Virgil walked behind Arsene as they navigated a narrow set of stairs deep in the bowels of Jardin. Arsene had Robin slung over their shoulders, who had passed out seconds after returning from the veil.
Virgil wasn’t entirely sure how she and Arsene were still inside of Jardin. The building took up a corner of a dockside block on the Strip and was only three stories tall, but Virgil felt like she and Arsene had walked enough corridors to be Downtown by now and that was without wondering how exactly these stairs seemed to still be going up.
Virgil was pretty sure she saw a door and lights off in the distance. Virgil couldn’t figure out what were the color of the lights that were peeking out of the cracks of the unreachable portal. The lights always seemed to change just when Virgil thought she caught a glint of red or purple or orange.
Virgil hadn’t had a clear idea of where exactly she planned on taking Robin after she broke Todd’s wrist, but Virgil wanted to be well clear of the Strip before cops showed up. Arsene had assured her the pigs wouldn’t be a problem.
“Don’t you worry your head, little ghost. You and your friend are in no danger here.” Virgil could not place Arsene’s accent although she was fairly certain it wasn’t French or Laotian.
Arsene had walked towards Robin and Virgil slowly and with their hands up and then picked Robin up like she was a sleeping kitten and gently laid her over their shoulders. Arsene was still in their mod girl outfit. Arsene’s face was lined and their hair was starting to gray, but their tan, muscular shoulders carried Robin without noticeable burden.
Arsene didn’t even wrinkle their dress.
Vol. 1: Overture
By Dawn Saas and Nic Frankenberry
Powered by the Apocalypse and the work of D. Vincent Baker
as well as
Urban Shadows by Andrew Medeiros and Mark Diaz Truman
Microscope by Ben Robbins
Content Warning: Depictions of violent injuries.
“Robin was here to see me. I saw the state she was in the moment she arrived. I was coming down to greet her myself. It was a good thing you found her first, all things considered.”
Virgil had been able to hear a low roar inside of the dance floor. The music still hadn’t returned. There were screams and confusion.
“Jardin is a violence-free institution. We celebrate pleasure and not pain although if you’re here on Tuesdays, I suppose you can find a little bit of both. Now that…”
Arsene gestured towards the club and the discordant buzz inside the disco stopped and a minute later, dance music returned.
“The divise have ways to keep our secrets, spirit, but we won’t be able to contain that incident completely. Now, Rosie, I understand you have some experience cleaning up after your own messes.”
Virgil was tapping her feet on the floor and was trying to decide if she could take Robin back from this strange person standing in front of her. Virgil’s footsteps were echoing off of the linoleum and through the otherwise barren service corridor. She opened her mouth to speak and then heard her foot tapping. Virgil closed her eyes and concentrated. She started tapping her feet again. There was no echo. She could no longer feel her body but she knew Arsene could still see her.
“You can speak. I’d made a small wager with Severin that you could.”
“What do you want with Robin?”
“That is a conversation for a more private location.”
Arsene studied Virgil and then walked up to her and ran their free hand through her body.
“That’s a neat trick. You’ll have to teach it to me someday. I have some talent for magicks.”
Arsene started dancing lithely with Robin hanging limply over their shoulders. Their hips gyrated and their free arm swayed. Robin seemed to almost be dancing as well. The music was no longer just coming through the walls from the disco. It was piping into the service corridor, but Virgil couldn’t see any speakers.
“I would be most grateful if you followed me to my office, Virgil. I believe we can be of use to each other. I’ve already helped you once tonight, yes? You wouldn’t want to be rude.”
Virgil had followed quietly. She and Arsene had walked and twisted themselves down a dozen hallways for half an hour before they found the stairs and they climbed for another half an hour. The stairs never turned or twisted. They simply went straight up.
Virgil wondered if she was being glamoured. Arsene had called himself divise, but Virgil knew that was just a fancy word for Fae.
As Virgil and Arsene finally neared the top of the stairs, Virgil heard Arsene singing. It was the same melody she had heard Robin singing on the dance floor although the melody wasn’t burrowing into Virgil’s spirit the way it had when Robin sang.
“What is that?”
“You Americans. You have no time for the beauty of language. It means ‘The Orchid.'”
Before Virgil could mention her new familiarity with the tune, she and Arsene were at the top of the stairs. Virgil looked down and behind her and saw a normal, two story flight of stairs leading to the service corridor. Arsene turned and saw Virgil’s fists clenching.
“My my, little ghost. You have quite the temper don’t you. If we can come to a reasonable agreement, you have my solemn vow that I won’t get inside your head again.”
Arsene opened their office door and ushered Virgil inside.
Virgil would have felt nauseous the second she entered the office if she’d had a stomach, and she wasn’t sure if her unease was because of the hallucinatory light show happening on the office’s bare walls or if she was on edge because of who was already inside of Arsene’s office.
