If there was some trace of evil in her eyes (they matched, he observed, the lapis lazuli that tiled every surface in her palace), Brian couldn't see it. He had not misidentified her. That much he knew. It was Davina, called still the Blue Jewel, but with such bitter irony that she might as well have been named the Bitch from Hell.
But there had to have been some mistake, even if not with his eyes nor her guiltless, perfect face.
"Brian?" she ventured. Her voice was not like bells or chimes or flutes or anything so musical. It wasn't like anything but a voice - a woman's voice, low and with just enough of a rasp to it that it could come only from real air through a real throat. She was supposed to be a monster. Why wasn't she a monster?
"How do you know my name?" The defiance and suspicion was only in the words chosen. His tone might as well have accompanied a concerned inquiry after her health. The look on his face would have been less incongruous if he'd been speaking a proposal of marriage.
"What? Brian, it's me, Davina," she said. Her face was instantly a mask of concern, but Brian's sharp eyes detected hurt beneath, like he'd wounded her and she was trying for his own sake not to be offended. "Christ, Brian, they told me you'd hit your head, but..."
"What?" That had come out of nowhere. Hit his head? Who were "they"? Why was she swearing by a god who'd been so ineffectual for the past decades that his worship had been all but forgotten? Why was he thinking such odd thoughts when he'd been to church just that morning (for it was Sunday), Davina sitting beside him in the pew?
"Brian, do you remember anything?" she pressed. Her eyes were very blue; his vision of everything save those very blue eyes swam. The background could have been white or red or beige or inky black, he had no notion. The church, he remembered suddenly, was grey stone. When he and Davina had moved to Elm Springs they'd chosen a house near that church specifically because it had looked like such a charming place, a calm bubble of the sacred in their new home.
"I remember..." The background resolved itself. Green walls and white décor and instruments of medicine: he was in a hospital (but it didn't look like a hospital, hospitals were brown and crowded and looked like - well, of course they looked like this. This was what hospitals looked like, because he was in a hospital and it looked like this.) "Davina?"
"Oh, thank the Lord, for a moment I was worried you didn't recognize me," she exclaimed, leaning over him - when had he begun lying down? Why did it surprise him that he was lying down, when he was in a hospital and had hit his head? Of course he needed rest.
Why was he holding a sword?
"They said you might hallucinate a bit. You hit your head so hard, it's a miracle you're alive, much less awake," Davina said, answering his question and jogging his memory about who "they" were. They were doctors, because he was in a hospital. He had hit his head.
The sword, clearly, was a hallucination. He wasn't supposed to kill Davina with a sword. She was his wife. Brian twitched his left hand, felt the wedding band press into the skin of his finger. He drew breath, smelled the antiseptic cocktail of fluids and people in various states of disease and disrepair that marked his location.
That's all, she can do anything but change her name, someone had not told him. That someone, who he was now quite sure had never existed, had not gone on to say if you meet someone named Davina, no matter what, kill her. You're our hope for this decade, Brian. She's only vulnerable once every ten years and then it's back to the hell for everyone if you fail.
Did she have to be so beautiful? It was that that had caught his eye when they'd met in the park, before he fell in love with her for her gentleness and her sincere faith and what the hell? In love with Davina? He was supposed to
go home with her and go back to raising their children as soon as his excruciating headache went away, of course. "Where are the children?" he croaked, not "die, Blue Jewel" or "I'm not fooled by your illusions" or "prove that you are my wife, tell me your name is Sarah or Jenny or Chrysanthemum or anything but Davina".
"Ken and Lois have them," she said soothingly, taking his nearest hand - the one with the ring on it - in hers, picking it up away from the hallucinated sword. She adjusted her posture, bumping the bed with her knee, and the "sword" fell off of the bed, landing on linoleum with a clatter Davina didn't seem to hear.
The noise made his head pound and for a moment he saw two pasts stretching out as unalike as curry and custard. Of course he was Brian, husband to Davina and father to their three children (Carly, Martin, and Damien, his memory supplied helpfully, with faces and favorite colors to accompany each name), churchgoer, stock analyst, and head injury patient. Of course he was none of those things but instead Brian of Amron, alone save for his comrades in the eternal endeavor to overthrow Davina the Blue Jewel from her tyrannical reign in her once-a-decade moment of vulnerability. Orphan, bachelor, childless, godless, with no regular employment except trying to train himself to slaughter the delicate dark-haired blue-eyed (why blue? Why did her eyes have to be so blue?) woman (demon) sitting by his side looking for all the world like she wanted to feed him chicken soup. Not magically fake in him (her husband, of all people) a headache to fool him into letting her live. This version of himself was Champion. He had a sword, and he could pick it up and cleave her head from her body. He'd be hailed for a thousand generations to come as the savior of the world, and that gratitude would probably be enough to net him a house half the size of the one he owned with Davina that wouldn't even have plumbing.
