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Bittersweet Symphony

A Morningstar Encounter Short Story



Bittersweet Symphony. Orange rays and lines of light over the domed cathedral Sacre Couer

Devonte hadn’t been to Paris in a decade.

The only thing that had changed were fewer cars. The people were still beautiful, walking down the tree lined boulevards, crowded beneath green awnings, drinking coffee at tables in the spring sunshine.

If he’d had more time, he would have entered the shadowy recesses of the venerable Les Deux Magots himself, given a nod to the two Chinese magicians cast in bronze, who watched over the bar and cafe before taking his own seat outside in the sun. Perhaps found a philosophy student or budding writer to talk with. Plant the seed of an idea in their heads. Ideas that would root in the subconscious and emerge six months or three years later, fully formed.

Ideas that could influence the course of history. Make a minuscule change to nudge one person’s actions, then another.

But there was no time. It would have been polite to greet the two bronze magicians before heading out on his errand, but the ancient figures would understand. Some powers waited on no one. Or not for long.

He hurried along St. Germain, light coat flapping around his black trousers, green leather brogues heading toward the Odeon metro and the university, where he turned, heading toward St. Michel and the wandering Seine.

He was heading to St. Michel. Devonte had an appointment with this statue three years ago and missed it when a blow to the head from an angry Balrog took him out of commission for six months. And then there had been Rafael. Rafael who fussed over him, made him beans and rice and cuddled him close when the night terrors took him over.

It had been hard to leave that cocoon of love and safety. Get his head back in the game.

There was still a world to save, wasn’t there. Whether he felt like it or not.

Finally, heading up Rue de St. Michel, he approached the broad intersection and the small plaza from which the fountain rose.

Built in the 1860s on the end of a Beaux Artes building made of tan stone, it showed a bronze Michael, wings outstretched, triumphantly holding a bronze sword with a wavering blade aloft as he stepped upon a fallen figure, supposedly a demon—supposedly the Christian devil himself. The figures were high on a plinth overlooking the plaza, set into a curved niche, flanked by dragons spitting water into a series of shallow pools.

Devonte stood across the busy confluence of boulevards as pigeons pecked and startled, and people rushed.

Watching. Waiting. One couldn’t be too careful. There was no telling what sorts of creatures were about, skulking in the shadows or hiding in direct sun. And the Powers? Well. Those forces could be anywhere at anytime. Luckily, Devonte was on good terms with most of them.

At least the ones he knew. Or he hoped he was. Sending up a quick prayer to the Mother of Waters, he took one last look around. Just shoppers. Tourists. Local people heading to or from lunch. A gaggle of school children out with not quite enough adults to keep their antics in check.

Time to cross. He waited for the green and sauntered toward the plaza, as if he was simply a man out for a walk in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

As soon as the chunky rubber sole of his highly polished green leather brogues touched the concrete tiles of the plaza, he felt the change.

She was there. Waiting. The way she always was.

“Morningstar,” he said. Though she had not materialized yet, he breathed her in on the scents of river, perfume, and car exhaust, in the sounds of laughter, pigeons cooing, and the splash of water from the dragon’s mouths.

And there she was, bright as day, skin as dark as night, hair as red as flame, shaved on the sides, with a waterfall of fiery flames cascading down her back. She wore perfectly tailored black trousers over boots with heels. A burgundy shirt, buttoned up to her throat, beneath a long black coat, summer weight.

Gold rings pierced her eyebrows, her nose, and ran in rings up her delicate ears. More gold festooned her graceful hands, a blood red ruby catching the sun from the central finger of her left hand.

“You cut your hair,” Devonte said, as if her appearance was as commonplace as the pigeons taking sudden flight across the plaza. “I like the color.”

Her amber eyes bored into his, and he almost shat himself. But then she smiled.

Her smile was the best thing in the world. It contained every fleck of light on every blade grass. Each gurgle of a babe in arms. Every flight of fancy emerging from a poet’s mouth. Each spark of revolution lit in every heart, right in the moment when a person or a people were about to give up. To give in.

Such was her power. Such was the power of dawn. Breathtaking in the literal sense.

