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Authors: Annetta Ribken,Baylee,Eden

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BOOK: Allegories of the Tarot
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One by one, the artist nails these carvings to a display
wall. She studies the wall from different directions, from different distances.

Finally she says, “This will work. This will be a fine
place to house my daughters.”

The man nods his head.

“I will send the rest tomorrow. And leave one space
empty—I have one more piece to add.”

***

The artist stands naked in the forest. Her breasts and
belly and hips full, yet supple. She props a large, full-length mirror framed
in ebony against an oak. She takes several steps back, and closes her eyes.
When she opens them again they are black. She stares at her image in the
mirror, and she begins to blink.

***

Spike Marlowe has held a number of odd jobs, including
working as a detective, a Bigfoot researcher, a writer for an internet content
farm, a busker and as a performer in a
wild west
show.
These days she's a writer, blogger and bizarro editor for Eraserhead Press,
with a focus on the New Bizarro Author Series. Her first book,
Placenta of
Love,
is available at all the usual locations. You can stalk her online at
her website
spikemarlowe.wordpress.com
or on Twitter at
@spikemarlowe
.

***

THE EMPEROR

Dmitri and the Mad Monk

By Kris Austen Radcliffe

“You have brains on you, Grand Duke.” The spy sniffed
the air and lifted an eyebrow, proud of his vocal inflection.

The Englishman’s need to state the obvious and then pass
it off as wry humor annoyed Dmitri more than the gore on his greatcoat. He
watched the body on the floor of the prince’s flamboyant estate, ignoring both
the spy and the metallic stench of blood mixing with the pathetic notes of fear
wafting off the other men. The pistol in his hand, he still aimed. Now was not
the time for distractions.

Ten minutes inside the palace and Rasputin had bled out
onto the extravagant rug. They’d tempted the vile fornicator with breasts and
the promise of a cock sucked by a woman of the royal court. Clubs, a knife
strike, and Dmitri now tasted the acrid smoke rising from the English spy’s
pistol.

The prince danced about flapping his arms and whining
some nonsense about “destroying the unkillable prey.” He stopped, stared
wide-eyed for a long moment,
then
babbled more about
cyanide and his own brilliance under the pressure of the deed.

The politician watched the prince’s melodrama with dull
fascination, one hand on an elbow and the other stroking his chin like some
stage villain. The doctor and the lieutenant whispered, heads close, a plan for
burning clothes and disposing of the body forming between them.

The spy held out his hand for the pistol.

Dmitri Pavlovich Romanov, the only true patriot among
them, opened the chamber and dumped all but one bullet onto the man’s hand, not
once pulling his gaze away from Rasputin’s corpse. “Go home. Tell your superior
you did this job.” He waved the pistol at the body.

The spy’s eyebrow arched with an almost audible crinkle,
even as his lips frowned.

“If you interfere again in the affairs of my homeland, I
will kill you. Do you understand, Englishman? Now leave.” Dmitri pointed at the
door.

International whining would start as soon as the Tsarina
realized her pet monk had vanished. The whore would blubber like the Hessian
spawn she was.
Cries of “The boy!
The boy!” would ring
through the cold halls of the Tsar’s winter palace as she pleaded and pawed
over the irrelevant Tsesarevich and his blood disease—the disease she brought
into Dmitri’s family.

The disease Rasputin was supposed to control. Dmitri
bounced the pistol against his thigh, his grip so tight his fingers ached. No
woman incapable of giving the Empire an heir should be allowed the title
Tsarina.

The spy backed away, his step muffled by the garish
weave of the prince’s imported rug. The others milled about, nattering about
alibis and consequences. Dmitri glanced at each, assessing, in turn, the level
of intervention necessary to assure the success of this plan. The politician
would need to be dealt with. The others, with the exception of the prince,
would show caution.

Wild idiocy at this point would make the murder
worthless, and Russia could no longer afford idiocy.

Dmitri kicked the body. His boot, crafted of fine
leather specifically for his Romanov foot by Moscow artisans, had saved his
toes on many a winter evening. Now it sank into Rasputin’s shoulder as if
Dmitri had struck clay.

Clay—not meat.
He frowned and
stepped back.

