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Authors: Annetta Ribken,Baylee,Eden

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BOOK: Allegories of the Tarot
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But he did not carry the blood of a nation in his veins.
Rasputin, unlike Dmitri, did not work for the good of his land.

Across the edge of the river, the sunrise red turned to
orange, which then turned to gold, and his country brightened, his home
gleamed. He pulled his fingers free of his glove, raking his hand across the
ice to dislodge the leather. The blistering chill stole his skin’s warmth and
the shock screamed into his wrist, a blazing sensation as sharp as the first
rays splitting the ice.

This piercing reality, both sweet and blinding, cut his
perceptions away from the fog of the night. Dmitri Pavlovich knew clarity in
his Romanov bones.

He twisted his fingers into the snow, his enhanced
strength gouging the ice, and dug deep. Strength sliced into him, sliced into
his body and cut with his voice.
“Dog!”

Rasputin gurgled. Bone crackled as the monster’s skull
knitted. His face showed the first hints of animation—a twitching cheek, some
reflection in an eye.

Dmitri swung his hand toward the monk’s head, feeling
the give of skin and the grease of the peasant’s hair.

Pressure pushed against the walls of Dmitri’s veins. It
shaped his healer ability into a bullet like the one lodged in the monk’s
skull, a solid force the squish of a man’s brain could not counter.

Rasputin grunted. His mouth opened and closed but only a
high-pitched wheeze escaped. The breath he dropped onto Dmitri tasted of filth.
Let him whine. Let him whimper. This thing with its hand curled around his
cheek was nothing. And he would no longer infect all that Dmitri held dear.

Air rushed into the monk’s lungs. The wheeze dropped
into a gasp. Then words: “Why do you want the boy to die? He will be Tsar! Not
you.”

The boy?
This was not about the
boy. The Tsesarevich would be dead by his eighteenth birthday. The family knew
it. The world knew it. The boy’s blood made him immaterial. Only the Empire
mattered—only the Empire glowed so bright in the morning sun that the rest of
Europe dared not look upon it. The Empire would not bend to the whims of a
German whore.

“Stay dead!” The words croaked out of Dmitri, still
strained but louder than the monk’s.

All Dmitri’s anger—all his will and his ability—moved
from his fingers into the monk’s scalp. He’d seen that woman’s influences from
the beginning. Only Dmitri had the will to deal with her lapdog. She had no
right. And she let this obscenity touch the Tsesarevich? A growl
escaped,
a deep sound that bounced across the ice to the
other shore before it echoed back to Dmitri.

“You want to be Tsar?” Grayness returned to Rasputin’s
skin as he spoke—it crept from Dmitri’s fingers toward the fiend’s revolting
eyes.

Dmitri did not want to be Tsar. No sane person wanted to
be Tsar. But if called, he’d serve. He’d do what was right.

Rasputin panted. Dmitri’s power flowed through the
fingers he cinched around the villain’s head. He’d end this.

“Be the Tsar!” Rasputin’s suddenly paled to ash. A bolt
ripped from the monk’s temple into Dmitri’s fingertips as Rasputin’s eyes
rolled back into his head. His snarls bubbled away.

He stiffened one last time then dropped, lifeless, onto
the ice.

Dmitri pushed against the body. His jaw cinched
closed—the skin of his face burned as if he’d washed with acid.
As if the twinkling, malicious snow faeries had returned and now
slashed at his cheeks with their ice wings.

Agony flicked on an off as it moved from his face,
across his tongue, and down his neck. It spread like slush into his joints. He’d
need days, perhaps weeks, to heal himself from this. He’d claim a winter’s
chill, retreat to his estate, and await his cousin’s gratitude. Then perhaps
he’d propose to the other daughter—the prettier one. They’d make a proper
Tsesarevich.

The dawn’s cold bit into the
oversensitive skin of his bare hand.
The same agony that burned his face
fired up his forearm.

He reached for his glove. A fingertip pushed out of his
sleeve, followed by another, then another.
Then the back of
his hand.

He stared. His flesh swelled. His fingers would not
move, all as bloated as sausages. His hand and wrist had turned the dark
purple-green of a bruise and now it spread up his arm like some horrid poison.

Blood.
He bled inside, under
his skin, and he knew that if he cut himself, if it opened, it would not stop
flowing until his veins ran dry.

