my legs for Gr’oriBr’di now, would you, Father!!! It will be a pleasure, I assure you. More so than I could hope for from some sexless, inbred boy with whose family you wanted an alliance, more so than with that Tartar chieftain or that Moldovian prince. Cold, cruel brutes that take no notice of a woman’s pleasure or pain because they thought only whores are meant to enjoy the physical act.”
“Daughter, really,” Ra’s sputtered, color racing to his cheeks as the veins in his neck throbbed dangerously.
“And certainly more than I would ever expect from your precious Detective, Father, a man who does not want me and never wanted me. It is not edifying to offer yourself to such a one and receive only rejection after rejection, disappointment after disappointment, and be forced always to go back for more ridicule and debasement. I should have spat in your face the first time you suggested it, alachina more ko manchi.”
“The Detective was YOUR OWN CHOICE!” Ra’s bellowed, the vivid red flushing his face deepening into an unwholesome plum.
“BECAUSE HE COULD GET ME AWAY FROM YOU!!!” Talia screeched. “He stood up to you, you derrpok alu ko tauko! He could fight you; he could win. With him, I could get away FROM YOU!!!!”
“—With him, I could get away FROM YOU!!!!”
This last was shrieked at such a volume, Catwoman yanked the earpiece from her cowl and held it at arm’s length. It continued to squawk audibly, in a shrill feminine voice, then a low masculine one, until, finally, all went silent.
Catwoman looked at Brady and Brady looked at Catwoman.
“I have to go out there,” he said, pleading.
“You can’t. Greg, you know what Batman said. Come hell or high water, Ra’s can’t know you’re here.”
“She could be in trouble.”
“She was doing fine in what I heard,” Catwoman pointed out.
The silence continued.
“Please,” Greg said finally.
“Okay, I’ll go,” Catwoman answered—but before she could move, there was a timid knock at the door. Catwoman glanced again at Greg. He assumed a “Hey, I’m just a dumb henchman” expression. She motioned him to the door, unfurled her whip, and then nodded. Greg opened the door swiftly, and Talia stood, calm and alone.
“Feline,” she said snidely, “if you have some sort of telephone around this hovel of yours, my father appears to have had a fit of some kind. He may be in need of medical attention.”
Nothing about Batman and Catwoman was “normal.” They weren’t normal as criminal and crimefighter, they weren’t normal as lovers, and if there was a norm for criminals and crimefighters who then became lovers…
The thought was the same as the first time Batman clenched his knuckles into a fist and rapped them against the door of the catlair, but the circumstances were—thankfully—much different. He heard the high-pitched metallic whine of the overhead camera swinging into position, and he hastily opened a small white bakery box to display its contents to the searching camera lens.
He heard a merry laugh inside and the door quickly opened.
“You are quite wonderfully strange,” she told him, dipping a delicate clawtip into the box and extracting the minutest taste of frosting… which she then licked with feline precision… Batman felt a sharp spasm ripple through his body when that tongue of hers made contact with the claw. He stood there stunned with only the sound of his pounding heart thumping in his ears. Somewhere in the distance, an amused voice said, “Get in here, Jackass.”
He managed to remain “Batman” for about twelve steps, until he reached the main room of the lair and saw the ice bucket back in its place on the table, a bottle of champagne chilling inside it, and the formerly Ubu’d sofa reupholstered.
By the time he set the box of cupcakes on the table, the transformation was complete. It was Bruce-in-a-batsuit who shrugged his cape out of the way as he sat on the sofa. And it was Bruce-in-a-batsuit that was suddenly pounced on, without benefit of Batman’s reflexes to defend himself.
“You’re in quite a state,” he observed when they came up for air.
“I am,” she sighed. “This whole thing has been so nuts, and I’ve been so worked up since… Ra’s, Spawn, then more Ra’s and more Spawn…” she paused and looked at him searchingly. “…No chance to really talk to you in the interim—” and there she broke off to subject him to another full minute of passionate, probing tongue-wrestling. Reluctantly, Bruce pulled her head back from his and touched her cheek at the base of the mask.