And then how would he ever explain to Carly and Martin and Damien (who?) that their mother (ha! The Blue Jewel a mother!) had been killed by their delusional father because he had a funny turn after he fell down the steps of their church on his way out the door?
"Davina, darling," croaked Brian, trying to think around the headache. "Tell me your name is... uh... Sarah."
"What?" Perfect, guileless confusion crossed her face. "Sarah? Who's that?"
"Nobody. Just tell me that's your name." Prove it's a stupid dream I had when I went tumbling down the stairs and hit my head, and we can go home to our children, and I can take the week off from work, and make love to my wife, my beautiful blue-eyed -
"It's not. My name's Davina, Brian sweetie, don't you remember? I thought you recognized me..." Worry knitted that painted brow, perfect as the magically sculpted face of an immortal demon face of a woman with parents with such good genes (a decade of memories of his in-laws, charming people if he'd ever met any, marched across his mind) ought to be.
"I recognize you. What's your middle name?" he tried. That wouldn't sound so suspicious to his (enemy) wife. He'd just forgotten her middle name.
"I don't have a middle name - do you mean my maiden name?" she asked slowly.
"Yes." Anything but "Davina" or "Blue Jewel", the less appealing of his two histories told him, would be impossible for her to claim as a title -
"Blue. I was born Davina Blue," she said. "You remember your last name, I hope? Brian?"
Jewel. (Amron? No, that wasn't a last name, and he wasn't even from "Amron", that place didn't even exist, it was an imaginary city built on the imaginary ruins of Flagstaff, which was in perfectly good repair and had no ruins, and anyway he was from Chicago.) "Jewel," he said. "Davina. Love."
"I'm here, Brian," she murmured in his ear.
"This is going to sound stupid, I know, but will you just say the words 'my name is Sarah'? Please."
"Brian Ammon (Ammon? Was that where he'd gotten that imaginary village?) Jewel, you're either delusional, in which case I shouldn't do any such thing in case it makes you worse, or you're sane and I'm not going to play into whatever nonsense you've decided to worry me with today."
He tipped his head back farther into his pillow, and she moved her foot, ever so innocently, and the sword skittered farther away, inaccessible on the other side of the room. It was a hallucination anyway, so it didn't much matter where it was.
The pasts, one bitter but promising glory, one almost distressingly normal and happy and promising more of the delicious, tantalizing same, battled for Brian's allegiance.
One told him to extinguish the loving, human light in those blue eyes. One told him that the sword was not even there, that even if he killed the woman bent over him so tenderly it would be no justice and no victory but only murder of the mother of his children. One told him those children were imaginary. One challenged him to find the flaw in his memories of their births, his mental video of the lines deepening on Davina's face and then softening with pride as she held the first and second and third fragile infant.
One told him that if he did not kill her before the time was up, he would certainly die.
The other told him that for that woman, for those children, he ought to be thrilled to die. That he was no kind of man if he wanted to end his wife's life to save his own, that he was the worst kind of slime if he would take away the mother of children (not one of them more than six years old) because he'd hit his head falling down the church steps and believed in a ridiculous dystopian fantasy where she starred as the awful tyrant with the awful, beautiful blue eyes.
He didn't want to die; he didn't want to be the latest of a dozen warriors to have failed to topple the Blue Jewel from her lapis throne.
He didn't want some professionally detached messenger to tell Carly that Mommy had gone away forever, and Daddy was also going to have to go away forever because he was the one who had sent away Mommy, and to be good for Ken (Ken was of course Brian's brother, he wasn't an only child, what nonsense) and Lois and look after her brothers.
He didn't want to cut that gorgeous head from those trembling shoulders and watch the light go out in those blue eyes.
"When can we go home, Davina? Did they say?" he asked, pushing away the last of the awful fantasy and looking his wife full in the face, trusting her.
She knew when she had him, of course. He'd debated a bit longer than some, not as long as others, but she had him where she wanted him in the end.
She was kind about it, and let him have the rest of that day with the fictitious life she'd dreamed up to entice him. He went "home" with his head swaddled in bandages, kissed the empty air where her magic met his mind and told him there were children, and fell asleep curled up by her side, one of her hands idly rubbing the sore muscles of his arm - he had not scaled a mountain to get to a palace made of lapis lazuli, nonsense, he'd only fallen down some stairs, he could expect to be sore.
She let him die in his sleep, twisting his neck with a snap, quick and clean and merciful and none the less deadly.
She waited until her invulnerability was returned to her by the dawn before she threw his body from the mountaintop to advertise his failure to the world, which would remain populated by her victims for the next ten years. (And the next, and the next, and the next.)
Then she was aloft. Wind whistled in her ears as she traversed the globe, impossible speed achieved by the dark magic that blazed in her blue eyes. She had lost an entire day, and she had work to do.