PART 1: CITY OF LIGHTS
“I have nightly since
Dreamt of encounters ‘twixt thyself and me;
We have been down together in my sleep,
Unbuckling helms, fisting each other’s throat,
And waked half dead with nothing.”
Coriolanus, William Shakespeare
The Chevalier Maison, 1915
When the guests of William Chevalier entered the ballroom, they were instantly bombarded with the sight of a petite, lanky girl about the age of eleven with a breathless smile and a basket of daisies. Before they could utter a gasp or even say a word, she’d intertwined the blossoms into flower crowns and corsages, looping them over several women and men clad in fine silk, chiffon, wool and gems.
It was early morning, and Paris whistled breezes through the large stained windows, making the cream curtains wave little fingers around the waiters pacing the room. Trays of wine and champagne and brandy were little gauzy bubbles if seen from the chandelier above. Its crystals sparked reflections on the people below, crowded in a warm golden space with swirling decorations on the white marble floor.
The Eiffel Tower gleamed in the distance, giving a pastel air to the room around it. Hiroko stared at it, leaning against a table with a glass of champagne in her hand. Perhaps it was the heady, sweet scent of cigar smoke getting to her, but she couldn’t have possibly been at more peace than this - in spite of the many women that strutted around like peacocks in their finery, jewels dripping off them like oozing amber. She wondered how they didn’t fall over from all the bling. Knowing France’s current financial state, they most likely might as well have been another cause of the Great War’s lack of rations.
Her daughter’s current victim was stuttering over and over as she shook his hand with the mock seriousness of someone who had just pranked a teacher with a fake cake and knew something he didn’t. Celeste lead him through the throng of people as her mother watched from the sidelines. She giggled, raising a hand to her lips.
Celeste could’ve been everything she’d asked for. Her honey-colored ponytail swung around wildly as she popped in between people, wide eyes askew with curiosity, an innocent, pure rose born among the thorns.
It was no secret Celeste wasn’t exactly...pureblood, much less a complete duchess-in-waiting Frenchwoman. Her eyes gave that much away.
But if anything, Hiroko had hope.
The 1920’s was coming in like a blazing blur, bringing with it equilibriums of modern and classic cabaret-style cafes, closets of chiffon and silk for the wealthy, and a pour of new tastes and styles and cultures from cauldrons far, far to the open sea.
She’d come here as an immigrant, of course, after her brother somehow managed to secure her a position at one of the houses belonging to one of France’s several royal families. How he did it, Hiroko did not know, but she had been lucky.
But considering today....Hiroko shook her head. It didn’t matter what Will did to her, when she was a young maid, how Celeste was born, or what he might do to her- not now. All that mattered was her daughter, and nothing else.
Even if she and Celeste were pushed away from the spotlight after her affair with the duke, and he stood proudly among his guests with Beryl, his wife, as if nothing happened years ago.
To him, Celeste was a tainted heir. Or worse. Would he even take her?...
Hiroko started as the girl stood in front of her, one foot on her ankle in a perfect cou-de-pied. “You’re staring. Is everything alright? Do I have a petal in my hair?” She nervously reached up to touch the strands in her scalp.
“No, nothing, Aricchan.” Hiroko smoothed back Celeste’s ponytail as she grinned up at her. “Believe me. I would’ve freaked out if you had the slightest bit of dust in your hair.”
“When do you not freak out?”
Before Hiroko could counter her sarcastic remark, a boy in a suit bumped into Celeste from the back.
She and the boy’s father moved as one when Celeste's flower basket fell to the floor, scattering the petals everywhere. Hiroko made hurried eye contact with the man in front of her before sweeping the daisies into the wicker basket with lightning speed, thrusting it at her.
She caught sight of the man above her, and wanted to shrink back. He was in his mid-thirties with slicked black hair and piercing green eyes, a form-fitting tuxedo covering his figure. The disgust on his face was clear - she was just a simple maid, and he, she was willing to bet, was a royal.
Hiroko shook her head and turned back to her daughter. “Cel-”
Well, this was surprising.
Unlike the woman’s hostile confrontation with the man above her, the children’s direction seemed to go in the opposite.
Celeste wasn’t looking at Hiroko. She was absolutely enthralled by him.
The man’s son had the same hair, but possessed a more rosy complexion and the most stunning eyes she’d ever seen in a royal. They were the color of bubbly champagne - and then some. No. The color of rosin, the color of amber. She could not seem to pinpoint it.
