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

in #fiction6 years ago (edited)

This is the twenty-second part of an ongoing serial. Here are Parts One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, Nine, Ten, Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen, Fourteen, Fifteen, Sixteen, Seventeen, Eighteen, Nineteen, Twenty and Twenty-One. Updates every two days, barring minor mishaps.

“Are you surprised to see me?” asked the old Matilda, the one in the cloak with the parched face and snow-white hair. Her hands and legs were swathed in rags.

Necristo swallowed, then shook his head.

“It does make a kind of sense, in the end,” he said, the words burning his hard palate like bad wine. “With what happened to… the other you.”

She was from another plane, that much was obvious. Her magic was incredibly strong. It swirled around her, from her cloak and eyes and the daggers at her belt, filling the room with power.

If the other… if his Matilda had been just a little bit like this, perhaps none of this would ever have happened.

“Where’s Anne?”

The croak was one of accusation. Her hand was at her belt, shaking. He looked down to avoid the anger in her eyes.

“I sent her back,” he said. “To her home plane. She’ll be safe there.”

“You’re a liar,” spat Matilda. “You told her exactly the same thing about the other me.”

“That wasn’t…”

“Murderer!” shouted Matilda, stabbing a finger at him. “You killed her!”

The knives flew from her belt, one broad and sharp, the other thin and stiff. Power surged within them, fate-altering, will-bending magic of the first order. Enough to bring even a sorcerer to his knees…

He raised his hand and turned time to treacle. She flailed frozen, aged hands raised, sparking red in a desperate hex. Unaffected by the temporal shift, he shrank the room, so that all of a sudden the deadly knives were outside the four walls and in another place.

Another wall, no doubt. Or nothing. He hadn’t had time to think of that part yet.

“You…”

He stepped in and touched her wrists.

Time resumed.

She crashed straight to the floor, as if forced down by invisible giants. The red hex-lightning blasted from her fingers, bounced off the walls and turned the chest-of-drawers into a shriveled mass of smoking meat.

“I did not kill her,” he said, fists clenched. Anger, that rarest of emotions, pounded in his chest like a clanging gong. “She brought her fate on herself.”

“You’re… you’re a liar. You all lie,” gasped Matilda. “All you men… you promise us power, dangle it before our noses… then you raise it out of reach, and eat it. We’re nothing but dogs to you.”

“That’s not true,” said Necristo. “A dog can be forgiven for barking. You, on the other hand, are an intruder in my world. I don’t know what happened to you, and I don’t care - but you’re not my Matilda.”

He erased the meat-mass and returned the room to its pristine state.

“Leave,” he said. “Now.”

“I saw her body,” hissed Matilda, eyes hard and resigned to death. “I know what you did. I won’t forgive you for what you’ve done to Anne.”

“DON’T TALK ABOUT ANNE!” roared Necristo.

The world outside the window burst into a billow of flame. Like a shockwave caused by a meteorite’s fall, the ground cracked and melted in a cataclysmic wave, morphing from grass and greenery into black-red magma. The pitch-black sky peeled back to reveal the stars, yawning like a rift in a half-whole heart.

“Do you know what she was to me?”

The window shattered into a million pieces. The wall fell clean away, broken like clay by the force of his anger. The hot wind swept his hair, threatening to throw the four-poster bed clean out into the abyss. The chest-of-drawers, less stable, went spinning out to its death. He snarled at the apocalyptic vision, the pustule of mauled earth like a hole in the sky, a bubble of madness in a beautiful world.

“Do you know what you were -”

In his bitter, bitter rage, he almost failed to notice the knives bursting through the door, flying straight at his back in a shower of splinters. He turned and swept the air aside, knocking them away in a sudden gale, turning around to laugh sourly -

“Soulstealer,” said Matilda, scarecrow hood already over her face. “He whom she kisses will lose his heart’s desire.”

She beckoned, then vanished from his sight. The duvet blew straight from the bed and out into the ash-filled wind, and as he stared after it with an unseeing scowl, he realized that there was an owl on it. An owl, made of string.

The broad dagger flew right past him, straight for the dwindling flapping patch in the air. The black stiletto went through his chest and out the other side.

His eyes went wide. He gasped, then fell to his knees. The fire went out at the core of the world, riming him with cold, turning the bright magma into dark, dark frost. It was like the apocalypse had inverted itself, folded suddenly into its opposite. It was just as sudden, and even more terrifying.

Even for him.

Heaving dry sobs, trying desperately to remember what he had just lost, he heard, faintly, his mother’s cackling laughter.

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