Aunt Esther returned with the grimoire and the malum in her hands. She passed the mechanical apple to me and then rapidly flipped the pages of the book. “Ah… Here we are. I will be your guide for this first journey. Arabella, you must hold on to me. If we lose our connection, you won’t come back to this time. Understood?”
“Yes.” I dropped my cloak and wrapped my hand around her elbow.
Looking glass, looking glass, up on the wall
Take me to a soul so small.
Help me find the one I must,
A man overwhelmed by lust.
A sharp, cold breeze blew into the room as everything around us blurred, and the floor dropped from beneath our feet. As the wind picked up, it took all I had in me to hold on to my aunt. Colors swirled before my eyes. Ghost-like images floated in and out. When our surroundings stopped spinning, we stood in a large room with lots of natural sunlight, arches, and columns. Up a short set of marble stairs sat a diminutive man on a golden chair. His attire was odd. It was as if colored sheets were draped around his body, and there were sandals on his feet.
“Where are we?” I whispered.
“If I read correctly, we should be in the past. The man in the chair is a king of an empire.”
The emperor argued with another man, standing in front of him. “Marcus, it is a simple statue.”
“We have enough problems with the Jews without your erecting a monument to yourself,” said Marcus. “Gaius, are we not friends? Have I ever advised you wrong?”
“No, you have not.” Gaius raked a hand over his face. “I will reconsider the statue.”
“That is all we ask.” Marcus nodded and left the room.
Aunt Esther tapped my arm. “Now, we act. Pay close attention.”
She waved a hand. Our customary dresses disappeared, and we wore plain white sheets like the men. Even the grimoire was gone.
“Tuck the malus into your garment,” she said and then cleared her voice, dragging me into the room. “Excuse us, Emperor?”
The man glanced up. “Who allowed you in here?”
“That does not matter,” my aunt said. “What matters is that you get the status you seek.”
He scowled. “Speak fast before I summon my guards.”
“I can ensure that you live on forever. You do not need a statue or a monument for that.”
The emperor’s eyebrows shot up. “I do not?”
“No.” Aunt Esther inched closer to the man, bringing me along. “My niece has been touched by the gods. Anyone who touches her lives forever.”
He glanced at me. “Which one of the gods?”
“Jupiter himself saved her from death.”
I wanted to laugh at her lie.
We waited while the emperor considered my aunt’s words. Then, he waved to us. “Hurry. Let her touch me and then Incitatus, my horse.”
A horse? Was this ruler mad?
Aunt Esther wasted no time. We climbed the stairs and stopped in front of the man. “Go ahead, sweetie. Touch the emperor so that he might have long life.”
I placed my hand on his chest.
“Emperor, please close your eyes. Looking into the face of a god might harm your vision,” she said.
The idiot did as she said. Aunt Esther mouthed a spell. His body glowed and shimmered. A translucent figure lifted off him like someone moving a blanket. It hovered for a moment. My aunt continued her incantation, and the form zipped past my garment. The evil apple shook beneath my clothes.
Aunt Esther smiled as she took my hand and motioned for me to move away from the ruler. We hurried down the stairs and back to the hallway we were in. She waved her hand. Instantly, our clothes and grimoire reappeared.
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