In The Shadow Of His Nemesis
Chapter Thirty Seven
BY AL BRUNO III
Saturday November 16th 1996
There had been so many stories on this night that Isobel had decided to try her hand at one. It wasn’t much of a story but everyone left at the table looked interested and laughed at all the right parts. “I’m still not sure how we did it but Debbie and I had managed to come out about a mile from where Brenda had parked, in a spot where the local police liked to sit and wait for speeders,” she blushed at the memory, “I’m sure the sight of eighteen year old girls in party dresses blundering out of the cemetery was the high point of their evening. “
“What about Brenda?” Galen asked, “did she get caught?”
“No.” Isobel poured herself a little more wine, “We didn’t get her in trouble, even though the cops called our parents to come get us. It was so embarrassing. Of course I had her car keys so I think it all came out even.”
“Ouch,” Jack laughed.
Roxanne asked, “How short was that skirt you were wearing?”
“It was too short,” Isobel replied. The food had made her stomach feel three sizes too small, the wine made her head feel three times to big, “And that’s as much detail I will go into with gentlemen present.”
The candles were going out one by one, the fading light making the room seem to grow smaller and smaller. Isobel didn’t envy the person that had to clean up after all this. She vowed to help with the dishes, when she woke up.
Magwier looked up from swirling the last dregs of wine and ash in his glass around and around, “I quite liked the story Isobel. I have a lot of fond memories of Oakwood Cemetery.”
“Only you would have fond memories of a graveyard.” Zeth said.
Bodivar shook his head, “Not so. The place where my wife is buried is a beautiful meadow with a single tree growing in the center. Before I came to be here I would go there on Sundays with a book and a bit of wine and wile away the morning with her memory.”
“That’s sweet,” Isobel said, then she stifled a belch. “Oh excuse me.”
“Compliments to the chef.”
“Can we get back the Monarchs?” Warren asked. “Nothing I’ve heard or seen from any of about them is making any sense. I want to know more.”
Magwier was the first to speak, “They are creatures that exist in realms beyond reality. Do you believe that?”
Warren nodded, “I do now.”
“Well Monarchs come from far beyond those realms.”
“Holy shit.” Warren said, and then frowned, “Waitaminute. That still doesn’t explain anything.”
Now Zeth had a turn, “The Monarchs creatures born of a single thought, the urge to consume and in their hunger they transform worlds into dust.”
“They’re existential tapeworms,” Roxanne said as she examined her red-painted nails.
Jack laughed a little at that, “A single parasite with a thousand minds or a thousand parasites with a single purpose.”
“They exist outside the worlds of mystery and science,” Hao said. “They take what they want.”
Bodivar crossed his arms, “They make promises and profits with equal ease. They own a company that makes medical equipment.”
“They’re monsters,” Galen said. “They drove the dark gods to the secret places of the world, broke the Great Council of Mystagogues in half, all but exterminated my people and killed my family.”
Isobel took his hand in hers, “I’m sorry.”
The cigars and wine were almost spent. “So waitaminute-” Warren’s head was almost level with the table, he looked like he was melting, “if the Monarchs are robots…”
“They’re not robots,” Magwier turned his attention to one of the spoons and set about trying to get it to dangle from his nose.
“But they’re like robots but gooier. Does that mean they’re androids?”
“No those things you saw were alive,” Galen said. “They shouldn’t be but they are. They just wear their bodies like clothes.”
“They’re like crabs,” Bodivar explained, “they take one shell then another as they grow bigger.”
Warren looked around the table, “Then why don’t we just kill them? Take them out of their shells and kill them? If it’s a war we could teach soldiers to fight them.”
Magwier frowned, the spoon clattered to the table, “How do you kill something that isn’t alive in the conventional sense? How do you kill something that only dreams its way here?”
“I dunno. Wake them up?”
Zeth laughed a little, “The chances of humanity saving the world are roughly equal to the chances of your fingers growing back.”
“Dude!” Warren said. “Fuck you.”
“That was a little cold,” Galen said.
“It’s a cold world,” Zeth paused to inhale, the stub of his cigar glowed pale orange. “I make no excuses.”
