4. No Madder Than Usual

2149 Words
4No Madder Than UsualBottle in hand, Tazia sat on the wide stone ledge that surrounded a huge and alarmingly kitsch fountain decorated with naked cherubs, some dancing lions, and a very tarty-looking Venus. Despite her puffy hair and full pouting lips, the Goddess of Love was looking horrified as a near-naked horned demon was unabashedly grabbing her ass and poking her with his long sharp spear. Turin had been dubbed “Satan’s City” long ago, the result of its long-established underbelly of devil worship, ecumenical murder, and witchcraft. A sordid history, and yet, also its saving grace. In recent years sudden and aggressive surges of demonic infiltration had spread across the urban centers across the world. Yet here, where the dark had always been present, ordinary humans rubbed along with demons in relative peace. Tazia stuck her tongue out at the demon statue. She had no use for Satan. She’d spent her life watching her father’s allegiance to the Old Goat and was relieved that he was now safely ensconced next to him. Yet, for herself, he had nothing to offer. Freedom was her only goal. Taking a swig from the bottle, Tazia shook off thoughts of her father. She had a growing feeling of discomfort, like someone was staring. Her guess flew first to the goons who had pursued her from the bar, but as she couldn’t see their flabby frames barreling down the empty piazza toward her, she considered other options. She thought again about Soren Huxford. If he’d gone to the bar for payment and just found the chaos she’d left behind, he’d be fuming. He was not the type to let anyone mess with either his money or his awesome reputation. If he was alive, he’d be after her. Tazia scanned the small square, checking the doorways, rooftops, and windows of the buildings that overlooked the fountain. She searched for the telltale sign of a flash of light reflected off the metallic end of a rifle, but saw nothing except the final rays of the dying sun winking back at her. They bleached out the yellow stonework of the Renaissance walls and peeked around the religious statuary that sat atop the roofs, blinding her if she stared too long. With the hairs still pricking on the back of her neck, the feeling grew stronger as if someone was creeping up behind. Turning, she looked back up at the statue of Venus and drew a breath in alarm as the goddess slowly blinked at her, then curved her full lips into a stiff and awkward smile. Without taking her eyes off the statue, Tazia reached into her pocket for the small bottle of pills that was her constant companion. Opening it, she pulled out two and put them in her mouth. She crunched then swallowed slowly with the aid of another mouthful of tequila. The “delusion” continued. In fascinated horror, she watched as Venus straightened up—removing her bottom from the grasp of the lustful Satan in the process—and stepped off the marble dais. She waded clumsily through the water and came to sit next to Tazia, making a quiet grinding sound as her stone bottom settled on the ledge. Even for Tazia, this was new. The statue seemed to sense her consternation and gently put a marble hand onto her arm, the smooth stone icy against her skin. “It’s okay, Anastasia, you’re not going mad. Well, no madder than you usually are, anyway.” She tittered at her own joke. The tiny bell-like sound echoed around the plaza strangely twisting into a distorted groan as it hit the stately basilica standing at its northern end. Alarmed, a small flock of pigeons took off from the ledges of the baroque facade, flying high into the sky before circling and landing again in a part of the square that didn’t contain odd-sounding statues. The silence ticked by. Tazia remained immobile staring fixedly at the hand on her arm. “Not talking, Anastasia?” Tazia jerked her head up hard and made a strangled grunt. “I didn’t really hear that, pet?” Tazia sucked her teeth, loosening pieces of reluctant medication and swallowed quickly. “I…” She shook her head, unable to continue. Venus adjusted her position so that the wet marble folds of her robe loosened their cement-like attachment to her legs with a squelch. Water rolled off her clothing and splashed onto Tazia’s boots. “How about I talk and you just listen, eh?” She had adopted the tone of a kind schoolteacher; the plump kind, with grey-streaked hair, and a