I stared at him, not thinking or feeling. Seconds later I burst into laughter.
“You can’t be serious.”
Ivan didn’t reply, just waited until I dropped on the bed, open-mouthed. I wasn’t sure if he’d lost his wits or if he was simply messing with my head.
“Are you even sure of your theory?” I whispered, a smile still in the corner of my mouth.
“It’s strange you didn’t see it yourself.”
Of course I hadn’t, whatever that it was. I hadn’t laid eyes on Dolores’ portrait and I had no idea what he was talking about. But now was the time to prove him otherwise. The image of Damian hanging on a cross if I failed to convince Ivan hit me again, fueling the lie with strong purpose. I had to keep it up until tomorrow, when Damian would take me to the west wing. Then I’d be able to deal with Ivan’s or anyone’s interrogatory.
“There may be some similarity between us, but you know how it is,” I dared, “one can’t really see it when directly involved. Do you notice the similarities between you and your father, for example?”
Ivan’s jaw tightened.
“More often that I’d like to,” he said and turned to the window again.
The heavy curtains didn’t seem to block his sight, he looked lost as if he were staring into an endless horizon. Searching his own knowledge and memories, I sensed, linking data and discovering meaning. A process he wouldn’t share with me.
“It doesn’t add up, Ivan,” I said, aiming to tempt more info from him.
“I have yet to figure this out,” Ivan replied, still lost in thought. “But no one who sees that portrait can doubt it, Aura. And I’m sure it hasn’t escaped the Regent’s eye, either.”
The Regent. The cries of blood will lead me to my prize, he’d said to me. I know you well. I had to see her with my own eyes.
I didn’t know if it was my state of confusion or Ivan’s sinking in his own thoughts that made the night bearable and silent. Ivan was deep in evaluation of data in his mind, I sensed. I didn’t press either, glad that he gave me room and that he didn’t ask any more questions that could’ve exposed Damian and me.
It was that night that I sat at the wooden desk and took up the pen and paper.
It feels somewhat unnatural. It’s been a long time since I’ve scribbled so many words on sheet. Probably since college, when I hurried to record everything that shot out of my bitter professors’ mouths. Ever since then, computers have been a good as common as coffee and my state-of-the-art life. It hits me how I live in a completely different world now, one that defies any sane person’s wildest imagination.
I haven’t drunk coffee in over a year – well, besides that latte at the airport. As for computers or smart phones – Demis don’t allow the use of electronic devices or anything that can be tracked through satellite, so I feel plunged in the eighteenth century. It’s probably their paranoia I have to thank for the thick stacks of paper – normal paper – enough to host this long account. I’m putting it down.
I’m reliving my memories with Damian Novac. Those all too human memories of an all too human journey. The first moment I saw him in the cafeteria, the Alpha of a tamed group of bullies and the center of all those divas’ attention. The night I pretended to stumble into his arms with a glass of wine at the party, deafened by pounding music. Our first kiss in a dark parking lot. Our first night together in his room, under an old quilt. His instinctive moves, the detachment in his eyes and his caress, lacking deeper emotion and experience. It’s now that it strikes me – Damian hadn’t given himself to many women before me. Why me? I’m still wondering. Why the ashen-skinned little woman with tangled hair that I used to be? Was I that good of a strategist?
Another memory lights up. The old priest pronouncing us man and wife and placing those kitchy golden crowns on our heads. Pushing the rings on our fingers. Only our parents and a clutch of friends present. Damian’s short kiss from the tip of his lips. Our life in a concrete block of flats, an aging, childless couple. His face melting and marring with the years, like a beautiful mask in fire. His spending his days on construction sites and I in school, watching kids become adults, the whole world at their feet while we decayed. Empty evening talks about cheesy TV shows. A slow, self-repeating path to death.
And then the ivory, angelic face of Ivan Grabianko. The first gaze from those pitch black eyes that derailed my life trajectory like a missile hitting a floating meteorite. How I choked on my desire for him in my struggle to suppress it. My filthy longing for a much younger man, merely a boy. My student. An Executioner Core, who spilled my dear Raluca’s blood. A monster. A demidemon. Using me to get to my husband. To Damian. And turn him into what he truly is. Oh, how different from what I expected of this path.
Damian. No longer an aging human when I saw him again, at the Grabianko mansion. Damian, the man who raised his blade to end me in the Identifier’s lair. The strong features of his face smooth like granite, his lips beautifully sculptured. Those waves of raven hair flowing to his athlete shoulders. Handsome beyond measure and young beyond time, like a god. The perfect version of the Damian I married. A man developed to his full potential. The story of The Blacksmith is born.
The Blacksmith, my former husband, who let me go with the Executioner and gave me a chance to live. The Blacksmith, who my heart ached for this past year, until a dagger carrying the Regent’s message and the Executioner’s betrayal brought me back to his arms. The visions of the Black Madonna in a dark and cold medieval church. The visions of Damian as if from another time. The Regent, urging me to follow the cries of the blood. The Executioner, claiming that the dead Dolores Calderon was my ancestor in some inexplicable way. I write Cries of the Blood, hoping that putting it down will help me find some answers. The more I write, the clearer it gets – I have to see her portrait. I pray her face will open the gates to the past.