The Stars Compel

by Michaela Roessner

Chapter 36

March, 1532 -- Rome

One day, while Tommaso worked in Cellini's shop, a priest came to visit. Tommaso had never seen the man before, but Cellini appeared well acquainted with him. The goldsmith hurried over to greet him, according the cleric great respect, almost fawning over him. Cellini's partner Felice, however, turned pale and excused himself from the shop to go run an errand.

"Who is he?" Tommaso asked Paulino.

Paulino glanced over his shoulder at the cleric and grimaced. "Some priest. Supposedly quite versed in Greek and Latin letters. Master Cellini thinks him a genius."

Tommaso raised his eyebrows. It was rare that Cellini thought of anyone besides himself as a genius. "You don't seem as impressed," he said to Paulino.

Paulino glanced again to where Cellini was showing the priest a number of the bottega's current projects.

"His reputation isn't based on his talents as a cleric so much as his talents as a necromancer. Felice is out of his mind with worry that Master Cellini would associate with such a man." Paulino shrugged. "But we all know how the master is convinced that he possesses untapped mystical powers. It's not surprising he's drawn to this priest."

Tommaso nodded. He remembered too well Cellini talking loudly about witchcraft on the day he'd first accompanied the goldsmith to the Vatican.

Even now, Cellini was leading the conversation with the cleric around to supernatural matters.

"There's a lady I love to distraction who's been spirited away from me. Would you possess the arcane means to divine when next our stars will cross again?" Cellini asked the mage.

The priest appeared nervous. He looked about furtively, to see if the apprentices were listening. "I can't speak of such matters casually," he said. "My arts are complicated, and with good reason veiled in mystery."

"But throughout my whole life I've had the most intense desire to see or learn something of your craft," Cellini protested.

The priest-necromancer frowned. "A stout soul and steadfast must the man have who sets himself to such an enterprise."

Cellini drew himself up. "Of strength and steadfastness of soul I have enough and more to spare, if I could only find the opportunity to make use of it."

The priest looked solemn. "Then if you have the heart to dare it, I'll amply satisfy your curiosity," he said. "But let us not discuss such matters in a public place."

Cellini appeared amused that the man was suspicious of his apprentices, but he acquiesced. They retired to Cellini's private quarters.

After the priest left, Cellini boasted to the entire bottega that they'd agreed on a time and place to meet to conjure up spirits for Cellini to question. "Who among you is brave enough to accompany me?" he challenged the apprentices.

No one came forward.

Cellini shook his head. "You are all young. Your blood should crave adventure and danger. What about you, Ser Arista?" he asked Tommaso. "Aren't you in the least curious to dabble in your ancestral legacy? Surely you don't fear such things?"

Tommaso shook his head. "I'm not afraid of any demon romantic or indulgent enough to guide you to your Angelica. I fear more powers on this side of reality's vale: I fear investigation, torture and imprisonment by the Inquisition."

"But if we're discovered, the Church will grant an exemption," Cellini argued. "Our guide and mentor is a priest."

With a laugh, Tommaso still declined. "I've learned my lesson about meddling in the love affairs of others. As for the rest, I'm not curious."

Later, though, he asked Paulino if he thought the priest-necromancer could actually help Cellini in his quest.

"Of course, " Paulino said, surprising Tommaso. "In fact, I'll wager you ten soldi that the sorcerer succeeds. But not because of any occult powers. Those he may or may not possess."

"Then why?" Tommaso asked.

"Because Angelica and her mother Beatrice are Sicilians. They fled from here to Sicily. Our fine priest who just left is also Sicilian, and just returned from that island. He met Master Cellini through an astounding series of coincidences -- too astounding to be believed. What I'd guess is that he saw Angelica and her family in Sicily and knows full well the whens and wheres of their future plans. He'll put on a spectacular show of thaumaturgical marvels, and in the end 'miraculously' elicit the information our master seeks from some foul-countenanced demon."

A week later Cellini regaled the bottega with an account of his adventure with the necromancer. Despite Paulino's predictions, Cellini was no wiser as to the whereabouts of his inamorata.

