The taste of death is upon my lips. I feel something that is not of this earth.
-–Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s last words
Of all the sons and daughters of Life, I think my role within Death is the most fulfilling. As the Death of Art, I worship beauty in all its expressions, even an ugliness or cruelty so savage that it is elevated to a single moment of keen loveliness slicing into my heart. I am a connoisseur of the arts, and my discretion determines the evolution of mankind through the ages.
But my heart was heavy as I walked through the streets of Vienna, muffled in a cloak that was both badge of office and armor to a Death. No mortal could see me while I was cloaked, and at the moment that suited me well. Snow was spitting from the low-scudding clouds that cold December morning in 1791, and a mist was rising as I neared my destination…a mourning mist, cloaking the city with sorrow at the passing of a genius.
A genius I’d failed.
A small crowd had gathered in front of Saint Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, a gorgeous edifice built at the height of Gothic medieval architecture but finished rather lopsidedly with one pedestrian tower that looked like a silo instead of the glorious needle-roofed twin opposite it. The cathedral was a landmark in Vienna, its stunning tiled roof shining over the narrow streets of the city. In the center of the gathered people—almost entirely male and with several musicians and composers I recognized among them—was a cheap fir coffin. I glided unseen through the group of mourners until I stood above the casket. I steeled myself and looked down at the remains of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Mozart had loved fine clothes, but he was wearing a cheap suit he would have disdained in life. That meant his family had been forced to keep his expensive clothes to sell. Mozart had been a small man with a slight frame. His body was now swollen almost beyond recognition but his face was emaciated to the point of caricature, like the visualizations of the Black Death that could be found on countless medieval reliquaries. His hands had always been beautiful, small and well-shaped with long clever fingers. Now they looked like sticks, reduced to bone, sinew, and skin. Whatever had killed Mozart had burned through him like a fire in drought-ridden woods. He had always been spare; now he was grotesque.
Mozart was my mortal, but some other Death had killed him. Some other Death had broken our most sacrosanct law, severing the tether of a mortal not his to take. Some other Death had deprived history of some of the most glorious music that would ever have been written. I touched Mozart’s hand and opened my senses to the memories of his soul.
A lingering illness with strange symptoms: a bizarre lethargy, incapacitating headaches, pernicious vomiting, swelling, and a burning sensation under the skin. A stench of putrefying organs, one that only accompanies internal decomposition before death. A strange taste of apples and metal. A burgeoning fear of poison, followed by his reluctant acceptance of death and then the overwhelming urge to complete—
“That’s impossible…” I breathed.
I was so shocked that I lost my grip on my power for a moment and an uncomfortable flash of heat raced along my veins. Had I made some kind of mistake? I’d personally left a trigger in Mozart’s mind, one that should have prevented him from composing the Requiem. Something wasn’t right. Mozart’s Requiem was destined to be the masterpiece from an age of master composers, and wasn’t to be written until the end of his life—
And then, I realized what must have happened.
“Mozart knew he was dying,” I said, and my throat tightened so that my voice sounded strangled…harsh.
My ruminations shattered when the deep voice interrupted my bewilderment. An unfamiliar man was standing at my side, close enough that his coat brushed against the thin slice of exposed skin between my glove and my sleeve. His gaze was bright green, and while his expression was mild, his eyes were intense and brilliant.
Whoever he was, he was an immortal.
“We need to talk,” he murmured as he took my arm.
“I have essential business to conduct and you are interfering.” I tried to pull free of his grasp, but it didn’t work. A chill ran through my body and I froze in sudden consternation.
“Please,” he added, those extraordinary eyes glinting at me.
I was a Death, one of the most powerful supernatural entities in existence. No mortal and few immortals could hold me against my will. This man must have been an extremely powerful entity if I was unable to pull myself loose. I couldn’t be seen by the mourners clustered around the coffin because I was cloaked. He wasn’t wearing a cloak at all, and no one reacted to his presence.
Only a very few immortals had that kind of power—like the Adjudicators, for example—and not even my warlike brothers could help me if this was an Adjudicator.
