Their footsteps on the stairs ringing like bells, Imalia and her daughters scale the inner staircase of the tower. Imalia’s veil whips behind her, a purple cloud. Her excitement fills the narrow space, her impatience bites at it with hungry teeth.
‘Hurry,’ she says, barely out of breath despite the speed of her ascent, the weight of her skirts, the clutch of her corset on tender lungs. ‘Hurry, girls. It grows near. So very soon it will be strong enough to come to us. It needs our help.’
Her daughters, their faces impassive, tip tap neat toes on the risers in her wake. Nod in concert. Speak as one. ‘Yes, mother.’
At the top of the tower squats a heavy iron-strapped door of oak, shut tight and locked. Imalia touches it with the tip of a finger, smiling at the sharp clicks, one, two, three, like bones beneath feet, such satisfying snaps.
‘Open,’ she says sweetly.
It swings wide, and bright sunlight floods the gloom.
Imalia lifts her skirt and one delicate foot, and steps out onto the parapet, dizzyingly high. The ground so far beneath her it is without distinction, the guards below mere smears of moving colour. The only sound here is the gentle rustle of their silks in the breeze, of her flags on the tower.
Imalia and her daughters step out as though on the avenue, displaying their finest dress. Best foot forward. They travel, three ladies in a line. Three crows. Three gargoyles. Tip-tapping neat as you please, one foot after the other, along to where the roof rises sharply over the Grand Hall and up the incline, as if gravity holds no power over them.
Up, up to the intricately moulded ridge and along until Imalia stops, head tilted, veil fluttering in the breeze.
‘Here,’ she says.
Emotionless, expressionless, deadly, her daughters move to flank her. She reaches out her hands and touches one fingertip to each smooth, high forehead, a cliff of purest ice. And their eyes snap from placid green pools to oceans of oil. Liquid black.
Imalia raises her hands upward. Reaches with other senses beyond the Veils to six other daughters, dressed in dark robes. One by one she touches them, daughter by daughter, and their eyes roll to matching seas of ink.
‘Ready, my daughters.’
Eight voices in concert. In harmony. And she claps her hands with delight to hear her daughters speak as one after all this time. Only one voice is missing. The forsaking child. The child of betrayal. Sparrow Plenty. But even her absence cannot mar this moment.
Imalia reaches out beyond her daughters stranded at the world’s edge. Traverses the timeless stretch of the ‘verse to where the suns are cooling, the stars thinning. So far it is. But moving ever closer. Gaining in strength. The seed of darkness within her calls to it. Lost to lost. So soon to be found.
‘Let’s roll out the black carpet,’ she murmurs, and begins to draw upon the air itself, her fingers shaping characters that flare to brief blue light and fade like clouds before the sun.
Above her, beyond the Veils, the black robes of her daughters turn liquid as their eyes, crude oil, and begin to slither away, slip downwards, revealing emaciated flesh, sunken to brittle bone. Her daughters moan but do not fight. They cannot. Their will is their mother’s will.
The dark liquid seeps down withered thighs to wasted calves, drooling around ankles slender and fragile as twigs to slip in silken rivulets around skeletal feet, between toes and, drop by drop, begins to fall.
Far beneath them, on the ridge of the roof, hundreds of feet above the ground, Imalia watches the heavens as darkness falls. Black rain descending from skies of clearest blue. So much rain from such slender robes. Spattering inky patterns upon the tiles. Upon the alabaster mouldings of the ridge. Upon the ivory skin of Imalia’s twin daughters.
Imalia looks to right and left. Casts her gaze below to where distant smudges of colour run through the black torrent, their faint screams rising like the panicked chatter of sparrows when a cat is near. Unobserved, and therefore safe to be seen, Imalia lifts her veil. Lifts her ravaged face to the warm weight of black rain and laughs and laughs and laughs.
© Ren Warom 2013