There was a dark cast to the sky, yet the gloom had yet to set in. The glass pyramid that stood as an icon of the Louvre glistened against the gray sky, and the white marble of the palace was whiter for being compared to the dark. Tourists thought there was something romantic in the air. Conspiracy theorists thought the ghosts of the museum would come out that day, and Adan Garcia thought there might be a possibility of trouble. This was because, in his vast experience, trouble of the kind he dealt with was usually made by attention seeking primadonnas, who had to have the atmosphere just right. But he wasn’t getting worked up so early. He didn’t believe in stepping in until he absolutely had to. Some called it laziness, he called it “live and let live until you had confirmation”. Like a knife down your throat.
He stood in front of Rogier Van der Weyden’s Portrait of a Lady and suddenly saw the full lipped woman in the painting change into a woman who had cruel eyes and no lips to speak of. Her clothes which had fit her perfectly, now hung on her like a bundle of loose cloth, the belt giving it an appearance of a sack of drab black colour being held together by a vermillion strap, but failing miserably.
Something had changed. Not now, something had changed back then. He had known the lady in the portrait, as he had known the artist. The changes weren’t overt, they were subtle, and he realised he could tell only because of his deep acquaintance with the artist and the subject. But if he could tell, some significant others could tell as well because of an entirely different reason. They were experts, and they had examined this painting until their eyes must have felt like falling out. No way in hell would they miss the sudden change in weight and expression.
He wasn’t a big believer of coincidence, so he teleported to the paintings he had seen in the past two days. Each was significant to him. And he noticed that they had all changed in subtle yet firm ways that were unmistakable. Sometimes he thought his brain must have sensors of some really bizarre kind because they seemed to detect hooey from the farthest of orbits, analyse it in minutes, and come up with the appropriate answer and solution before he had finished asking himself the questions. Part of his job description and the experience that went with it, he knew.
The pattern of the changes told him that, twenty three art pieces had changed from his past visit which had been some thirty years ago, and computing the random pattern in his head, he had a sudden premonition about what was about to change next. He still had the night to work, because the next would only change the next morning. It was time that he looked up Cybele and see what she was doing. And also maybe time to finish what he had not completed a hundred years ago.
* * *
He had been about to get a pint of ale from the really filthy bar when he had first noticed her. She was talking to some toothless and hairless monster of a drunkard for some time, yet her voice, all the pure silk of it had wafted to his ears through the din of the Irish singing (and the Irish were big for singing) and the unholy thunderstorm that raged on the cliffs of County Kiln that night. He had been there because some bunch of Gaelic warlocks had decided that it would be a good idea to send The Book of Shadows into the 10th century
, where some mad alchemist was hoping to discover something like gunpowder. His script couldn’t allow that to happen two hundred years ahead of schedule so he’d had to step in, and make the power hungry buggers forget most of it, and then himself. He looked around now, and saw all of them had joined the rowdy bunch who had drunk themselves into a stupor and were singing some song involving a red haired maiden, her maiden-head and an ash tree, not necessarily in that order. England
She wasn’t like anything that he had seen in those parts, and in those days. Her clothes were exceptionally clean, as was her hair, a rich chocolate colour which flowed all around her and seemed to defy the laws of gravity. Her piercing eyes shone with intelligence such as which he had perhaps only seen in times long ago and definitely in a different section of the globe, as was her skin tone of honey which wasn’t what the common Irish lass known to possess. But the most intriguing part was a golden chain which accentuated her long neck that ended between her breasts in a solid gold pendent, which was distinctly of an eastern make.
As he observed her, he realised that the more drunk the men got on alcohol, the more addicted they were to her voice to the extent that within half an hour they only listened to the cant of her tone, and the look in their eyes said, that this was the end of the road for them. Along with this came the realisation on his part, that the woman practically glowed with an unnatural light, like she was basking in the glorious sun of worship.
That bizarre brain of his made an instant but vague connection to who this woman could possibly be, but refused to confirm the suspicions formed. Also, he was hooked.
