wonder_city: (Default)
[personal profile] wonder_city
His Faded Idol

9.

No one who wasn't Family was permitted in the auditorium, and none of the men were permitted either. In fact, the men had all been sent to the far end of the convention center for their own reception, and the werewolf guards were clearing the hallways close to this room. Erszebet could only imagine this was a relief to Zoltan, who had been master of ceremonies for days now.

Erszebet had an admirable view of the entire gathering from her generation's position in what Zoltan called the "nosebleed" seats. She could look down on Klotild's coffin on the central dais, and what she knew would probably be the largest crowd of Ancients she would ever see, milling around the coffin. She judged there to be at least fifty women in the Circle of the Ancients -- women who had seen their seventh century or beyond. She picked out Griselda, seated in a chair near the coffin, her white hair arranged in a coronet around her head, the sequins on her black dress flashing in the stage lights.

La Doña Consuela was easy to pick out as well -- she took up a lot of space, both physically and energetically, and she moved like lightning, speaking to first one woman, then another, working her way through the crowd until she alighted at Griselda's side. Griselda looked up at her, then looked away, despite the fact that Consuela was talking to her rather urgently. After a few moments, Consuela gave a rather theatrical shrug and turned away from the Cotyngham to speak to Klotild's eldest daughter, Terez, who was herself in her mid-700s and had traveled all the way from Kiev to be here.

Erszebet felt someone arrive at her side radiating friendly-acquaintance feelings, so she looked up. Isolde was there, smiling down at her. Erszebet scrambled to her feet. "Madame Isolde," she began.

"No titles," Isolde said, hiking her black velvet shrug higher on her shoulders, her strapless black dress sheathing her like paint. "We're in the same generation, after all." She gestured around at their fellow youth.

Erszebet frowned, confused by the evidence of Isolde's lack of centuries and the further evidence of her mastery of her emotional facade. "Surely you're a good deal older than I," she said slowly.

Isolde shrugged. "I'm a few decades shy of graduation down to the floor."

Which meant she had lived less than two hundred years. Erszebet stared at her with new respect. "I... wanted to apologize for being so rude the other day," she said.

Isolde waved a hand. "Don't worry about it. I'm used to it. And you learned something, hey?"

Erszebet winced internally at the thought of what came with "I'm used to it". She turned her embarrassed attention back to the floor. "Is... is there someone from your family in the center circle?"

"Oh, ya," Isolde said. "Over there, at, oh, eight o' clock from the coffin. My grandmother, Dame Geneviève de León."

Erszebet peered at the indicated knot of old women, and identified a woman with medium-brown skin and iron gray hair pulled into myriad tight braids that were gathered together by a silver band somewhere near her shoulderblades. Dame Geneviève had a broad, hooked nose, sharp dark eyes, and an altogether formidable mien. Erszebet suspected that she would find all the women of Isolde's family to be uncommonly accomplished in battening their emotional hatches.

Isolde emitted amusement at Erszebet's reaction. "Many people feel that way about Grandmère. But really, she's in her element down there. Don't you think all of them are pretty terrifying?"

Erszebet studied the faces she could see, and nodded slowly. She shifted her attention to the next ring out, which was much more numerous. "Is your mother in the second circle?"

Isolde laughed a little. "Actually, my mother is in the third circle. She's Grandmère's youngest daughter, and I'm her eldest."

Erszebet was prevented from answering by the arrival of Jeanne-Marie. "Ah, Erszebet, I was wondering where you were hiding!" the Quebecoise said.

Politely, Erszebet said, "Jeanne-Marie St. Michel, Isolde de León."

"Charmed," Jeanne-Marie said, extending a hand.

"Likewise," Isolde said, shaking the proffered hand.

"Have either of you seen Alicia?" Jeanne-Marie said.

"Figueroa?" Isolde said, and when both Jeanne-Marie and Erszebet nodded, she said, "She's on the other side of the auditorium with her sisters."

"Ah, that girl," Jeanne-Marie said. "Well, I have found the two of you, and I will linger if you don't mind."

Isolde shrugged and Erszebet smiled at Jeanne-Marie. All were forestalled from further conversation by a wave of silencing emotion spreading out from the Circle of the Ancients. They obediently turned their faces toward the dais.

Terez Lakatos, who had apparently inherited her mother's tendency toward excellent preservation, stood tall and severe beside the coffin, her perfectly black hair sleeked back into a severe bun at the base of her skull, her long-sleeved, high-necked black dress highlighted only by the most remarkable collar of diamonds and emeralds that Erszebet had ever seen. She said, in Hungarian, "We begin!"

The other Ancients all repeated this in their respective languages, and four old women, including Consuela Zalazar, walked to the border between the inner and second circles, where younger Lakatos women, including Magdolna, handed over a large golden sarcophagus. The old women handled it like it was made of feathers, but Erszebet could see the massive weight of the thing in the way it moved.

Terez leaned down and kissed her mother's still-serene face, then closed the coffin lid. Geneviève de León and the bird-like, white-haired woman Jeanne-Marie had pointed out as her own grandmother lifted the coffin so the sarcophagus could be slid under it, then lowered it into the waiting gold container. They shut the outer lid -- shaped in the likeness of Klotild -- and snapped the fastenings shut with clicks that echoed throughout the auditorium.

