+~The Hollowest Smile~+

It was an almost starless night; the only light filtering upon the landscape came from a bloodless crescent moon, which sliced into the darkness like a lustery scimitar. The air was still and dead, every sound seeming to be absorbed by the very ground. The blades of grass along the roadside ceased to move; even the creatures of the night were silent, as if a giant black marble tomb shrouded the entire valley.

Percy Blakeney was alone; except for a shining pistol that was holstered at his side. The firearm rattled quietly with each broad step he took, and occasionally the butt of the pistol would catch a sliver of the moonlight and would force the piercing light back into his eyes as if to remind him of its existence.

Why had he brought a gun? He was alone, and the troops about the countryside had been increased triple fold. He never truly believed in the hollow protection of a firearm, but one glance at the stillness of the night had convinced him otherwise.

A soft sound drifted to his ears; it sounded like the echo of his own footsteps resounding faintly in the distance. He had been walking for three hours straight. His clever mind would not remain idle, and it ceaselessly worked away, his nerves sharpened against the stillness, every sense magnified by his racing mind. No enemy lurked in the shadows, but in his mind’s eye he saw the glimmer of their brass uniform buttons glaring into the darkness like golden vicious eyes.

The sound again drifted to him, wrapping around him like a blearing black cloak. Something daunting existed outside his thoughts as well.

It was a faint, delicate sound, perhaps the breeze ruffling the grass into gray-green ripples; and he imagined the gentle rustle of his wife’s skirts upon the stairs as she descended from her boudoir, the sunlight slanting into the house like golden pillars....

There it was again, louder, distinct, like the even tread of footsteps.....now the pace quickened like a mad grandfather clock, erratically, frantically.

Percy turned on his heel, the gravel crunching underneath the cold heels of his shoes. It was running towards him; a spirit, a phantom, brandishing its rapier above its head to make the kill--

His hand twitched at his side and he grabbed the gun and fired from his hip.

The shot ripped through the stillness like a giant bow tearing from a tree. A bird cried into the darkness with one plaintive yelp. Something thudded to the ground like a sack of feathers falling out of a window. The final echoes of the bird and gunshot drifted and melded into each other, washing over the landscape, fading into the breath of the sudden breeze which eerily began to stir the waves of grass.

The gun still held in position, Percy began to stride along the road in heavy, crunching steps. It was not long before his legs broke into a run and he dashed along the road, the moonlight glinting off the butt of the pistol in erratic shimmers.

His foot caught something lying upon the ground, and suddenly the dark road rose up to meet him, the gravel forcing itself into his eyes. The gun had escaped from his grip and landed with a harsh clatter along the edge of the road, a sliver of moonlight slicing across its curved, feminine shape--

And then he saw what it was:

Something thin and pale was lying upon the road, silver and whitish in the moonlight. It was an arm, fingers curled delicately, pointing to the heavens like tiny birch saplings.

His eyes followed the long shape to its owner, noting a blue dress stained silver by the shimmering, pale moon.

A woman.

Percy scrambled to his feet, stepping carefully about the fallen shape as if a sudden movement would cause her to dissolve into nothingness and join the moonlight that lurked about the cool air and mixed with the smell of spilled blood.

He crouched over her delicate shape, examining the face in the dim light. He shifted around her, hovering over her like a wounded hawk so as not to block the light, and then the moon exploded from behind a bank of clouds, casting a waning light upon her angelic shape--

Her bloodless face was exquisitely beautiful, almost familiar. Her sculpted jaw-line blended into a thin, dainty neck. Her delicate shoulders were half-turned away from him, but his eyes caught something glittering faintly between the sloping lines of her collarbone. Percy bent closer, and could see a blush of color upon the whiteness of her skin. A necklace bearing a spray of rubies encircled her neck like a noose, and he reached out his trembling fingers towards them, almost expecting the glowing jewels to be rife with subtle fire. His fingers graced the necklace, and he reached behind the nape of her neck, tangling his hands in the silk waves of hair, and unclasped it. The warmth still hovered over her body, as if her spirit was trapped between this unforgiving world and the perfection beyond.

Percy glanced down to her again, noting the nakedness of her neck and shoulders, and then looked to the necklace in his hands, the jewels spilling about his fingers. The rubies had been set to resemble a star-like shape. Aching warmth sprang to his fingertips as he clutched the glaring jewels, his mind flickering with trembling thoughts. Suddenly he thrust it away from him into the unforgiving darkness, his fingers letting go of the necklace. It fell upon the bodice of her blue dress with a tiny glittering sound.