He’d sensed Rasputin’s abilities the first time they
were within sight of each other. Dmitri had entered the grand ballroom behind
his cousin’s guard. Blinking away the morning sun, he’d been more focused on
some forgotten foolishness of the court’s women than on the possibility of
another like himself walking the halls of the Tsar’s palace.

Yet there stood Rasputin behind the Tsarina, unwashed
and oily, grinning at Dmitri with a skull’s teeth.
Rasputin,
another like himself.
A fellow
Oboroten
—a Shifter.
And one with the special touch, the same
as Dmitri.
A man who could heal.

The body at his feet did not move, yet Dmitri had heard
tales of other Shifters who had survived bullets to the skull. They’d gasp
awake, disoriented, but still dangerous. The probability could not be ignored.

He tossed the prince’s tasteless rug over Rasputin. Blood
had seeped to the floorboards and the prince wheezed, pointing, his lips
twittering once again.

Even with the brain splatter on Dmitri’s coat and the
marks on the wood under the carpet, the monk had not bled enough.

Another reason to be concerned.

The quicker Dmitri threw the body into the river, the
better. He didn’t want to smell the shit in the prince’s trousers when he
realized his ramblings about “the unkillable prey” held truth.

***

One of Dmitri’s men stayed behind. A Shifter with a
special voice, he’d whisper enthralling words into the ears of Dmitri’s
co-conspirators and fix the prince’s mad ramblings into their minds as “truth.”
Then they’d all scurry away with the same preposterous tale of bravery and
shored-up masculinity.

Dmitri drove his Romanov vehicle through St. Petersburg
unmolested by sentries and guards. The body rolled against the rear seats,
thudding with a vibration Dmitri heard as well as felt. Each time the tires
slid on the frozen cobblestones, or the inky night caused Dmitri to slow, he
compensated a bit more, one small inching of his fingers farther to the left or
to the right, to deal with the bulk he hauled.

He gripped the steering wheel tighter, waiting for a
gnarled hand to reach over the seat back and take hold of his neck. Or a howl
to rip through the interior of his car—rasping and violent, shrill, like the
monk himself.

Or for a healer’s touch to snake around his neck and
deal death, forcing Dmitri to taste his own guts.

Dmitri stopped in a small stand of trees at the head of the
Petrovsky Bridge. The shores were even and offered good footing, the mud frozen
smooth and the slope flat. A narrow wood bridge above creaked in the winter
wind as it crossed over the Neva River. This part of the city lay blanketed by
both darkness and poverty.

Dmitri glanced into the back seat. When a bullet was not
enough, he’d been told, extreme measures were needed. Freezing until limbs
broke off.
Drowning.
He’d carry the body down the bank
and dump the bastard below the ice.

Incineration worked best, but there would be no
evidence. And in the spring, when the ice melted and all other evidence had
washed away, that Hessian tart needed to see the consequences of her handiwork.

So did Dmitri’s cousin. The Tsarina wept and Nicholas
licked her tears from the floor.

They destroyed his nation.
His family.
They’d birthed weakness and named it “Alexei.”

Dmitri flung open his door. The night’s air slapped hard
and he tucked the edges of his scarf into the collar of his greatcoat. Christ’s
birthday had brought with it true cold this year—the kind that freeze mens’
feet into their boots and their hands into blackened claws.

The cold prickled but Dmitri lowered the scarf and
sucked it in, fixing it to himself. He looked at the river, fixing that, too,
into his vision. Even in the darkest hour, the burning fire of the Motherland’s
crystal ice danced on the solid waters and through the stillness of the air.

He, unlike the Hessian, would do what Russia needed.

Dmitri yanked the body through the rear door of the
vehicle. His Shifter ability to change himself took time—considerable time,
since his morphing was much weaker than his healer’s touch—but he’d learned
early how to maximize his body’s potential. He’d kept himself small for a
Shifter male, concentrating his mass instead to increase his strength and
athleticism. Hoisting Rasputin onto his shoulder took little effort.

The air smelled clean only because the cold made all
scents crystallize and drop to the ice. The monk flopped as Dmitri slid down
the slope, and the rustling of the rug combined with the scrape of his boot’s
heels in a whispered cacophony. The sensations of the world popped against
Dmitri’s face and burst on his tongue, a wild integration of perceptions that
could only happen in a place where nothing moved.

