Victor opened the door the carriage and stepped out. He looked at the small, unassuming shop. Despite its ordinary nature, there was something off about it upon which Victor couldn’t put his finger. The shop felt as though it simply didn’t belong in this world. Maybe it was just the environment. Victor hadn’t been this far in the outskirts of Bordeaux before, after all. Reminding himself of why he had made this unusual journey, Victor smiled, inhaled deeply, and stepped forward into the shop.
The shop was an odd one. There were rows upon rows of books that lined the shelves which covered the walls, along with other curiosities. He saw bottles and jars of all shapes and sizes, bits of jewelry, small clockwork figures(some of which were moving), small wooden boxes with inscriptions he couldn’t make out in the dim candlelight, and at the far end was a desk, covered in haphazardly stacked books, bottles, and vials of oddly coloured liquids, some on burners. The place was empty, at least that’s what Victor thought until he heard a voice behind him.
“Greetings.” the voice said.
Mr. Sterban gazed at his new guest. He stepped forwards from the shadows as Victor gawked at him. He made a quick judgement of who his client was this time. Sometimes they were old people looking to extend their fleeting lifespans, other times they were lazy, entitled young people who would rather meddle with forces they didn’t understand than work for their money or power. He was just fine with that though, as long as they paid his price.
This particular, client was a younger man, however, Sterban had to think to estimate exactly how young. After a bit of thought, he guessed he was no older than twenty-two years. He had the air of a man desiring a woman, but with an air of ambition, and Mr Sterban had an idea of what this man would ask.
“Greetings, how are you?” The young man said. Mr Sterban heard formalities like this regularly, and he was bored for the most part with those. He just wanted to get down to business as soon as possible.
“Are you ready to negotiate or are you going to bother with formalities?”, Mr Sterban asked flatly as he walked to his desk and sat down.
“Of course, my apologies.” his patron said. “I’ve heard that you-”
“You want someone’s love don’t you?”
“How did you know?!”
“When you’ve done business as often as me, you learn to assess clients.” he said matter-of-factly “What’s her name?”
“Jehanne, Jehanne Leroux”. Sterban wasn’t surprised. Jehanne was reputed as one of the most beautiful and, more importantly, rich and powerful, women in the city.
“I believe I have exactly what you need.” He then reached into a drawer of his desk and produced a small glass bottle. “Take this.” Mr Sterban said. “Put your toenail clippings or hair into this bottle, and then give it to your ‘Jehanne’. She will be in love with you, and the effects will be permanent, irreversible.”.
“How do I know you aren’t lying?” Victor asked, as was expected. Sterban answered this question for almost every customer he had.
“If she doesn’t love you within an hour of drinking this, you can come back here to collect a refund and keep what you’ve bought.”
This seemed to satisfy Victor. “Sounds perfect, what does it cost?”
“This will be twenty-seven francs, and a favor.”
“What?” Victor asked, unclear as to what he meant.
“A future favor, just something to ask from a man in a high place.”
“Oh,” Victor responded, relieved. “That’s all?”
“That’s all”, Mr Sterban confirmed.
He shook hands with his client. “Our deal is binding.”.
“Thank you,” Victor said.
“My pleasure,” Sterban said as Victor walked out of his shop.
Victor gazed at the mirror, making sure that his coat was perfect and his face was clean. He was still having trouble believing what had just occurred. However, after mulling it over for half an hour in his home, he finally regained his senses enough to realize that there was no time to lose.
The vial was small, and the liquid inside looked more like blood than what he imagined it would. It smelled slightly acidic, and as he looked inside, he thought he saw something moving. He looked closer and saw what it was. It was a small bubble, but it was shaped like a human heart, constantly beating as it floated in the middle of the liquid. He took out a tiny drop and tasted it. It was mostly flavorless, but had a slight sweet taste he couldn’t pin down. He immediately felt his inhibitions lower as he ingested the sample, he felt his primal urges grow exponentially. He was filled instantly with a rush of primal lust, mad passion, and sweet love. It was invigorating. He had meant to clip his toenails that night, so he did so, and put them into the concoction. The heart-bubble burst, and the clippings dissolved almost immediately.
