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

in #fiction6 years ago (edited)

This is the thirty-fourth 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, Thirty-Two and Thirty-Three.

Anne’s eye. She was about to claw out Anne’s eye.

The scream in Matilda’s throat made its way out as a low groan. She stretched out her hand, reaching, willing her legs to move or her magic to work, begging Woewarder to fly out and strike Yhaga, even if only as a distraction. Even though the only thing the knife could do was curse your flesh in return for one wish. Even though Yhaga already had her greatest wish.

Nothing. She was old, too old, and Yhaga’s sorcery was too raw for her. Her legs were like worms beneath her, and her magic festered in her throat. She had already spent it all trying to kill Necristo.

“Don’t-”

A spatter of bright red blood squirted across the starlit field, as pure and virginal as an untouched rose. Anne howled like a shaken cat. Matilda shut her eyes and bit her lip until the taste of wet copper flowed up into her nostrils.

“Uncle Matt!”

Matilda opened her eyes, disbelieving, to see an opal planesgate shimmering right in front of Anne’s nose. Yhaga’s arm was down in it to the elbow, grasped by a man’s bloody hand - but from her shocked grimace, Yhaga was the injured one.

“We’ll be back for you in a little while, girl,” came a gnarled male voice. “Just try not to let your Aunt die, will you?”

Anne stared up at the inert side of the portal and nodded, mutely.

“You… you dare?” stammered Yhaga. “I’ll…”

She made a wild gesture with her left hand, gathering lightning and wind like a whirlpool - then the man’s hand tugged hard and she fell, shrieking, into the shimmering doorway. The vortex fizzled out the instant she went in, and the planesgate winked out.

Matilda watched helplessly as her niece crawled to her over the ashen grass, pulled her into her arms, and planted a shaking kiss on her leathery cheek.

#####

“If you hadn’t made yourself corporeal,” said the gnarled man with the cold eyes, “perhaps none of this would have happened.”

Necri was there, staring up at her with those helpless eyes she hated so much. He had the hole from Matilda’s black stiletto in his chest.

“Not dead yet, Necri?” said Yhaga. “You really are remarkable.”

“This isn’t about him,” said the gnarled man. “I hate him, don’t get me wrong. I was about to throw him at you and make him apologize to Anne, to Mattie - even if what it meant was his death and mine. Fortunately, I tend to rethink my plans very quickly. Do you know how fast the planar epicycles on this world are? It was all I could do to catch your hand.”

“Stay out of this, gatefinder! You think you can outsmart me? I’ve been planning this since your father was a smear in your grandmother’s loins!”

She reached inside herself for that part of him she’d taken and called a wind of blasting death. The gnarled man folded his arms and looked unimpressed.

“What…?”

This wasn’t right. There was no way this could be happening. She had Necri’s sorcery. Her sorcery. Raw power beyond anything this pathetic warlock could ever muster, so why…?

“You should have gone to school,” said the gnarled man, with a sardonic lift of his eyebrow. “If you knew a fraction of the things your son does about the Space Between, I would be dead already.”

“You… you… Charlatan! Whoreson!”

She rushed at him, broken nail bleeding, going straight for his eyes. He shoved her to the ground like a child.

“I don’t hit girls, or women,” he said. “But you? You stopped being human a long time ago.”

“Necri,” croaked Yhaga. “Help me, Necri.”

The gnarled man turned, as if to laugh again - but then his eyes lit up in dull alarm.

“Don’t do it,” he said. “Don’t make me kill you, too.”

Her son stood, leaking black blood. Shuffled past the gnarled man, brushed his arm aside and knelt in front of her, his red eyes tender as a freshly skinned hare.

“Mother,” he whispered.

Yes. There it was. That pathetic expression. Exactly what she needed to twist this whole mess around, to wring the life from that smug gatefinder’s neck...

“The knife in my side, Necri,” she said, keeping her voice low and weak. “Take it. Kill him.”

“Mother, I…”

“Necri, please. I’m… I’m so sorry. Everything I’ve done… I don’t deserve to be your mother.”

“I…”

It was taking all her effort not to shake from sheer mirth, laughter as bitter as lemons in mud. This was the whole reason he’d kept her as a phantasm on his world, wasn’t it? Given her life? To force an apology from her lips, to make her grateful, to make her surrender to him at last?

Well, it wasn’t going to happen. He was useless even as an all-powerful sorcerer, and he was useless now. The only thing that galled her, even now, was that, presented with his wish, his desire for dominance over his hated mother…

He had no idea what to do.

“Don’t be a fool, Necristo,” said the gnarled man again. “You’re almost dead, she has your power, and neither of you can do anything with it. Not in this place. Not with that knife.”