“Let us go into the cathedral,” he said quietly. “It will be deserted until evening Mass, and we have much to discuss…within the safety of sanctuary.”
Before I could demur on the grounds that I had to escort Mozart’s soul to his next life cycle, he pulled me through the immense arched gates and through the massive door into the cathedral. Any sort of religious house was considered sacrosanct among the immortals who governed the mortal world. We were forbidden to take any conflict into the sacred sites where mortals worshipped, whether grand, like Saint Stephen’s, or the humblest country mosque in the wilderness. By escorting me into the cathedral, this stranger was guaranteeing my safety.
An equal wouldn’t have felt the need to reassure me in such a fashion.
He escorted me into a small room within the towering Gothic spire and shut the door. Only then was I allowed to jerk my arm free. I flipped the hood of my cloak back from my face and glared at him.
“I trust you have a good reason to interfere in my duty to a mortal I have already failed,” I said acidly. “What do you want?”
Now that I was uncloaked, I was able to get a close look at him for the first time. The stranger was handsome—very handsome, in fact. The features of his face were chiseled into hard-planed perfection, with high cheekbones and a strong jaw. His eyes were dark green and shrewd, heavily lashed beneath strongly marked dark brows. His mouth was surprisingly sensual, as well-shaped as a woman’s and an intriguing contrast to the stubborn set of his jaw. This immortal was beautiful, and beauty is both my passion and my domain. I could also feel his power now, and something about him made me uneasy.
He must have been able to easily gauge my reaction to him. He took a quick step back, giving me a moment to recover, and his expression softened, as if to reassure me further.
Oh well. He might be able to destroy me with a thought, but at least I’d go with my pulse racing just a little bit.
His voice was quiet. “Why would you say Mozart knew he was dying?”
“I see no reason to discuss my affairs with a stranger. So if you’ll excuse me, I need to take Mozart’s soul to—”
The temperature in the room dropped at the same time his gaze cooled on me. “When was he slated to die, Lady?”
A sick feeling unfurled in the pit of my stomach. I hesitated, trying to decide what my best course of action might be, but grief broke through my uncertainty and I answered my interrogator honestly.
“1816—twenty-five years from now. He should have reached the age of sixty and the pinnacle of creativity and renown.” I sighed and ducked my head away. “And I failed him because I never thought I would need to protect him from another Death.”
“You think another Death took your mortal?”
“Who but one of us is capable of serving one of my mortals his death a quarter of a century before his scheduled time?”
“I don’t know, Morgaine, and neither do you.”
He knew my name. That wasn’t good.
I set my jaw. “At least I know how he died.”
The stranger’s eyes gleamed with sudden intensity. “How?”
“Hydrana,” I replied. “When I examined Mozart’s body, the taste was still lingering around him.”
“You’re sure hydrana was used?”
“As I am one of the few immortals who knows how to make hydrana, I would never mistake that taste of sweet apples and corroded copper,” I said quietly.
“That doesn’t mean a Death administered the poison or created it intentionally to eliminate Mozart.” His voice was thoughtful, but his gaze had sharpened.
“We both know full well another Death murdered Mozart. Someone is interfering with my domain and I intend to find whoever—”
“And do what?” He leaned against the corner of the arched aperture that led to the spiral staircase and watched me with a lazy smile.
I wasn’t stupid enough to incriminate myself, so I smiled sweetly at him.
“I’ll speak to him sternly.” I replied to his challenge with an innocent flutter of my lashes—a trick my brothers detested when I used it on them. “Why do you care anyway?”
He crossed his arms over his chest. “You know who I am, Lady.”
Unfortunately, he was right. I did know who—and what—he most likely was, which is why my thoughts were whirling anxiously.
“Please—I need to make some recompense to this mortal’s soul, seeing as one of our own murdered him.” Tears filled my eyes without warning, and I steadied myself against a prie-dieu with a lone candle burning. “The music the world will never know now makes this a real tragedy. Mozart was assassinated because of my inattention. He shouldn’t have been vulnerable, but now he’s dead. In the end, I have no one to blame but myself.”