Arsene’s office was large and mostly empty. Virgil reckoned it took up most of the third floor of Jardin. There was a couch against the wall perpendicular from the stair well and there was a small, sparse desk with two chairs in front of it at the opposite end of the room. Behind the desk, there was an entire wall of computer screens with live video piping in of different angles of the club.
None of the angles seemed to make any sense for security purposes. They weren’t wide, encompassing shots of the dance floor. Just tight zooms of areas of the club where particularly amorous groupings of lovers/dancers were reveling in their passions. Virgil knew she wasn’t the only person with voyeuristic tendencies in the city, but she had to give Arsene credit for building their own private sex club and viewing area.
The office was suffused in more radiant color than the dance floor, but unlike the disco, there wasn’t a single visible light source in the room. The colors on the walls were shifting and melting and rotating rapidly. Virgil wasn’t sure how a normal person would be able to stand up without thinking the walls were sliding out from underneath of them or that the room itself wasn’t starting to rotate and warp.
Virgil’s central nervous system and brain stem and optic nerves were all just memories, and while they could withstand some of the kaleidoscopic display happening in Arsene’s office, it was the black man with the cane and sunglasses leaning against Arsene’s oak desk that stopped Virgil short.
The man who Virgil knew was named Elijah was staring as intently at Virgil as she was at him. His hand rested on the golden handle of his cane, and Virgil noticed that he seemed to be turning the handle as he weighed a decision.
As Virgil and Elijah stared each other down, Arsene simply walked through Virgil and laid Robin’s still unconscious body down on his couch. She immediately curled up and started snoring. Arsene turned back towards the two upright figures in their office and looked back and forth between them with a look of amused shock.
“Don’t tell me you two know each other as well?”
“We’ve met,” Virgil was regretting almost every decision she’d made that evening.
“Oh, that’s right. You’re the one that got away.” Elijah was smiling, and Virgil was trying to decide if the smile was predatory or sincere.
Arsene looked between the two of them one more time. Elijah had seemingly calmed down, and he had loosened the grip on his cane. Like Virgil, Elijah looked like he was in his early 20s, but Virgil had seen Elijah at Jardin since the mid 1990s looking no different and she wondered if he was Fae as well.
Virgil’s tense posture had not relaxed in the slightest.
“Will someone please tell me what’s going on?”
Arsene frowned and then sat on the arm of the couch next to Robin and started to brush her hair out of her sleeping face.
“Our mutual friend has ingested a very powerful hallucinogenic drug.”
“No shit. What do fairies have to do with any of this?”
Arsene laughed and Virgil’s eyes were full of hate.
“We don’t like that word, Virgil. It gives the wrong impression.”
“I don’t care what impression it gives. I want to know what is wrong with Robin.”
“I used to be immortal once, too, Virgil. Eternity is much more bearable with some patience.
You shattered a man’s wrist on my dance floor, ghost. That man distributes certain goods that no human should have access to. We’ve been keeping our eyes on this Todd Lawrence for years. We want to know who his supplier is, but we haven’t been able to track down his source.
We have a proposition for you. We know about your unique skill sets. We want you to follow Todd Lawrence for the next 24 hours and report on all of his movements and meetings.”
Arsene gestured at the wall of camera footage and one of the larger monitors switched to a close-circuit feed of one of the service corridors. Robin’s first instinct — if she weren’t passed out from exhaustion from heavy drug use and interplanar travel — would have been to say that the camera was attached to a dolly and was slowly moving down the corridor. Todd was being dragged under his arms by two muscular Jardin bouncers in rose business suits and rose pants. He was kicking and flailing, but their grip was firm. Todd’s broken wrist hang loosely at his side, and every time he bumped against one of his captors or a wall, he screamed in pain.
“In exchange, I will personally assure that Robin gets home safely and that she’s kept under tight surveillance. This would be another of my most solemn vows.
Robin is quite precious to very many, and now that you’ve ensured she reached us safely, we must be certain she doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.”
“I swear everything will be explained in time, but any further information requires a commitment from you.”
Virgil watched the security footage and she saw the pathetic grimace written into Todd’s face. She remembered the casual disdain he’d had when he first looked at her. She remembered how violently he had grabbed Robin’s arm. Virgil remembered how good it felt to hurt him.
The camera angle changed to an outside service door of Jardin. The double doors flew open, and the Jardin bouncers threw Todd out on his ass into the alleyway.
Virgil had disappeared the second the door opened on the camera and started to head out of Arsene’s office when she realized…
“Where do we meet?” Virgil’s voice seemed to come from nowhere.
“Here. Twenty four hours. Remember, Virgil, I take promises given as seriously as I take promises made.”