The formation of nuns sweeps in low. Behind them the storm gathers, a bridal train of dark fury. The seven Sisters circle the bandits and a sweeping veil of storm traps them, like flies in a bottle, a funnel of insane black to lock them into place. Steam engines die to silence and the bandits watch, leery, as nuns jack-knife down toward them, thread the storm through the needle of its own eye. Paradoxical. Impossible.
Violate yells, reloads and begins to fire, green eyes blazing fury hard as bullets. Dime and Dagger whoop it up; crank guns high to pepper the nuns with a hail of pure, cold lead. Carbine and Choke sit side by side. Slabs of brawn given to rumination on huge metal monsters. Choke, one foot rested up on his handlebars, chews his stogie, watches the nun who forms the arrowhead of the formation, wary, alert, suspicious.
‘Reckun she got a trick’er two up them skirts o’ hers,’ he growls to Carbine, who tips his hat back and watches her with hazel eyes tinged with apple green, large and surprisingly gentle.
‘Reckun you maht be raht, boss.’
Choke nods as if it’s a given. Rolls his stogie from one side of his mouth to the other, declares, ‘Have a feelin’ firin’s a waste o’ ammo.’
Carbine tips his head over to the manic melee of lead being slung up to the atmosphere by his fellow bandits as if he has all the time in the world. ‘Reckun we oughta tell them?’
Choke leans back, cogitating. ‘Nah,’ he says, ‘don’t reckun we should either. Nevah let it be said ah put prac-tee-calitee in tha way o’ good wholesome fun. We’ll leave ‘em to it.’
The nuns strike. The veil falls. If the sky could fall it would be like this. A sudden descent of intolerable weight the body has no time to adjust to before it’s crushed beneath it. The bandits are stifled, trapped and then swept onward within the storm pulled by the seven. Their machines are left stranded in the dust, abandoned monuments to battle.
Sickly grey threads of power spool behind the Sisters. Hidden deep within the grey of Sparrow Plenty’s thread, silver scintillates. Secret silver, secret strength. She pulls at her thread, unleashes it, begins to weave. Winds it with such delicacy, such finesse, such stealth about the threads of her sisters that they don’t even note it as they fly onward, triumphant, to play with their prize.
Only when it’s too late, when they’re bound in a tangle of her power like flies on the web, do they realise how complete their imprisonment is, and that’s when Sparrow allows silver to bleed through the grey. Its touch is fierce as fire on dried leaves. It burns then, contains them, controls them.
The scream of rage that unleashes from them is made with the voice of the storm. Alien and terrible from a thousand throats ripped in raging black sand. The death of silence, it rends the desert, sends scorpions scuttling beneath the sand as rocks fall and earth trembles.
Sparrow may be free, may be silver, but she’s still a Sister. Their pain horrifies and delights her, their rage lights fires of black, of char, of ruinous joy, in the hollow of her being. She spins to the ground, drags them with her. Gathers the storm, the threads, the power to a fine needle and pierces the world with it.
A quickening pulls there to here and the fabric of the world splits, forms a funnel, a pathway from raging storms to raving ravids. Holding the burden of Sisters, bandits and storm with the slender crook of one finger on a thread of purest silver, Sparrow steps a delicate foot from desert to the midst of mayhem.
The Angel turns to her and smiles, says. ‘I hope you can dance, Sparrow Plenty.’
Margo cocks her head, that glistening blue blade sputters before her face, fizzles in the black reflective void of her pupils. She and the three Order thugs in fine linen remain rock-like in their stand off.
Behind her the last beasts have succumbed to blades, their flesh falling to quivering segments, steaming on blackened carpet. Rough cuts, bones protruding in jagged white shards. The walls drip and melt, sticky fast-clotting blood mixes with the drizzle of molten flocked wallpaper, yellow as pus.
Behind the door, that paragon of wood, of brass, of ceremonial solemnity, something has changed. Margo feels it clear in the air as a blast of bass thrumming, a sick urban rhythm, dancecore frantic, cleaving silence like so much ravaged flesh. It sings to her.
‘Hear that?’ she says to the three solid masses ranged before the door. ‘Sounds like the dance has taken on a new beat.’