The smile had left my companion’s lips. He was peering at me, and I couldn’t decipher his expression at all. He moved slightly then stiffened, as if he’d checked himself before some hasty action.
“That’s why I am here,” he said after a few moments, and his voice was much softer. “I was concerned you might be blaming yourself, Morgaine. Mozart’s death was not your fault.”
“You’re the Adjudicator, aren’t you?”
I didn’t really need him to confirm who he was. Adjudicators rule over all the offices of Death. They monitor our activities, judge our disputes, and enforce our laws. Adjudicators possess incredible power. They keep the cycles of life moving smoothly, and every Death is oath-bound to one of the four. I’d never met my Adjudicator. In over twenty centuries, Mozart’s was my first unscheduled death so there’d been no reason for him to summon me.
He regarded me steadily. “One of them.”
“And my domain falls under your aegis. I am your problem to solve.” I lifted my chin. “So you’ve come to assess my share of the blame then?”
“I already have.” The Adjudicator took my arm once more, but this time his hand wasn’t iron-hard around my elbow. “You have been a model Death, Lady. You have never required my supervision in the past. You have always operated within the parameters of your role. Your attention to detail has been exemplary. You care for the mortals in your charge, and you have always known precisely when a lifespan should end. You have never interfered with a mortal’s destiny, and have cherished every mortal your domain touched. So when I was informed of Mozart’s unscheduled death, I immediately knew this wasn’t the result of some inattention on your part, but a deliberate act of murder. Now it’s my responsibility to learn who desecrated your dominion…and that begins when you tell me why you think this mortal knew he was dying.”
I had to be very careful with my reply. I couldn’t refuse to answer an Adjudicator, but I couldn’t tell him the full story either. My book of time had said that Mozart’s Requiem would somehow transcend its creation in the mortal world and change the immortal realm. That’s why I’d intervened and created a trigger so the Requiem would be his last composition, undertaken when he was already close to death.
I hadn’t wanted other immortals to see Mozart as a threat.
“Years ago, I secreted a magical link in his mind. Mozart wasn’t going to be inspired to write his Requiem until the end of his life. I felt it was only fair that his last work be his greatest, so his career was always personally fulfilling. He wasn’t destined for wealth or titles in his mortal life, so this was the most rewarding path I could give him,” I confessed. “No mortal was capable of breaking that enchantment. So if Mozart was working on the Requiem then he knew he was dying. Whoever killed him didn’t just show up arbitrarily one day and snap Mozart’s tether because this mortal insulted him at a party. No, this was a slow death, a fatal malady masked as something innocent. Whoever did this knew how such a thing would affect me.” The last words came out before I could stop them.
He stepped a little closer, and for some reason his eyes looked lighter. “You think this is some sort of personal vendetta?”
“Whoever committed this crime must be a Death with some reason to come after me personally. Nothing else makes sense. Mozart’s music is eternal. Now he’s gone and his Requiem, which would have been his magnum opus, is unfinished, along with hundreds of symphonies, operas, and—”
“Is the Requiem truly that extraordinary?”
I hesitated again. Not even an Adjudicator could look into my personal book, the book of time that catalogued the deaths of my mortals, unless I invited him. Only if I were on trial could my book be accessed without my permission, and it would take all four Adjudicators to make that happen. No one aside from me should know that some kind of magical power would originate in Mozart’s Requiem.
And yet another immortal had killed him.
I decided to hedge my bets.
“I haven’t heard it yet. He wasn’t supposed to compose the Requiem until 1816. I only know what my book said of this work. My book hasn’t…” My voice trailed off and I had to swallow hard. “I haven’t ever been wrong about any artist.”
The Adjudicator gave me a peculiar look and I flinched mentally. He knew I wasn’t being completely forthright with him. But he didn’t pursue the matter further. Instead, he extended his hand, as if we were going to dance together.
