She was stunning. Statuesque I’d call her. Or I would if I was the kind of person that would call someone that. I’ve heard that term before, but never had I seen anyone I felt deserved the moniker until I saw her. We were exactly eye to eye, but somehow she seemed a few inches taller than me. She looked a lot like me. A LOT like me. It wasn’t exactly like looking in a mirror because there were differences. Minor differences, but they were there. Her skin was nearly flawless but I could see one tiny white line from the corner of her mouth, it was artfully hidden with make-up, I doubt anyone who wasn’t examining what was almost their own face would notice it. Her eyes were really something. They weren’t cold exactly, they certainly weren’t friendly, they were hard – like diamonds. Never seen eyes like that.
Her clothing was odd to my eye, it was sort of what I think of from Robin Hood or movies like that with swords and stuff, but it wasn’t exactly that. They weren’t fancy clothes but they were extremely well made, some material I’m not even familiar with. It looked like what a queen would wear when she wasn’t dressed like a queen if that makes sense. Like a queen going out for a ride maybe. In particular she had longcoat of white and silver trimmed with black that was gorgeous. I have no idea what I would do with something like that but I kind of wanted it.
She had a cane or a walking stick made of a fine dark wood that was topped with an ivory cobra-head. The detail was insane. It looked like an actual cobra had been petrified and its head sliced off for the top of the cane. She didn’t hold it like a person that needed a cane, she held it like a staff of office, or like a pharaoh with that little crook thing you see on Egypt stuff. Or maybe she held it like a weapon. Point is she didn’t have it because she had a limp, she certainly didn’t need a cane.
The snake tattoo on the back of my hand, a souvenir from a night of drinking with sailors on leave, was tingling in a strange way. It was like pins and needles all across the back of my hand. The tattoo itself looked sharper and more realistic – like an actual snake might jump off my hand. It seemed like it could start moving at any moment and it kind of freaked me out.
She was examining me just as I was her and I got the sense that she wasn’t impressed, suddenly I felt self-conscious of my shabby clothing. Her voice was rich and resonate, she’d make a wonderful singer if she was so inclined.
She smiled almost imperceptivity “Blood stains? I had the same problem in the beginning. You need to get yourself a magically self-cleaning and self-repairing wardrobe, after I was able to do that it made my life much easier.”
“Is magic a thing?”
“Sometimes.” Even though we were nowhere that I could tell, she looked around “Your world does seem very dull though, perhaps there is no magic for you. That’s a pity my dear, magic is awful and common but I’ve found that it can do many helpful things. If you can afford it.”
I was at a loss of what to say “Nice coat.”
She looked at her sleeve “Isn’t it just? I took it off the body of one of those horrible Vulcari people. It was already enchanted but I took it to a craftmage in Barrinton and had more magic imbued in it. It’s saved my life several times, and it looks very fetching if I do say so myself.” She looked at me curiously “Do you have Vulcar here?”
“Uh, I don’t know what that is. Did you say you killed someone?”
Her smiled widened. People talk about shark smiles. It wasn’t that. Not exactly. It was something predatory, but nothing so obvious as a shark. It was the smile that comes before poison is fed with a spoon. It was the smile before the pillow goes over your face to smother you. I could see how most people would love for that smile to be directed at them, it was radiant, men especially would turn to butter under it – but it made me shiver. I’ve never seen a smile like that before and I hope I never do again. It wasn’t cold, it was otherworldly.
“Well aren’t you a peach? Are you truly as innocent as all that? Maybe you’re who I would have been if I stayed on the farm.” She laughed. “Yes, I’ve killed people. Many times. Revenge is a dirty business, my dear. You’re going to have to get your hands bloody if you want to get Duke Eaglevane.”
“This is quite an odd dream.”
Her smiled turned wry “You don’t know the half of it. I was plagued by nightmares for months sent by a wicked creature from beyond the stars that laid a curse on me. This is a walk in the park by comparison to what I went through on a nightly basis, I assure you. Although, I suppose without that particular magical infection I wouldn’t be here now. Koma played a part as well but without that seed . . . I wonder.”
“Uh . . . what?”
“Don’t worry your pretty little head about it dear. I’d love to stay and chat with you about the well of many worlds or other more interesting topics, but unfortunately I don’t have much time here so it’s best we get to business. I’ve come to warn you not to make the same mistake that I did. When I woke up in that pigsty Graltontown, I thought that I would head straight for the Duke and destroy him. But I kept getting distracted by this and that and every other little thing. Two years I spent running here and there and getting into one jackpot after the other and I got no closer to my revenge. Sure, it was mostly Martialla’s fault, but still . . .”
“Wait, Martialla? You know her? What is this?”
Her face barely changed but I could tell it turned cold, a shiver went up my spine “I’m trying to tell you, don’t interrupt me, it’s unspeakably rude. Don’t follow in my path. Whatever you’re doing right now that seems important, stop doing it, go wherever the Duke is and kill him. Don’t worry about anything else. Don’t go down the same path that I did. You must succeed where I failed.”
“I don’t understand. This isn’t real right?”
She smirked “Have you ever had a dream where you asked if the dream was a dream? Don’t get tangled in the details, just take my advice. No detours, no side treks, no distractions, just go straight for the Duke. Unless you want to end up like me.”
“And how did you end up? You look pretty spiffy to me.”
Her mouth tightened “Dead. Dead is how I ended up. If you jump into every situation that comes your way, eventually you run out of luck. I was so stupid, I see that now. I started with nothing and I got money and power, and I never made my move. I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.”
“I’ve never understood that expression.”
“Well say you have some trees . . . actually no, forget about it, there’s no time for lessons. Heed my warning, learn from my mistake. Don’t get yourself killed in some random ditch like I did, grab a horse right now and head for the Duke.”
“A horse? Why would I grab a horse?”
She rolled her eyes “Or whatever you have here, just get there as fast as you can is what I meant.”
“O . . . kay. So, uh, what’s the afterlife like?”
“Where you are? I have no idea. Where I am? Never-ending torment. Well, mostly never-ending, I’m not being tormented right this second so it did end once at least. Which is nice for me.”
“Oh. You’re in Hell? So you were pretty bad huh?”
She smiled pleasantly “Sweetie, I was the absolute worst.”