I yawned. The morning was way too early, and everything was stiff. I hadn’t moved in hours. I stretched, wary of Sanctus, only to find space around me. I blinked. My bed was empty. That was a first. His palette was empty. Not that I had woken to him in it in the morning yet in the six weeks since he took up sleeping in my room. I regularly woke up to being used like a space heater, pressed up against the wall and trying to bring myself back to some chaste plane of existence before he noticed. I turned to my clock, realizing my room was completely devoid of a pair of cognac eyes. Sanctus had probably already headed to his appointment with Medicus before festivities for the Feast day.
A shine of white drew my eye. Pie on a white plate from the kitchens sat on my counter. He had even made it down and come back with breakfast without me noticing. I traced the outline of the soft crust with my eyes and could practically feel his skin sing under my fingertips.
Hades, I wanted to hold him longer. To be near him. To listen to him talk. I rolled over, grabbed a cleaning rag from my rack, and released myself from the confines of my drawstrings. To flit along his ribs and the tuck of his waist. I helped my imagination run rampant.
I wanted to feel his lips travel down my neck and collarbone. For his warmth to blanket me. To feel his breathy whisper in my ear. I wanted to slip my fingers down the curve of his back. To hear his voice catch in the back of his throat.
Would I ever say this to him? Infernus no and I knew it. Not like he looked at me in that way. Probably just saw me as some kind of big brother. That wasn’t going to stop my private moment of imagination. Get him out of my head. All I could see was him in my head, though. I could breath in his sage and rosemary that permeated my sheets and my clothing. His mewl of pleasure echoed in my ears as my fangs lengthened. Hades, I wanted to taste him. To feel him throb around me. To sink my teeth in cream skin.
Heat caught my breath, and a starburst flooded my limbs. I swallowed, startled. When had my repercussion got itself tangled up with my machinations?
The common area was packed when I emerged for the day. I had on my Hades robe again. It was time for gift giving. Caeruleum would come in hordes to pass out gifts to friends and neighbours for the Feast Day of Hades. I stood at the top of the third-floor stairs to look at the congregation milling about. A mountain of boxes wrapped in paper and cloth dominated one corner. I dragged in the scent of Archimagirus’s cooking. He had outdone himself with spices. A lingering smell of vanilla and something else though permeated the facility. My lungs seized on the putrid odour and my stomach flipped. It was familiar. It shouldn’t be here. I scanned the space as I descended the stairs, looking for what could be causing it. The odour was stronger on the first floor. I mixed with the crowd, greeting people with a fake smile, looking for the source. In the mountain of packages a gleam of aluminium paper caught my eye. The box was massive for the average gift given on the Feast of Hades. The multitude of scents coming off it made my stomach twist. It was stronger the closer to the mound I got.
“Cortext?” I demanded my second’s attention from arranging boxes and checking that there were tags attached.
“Where did the large package come from?” I pointed with my chin to the long box wrapped in layers of tin foil topped with a ribbon.
“It was outside the shop floor doors this morning when I arrived. Said it was a surprise for Hades and Persephone.”
“That’s no surprise. Get everyone off the floor.”
“Sir?” He stared at it in horror, quieting his voice.
“I smell death.”
“Explosives?” He motioned for Tempestatis to join us. I shook my head. Tempestatis trotted over. Cortex relayed my demands to evict all of Caeruleum out of the shop floor. Tempestatis ducked his head. “Take the other presents to Mater. Distribute them outside. It’s warm enough that no one will suspect if we make it into a special event. Get Conscribo to set up the band or something. Bring back a crowbar, Temp.” I was barely holding back the hot fury that begged to be released across my skin.
“Yes, boss!” Tempestatis dashed to Conscribo and had other members pick up presents to take outside, studiously avoiding the one massive box.
Mater approached me, anger vibrating across her shoulders. “What’s the meaning of booting me outside to deal with the distribution on my own?”
“Not on your own. Tempestatis is gonna be helping.”
“This is supposed to be the blessings of Persephone and Hades. A little difficult if Hades isn’t there,” she hissed.
“Pluto is taking a soul.” I nodded to the box across the way.
“The infernus do you mean by that?”
“Shush. Don’t go scaring the Accendium.” I flicked a glance to the children that were gathering around Conscribo and the band who were trying to send them out. Hyacinthus and Iocus were collecting up boxes.
“Hyacinthus, take the children out of here. It’s a nice day, and they should enjoy the sunshine with their new toys. Iocus, join your mother in helping. There’s too many to take care of on her own,” I directed.
Colour drained from Mater’s face. “What’s going on, Lunam?”
I waited mutely for the congregation to see themselves out of the building. Fingers slipped up the back of my arm.
“Sanctus,” I breathed, my heart tattooing a nauseating beat.
“Everything okay?” He watched the people leaving.
“No.” I stalked to the box, Cortex following me. “Get Medicus out of here.” I bit.
“He’s not going to leave easily.” Cortex cautioned.
“I don’t care what you have to do. Pretend you’ve got appendicitis for all I care; get him to leave.”
“Lunam?” A dark voice issued behind me. I grimaced, hunching my shoulders. I blew out a frustrated breath. “Why are you trying to get rid of me? Today of all days?” Medicus brokered no evasion.
“You don’t want to be here for this,” I cautioned over my shoulder.
“What’s in the box, Lunam? You sent everyone out as soon as you laid eyes on it.” Mater stepped toward it.
“As soon as I smelled it.” I bared my fangs.