We descended the spiral staircase and returned to the cold empty cathedral. As we approached the massive organ, Mozart’s soul appeared. The Adjudicator gave him a small smile and I winced again.
I hadn’t even felt him summoning Mozart’s soul.
Mozart looked confused. In his soul state, he looked like himself again and not the grotesquerie that was even now on its way to St. Marx’s cemetery and an unmarked grave. He spotted me and his face creased into a familiar puckish expression.
Morgaine! I would not have feared my end had I known you would be there.
“Is there anything I can do for you, dear one?” I asked quietly.
I am concerned only for my family, and my music.
“I will take care of your family. Constanze and the children shall want for nothing,” I promised him. “What dispensation do you want for your music?”
Mozart’s soul was glittering in front of me, as did all my mortals’ souls when they were ready to make the transition from one life cycle to the next.
My Requiem…Count von Walsegg commissioned it. I think he wants to steal it.
Commissioned? Mozart was supposed to write his Requiem for himself, a personal epitaph that would stand through the ages as a testament to the greatest composer of history. But if a mortal had commissioned the Requiem and then an immortal had killed the composer, then this murder had been planned.
Someone knew more about the Requiem than I did, and either wanted to neutralize the threat it posed to the immortal realm or to take that power for themselves. They’d used hydrana because a slow death would result and would trigger the magical stipulation I’d placed on the composition. But they’d miscalculated. Mozart’s health had never been good, and his body was too frail to fight against the poison. So this unknown immortal’s impatience had foiled his own plan, because as far as he knew, Mozart had died before the work was finished.
But I knew differently.
My voice hardened. “I will never permit anyone to steal your life’s work, dear one.”
Thank you, Morgaine. I should have known Death would be both beautiful and merciful—
My eyes began to burn as tears of rage mingled with those of sorrow and guilt.
Yes, Death must be merciful. And while mercy is at the core of my role as Death, there is something within me that others might not expect—an element of violence, perhaps, inherited from my always-feared father or taught me by my martial brothers. Some immortals (like my brothers) might consider me to be fragile, but they misjudge how determined and explosive I get when crossed.
One should never underestimate a Death.
“Prepare yourself, my dear one,” I said softly. “I will walk by your side until I deliver you to your next life cycle, and as we walk I will tell you what your music means to humanity and of the long immortality you derive as a result. After your funeral, we will go. So if there is anything or anyone you’d like to see before your next consciousness begins, now is the time.”
“Before that, Maestro, would you share your Requiem with us?” the Adjudicator asked suddenly.
Mozart looked confused again. My Requiem is not finished, and never will be.
“Imagine the music in your head, Maestro, and we shall hear it,” the Adjudicator said. “I would consider it an honor to listen to your music one more time.”
I was surprised again, but didn’t say anything. The Adjudicator, a Death far beyond me in age and power, was familiar with Mozart’s music? Something unusual was driving his interest in this particular crime, some suspicion that went beyond the requirements of his guardianship of all Death. I knew as no other immortal did—or so I thought—that Mozart’s genius lay in the fact that he did much of his composing internally, working out most of each score in his head. Many of his works were completed but not yet on paper, which made his unscheduled demise even more tragic.
So if the Adjudicator knew that, then who else did? And did they—he—know about the Requiem creating some kind of power? If he knew the Requiem’s fated path, then the Adjudicator was almost certainly aware about my transgressions of the law as well…like centuries of collecting magical artifacts to defend myself against an immortal I’d always feared.
My knees suddenly felt weak, and I sank ignominiously into a pew. Mozart nodded briefly, closed his eyes, and—
The immense cathedral was filled with the ascending pulse of music.
Over my existence, I have witnessed the birth of countless Masses—music that complements the beauty of a sacrament that had survived, unvarying, for centuries. A Requiem was the most restrictive of all those religious scores, where music must be leashed by the rituals of death: somber, sorrowful, and serious.
