A hundred yards of granite-solid stare hit Rolf right between the eyes. BAM. He flicks one whip lazily across the other, striking sparks from metal tips, fireflies of light. Allows a smile to trickle across his face, sugar sweet and twice as bad for you.
‘What,’ he murmurs softly, ‘don’t tell me you’re averse to a little taking your own medicine?’
Choke raises his gun, aims at Rolf, fires. Rolf doesn’t move, doesn’t flinch. The Ravid about to grab Rolf’s hair screeches and falls to the floor, clawing at the remains of its face. Curds of brain entangled in copper wires spill out between its fingers. Choke grins, spits out a great hulking loogy into the blood and slime slicking the floor.
‘Boy,’ he drawls ‘y’all maht thank yer a real co-meed-yen, but thar ain’t nuthin’ funneh ‘bout cornholin’ a man’s bee-hahnd.’
Rolf blinks. Pure, whipped-cream innocence. ‘Oh, I don’t know,’ he replies, off-hand, ‘I’d certainly be laughing.’
Choke stares for a moment. Stunned. Then his head flings back and he tears out the biggest damn laugh this side of the prairie.
‘Boy,’ he wheezes out through guffaws, ‘I lahk yer stahl. Y’all are alraht bah me.’
The bandits catch his fever, his glee, whoop it up. Fire off wild shots that, against all laws of physics, still find Ravid targets and reduce flesh to bloody blossoms. They slap Rolf on the back, Violate being a mite more interested in fondling than slapping.
She grabs herself a good old palm full of butt, rubs her cheek across a blood-smeared pec. Rolf watches her with no small amusement. After a moment, when her fondling appears to be falling somewhat short of the desired effect, despite a foray into crotch territory and neck nibbling, Violate rears back, confused.
‘I’ve always wanted a pet,’ Rolf tells her, the Grecian perfection of his features sober with thought. ‘And you’d look so pretty in a collar.’
Violate bares her teeth. Growls, much to the amusement of Rolf and Choke both. ‘Nancy boy,’ she spits.
Rolf smirks. ‘That’s right, darling.’ He points the butt of his whip at Moe, who’s back to back with the Angel and chopping up a storm. ‘See that gorgeous specimen? I’m currently working on renovations. I’ll shortly be redecorating his arse with my cock.’
Violate gapes. Turns huge, blue peepers from one specimen to the other, breathes, ‘kin ah wahtch?’
The Angel’s voice cuts off Rolf’s sleazy reply, booming from the midst of bloody melee. ‘Now we’ve all had our little bonding session, let’s be getting to the business of dismantling these pernicious half-robotic slaves of insanity, shall we?’
‘Love to, poppet,’ Rolf replies sweetly. ‘Only one problem with that, remember?’ He whips a few half formed Ravids back to metal-spattered puree, raises a brow as they immediately begin to reform. ‘They won’t fucking stay dismantled.’
The Angel sighs. ‘No. I’m afraid my friend the cat is our only hope and, at this moment in time, I don’t think he has any idea how much trouble he’s caused. As usual.’ He chuckles as he dispatches several Ravids with his trigun and punches straight through the face of another with his great fist. He flicks gore from his fingers. Grimaces. ‘That’s the trouble with Seraphim. Too damn impulsive.’
‘That’s the trouble with Cherubim,’ Kitty murmurs, his claws combing through the glowing silken mass of Leek’s hair, once more set to floating and coiling about her head as her eyes, laced with gold and black, gaze into a scene taking place not far from them in the ballroom, ‘too damned pragmatic.’
‘Whut tha hell d’y’all mean?’ asks Meg. She’s sat, legs akimbo, on the sofa, polishing her gun. She peers down the sight, hitches up her skirt and scrubs at a smear on the barrel. ‘Y’all thank he’s assumin’ y’all’ve made a mess ‘o this bah storin’ that there may-trix in Leek?’