It disturbed her and made her hesitate at the same time.
“I’m...sorry?” he gulped. Another comparison - he did not realize Celeste was half-commoner. All he saw was a pretty girl, and was stunned. “I, uh - Whoa!”
She was a centimeter from touching his face. If it weren’t for the tension in the air, the maid would’ve laughed. When her daughter was curious about something, she was direct about it.
“Your eyes. They’re pretty.” She tilted her head, and leaned back, pouting. “Mine are just plain brown.”
“That’s it?” He looked quizzical. “No they’re not.”
“No, they’re not.” he repeated. “Look-” he pointed to her iris. Now he was too close, and Hiroko had the sudden urge to turn into the Byakko tiger and maul the child’s face off.
“You’ve got golden flecks in your eye. Here.” He smiled, a sudden ray of sun. “Seven in your left. See? You’re not dull.”
“We get it.” The man abruptly cut the two off and clasped the boy’s hand, tearing him away from Celeste. “Victor Taillefer, you will come with me now.”
“But I want to see her right eye!” He crossed his arms. “I’m not leaving.”
Taillefer. A family second best to our own. And rumored to have intertwined with ours, judging from rumors about the distant past. If I’d known who he was - a Taillefer!
That meant that Jacques Taillefer, sovereign prince, was standing in front of her right now.
“Celeste, come here.” She made the same protective move.
Hiroko leaned down to her daughter; whispering in rapid-fire Japanese as to hide her words. Her daughter’s face contorted, and shot back something that made her mother startle.
Before she could object, but her daughter pulled away and confronted Jacques, staring him straight in the face. “I’m Duke Chevalier’s daughter. If that’s what you’re worried about, forget it, please.”
“Celeste!” her mother hissed, panic flaring through her as Taillefer’s eyes widened.
Rumors went around in the royal circle, and everyone knew about Celeste’s birth through the infamous secret-yet-not-secret affair Hiroko had years ago.
To be fair, Will had started it.
And lied about it.
“So you are. I thought the rumors weren’t true, but the daughter of a Duke and a…” He clenched his jaw. “Victor, leave me.”
He looked more than happy to, clasping both hands in Celeste’s outstretched ones.
Celeste and Victor made fast friends, instantly bonding in the short time they spent together. Dear Victor let himself be carried by Celeste to the highest tops of the Duke’s mansion, the secret gardens, the rooms in which they laughed and hid from the other, only to scare them by popping out of nowhere; a manic jack-in-the-box.
When Celeste scared her friend, he jumped. When Victor scared the girl, she almost punched him in the face.
“Sorry.” Celeste’s strike had not escaped the boy’s cheek, and the two sat in a huddle in a hallway, leaning against the hallway with their foreheads pressed together.
“It’s fine.” He tried for a grin as he lifted the ice pack from his face. “I did scare you a lot.”
She shook her head. “What’s your father going to say?”
“You know him?”
Celeste raised an eyebrow. “Jacques’s a famous guy.”
“It doesn’t matter.” He looked like a deflated balloon, all the life sucked out of him. “I’ll make up an excuse. I’ll say I bumped my head on the wall.”
“By your cheek?” She rolled her eyes. “‘Kay. If that’s what you think will work. Anyway,” the girl stood up and brushed her flower-print dress off; “-that’s not the point. We’ll worry about him later...”
Victor stood up next to her, and noticed her sudden silence. She seemed to be mimicking a dowsing rod, searching for something in a sea of everything and yet nothing-
“My room.” She clasped his hand. “I’ve got something I want to show you.”
“You don’t mind?” he wheezed out. She started running, pulling him behind her.
“Of course not.” Celeste looked back and winked at him. “It isn’t like you’re going to tell everyone I have a secret rat-tail collection.”
“You don’t, right?”
“Well…” When Celeste didn’t reply instantly, he looked appalled, but she lightly tapped him on the shoulder as they rounded a corner. “Kidding. Let’s go.”
The lady-in-waiting did not have a rat-tail collection, but her companion's reaction to the collection of items she did have was just as stunned as it would be if they were actually jars of rodent hindquarters. Her room was small, next to her mother’s room and hidden from sight. However, that hadn’t stopped the interior from being lush.