Erszebet noticed that throughout, Griselda did not rise or move. She just appeared to stare at the coffin.

The Ancients circled the sarcophagus, carefully not touching each other, but standing as close as they could to the device. Erszebet saw the second circle surge forward eagerly, and even the third circle shifted closer. Her own generation mostly craned their necks for the best view.

A hum began in the inner circle, spread to the second and third circles, and eventually, Erszebet found herself joining her voice to the mass.

The hum grew to a roar, with notes reaching into registers that no human could hear. Erszebet could feel the metal rail of the balcony reverberating with the sound. The air was thick with energy, so much so that Erszebet could barely see the inner circle.

Just as the sound became unbearable, Terez pressed her hands to the sarcophagus lid and all the energy in the room converged on the metal, draining out of the air in a visible rush of heat. Terez snatched her hands back from the surface and fell back into her place in the circle.

Isolde leaned over and whispered in Erszebet's ear, "Do you think they'll do it?"

Erszebet breathed, "Let Griselda have it? I don't know."

As Klotild's millennial physical form incinerated within the sarcophagus, Erszebet squinted to see the first of the magical particles her sister Ilona had told her about emerging. Anyone as old as Klotild must have accumulated and refined a vast quantity of magic into the cells of her body. The burning of the body released these particles (which were also energy waves, Ilona had said, and Erszebet did not pretend to understand). Tradition, Aunt Csilla had told her, was that the expected successor would be allowed to absorb the majority of the magic released.

Erszebet saw the colorless wave of nothing emerge from the reddened metal, and she saw Griselda raise a hand toward it.

Then Consuela Zalazar raised her hand.

And Geneviève de León.

And Margot St. Michel.

A gasp ran around the balcony.

In a matter of seconds, the only woman in the Circle of Ancients who was visibly relinquishing a claim on the magic from Klotild's incineration was Terez Lakatos. She even took a step back from the circle.

Shreds of magical plasma spilled over into the second circle, where women pounced on it without moving a muscle. The third circle stood ready, but unhopefully, watching the Ancients.

Griselda rose from her chair.

The duel was silent, with almost no spillover of magic beyond the second circle. Magic moved back and forth with an emotional force that rocked every woman present physically with the pushes and pulls. The air heated as if they were all incinerating with Klotild. Erszebet found herself holding onto Isolde and Jeanne-Marie tightly. The whole room felt like it was going to explode at any second.

Ancients dropped out of the duel one by one. One old woman staggered back, hand to her head, and Terez hurried to steady her. Others simply dropped their hands when the cloud slipped from their grasp.

Finally, Griselda was facing only Geneviève de León and Consuela Zalazar.

There was a long, tense glaring match, during which time the temperature in the huge room rose at least ten degrees. Geneviève turned her outstretched hand toward herself and clenched it into a fist. Griselda and Consuela matched this motion.

Erszebet felt sweat trickling down her spine.

The magic tore apart audibly into three portions that were roughly equal, with a fountain of spillage bouncing out over the center circle into the Second Circle, and even spraying into the Third. The last of the cloud of magic blew apart in a flare of something beyond visible light. Griselda sat down in her chair hard. Geneviève swayed a little. Consuela delicately dabbed her upper lip with a lace handkerchief.

"What did that mean?" Erszebet whispered.

Isolde mopped her damp brow with a corner of her shrug. "That," she said grimly, "was a vote of no-confidence."

---

Author's Note:

Ancients shouldn't mess with other Ancients. It cooks everyone around them.








Date: 2012-05-07 02:02 pm (UTC)
the_rck: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_rck
Oh, wow. I wasn't expecting that. Now I want to know what comes next!

Thanks for writing!

Date: 2012-05-07 06:41 pm (UTC)
heavenscalyx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heavenscalyx
Oh, good, I'm glad it was a surprise!

Thank you!

Date: 2012-05-07 07:14 pm (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
I was also surprised, altho maybe I shouldn't have been - your characters never just follow convention!

Date: 2012-05-07 06:08 pm (UTC)
akycha: (Default)
From: [personal profile] akycha
I love Isolde's understatement of the year, there.

Date: 2012-05-07 06:41 pm (UTC)
heavenscalyx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heavenscalyx
Isolde, in general, is a mistress of understatement.

Date: 2012-05-07 07:13 pm (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
FLAT OUT AWESOME

That was sorta like the magical duels with Granny Weatherwax in Pratchett, only better. And with VAMPIRES.

Date: 2012-05-07 07:19 pm (UTC)
heavenscalyx: (Default)
From: [personal profile] heavenscalyx
I can't ask for better than a comparison to Pratchett's witches. Thank you!

Date: 2012-05-10 04:18 pm (UTC)
the_leaky_pen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_leaky_pen
High praise indeed, and worth it.

Date: 2012-05-10 04:19 pm (UTC)
the_leaky_pen: (Default)
From: [personal profile] the_leaky_pen
The plot thickens! I wonder how vampires deal with a magic split like that...

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