“Then join me!” croaked Yhaga. “Let this murderer kill us both! You wanted to die, didn’t you? You’ve wanted it all this while, so…”

“Mother? Who’s Anne?”

The question was like a slap in the face, it was so cold and measured. She searched Necri’s face, desperately, for some hint of lostness, some hint of the abandoned child he’d been, that she needed him to be.

“Not someone you need to concern yourself with, Necri. Not now. Please, I’m…”

Nothing. His face was as cold as a marble wall, his hair like snow. The black blood that graced his hair and face was as still as faded ink, and his eyes were dead.

“Matthias said that I was meant to care for her, Mother. Is this something you did? Did you take her, just like you took Matilda from me? Just like you took my power?”

“Anne loves you,” said the gnarled man from behind. “I don’t know why, but she does. I won’t see you taken away from her, Necristo. Not like you took my Mattie.”

So, this was Matthias, then? That sniveling farmboy who had shown up at the mansion for his Matilda such a short while ago? So old and gray now?

Good.

“He doesn’t know what he’s talking about, Necri. It was Matilda who gave you that wound in your chest. She made you lose your heart. It just so happened that your power came to me, because…”

“You stole it,” said Matthias. “It was your plan along, woman, even I can tell that. You’re not fooling anyone.”

“Because you love me!” cried Yhaga victoriously. “Because you’ve always loved me! Anne, Matilda, what are they? Nothing but slatterns after your power, what you earned by right to comfort me in my old age! In death, my dear Necri!”

Matthias took a step forwards, fists clenched, but it was Necri who spoke.

“You’re right, Mother. I do love you.”

A sliver of hope lit up Yhaga’s heart like sunlight. Bubbles of glee began to rise in her chest like so much froth.

“Yes. Yes, you do. And I…”

He placed his cold hand on her cheek, his red eyes inert.

“All I wanted was for you to love me back. It was why I went to Skalathos. I thought I could make you rich beyond your wildest dreams, give you everything you wanted. But when I got back…”

“I was dead. It doesn’t matter, Necri. We can live or die again, you and I. Whatever you want. We can pass together into oblivion, or regenerate our world, and stay together. Forever.”

The red eyes shone for a moment in pain, like twin rivers of blood. His cold hand slipped down to her own and held it tight, as if afraid she would throw him off.

“Perhaps… oh, Mother.”

Yes.

“You’ve been dead for so very long, Mother.”

Yes!

“Perhaps I should accept that.”

Yes… what?

“You… you useless waste of good wheat!” she howled, pulling her hand from his and batting at his chest. “I should have pried you from my womb a long time ago! I have your power anyway, and there’s nothing you can do about -”

“Isn’t there?” He was smiling now, a lost, wide, desperate smile. “Do you really mean to say that, Mother? Did you spend a hundred years learning how all of this works?”

“How dare you!” she screamed, lashing out with all the strength in her, all the hatred in her seething heart, whatever she could use of her sorcery in this Space Between worlds. He reeled momentarily, stunned, and she scrambled up to flee - then there was a blur, a noiseless rush of movement around and behind her. A gnarled fist struck her in the face and she fell, almost senseless.

“Do it, Necristo,” said Matthias. “Before you change your mind.”

Necri rose over her, torment written all across his face. For a single chilling moment, it occurred to Yhaga that this was exactly what she’d wanted. To hurt him beyond any possible comprehension, even beyond the bounds of death. To carry out her revenge on the son who’d left her alone in her hut with no-one to hate.

“Up until now, Mother, you’ve never seen me speak sorcery. But why, Mother… why did you assume that only wizards have written spells? Do you really think we don’t have ways to deal with things like this?”

No. This was impossible. How…

“I renounce you, my phantasm. With the blood on my hand and the hole in my chest I renounce you. With the power of my heart which beats in you I renounce you.”

His eyes were wells of molten earth, now, blazing with the fire at the heart of the earth. His hand was on her forehead, burning wet, and she was shaking, the whole Space Between was shaking…

“No! Please!”

“You are my creation. You are my memory made flesh. I have you in my power, under me, in me. Return to me. I renounce you, my phantasm.”

It was like she was being torn apart, and for the first time in this magical existence, she remembered the feeling of pain. She groped, wildly, feebly, but the eyes of both men were hard.

“My heart is dead. I cannot live. My power lives. I cannot die. Return to me. With the invocation I bind you, break you, scatter you. I renounce you, my phantasm.

“Begone.”

The light that blazed from her was blinding. She howled a word that never came. The last of her memories vanished like a leaf on the wind, and when her fingers and face turned at last to liquid iridescent light, it was as if she had never lived.

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