“You’re ugly when you cry.”
He was right. These weren’t the pretty tears that fair ladies shed in her stories; not a glistening diamond sliding down a porcelain cheek, nor a delicate mist that made the eyes go soft and dewy. This was the wet, congested torrent born of reality, turning her face red and splotchy, spilling moisture from her nose just as readily as her eyes. When she sucked down breath it sounded sodden. Like a swamp, she thought; a boot, sunken into mud and dragged up too quickly.
“Enough. For Dav’s sake, stand up.”
Her body answered even when her mind was absent, and as she heaved herself upright the blur coalesced into images: bottles of wine four layers high, at the back painted thickly with dust. Those within reach still gleamed in the low light of dripping candles. Still clean. Ready to age. He sat upon a cask, one leg lifted and his boot sole hedged upon the lip. His arm lay across the bended knee, and the other was curved across the flat muscle of a stomach his tunic couldn’t disguise. Sharp, defined shapes on a sharp, defined man.
Energy still crackled around her; it wouldn’t dispel on its own.
His lazy gesture indicated the shapes upon the floor. She bent, took a knee and fingered the coin up into her palm, sticking it to the wetness. The silver looked dull as she centered it over her thumbnail, letting Charmaine’s mottled face tip toward the rafters. “If you can’t see the Queen, it’s already wrong” had been a mantra oft-repeated. She knew that much.
A trembling flick and the coin flew upwards, twisting on motes of dust, flickering and flashing; between the tarnish silver still shone, and what the candles caught gleamed. Red-shot green tracked its progress — up upon a whirling arc, looping, and falling…
The coin hit the floor. Before it had stopped spinning, he was on his feet.
The crack of a hand, his rings, his knuckles, collided with her cheekbone. As she hit the floor the coin wavered, swayed, and fell face down. She closed her eyes and squeezed; something hot came out of their corners, joining the smoldering sting that repainted her cheek.
He was still.
“Just let it go.”
His boot lifted — soft, supple leather — and stepped across her; across the circle of chalk that had lain between his cask and her attempts at ritual. He bent and lifted the coin as he went, lightly tucking it into his vest. Footsteps soon creaked up the stairwell, and the low thrum of bass notes, the Master’s voice, filtered through the ceiling; a titter of laughter followed.
She lay upon the earth, closed her eyes, and let the energy release. It’s backlash was no worse than before; her body seized, shoulders jerked against the ground, and her spine bent into a curious, agonizing arc. That old, familiar odor crept out of her skin. Acrid; acidic. Not unlike the bile with which she was sure to be reacquainted. Her stomach evacuated when the seizing passed. She looked down, and there was ash among the sick.