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His Faded Idol

2.

"Klotild was trying to outlive the old bat," Zoltan said, steering the Divine Sarah skillfully -- and less harrowingly than before -- through rush hour traffic the next day. "I think she very nearly managed. But Griselda hung on like grim death, and she will be the Grand Matriarch if she can live out the week's speeches, parties, and rituals."

"Is she very old then?" Erzsebet said, staring out the window at the bright afternoon through her very dark glasses. She felt a little queasy; whether it was from the drive or the daylight or the city, she couldn't say.

"Klotild was very nearly a thousand," Zoltan said, making a turn onto a broad parkway. "Griselda is a tottery 800-and-some-change."

"Who is next in line after her, then?" Erzsebet said. "After all, if she is as weak as all that, she isn't likely to live much longer."

"We do go down quickly once age sets in, do we not?" Zoltan said. "We should be so lucky. Griselda is a vicious woman, and no matter how feeble she may appear, I believe in the endurance of meanness. She may see you and I in our graves, and will, I'm sure, find a way to put some relative of hers in as her successor."

Erzsebet was distracted by the plethora of signage for the Wonder City Convention Center. "Are we... going to the convention center?"

"Indeed," Zoltan said, sounding amused. "We do not have any useful castles here. Most of the best are either in New England or California."

"It seems... undignified," she said, swallowing the words "crass" and "vulgar" as words that would make him laugh at her.

"There are about 500 families in North America, Central America, and the Caribbean," Zoltan said. "Each must send at least one representative; most are sending three to five. Each representative is accompanied by three to five companions. So our local representatives alone will add up to something close to 10,000 people. Add in worldwide representatives such as yourself, and we are brushing 15,000. Add in the substantial population of undead of Wonder City past and present..."

"I cannot believe that..."

"We admit vermin to the sacred funeral of the Grand Matriarch?" Zoltan said in a bored tone of voice. "Yes, yes, I am certain it will outrage many people in much the way it does you. But Klotild was more than just our Grand Matriarch; she was a major voice of wisdom among the Mystikai, and a popular one. More than just the undead will come. There will be sorcerers and witches, ghosts and prophets, elves and aliens and werewolves."

The Wonder City Convention Center was a large, round edifice with Art Deco towers at intervals around it. The towers were draped in black. Flagpoles flew black strips of fabric. The guards at the gate wore black armbands.

The Divine Sarah was waved through the gate to a reserved parking spot in the front row. Erzsebet gave Zoltan a sideways glance at this, but his face was perfectly serene.

He handed her out of the van, impeccable in his dark blue greatcoat, his sleek black tailcoat and trousers, and his white tie, waistcoat, and gloves. His top hat was, however, set at a rakish angle. She thought she looked very well herself in the floor-length strapless black sheath dress her mother had given her for her college graduation. Zoltan politely helped her arrange her dark purple raw silk wrap and offered his arm.

As soon as they passed into the building, she could tell that practically everyone attending was emotionally and psionically locked down, as if waiting for attack at any moment.

Zoltan glided through the black-uniformed security guards with smiles and nods. The men and women stood casually, thumbs hooked in their thick leather belts, dark glasses obscuring the view of their eyes. Erszebet could see no weapons on their belts, and murmured as much to Zoltan when she thought they might be out of earshot.

His smile brightened. "Yes, indeed. I believe I mentioned werewolves earlier."

Her eyes grew wide before she could get control of her expression. He patted her hand kindly. "Not to be confused, I note, with the wolf-human hybrids that also live here, who are not mystical at all."

"Such a strange place," she said under her breath.

"You get used to it," he said. "Come, we will look in on the old girl, shall we?"

They slid in a side door to the room that contained the Grand Matriarch's body. The perfume of thousands of flowers nearly choked Erszebet as they entered.

A statuesque woman in what Erszebet guessed to be her 500s, judging from the faint tracery of age lines in her face, approached them. She was dressed in a silver gown covered in black lace and she embraced Zoltan warmly. "Oh, my brother, I am glad you have come," she said earnestly.

"What has happened to make you take on so, Magdolna my dear?" he said, kissing her on both cheeks. "Wait, before you tell me, this is my cousin, Erszebet Farkas. She represents our family."

The name was Erszebet's cue -- Magdolna was the eldest daughter of the Grand Matriarch's Household. Not the eldest of all her daughters, of course -- those had long since established their own Household -- but now the head of the Wonder City Household. Erszebet bowed deeply.

"Ah, my dear," Magdolna said, taking her hand and smiling kindly upon her, "a cousin of my brother Zoltan is as my own cousin here. Welcome to Wonder City."

"Thank you, my lady," Erszebet said, flustered by this great woman welcoming her so warmly.

"Now, my dear, you will tell me your trouble?" Zoltan said, offering them each an arm and steering them toward the dais at the front of the great room.

"Mother is, of course, stubborn in death as she was in life," Magdolna said. "She scowled all through the preparation of the body, and she scowls yet. You could always make her smile in life, brother..."

Zoltan saluted her jauntily. "I will see what my silvered words can do today."

Erszebet and Magdolna followed him a little way toward the dais, just far enough for Erszebet to see the terrible, forbidding frown that twisted the Grand Matriarch's face as she lay in her casket. She couldn't stop herself from asking, "Was she in great pain?"

Magdolna glanced at her with some surprise. "Oh, no. She went as silently and easily as anyone could ask for." She looked at Zoltan's well-tailored back as he bent over the coffin. "She was just... opinionated. I do not think she cares for all this ceremony."

They watched Zoltan for a few more moments, and then he turned to them with a sunny smile. "I think she will cooperate now," he said, and Erszebet saw him give the Grand Matriarch's wizened hand a gentle, but lingering, squeeze.

The Grand Matriarch's face was composed in serene splendor, benificent as a saint. Magdolna exclaimed delightedly and hugged Zoltan before hurrying off to find her sisters.

Erszebet stared at him. "Are you a wizard, then?"

Zoltan looked very tired, and gave her a crooked smile. "No. The preservation spells were cast on her body immediately after her death. It means, for us, that the brain is still able to do a few things if suitably stimulated. I played her vanity here, whispered of her hatred of Griselda there, and voila, we have a Grand Matriarch who looks like a goddess."

The door opened behind her and his shoulders went back, his smile back to full wattage. As Zoltan moved off to greet the person coming in, Erszebet realized she'd just been reaching for his hand, or his shoulder, or something. He had looked so very sad, for just a moment.

---

Author's Note:

Are folks liking Erszebet?









Date: 2012-03-21 12:06 am (UTC)
the_rck: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_rck
I like Erszebet. She's giving me an interesting angle on events.

Thanks for writing!

Date: 2012-03-21 07:57 am (UTC)
finch: (Default)
From: [personal profile] finch
I like Erzsebet! An outsider's POV on Wonder City is a good reminder for me as a reader, since I've had an "in" there for a while now.

Date: 2012-05-10 03:22 pm (UTC)
the_leaky_pen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_leaky_pen
Agreeing that it's interesting to get a newcomer's perspective on all this! Not just a newcomer, but a foreign newcomer, to boot.

And I am still super excited to continue finding out more about vampires in Wonder City.

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