Middle man doesn’t move. He doesn’t respond. Margo leans forward, a sensual tilt of heels, and rests her forearms on his chest, giggling as he flinches just a fraction as that blade comes too close for comfort.
‘How’s about you fellows let me through so I don’t have to ruin your pretty suits?’ she asks, pretty please with a cherry on top tones spoilt by the unabashedly naughty grin. She plucks with idle fingers at his lapel. ‘I’d hate to destroy such marvellous tailoring.’
He shakes his head. Speaks at last. His tones are mellifluous, refined, cultured. They make her face blank out with sheer delight. ‘We are here to contain the mother. You are chaos. An attempt to eliminate you…’
‘Which wasn’t really very sporting.’ Margo interrupts, wagging a finger.
He watches the finger as if he wants to bite it. ‘Failed,’ he bites out instead.
‘Hmm,’ Margo says, ‘we’re a bit uncooperative like that.’
‘However,’ he says, ‘we are no longer here to eliminate you, merely to discourage. The Mother Immortal is our business.’
Margo flutters her eyelashes at him, but the look in her eyes makes beads of sweat pearl on the skin of his forehead. ‘I have a slight problem with that,’ she tells him, pleasant, predatory, poisonous. Her eyes spark, dangerous as the blade she wields.
Middle man swallows. ‘Problem or no problem. Even if you kill us you will not get past. Mother Immortal has sealed the chamber.’
Margo tips back. ‘I know,’ she says, ‘which makes this just a little bit less satisfying.’ She twists on one foot, engages in a graceful, effortless pirouette, so measured, so deliberated it’s almost slow motion. The blue sword drags a comet-tail of sparkling cerulean fire.
Middle man looks down at his middle. ‘Oh,’ he says to the gaping hole that gradually widens, flesh disintegrating to the memory of atoms, little blue shivers on the air, fine linen unravelling to thread to fibre to dust.
Margo sighs as he and his fellows slump to the floor, the soft squelch of dissolving flesh quiet as a murmur. ‘Shameful waste of marvellous tailoring.’
She turns to Minnie, a sexual Python in skin-tight leather wound round Slimm’s side. Minnie raises a brow at the mess on the floor.
‘Sloppy,’ she says, off-hand. ‘So what now?’
Margo smiles, sauntering over to Mamma, picking up that poppy bright riot of curls in one hand and rubbing it between her fingers. ‘Now,’ she purrs, ‘we go and find Leek. She’s found her own Mr. Rat, unless I’m much mistaken.’
‘I don’t know why you like that flea bag,’ Minnie moans as they pick careful feet over mounds of slowly deliquescing meat.
Margo smiles dreamily. ‘I luff my Mistah Ratty Rat,’ she croons, ‘he’s a precious baby.’ She grins over her shoulder at Minnie. ‘And trust me, bitch, you’ll want to lick Leek’s pussy, despite having your claws in mister tall, freckled and foxy here.’
Leaving Rolf and Moe to hold off the ever-ravening horde, Angel raises a hand, palm huge as a slab of stone. His eyes blaze once, magnesium fire, and the storm races to him, obedient, eager, longing to rejoin the source.
It pours into his palm, a deluge of black consumed by flesh. The last specks swirl along the lines of life, fate, heart, fill them with charcoal smudges, form a brief pictogram of his fortune, and are gone. He closes his palm.
‘You may release them,’ he says to Sparrow.
She flips that delicate hand to unfurl the cocoon of silver holding Sisters, their habits burnt through in places by the purity of her thread. Angry red flesh flashes behind the char-edged rents. Blistered and warped to ridges it bubbles still in places. Blisters filled with bright pus, yellow as molten wallpaper.
They crawl on the floor, spiderlike. Habits drags around clumsy limbs. They are weakened, damaged, broken by the clarity of silver. Their fury is a living force, it coils about their heads, a cloud of malice. They hiss at her from behind their thick, black veils. Curses. Fractured syllables of incantations formed of deepest hatred. Sparrow is unmoved.
