Ruby Red and Gentilberry Green: A Fantastical Romance - Part XV

in #fiction6 years ago (edited)

This is the fifteenth part of an ongoing serial. Here are Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen and Fourteen. Updates every two days.

They passed by wondrous islands, pouring with mist and bright jungles, and straits with scattered shells that gleamed bright as jewels. Dolphins greeted them as they forged through the sea, leaping up and down before the prow, peeling and resurfacing in turns, so that Anne could never be certain just how many there were.

“Do you think they’re the same ones,” she laughed, “or are they just faking it?”

Necristo knew. He knew exactly how many dolphins there were. Occasionally he would erase three or four and bring them over to the other side for variety, but after a while his attention wandered, and he kept them more or less the same. Anne didn’t seem to notice, which was good.

The number, in fact, was forty-three. The reason why he kept it at forty-three was because he was busy creating the islands instead, and telling the currents which way to bear them, and causing the ship to cohere. He was too busy keeping the sun at its proper height, the sky clear, the air at the proper temperature for non-immortals.

It was his world, of course, but because he refused, unlike his fellow alumni, to populate it with slaves and serfs and terrible wonders, the world had grown to have several ideas above its status. Occasionally, on one of his long, aimless strolls, it would take advantage of his own absent-mindedness to drop a tree on him, or create a false cliff, or even open up to send him tumbling straight through the center of the earth.

Necristo didn’t mind. He wasn’t a very powerful sorcerer on the grand scale of things, so he let the fact that his world was unruly pass him by, as a kind of comment on his nonchalance.

(Most of the girls didn’t even want to go outside, anyway. They stayed in their rooms and moped.)

Now, however, there was a girl with him, on this ship, a girl who couldn’t even swim. And if a tree fell on her, she would most certainly die.

Despite all the power he had given her. Despite her Gentilberry blood…

“Mr. Sorcerer?”

Anne was looking at him quizzically, the smile almost gone from her freckled face.

“Oh, yes. Ah…”

Necristo swallowed. Anything but that. He had to keep her happy.

“Faking it,” he opined, in a slightly unconvincing display of knowledge. “Dolphins do that a lot.”

“So they really can think,” beamed Anne. “Smarter than horses, they are!”

Her eyes were so bright when she was happy. Just like Matilda’s. Little furnaces of apple-green flame, tinged with emerald leaf-light. She turned and leaned over the carved railing, plaits blowing in the wind like weighted orange ropes.

He wondered, for a moment, if he had really wanted to die, not that long ago.

“You’re a fool, boy. She’s a whore and a slattern, just like all the others.”

It was his mother, of course, like it always was. Dear departed Mother, dead these three thousand years, but still alive and scowling in the back of his mind - which meant, of course, that in this world she was utterly real. He turned and saw her standing there, on the deck, lean back bent like a gnarled walking stick, black scarf framing her gaunt face like a burial shroud.

She’s different, he thought, still obliged, even after all these years, to speak properly to Mother. She has the gift.

Mother gave her bitter, toothless laugh, the one that crackled in his mouth like firewood and lard. She was as thin as ever. She had always used that against him, between switchings. Her own sacrifice, her own starvation. Her bastard son, burden in lean times and eyesore in fat.

“All that power and you’re still a weakling. Isn’t it wonderful that you’re giving it away? You’ll never escape me, Necri. Not in a thousand years. Not with her, not with any of those other whores. Not ever.”

Ruby eyes wide in fear, Necristo reached out before Anne could see and removed his mother’s ghost from the world. Her shadow wavered and lengthened in the wind, then stretched out to a thin film of nothing.

“Clean those nails, won’t you, boy? They’re as filthy as your father.”

Necristo stared at his gloved hands, feeling dirtier than the village privy. He reminded himself to keep the currents going, then created a new island two knots away. He tried to fill it with monkeys and macaws, happy bright animals, but nothing came. The island stayed flat as a stripped hill.

“Uh, Mr. Sorcerer?”

It was two whole minutes before he realized that he had forgotten about the wind, and that the ship was, like clotted blood, completely stagnant.

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