Medicus paused at that warning. He flicked a glance between me and the box. “What did you smell?”
I clenched my jaw. I really didn’t want to answer him.
“Nigrae Lunam?” he demanded. He approached the box, reaching to touch the lid.
I snatched his hand from the metallic wrapping paper. “Never told you. It never mattered. Everyone smells of fresh copper, and something else as their heart pushes blood through their veins. Cortex smells of pine and yeast. Tempestatis reeks of petrol. Maria Mater is coated in lilac. You. You smell of iodine and rubbing alcohol. I can tell when you’re about to enter a room. I can smell you across the shop floor from the third story up. I can tell every person here with a blindfold on. You and Hyacinthus and Mercator all share that iodine taint.” I could taste it on my tongue, behind the root of my upper fangs. “Hyacinthus’s second scent is lye soap. Mercator’s is the mold that develops on chips in humid environments.”
“What is in the damn box, Lunam!” Medicus snapped.
“Chip mold, iodine, vanilla and oxidized copper!” I whispered behind clenched teeth.
Medicus’s hand dropped from my grasp as shock registered in his system. “Not possible, Lunam. You can’t know for sure. He was supposed to come home this morning. He was probably in the crowd.”
Tempestatis returned with a crowbar in time for that denial. He stopped short, having heard what I said about what was in the box. “Mercator’s in the box? What is this, like one of those surprise boxes where they pop out?” he tried for a brave laugh.
“Give me that.” I flashed him a quelling glance and relieved him of the crowbar. Blood dropped out of his face. “Those of you who don’t much feel like seeing what Mercurius does to bodies better leave. Now!” I was seething. Gemma was a sadist. Mercurius was a monster. I had seen bodies sent back. It was never subtle.
“I’ve seen my fair share in the autopsy room.” Medicus’s voice was cold at my side.
“You don’t want to do this autopsy, Medicus.”
“That’s my husband in there, Nigrae Lunam. You aren’t keeping me from this.”
“When did you last see someone you knew intimately, dead in front of you? Someone’s hands you put your life in? Someone you had hoped and prayed to be with the rest of your life? You won’t eat. You won’t sleep. You won’t feel for months, Medicus. You don’t want this.” I enunciated the warning.
“You aren’t taking me from my husband. I will see him. I can’t go to Hyacinthus and tell her he’s dead, or my son.”
“Cortex!” I demanded, rage seething beneath my skin.
“Sir?” Cortex was shaking at this point. He hadn’t seen me this pissed off in a while.
“Go find a bucket. One that can be washed out.”
“Sir?” he asked as he scuttled for Clavis’s workstation. He returned with the waste bucket the old mechanic kept under his bench. I took it and shoved it in Medicus’s arms. “You puke; you do it in the bucket.”
“You haven’t heard the horror stories I’ve been privy to, Lunam, if you think I’m going to.” Medicus deflected.
“You haven’t shot someone to see their brain splatter against the tent wall. And you haven’t done it to a thousand people. Shut up and hold the bucket. Sanctus, you’ll not want to see this.”
“Gemma’s eviscerated enough people in front of me, Lunam. I quit throwing up a long time ago.”
“As you wish.” I shoved the crowbar in the aluminium papered lid and pried down. The wood splintered and cracked. Nails squealed, and the scent was overpowering. Tempestatis ducked, pulling the bucket from Medicus as his stomach evicted breakfast.
A pair of snake eye dice stared blankly from inside hollow eye sockets. My brother-in-law had been scalped. Medicus blanched, crumpling to his knees next to me. The bucket proved useful a second time. Mercator’s throat had been slit twice, and the blood had been left to congeal in the bottom of the box. A knife pinned his hand to his stomach. Attached to it with orange thread was a sheet of paper.
“Death by overdose on Aurantiaco Sparkle.” I dragged the rancid smell of vanilla and putrefied organs into my lungs.
“How dare you!” Medicus screamed at my callousness. He rose to look at the body once more before ducking down to put his head between his knees. I brought a finger to my nose. He paused, flicking a glance between me and his husband’s body.
“Never said it was consensual. Just said he died of it. You’ll find an injection sight somewhere. His wrists were bound. There wouldn’t be ligature marks there otherwise.”
“Who the fucking infernus taught you to do my job!” Medicus was shaking, his face bright red.
“Angelus military. You learn to read bodies. We were taught on Ustors. I had to perform my first autopsy on an underclassman I was in charge of. She stepped on a live landmine because she couldn’t take the strain of hiding who she was. I’m not going into this with you right now.”
“What’s on the note?” Sanctus turned our attention back to the contents of the box.
“I’m sorry.” I apologized to Medicus. I knew this was hard for him, and I wasn’t helping matters. I lifted myself to the edge of the box and reached in, pulling the knife free. No blood came out, and the knife drew clean. It had been put in well after Mercator had died. I slipped the sheet free and brought it out for us to see.
Give me the Accendium back, snake. You took my general. I’ll take what I deem due to me.
I crumpled the paper and threw it as far as I could. Dragging in ragged breaths, I faced Medicus. I dared him to say something. Anything. Condemn me. He returned my glare before fiercely pulling me to him, hugging me. “It’s time Mercurius was dethroned. He took my husband. He’s threatened my niece and nephew. He will not be tolerated another day.” His whisper dripped venom down my spine.
“You will not need to tell me twice.”
Chapel Orahamm (C) 2022-2023. All Rights Reserved.
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