The goldsmith had persuaded a friend of his, Vicenzio Romoli, to accompany him to a site chosen by the priest. The priest, in his turn, brought with him another practitioner of the black arts. The priest required Cellini to bring certain materials for the ceremony: semiprecious stones, costly perfumes, fetid-smelling drugs and herbs and some means for making a fire.

After he had recited many incantations for over an hour, hordes of devils at last appeared. The necromancer instructed Cellini to ask them whatever he wished, but the devils declined to reply.

He might not have gained what he wished, but the experience was convincing enough that Cellini wished to attempt it again.

Tommaso knew the tale would amuse Cosimo Ruggiero. Upon returning from the bottega, he visited the young astrologer in his room. To his surprise, Cosimo received the news gravely.

"Cellini means to conjure with that man again?" Cosimo asked, fiddling aimlessly with one of his obscure, enigmatic tools -- a device made of four flat sticks of wood fastened together with screws to form the flexible outline of a square.

"Yes. This priest-necromancer says he must ascertain what the first ceremony lacked, the reason why the demons wouldn't speak. While he undertakes some scholarship in the matter,Cellini assembles more expensive perfumes, more gems, more drugs and herbs."

"And you say he asked you to join him on this expedition?'

"Yes. Of course I refused."

Cosimo flicked a fingernail against the framework device. He stared past Tommaso as if at horizonless vistas.

"When it appears Benevenuto means to conjure again, find a way to attend with him,'" Cosimo at last said in a reflective voice.

Tommaso was aghast. That was the last thing he wanted to do. He straightened his spine. "Master Ruggiero, all my life I served in your family's house. You were both my master and friend during that time. But now I serve Caterina. I do only her bidding." The words felt like chips of ice tumbling over his tongue.

Cosimo woke from his reverie with a start. He finally really looked at Tommaso. "Of course," he smiled. "You're right. Your duty lies with Caterina. Forgive me, Tommaso, what was I thinking?"

Tommaso left Cosimo's room relieved.

His relief didn't last long. The next day, as he served light refreshments to Caterina's ladies after a perfumery lesson, she called him to her side. On a small table by the settee was a small, carved rock crystal cassone. She opened it and took something out of it.

"Tommaso, I understand that Benevenuto Cellini has embarked on a new project that requires some trifling gems. Please give him this small token from me to aid him in his enterprise." She opened her hand. In it lay a moonstone. Its milky glow shadowed pearled light against her palm.

She fished around in the cassone and drew out a little leather pouch. She slipped the gem into the pouch. "Tell Cellini it's a Duchessina's whim to aid the course of true love." She looked Tommaso directly in the eye and held his gaze. "Tell him also that I'll aid him in any way I can: that my resources, including the help of those who serve me, are at his disposal."

Tommaso started to give voice to an inarticulate sound of protest.

Caterina cut him off. "All those who serve me, except, of course, those who will be away from Rome accompanying me on the hunting trip I'll soon be taking with my uncle."

Tommaso closed his mouth abruptly. Since she'd almost been gored by the boar while he stood by helplessly, nothing could induce him to attend another hunt. Not even the alternative of accompanying Cellini on one of the goldsmith's rash adventures. Tommaso sighed.

"Good. Besides the gem, I'll write Cellini a few lines specifying my support. If he should ask for aid at night, whoever helps him will be excused from duties the next day. This whole household knows, thanks to the tale borne by your apprentice friends, of the labor he exacts from those who assist him in love's quest." Caterina finished the note with a flourish. "I know this doesn't please you, Tommaso. But you did well to speak to Cosimo about Cellini's difficulties."

* * *

Cellini received the moonstone and read the note with delight. Tommaso knew the goldsmith assumed that Tommaso regretted not joining in the first expedition and had articulated this to Caterina.

"According to Her Grace, I can make a claim on your time, Ser Arista. In three nights hence, meet me here after your dinner duties."

Tommaso tried not to look glum. Caterina was due to leave for the country on the morning of Cellini's adventure: March 21. He knew he wouldn't be able to talk her out of her determination to send him along with the goldsmith by then.

