Standing at one of the upper windows of Peccable’s house, watching the fires that raged in every direction, Jude shuddered, and looking down at her hands saw them glistening, wet with blood. The vision lasted only the briefest time, but she had no doubt of what she’d seen, nor what it signified. Quaisoir had committed the crime she’d been plotting.
“It’s quite a sight, isn’t it?” she heard Dowd say, and turned to look at him, momentarily disoriented. Had he seen the blood too? No, no. He was talking about the fires.
“Yes, it is,” she said.
He came to join her at the glass, which rattled with each fusillade. “The Peccables are almost ready to leave. I suggest we do the same. I’m feeling much renewed.” He had indeed healed with astonishing speed. The wounds on his face were barely visible now.
“Where will we go?” she said.
“Around the other side of the city,” he said. “To where I first trod the boards. According to Peccable the theater is still standing. The Ipse, it’s called. Built by Pluthero Quexos himself. I’d like to see it again.”
“You want to be a tourist on a night like this?”
“The theater may not be standing tomorrow. In fact, the whole of Yzordderrex could be in ruins by daybreak. I thought you were the one who was so hungry to see it.”
“If it’s a sentimental visit,” she said, “maybe you should go alone.”
“Why, have you got some other agenda?” he asked her. “You have, haven’t you?”
“How could I have?” she protested lightly. “I’ve never set foot here before.”
He studied her, his face all suspicion. “But you always wanted to come here, didn’t you? Right from the start. Godolphin used to wonder where you got the obsession from. Now I’m wondering the same.” He followed her gaze through the window. “What’s out there, Judith?”
“You can see for yourself,” she replied. “We’ll probably get killed before we reach the top of the street.”
“No,” he said. “Not us. We’re blessed.”
“We’re the same, remember? Perfect partners.”
“I remember,” she replied.
“Ten minutes, then we’ll go.”
“I’ll be ready.”
She heard the door close behind her, then looked down at her hands again. All trace of the vision had faded. She glanced back towards the door, to be certain that Dowd had gone, then put her hands to the glass and closed her eyes. She had ten minutes to find the woman who shared her face, ten minutes before she and Dowd were out in the tumult of the streets and all hope of contact would be dashed.
“Quaisoir,” she murmured.
She felt the glass vibrate against her palms and heard the din of the dying across the roofs. She said her double’s name a second time, turning her thoughts to the towers that would have been visible from this very window if the air between hadn’t been so thick with smoke. The image of that smoke filled her head, though she hadn’t consciously conjured it, and she felt her thoughts rise in its clouds, wafted on the heat of destruction.
It was difficult for Quaisoir to find something discreet to wear among garments she had acquired for their immodesty, but by tearing all the decoration from one of her simpler robes she had achieved something like seemliness. Now she left her chambers and prepared for her final journey through the palace. She had already plotted her route once she was out of the gates: back down to the harbor, where she’d first seen the Man of Sorrows, standing on the roof. If He wasn’t there, she would find somebody who knew His whereabouts. He hadn’t come into Yzordderrex simply to disappear again. He would leave trails for His acolytes to follow, and trials, no doubt, for them to endure, proving in their endurance how much they desired to come into His presence. But first, she had to get out of the palace, and to do so she took corridors and stairways that had not been used in decades, familiar only to her, the Autarch, and the masons who’d laid these cold stones, cold themselves now. Only Maestros and their mistresses preserved their youth, and doing so was no longer the bliss it had been. She would have liked the years to show on her face when she knelt before the Nazarene, so that He would know that she’d suffered, and that she deserved His forgiveness. But she would have to trust that He would see through the veil of her perfection to the pain beneath.