The monk had forced the boy’s blood disease into
Dmitri’s hand.

Is this what he meant by “Be the Tsar?” Dmitri scoffed,
staring at his hand as the cold numbed his bruised flesh.

Enough concentration and his fingers would be strong
again. How often had he healed himself? The knife wound in his shoulder after
that fight with the French emissary, the broken leg when he fell from that
damned horse as a child—this injury meant nothing.

He stared at his fingers and willed the numbness and the
blood back to their places. His flesh would not riot. He would not have an
uncouth and ill-mannered hand.

Except the healing did not happen.
The blood pulled back only a fraction.

Dmitri sucked in the morning’s frozen air, his foot
lashing out at the corpse. He’d bound Dmitri to the boy.
To
irrelevance.
To the Tsesarevich.

Thunder rolled under Dmitri as the ice cracked. The sun
flooded over the river, the red hitting the floe’s edges. He flew backward,
crawling up the bank, as the river took the body and the rug.

A prick and he clutched his swollen hand. Nothing bled. He
stared at his flesh, thankful for the mud’s smoothness.

Thankful that his blood stayed where it should be.

Dmitri glanced up at the rising sun. The cold of the
world burdened Russia, but she controlled it. His nation’s strength knew no
bounds.

He looked down at his hand. This burden would not kill
him. He was Russian and he’d control what that peasant did to him. He’d keep it
in his fingers, make it obey. Dmitri would carry this burden, because he could.
He would not die before his next birthday. He had the strength needed to be the
Emperor.

He stumbled to his car. The Tsar would not send him to the
Prussian front. Or worse, banish him to the decadent west of Europe. Nicholas
would see the truth. They’d clasp shoulders.

Dmitri Pavlovich Romanov would now and forever do his
best for the Tsar’s family.
For Russia.
Because Dmitri Pavlovich Romanov could be Tsar.

***

Read more about Dmitri in the Fate ~ Fire ~ Shifter ~
Dragon series
:

Prolusio

Games
of Fate

Conpulsio

Flux
of Skin

For
more info, visit
sixtalonsign.com
.

As a child, Kris took down a pack of hungry wolves with only a
hardcover copy of
The Dragonriders of Pern
and a sharpened toothbrush.
That fateful day set her on a path traversing many storytelling worlds—dabbles
in film and comic books, time as a talent agent and a textbook photo
coordinator, and a foray into nonfiction. But she craved narrative and a
richly-textured world of Fates, Shifters, and Dragons—and unexpected, true
love.

Kris lives in Minnesota with her husband, two daughters,
Handsome Cat, and an entire menagerie of suburban wildlife bent on destroying
her house.
That battered-but-true copy of
Dragonriders
?
She found it
yesterday. It’s time to pay a visit to the woodpeckers.

***

THE HIEROPHANT

On the Shoulders of Muses

By Jessica McHugh

The bell chimes, and Rico drops his sandwich.

“Every damn time,” he grumbles, sighing at his lunch before
he switches on the transceiver.
“Bridge here.
Go
ahead, Dispatch.”

He hasn’t eaten a meal in fifty years. Although he
doesn’t derive energy from food anymore, he still enjoys tasting it, chewing
it, even the faint memories of when something worked in his interest. His work
for others is monumentally more important, but that fact no longer satisfies
him. A bite of turkey wouldn’t change that, but the treat could lessen his
melancholy for a day or two.

“New kid’s here. Want me to send him in?” Dispatch asks.

“Can it wait until I’ve eaten?”

Dead air.
Whispers.

Rico leans in to the speaker, his bones aching. A
resounding “no” barrels into his ear, and painful static crackles through his
brain. He uncoils the terminal cord from his ear, twisting the pin in the canal
and blowing on the other end. His mind fuzzes over for a few moments before
clearing with a squeak. He sits down at the terminal and switches on the
teleporter.

“Go ahead, Dispatch. You’re clear to transmit.”

The teleporter’s silver platform blinks as a huddled
figure materializes, shivering. Rico tosses him a blue jumpsuit, but the young
boy is too blind to catch it. He squints, rubbing his silver eyes in panic.
Rico knows he resembled this boy once, but he can’t remember looking so young,
or his eyes being so faint. Not that the memory matters. Unlike the thousands
of creatures whose stories he collects and delivers across the Spectrum, Rico’s
memories will die with him.