Cellini misread his expression. "Fear not, you won't lack for company on this endeavor. Vicenzio Romoli agreed to participate again. My friend Agnolino Gaddi and young Guarnieri here" -- Cellini clapped the youngest apprentice on his shoulder -- "will also join us.'"

Guarnieri smiled uneasily.

Tommaso walked up to Cellini. He thrust his face within inches of the goldsmith's. "Attend my words well," he said. "Because my mistress bids me to, I'll go with you. But if you or any of your comrades ever mention my participation, you'll live to regret it. You declare you believe my mother's family to be witches. Would you risk running afoul of them? And you enjoy friends in high places who'd turn their backs on you if you foul my reputation."

Even Cellini had to realize he'd misread Tommaso's sentiments. He held up his hands in protest. "A reasonable request. One I can honor."

Tommaso knew it wasn't the warning about his family's occult powers that won the goldsmith's acquiescence, but instead the veiled threat that Michelangelo could be convinced to forsake Cellini.

Later he drew Paulino and Cencio aside.

"Why does Cellini want to take Guarnieri?" he asked them. "He's just a child. Surely one of the other apprentices would be more appropriate. Didn't anyone step forward to spare the boy?"

Paulino shuffled his feet and looked embarrassed. Cencio, however, was forthright. "No one wanted to go the first time, and no one changed their minds for this second excursion. But it wouldn't have made a difference. All of us have endeavored to eavesdrop as much as we can on what passes between Master and the priest-magician. We heard the magician tell Master that what they lacked the first time was a young, virginal assistant. I'm sure Guarnieri is the only one of us that Master is certain meets all the qualifications."

* * *

Three nights later, Tommaso returned to Cellini's bottega. While they awaited the arrival of Vicenzio Romoli and Agnolino Gaddi, Cellini loaded two satchels with the supplies the necromancer had requested.

They heard a tentative knock on the door. Cellini peered out. Romoli and Gaddi stood outside, shrouded in dark cloaks and large, flopping caps that hid half their faces, even from the light of the lanterns they carried. Cellini handed a satchel apiece to Tommaso and Guarnieri. Then they made their silent way through Rome's streets.

There was no moon. It had set early. Tommaso'd seen its slender sliver ghosting through the sky at noon. The air they breathed seemed thin, as if it, too, had retired early. Leaving the Bianchi, where Cellini had his studio, they passed through built-up sections of the city. Then the buildings grew less crowded, interspersed with the ruins of older structures. Finally they clambered over rubble and around forlorn, roofless columns, half-buried in brambles. Tommaso saw an occasional glint of campfires in the wasteland. He wondered who huddled around them. Homeless beggars? Drunken revelers? Thieves and murderers? He shivered.

At last they reached a huge, long, curving structures Although it was disintegrating along with everything else in the vicinity, enough of it stood intact that, giant high, it towered over them.

"Our destination," Cellini whispered. "We conjure fate within the Coliseum itself. Where gladiators once fought for their lives, I will fight for my beloved Angelica."

* * *

At almost the same moment, Caterina crept away from the hunting lodge. After the long, exhausting journey, she found it easy talking her two ladies-in-waiting into retiring early. A pleasant, spicy infusion slipped into their after-dinner libation assured them of agreeable dreams and deep sleep. She slid past them and out the door to her suite. Like Tommaso, she carried a satchel. Hers was small and light. The two instruments she needed most posed no burden. One rested in a silver medallion on her breast. The other stalked beside her.

With no moon abroad, she walked under the guidance of Tana, the spirit of the stars.

Cosimo Ruggiero might have doubts about Cellini's necromancer. She did not. True, he was almost certainly a swindler of some sort. But that he'd chosen to stage the second act of his confidence game on the night of Equinozio della Primavera -- the ascent of the Goddess -- a fact unnecessary for the mere deception of Cellini -- told her that he possessed more talent than Cosimo, or Tommaso's friend Paulino, gave him credit for.

Mountebank or true sorcerer, she'd soon know the truth of it. Ginevra and Gattamelata were prepared to fly this night to Rome.

* * *

Cellini led his little band to an arched opening in the Coliseum. Tommaso couldn't tell if it was a door or, with the foundation half-buried in silt, a window in one of the lower floors. They wound around catacombed corridors until they reached another arched opening. They stepped through, and stood in the bottom of a great bowl, its sides stubbled with row upon row of staggered worn stone seating.