“Let’s lose these,” he said.
She obligingly removed her cowl, and then ran a finger down the nose of his. He took off the mask… and ignored, for the moment, a nagging pang.
“So what happened with Ra’s?” Selina asked, peering into the bakery box and scrutinizing the cupcakes like a jewelcase at Tiffany’s.
“It was a stroke,” Batman answered. “Wouldn’t think that was possible fresh out of the pit, but… well, magic is unreliable. Even he doesn’t know what a Lazarus Pit actually is or what it physically does and—”
“And whatever it does,” Selina smiled, licking the edge of the frosting slowly like an ice cream cone, “It can’t take the shock of a spawn-flogging, particularly after a Harvey-spanking, a wild night at the Iceberg, Ubu separation, K-metal lasers, and an Alfred encounter.”
Bruce shook his head, a genuine laugh pushing through the remnants of Bat-reserve, and he opened the champagne.
“He’ll be fine, unfortunately, once he can manage a redip. But between the good doctors at Gotham General, the hospital bureaucracy, the FBI, Homeland Security, INS, MI6, and Interpol all lining up against him, he might have been tangled in the system until he simply ran out of time.”
“Might have?” Selina asked curiously.
“You didn’t. You wouldn’t. You… you pulled strings to get the Cadaver sent home?”
“I wanted him out of the country. He wanted it even more, which is the ideal negotiating position. So I got him out, on one condition: that he NEVER comes back to Gotham again.”
“Will that work? Just getting him to agree?”
“Of course not. But Ra’s is a ‘knowledge is power’ kind of guy, and this will make him cringe for quite a while. A ‘favor’ dangling over his head is… well, let’s just say it’s worth more, from a tactical perspective, than argument, fists, or sword fights will ever be.”
“And what becomes of Greg Brady and the spawn?”
“He likes motorcycles. I set him up with a Yamaha dealership out west. I assume she’ll go along,” Bruce said, pouring the champagne.
“Oh, I like the sound of that,” Selina noted.
“Not half as much as I do,” Bruce enthused, handing her a glass and holding up his own.
The moment froze, and Bruce felt that nagging pang return. Like that first ‘morning after’ at the penthouse, he looked into her eyes and seemed to see his own thought reflected there.
“We didn’t last too long,” she noted, glancing at his mask lying on the table next to a clawed cat glove and a box of gourmet cupcakes.
“You mean the fling?” he asked.
“All those years of build up, to have burned out so quickly,” she said sadly. “I thought there was more there.”
“What’s burned out? Kitten, the masks off, that’s an escalation not a retreat. This whole thing has been an exercise in ‘what if,’ hasn’t it? What if we had, back then, Bat and Cat? Well, now we know.”
He set down his glass and caressed her unmasked cheek.
“It’s not enough. Before long, one of us would have wanted more?”
Selina smiled and pushed him gently back on the sofa.
“It would have been me,” she said, curling under his shoulder. “I’d start to wonder about your other life. One night, after we’d shaken the cobblestones loose on some rooftop, I would have asked for some tiny secret from it: right side of the bed or left, how you take your coffee… if you ever had a cat.”
Bruce stroked her hair thoughtfully.
“Right side. Black, no sugar… Not until now.”
“Smooth,” she purred. “Wait a minute, you put milk in your coffee, I saw you do it yesterday. You’re going to sit on that rooftop, sweet afterglow cuddling going on, and you’re going to lie to me about a splash of milk in your morning coffee?”
“No,” Bruce insisted, “This is a hypothetical ‘back then,’ and back then, I drank it black. I’ve only tried the milk once in a while since you.”
“Ruins the bitter for you, doesn’t it?”
There was a lengthy pause, then the Batman voice returned:
“I brood less.”
“The hypothetical rooftop, if you asked about my other life, that’s what I would have told you. Since you, since us… I brood less.”
