The room in which Mr. Punch and Julian sat—that room made of the fibers of their collective thoughts and souls—grew dimmer. The silk hangings which had begun as a sunny yellow and which had turned to an icy blue, became a silvery gray. The gilt furnishings—those Rococo visions created in Julian’s mind—turned to pewter. Punch felt the very coolness of them press into his back. He looked around the room that only they could occupy.
“Master, it’s changing again—this place what you say I created for you.” Mr. Punch said nervously. “Getting’ darker, it is.”
“We don’t have much time, Mr. Punch.” Julian responded without emotion.
“I’m scared.” Punch answered.
“There’s no need to be.” Julian smiled.
“Surely, our chums will come for us. Robert--what’s always been so brave and kind to us and Cecil, and Adrienne. Surely, they ain’t gonna let us die on the floor in that sticky, wicked house.”
“Who’s to say?” Julian sighed.
“It can’t be.” Mr. Punch shook his head.
“You like Robert, don’t you?” Julian smiled.
“I do.” Mr. Punch nodded.
“You didn’t at first.” Julian said.
“Not at first.” Mr. Punch shrugged. “Maybe. Don’t like no one at first. You didn’t like him neither. That’s why I had to deal with him. Didn’t trust him, you didn’t.”
“Trust is a foreign concept to me.” Julian said quietly.
“Rightly so.” Mr. Punch nodded. “But, Robert showed that he could be trusted, he did.”
“Yes.” Julian agreed. “So did Adrienne and Cecil. We’re lucky.”
“We are—quite.” Julian smiled again. “I must thank you for allowing us to be so fortunate. Had it been up to me, I’d have shut myself off from them. I’d never have know what it meant to trust someone, to feel that warmth and joy. You afforded me that opportunity.”
“That’s why you got me, Master.” Mr. Punch said. He looked around, “Here, the room’s darker still. I feel cold.”
“Don’t let it bother you,” Julian shook his head. “There’s nothing to fear about coldness. I’m quite used to it.”
“Isn’t it better to be warm?” Mr. Punch asked.
“I suppose it is.” Julian said thoughtfully, “But, without one, you can’t have the other. I know that now.”
“I don’t care for the cold.” Mr. Punch gripped the arms of the chair in which he sat in Julian’s mind. They’d turned the color of ebony and the sight of it made Mr. Punch shiver.
“Why?” Julian asked. “Isn’t it funny? We share a body. We’re so close, yet, so distant. You know me, but there’s so much about you that I don’t know. Why don’t you like the cold, Mr. Punch?”
“It reminds me.” Mr. Punch grunted.
“Of what?” Julian asked. “Of what, Mr. Punch? I need to know. It’s time for me to know.”
“’Spose you’re right, Master.” Mr. Punch grumbled. He took a deep breath, and as be began to speak, the room flashed a bright orange, and the coldness that Punch felt was shocked away by a sharp, unbearable pain.
Punch yelped as he opened his eyes. Above him, the unfamiliar face of a woman stared down. Her dark skin was smooth and shone radiantly beneath a turban of orange, green and blue. She muttered words which were foreign to him and he howled.
“Quiet down, man.” The woman commanded. “I’m goin’ to help you.”
Punch’s eyes darted around. In the distance, he could see Iolanthe Evangeline, Arthur and Ulrika. Barbara Allen stood directly behind the woman in the turban.
“It’ll be all right, Julian.” Barbara whispered. “We’ve made a pact, Marie Laveau and I.”
Muffled, angry voices arose from the distance, and Punch became aware that the other three in the room were arguing—the loudest of them all was Ulrika Rittenhouse.
“Pay attention to only me,” Marie Laveau ordered.
Mr. Punch looked at her—his eyes clouding with pain.
“Do you hear me?” Marie asked.
“I do.” Punch croaked.
“What is your name?”
“Punch Molliner.” He answered.
“What is your name?” She repeated.
“I told you!” Punch groaned.
“His name is Julian, Duke of Fallbridge.” Barbara responded quickly.
“No, it isn’t.” Marie spat angrily. “That’s not the soul that I see before me. I can’t revive the life of a man that’s got two souls in him! I can only give my strength to one soul! Which will it be?”
Did you miss Chapters 1-153? If so, you can read them here.