What a dick. Isobel thought. There was something about Zeth that made her think he had sized the residents of Laurel House up and found them wanting. Isobel wanted to punch him in the face for what he had said to her brother but Zeth looked like he was the kind of man would hit back and enjoy it, regardless of gender. Beside the remark had made Hao all the more snuggly with her brother, that couldn’t be a bad thing.
“All right I’ve think we’ve had enough for one night,” Hao said with a glare. She pulled Warren to his feet, “Come on you don’t need this.”
Warren lurched after her, “Fine. Good night sis, everyone.”
“Good night.” Isobel said.
“But wait …wait....” he turned back and pointed at Zeth, “...I got one thing to say to you.”
“Oh God.” Isobel’s voice was a stage whisper.
“Your mother!” Warren jabbed a remaining finger at Zeth, “Your motherfucking mother motherfucker.”
Hao pulled him out of the room, “All right lets go.”
“Actually,” Jack watched them go, “maybe we should all call it a night.”
“A night?” Bodivar said, “It is almost a morning.”
“We could call it a day,” Magwier suggested. “Just don’t call me late for the apocalypse.”
Galen stood, nearly toppling his chair. He offered Isobel his arm, “May I walk you back to your room?”
She smiled, “I thought you’d never ask.”
Roxanne waited until they were gone before she got up, “Ah to be young and in love.”
“Were we ever that young?” Jack polished off one last glass of wine before joining her. “Good night everyone.”
Hand in hand they left the through the servant’s entrance, Jason Magwier leapt to his feet with a theatrical flourish, “Everyone is paring off to cling to each other against the cold cold dawn.”
“Speak for yourself,” Zeth said.
“I was planning on walking the grounds,” Magwier said, “perhaps you could join us Bodivar. We three bachelors can watch the sun rise.”
Bodivar shook his head, “I think I will stay here and watch the fire for a time.”
“All right,” Magwier grabbed a half empty bottle of wine and a half finished cigar as he headed out for the vestibule, “come along Zeth, I feel a poem coming on.”
Zeth followed, “Anything but that.”
When he was alone Bodivar grabbed the poker again and turned his attention back to stirring the ashes. That done he sat down on the floor before the fireplace resting his head against one of the chairs. His eyes glistened. He pulled a brooch from his pocket. He turned it end over end in his fingers.
This was all he had left of Penelope now; a cheap little bauble he had bought for her, a crude little trinket that had caught her eye. It was about the size of robin’s egg, made from green polished stone and ringed with a bit of cheap gold. Bodivar wished he could remember when he had bought it for her. Had it been in the summer? The spring? Surely not the fall.
That was the tragedy of being long lived, your memories became muddled. He understood now that in the end a short life was a merry one.
There was a half-emptied bottle of wine within easy reach, he took it down and began to drain it in long contemplative gulps. His wife had been so caring; she was the kind of woman that would leave flowers on a stranger’s long neglected grave.
While it was true their marriage had been an arranged one he and Penelope had been smitten with each other from the start. Their union had joined two great families; hers a noble if mundane bloodline and his a family of well know scholars and mystics.
Those days had been so full of promise, the promise of children and fame. Within a year of their honeymoon his treatise on the Shard Worlds had earned him an invitation to study in far flung Woldercan.
The fire was dwindling but Bodivar was content to let it do so, it suited his mood.
The house that love built. He had to laugh at that, Jack could fill this place with all the romance and refugees he wanted but it couldn’t warm the cold radiating from its foundations.
Penelope would have hated it here.
She hadn’t liked Woldercan much either; the streets were too crowded the buildings too tall. No matter the season the air was always warm and sour smelling. Every day she stayed locked in their house with the windows shut tight, the servants said she never smiled until he came home.
Bodivar had promised her vacations to the country that he never got around to, he promised her a houseful of children but he was barely home sometimes for weeks at a time. He was too busy pursing knowledge and accolades.
It wasn’t until after Woldercan had been razed to the ground that Bodivar understood his foolishness. Even now almost a hundred years later he cursed himself for being away. Could he have saved her from the Monarchs? His grip tightened around the brooch added fresh blood to the dried flakes clinging to the gilded edges.
He didn’t know, he could never know but he would sell his soul just to have had the chance to try.