In the moments of panic and devastation after the coming of the Shadow, Vespesian has long, bitter minutes to reconsider his position. Standing in his camouflage constructed from crowds of fearful, tear-stricken commoners, he curses the Mother and her damnable whimsy. The Shadow is untrustworthy and should not be in the hands of such a creature. It changes the game. Too many unstable elements, too great a chance for failure on all sides, but that’s how the Mother plays. She stacks the cards both ways.
The bottle in his hand vibrates its agitation and he cradles it against his chest. ‘You will enter our chosen vessel, my love. Nothing has changed. In the meantime I will see if a temporary home can be arranged.’
With vicious whips of his mind, he rescans each member of the vessel’s menagerie. The soldiers are human, therefore useless, and he dismisses them all. The Seraphim would repel his gift. The female with it–oh such disobedience that, the Seraphim will join Solomon if he’s not careful–hoards a stolen matrix of power in the thin shell of her body. Her power and the Radiance would fight for precedence, and destroy her.
The chocolate-eyed lover of his chosen vessel is…interesting. He has unusual depths, untapped abilities. He could be used. Vespesian could take him now and use him to find the vessel. What marvellous cruelty that would be, hope replaced by horror as the radiance pours out, transforming his vessel’s beloved to an empty shell before his very eyes. Delightful. But the vessel’s lover is too protected to plunder. The creature who shouldn’t exist has an impregnable shield around him. Smart, she is, as smart as she’s dangerous. As for her, he wouldn’t dare allow her a chance to contain the Radiance. She would make it her own.
His only recourse is to align with what will no doubt be the first course of action for this meagre collection of freaks and outcasts, and achieve it before them. He will find his vessel, take him back, and house the Radiance within him. Then, when they come to rescue him, they will find him re-made, face the agony of having lost him all over again. That will satisfy almost as much as using the lover to find him.
Vespesian fades back away from Margo and her friends, into the crowd. He follows the scent of Shadow. He has some idea where it might have gone. He mustn’t tarry. The Shadow are lonely, and cruel. They will keep his vessel alive only as long as his agony entertains them. And his love, the Radiance, is impatient. It wouldn’t do for it to become impatient enough to try and take him for a vessel; he has too much still left to do in this world and his power is not like the Seraphim’s. He is Azrael. Death. He can only take, he cannot give, and he could not fight such light as the Radiance.
Margo, her arm welded around Moe’s shoulder, holding him together, stands staring at the castle rearing proud above the skyline. She can sense the old bitch up there. Smell her satisfaction. Her palms itch to tear her limb from limb, but that won’t kill the bitch, nor even teach her a lesson. The Mother Immortal faced worse than death and survived. Margo will need to be clever to find a way to properly punish her for what she’s done. But that will come later. She can be patient. Patience plans.
Turning her attention to the streets, she searches for signs of the angel Azrael. She knows he was here, hiding. She’s not quite sure how or where. He’s older than her, older than the Seraphim, and he has tricks up his sleeve neither can emulate. She knew only one thing; he was coming for Rolf, and he would not have delayed. She’s certain he must have been here, as there’s little doubt the Mother sent the Shadow to take Rolf to frustrate him. And to hurt her. That’s how the Mother operates. Pain, destruction, ruin. They are her calling cards.
‘Is Azrael’s scent here?’ she asks Kitty, unable to scent him herself, and becoming furious with this lack of control over her newest gifts. In many ways her first gifts, though nowhere near as great, were far better. More obedient, less unpredictable.
Kitty lifts his face and sniffs. Grimaces. His golden eyes glitter. ‘He was. Hiding. Do you think he came for Rolf here, right out in the open?’
‘But the Mother intervened.’
‘I am going to hurt her so badly,’ she grits out through clenched teeth.
‘She’s resilient,’ he warns, though his eyes gleam approval.
‘I’m persistent,’ she replies, offering him her most beautiful smile.
‘What was it she sent?’ asks Moe. His tone is stoic, but it’s obvious he’s asking a question he can hardly bear to hear answered.
Knowing he needs to hear, Margo nods at Kitty when he looks to her for guidance, and Kitty responds. ‘It’s called Shadow. It was locked away for a very long time. Less time than it thinks. Part of its punishment was to believe it had been locked away forever. It’s the residue of something else, an unpleasant remnant.’
‘The residue of what?’
Kitty tries to stare Moe down, but he’s not budging. His response is reluctant. ‘The Absence. When it’s loose, it goes through things and takes their essence. That essence, such as it is, whatever remains of it, twisted, malign, utterly without conscience, is Shadow. It is the Shadow cast by The Absence.’
‘What will it do to Rolf?’
Here Kitty finds he cannot respond. He shakes his head and turns away. It’s left to Margo to squeeze Moe’s shoulder and whisper in his ear. ‘Rolf will survive. He’ll be thinking of you. It can do what it likes to him, it won’t win.’
‘Tell me we’re going to destroy it.’
Margo turns to face Moe. ‘Darling,’ she says to him, her voice almost gentle, almost pleasant, ‘we’re going to obliterate it.’
© Ren warom 2013