Hers is a hard memory.
I was close to the Hartwell Funeral Parlor when I saw her.
She wore the uniform of an officer in the Hussars, and her beauty caught my breath in my throat. Her eyes fixed upon mine, and she offered a slight bow of her head. There was no curtsey, nothing so genteel.
I knew her for who and what she was, a soldier and one who had already suffered death.
I should know; I’d been there when she’d died, throat torn out by a piece of shrapnel in a battle no one in this world knew.
For a moment, I feared she was not my Yulia, that perhaps she was from another world connected to the Hollow. And then, I feared that she was, that my mother had sent her back as a torment to me.
“Duncan,” Yulia greeted, her voice sweet. “I had hoped this was the right Cross.”
“It might be,” I replied, stopping a short distance away.
“I did not think to see you again,” she continued, her voice tightening. “Not after I died.”
My throat tightened, and I took another step closer. “Is it you?”
She smiled, and there was no doubt.
Our embrace was short, her scent in my nose and her skin against mine for the briefest of moments, long enough, though, to remind me of long nights outside of Kyiv.
“I cannot stay,” she whispered in my ear before she nipped at the lobe as she had once done.
“Why?” I asked, my voice hoarse.
“This is wrong,” she answered, resting her forehead against my chest. “I have a place to be, and though I long for it to be with you, it is not. Death is here.”
She looked up and gestured to the Hartwell Funeral Parlor.
“Death waits,” Yulia continued. “Not for me, but for another. Death will not begrudge me transportation.”
I lifted her up in my arms and kissed her. “I would have you here with me if I could.”
“I know,” she sighed. “There are other worlds than these, Duncan Blood, and I will fight for your company when it is your time. But only when it is your time. Now is mine.”
I nodded and lowered her down. “May I walk with you?”
She smiled and took my arm. In silence, we walked to the front door, two soldiers approaching Death.
We had done it before, and when she was gone, I would do it again.