Denouement – Part the First

Amid the horrified shrieks and terrified crying I saw Lucia fall, the tip of the unicorn’s horn stuck in her back, the unicorn’s head swaying bizarrely above her. Catching Niccolo’s eye, I rushed forward. Against all odds, I was prepared for this. Some prescience, some Other instinct had warned him that this night would bring disaster that could not be averted, so he had taken what precautions he could.

My trip to his warehouse had not been completely what it seemed. The fabric he offered for my use was Other, and within its diaphanous, swirling hues it carried protection. Amid our light, inconsequential conversation, there had been a hurried moment of candor and deadly import.

“Contessa,” his lips barely moved. It was as though his mind spoke directly to mine. “We are not well acquainted but I know you are aware of the currents that encircle us. I also know your connection with Hugh di Genova is profound, and I am convinced that you will stand as a true friend to my beloved Lucia.”

Startled, I started to speak, but he forestalled me. Producing a bolt of gossamer silk that I could have sworn had not been there a moment before, he said softly, “This cloth is Other woven. Take it, please, for your gown.” That I was startled must have been writ clearly on my face. “Hugh wanted my help in protecting you. You – or someone – might have need of its special properties before the night is done.”

That was the extent of our conversation. But, as Lucia lay before me, blood pumping from her alarmingly still body, I knew what was needed. Unsheathing the tiny dagger from my necklace, I ripped strips of fabric from my dress, handing them to Hugh to press against Lucia’s wound. He had gently worked free the horn of the unicorn mask and was ready for them, I realized. Niccolo’s almost imperceptible nod in my direction told me that this was what he wanted done. As I turned back to Lucia, I realized that Niccolo and Hugh were communicating on a completely different plane. Holding the cloth to Lucia’s wound, Hugh made a small, but definite sign over it. Other. Healer. The thoughts came clear and much that I had not understood before began to make sense.

Niccolo came to kneel beside Lucia, the bleakness in his intense blue eyes betraying profound emotion. Gathering her to him, he stood.

All attention was focused on the drama unfolding in the center of the room – even that of Sir Percy. As he stood riveted by the unexpected development – Lucia had been his friend, after all – two figures quietly stepped back from the crowd and began to move, quietly but swiftly, toward Percy.

Hugh stood, helping Sarina to her feet as he did so. Percy began to turn away. “Blakeney.” Hugh’s quiet voice arrested Percy’s movement. “Are you not forgetting the key? What about the amulet?” He extended his open palm. The necklace glowed and sparked against his skin. Percy emitted a low growl that overshadowed Annabelle’s distressed cry. Profound rage shook him from his usual urbanity and he charged toward Hugh. Hugh stepped back, casually. Only to Sarina was it clear that he was purposely leading Percy away from the door. Parthenope, cold rage glinting in her eyes, and Rodolfo West, moving with vulpine grace, closed ranks behind him.

To her left, Sarina felt a gentle breeze, laden with the sweet, lush scent of raspberries and violets. She turned in time to see Niccolo and Lucia shimmer away. As they disappeared, Lucia’s businesslike little dagger fell to the floor. Sarina bent and retrieved this last vestige of her beloved friend.