Gauze curtains with gold-leaf trim covered a large window by her bed, which was covered by a light blue canopy. Garlands of flowers covered the walls, almost matching her dress. An unused fireplace was across from the bed, and on the shelves adjacent rested numerous books of size and shape; from gold-flecked tomes to thin novels. The second shelf was what stunned Victor the most, though.
Copies of fairy-tales, antique ones and new alike. He could see a fresh vermillion copy of La Belle Bois au Dormant at the top and a copy of La Belle et La Bete at the bottom, worn and aged with years past. It appeared to be about fifty years old.
“This is what I’ve been working on.” Her hands brushed over Cendrillon. “I’m trying to collect as many of these as I can.”
“Fairy-tales?” asked Victor.
“So that other children can have them. Children in the streets, children who don’t have as much money as I do...for now. Knowing me and my mother’s situation…” She looked down to the floor at this. “I won’t be in the mansion for long. But I want to do things with my father’s money while I have it.”
“But don’t they mean anything to you?” The boy tipped his head, black locks falling over one eye.
“Of course they do. I’ve always longed to be a princess. Partly because of the royalty and all,” she smiled, “but I want to help people. It’s one of the things I’ve seen my father never do.”
Victor considered this for a moment, and put a light hand on her shoulder. “You’re very kind.”
She only nodded.
“So,” he exhaled, turning to admire the shelf with her. “You like reading?”
Celeste scrunched up her face. “Obviously not. I’m an artist.”
The two burst out laughing.
Afterwards, Celeste showed Victor her closet, her knick-knacks - she practically had to pull him away from admiring her pet bunny, Charlotte, in her cage.
Unfortunately, things were about to take a turn for the worse. What eleven-year-old has a perfect sense of direction, much less in a mansion? None do; these two not excepted, so the duo ended up getting lost in a maze of dark hallways and locked wooden doors.
“Shh.” He looked confident, despite the darkness. “I’ll get you out of here. Your mom’s going to kill me if I don’t.”
She laughed nervously, but gripped his arm as they rounded a corner.
One of the corridors’ lights flickered on, and Celeste yelped as Victor stepped back, visibly shaken. He inhaled deeply, and gripped her hands.
“Let’s just go back.”
“Can we find our way out?” she whispered.
No sooner had she gotten the words out than two voices started to speak from a door nearby.
“She is young...nearly….it would be a…if…”
“It does not matter, Will. Whatever...plan to do, it has to… the exclusion of that…of yours.”
“I am not-!”
The female voice was cut off from what sounded like a sharp crack. Celeste muffled Victor’s yell as she jumped on his back to hear better, raising her ear to the crack between the door and the wall.
The two men kept talking. “And he does not know about this?”
“He never will.”
“Good. I don’t need them interfering.”
She whipped her head to face him. “Victor, we-”
What Celeste was about to say would never be heard, because he held a finger to her lips, making her startle.
“Let’s just go back, okay?”
“But that voice-” She turned back around. “That sounded like my mom. Victor, I’m serious, I have to go in there-”
“Your mom was back there at the main entrance. She isn’t here. It’s fine. I don’t think she’s there. And we have to go back there to meet her, remember?”
The two stood at an impasse for a count of ten, then Celeste slouched and admitted defeat.
“There you go.” He smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes. “Let’s go back.”
As the two children made their way back to the mansion’s grand room, Victor kept looking back at her, first quick fleeting glances that seemed to convey worry and aloofness, then long stares. Stares that turned into inspections - did the flecks in her eyes reflect the lights above? Did the curve of her lip give away her posture?
Celeste Arakida was eleven years old, and as immutable as the heavens she was named for.
What they both did not know of, however, was the fluttering of the butterfly as it perched itself on their shoulders and tipped its gossamer wings, only slightly as to cause a ripple. A ripple that Victor would not notice. He would spend years searching for it, years trying to recall the days in which he was younger and he did wrong, in where and when the fault happened.
The ripple, for Celeste, was a slow burn. She would remember forever, what would happen that day, what did happen. And what happened is what always happens throughout the years of love and hate: the crafting of a tap of a butterfly wing to a ripple to a wave to a thundering storm that lurks upon the best of us; that cannot be forgotten, because they - and we - are built from the wings of those insects.
Victor and Celeste were both right.
Hiroko was gone, but it seemed the girl did have to meet someone. Her father.
William Chevalier stood in front of her, a tall man with brown hair streaked gray.