Selina snuggled in closer.
“I like that a lot.”
“You’ve got an awful lot of ‘cat stuff’ around this place, you know that,” Batman graveled.
Selina laughed and then dipped into Catwoman’s sultriest purr as she completed the reference to that early exchange:
“Well, this isn’t my home, this is a lair.” Then she added, “I do have a few more cat figurines, my favorites, in a curio at home… corner of the bedroom… in my real apartment.”
“Maybe one day I’ll see your real apartment,” he whispered seductively.
“Maybe,” she answered.
In the plush uptown apartment that had once been Selina Kyle’s, Jason Blood awoke screaming.
Jason Blood did not scream. He had experienced literal Hell; he was not one to cry out in fright from a nightmare… Nevertheless, it was the sound of his own voice that woke him, and it wasn’t exactly singing a song.
He couldn’t remember the dream on waking, which was unusual.
And he felt compelled to light a candle.
He left his warm bed, not bothering to don a robe. He walked to his living room, found two tea lights previously anointed with a pleasant power elixir Miriam Nash had given him. She’d received several vials, she said, from a Salem witch of ancient family. Miriam was doubtful of the woman’s craft, but she said the potion’s scent was delightful. Jason had detected no Magicks at all in the honey-colored liquid, but he too found the delicate amber-patchouli scent quite agreeable. Thin ripples of invisible smoke quickly rose from each tea light, distorting the appearance of the room behind it. Jason found the effect intriguing, but unsatisfying. He still needed to light a candle, not stubby votives like these tea lights.
He left the living room and proceeded to a back
hallway… It had been Selina Kyle’s exercise room when she lived in the
apartment. Now it was Jason
Blood’s cella vires, a room such as all magic users have in their home,
a sanctum sanctorum intertwined with their magicks, both repository of knowledge
and power center. He once
likened it to Batman’s cave, just as the cave was a manifestation of Bruce
Wayne’s essence as a crimefighter, the cella vires embodied all a
magician was as a magician.
Horns… as Jason stepped into that most private room, he remembered music from his dream, haunting music, a sound that locks in the brain, repeating until it would drive you mad… mournful horns, and perhaps strings…
Jason rummaged for a candle. He found a yellow one at first, but that wasn’t right. Yellow was for spells of persuasion and influence. He found a white one for cleansing and purity or to compel truth. A black one… Black for loss or discord. No, none of this was right. If only he could concentrate, that cursed music sounding in his head, brassy muted horns mourning a fragment of a forgotten tune… Purple! There it was. A purple candle, that’s what he was to light.
That smell from the tea lights, amber and patchouli, lingered on his fingers…
…and the horns faded into more lyrical woodwinds, just as mournful…
He struck a match and touched the flame to the wick, saw the flame double as the wick caught…
…horns rising hopefully now, joined again by the woodwinds and strings, and…
The flame froze…
…And the horns JUMPED—triumphant—and Jason felt an ecstasy of recognition as that faint, teasing memory of a song blazed into focus: Siegfried’s Funeral Music. That was his dream.
And the flame was on the candle was… still. Jason touched it and felt the pads of his fingers burn—it was fire, it was a flame, but it did not move.
And the majesty of Siegfried’s funeral music rose and fell away again in his mind.
In the fourteen hundred forty years Jason Blood had channeled the magicks, he had experienced rage and rapture, torture and madness, despair, anguish, hatred, and the fires of Hell itself—but he had never been afraid as he was now.
Siegfried’s Funeral Music, from Gotterdamerung. The word meant “The Twilight of the Gods.” The communists had played it when they erected the Berlin Wall to signal the end of the old world order. The symbolism would have been lost on any other people, but in Germany, they grew up with that opera and the myths on which it was based. They all understood what that melody meant: the gods were finished; the end of everything had come.
The purple candle continued to burn with a flame that did not move.
And Jason Blood was very much afraid.