A Tale of the Possessed
A dark fantasy love story
Love hurts, they say.
Still, I find it an impractical tool. In all my
years, I've never extracted a traitor's confession
with the threat of a broken heart, for the simple
reason that on the subject of love, imagination
fails us. We cannot conceive before the fact how
excruciating its loss can be. Whereas any
torturing scoundrel will tell you that the
instinctive human dread of physical pain—a dagger
pressed into the eye socket, for example—is often
more persuasive than the pain itself.
I poke my blade in a little harder. "Give me a
name, monsieur, or by Jupiter, I'll slice
your eye in two."
"Don't know what you mean." The boy's in
shirtsleeves, and sweat darkens his white linen.
The pleasure den's warm gaslights slant my shadow
across his face. He's bleeding all over his
waistcoat, poor lad, his cupid's-bow lips split
and swollen, and it isn't making my job any
A few feet from us, behind the half-drawn curtain,
the dance whirls on, oblivious, a riot of silk and
brocade, paste jewelry, painted faces, dusty
relics of the bad old days. When he approached me
at these revels—me, a lady wearing a gentlemen's
swallow-tailed coat and breeches, rapier and dirk
at her belt, glossy brown curls twisted in a red
ribbon—he had more erotic recreation in mind.
Perhaps, so did I. He's handsome, this minion of
evil. Delicious. The eye I'm threatening to pierce
is ocean blue, bright with belladonna, and the
smell of his skin maddens me. Absinthe and fear
and a succulent boy's sweat, a toxic reminder of
days long gone, when truth and liberty were more
important than tomorrow, and my blood raced wild
But I'm a different woman now. A married woman.
And though I worship my lord husband with my
entire heart, on evenings such as this—with the
prey trembling in my grip, warm night air
sparkling on my skin, the scent of satisfaction
inches from my reach—the interminable emptiness of
that tomorrow stretches ahead of me, terrifying.
"Your coven master's name, villain." I slide my
dirk under his chin. "Or perhaps you can do
without the eyeball. Should I instead slice your
"Please, don't hurt me. He'll kill me if I tell
you." He's sobbing now, begging in the fashion I
once enjoyed so ruthlessly, and sweat trickles
between my breasts. I'm burning. Eager. Parched
inside, as if my soul wastes away for want.
"Yet so shall I, if you remain silent. What a
dilemma." I twist his hair in my damp fist. My
mouth is dry. I want to lick his swollen lips,
taste that shimmering moisture. "Give me his name,
minion, or you'll know sorrow."
The boy's eyes harden, the besotted glitter of the
Possessed. "His name is master," he rasps.
"But he signs himself Charlot."
The syllables echo backwards in time.
I taste them. Mysterious, slightly bitter, like an
old wine. Enticing. Just as he tasted,
long ago in those restless days of revolution,
when he and I were drunk on power and fury and the
sheer brilliant bliss of being alive.
My heart beats faster. Fear or excitement? I ought
to feel nothing.
I must feel nothing.
"Where?" Urgency spills a growl into my voice, and
the boy trembles.
"The Hall of Mirrors. You'll never get close
t—ughhh." His breath eases out, a damp sigh of
I yank my dagger from his heart, frustrated. I'm
unsated, squirming inside, as if a lover has left
me unfinished. I long to ravage, deface, devour.
But I ease the boy mercifully to the floor. It
isn't his fault, after all. "Hush," I whisper.
"Not as painful as you feared. See?"
Bright blood spills from his mouth, down his shirt
front, a froth of crimson lace. The expression in
his wet blue eyes is pure shock and disbelief.
No one—not a man, not a city, not an empire—truly
believes their time is over. Not until the end.
And I stalk out, wiping my dirk on my breeches,
and leave his ripe body to bleed.
Midnight supper on the terrace, the salty ocean
breeze lifting my curls. Oil lamps flicker,
shadows stretching, and above us the arches and
tiled roofs of our white villa vanish into
darkness. Sprinkled stars glitter to the horizon.
