Londinium’s face is broad and multi-faceted. Hewn from pale yellow stone, gleaming white marbles, and the grey hulk of granites, it is noble and degenerate, a harlot, a king, a priest, a charlatan. A harbourer of rats and angels alike. It hides secrets well, this stone narcissist, and separates wheat from chaff with aloof disdain.
Vespesian walks the skin of the city; he knows its every wrinkle and fold. He’s as much at home here as he was in the London it’s crafted upon, his home city, waiting somewhere out there amongst the veils for his return.
His city is patient. It’s a virtue he doesn’t share. Once he knew for certain the trick played upon him, he sought to make it right. He traced and stalked the man whose magic created this abomination of a world and trapped him within it. When the time was right, he revealed himself and demanded satisfaction.
To his disappointment, Cholmondley couldn’t reverse his entrapment, could not unmake a world so intent upon becoming real. At first Vespesian was convinced he was lying, but no man could withstand the delicate ministrations he dealt upon Cholmondley’s flesh and still find strength to lie.
It’s galling, but Vespesian rarely concedes to circumstance. He’s formulated a new plan, driven by information gleaned from Cholmondley, powered by magicks torn from the old man’s flesh as he died. Of course, Cholmondley will not be dead in every world. The old bastard is far too clever to bring his whole self here. When Vespesian escapes, his mission will be to hunt the dispersed shades of Cholmondley, and lay them all to rest.
But for the time being, his plans reside here, within these features of roughened stone. He’s throwing dice, taking over the board. This won’t be easy, not even with these new powers. There are players of much strength pitted against him, but they do not hold as many cards and most of them, as yet, do not fully remember who they are and are thusly weakened by ignorance. The shock of such recollection will buy him precious time to redirect them onto dangerous paths. Vespesian’s a betting man, but only when the odds are stacked and soon there’ll be even greater perils to challenge them, giving him an even stronger hand.
This world wants to exist, and it has other players dabbling in its desires, feeding them, helping it generate the levels of power it needs to force itself upon reality. Thanks to the meddling of the cruel, impatient Imalia, a vast army approaches Brittania’s shores on the Great Bridge joining this piecemeal island nation to the false wonders of the Continent, that freak show of many horrors gleaned from who knows what savage corners of the veils.
And they come here, to this sanctimonious buffoon of a city, this all but unfortified well of disparate souls. How the inhabitants of Londiunium will suffer. How they will shed their blood, their terror, across these noble and degenerate streets. Vespesian almost smiles with the anticipation of it all. There is nothing so beautiful as mayhem.
Melisante relaxes back into a frayed velvet nook. She’s come with the vagrants to their charming caravan at the freak show. It’s not that she believes them–the very idea of her not being Melisante Foyle is ludicrous–but that she wants to. It’s such a delicious notion, like being handed a key when one is locked in a dungeon; and her dungeon is built of privilege, position, and expectation. She was not expecting to be handed her freedom.
If she weren’t Melisante, but instead this Margo woman, she could walk away from it all, because it wouldn’t be real, and they want her to believe that none of this is real, though it wants to be. They say this is a trap, an illusion fast becoming far too real for their safety. The woman called Leek told her if she doesn’t remember who she is soon then even gifted as she is with daggers and pistols it’s unlikely she’ll survive what’s coming.
The thought is extraordinary, almost as much as the idea she’s living a lie. How could a lie be so physical? This world is stone and earth and sun and sky and stars. Days pass, night falls and life goes on in every moment across the breadth of it. She’s not mad, not deluded. Her world is real; she’s lived in it her entire life. How could she have been so wrong for so long? It’s not possible.
The kitty hands her a cup of steaming hot coffee. She’s no idea why she’s come to think of him as the kitty, but as they strolled here the idea occurred naturally as breathing. And once it did, she could find no logical reason to refute it. So she hasn’t. Melisante’s practical like that.
‘So, Kitty,’ she says lightly, sipping her coffee. ‘What now?’
He blinks. ‘What did you call me?’
She smiles, unflustered. It takes a lot more than a bewildered kitty to fluster Melisante. ‘Kitty. I called you Kitty.’
He offers her one of those prick-toothed smiles, head to one side. ‘And why would you call me that?’
Melisante cocks a shoulder. ‘I’ve not the faintest idea. It seems appropriate.’
Kitty looks at Leek, whose face is filled with the most irritating satisfaction. Melisante is about to unleash the full cut of her tongue when Leek’s hair begins to glow golden, rising about her face in hypnotic movements sensual as a cobra’s dance of enthrallment. Black lights crackle across her skin, veins of gold thread between them; sew themselves through the white, then the iris, of her eyes.
Mouth open, Melisante stares, all aggravations forgotten. This is magic, pure and simple. ‘What are you?’ she whispers.
‘Your wake up call,’ Leek replies, in a voice that travels from too far away and ripples like silent waters across the small space of the caravan. ‘Time to wake up.’
Gold sears across that space, following the voice, and pierces deep into Melisante’s skin, diving down beyond flesh, too far, until it hurts. She’s molten inside, as though she’s swallowed the contents of a volcano and holds the lava, bubbling, in the cauldron of her belly. She tries to scream from the pain, but bubbles swallow her voice, and beneath the roil and burn of liquid heat, she feels something stir.
Some caged beast stretches its limbs and pops cramped tendons, begins to unfold from the cage into which it has been locked. And there is such fury in the beast. Incandescent. Crackling pure as lightning through the liquid heat pooled in her belly. Melisante screams within herself as it rises, claws flexing, and rends her apart like paper.
Margo plucks at the embroidered silk of her gown, her full lips a moue of distaste. ‘What the cunt-licking fuck am I wearing?’ she drawls. ‘It looks like my grandmother’s curtains.’ She raises a brow at Leek, still shining bright gold across the caravan. Leek’s laughing fit to bust her corset, and can’t seem to stop. ‘Seriously, bitch, who the fuck stole my grandmother’s curtains and made them into this monstrosity? I’ll never get laid in this shit.’
Kitty covers a grin. ‘In this world,’ he tells her, fighting off Leek, who’s suddenly launched across the room, trying to clap hands over his mouth, ‘you’ve never been laid.’
Margo’s mouth pops open, her fingers freeze mid-pluck. She wriggles in her seat, frowning hard, and her eyes grow wide with amazement, then delight. She claps her hands, leaps up and does a little jig, skirts held up to her knees, stockinged legs flashing in the light of lamps. Leek droops down into Kitty’s lap, staring at her friend as if she’s gone quite deranged.
‘You OK, Margo?’
‘I’ve never been better, my darling,’ Margo insists, still jigging away, her feet tapping out a merry little rhythm on worn floor slats.
‘But, you’re a virgin,’ Leek says, as though she’s talking about decapitation.
‘I know, isn’t it marvellous!’ Margo replies, offering Leek a grin so wide you could fly a banner on it. And she says, delight dripping from every pore, ‘I didn’t lose my virginity; I tossed it behind a dumpster. This is going to be so much fun! Hymen and seek!’
© Ren Warom 2012