At that very moment, she looked right at him, as if there was no cloaking magic making him almost invisible in his dark corner. Their eyes met, and he felt something that felt a lot like shock at the thought that, someone actually was directly looking at him, without his instigation. And that recognition that passed between a pair of piercing tawny eyes and silver ones shrouded in the blackest of shadows, made it all inevitable.
He never asked her who she was, and she didn’t volunteer. Nor did she ask anything of his identity, but by then he was much too swayed by that unexpected connection, that it did not bother him the slightest. It was as if, everything that he was and had been was innately obvious and speaking of it was redundant. And who she was, wasn’t a mystery to him, but he was beyond caring.
The raging fury of their silent passion or love, whatever one chose to call it, only cooled in a week, and when it was time to leave, he had ignored the voice in his head that said, people whom he chose to relieve the stress of a lonely life needed to have their memories wiped. Especially a power hungry ancient Greek goddess. It was too hard to do that to that one person who recognised the elemental part of you. It was much easier to leave when she slept in a cot in a bare room of a mud hut, in the middle of autumn.
So, he had also ignored that straight stare that bore into his back as he walked away, which had the beginnings of fury which would promise to consume all later.
* * *
Her next target would be not be some craftsman painter of the renaissance, but would rather be a more distinguished gentleman painter of the Victorian times. Gustave Caillebot, to be precise.
If anyone could play a more elaborate game of catch me if you can, it was Cybele. It figured, because she had been trained by the best, the Greeks. Now there were a bunch of people who had nothing more to do but to fight amongst themselves and to inbreed, and then if ennui really caught hold of them, they turned to the humans to please their hedonistic and sadistic tendencies. But Caillebot would be a challenge even to her, and it was perhaps because the game was becoming too tiresome, that Cybele had chosen him as a target. Because Gustave Caillebot had never depended on a woman or another particular person to act as inspiration or muse or subject. He has a deeply practical man, practically a man of numbers, who had turned into art by accident and who had had trouble keeping his logical side in check till the end of his days. But he was also a handsome man, and more importantly a rich painter. He had much to offer to a mercenary ex Mycenaean goddess. If Garcia was right, and he was certain he was, she aimed not to change something he had made, but rather to stop him painting all together.
With a flick of a switch inside his head Garcia moved in one moment from 21st century
Paris to the of 1869. France
* * *
If she was trying to achieve some bullying in an earlier time, Cybele would perhaps be forced to resort to a more physically combative technique. But 19th century
required, etiquette and connection in order to get what she wanted. Hence, it would be no use to Garcia to look at the lower class neighbourhoods and slums where she would have disappeared into under the safe cover of anonymity. She hid in plain sight, right under the nose of the one who would be the victim, in a charming town house on Rue de Chateaubriand, assuming the guise of a young worldly widow, very cultured and intensely interested in art and having a special enthusiasm for all upcoming artists. France
Garcia observed her for two days, from under a tree, late at night, from the park across the house. When she left, whom she was with and the other pertinent question which came with surveillance. From the street urchins that peppered the streets he found that people believed that she had a wealthy patron, a good cover for all the wealth accumulated trough the age, he thought.
She had with her a contingent of beefy men in bowler hats, her protectors for hire, mercenaries hired off docks, if he were a betting man. He caught glimpses of her as she left for evening entertainments, balls and soirees, and maybe an occasional bridge games. She shined, like he remembered, complemented by the gloss of the salve on her lips to accentuate what was already luminous, and danglers in her ears and hair, and the silk and velvet of her clothes.
But she had underestimated her adversary. She had made a mistake which all who came from the old world made over and over again. She assumed that he would be limited by the technology of those times. There were other things which were available to him, like magic, and the small advantage to play with the fabric of space and time as he pleased. Men who were essentially dead cows in bowler hats wouldn’t stop him. Then he thought, maybe that was entirely the point. She was trying to lure him.
On the third night, he didn’t wait outside under the tree, he waited indoors, in her study, out of the cold and the smog, and no real chance of detection since his breath didn’t fog there, at least until you walked in and then you’d see him. Made himself comfortable, lit a fire, noticed that the furnishings had no personal touch. It was bought in one piece, almost off a catalogue that sold Victorian libraries. Fireplace: check, large ornate mirror: check, wingback armchairs and large oak desk with requisite table lamps and inkwells: check, heavy drapes of damask to give the room some calm or gloom(the way you look at it): check. He didn’t have to wait for long.
