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

in #fiction6 years ago

This is the thirty-seventh 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, Thirty-Three, Thirty-Four, Thirty-Five, and Thirty-Six.

He had fled from the darkness of his mother's hut because he had been afraid. Not of her, but of himself. Desperately afraid that if he stayed for one more unbearable day, she would really end her life as she had threatened, and he would be left alone with nothing but her curse. He had left his world, followed the scout from Skalathos because he had been afraid. Afraid that his mother's magic would find him, even after all those years, bind his arms and bring him back to her. The city had not wiped her from his mind.

And even in those long years of study, that bitter solitary century where he toiled in silence over the arcane tomes and raw tubs of soulstuff, his mother had stayed at his shoulder like a scorching sunbeam. Even though she was dead, nothing but bones a thousand worlds away. His distance only made her closer.

When he graduated, a weakling with the power to make his every thought a reality, it was only natural for her memory to clothe itself in magic and become a phantasm. Seeing her from the corner of his eye, hearing her voice in every blade of grass, he began to seek the company of women. Too cowardly to change himself, he stole farmgirls and maidens from plane after plane, in the hopes that one of them would somehow help him banish his mother. That one of them would replace his mother.

Anne hadn't replaced Mother. Anne had stabbed Mother. She had scowled and scolded and refused to give him an inch, until at last some vestigial memory of her anger, of her indomitable annoyance, had sparked a fire in him. Given him the strength, at last, to destroy that part of him which refused to let go.

And now, as his heart vanished and all his power left him, as the beat in his chest became solid and real as Matilda's bandaged hand, as the white ran away from his skin and the red dripped from his eyes like blood, Necristo began to realise that this was how it had been meant to be this entire time.

"Do you understand, Matilda?" he said, bleeding unnatural color like a waterlogged corpse. "All I wanted was for someone to save me."

"You and me both," said the scarecrow woman, her lips the color of brittle straw. "You and me both. Shame, isn't it? That the only thing it led to was destruction."

He placed his hand on hers, cupping it around Woewarder's worn ridged hilt. She stiffened, but at last decided not to move.

"We have another chance now," he said. "Anne's here."

It was like he was peeling away from himself. As if years of doubt, of uncertainty were falling away like flesh from a wound. He pulled Woewarder from his warm chest, and it came free and unsullied, sliding from his waistcoat like a beam of pure white light.

"You remember her name now," said Matilda.

Necristo turned and blinked. Anne was standing there, hand over her mouth, green eyes brimming with wonder.

"Your eyes," she said. "They're..."

Necristo touched the side of his head, looking at his golden locks in a moment of confusion. His whole body felt different, as if he had been reduced to the ghost of a shadow of his former self - but there was a wonderful feeling to the weakness, as if by giving up all his power, he had finally let go of all his burdens. As if by inviting death, he had found life.

"Well," he said, "I can't actually remember what color my eyes were, Anne, so I suppose you'll have to tell me. This flesh-and-blood heart is quite handy, if I may say so myself. I can remember you, for one, and..."

"Okay, never mind," said Anne, "the world's melting."

Necristo looked down at the soulstuff pooling rapidly beneath him. The dark sky itself was running over with light, dripping and falling in great globules that splashed like meteorites.

"So it is," he said. "I must say, I didn't think this far ahead. Matthias, Matilda, when will the next planesgate pass by here?"

"Two hours," said Matilda, lifting her foot and wobbling slightly. "Unless the master gatefinder here can see something I don't. Nice eyes, incidentally. Very blue."

"A real bouquet," said Matthias, without the slightest hint of charity. "Beautiful. I can't see a gate for miles. This may be the end."

"Well," grinned Anne, "it definitely is the end. Just... a happier one."

Matthias, Matilda and Necristo snapped around to stare at her. Anne scowled, hand over her mouth.

"What?" she demanded. "That wasn't me!"

"It certainly wasn't," said Annabel, stepping out from nowhere and introducing the planesgate behind her with a flourish. "Fantastic show, by the way. The clan will love this. Now, you might want to come through here before your world collapses, Necristo. Or, well, your former world. Did I mention I majored in Planar Travel and Doppelganger Theory?"

Necristo looked at Annabel, then back at Anne.

"Two Annes," he said.

"Don't act like it's some kind of curse, you idiot!" howled Anne. "Get in!"

And with that, she splashed through the soulstuff and shoved her paramour right through the rectangle of shimmering violet. Matilda and Matthias looked at each other, sighed in unison, and followed.

"It'll be good to go home," muttered Matthias.

"It'll be good to have a home," replied Matilda, equally surly.

"I think the both of you are just adorable," beamed Annabel. "Now, who wants to tell me what happened to Yhaga?"

"It's complicated," said all four at once, even as the planesgate closed behind them.

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