welcoming hug on the first day of term. “I’m not really Venus, of course, but then you probably guessed that?” Tazia nodded. The statue sat back slightly, apparently collecting herself before straightening up again and, with a stiff flourish of her arms, declared, “I am the High Advocate!” Tazia blinked, not unimpressed, but still expecting the vision to disappear any minute into a puff of smoke, or glitch out like a hologram in a sci-fi movie. Such a thing often happened when her drugs kicked in. “That’s fancy talk for an angel.” When she still got no response, Venus’s tone abruptly changed; the same teacher, now caught taking a crafty swig of whiskey from her desk drawer, indignantly defended herself. “An important one, actually!” Silence ticked by. Tazia bit down on her cheek—even her blood tasted weird. Why is it still here? Venus sighed and wriggled, grinding her bottom like a pestle into its mortar. “Do you know what an Advocate does?” Tazia shook her head. If this was class, she’d be getting a failing grade. “We decide the fate of a human soul. Whether it deserves to go to Heaven or Hell. You know, have you been a good boy or a bad? A bit like Santa.” She shrieked at her own joke before drawing the laugh to a sudden halt. She narrowed her eyes to hardened slits and came close to Tazia’s ear before hissing, “I am the High Advocate, however, Anastasia. I look after those difficult cases where the balance of good and evil is often unclear. Royalty, presidents, and ecclesiastical types like, oh, I don’t know… abbots.” “Oh!” Tazia backed away, her mind spinning. “You’re here about my f-f-father?” “Bingo!” Venus clapped her hands together. It sounded like a gunshot ricocheting around the square. Every pigeon in the neighborhood took off once more, blocking the low sun and plunging the square into darkness. Tazia slapped her palms over her ears, muffling the high-pitched ringing that persisted. Venus didn’t look in the slightest perturbed at the flight of the pigeons or Tazia’s obvious distress. Instead, she gazed across the square, a little wetness forming in her eyes. “When your father was still human, he was rather important to me. I saw his… potential, let’s say.” Despite her nerves, Tazia shuffled slightly closer. “Are you crying?” Venus turned back to her. “Of course not.” She sniffed dramatically. “He wasn’t exactly a good man, Anastasia. When he was dying, I tried my best to persuade Heaven that he should be forgiven. Just doing my job. But they denied him and ridiculed me. Too many sins, they said. He was true evil, they said. Said my head was turned. They didn’t know him like I did. He was a great man then. Strong and powerful. Vigorous.” Eyes now bone dry, her lips curled into a wide and lustful smile that brought gooseflesh to Tazia’s skin. “So, in those moments before his death, I offered him the chance to be reborn as a demon. He would be the greatest vampire ever known, eventually sit by Satan’s side. To get there, he just needed to do one simple thing.” She got close to Tazia’s ear again and whispered, “To create you!” This part of the tale was all too familiar. Tazia’s father had spoken often of the voice whispering in his ear, telling him to create a child through murder and magic. Venus brought her unblinking eyes level with Tazia’s. She gazed back into the cold gray stonework and the shallow holes that the sculptor had shaped to resemble pupils, seeing nothing but inevitable darkness. The hope she’d felt this afternoon when she’d emerged from the collapsed cave began to ebb away. The statue’s voice was steely. “Only he messed it up!” Flinching at the angel’s anger, Tazia had heard enough. She tried to edge away, estimating it would take around five seconds for her to clear the plaza at an all-out sprint. But for some reason, her legs wouldn’t respond to her urgent demands for them to move. “He didn’t keep you the way I told him to. He cut you off from that human soul I worked so hard to ensure you were born with.” Tazia snapped her head back up. “He walled it up for my own good.” “Is that what he told you? Poor pet.” Venus smirked at her. “So, you’re here for my soul?” “Oh no. I don’t want that.” “Then, what?” “You do. You want it back, Anastasia. You need it back.” Okay, that was unexpected. “I don’t understand…” Venus gained a wistful look. “Let’s just say it’s a Fate thing.” What the f**k? It