“Sir.” The boy turned into a blubbering mess, bowing and almost tripping over his own feet in panic. Only Celeste yanking him up violently by the collar prevented Victor from passionately embracing the ground.
The duke didn’t even bother to acknowledge the child, but instead turned to face his daughter. There was ice in his eyes.
“Celeste.” He held out his hand.
“Where’s mom?” she croaked out. “Where’d she go?”
“Nowhere. She’ll be back.”
Will’s voice seemed reasonable enough, but she could hear the dangerous undertone beneath it: if you don’t come with me right now, you’ll regret it.
Celeste gulped, then looked to Victor for confirmation. He was looking down at his shoes, expressionless.
She turned back to her father, then, wordless, and put her hand in his palm.
Maybe she shouldn’t have, because the deeper down the basement they went, the hallways got darker and more sinister. A single lantern lit the way, and William tugged hard at his abandoned child’s hand, almost making her fall at one point.
“Where are we going?” she asked, dread curling in her gut.
He didn’t answer. A sudden anger flared through her, and she repeated louder, “Where are we g-”
Will didn’t answer, again, but instead threw her towards Hiroko. Celeste cried out and collapsed in her mother’s apron, clutching at her. She heard her father advance towards her through blurry vision.
She saw hurried hands cradling her, and suddenly everything was alright in the world because Hiroko, Hiroko was there and holding her, clutching her daughter like she was the most precious thing to her in the universe.
And she was.
Celeste buried her face in her mother’s apron. Hiroko whipped around to Will with murder in her eyes, glaring at her former lover.
“Throwing our child? That’s a new low for you.” she spat.
“Your child, Hiroko. But she won’t be for much longer.”
“What?!” She felt dizzy. “What are you talking about?”
Will sneered. Celeste turned back to him and almost shrank back from the look on his face.
“I heard you and that boy outside my office, you know. I’m not stupid.”
“You what?!” Hiroko cut in before Celeste could respond. “Celeste, were you there?”
“They were.” Celeste didn’t think she could speak, and let her father go on. “And I hope they didn’t hear our plans for you two. But if you did…” He smirked. “I must say, that friend of yours did a wonderful job of distracting you.”
“What?” It was all she could say. Her lips were frozen, it seemed, ice running up and down her veins.
“I can’t have a blemish and a maid’s daughter running around the house, you see. It’s been long enough, and quite the stain on my reputation. So, naturally, you will have to go back home, Hiroko.”
Her mother stood as still as a statue: the hands that had been running through her daughter’s silken hair froze in place.
No. No, this can’t be happening, it’s all just a bad dream. And Victor…
Would Victor sell me out? And if we do go back to Japan, at least I’ll be with Mom.
Her world came crashing down.
“No.” The word tumbled out of Celeste’s mouth, and she sank to the ground. She felt gentle hands prying her own away from her dress, and she hadn’t realized she’d ripped straight through the fabric on her belt. “No, no, no, no, no-”
She started sobbing. Hiroko stood up furiously, looking as if she wanted to throttle the duke. “You will not. You will let Celeste come home with me, and that is final-”
“Unfortunately, it’s not. I’ve made arrangements, and they are very tight. You leave tomorrow, and my daughter stays behind here. She’ll be raised as a duchess, albeit a...non-pureblood, but I’ll take any heir to my name.”
She was still sobbing.
“How’d you do it?!” she shouted. “And why?!”
He grinned, a cruel twist of mirth. “I had help. And now, the Taillefers owe me.”
The Taillefers owe me.
The Taillefers owe me.
It was Jacques in there, talking to my father...and Victor.
Victor betrayed me.
Will walked away, but as Hiroko hugged her daughter and chanted be strong, be strong in her ear like an enchantment, fire started to melt the ice in her veins and consumed her blood and heart. As Celeste’s eyes darkened, her vision darkened and she thought one thing and one thing only before passing out:
I will find you, Victor Taillefer, and I will make you pay.
Chapter 1: There Will Be Time
“And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.”
-T.S Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
The Moulin Rouge, Ten Years Later
“These violent delights have violent ends
And in their triumph die, like fire and powder
Which, as they kiss, consume-”
Celeste stretched back in the patio chair like a cat, stretching out her long limbs and yawning. Margo was still half-in half-out of her Rosalind costume, hairs poking out of her curls, the latter with a rumpled chignon and “Juliet’s” dress and underskirt, showing impossibly toned calves through tight tights. She was looking her mentor up and down with much amusement.