Kitty smirks. ‘Oh I know he’s assuming that. Which is his problem. No imagination. He thinks to destroy the matrix and its vessels will have crippled the old bitch for good. But the matrix is a source, not the source. I admit I didn’t plan to re-home it in Leek but it’s perfect, and much safer than the alternative. See, that old bitch would have revived fairly swiftly and, deprived of the matrix, she’d have been forced to use her true power.’ Darkness seeps across his gaze. ‘That must not be allowed. Even the old bitch is afraid of what it is that fills her black soul to brimming.’
Meg’s eyes grow round as silver dollars. ‘Whut is et?’ she breathes. ‘Whut powah’s she gawt?’
Kitty quits smoothing through Leek’s hair. He turns his face downward. Power rolls from him in sickening waves, they rock Meg’s body till she’s forced to grip the sofa with both hands, dropping her pistol into her gathered skirts.
She opens her mouth to stammer an apology but the waves cease and he looks up at her, such misery and loss in his eyes that she cannot bear to hold his gaze. When he speaks all that emotion bleeds through his voice and Meg wants desperately to block her ears from it.
‘The Absence,’ he tells her. ‘It is The Absence. A fragment of it. Just a drop. But that is all she needs.’
Meg sucks in a deep breath, blows it out and resumes her polishing with too much energy, pointedly refusing to look at him again. ‘Y’all can keep whuteva tha hell thaht is tah yerself, Kitteh. Ah don’t rightly thank ah wanna know.’
‘I, however, suffer from incurable curiosity,’ drawls a sultry voice from the doorway. Kitty whips round to see who it is but Meg just wiggles her fingers and calls out.
‘Howdeh, Margo baybeh.’
Margo struts in over to the sofa, leans forward and plants two big smackeroos on Meg’s cheeks. ‘Hello, my darling.’ She looks the Kitty up and down, raises a brow at Minnie, who’s drooling just a little, much to Slimm’s amusement. ‘I told you you’d want to lick Leek’s pussy, Minnie my darling,’ she announces.
Minnie nods. ‘Oh my. Isn’t he just a walking Johanna Lindsey cover?’ She fans herself, elbows Slimm. ‘What do you think?’
Slimm clears his throat. ‘I think you’d best ask Rolf what he thinks. Not me.’
Kitty moves in the way as Margo crosses to Leek. Stands to his full height, towering over Margo, who in the spiked heels of her black armour still barely reaches his chest. Pressure builds in the room. Rises and rises until everyone but Margo, Kitty and Leek tremble with it.
Kitty unleashes those waves but they roll around Margo as if she’s a stone parting the tide. Rested on the door, luxurious and relaxed in the presence of an Angel, Mamma lets out a rich chuckle. Kitty tilts his head, pulls the power back into himself. Reaches out with a clawed hand instead to grasp Margo’s chin.
‘What are you?’ he asks wonderingly. ‘There’s power there. A great deal of it. More than the one you call Minnie, more even than Leek, who holds a power matrix in her veins. But you are not a vessel and you are not an Angel. What are you?’
Margo’s ripe red lips break to a dazzling smile. Such beauty, such voracious hunger. ‘I’m just a bitch with a serious attitude problem and an unhealthy addiction to violence,’ she says, relishing every last syllable.
Kitty’s claws caress the soft skin of her cheek. He chuckles. Shakes his head. ‘No,’ he tells her, ‘what you are is a paradox waiting to happen.’ He returns the smile with a great deal more teeth in it. ‘And I for one,’ he tells her, ‘couldn’t be more delighted to meet you.’
‘Charmed, I’m sure,’ she responds. Nods at Leek, ignoring the press of claws in her cheek, the breaking of skin, the slow winding of blood droplets. ‘So, how do we use this to break the old bitch?’
Kitty sighs. ‘Can’t break that which is unbreakable.’
‘No,’ says Margo, licking away a drop of blood from the corner of her mouth, ‘but you can beat the fuck out of it until it fucking goes away.’
The look of surprise that crawls across Kitty’s face is like the sun rising, slow, seeping brightness followed by an explosion of light. ‘My dear little paradox,’ he says, full to brimming with delight, ‘I do believe you’re right.’