The cry of a solo violin drifts up from the beach,
something wild and intricate by Liszt or Paganini.
My golden silk gown is too warm. The bodice is too
tight, and my breasts hurt as I breathe. The
jewels at my throat make me perspire, and when I
reach a lace-gloved hand for my champagne, the
fine crystal stem all but slips from my fingers.
In my mind, it shatters over the tiles, glittering
edges tipped in blood.
Philippe just smiles politely at me, and swallows
a tiny smoked shellfish.
That curl of his granite lips catches in my
throat. Even after all the years we've been
wedded, he still has power over me. His
magnificence still makes my flesh tingle, my blood
course harder. Sometimes, I wish it would not.
Sometimes, I wish…
He sips his Chablis—lips teasing the rim, hand
tilting, throat bobbing—and I swallow, hard. My
husband's every movement is art. His crisp blond
curls, his golden lashes, the perfect folds of his
white tie are of infinite depth. His eyes are
green and gold, in different measure depending on
his mood. Whether he's dressed for evening, or
wielding his pistols in breeches and shirtsleeves,
or wearing nothing but a rumpled sheet and a grin,
he's still the most beautiful thing in my world.
The silence between us, like the sting of a
poisoned rapier, is exquisite and painful.
I sit straighter. Take a strawberry, force it
between my lips, chew, swallow. It's delicious,
nutritious, the sweet fruit cool in my mouth. I
don't care. It isn't food that I want.
"Are you working tonight?" My voice strains, like
overused wire. Philippe knows I hunt the
Possessed, that it takes me to unsavory places to
mix with creatures most would rather forget. It's
what I've done since we wedded, and Philippe has
his own hunting to do, miscreants to chase down,
traitors and criminals and enemies of the new
regime. There are men under his command who must
The lie is in what I don't say. The name I don't
mention. The yearning inside that I don't dare
"Perhaps." His voice is warm chocolate, rich. He
cleans his lips—they aren't dirty—with a white
napkin. "You look flushed, my love. Are you well?"
Another lie. He knows what plagues me. He knows
how I struggle. When we lie together, he tends my
fire, with his body and his mouth and the love I
feel for him. He quenches my thirst, and then I go
and sin no more. That was the promise we made.
The servants clear away our supper. I barely hear
them. How I need him tonight. How I want him. To
be made pure by his touch, lured in by the
hallowed flame of his love.
"Only a little tired." I try a smile, and I know
it shows but faintly, a washed-out watercolor
smile. Daring, I reach across the table.
He takes my hand, and kisses it. My wedding ring
winks cruelly at me through the lace. "Good night,
And in a sweep of herbal scent, he's gone. His
footsteps echo along the terrace, and fade into
I sit alone, under stars that glare and accuse. My
eyes ache and scorch. My mouth crumples, and I
cover it with the back of my hand.
My husband will not lie with me. He knows how I
suffer, yet he chooses not to give me peace.
A dark fire catches alight in my soul, and I burn.
He knows whom you seek, it whispers. Harlot.
"No," I burst out, too loud in the silence. I've
done nothing. I know I've done nothing. But even
as unrequited desire boils like an evil potion in
my blood, my heart shrivels cold and bereft. With
what whim of mine have I displeased him? How have
I so sadly disappointed the man I adore?
Down on the beach, that violin shrieks higher,
faster. People said Paganini must be in league
with Tartarus, to offer up such fantastical,
heartrending melody. A desolate splendor that
claws at the soul. That grasps and yearns and
begs, yet is never satisfied.
But I know that music, and it isn't Tartarus.
It's the wild, forlorn howl of my hunger. The
hunger Philippe has abandoned me to face alone.
And as I tremble in the flickering gaslight, a
thought strikes me, so dark and terrible that for
a moment I refuse even to acknowledge it.
What if my lord no longer loves me?
And hot on the trail of that blasphemy, another,
What if he wants me to have an affair?
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