Each Wednesday I publish a new scene from the novel I am calling “The Memory Book.”
Dante gives Gus bad news
The Memory Book, Scene 34
Gus spits a bloody feather from his mouth and opens his eyes. He sees blue sky and the canyon rim tilting crazily above him. By the time he realizes he is lying on his back at the base of the cliff, he begins to feel the pain coursing through his body, coming alive, and mostly centered in his right leg.
Rolling onto his side, he sits up. The condor’s talon, the single long mid-toe, lacerated his calf. Deep violet blood is smeared and clotting at the wound.
Then he remembers, and before he knows it he is on his feet.
His calls echo from the canyon wall. The ground around him is littered with condor bones, luminescent black plumage and oozing pools of blood. The air tastes of scorched poultry.
He feels as if his heart will burst out of his chest. He remembers how she tried to save him; he remembers the blinding flash and the perilous plunge. Where is Dante anyway?
A portion of a condor wing begins to move. It’s impossible for any of the birds to have survived the mage-spear, if that’s what it was, and that has to be what it was, because they are now smithereens. It is lucky that Gus himself survived. But Wynne—
He hears a soft moan. The long wing-feathers rustle and lift. Slowly a head of tangled black hair emerges between them, and Wynne peers blearily around her.
Gus feels as if his entire body had been wound tight, like a child’s toy, and now he begins to unravel. Stepping over beaks, sharp claws and gooey innards, he helps her to her feet.
“What happened?” She is naked except for her boots, and leans against him wearily. He holds her, feels her soft skin crusted with dirt and blood. The press of her flesh against his feels delightful.
“I’m not sure exactly, but I have an idea. Are you all right?” He speaks into her small and shapely ear, then picks a few specks of black down from it.
“What was that light?” Her voice is muffled.
“All I have to do is blink. I’d love to teach you.” The mage’s voice sounds from above. He is on the cliff edge above, looking down at them from underneath a broad-brimmed hat.
Sighing, Gus lets go of Wynne, not wanting to, and squints upward. “It’s about time you showed up.”
Dante laughs. “If you’d come the usual way I would have been ready for you. Who is your lovely companion?”
“Dante Mandragora, meet Wynne Marine. She has been recruited to assist me in finding Beatrix.”
“Ah,” Dante says as Wynne bows her head.
“I’ve heard of the mage-spear, but I’ve never seen one, much less had it aimed in my direction.” Wynne shields her eyes as she looks up.
“You two were in more danger from those monsters than you were from me.” Lifting a hand, Dante motions for them to come up. Without asking for permission, Gus picks Wynne up and flies her to the top.
“Ouch.” Gus lands beside the time mage, who is garbed in a gray t-shirt and jeans, with a yellow bandana tied around his neck. He reaches back and fingers one of the rents in his wings. “I’ve got some mending to do.”
He feels Wynne stiffen as he sets her on her feet. She steps a few feet away; her general guardedness is back.
“I would be pleased to get out of this sun before I burn to a crisp.” She spreads her arms wide as if to emphasize what the angel and the mage already know—that she is wearing not a stitch of clothing.
Behind Dante, set back from the cliff’s edge, a dwelling of thick adobe walls has been constructed. It is several stories tall, oositioned under a sheltering ledge.
“Welcome to Hotel Kronos, my desert home.” The time mage, his lethal eyes now hidden behind a pair of square wire-rims shaded blue, grins and offers his arm to Wynne.
As they near the front door behind a low adobe fence topped with iron spikes, a dog rises to its feet and follows them inside. She is a mastiff, apricot in color and huge. Fae are suspicious of dogs as a rule, but Gus is impressed to see Wynne confidently pat the mastiff’s round head.
Inside the air is cool, the floors tiled, and light enters through skylights. A servant appears and ushers Wynne down one of the hallways, where, Dante has promised her, she will find clothing, a warm bath and, because the servant Lobelia is a healer, salves and herbs for her cuts and bruises.
As soon as Wynne is gone, Dante’s mouth becomes solemn, and he motions for Gus to follow.
Through an open air atrium, above which the orange cliff glowers, and up one flight, is the anteroom of Dante’s studio. The walls and ceilings are chock-a-block with framed portraits, a hobby of his from a long ago past. Gus follows his friend under the gazes of hundreds, and enters Dante’s private study.
Taking off his hat, Dante frisbees it to a nearby chair. He walks to a table where a flask sits, pours two and hands one to Gus, who is wishing for his own bath and change of clothes. But he does drink the sharp, amber liquid down in one gulp.
Dante leans against his light table, facing Gus, his mouth tight. “I can’t find her. I’ve lost her.”
Gus doesn’t have to ask who “her” is. He feels as if he has stepped onto a dark frozen pond and fallen deep. Oh, gods. Where is Beatrix?
© Jill Zeller, April, 2020