The room a thousand miles wide with the little red living area was silent despite the four creatures there.
“I didn’t want to be dead,” Carina Arecibo said. “Before I died I met Leonard and he helped gather the Sparks I need to make the transition back to Life.”
“Spark, my dear,” Leonard Burroughs said. “Spark.”
Strangiato scowled. “You would trade the futures of others to benefit yourself.”
Carina shook her head and turned away from Strangiato and walked away from him. She laughed and then faced him again. “I have a purpose, Seeker.”
The demonic director of the Divine Spark Exchange pulled a golden watch on a chain from his vest. “As I suggested, Mrs. Arecibo, you owe the Seeker no explanation and you have refused his request,” it said then looked at the watch. “I must be Elsewhere.” He looked expectantly at everyone.
“Gremory,” Strangiato said, “you will sit and do as you are told. My office being superior to yours requires your cooperation.
“Burroughs, you will be quiet.” The dark-eyed man whirled on the little Spark trader and glared him into a seat on one of the dining room chairs in the little assemblage of chairs. He took one step toward the little man and didn’t show the pleasure he felt at making him cower.
Carina Arecibo tried to hide her nervousness. “You have no power over me,” she said, her voice trembling just a little. “You can’t hurt me, you can’t stop me. I answer to none.”
“Actually…” Burroughs said.
Gremory finished the thought. “Yes, he can. Strangiato’s mandate encompasses the deeds of those he Seeks, and once engaged, well,” the demon stood up, “let’s say that one wouldn’t want to get in his way. Knowingly or not, your husband has put in you the proverbial space between rock and hard place.”
“Leonard?” Burroughs shook his head. Gremory stared off into the distance to avoid making eye contact with her. “All my efforts…” She began to cry.
She ran away, her hands to her face. Strangiato watched her leave the seating area then looked at Gremory. The laugh that erupted from the dark-eyed man rolled around the room with a terrifying echo. Carina Arecibo tried to open the door she had come through. “No!”
“This sort of low deception is unworthy of you, Director,” Strangiato said. “I expected something better. Demons have never had that wide-ranging of imaginations, have they?”
Burroughs stood and grabbed the dining room chair he’d been sitting on by the top. He swung it up over his head and brought it down as hard as he could across Strangiato’s shoulders. The wood splintered and the cloth-bound seat dangled from the skeleton that fell quickly from the little man’s hands. The dark-eyed man turned slowly and his arm shot out with preternatural speed to grasp Burroughs’ neck. Strangiato lifted the Spark trader from the floor and squeezed.
Burroughs’ hands grabbed at Strangiato’s arm. He kicked his feet and flailed helplessly until his eyes closed and the Seeker let him slip to the floor of the room a thousand years wide. Strangiato faced the demonic Gremory.
“I have no wish to fight you,” the director said. “I will not be intimidated, though.” It loosened its tie, pulling it free of the collar of its shirt and undid its cufflinks, depositing them in a pocket of the jacket. The demon then stood ready to fight. “You will find me more formidable than they. I am made of fire and you of clay.”
Strangiato’s squinted his eyes. “I see,” he said and raised his left hand, made a quick gesture in the air. The words he spoke were ancient when the universe was young. The air moved in ways that it didn’t want to and the stress of changing course so quickly made it howl through the room.
“What are you doing?” Gremory stood up straight and began to look quickly around itself. “No, you can’t!”
The dark-eyed man smiled, an awful thing that seemed to crack his face in half, and Gremory shouted with desperation in its native language words that had no meaning anywhere but in a city like Abbadon or New Hades. Pockets of air exploded and snapped. There were clanking sounds and groaning as of the masts of a big sailing ship in the wind and Gremory tried run back towards the door. Hooks and chains, hands and ropes, nets and obscure implements of binding shot from the floor of the room and enveloped the demon, dragging it screaming through the far wall.
The echo of its screams rippled across the room, breaking on the furniture and Strangiato so that by the time they reached Carina Arecibo they were the merest of whispers.
The dark-eyed man had not moved, still stood amongst the splinters of the chair that had broken over his back. Carina Arecibo tried the door again and gave up quickly. “All right,” she said to the floor, her eyes closed. “You win.” She turned to him: straight and proud as she smoothed her flower-print dress over her thighs. She walked to Strangiato and waited.
He broke Burroughs’ neck with a vicious twist of his wrist and dropped the limp body to the floor, pausing only a moment to ensure that the Divine Spark was snuffed out. Then he gave all his attention to Mrs. Arecibo who stood in front of him as proud as could be.
The train’s furnace hissed and the engine chugged as it sat at the tumbledown station. The night was clear, the trees gently swaying in the chill fall breeze. In the palace car, Fyodor Arecibo sat opposite Strangiato where a day before he’d sat with his friend, the adventurer Eyre. “For my own part,” the dark-eyed man said, “I am sorry.”
Arecibo was withdrawn and tears stained his cheeks. “She’s gone, then.”
“Yes,” Strangiato said. “Director Gremory shared that there have been many attempts to return to life and that all have resulted in the destruction of the Divine Spark, the Soul, that attempted to cheat the system.”
“I am sad that Carina was so much like them that she couldn’t let go, couldn’t move on with me.” Arecibo stood up. “Do you think,” he said without looking at Strangiato, “that I might vacate my Office? I would wish to search for her in the Marches.”
Strangiato raised his eyebrows and Arecibo took a step backward. “That is,” Arecibo said, “if it’s possible.”
“The Margreave and his Marches are beyond my Purview,” Strangiato said. “I cannot help you if you choose to take that course.”
“I understand that I would be completely on my own and at His mercy,” Arecibo said. “As much as he may have.”
Strangiato stood up and offered his hand. “I wish you the best, Senor Arecibo. I do not envy you your quest.”
Arecibo shook Strangiato’s hand and then left the palace car.
The paneling didn’t reflect any light, and the sound of the door clicking shut behind Arecibo was barely audible where the Seeker sat. He nodded imperceptible and quick, then reached inside his jacket pocket to pull out a pocket cigar keeper. He cut the tip carefully and lit the finely rolled tobacco with a wooden match from his left hand vest pocket. The blue smoke was heavy in the air.
Strangiato felt his train pull forward and looked out a window to see the former Shepherd walking off the platform and turning southeast to cross the tracks. Straightening, the dark-eyed man went to his desk and sat behind it. When the phone there rang, he sighed and picked it up.
“There’s an opening for a Shepherd,” he said.
©2009 By Jason Arnett.
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Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States
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