He was awestruck. There was no other way to be.

“I came to see Michel,” Devonte finally said, when he could take an easy breath again.

“So I see. You missed your window. He’s busy now. On another mission.”

Devonte crossed his arms over his chest and felt the disappointment wash through him. “Right.”

The statue had not moved since he arrived. There was no flicker of fire from the sword. The bronze demon lay, inert, crushed beneath the archangel’s heel.

Michel was to give him a boon. An amulet of power. To help Devonte find his way. Instead, Devonte had lost more time and lost the best chance he likely had to make things right.

To avenge his mother’s life and fulfill her dreams.

“I can help you,” Morningstar remarked, as if remarking on the weather. As if she could not read every thought that crossed the magician’s face.

“How?” Devonte whispered. “No one can help me.”

And they could not. He had traveled to the six holy women of Peru. The last remaining shamans in Siberia. The witches in Benin. The priests in Japan.

Devonte had traveled all over the earth, trying to find someone who could lift the curse laid on his heart. The curse of grief. Of despair so deep nothing would drown it.

Oh, he had tried that, too. But alcohol, LSD, anonymous sex, MDMA, more alcohol, more random sex, hours of prayer and meditation… none of it shifted the stone that was his heart. So, he gave all of those up, too, and did his duty.

The duty his mother told him he must never lay down.

“The people need you, son. There is evil in this world that must be confronted, every day. You have the ability to fight. I gave you that. And nothing, not even your own pride or despair, can wrest that from your arms.”

“I’m so tired,” he said to the waiting, amber eyes.

“I know,” Morningstar said. “Let’s take a walk.”

***

Devonte expected Morningstar to take him to the banks of the Seine. After all, water was known to have healing properties.

Instead, she took him to the Basilica de Sacré Coeur, on the butte of Montmartre, near the cemetery where famous dead people were too numerous to count. Artists. Musicians. Writers. Actors… All were laid to rest beneath the trees.

They walked up the hill, past a small boulangerie, toward the three white domes of the church.

“Why do you like churches so much, Morningstar?” Devonte’s calves complained from being forced to walk an hour and then climb a hill.

Morningstar shrugged. “They’re peaceful these days, most of them. I like all sorts of places though. Synagogues. Temples. Menhirs in the woods. Any place that humans gather and remember there is more to life than their daily sweat and bread.”

Made sense, he guessed. As much as anything did anymore. Devonte had no felt peace in entirely too long, though. And places made sacred by sheer will and prayer didn’t seem to make a difference, one way or another.

“You’re going to make me climb to the damn dome, aren’t you?”

Morningstar laughed, that soul shaking sound causing every head in the vicinity to turn, to look up, to see what strange bird had emitted such a noise. Every face smiled. One old man even did a soft shoe shuffle before setting his cane on the pavement once again.

The top of the dome had a promontory with some of the best views of Paris in the city. Devonte had climbed it himself, many times. But he wasn’t up for it today. Not after all this walking. Not after all this heartache. Not after Michel was not there. Not at the fountain.

“No. Today we shall sit beneath the dome instead. I think it will help you.”

He was skeptical but followed the click of her boot heels across the marble floors. Followed as she calmly walked past tourists taking photos and a few people kneeling prayer. Followed beneath the high curved vault of the large, central dome, under the watchful eyes of Jesus on the ceiling, surrounded by light and sky blue.

Finally, Morningstar slid into a smooth wood pew, somewhere near the center of the basilica. He slid in after.

What a pair they made. Her, with her dark skin and bright red fall of braids. Him, far more ordinary. Just a simple magician in a spring weight coat and green leather brogues.

He was no Power. Not like her. Not like the Jesus painted up above. Not like Brigid, or Tonantzin, or Legba, or Freyr.

Devonte was simply a man who saw evil and tried to vanquish it but was never quite quick or thorough enough to do much good.

“Just sit,” Morningstar said, as if she heard the churn of his thoughts. “Sit and breathe. Close your eyes if you like. There is nothing you need to do right now except be.”

All right then. Devonte sat beneath the massive, curved vault with its lingering scent of benzoin, frankincense, and myrrh. The slight whiff of sulfur and beeswax from the tall, thick candles. A hint of spring perfume.

