Hannibal found Mischa in a field of flowers.
Her clothing was bloody and her eyes were blank and open, the color of the sky they stared up at without seeing. Picked flowers spilled out of her open hand.
Hannibal’s blood ran cold, and the punch in his gut could only be described as sudden and irrevocable grief. It was without question the most intense emotion he had ever felt. He was surprised to find his face wet as he knelt to touch her, to close her eyes and brush her hair back.
Her hair was blonde, much lighter than his. He used to wonder if it would darken, or if it would stay light like the color their mother’s had been. Hannibal pressed his forehead to hers, her skin still warm, and wished beyond anything that time could be reversed.
When he straightened, he was no longer alone.
A visage of Mischa stood before him, a perfect reflection of his dead sister down to the buttons on the dress. She gave him a small smile.
Hannibal’s first instinct was to get to his feet, but something else told him that he would be at no better advantage. So he stayed where he was, on his knees by his sister’s body.
“What would you give?” asked the other.
“I beg your pardon?”
“To have me back. What’s it worth to you?”
Hannibal sniffed, looking into the eyes that were not Mischa’s. “Do me the courtesy of not pretending to be my sister, and I will listen to what you have to say.”
The other stared at him for a moment, before saying, “I’ll extend that courtesy so far, but no farther.”
The form in front of him didn’t change, but there was a subtle shifting of posture, a redistribution of weight and attitude that left nothing childlike about the figure besides the shape. The eyes that stared back at him were cold, set in a face with a distant expression.
It reminded Hannibal of himself.
“You can bring her back?” he asked.
“I can. For a price.” It was Mischa’s voice saying words she had never said, with an inflection that was entirely other.
“My soul.” Hannibal arrived at the obvious answer without even asking the question. One hand was still fisted in Mischa’s shirt, anchoring him to her.
“Yes. Your soul, freely given, mine to collect upon your death and to do with as I please.”
“And you would be?” Hannibal prompted.
“Does it matter?” the other asked.
And it didn’t. If he was to make a Faustian bargain for Mischa’s life, it was immaterial who it was with, as long as it produced the desired result.
Hannibal stared up at the demon, unafraid, and boldly stated, “My soul is yours, in exchange for my sister’s death undone.”
“Agreed.” The word had an air of finality to it. “Your blood will be required as a seal.”
“What must I do?”
“Cut your palm until the blood flows, and bring it to her face.”
Hannibal let go of Mischa and reached for his pocketknife. He sliced deep across his hand in one smooth motion, and brought it over her.
The doppelganger knelt on the other side of Mischa’s body, and took Hannibal’s wrist in a grip that was unforgiving. Hannibal’s palm was pressed over Mischa’s cheeks and across her forehead, painting her in blood. Then he was released.
“Blood for blood,” Hannibal said. A long moment passed as he stared at his sister.
The other traced a finger counterclockwise through the blood on Mischa’s face, before bringing it to lips for a taste.
“Do you wonder,” the false Mischa said casually, arching a brow, “if you’ll find yourself here again? Kneeling beside her lifeless body, gripping a knife? A picture created by your own hand?”
Hannibal’s lips pulled into something that was almost a snarl. “I would never harm her.”
“You wouldn’t plan to.” The demon looked straight into him, holding his gaze with piercing blue eyes that were both Mischa’s not Mischa’s. “But I can see you. I can see all the things you do, the things you want to do.”
“Not to her.”
A twisted smirk. “Time will tell.”
Then the world shifted, and time reordered.
Hannibal was standing in the field.
Mischa was ahead of him, picking flowers. A man from the village was next to her. She was ignoring him as only children wrapped up in their own worlds can ignore someone, but she cried out when he tugged sharply on her arm.
Hannibal was already moving. He was on the man in seconds, ripping him away from Mischa and throwing him face down in the grass. With a knee pressed into his back, Hannibal yanked the man’s head up and drew his blade across his throat. The man shuddered violently, gurgling and gasping, and then it was over.
Hannibal wiped his knife on the man’s shirt before getting to his feet. He turned around.
Mischa stood, her dropped flowers all but forgotten.
“You killed him,” she said simply. “Like Chiyoh does the birds.”
“Because I had to.” Hannibal extended his hand in her direction. “Come. We must return to the house.”
Mischa slipped her hand into his without question, despite what she had just seen. Hannibal started to walk, his sister in one hand, a blood-smeared knife in the other. Neither seemed to be in contradiction.
As they crossed the fields, Hannibal went into his memory palace, sealing off the spaces where he had ever seen her dead.
But one room, not the one she was in, he left open, just a crack.