And no wonder. The expression on the twenty year old’s face was one of a mother walking into a room and finding all of her five infant children buried in a three-layer cake - headfirst. Marcelio and all her other subordinate dancers were drunk on wine and doing a weird dance around the patio, butchering songs from various Romeo and Juliet sonnets.
The problem was that the ballet of the same name they’d all done earlier had no songs. She didn’t mind admittedly off-key yodeling at an afterparty, but what she did was the fact that she was prima ballerina at the Rouge and had been for more than three years - and let this happen. At what was supposed to be a respectable, fun evening.
God, Zaraganova was going to kill her.
“Don’t worry.” Margo, only three years younger than her mistress, patted her friend on the shoulder, green eyes dancing with the light of the fairy lights hung above. “At least they haven’t hit the spiced wine.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that.” Celeste flicked a strand of golden hair over her shoulder. “Do you see Thomas?”
Margo did indeed see Thomas. It was impossible not to. He was doing splits in leotards.
“Well, at least he’s flexible.”
She cocked an eyebrow at her. Margo scoffed and tugged on her sleeve. “And, of course, there’s you, who can go into vertical splits and bend your back backwards like it’s nothing. Not all of us have bubblegum joints, Miss I’m-Flexible and I-Know-It. Some of us had to work for it.”
Celeste laughed good-naturedly and crouched over, hands on her knees. “Well, there is a reason why I’m prima.”
“Yeah, and dramatic as the stereotypes all say.” Margo said.
“Oh, no, drama, Miss-I’m-Rosalind and I-Escaped-A-Tragic-Death.”
“Well, I did.” she whispered, rolling her eyes at Celeste’s tease.
“Ah!” she suddenly exclaimed, leaning back in her chair. “Speaking of deaths, today’s my birthday. I almost forgot.”
Heads bolted up at the exclamation. Marcelio’s champagne dripped down his chin, and he emerged from the cup like a drunken puppy. Margo looked similar.
“Death?” she inquired, cocking her head. “That’s what reminds you of your birthday?!”
Both women flinched back from the declaration of war. Thomas and Marcelio stood on top of the table, rocking back and forth as they clung to each other for support.
“Our dear prima ballerina, Arakida Celeste-” he hiccuped, and made a disgruntled face. “Has somehow forgotten about her birthday. Somehow.” He tried for a glare, but it came out sloppily. “We shall forge a path that she herself has not taken - and set out to buy cake and presents! Everyone, march!”
A mostly drunken uproar followed this statement, by multiple principal dancers and amateurs tripping over their pointe shoes trying to get to the door leading out the roof. Margo sighed as she and her mentor were the only ones left up there, and went over to close the door behind Valentina, who she last saw flailing her arms in midair before the door shut.
“What sort of cake do you think they’ll pick out?” hollered the prima.
Margo snorted, green eyes squinting. “Five franc they still think your favorite flavor is fig.”
“Fig.” Celeste fell back, letting out a whoosh of air. “What makes them think it’s fig?! I told them, over and over again, it’s hazelnut. How does a nut get confused with a fruit?!”
“They both...look deformed, Cel.” she said.
“How dare you. Figs and hazelnuts are beautiful,” Celeste muttered, throwing an arm over her head. The lights above were little suns, blinking above her head. Perhaps they would consume the moon itself.
And it hadn’t been death that had reminded her of her birthday. The reason she’d tried to forget her birthday so often, so tirelessly, was because it had been before that day, ten years ago, before Victor Taillefer had stolen everything she’d had.
Who knew the boy with amber eyes could still haunt her dreams as an adult? Even now, as she thought of him, she felt the little serpent in her chest stir, awakened from its slumber.
Do not forget what you must do.
She had been biding her time for ten years and since. Perhaps it had been too long, too late, but she didn’t care, she didn’t bother to.
I will strike, and when the time comes, you will be mine.
“If e'er again I meet him beard to beard, he's mine or I am his.” she murmured, soft as a lover to her own.
“What?” Margo turned around, by way of Celeste’s words and the banging downstairs on the Rue.
“Nothing.” She turned onto her side, tucking her hands under her head.
“Nothing at all.”
They didn’t get fig.
They got a three-tier vanilla cake, complete with a spun-caramel design and a buttercream finish with various macarons on the side.