Relax the muscles. Soften the belly. Let the mind release its grip. Breathe.

He sat there, next to Morningstar for what felt like an aeon, but was like half an hour.

He sat. He breathed. He relaxed more deeply, with the knowledge that, should evil walk through the massive doors behind them, or burst through the glass above, Morningstar would have his back.

Tears warmed his cheeks. He sniffled.

And then, Devonte’s heart began to warm and buzz. He gasped, but kept his eyes firmly closed.

“Stay with it,” Morningstar murmured. “Let the light surround and fill you.”

The warmth spread as she spoke, spilling from his heart, swimming through his chest and down his limbs. Light surrounded him, he could see the change through his closed eyelids. He imagined that he must be glowing. Everything was glowing.

“It’s too much,” he gasped out. Too bright. Too beautiful. Too…

Everything.

One warm finger touched his temple.

“Morningstar?”

“Yes.”

And he Saw. And he Heard.

Devonte gasped again, like a baby taking its first breath in a new world.

He felt the light flow through the basilica, down the steps, down the rolling tarmac of the hill, past the boulangerie, rolling toward the blue gray snake of the river, bathing the city in a song of possibility.

Every aching heart, soothed. Every uncertainty made certain. Every whip, stilled. Every gun, twisted into nothingness. Every brutal shout, hushed.

And then, the city of Paris began to sing.

And Devonte let himself cry in earnest, for the first time since his mother had been sundered from this earth.

Next to him, Morningstar gathered him into her arms and rocked him as he wept.

“You are going to be all right, Devonte Miller. From this day forth, if you want to, you shall work for me. You shall root out hatred and spread the light. You shall walk strong and tall upon the earth. You shall find love and pass it on. You shall look evil in its face and change it into clean, fresh, soil.”

Devonte felt it. Felt it all. Felt the truth of Morningstar’s words.

“And you shall bring the fire of liberation when times are hard.”

Then she released him from her arms. He sat up, fished around for a handkerchief in his trousers. Wiped at his face and blew his nose.

Then he looked around. The basilica was as it had been when they arrived. A few old people shuffling toward the altar. Tourists taking photos. The sounds of spring outside. The scent of candles and incense.

But everything was slightly brighter than before.

“Is it me… or everything?” That had changed, he meant, but could not quite speak the words.

“Both.” He felt the smile in her voice and turned toward those amber eyes. They were the most beautiful things he had seen in his life.

“Do you accept?” she asked.

He held her gaze. Wondered what it would be like to kiss her lips. Would they burn like fire? Incinerate him like Icarus flying too close to the sun?

Then he realized she was waiting. Had asked him a question.

“Yes. I will work for you and with you, Morningstar. I will do my best to carry forth the light.”

There was still something he did not understand, but he could not sit on this hard seat forever. He needed the spring air outside. A crusty roll. A cup of coffee. To walk among the monuments of the dead.

The dead. His mother. And too many others.

Devonte rose and this time, Morningstar followed. The started down the white steps, walking in silence beneath the sun.

As he descended toward the street, he asked, “Why me? Why now? Why not before? Why ever?”

“The spark of liberation is within you, Devonte. It always has been, but you needed grief to crack open the protections around it. You were too certain of the world before. And too much hubris begins to twist your magic.”

“So, my mother’s death?” he asked as they reached the black tarmac and headed toward the boulangerie. More half questions, but Morningstar didn’t seem to mind.”

“That cracked you open just enough, shattered the building carapace of your arrogance, and set you adrift for a while. I watched, to see what would happen, and then you came here. Ready to fight along Michel’s side.”

“The sword of liberation.”

He held open the bakery door, awash in the smells of yeast, and coffee, and baking bread.

“Yes. I simply gave you a push to set it free.”

Humans. Even magicians. We are so fragile and powerful, he thought, as they approached the glass cases and the young woman waiting at the counter. But anything is possible, isn’t it?

Even a croissant and cup of coffee in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.


 

This short story would not exist without the support of my Patreon friends. I appreciate every single one of you.

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