was the sort of bullshit answer her father had always given her when she asked about her existence. Fired by her anger, Tazia jumped up and pulled in a deep lungful of air. Clouds had gathered since the sun had lowered and rain now fell on them both, trickling over the marble of the statue and dripping onto the stone slabs around her. It soaked Tazia’s hair to the roots and dripped down her neck, further reviving her. She took a few steps away from the ridiculous statue with her stupid laugh and cold hands. “Don’t run away, pet. I haven’t told you the best part yet.” “What?” “It seems daddy took a bit of a wrong turn when he got to Hell. Instead of finding that seat next to Satan, he dropped into the Red River—the river of fire, of blood, and bone. Liquid destruction.” Venus came up behind her and whispered, “But you can get him out.” All fear gone, Tazia turned and glared at her. “Why would I do that? I’m free. Finally. Why would I help him?” She’d suffered years of imprisonment and cruelty at his hands, served him as a loyal and devoted daughter. She’d earned this! “Because you love him.” “You’re f*****g kidding me!” The comment was ridiculous. Tazia started to walk away. “I’ll just bring you back, pet…” With that, the atmosphere thickened. Drops of rain stopped falling, suspended in mid-air, creating a curtain of water that felt heavy on her skin and hair. Tazia turned back. Her body felt disconnected, like she was suddenly a hundred times heavier and trying to twist in thick molasses. Unbelievably, at that moment, the talking statue was the only thing that had any semblance of normality. She continued moving as she had been while all else was held in a sweet static fog. “I feel loyalty to him, but don’t confuse that with love.” Tazia spoke loudly, but even the words seemed to hang in the thickness of the air, slowly floating around her, just a dull echo. “We won’t debate the point, Anastasia. But if you are unconvinced about the notion of love, do it instead because it is your duty.” The word punched Tazia hard in the belly. It was one she’d heard often. Obedience. Duty. Honor. Words he’d battered into her. Sure, she’d strayed at times, but she always came back to him, contrite and obedient. She already knew her duty very well indeed. Still pinned to the spot, she felt the molecules of her body take on the heaviness of the air around her, and the last vestiges of the excitement she’d felt that day faded. Her shoulders sagged. Venus smiled. “All I need is for you to get access to your human soul again, pet. Then make a present of yourself to me. I have lots of exciting plans for us. You and I will become the best of friends.” Her childish giggle bounced around the air. “Do this, and daddy gets the eternity he deserves. A place by Satan’s side just as I promised—and he’ll be out of your hair forever.” “And what if I don’t?” “Then I can make things very unpleasant for you,” Venus hissed. She glanced at the fountain, and the serpent wound around Satan’s spear hissed back. It unfurled itself, flashed through the water, and slithered over the stone ledge heading straight for Tazia. Trapped by the thick air, she couldn’t move back. The snake rose up in front of her— Tazia jerked her head away. It opened its mouth— “No. Please. Don’t!” Fire shot from the serpent’s mouth. It burned up the water in the air and boiling steam blasted into her face. A burning lesion formed across her right cheek and up onto her forehead. She felt the blood boil under her skin and smelled the tang of heated metal as the blisters burst and splashed back over her face. Tazia screamed— Then the snake was gone. The atmosphere returned to normal. A few pigeons caught on the fringe of the stasis flew rapidly into the sky. The serpent was again curved around Satan’s spear. Tazia whimpered, but the blood and pain of her scorched skin was already gone. “Just a warning. I’ll leave you to think about it.” Venus twisted her body so that her feet were once again in the water, and she heaved herself to standing. “Buona sera, Anastasia. I’m always watching—and listening. Let me know when you make a decision. Don’t leave it too long, pet.” As her words faded, Tazia found herself staring at nothing but a stone-still statue standing on her pedestal, water splashing over her feet, glaring at the amorous devil.
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