As though summoned by a homing device, he heard her carriage come to a clattering halt in front of the door, and soon he heard her sweeping up the steps. The door swung open on its own, and she glided in like what she was, a woman of infinite power. A wave of her hand, as she took off her kid gloves, closed the door behind her and he heard the latch locking the door.
“Hello, Cybele.” He said from the shadows, drawing a deep lungful of tobacco from his just lit pipe.
“You came.” She said. Her voice still held that silken thrall that captured so many.
“Just like you knew I would.” He inclined his head in polite agreement. “How’ve you been?”
“Not poorly considering the state you had left me in,” She said considering.
“Ah now, come on,” he chuckled, “ Greek tragedy doesn’t do so well with times anymore. And you were pretty satisfied, if I recall correctly, and I nearly perfectly do always.”
“Oh, how would you know what suffering is? How callous, just like the breed you come from, to leave when you please and think nothing of the ones you leave behind.” Yet there were no fire to her words. She was still basking in the satisfaction that he was there.
“Yet you are the one who lures men with that voice and that unearthly body so that in the end they are men no more but mere shadows of themselves, and they are forced to take on the trappings of a woman to feel complete. Because the male part resides in you.”
“One needs to survive.” She shrugged.
“Of course. And belief is essential to all.”
She took a seat opposite to him and they just looked at each other. After an eternity had passed, Garcia’s face moved from placid to one of resolve.
“You cannot keep doing this.” He said, sadly. “And It is partially my fault, I am sorry.” And he raised his hand in a flicker of a motion, but she blocked it, with an equally quick gesture. He had held on to the futile hope that just wiping her memory would do the job, but in his head he had known it would not do this time, she needed to die.
She tore herself away from the chair like it had burnt her, and backed away towards the window.
“Are you attempting to manipulate me? I, who can consume your kind in seconds?! How DARE you?!” and she sent a gigantic force just with a flicker of her wrist. It was blocked but it took down the fire place and the drapes against the bookshelves and the entire wall started burning in an inferno.
She turned around and plunged from the window into the air, and disregarding all the people who might see, flew a hundred feet into the air. Garcia surveyed the damage surrounding him and took after her, his trench coat bellowed in the wind, and his goatee started freezing into icicles.
She threw ice covered balls of fire and dark lightning at him, but those were easy to dodge, until the frequency grew too thick, and then he had to conjure up bonds of enchanted shadows and bound her hands. With one flick of his finger, her ascent stopped and she stood still in mid air.
“Cybele you have to realise that what was appropriate behaviour in
Phrygia is not relevant to any other place or time. Elaborate revenge plans has consequences, which you have to face. You are not all powerful anymore.”
“Oh, I have my followers!” she hissed, “And I will have an army of them, and soon belief will no longer be a concern. Look! It has already started.”
“The numbers you have now cannot save you.”
Her eyes suddenly filled with tears. “But why, Adan? What had I done wrong?”
“Nothing.” He said. “It had been my fault. My weakness for which you must die now.”
“Was it so bad?” she asked quietly. “was us together so bad?”
“It was perfect. There has been nothing like it. That was the problem. I am not supposed to forget myself. You are. It would have been better if I had had the strength to make you forget, instead of walking away, giving into the need of an old man to have one other person know that I exist.”
He closed the distance between them, and said, “ I really wish you had never given in to your Olympian tendencies. Revenge…” he sighed.
She looked into his eyes, and he saw age there as well as tiredness. “Maybe it is better this way.”
He kept quiet and looked back at her. She just laughed a quiet laugh.
“It gets tiring you know. And maybe I just wanted my end to be memorable. And to the only man, who didn’t turn into a woman at the sound of my voice.”
He smiled back. “In a normal world, we’d probably have to get married.”
She laughed, tears streaming down her face, “ I know. Wouldn’t that be a tragedy, now?”
He took her into his arms, and she whispered in his ears, “Go on now.”
He tightened his hold, and hit the kill button in his head, and she combusted into a ball of light, lightning bright. And men and women down below on the streets thought that a star was born.