He helps the boy stand and slides a pair of goggles onto
his face.

“Give your eyes a decade to darken,” he says. “After a
while, you’ll forget the light in the Bridge ever pained you—until you deliver
this speech to someone else.”

After zipping his suit, the boy extends his hand. “I’m
pleased to meet you. Balar, of Jupiter5,” he says.

“Jupiter5, you say.
Quite a ritzy
piece of the Spectrum.
Did you train for this, or are you a blood-muse?”
The boy clenches his jaw, and Rico apologizes. “That was rude of me to ask. All
that matters is you’re here. My name is Rico, and I’ll be your trainer.”

“Thanks,” Balar says, his gaze traveling around the
circular chamber. The lights of the terminal are reflected in his goggles, reds
and blues and whites flashing beneath the two concave screens covering more
than half of the Bridge. “Can you really see every world on these?”

“Every version of every world in the
Spectrum.”

“You must love this job.”

“It’s more than a job. The Bridge, the Graveyard, the
millions of minds I visit every day—it’s my life, and it’s exhausting.”

“You don’t look too worse for wear.”

“I’ll take your word for it. I haven’t seen my
reflection in almost a thousand years.”

Spotting Rico’s sandwich, Balar shudders. The bread is
dark green, the meat inside crusty and shrunken.

“You’re not going to eat that, are you?”

“Not anymore, which means I’ll have to wait another
fifty years to file a meal request. The window for organic freshness on the
Bridge is tiny. Time passes differently here, hence your jumpsuit and goggles.
They will protect you for the few years it takes for your body to adjust.”

The bell chimes again.

“Spec just called,” Dispatch says. “We’ve got a live
one.
Earth7-1587 to Earth2-2013.”

“Live one?” Balar asks.

“He says that all the time, don’t ask me why. I think
millennia of working Dispatch has driven him a little nuts.”

“I heard that.”

“He means we have a story to transmit.
Dead guy, live idea.”

“It’s a woman, actually,” says Dispatch.

Rico ignores the comment. “He also likes to waste time.
All we need from him is the origin planet and destination planet,” Rico says to
Balar.

“And your explanation does what, create time?”

“I’m training someone, Dispatch.”

The speaker murmurs. “Not to talk back, I hope.”

“You guys have a weird relationship,” Balar says.

Rico and Dispatch answer together, “Anything to pass the
time.”

The bell chimes again, and Rico groans. “I get it, I get
it. Thank you. We’ll take it from here.”

The caption “Earth7-1587” appears on the left screen and
“Earth2-2013” on the right. Balar gasps in
awe,
and
Rico chuckles. He’s aware it’s the first time he’s laughed in ages. The new
kid’s excitement kindles some of his old verve, but sorrow remains strongest.
Like Rico’s verve, Balar’s awe won’t survive the centuries. Balar himself might
not even last.

Most new recruits drop out after the first delivery to
their home world. Standing in the past has a way of making one look to the
future. When faced with a future of hard work with little reward, it’s easy to
run.

Unless there’s nothing to run back to.
Those are the ones who wind up like Rico, with a heavy case of Muse’s Malaise.

Rico can’t imagine Balar is anything like him. Having
grown up in Jupiter5, one of the richest worlds in the Spectrum, he’s the very
definition of a flight risk. But Rico has learned to keep his mouth shut about
such things. A man must discover his aversions in his own time.

Rico unwinds his cord and plugs into the terminal. The
left screen zooms in on a pale planet with ice spreading across land and sea.
It’s small and dense, surrounded by a thin, frozen shell.

“What is that place?”

“Earth, Version 7. Time, 1587 AD,” Rico replies. “The
origin planet can be from any universe in the Spectrum, during any time in its
existence, but deliveries can only be made to worlds in their present time. The
past provides the stories.
The present, the storytellers.”

“How do you decide who deserves to tell a story?”

“I don’t decide anything. Spec notifies Dispatch, and
Dispatch notifies me. It’s fairly common practice, Balar. If you want to dig
into Spec’s motivations, maybe you should apply to become a god instead of a
muse.”

BOOK: Allegories of the Tarot
12.99Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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