Week 34.2 – Belling the Cat

Previously: Yi Fan visited the Cobalt Czar in his chambers, intending to use the golden mask on him and steal his powers. And now…

“I don’t think he really wanted to kill me, though,” Yi Fan said.

“It doesn’t matter what he wanted,” the Czar answered, stripping off his shirt to reveal a sweat-soaked undershirt and thickly-muscled arms bristling with black hair. “He’s crazy and reckless. Accidents happen. He might’ve been sorry after he killed you, but you would still be dead. What brings you here today?”

Yi Fan patted the messenger bag hanging at her side. “That fellow who escaped and came back? I caught him right before that magnetic man attacked. He said he had brought you this as a gift, or a tribute, or something.”

The Czar had taken another shirt from a valet and was shrugging into it. He reached out one arm, the unbuttoned sleeve bunching up along his triceps. “What is it?”

She drew the bag over her head and handed it to him. “It’s gold.”

He tested the heft and seemed surprised that she seemed to be telling the truth. He opened the bag. “What is this supposed to be?”

[blockquote type=”blockquote_quotes” align=”left”]”Perhaps the mask is meant to reveal our secret selves. What secrets are you keeping hidden from me, Yi Fan?”[/blockquote]He drew out the mask, which gleamed more than she remembered. Then again, her pantry had been illuminated by drab fluorescents, while the Czar’s room was lit by new halogen spots mounted on tracks in the ceiling. Although the whole room was adequately illuminated, the spots gave the room’s light subtle patterns of texture, made the mask’s color seem more vivid, picked out bright, sharp highlights along its edge.

“Some sort of tribal mask,” she said. “It’s beautiful.”

“I suppose,” he said. Some other bit of gold hung from a loose flap of tape on the mask’s forehead. The Czar picked it off more delicately than she would have imagined he could with those huge, blunt fingertips. He dropped the excess bit into the bag and rubbed at the smudge of adhesive left behind. “Messy. Why would someone do this to gold?”

“I don’t know,” she said honestly. “What do you think it’s supposed to be?”

The Czar considered the face-within-a-face design. “A secret, perhaps. That inner man we think we keep hidden away from the rest of the world, the one who knows all the worst things about us. Perhaps the mask is meant to reveal our secret selves. What secrets are you keeping hidden from me, Yi Fan?”

Yi Fan struggled to keep her face neutral. The Czar was watching her closely, but not in the predatory way she would have seen from Biryukov. He seemed more teasing than suspicious. “You already know the worst thing there is to know about me,” she said. “After that, what would be worth hiding? And what secret self might we see if you were to put on the mask?”

The Czar looked down at the mask in his hands as if he were seeing a different face wrought within its golden surface. “What indeed?”

He turned the mask over in his hands and Yi Fan’s breath caught in her throat as he brought it up toward his face.

Will this work? And if it does, what will happen with Twain’s interrogation and the escape of Digger and Cole? You don’t want to miss our next episode!

To read from the beginning, click here

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