But every Mass I’d ever heard paled next to Mozart’s creation as the Introitus soared around us. The only thing that could have made this even more perfect would have been a live performance, filled with the ecstasy and savagery mortals would bring to such a haunting composition. Mozart’s Requiem was brilliant, and innovative beyond anything I’d ever heard. The integration of the orchestra and the chorus was so breathtaking in its synthesis of sounds that tears rose to my eyes.
I understood instantly that the Requiem was Mozart’s expression of his unplanned journey into Death, abandoned and alone.
Had he known intuitively what I was? Had Mozart somehow recognized the difference between death and a Death? Did he know that at the end of his days I would come for his soul, severing his tether to life with as much compassion and pride as ever a Death could feel for a mortal being? Everything about the Requiem’s triumphant explosion of music evoked in me an emotion I only experienced with certain people—the gentle ecstasy when the absolutism of terror is ameliorated by the solace I give my mortals in the last grasping moments of their lives.
Truth be told, something within the music created a strange longing within me, but with that longing came excruciating pain.
As the Requiem marched into the Dias Irae, I wiped my eyes and whispered, “No more. Please.”
Mozart opened his eyes and the music ceased with abrupt severity. Did you not like my work, my lady?
“This Requiem is glorious—your greatest work,” I said honestly. “But in the face of my failure, I am not worthy to hear it.”
The Adjudicator darted a swift look at me. Without hesitation, he took my hand in both of his, and commanded softly, “A bit more, if you please, Maestro.”
The Confutatis continued the thematic rhythm I’d noticed in the Introitus, but this time with a staccato burst of strings into the ethereal vocals that echoed through the vault overhead as if angels were singing. The music encapsulated both the reverence a Death felt for the mortals consigned to their care and the swift severance of the tether between mortal flesh and the immortal soul.
Just listening to it made me feel odd…dizzied and yearning at the same time.
But that dichotomy ended with the beginning of the Lachrymosa, which for the first time resonated with Mozart’s personal fears.
And I, the Death who was supposed to govern his demise, the immortal who should have steered him from the pain of life into the solace of his soul’s next cycle, had not been there to perform my duty. As a result, the Lachrymosa reverberated with my failure on a level I couldn’t escape.
Mozart had known he was dying…but I had not.
The sincerity of his fear was counterbalanced with his awareness of what Shakespeare had called ‘the undiscovered country’. Mozart’s country, when discovered, was a realm of music pure and piercing and proud and I did not deserve to share that country with him.
I couldn’t listen anymore. My emotions were churning so violently that I felt ill, like I was moving backwards swiftly and couldn’t stop myself. I dashed tears away with my free hand. The Adjudicator lifted his hand and the Requiem stopped abruptly.
“You are grieving over this mortal,” the Adjudicator said gently. “Few Deaths care so deeply about their mortals as you do, Morgaine.”
“I need to go. I need to send his soul to rest.”
“No, you do not.” The Adjudicator’s voice was quiet and implacable.
“I beg your pardon?”
“You will not be taking Mozart to his rest.” He waited until I looked up at him in speechless horror. “Mozart will remain earthbound for a time.”
My heart began to pound. He knew. The Adjudicator knew the Requiem was meant to be something other than just another Mass.
“Why torture his soul? What has he done to deserve such a sentence?” I demanded, as anger, one of the few traits I shared with my hot-headed brothers, overwhelmed my guilt.
“I have two reasons for my decision. First, we’ll need his soul here if we are to find the party responsible for this breach of our laws. And second”—he glanced at Mozart, who was listening with an odd expression on his face—“I think it imperative that he is given the opportunity to finish his Requiem.”
“Finish it?” I echoed. “He’s dead. How do you expect him to finish it?”
“I am granting his soul permission to influence whomever he chooses to complete the Requiem. He will be able to directly plant each bar and note and instrument into that individual’s head. You are right, Morgaine. If this composition is never completed, its loss would be a tragedy.”
“But he wouldn’t have sole authorship,” I pointed out.
The Adjudicator shrugged. “What is more important—the music or the credit?”
The music, Mozart’s soul interjected before I had a chance to formulate a reply.