As he recapped the bottle, he put on his best black coat, hat, and straightened his ascott. and took out the most exquisite and costly claret he had been saving. He was ready.
Jehanne was in her house when the butler came. “You have a guest, Jehanne.” he said.
“Who is it?” She asked.
“Victor Aluarte.” the butler said, as he had been called upon to announce several times before over the last few weeks. Jehanne pressed her lips together, giving her face, while still attractive, a pinched look.
“I swear, the next time he comes to me I’m reporting him to the Gend’arms.” She sighed, putting her finger on her brow as though she had a headache.
“He said that he brought wine, and asked if he could come just to share it.”. Jehanne perked up slightly at this, she was craving a drink anyway. She loosened a bit and sighed.
“Bring him in, and get us two wine glasses.” She ordered.
She sat at her table, and looked disdainfully at Victor as he entered, grinning like a fool.
“You know that you’re only here because you brought wine.” She said to Victor. He nodded quickly, that grin still on his face. Jehanne narrowed her eyes slightly, suspicious, before brushing it off.
“Your wine glasses,” the butler said, setting down two glasses.
“I’ll pour it.” said Victor as he opened the bottle.
“Could you ask for some cheese?” He asked politely, pouring his glass, and starting to pour Jehanne’s.
Jehanne paused for a second, before she said “Of course,” nodding her head tightly, and pursing her lips. “Louis, get us some cheese,” she commanded, turning her head to the butler.
“Of course” The butler responded obediently. As Jehanne turned back to Victor, Victor had just finished tucking the empty vial back into his pocket.
They made small talk and sipped some wine, though she noticed that Victor was unnaturally stiff, and always seemed to tense up and grin when she took a sip. She was suspicious at first, but she was slightly tipsy and felt queer, yet strangely pleased. She felt a strange, inexplicable attraction to him. So when Victor offered they have another glass, and another, and another, she didn’t refuse.
How much time had it been? Sterban had never thought much about time. It had been three…? He couldn’t think of it at the moment. Regardless, he decided to come back to one of his most recent clients.
He stepped into the Leroux mansion, now the Alurate mansion. It was lavishly decorated, but Sterban cared little for such things. He heard footsteps and his client humming to himself. Victor walked in, and jumped when he saw Mr. Sterban standing there.
“H-hello?” his client said, noticeably startled.
“Hello to you, how have your last few…” he paused for the briefest of seconds and snapped his fingers. “months been?”.
“They’ve been great! That love potion worked very well. We’ve gotten married, and I’ve enjoyed the new status very much.”
“Yes, very interesting.” Sterban said, obviously not interested in the slightest. “Anyhow, do you remember the favor you owe me?”
“Yeah?” His client responded.
“I’m here to invoke it.”
“What is it?”
“Nothing complicated, all you need to do is kill someone.”
“What?” Victor asked, not quite sure of what he had just heard.
“Kill someone. It can be anyone you choose, but someone needs to die by your hand.”
“I can’t.” Victor said, bewildered at the thought of having to perform this act.
“I can’t kill someone. It’s wrong.”
“It’s also wrong to refuse to pay your debts.”
“Can it be something else?”
“No, it has to be that.”
“What about the law?”
“You aren’t the only influential person who owes me a favor, I can assure you.”
“I won’t do it.”
Sterban sighed, as though annoyed at a maid who had organized his shelves wrong or a butler who had served cold tea. Typical, he thought to himself. “You will.” he said. With that, he stepped out of the mansion, leaving Victor blinking in confusion. Jehanne walked into the room, a warm smile on her face.
“Who was that, dear?” she asked pleasantly.
“Oh, nothing.” Victor said distantly.
“Are you sure, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.” Jehanne said, concern in her voice.
Victor looked at Jehanne, suddenly worried, but put on a smile. “If there are any ghosts in this house, you would’ve known long before we were wed.”
