Slowly wending a line toward Londinium, weary soldiers press onward in bright sunlight, their boots weighed down with dried mud and caked blood. Sweat drips from foreheads and seeps through the thick cloth of military jackets, but they don’t stop. The first wave to hit the White Ladies is vanquished thanks to the strange visitors in their midst but more come from across the seas and skies, headed for their small island intent on shedding the blood of Great Britannia.
Alongside the wavering line of soldiers skips Margo, wearing something ridiculous in satin with hob nails boots so large they make her feet look like tanks. Her hair’s a banner of scarlet in the sunlight and she’s humming a little ditty that every now and then bursts into words so foul and unseemly they stain the cheeks of all who hear them scarlet as her hair.
‘She enjoys herself too much,’ Wade says to Moe, striding beside him in the line, cool and relaxed in a uniform borrowed from the 37th Hussars. ‘It’s unseemly.’
‘Don’t be ridiculous. You know what she is, and you know where we’re going. She has to face Imalia alone. We can’t help her. Don’t you think she’s earned a bit of fun?’
Wade shrugs. ‘I don’t know. I forget. Why do I forget?’
‘Because,’ says Rolf, coming up behind and flinging an arm across Moe’s shoulders, ‘you’re not from here. In one way this world becomes more real by the second, in another it’s slipping away, and in yet a third way, it never was at all. Is, isn’t, never was. You’re a daydream. We all are.’
Frowning, Wade insists hotly, ‘But I’m right here. I’m real!’
‘Yes, and you’re also not real and also never were. That’s why this world is so dangerous. It’s everything all at once, a paradox of possibility.’
Moe pokes Rolf in the stomach. ‘You’re bewildering him again.’
Rolf nips at Moe’s ear. ‘Spoilsport.’
‘The poor man is going to explode if you carry on.’
Rolf’s unmoved. ‘I can’t help it, he looks so cute when he’s bewildered.’
Catching Rolf’s chin, Moe steals a long, rather filthy kiss and the subject is done and dusted, Rolf being more concerned with how long he can keep Moe doing exactly what he’s doing, and maybe, if he can find a convenient patch of trees, a little more besides.
Accustomed to the romances between men at war, Wade pays them no attention, his eyes still on the frolicking Margo. Which is why he notices when her dance begins to change. He nudges Moe, first softy, then urgently, but the two are lost in each other and he couldn’t grab their attention now with a full display of cannon fire, so he moves out of the line and makes his way down to Margo to find out what’s wrong. Because something very definitely is.
‘What is it?’ he asks without formalities as he catches up with her.
Margo stops dancing and turns to face him, her expression so odd and distant that he steps back from it, unnerved. ‘Can’t you feel it?’ she murmurs. ‘Darkness is falling on Londinium. Black rain from blue skies.’
‘I can’t feel anything.’
Margo looks up then, into the blue of the sky. ‘You will now,’ she says softly, and smiles as fat drops of rain black as India Ink land on the ivory curve of her throat.
As the rain begins to fall more heavily, a deluge, and then a monsoon, the men break formation, stirring to panic, their cries of alarm filling the quiet air.
‘What is it,’ calls Rolf, running over hand in hand with Moe.
‘Black rain from blue skies,’ says Wade, when Margo fails to answer. ‘Darkness is falling.’
Margo opens her mouth and catches the drops on her tongue, her eyes shining with that eerie angelic light. ‘The Absence draws near,’ she croons. ‘We are nearing the meridian. The fall of all the worlds. The veils torn down and bleeding.’ Her head snaps forward and she stares at Rolf, her face stricken. ‘He’s coming,’ she whispers.
‘Who?’ Rolf leans in, nose to nose. ‘Who’s coming?’
A tear drops from Margo’s eyes. ‘Oh I’m sorry, my poor baby,’ she murmurs to him. ‘But there’s nothing I can do. He’s coming for you.’
‘Who?’ demands Moe, stepping between them, a protective shield, his chocolate eyes fierce enough to catch fire.
Margo places her hand on his cheek, she’s still crying, her tears mixing with black rain and diluting it to shades of grey. ‘He calls himself Vespesian,’ she tells him, almost tenderly. ‘But his name is Azrael.’
© Ren Warom 2013