Mo, historical overlay: Sala del Maggior Consiglio.
It took her a few moments, but layer by layer reality gave way to the ghost. Thick gold moldings grew out of the smooth surface, became the ornate frames for enormous paintings covering the entire ceiling and all four walls. The lower portions of the walls displayed wood paneling and benches, their colors and lines rich with age. Where the wall joined the ceiling was a series of smaller, molding-framed portraits, the doges.
“He was right there. Hic fuit locus ser Marini Faletri decapitati pro crimine proditionis. In this place would have been Marin Falier, decapitated for the crime of treason,” a voice behind me murmured.
I jumped, spun around. Jürgen Phan Mai caught my arm. I grabbed his other sleeve before I fell into him. We stayed locked like that for an eternal second. The solidity of him shocked me. Why, I’m not sure. Maybe because he didn’t look quite real. The lines of his face looked painted—by the thick brush of a Japanese master. His eyes held an almost cruel mirth. I stepped quickly back.
Unfazed, he handed me a flute of pomegranate seeds floating in champagne.
“Think if they could see what you are seeing. The intoxicating juxtaposition between past and present. Think if they could absorb the stories we come from into their psyches as easily as if they had lived them themselves—the fairies, the witches, the ghosts, the devils, the traitorous doges. Are you running from me…Alyse?”
I gripped the champagne glass with both hands and caught myself before I took a third step back. My tripping heart held me silent.
He nodded toward my glass. “You should drink that. When the ice melts, only magic will draw those pomegranate seeds out.”
Obediently, I raised the glass to my lips. The tingle of champagne filled my mouth, the icy seeds slid over my tongue. I bit down. The tiny jewels burst in an explosion of tart sweetness. The mixture slid down my throat, warming me, opening me. Suddenly, I felt terrifyingly vulnerable standing there before him. The look in his deep eyes said he knew it, enjoyed it.
I found my voice.
“Thank you for the champagne, Mr. Mayor.”
I raised my glass in salute, then turned, and fled.
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