“True,” Jehanne said, a bit concerned, but like his beloved husband, hiding it.
Victor laid down next to his wife. “Isn’t this nice?” he asked.
“What? Marrying the best husband any woman could ask for? I would say so.”. They chuckled together, Victor being, for the most part, confident that the old man had decided just to leave him be, considering how much time had passed without incident.
“Are you excited for the ball tomorrow?”
“Of course, I love balls, as long as you don’t go mingling with anyone else.”
“Why would I do that dear? Good night!” Victor said playfully.
“Goodnight,” Jehanne returned, and they both fell asleep.
Sterban stood in the circle of his own blood. He held a black book in one hand, and a silver knife in his other hand. Suddenly, he stabbed downwards upon a blood symbol on the floor in front of him that vaguely resembled an eye, and read from the book.
“Oh master, oh patron,
Oh one who waits and watches,
May my will be exercised upon the philter
Make it so”
Victor and his wife stepped from the carriage. They were dressed their finest, and looked their best. They walked into the house of the Martins in which the ball was held, and Victor was already enjoying himself immensely. He not only had a beautiful wife who loved him immensely, but he now had money, connections, and access to the best of food and most lavish of parties. Nothing could spoil his mood here, or so he thought.
As he danced with his wife, he found that he was starting to develop an appetite. “Excuse me sweetie, I’m feeling rather peckish.” he said as he started to walk away to a table with food resting on it.
“Alright, dear.” Jehanne responded. She leaned against the wall and looked at him, beaming all the time. However, all of a sudden, that grin became forced and faded as she continued to look upon Victor. As Victor made small talk with Lady Laurent, Jehanne’s chest and stomach tightened, and she started to wring her hands. What was Victor doing? What was that woman doing? What if she was trying to take him from her? These and many other dreadful thoughts flooded her head, filling her with adrenaline and a manic energy. Her heart raced as she began to stomp towards them, her teeth clenched and nostrils flaring. How could that woman do this? How could Victor do this?!
She grabbed Victor by this wrist and growled something about leaving. Victor, confused, didn’t have the presence of mind to resist much, and when he found himself back at home a short while later, he still didn’t know what was going on.
“Jehanne, what’s this all about?” Victor asked, wringing his hands as one would do while washing them and watching Jehanne intently as though she would pounce on him if he broke eye contact.
“You know perfectly well what this is about!” she spat back, huffing raspily as she pointed accusingly at Victor.
“Please tell me. You’re scaring me!” Victor cried.
“Oh, and you didn’t scare me when you talked with that other woman!” Jehanne shouted in response. “She wanted you! I could tell!”
“That’s what this is about?” Victor said, “I was just making casual conversation, I wasn’t going to be unfaithful.”(However, Victor had to admit this wasn’t fully true.)
“YOU’RE MINE!” Jehanne cried, “SHE CAN’T HAVE YOU!”.
“Please calm down dear. How about this, for the next week, I won’t leave the room you’re in. You’ll be able to trust me.”
Jehanne seemed to relax, tension seemed to leave her body, and her breathing slowed. “That sounds wonderful.” She said. “I love you sweetie.”, she said, smiling.
“Me too, Jehanne.” Victor responded, a smile slowly creeping onto his lips, and sigh flowing out of his mouth. He giggled shakily, and his wife joined him, even as he avoided eye contact with his Jehanne and scooted ever so slightly away from her.
Victor awoke, able to more clearly understand what had occurred from the night’s sleep. Jehanne seemed to have already gotten up. She was always an early riser. He was just getting up from bed when he was stopped. He yelped as he glanced at the manacles on his hands and feet. He was chained to the bed! His eyes widened at this discovery, and his breath caught in his throat, unable to enter his lungs. This catch also held in his scream when Jehanne entered the room, and Victor tried to flee, not wanting to find out what she had in store for him.
“Good morning, love.” Jehanne said gently, as though absolutely nothing was wrong.