If the monk breathed, Dmitri did not feel it, nor did it
fog the air. Perhaps the shot to the head had been enough.

He dropped the bundle where the mud met the edge of the
ice. The carpet muffled the thud but moved too easily on the frozen ground. Dmitri
kicked at it again, angling the body into the river so it wouldn’t roll away.

Snow swirled over the river’s surface as miniature
winter faeries full of twinkle and malice. Dmitri stared, his gaze following
the only movement in the stillness. He heard the sparkle, felt the slight brush
to his cheek of the breeze, as the little whirlwind moved downstream.

He’d commission artwork when this was done—a painting,
perhaps, depicting living snow singing bright and high and as strong as he’d
now made his home. Or maybe he’d compose something himself, a tune for the new,
stronger monarchy.
One capturing this surreal moment.

Down river, the sun pushed upward along the horizon. Red
seeped into the edge of the night, along the curve of the ice, and Dmitri
stood, breathing it in. This was his nation.
This red—the
cold fire of the northern sun.
The blood of the land flowing
under the ice and his boots.
An Empire that had spread
wider than Rome herself.

Threats to the stability of his home loomed—threats the
pathetic Tsar needed help to prevent.
Threats that could no
longer be ignored.
But with the—

The carpet twitched. Dmitri stomped, his body responding
with long-practiced precision. His foot aimed for where the monk’s head should
be, but the bundle rolled and his boot caught only the carpet’s edge.

Rasputin unfurled onto the ice, stink and the slapping
crackles of freezing blood following his body as it slid sideways off the rug. A
wicked gasp blew from between his blue lips. Dmitri lurched backward, but the
monk’s hand moved faster and latched onto his ankle.

The world tilted—Dmitri’s sense of the horizon no longer
matched what he saw as the line of the river. He buckled onto his knees, the
leg held by the monk twisting away from his hip. Agony fired into his belly. He
kicked again, but the monk moved with him, sliding closer to Dmitri’s side
instead of away.

The gun was in his pocket. He still had a bullet. Dmitri
reached but the monk’s rancid breath hit his nose. He’d used his momentum on
the ice and now he grinned like Death himself, inches from Dmitri’s face.

A guttural, angry roar ripped from Dmitri’s throat. This
peasant did not understand his station. He’d destroyed the monarchy. He dare
touch another Romanov? Dmitri kicked but Rasputin’s calloused hand squeezed the
exposed skin between his hat and scarf.

Disorientation slammed his balance hard. Dmitri dropped
onto his back, suddenly and completely unaware of what was up and what was
down.

The touch of a healer could also harm, and Rasputin was
a better healer than him.

Dmitri’s arms flailed, as disoriented as his vision. The
bridge should hold horizontal, its supports vertical, but his gut said the
opposite. He pitched to the side, staring across the river and praying for
straight lines.

Dmitri tasted the upward draft of the cold—it moved
vertical, instead of across, as it should, and siphoned away his strength the
way a chimney siphoned smoke.

Rasputin’s touch set fire to every nerve and muscle in
his head.
A rancid fire, one as ugly as the man, oily and
slick and pawing.
Dmitri opened his mouth to yell, to call to the
bridge’s sleeping sentry, but no sound escaped.

No breath curled into the cold air kissing his lips.

The monk stole his life.

Rasputin withered away his body. The sky was under him,
the river above. The stars were nothing more than layer of frozen faerie dust,
twinkling like a harpsichord but as thick as the river’s ice. The red of the
sunrise bled onto both and crept over Dmitri’s skin.

His healing ability fought—he wasn’t yet dead—but the
night wrapped around him like the carpet had wrapped around the monk.

On the downbeat of his blink that should have been up,
Rasputin’s face came into focus. Flat, dead, gray still, the bullet hole in his
forehead open as it was the instant after Dmitri released the shot, he attacked
as a corpse. Yet Rasputin was stronger, more practiced, more in control of his
abilities.
Strong enough to cheat death.

BOOK: Allegories of the Tarot
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