Percy stared at the crumpled object, fighting back images that longed to thrust themselves into his weary memory. His eyes flitted from the spiritless rubies to the gentle face of the woman. Her eyes were frozen open, staring lifelessly upwards at the starry expanse that stretched above them infinitely. A fleeting passion lingered in the blueness of her eyes, staring through him vehemently, and he reached his hand over her face, the warmth of her cheek caressing him, and drew his fingers down over the eyes, shutting them from their ceaseless stare. He looked up to the slice of moon, his breath rising, almost attacking him. The breeze was silent, his breaths grating against the stillness in ragged gasps. One by one distant visions poured into his memory like vibrant watercolor paintings, then blurred as if dipped in water as he looked upon the fallen shape.

It was Marguerite.

His sight failed him as the strength drained from his legs like a candle melting away and he caught one last image of the spray of rubies shining horribly in the silver light, and then he tried to ignore the sharp thud the ground issued him as it rose up to strike his weary body.

* * *

When the troops finally found him, they thought he was half-dead.

He woke to their clamping footsteps and immediately he began to search the darkness with his hands, scraping along the gravel, hoping the pistol would manifest itself in the darkness. He could not find the gun; his only hope was that the soldiers would be merciful and raise their rifles to his forehead, but they only dragged him down the road, and only then did he catch a final glimpse of the evil pistol, smiling up at him with its crescent of pale moonlight.

They brought him to a cell with a small window that let in the pervasive darkness, and he sat, barely propping himself upright, the cold of the stone wall seeping into his back.

Voices drifted in through the cell door, dim and blurry, as if his world had been submerged underwater.

“The woman?” A biting voice spoke quietly with an edge of forced mildness.

“Dead, sir.” A yielding voice replied, and the words seemed to drift about the air like a tuft of dandelion.

“Has he said anything to you?” The harsh voice spoke in keen syllables.

“Not a word, Citoyen.” Again the reply, and again the words floated about the watery surroundings.

A key rattled in the lock and the door swung open, tracing an arc in the straw-littered ground.

Citoyen Chauvelin stood, hovering beneath the threshold, his eyes wide, his voice quiet. Percy didn’t look up, but only stared forward, watching Chauvelin’s shoes as they rustled across the straw. The soldier entered behind him, the buckles of his boots reflecting the dusky morning sunlight. Their voices drifted into the room again, distant and faint,

“You cannot execute him in this state, sir; that would only be cruelness upon his grief-stricken heart. He is no danger to the revolution in this state, anyway--”

The foxlike voice murmured about the room in reply, mixing with the rustling straw,

“Letting him live would be the harshest penalty, Citoyen. Death would be humane.” His words were bordered with flickering anger.

The straw rustled again and the door shut.

* * *

They had to hold him upright as he was led out into the stone-walled courtyard. The afternoon sun was high overhead, beating upon the backs of the soldiers, and Chauvelin wiped the back of his hand across his forehead with a nervous, darting movement. A line of soldiers stood facing the stone wall, the sun slashing across their rifles like golden pen strokes.

Percy Blakeney stood in the shadow of the wall watching the line of soldiers vibrate and move, murmuring anticipated nothings to each other, smoothing their uniforms, their buttons sparking with sunlight one minute and fizzling into the shadows the next. The firearms waved pleasantly in the air like cat tails. The two soldiers who had led him in believed he could finally stand by himself, and they slipped away into the line of tricolor, melting away from his sight. He slumped against the wall, the breath escaping him for a moment as the stone thumped against his back.

Chauvelin started from his motionless state, wiping the back of his hand over his brow, and addressed the soldiers, his voice wavering into the courtyard,


The rifles swung into position, trembling with anticipated rattlings. The reflection of every rifle stung Percy’s eyes, but he only stared at them, unblinking.


A catch was in Chauvelin’s voice as he spoke this time.

A cloud drifted in front of the sun, bathing the courtyard in gray shadow, and the gold pen strokes on the barrels of the rifles faded away.


The rifles exploded, sending sparks flitting into the air, acrid smoke drifting about.

Percy’s eyes caught something as his vision dimmed; a faint red glimmer in Chauvelin’s dangling hand. The clouds drowned out the sun to absolute darkness and the smoke flitted away leaving the air pure, and the echoes died away, and all was blackness.

Chauvelin wiped the back of his hand over his brow. His hand, which he held loosely at his side, suddenly trembled, the fingers opening.

A spray of rubies fell to the dusty ground.

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