The feel of his hands around mine was disconcerting. I licked my dry lips, uncomfortably aware that I wouldn’t be able to free myself. “You’re setting a trap, aren’t you?”
“You heard the same thing in this Requiem I did, Morgaine. You heard the strains of magic—our magic…Death magic—dancing throughout.” The Adjudicator’s voice was quiet, and for some reason my nerves settled. “What if Mozart managed to capture something in this music that somehow poses a threat to other immortal entities? What if Mozart was killed to serve one purpose: to prevent him from completing the Requiem?”
I was almost certain that the Adjudicator had it wrong, and that Mozart was murdered to compel him to write the Requiem, but that was the last thing I needed to share with him.
“Even if you’re right, I have to be more concerned for my mortal’s soul. So what if something goes wrong? What if Mozart’s soul is obliterated by whoever this unknown enemy is? His death is already tormenting me. The destruction of his soul would send me to the Void. Must I risk failing him twice?”
“His soul will be safe,” the Adjudicator replied. “For not only will you be there to protect him, but I will too.”
I took a step back. “But—”
He smiled. “We will pose as mortals—something you are adept at—and we’ll see what prey we can catch.”
“Maestro.” The Adjudicator turned to Mozart with a respectful inclination of his head. “Please give us privacy while Morgaine and I discuss our options. You may choose any resting place you like, and if you need us just speak our names.”
I do not have the honor of knowing your name, my lord.
“Bevyn,” the Adjudicator replied.
He sent me a warning glance and the skin on the back of my neck prickled as my heart sank. The name Bevyn I knew. I’d heard many stories about him from my brothers, who were all bound to him. This Adjudicator wasn’t just a Death who was stronger than me. Bevyn was the Warrior of Death, famed for his implacability and his absolute conviction that the laws were inviolate.
That last fact alone didn’t bode well for our future relationship.
Mozart’s soul faded from sight, leaving me with the Adjudicator in the vast silence of Saint Stephen’s Cathedral. The Warrior of Death got to his feet and held out his hand.
“Come, Morgaine. Let’s go someplace where you and I can speak frankly about this situation without fear of being spied upon or interrupted by mortals.”
I looked up at him mutely, my mind racing. He sighed.
“You are in no danger from me, Morgaine. Come.”
In the face of his insistence, there was nothing I could do. Anyone who’d entered at that moment would have seen nothing beyond a gentleman demonstrating the gentlest courtesy to a young woman who was in some sort of emotional distress. No one would suspect we were both immortal, and that he was one of the four entities that could obliterate me down to ash and a footnote in history. The Adjudicator tucked my hand into the crook of his elbow, replaced his hat, and we strolled out the door into a Vienna that looked otherworldly, shrouded as it was by the mourning mists for Mozart.
The clammy, insidious feel of those mists wrapped around me as I sank into my thoughts. I hadn’t realized how one untimely demise could set off a series of catastrophes, not only in the mortal world but in my world as well. Mozart’s death threatened the existence of humanity and the immortal plane as well.
Just as other Deaths misjudged me, I had misunderstood Mozart’s genius—how his ability to invent could lead him perilously close to fundamental truths that were the firmament for immortal powers and the continued existence of the tiny world we governed. His death was now leading me down that same treacherous path, and I was woefully unprepared for the dangers that his genius and my wrath would inspire.
That’s because despite my care of him, despite my attention and studious regard, I hadn’t recognized the existential knowledge this one little man carried within his soul—knowledge that even the greatest among my people had not recognized—until it was too late to save him. Once those immortals had learned what his Requiem would do, they’d coveted that knowledge.
And they’d killed him for it.
Now, I was walking at the side of an immortal who would do the same thing to me if he ever learned how much I’d concealed from him. So the fog seeping through my clothes and into my bones wasn’t just mourning for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but was clinging to me like a presentiment of the fate that likely awaited me as well.