“W-What is happening!” Victor finally choked out.
“I’m simply ensuring you keep your promise.”
“You really don’t need to-”
“I thought so too until last night. Now, be quiet and it’ll only be you and me.” Jehanne said. Victor began to protest before Jehanne produced a large, gleaming knife. The gleam of its edge told him all he needed to know, and he promptly complied.
“Of course, love.” he said half-heartedly, his voice and body trembling.
What had that old man done? Why on earth had Victor thought the man would leave him alone? What would happen when the week was up? These questions and more flooded Victor’s mind as he contemplated his predicament. He never asked any of them out loud though, Jehanne was always in the room, always within earshot. He couldn’t tell her what he was thinking, so whenever Jehanne asked(She did so very regularly), he would always say “About how much I love you.”. That’s all they would discuss but Victor couldn’t get his mind off the stench of rot.
Jehanne had been ruthless in keeping them alone together. When Louis had attempted to investigate what was happening, he had stumbled in against Jehanne’s commands. Jehanne had been on him with a knife before Louis could comprehend what he saw. The whole room reeked of his corpse, but Jehanne didn’t seem to care.
The only other thing Victor would think of is how he would ever get out of this mess. If Jehanne would let him go, like she said she would, he could dash out and attempt to ask the old man to undo his work. A Jehanne that didn’t love him was decidedly better than this. That was the plan on which he decided, but hope for that plan was shattered on the sixth day.
“Victor, I have the most wonderful news!” said Jehanne, grinning broadly and pacing excitedly.
“What is it, dear?” Victor asked, curious, but nonetheless feeling sick at the thought the answer.
“Tomorrow, we’re both going to die. We’ll be together forever!”
“Th-that is wonderful!” Victor choked out, attempting to sound genuinely pleased.
“Indeed it is.” Jehanne said. They conversed happily for the rest of the day, or so Victor attempted to make it appear. He tried and tried to think of a way out, but nothing would ever come up. He didn’t know what he was to do.
Victor waited, uneasily, for midnight. It was almost upon them, the end of the week, the moment when his mad wife would murder him. Every tick of the grandfather clock in the corner was a bitter taunt, a mocking, cruel reminder of the few minutes left. The maddening sounds all echoed through his head, and each one hurt him, pushed more sweat out of his pores, and chilled his every nerve.
One minute, he was looking upon Jehanne as she prattled on excitedly, and brandished the knife in her hand. Fifty seconds, he shrank and scooted away from Jehanne, hoping to create as long a gap as he could and buy his life a few more precious ticks of the clock. Forty seconds, the pendulum swung back and forth signaling a smaller gap between him and death each time, like a bladed pendulum falling closer and closer to him each second. Thirty seconds, half of his precious minute was gone already, and he began to pray. Twenty seconds, he hoped that God would forgive him, save him. Fifteen seconds, time was slowing down. He prayed to anyone who would answer; he begged the old man he’d bought the bottle from for a reprieve. Ten seconds, Jehanne was just as tense as Victor, but for a completely different reason. Nine, please help me, somebody! Eight, don’t let her kill me! Seven, I’ll do anything! Six, I’ll do whatever you want! Five, I’ll pay my debt. Four, Charge me for a million love potions, just don’t do this to me! Four, take her love away! Three, it’s not worth it! Two, I’ll give you anything! One, MERCY!
The week over, Jehanne lunged at Victor. Adrenaline flowing through his veins, Victor did something of which he did not believe he was not capable. With the little length of chain his hand had, he grabbed Jehanne’s wrist and twisted it. Jehanne’s face quickly turned from a mad grin to a look of shock and hurt as she fell forwards onto the bed, the knife plunging into her heart. That look stayed with her as she died, gazing upon her husband, shocked, with pure betrayal in her eyes. She didn’t speak, she simply choked, gasped, and tried to say something, but failed. Victor was shocked himself, but slowly, relief flooded him, and he grinned. He laughed, it was all over! His torment was over, and his debt had been paid.