Blood falls. Sanguine rain. Patters down to soak their skin, their hair. Debrided lengths of skin and gobbets of flesh crawl the floor amidst their feet. Slither around ankles like blind red worms. Seek wholeness. Recombination. Reintegration.
In the centre of the flesh maelstrom, the torrent of falling blood, stands the Mother Immortal, encased in power. Six of the sisters flank her, a black guard, a wall of unyielding ebony. They give up their bodies for her protection, she would not allow otherwise.
Sparrow Plenty, the seventh, veil plastered to skeletal features, fights amongst bandits, habit drenched to sagging wetness with the gore of a thousand deaths. Her power rolls out again and again toward the Mother, who repels it again and again, her laughter a whip of wickedness upon the air.
In the vaults of Sparrow’s mind, gold threads flicker in the shadows. Glisten. Unreel. They build a web within her silver. Along the strands comes a whispering, a gentle susurration that manifests to speech, at first incoherent then building by syllables to comprehension.
Sparrow shows no outward sign of the invasion but the Angel nonetheless turns his magnesium fire gaze upon her veiled visage. Asks, ‘Is it the matrix?’
Sparrow inclines her head.
He nods, satisfied. ‘Let us see how my brother seeks to fix this mess he’s wrought upon us.’
Sparrow coughs. The sound sharp disparagement. Rasps, ‘you speak of mess, Angel, all unawares of the mess you wreak by remaking me silver.’
He raises his brows in question but she is gone to her mind, to the web of gold, to the voice that whispers her name. I am Sparrow Plenty, she replies and the voice of her mind, her true voice, her silver voice, far from rasping, is melodious as the first morning song of the lark.
There is much power here, Leek’s golden voice says to her. Silver to gold, to Seraphim, to Cherubim, to fountain, to well, to reservoir, joined to a whole to build a weapon to wear her down. To wield her own power against her. There will be an opportunity to send her far from here, with no way to return.
Sparrow considers. It can be done. But the window will be infinitesimal. The one who will push her through must be swift as the cat’s paw.
A male voice purrs along the golden threads. How convenient.
Pleasure floods along silver. Flares it to brilliant white. Seraphim, breathes Sparrow.
Kitty, he responds, and begins to chuckle. After a moment the bell-like ripple of Sparrow’s laughter joins his. It fades and white fades with it to glittering silver.
Prime yourself, she tells him. She will not give you a second chance to strike.
Margo gathers Leek’s hands into her own. Cat green searches the strands of gold, the pools of sifting ebony about wide pupils. ‘Are you in there, baby?’ she whispers.
Leek sighs. Her fingers tighten around Margo’s. ‘You’re here,’ she says. The words start from a million miles away, float toward Margo on a soft breeze, curl around her and through her, ghostly whispers vivid as the path of caressing fingers.
‘I’m here, Leek baby. I’m with you. You just reach into me and take all you need.’ Margo reaches up and smoothes away a lock of hair that’s tangled into Leek’s eyelashes. ‘Don’t you dare hold back. You hurt me if you need to, I don’t give a flying fuck. We only have one shot at this.’
Minnie moves up behind Leek, places her hands on her shoulders, rubs her cheek against that floating hair. ‘Hey, Leek honey. I’m here for you. Same goes for me. I won’t cry if you hurt me, Margo will take the piss forever.’
A smile forms on Leek’s lips. ‘Silly bitches,’ her voice says from oh so far away. ‘I do adore you.’
Kitty, Slimm, Meg and Mamma arrange a circle of chairs. Kitty leads Leek away from Minnie and Margo, places her in the centre. She rises from the floor, floats, hovers. Gold weaves in and out of her flesh. Sparkles of light. Silken threads. Kitty gestures to the seats.
‘Margo, Minnie, Mamma, be seated.’
They do as bade and he reaches out to pluck golden threads from Leek’s body, winds each one about their wrists, an intricate pattern that is both meaningless and rich with hidden meaning. Tethers them to her. Finally he takes one for himself. Sits. Winds that pattern about his own wrist.
‘We are ready.’