While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.—Leonardo da Vinci
The Adjudicator opened the door to an opulent drawing room and gestured for me to precede him. Still unsettled and determined not to show it, I sailed past him and settled my voluminous skirts around me, insuring there was no room for him to sit beside me on the settee. I pulled off my gloves and then unpinned my hat and set it on my skirts. The Adjudicator smiled lazily and went to stand in front of the fire—a human gesture, intended to make a mortal believe he’d been chilled in the clinging, cold mist that was building through the city outside.
For a moment, he regarded me with his heavy-lidded eyes. My body warmed under that lengthy assessing stare, and unaccountably I became flustered. That, naturally, stirred my temper up and I had the uncomfortable feeling that he knew it.
“No one can listen to our words here,” he remarked in a voice so matter-of-fact I almost smiled by accident. “I have protected this dwelling from the tricks of our kind. Here we can discuss what we wish without fear.”
“Then let’s discuss why you intend to torture Mozart’s soul…a soul, I might add, that doesn’t warrant a fate so cruel as to be earthbound. Of all my mortals, Mozart least deserves the—the indignity of being relegated to a mere ghost.”
“This is just a temporary situation. I agree that Mozart has done nothing to earn eternal torment at my hands. But he would be tortured in his next life cycle if the Requiem, his magnum opus as you yourself called it, remained unfinished. He wouldn’t know why he was so dissatisfied and bitterness would taint his soul beyond recognition. I have decided, therefore, to grant him an opportunity I have never given another mortal—the chance to complete his last, greatest work. Once he is done and his soul satisfied, then and only then will Mozart be ready to move forward.”
Once he’d put it like that, I really couldn’t make any other objection. I closed my mouth helplessly and glared at him. He continued to watch me, that intent gaze belying the indolent ease of his lean body.
“But my primary purpose for permitting this is neither artistic nor benevolent,” he admitted. “For some time now, I have suspected someone is trying to disrupt the workings of Death. I believe this is part of that planned disruption.”
I frowned. “While I would consider Mozart’s death a tragedy as well as an affront, not many other Deaths would. After all, most are concerned with a far larger scale of souls than I am and have little interest in the arts.”
“Which is why you were chosen for the role you play,” he said with a small smile. “It has always been essential that those we assign as agents of Death have a genuine love for the souls they are responsible for. However, I think you may underestimate the impact of this particular death. Mozart’s greatness has never been disputed. Other immortals besides you have taken an interest in him and his music. I know of at least fifteen or twenty who have come to watch his work in the last year alone.”
My blood chilled. That many?
“You keep track of our movements?”
“To a degree. If that many agents of Death flock to watch one man’s musical work, that’s something I am required to keep an eye on.” The Adjudicator considered me for a moment, then crossed the room, laid my hat on the table, moved my skirts, and sat down beside me. “I am afraid that the architect of this plot may be another Adjudicator. If that is the case, there is nothing I can discover openly. I must resort to subterfuge, and in order for that to be successful I need your help.”
Another Adjudicator? I blanched.
“Me? What could I do?”
“There is a misconception about you, Morgaine. Many of the other Deaths think that because you are the youngest of our number and your chosen dominion is the arts, you are rather insignificant and passive. A Death who shuns conflict.” His gaze changed once more into a sort of wary speculation. “I have reason to believe that perception is wrong. If I went to another Death and asked their assistance, a traitor among us would get suspicious. But I don’t think that will happen with you.”
“So you’re asking for my help because everyone else thinks I’m weak?” I asked sarcastically. “Thank you. That’s the nicest compliment I’ve gotten in two thousand years.”
“No, I’m asking for your help because I rather desperately need it,” he replied, his voice quiet. “I cannot decipher this puzzle without setting a trap, and I cannot conceal my reasons for being here unless I can convince everyone that my presence is wholly coincidental.”
“And how am I supposed to manage that?”
“You already are managing that for me.”
I narrowed my eyes.
“If the other immortals believe I am—how do the humans say it…your mortal paramour?—then my presence in Vienna and my association with you will be explained. You’ll be closely monitoring the artistic community and I will merely be your bored companion. But through you, I will be able to access the people and places I need to investigate.”