Death Has No Hold On Us

Joan Grey


The wine tastes odd. Bitter. Johann glances at the glass, but the wine looks normal. Pale gold, reflections of the multicolored lights flashing in the liquid. Narrowing his eyes, he sets the glass down on a nearby table and moves toward the doors at the side of the room.

Five steps in, something red swirls in the corner of his eye: the exact red Petre had worn the last time they’d been together. Johann blinks hard; Petre is dead. He’d never see that red scarf again, or those laughing eyes. He keeps walking, struggling to keep his face blank.

In the corridor between the wall and the columns supporting the mezzanine, Johann staggers. Petre stands before him, hands stretched out beseechingly. Johann strides forward, but Petre’s face shifts to an unfamiliar one, bright green eyes filling with malicious delight.

He reaches for a column – he needs to get his bearings and finish what he came for – but his hand sinks into the marble and he half-falls. Biting back a cry, he yanks his arm back and stumbles against the wall. He can see others on the ballroom floor turning and, with an effort, he twists the knob of the nearest door and falls through.

The walls of the room beyond pulse slightly; their acid pink color fades just enough out of time with the pulses so that nausea fills his throat.

He collapses back onto the hideous bile yellow dos-a-dos sofa just as Petre enters the room. He is smiling, broad and warm, and Johann feels his whole body twitch.

“You’re dead,” he croaks.

Behind Petre, the pink of the walls blisters away, revealing a deep green.

“I missed you,” Petre says, face soft. He sets a gentle hand on Johann’s arm. Johann’s skin crawls like insects are crawling over his arm and he jerks away. He can’t keep his eyes from Petre’s face, his warm eyes. Behind Petre, the door opens again and the other Petre comes in.

This one looks horrifying; exactly as Johann remembers. Blood matts his beautiful long hair to his neck and shoulders, his shirt is shredded along with the skin of his chest and hands, and his eyes… oh the empty sockets are weeping blood.

The walls drip peach color down to the floor, where it pools and smokes.

“Now, Johann,” Petre says, sinking down into the other half of the dos-a-dos. He strokes Johann’s arm. Johann watches as oily smoke screams from the broken remains of Petre’s damaged mouth. His head swings from side to side, his lips trying to shape words.

“Johann,” Petre, the smooth and soft version, repeats. His voice is warm and welcoming and Johann’s stomach twists. “I missed you so much. I know you’ve missed me, too. I’ve found it, Johann darling, the way we can be together.” For a moment, his eyes are brilliant green instead of earthy brown.

The escritoire and its chair in the corner skitter closer to the dos-a-dos, sliding through the shape of Petre’s shattered legs. He doesn’t notice, focused on trying to drive his claw-like fingers through the other Petre’s neck.

There’s a sound, outside the room; cheering and happy noises. Johann jolts. He is here for a reason. There’s something wrong. He shouldn’t be in this room. He needs to be… to be…

Petre’s soft eyes catch his again and he sags. He needs to be with Petre. He can’t… there’s something he can’t remember about Petre. Petre’s mouth is so close, his breath warm on Johann’s cheek.

The escritoire’s legs snap off, the pens and ink bottles stored in its shelves shatter against the polished oak floor. Johann stiffens, pulling away from Petre…

Petre is dead, he thinks. He tries to stand, but something grips his arm. The walls, a searing orange, burst into glowing purple flowers. Johann looks at his arm, which had stretched to where he stands, halfway across the room, from where Petre… Petre!

The true Petre, the dead one, slaps his hands down over the false Petre’s hand, and Johann’s arm is the normal size again. He staggers back to the door, looking back one last frantic time. Dead Petre’s eye sockets are fixed on him, his cheeks red with bloody tears, but his mouth… oh, his soft mouth is smiling.

“Go.” His lips frame the word gently, even as his hands sink into the soft and melting flesh of the other Petre. Johann goes.

In the ballroom, everything is delight and excitement. He overhears, almost as if he were underwater, congratulations on the Emperor’s betrothal, as a dancing couple sweeps past.

Cold pours through him. The betrothal. He needs to get to the Imperial Intended’s guards and make them aware of the threat his team has discovered. He makes his way around the edges of the room, supporting himself against the wall, until he arrives at the dais at the head of the room.

Dead Petra waits for him there, his mouth curving down and blood up his arms to his elbows. Johann heaves in a breath and bows deeply to the unamused mountain of a guard at the bottom of the short flight of stairs.

“Please,” Johann begs, frantically ignoring the way the stairs undulate and the screeching that the music has become. He takes another breath. “The Imperial Intended must leave the ballroom. She has—her life is in danger.”

The mountain’s glower grows deeper and Johann knows that if he doesn’t make him understand quickly, the whole world will descend into endless war.

“The last dance,” he gasps, watching the unharmed Petre stalk through the dancers. “In the last dance, someone will approach Her Majesty and touch her.” The columns are slumping to the floor, leaving the mezzanine hanging unsupported. “You must bring her away from here. It’s the Yudin. They are going to break the treaty.”

At this, the mountain moves up the stairs and Johann lets himself slump to the floor, supported by Petre’s bleeding arms.

Nothing else matters any more.