They close their eyes. Surrender to the matrix. Leek gathers their essence, carries it forth to the ballroom, infiltrates the threads of gold, wound into those intricate patterns, into the silver of Sparrow, the blue fire of the Angel and the warm, vivid depths of Rolf.
From within the confines of the matrix they look to the Mother. Follow the golden threads that reach toward her. Halfway along gold dulls to yellow, stains to deepest black rot as it glides through the Sisters and burrows deep within the black well of Mother Immortal’s soul.
Leek falters, afraid, but the collective well of power gifted by her comrades washes over her fear, crushes it, cleanses it. Reduces it to ashes, to whispers, to shards beneath her glistening threads.
Empowered she rushes onward. Deeper, deeper. To the filthy suppuration that is the Mother’s centre of power. An emptiness, a vacuum redolent with ravenous intelligence. Hollow and yet turgid with foul energies. A light-devouring abhorrence.
They all shrink from it and the voices of Sparrow, Seraphim and Cherubim caution. Do not look into it. It is Absence. Nothing can thrive within its gaze.
Leek builds them a cocoon of gold, silver, magnesium. Hidden from Mother, Sisters and the hungry Absence she weaves the powers surrounding her to a ball of scintillation, lightning, crackling energies. Hidden from Mother, Sisters and the hungry Absence it grows and grows until faint flickers of it begin to illuminate the pitch of Mother’s soul.
Sparrows voice rings out in Leek’s mind. Now!
Leek unleashes the ball of purest light, of powers; it sears a path of ruin through raddled darkness. A black tar of evil explodes outwards. Sticks to their essence in gluey streaks. Oh but it burns, it scorches. Leaves blackened welts upon the vibrant colours of their souls. Scars that will never heal.
Through the pain of it, all-consuming, agonising, flaring each and every nerve to blinding light, Kitty reaches out. He digs claws built from his essence into the blackish tar, traps it between the waves of his power and throws it through the hole burnt by the ball of lightning.
Moe slices and slashes at Ravid remnants. Allows them no time to reform. Keeps the sea of gore at his feet in a state of perpetual destruction. He feels remotely the work of the others as they seek to use the Mother’s power against her. Then the feeling fades and he’s left with the sounds of rending flesh, the sharp crack of broken metals and bones.
He can’t help himself. His eyes lurch to Rolf. He flinches as pain shoots across that beautiful face. Tightens the skin around eyes and mouth. He wants to move, to go to him. But even this short glance could lose them all. He flicks his eyes away. His swords slash the air as muscles ripple in his cheeks.
Then a scream of such pitch, such violence, rends the room, he almost drops to his knees. Is forced to reach out and grasp Violate as she crumples. Shove a foot into Dagger’s back to keep him upright.
He looks over at the Mother. The Sisters black-gloved hands clutch tight to veiled faces. In their midst the Mother writhes and screams, the Sisters join their screams to hers. Torture the air, the ear, the soul. He feels a stain leaking through him and fights, fights to remain clean.
There’s a sucking noise. Deep and vulgar. It slaps the air. Then the Mother collapses inward on herself, all the while screeching out her endless fury. Snaps inward. Sucks inward. Is gone. The Sisters follow in a screaming rush and silence pops in their wake. Deep. Profound. Silence.
Feeling as though he will never hear again, Moe turns once more to look at Rolf. He’s still gone. There’s still pain in that face. But it’s fading. Dissipating. Serenity follows it by degrees. Serenity edged with dangerous darkness.
The silence, like a thunderclap, ends. What follows is the viscid plop and slither of flesh falling to quiescence. Ravids all across the floor disintegrate before their eyes. Souls sighing in bliss as flesh turns to rot and metal rusts in peace.
Rolf’s eyes flutter. Flick open. He smiles when he finds Moe’s eyes on him. ‘Made you look, made you stare,’ he says.
Moe grins, ‘Still wearing my underwear,’ he responds.
Rolf saunters over, chuckling as Moe’s sword rises from the floor to keep him at a distance. ‘Look,’ he drawls, one eyebrow arching, ‘even your sword’s pleased to see me.’
© Ren Warom