The priest-necromancer was arranging piles of wood. He'd already set one fire out in the middle, where in ancient days lions dined on Christians.

"Where's your associate?" Cellini asked, looking around as they drew near the magician.

"We don't need him," the necromancer said. "When I meditated on the limited success of our last venture, I determined that one of the problems was that you, Benevenuto, should have performed the tasks I set for my colleague, since the questions whose answers we seek are yours."

"How can I discharge those tasks?" Cellini asked. "I possess many skills: as an artist, a marksman, a swordsman, even as a musician. But I know nothing of your craft. That is what I hoped to learn from you."

"Tonight is the beginning of that process," the magician reassured him. "As you yourself pointed out to me, you were born with a latent affinity for the occult. On our last adventure, I had ample opportunity to observe your emanations, the way the apparitions I invoked were drawn to you. Our quest will enjoy greater success with your raw aptitude than with all my colleague's hard-won learning."

Even under the flickering light of the oil lamps Agnolino Gaddi and Vicenzio Romoli held, Cellini's pleasure at the sorcerer's words were evident.

If this errant priest can charm spirits but one tenth as well as he charms Cellini, then he isn't the sham Paulino thinks him to be, Tommaso thought. I wonder what's the real reason his fellow necromancer chose not to join us tonight?

The priest donned robes of scarlet, azure and violet, with cabalistic symbols embroidered in gold thread. He gave Cellini's two friends several censers and instructed them as to which herbs he wished to have burning in each. To Cellini he handed a pentacle.

"You saw what I bid my assistant sorcerer do with this the last time. Tonight will not be the same. Await my instructions."

He directed Tommaso to the piles of wood and set him to laying five small fires around what would be the perimeter of the ceremony. He also ordered him to keep the large fire in the middle alive.

"What about me?" Guarnieri asked. "What shall I do?"

The necromancer patted him on the head. "Fear not. You have a most important part to play, in a little while."

Guarnieri, already uneasy, looked more nervous at these words. When the magician drew forth a long, curved ceremonial knife, the boy's eyes flooded with fear.

The priest started chanting and singing. He drew mystical symbols in the air with the knife. Tommaso recognized fragments of Greek and Latin, and another language he assumed was Hebrew. Holding the dagger before him, the priest shuffled forward, scuffing circles in the dust as he dragged his feet. Now and then he stooped to place one of the gems just outside the outline of the five circles he was forming around the smaller fires. Agnolino and Vicenzio followed exactly behind him, swinging their censers.

Then the necromancer ascribed a larger central circle around the biggest, central fire. He bid everyone to gather their supplies. Then he led each by the hand, one at a time, within the circle.

"No matter what comes to pass, do not leave this circle," he warned them. "It is our fortress. It protects us. If any of you depart before the bells for matins sound, your lives are forfeit to whatever demons come this night."

He set out packages of the herbs and perfumes. Then he commenced, with many complicated and theatrical gestures, his invocations. Occasionally he sprinkled herbs on the flames. They smoldered and billowed in oily, rancid-smelling clouds of smoke.

Tommaso's eyelids felt rimmed with scalding grit. he could scarcely breathe. Nearby he heard Vicenzio Romoli cough and Guarnieri whimper, but he could scarcely see them through the smudgy air and his watering eyes.

Tommaso recognized some of the scents, though he'd never smelled them in a burning state before: wormwood, mugwort, vervain, mandragora, aconite, cinquefoil. His mother kept these on a high shelf in the Ruggiero kitchen, away from children's hands and not to be mixed with the cooking herbs and spices. He'd only seen her bring them down to treat illnesses. A few of the smells -- the worst ones -- he'd smelled in faint whiffs when he sometimes passed Ruggiero the Old's studiolo. But nothing had smelled so ghastly as the sulfurous stench he now endured.

So it went for more than an hour. The necromancer threw herbs on the flames, then followed that with precious perfumes. Occasionally he ordered Tommaso to add more wood to the central fire.

