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

in #fiction6 years ago (edited)

This is the thirty-third 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, Twenty-One, Twenty-Two, Twenty-Three, Twenty-Four, Twenty-Five, Twenty-Six, Twenty-Seven, Twenty-Eight, Twenty-Nine, Thirty, Thirty-One and Thirty-Two.

The black broken sky opened up in front of her, and the opal-brown void turned to ash beneath her feet. She was running, suddenly, carried by her own momentum, still stunned at the sheer wrongness of it all. This wasn’t the interworld walkway. This wasn’t Necristo’s world. Uncle Matt had lied. Where was…

Hearthunter shot from her dress pocket and into her hands, shrilling a warning at its full length. The vague vision in front of her sharpened into clarity even as time went soft in her head, stringing every step over two heartbeats like melted cheese. She blinked, and began to realize just what she was running at.

A phantasm. A dead hag. Not a sorceress, not a living power like Annabel and Necristo had been. Even without Necristo’s sorcery, she could still sense these things, and the falseness struck her like the stench of rotting offal.

No. The hag had their sorcery. And Aunt Mattie was there, broken, voiceless, almost melting.

From then on it was a simple matter to swallow her revulsion, shut her eyes, hold the handle tight in both hands and just keep running.

Anne screamed.

The barbed blade grated past two ribs and went straight in. The hag grunted wetly. Anne was still screaming. The barbs unfurled from tip to base, jolting her arms. The hag made another wet sound, a bit like offal being stepped on, then gasped and gurgled. Anne let go and sank to her knees, shaking. The hag fell with her.

“Anne…” mumbled Aunt Mattie. “Anne…”

Anne shook her head, white face in her white hands. She was still shaking. Somewhere in the back of her mind she had imagined this just being like another poultry slaughter, but the horrid grate, the wet spurt, the shocked gasp, the terrible bite of the blade’s barbed edge…

“Get up, Anne, she’s…”

Anne looked down in time to see the hag’s eyes shoot open. She stared, dumbly, as the dead hag lurched and got to her feet, as steady as any woman her age could possibly move, Hearthunter sticking from her side like the handle of some half-buried wheelbarrow.

“You have a way of showing up where you’re not wanted, girlie. You know that, don’t you?”

Anne opened her mouth to laugh, sobbed, then found that her hands were shaking like acorns in a autumn breeze.

“Heart… Hearthunter,” she said, as if it were the most hilarious thing in the world. “Heart.”

The hag’s face split in a terrible, bloodstained grin.

“And it would have worked, too, if I wasn’t already dead. Tell me, Matilda, was this your doing? Did you have your little niece waiting in the wings all along, ready for this… this grand finale?”

“Run, Anne,” croaked Aunt Mattie, her toothless gums smacking against each other in her attempts at enunciation. “Please, don’t... why did you…”

Anne swayed and took a lurching, hysterical step forwards, eyes unseeing, arm raised. The hag laughed and made a hateful gesture, as if she were ripping a doorknob free. The world spun around Anne, the falling stars streaked across her sight, and the side of her head smacked right into the ashen ground, blowing up a gray plume that felt like it had burst her eyes. It was like an enormous bell had gone off in her head, raining plaster and glass from the walls, sending her thoughts flying for miles around.

“Perhaps I should let you know who I am,” said the hag. “My name is Yhaga. You tried to steal my son from me, just like he stole your Aunt from you. And Anne…”

She knelt before Anne’s terrified face, placing a long yellow nail on her ashen cheek, staring right into her watering green eyes.

“I hate all you Gentilberry sluts.”

The yellow nail hung over Anne’s right eye, contemplated the motion, then fell like an icicle of mud.

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