The Mother slams her stick to the ground. Six ravaged bodies jolt to their feet in one puppet-like movement, forced by her will. Another harsh tap and they’re drawn toward her, feet dragging behind. They writhe, issue broken screams like the scrape of metals. Mother has no mercy. That purple veil turns to take in the one daughter who does not move, does not scream. The head nods, just once. An acknowledgement, no more.
‘And so,’ she says, her voice rasps across the sound of battle, scouring, cold as cruelty, ‘welcome back to the world, Sparrow Plenty. It will be hard without me and he will not shelter you beyond this battle. Make the most of today. It is the only day you will see.’
Sparrow inclines her head back. She does not speak. She gestures again. A bedraggled motley pack of grimy bandits, pissed as all hell and then some, drop from her control. They scramble to their feet, move back to back, all guns raised. Dime and Dagger, denied their machine guns, pull out sawn shotguns and slender-barrelled pistols. Nothing elegant in them, they’re refined to kill more cleanly. Murderous perfection.
The Ravids close in, eager for new flesh, new parts, new souls to share their agony with. Carbine lifts the thunderbuss, kisses the barrel, fires once ahead, twice to the sides, a third time behind. Ravids explode to ruin, flesh torn to shreds tangled amongst machine shards sharp as splinters. He looks mighty pleased with himself until mangled mush begins to reform to bone, muscle, tendon, skin, splinters to shining cogs, springs, pistons. He licks dry lips. Spits. Snaps.
‘Whut the great steamin’ Jee-ho-sa-phat?’
Choke pays no mind to any of it. The only thing he sees is the Angel, formed from a great pile of gold, from freedom, from the noose loosened from their necks. ‘Payday,’ he says, a huge grin forming around his stogie.
Rolf moves toward them, flicks out his whips to tear apart a group of Ravids. He’s torn off his tailcoat and shirt. Sculpted flesh is drenched in blood. He’s a sexual savage, wild and wonderful. Violate cops an eyeful and damn near drops her drawers on the spot.
Rolf grins, ‘well hello to you too, petal. Look, you’re all frankly in dire need of a wash and probably want to skip off into the sunset with the Angel there in your possession.’ The whips uncoil again, brutal, precise. Tear spines from flesh; rip the workings from machine hearts and dash them to gewgaws. Sparks sputter. Red eyes dim, fade to black. ‘Unfortunately,’ he continues, wry, midly amused, ‘there’s a slight inconvenience that may just put a damper on that dewy happy ever after you’ve no doubt been wearing out your wanking hand to.’
‘You tawk funneh,’ Dime sneers, ‘reckun ah’ll rip yer dick awf and ram it down yer thoat. Stop yer yappin’.’
Rolf bats his eyelashes at Dime, ‘how thoughtful, I’ve always wanted to suck my own dick.’ He winks at Violate. Drawls. ‘Deep throat, too. Isn’t he a darling?’
‘Enough,’ growls Choke. ‘We’ll faht. Then we’ll take him,’ he points his pistol at the Angel, ‘and git the sam hell outta heah. Understand, Nancy boy?’
Rolf takes a moment to carve his way through a pile of reforming Ravids, lashing out to undo the binding of flesh to metal. He stamps his foot hard on a skull. Crushing it. Grinds his heel deep into the mass; the chill, blue perfection of his gaze holds Choke’s. This Rolf has no play, no fun, no wit. He’s all killer. He smiles, and there’s nothing in it but stark, virulent hunger.
‘How’s about a little wager?’ his voice is silken, a caress.
Choke licks his lips, fires off a bevy of shots to take out Ravids closing in on the tight circle of the living. ‘Stakes?’
‘You win, you get to take the Angel, run off into the sunset.’
‘And if we lose?’ Choke looks wary now. Rolf isn’t playing Nancy boy anymore. He’s playing what lies beneath it. The animal under the flesh. Something even Choke might run from in a tight spot.
‘If you lose?’ The fun flows back into Rolf’s eyes, warm as sunshine and all as bright. ‘Let’s just say,’ he drawls, amusement flickering over him like flames, ‘that we’ll be having us a nice little game of “Who’s the Nancy Boy Now?” Just you, me, and a big old tub of Vaseline.’
© Ren Warom 2011