Tommaso tried peering out into the darkness. The five smaller fires, without his attendance, burned down to glowing beds of coals. Only a few flames licked upward now and then, like flickering orange tongues. They barely lit the sable shadows beyond. Tommaso looked upward at the Coliseum's row upon row of seats. They seemed farther away than at the beginning of the ceremony.

One of the peripheral fires threw up a spray of sparks, illuminating the upper reaches of the stadium. Tommaso blinked. The tiered seats suddenly rushed downward, threatening to topple in on him. He threw up a futile arm to protect himself.

A dense cloud of fumigating herbs drifted past, blinding him. When it cleared, the seats were rushing away again. Tommaso felt dizzy. He sat down on the ground with a thump.

"Now, Benevenuto. Have the virgin child stand before you," the necromancer commanded. Cellini drew an unsteady Guarnieri in front of him.

"Hold the pentacle directly over his head." The necromancer instructed Cellini to turn the point of the pentacle in five different directions, toward the outlying fires, keeping Guarnieri beneath the star the entire time.

"Join us, join us, of Belphegor, Belial and Balaan," the necromancer droned. "Join us, Focolor, Forneus and Fistolo. Join us, Razanil, Rintrah and Ronove. I call you by name, all you demon captains of Hell's legions. I summon you by the virtue and potency of the Lord, the Uncreated, the Living, the Eternal!"

Shadows bulged outward from recesses in the Coliseum's windows and doors, from between the seats. Some separated and oozed toward the fire. Amorphous globs took shape. Tommaso saw here a horned head, there a goatlike form. Sweat stung on his forehead and into his already irritated eyes, trickled under his arms. The shapes drew closer. They stayed as flat and black as ink spots. An ethereal glow lit them from behind.

"They come, they come," the necromancer whispered in his chant.

Suddenly the five small dying fires erupted, throwing up shards of color and stuttering light: flashing solferino, madder, amber, emerald, jade, magenta, peacock blue.

"Just as before," Cellini breathed.

Small explosions went off outside the perimeters of the circles, like slowly igniting strings of firecrackers.

"Not like before," Cellini said. "What does it mean?"

"That we shall be successful this night," the necromancer said. "The effluvium from the astral plane consumes the gems we laid down as it forges a connection between the demons' realm and our own. Tonight we shall hear them speak.

"Heap more wood on the fire," he told Tommaso. "And you two, pour more perfume on the flames when I tell you to," he said to Vicenzio Romoli and Agnolino Gaddi. Then he instructed Cellini to turn the pentacle again over Guarnieri's head while he sprinkled herbs over the fire.

Incomprehensible sounds growled out of the darkness.

"Ask your questions, Benevenuto," the necromancer cried.

The goldsmith took a deep breath. "I demand to be reunited with my beloved Angelica!" he shouted. "Tell me when I shall see her again!"

The garbled snarling grew louder as the demons drew closer. Glints of firelight played over their bodies, revealing burnished, deep red skin. Now Tommaso could make out their features.

What a wonder, he marveled. They look just like the demons portrayed at masques and festivals, except that these are real. He would never doubt again the priests of the Holy Mother Church. Truly they must be able to see both Heaven and the Nether World, to describe the legions of Hell so accurately.

He glanced at his companions. Were they as dumbfounded as he?

They weren't looking at the devils. All of them, even the necromancer, were staring with open mouths at the pentacle Cellini held, and beneath it, young Guarnieri. Light poured in a star-shaped column from the pentacle down onto the boy's head. Guarnieri clenched his mouth, eyes, and hands tightly.

"What do you see, boy? Speak to us," the necromancer's voice shook.

Guarnieri''s mouth opened first. Light, as well as words, poured out of it. "I'm afraid," he said. Each syllable glowed.

"This is most unusual," the necromancer said weakly. "Can you see?'" he asked Guarnieri.

"They approach. They are watching. We're in danger," Guarnieri sobbed.

Tommaso whirled around. More dark shapes oozed from the far reaches of the Coliseum, flowing like water. When they reached the edges of the light they broke apart into droplets and pattered upward; black rain falling upside down. The wet flecks melded, rounding into objects, as though clear glass pitchers had been standing there waiting to be filled with ink. The "pitchers" stretched, contorted, became creatures Tommaso recognized.