She was pleasantly surprised. They were drunks, but at least they were nice drunks.
“Nice drunks who also can’t coordinate themselves,” Margo said, carving a piece out of the dessert and plopping it onto her plate. Marcelio and the others were now downing various junk foods (well, expensive junk foods) to sop up the alcohol in their systems. “There is an outline of a face in the second tier, Celeste, and I am pretty sure I do not want to touch that part.”
“Then don’t,” she said, popping a caramel piece in her mouth. “Unless you’ve got a preference for smashed buttercream.”
“I don’t think anyone does,” Margo responded, going over to sit by Celeste. They’d moved a relatively short distance away from the group, and she could see her mentor looking off into the distance.
“Are you okay?”
“No you’re not. Aren’t you?”
Celeste huffed and put her head in between her crossed arms, leaning against the wall of the patio. “You know why.”
Margo had been the only one, after many years, she’d told about her past.
She didn’t take it well either, wanting to kill Victor after Celeste was done. She practically had to hold her back from demolishing the wall.
“I do know why,” she said, leaning on her shoulder. “And I think we can both agree it isn’t good to hold a grudge - but he did do that to you.”
“You’re telling me to let it go and keep going at the same time.”
“Yes. No. I - ugh!” She sighed, slapping her hands on her thighs. “Look, this isn’t my place to intrude. It’s up to you what you want you do. I just hope you’ll pick the choice with less pain involved.”
Celeste lowered her lashes. “You make it seem like ten years’ worth of a grudge is nothing.”
“I didn’t mean to,” she amended, speaking quickly. “But you never let go? Not once, ever?”
Without speaking, she stood up and jumped onto the patio rails, balancing on the concrete. The streets outside downtown Paris were silent in the nighttime, lone streetlights blinking in the ebony sky. They only thing that shone in the middle of all the little lights and frail lamps was and always had been the Eiffel Tower, luminescence running up and down the metal strands.
The wind whistled in her ears, and she drowned out the sound from the background, shutting her eyelids tight.
“Celeste?” Margo sounded shaken.
“I’m fine.” She tipped her head up to meet the night air, clean yet dirtied with the scents of broken hearts and others since.
“But I don’t think I could’ve, even if I wanted to.”
After three hours, the party finally died down. Margo and the others had gone home, Thomas shoving the leftover cakes and presents in Celeste’s arms despite numerous objections.
Well, at least she’d have dessert for the next three days. It was nearly 2 in the morning, and Celeste was a lone figure in the dark streets of Rue 16, ballet flats tapping on cobblestones as she walked. Her apartment building was two blocks up, a small condo with relatively neat apartments to live. She supposed it could have been worse - most of Paris these days was being renovated and filled with the sounds of banging and burnt copper, bistros replacing well-worn cafes, people pouring in when all automobiles ceased their activity around Montparnasse.
And then she remembered who’d she’d meet when she got to her building, and momentarily lost her will to live.
It was the thought of her landlord.
Ms. Laconi, seventy-six years of age, had never been married and looked at Celeste with an expression that resembled one telling someone to launch themselves off a bridge when the ballerina asked her if she’d ever been.
It seemed her only commitment was and would only be to her ten cats that lived in her penthouse apartment, meowing and causing a ruckus daily. But apparently, all Laconi saw was affection from her dear felines.
Even the pee stains.
Honestly, if Celeste considered it, she would never want a cat. Maybe her landlord had traumatized her the day she’d taken her for a tour of the building and introduced her to Noir, the rowdiest of the bunch. Anyhow, she preferred dogs. They were nicer and did not try to claw your face off. Especially corgis.
Corgis were rays of sunlight personified as dogs.
She walked up to the door but before she could even put her key in the keyhole, the door swung open and almost hit her face. Celeste had to blink several times in order to comprehend the sudden pink-and-lace maelstrom in front of her.
“Have you seen Noir?!” screeched the old woman. Celeste continued to stare silently as she glanced at her landlord’s form; the robe was torn to bits.
“I haven’t,” she said slowly. “Would you like me to do something about it?”
The old woman looked as if she’d swallowed a lemon whole as she responded. “Yes, I want you to do something about it,” she spat. “I want you to find Noir.”
“If you do, I’ll hold off your rent for three months.”
It is truly amazing how fast a human can run when presented with a financial opportune.