The raven-headed men formed first -- perching, birdlike, wherever a good view could be had.

Other shapes bulged and twisted, grotesquely clownish, settling at last as the beasts Tommaso had once thought resembled buffoni.

More forms stretched upward, became angular. Some of their sharp surfaces silvered and turned pale: black, white, black, white, up their laddered skeletons, till their skull-knobbed heads popped out like ivory finials. The arlecchini.

Tommaso breathed in and held the air tight within his lungs. There was yet one creature missing. He peered out into the growing throng. He didn't find the one he sought. His breath, when he at last released it, trembled.

The first red demons had vanished beneath the growing dark battalions. Tommaso looked at his compatriots, huddled together in the fragile protection of the dirt-scuffed circle. Did they see the same specters he did?

Vicenzio Romoli and Agnolino Gaddi couldn't. They crouched close to the fire, their arms and hands over their faces. Cellini and the necromancer surely saw something. They stared, straining, back toward the farthest reaches of the stadium, where the darkest shadows were lumpy with emerging revenants.

"There must be a hundredfold more than the first time, " Cellini whispered.

"Heard you what they replied to your question?" The sorcerer tried to sound assured, but his voice was feeble with fear. "They said that in the space of another month you shall be where your love is. Now that they've answered your request, it behooves us to be civil and dismiss them gently, for we've conjured the most dangerous of all the denizens of Hell. Signore Romoli and Gaddi, raise yourselves and pour more perfume on the fire."

The necromancer started chanting and pleading with the demons to depart.

Would the necromancer's ceremony persuade the spirits? Tommaso looked back out at the hordes. Something was happening. Before, the creatures stood still where they'd coalesced. Now they swayed rhythmically, marching in place, though no sound accompanied their movements. Tommaso felt nauseous. Their silence was horrible. In one area they began to shift from their positions, moving closer together, gathering.

Something emerged from the middle of that throng: a six-legged creature with four legs below and two appendages above. It resembled a man riding a steed. It rocked forward with a graceful, sober gait. Its upper limbs pounded in cadence against its flat, round sides. Still no sound came forth. This was what Tommaso had sought before: the Obby Oss.

The hordes of other creatures fell in line behind it. In a great, slow wave they swelled toward the circled fire.

Guarnieri screamed. He reached out his arms blindly in front of him. "I see them. A million and more come this way."

The necromancer's chant quickened, grew more desperate, more pleading. Vicenzio and Agnolino splashed more perfume on the fire. It flared, threatening to scorch them, but they wouldn't turn around and risk seeing the wraiths threatening. Tommaso was amazed at the steadfastness of Cellini's hands as they held the pentacle over Guarnieri's head.

"What is this?' Guarnieri shrieked. "Now more join them -- Titans. We're doomed."

As the boy spoke, Tommaso saw four giant figures coalescing above the Coliseum like thunderheads. They settled on the top of the bleachers, one from each direction. From the south, a figure fashioned from flame. In the west, an enormous waterspout. In the east, a colossus made of wood, draped with vines and leaves. To the north, the largest of all, but so amorphous Tommaso could hardly make it out -- a silhouette composed of blowing sleet and snow.

"Have pity," Guarnieri sobbed. "Spare us."

The giants moved down through the Coliseum. They passed through the dark legions as if the demons were less substantial than thought.

The wraiths are etheric, Tommaso realized. We can see them and they can see us, but they aren't actually here. They look at us as if through clear glass, or are spying on us from afar.

The giants reached the floor of the Coliseum and strode up to the fire's circle. From this perspective, they lost all semblance of form. To look up at them was to look up the vast lengths of nebulous columns of water, fire, plant and wind.

They're protecting us, Tommaso thought. The Obby Oss and its hordes halted.

Guarnieri sank to the ground. He stuck his head between his knees. "This is how I will meet death, for we are certainly dead men." As he spoke, his glowing words shone out in faint sheets of light from the cave he'd made of his body.

Tommaso knelt and tugged at the boy. "Raise your eyes. What you see is only smoke and shadow." He tried to comfort him.

When Guarnieri peeked upward, his eyes fell on the fiery column. "The whole Coliseum is in flames. It advances upon us. I can endure the sight no longer." He covered his face with his hands again.

Cellini, however, took heart from Tommaso's words. "If these creatures are only smoke and shadow, then they're inferior to us," he said.

The necromancer muttered something to the goldsmith. Cellini turned to Agnolino Gaddi, who'd at last turned to see what threatened and now stood paralyzed with horror. "Agnolo, put your eyeballs back in their sockets. We mustn't yield to fright. Look through the herbs until you find the asafetida. Fling a handful upon the fire."

Though Agnolino shook like an aspen leaf, he did as Cellini bid him. Just as he bent over and flung the noxious herb on the coals, a horrendous noise and stench burst forth. It took a moment for Tommaso to realize that the sound and smell erupted fromAgnolino's pants, not from the asafetida exploding on the coals.

Cellini shouted with laughter, his hands finally dropping the pentacle away from over Guarnieri's head. Agnolino looked even more mortified than he had been afraid.

"See, my gossip," Cellini said, gingerly clapping his friend's back from as far away as he could and still reach him. "Even a crap in the pants is more fearful than these fiends. Whew! What a stink! It's worse than the asafetida. I knew you'd be useful on this adventure. If that doesn't drive the fiends away, nothing will."

Guarnieri raised his head -- perhaps because of Cellini's laughter, perhaps because of the unbearable fetor. "They're leaving. They're flying way from us," he said. The light was fading from his eyes. Only the barest glow issued forth from his mouth.

The black shapes were dimming, melting into the shadow. The Obby Oss stopped its slow capering forward. Just as slowly it started floating backward.

The necromancer kept up his mumbling. The rest of the little troupe huddled together, except for poor Agnolino Gaddi, ostracized to the outer edge of the circle. They stayed that way until they heard matins bells in the distance.

"What do you see now?" The necromancer asked Guarnieri.

"Just a few are left. They seem a great distance away," Guarnieri replied.

The necromancer looked relieved. He concluded his ceremonies and took off his robes. Then he gave his permission to leave the circle. All six of them scuttled across its border and over the floor of the Coliseum, still huddling together. Guarnieri was in the middle, clutching the necromancer's gown on one side and Cellini's cloak on the other. Agnolino Gaddi clung to Cellini. Tommaso, on the other outer edge, hung on to Vicenzio Romoli. As they passed between two of the five smaller circles, he noticed small scorch marks on the earth. All the gems were gone.

They made their lopsided way back to the Bianchi. Early-morning peddlers stopped and stared at them.

"As often as I have entered magic circles, I've never met with such a serious affair as this," the necromancer babbled. "Truly, Benevenuto, I've never met one who could naturally draw the ethereal powers the way you do, with a soul so firm."

The magician's eyes narrowed. "You know, love affairs such as yours are nothing but vanities and follies without consequence. Collaborate with me again, my friend, on matters of greater importance. These fiends know where all the hidden treasures on earth lie. With both our occult talents combined, I know we could compel them to reveal untold wealth."

At the mention of fiends Guarnieri's eyes bulged. "I still see two of them," he whispered. "There they are." He pointed upward. "Skipping along the rooflines." He pulled back and gasped. "They just leapt down and gambol now before us." He wept. "Can't you see them?"

Agnolino Gaddi was too distracted by his laden pants to bother with more devils. Vicenzio Romoli was too afraid to look. Cellini and the necromancer looked at each other and shrugged.

"Without the pentacle in place, we're denied the gift of sight,'" the necromancer said.

Tommaso saw, though he said nothing. One of the spirits accompanying them flitted like autumn leaves in a breeze, pounced as playfully as a cat. Though it was gaily particolored in amber, ivory, gold russet and black, it was clearly not one of the arlecchini. The other spirit was a single color of red. Unlike the first red demons of the invocation, it was featureless, though possessed of a woman's form. And unlike the devils' flat, madder hue, this spirit glowed with a deep, true translucent garnet light.

I know her. Somehow I know her. The thought ached in Tommaso's heart.






Updated Friday September 09 2005 by webspinner