He’s filled with two absolute certainties. That he wants to help her and doesn’t know how, and that something is missing, something is new. He doesn’t understand this second certainty, but he knows it to be true and tries to read her residue for what it is, because he can no longer ask her. She is gone.
‘What’s the matter?’ The Kitty speaks quietly, almost reverentially.
‘I’m not sure. Something is different. I need to ask Margo about it, but I can’t.’
‘Is it to do with Margo?’
Moe blinks, as if the thought hadn’t occurred and, in truth, it hadn’t. He doesn’t really know what to do without her beside him. It’s not that he’s incompetent, far from it. He’s fought such horrors alone, and with his companions. He’s led this company of men they travel with across half a continent. He’s capable of more than he ever believed possible.
It’s just that…there’s his Rolf, and now his Margo, and both are suffering, and he doesn’t know what to do about it. The single thing he knows he can’t do is nothing. Even if he can’t go after them, he has to find a way to help. And something is missing. Something is new.
‘It’s something I’d forgotten,’ he says, uncertain and yet not. ‘From before.’
‘Before coming here?’
‘Yes, before we lost ourselves.’
And there it is, straight from the unconscious, because although he didn’t know it, the answer was always there, waiting for him to see it. Moe releases a soft sigh like a laugh. Now he does see. He knows exactly what it is, and where.
He reaches into his pocket and feels it there, as if it never left; the letter from his boss, Andreas Witter. The letter he’d forgotten, that trapped them in this world, from the boss he’d equally forgotten he ever had. Margo didn’t forget. Margo never forgets, and she never leaves him helpless. She’s given him his next move.
He smiles, and the smile is a promise to her. Because the letter is not simple. It’s not merely Margo reaching out to help him in his helplessness; it’s Margo admitting she’s going to need help, which she never does. Pulling it out of his pocket, he allows the letter to fall open, just as he did in the shop before it changed everything. It will change everything again, but they’ll control the changes this time.
Kitty hisses. ‘That’s some serious fucking magic right there.’
‘Yes. Yes it is. It’s how we got here, and it will lead us to someone who has something we need.’
Kitty raises a brow. ‘Really now?’
‘Really. Something is missing. Someone. And something is new. This. The one leads to the other, and where the other is, there is something else. Something important.’
Leek wanders over, tired and sad, her hair a black halo interwoven with strands of gold. ‘What is it, Moe?’
He shows her the letter. ‘This is the last communication I received from my boss before he disappeared. It’s also the way Rolf, Margo and I were sent here. We need to find my boss.’
Leek frowns, peering at the letter suspiciously. ‘How do you know your boss is here?’
‘The letter came from here. It was sent as a trap.’
‘And my boss wrote it, so he’s here too. He came here another way, and we need what brought him here.’
‘Because it’s something the old bitch will want.’
‘Absolutely. There’s enormous power at work behind all this. We were pawns, all of us, including the Mother. Whoever created this place, designed it as a game board for us to destroy one another upon. That game is broken, but we’re still here and we still have to fight, or we’ll never get home. What my boss has is a weapon, the weapon to match and control the weapon Vespesian holds. He’ll use it, so we’ll need its counter.’
Leek bites her lip. ‘Not to be disrespectful,’ she says gently, ‘but your powers are negligible at the moment, Moe. How can you be sure? How can you trust your senses?’
He smiles at her. ‘Because Margo’s powers aren’t negligible, and she’s the one who left this in my pocket.’
Leek nods. ‘In that case, where do we find him?’
‘Where the lost things go. The Libraryrinth.’
Margo’s tied to an uncomfortable chair in the middle of a small, grimy room. A single slit window, far above her head, casts enough light for her to see that the chair is bolted to the stone floor, and old brown stains arc in chaotic patterns from her feet all the way to the walls. She follows each one with an incurious gaze. Nothing here can frighten her, she knows what’s coming, she expects it.
After a while she hears the distinctive syncopation of three pairs of heeled feet making their way down the long corridor, and the door swings open. Margo recognises Imalia from her other life here, and the Mother within her from the life before that. Imalia carries the walking stick the Mother used when they encountered her on the Peggy Dunne. Margo wastes no time wondering how she has it.
‘I see you’ve realised our little predicament,’ she murmurs.
Imalia nods. ‘Probably before you did, my dear.’
‘A Mother knows her daughters,’ Margo agrees. ‘How are you, ladies?’
The twins show no evidence of hearing her. They retreat to the door, standing sentry either side. A page brings in a smaller, wooden chair, lushly upholstered, and places it not far from Margo’s, before leaving backwards, with his head lowered. The sound of the door closing behind him has a finality Margo doesn’t particularly like.
Imalia takes her seat, crossing her legs in a fashion out of place in this room, evocative of different times, but then neither of them really fit here. Neither of them fit anywhere. The Mother says nothing for quite some time, her purple veil fluttering evenly with her breathing. Her aura is one of deep self-satisfaction. Margo almost laughs. The old bitch actually thinks she has time for this.
‘Margo Kerestes,’ she says eventually. ‘Interesting name. Magyar. I’ll bet you know piss all of your history.’
Margo shrugs. ‘Don’t give much of a shit either way.’
Imalia uncoils like a snake, backhanding Margo across the face with such violence her lip splits, spilling blood down her chin. It looks beautiful there, enhancing rather than detracting from Margo’s raw sensuality. Though she can’t see Imalia’s face, Margo knows that irritates her. Strike one.
‘History is important,’ Imalia says, back in her chair as though she hasn’t moved. ‘Need something for the lip?’
Margo licks it, slowly. ‘No. You’re stronger than you look. I remember that, from when I was Melisante.’
‘And what are appearances, my dear?’
She lifts her walking stick and places it on Margo’s chest, pushing it hard into the skin. The pressure is quite hideous; Margo can feel her bones groaning beneath it. Imalia’s veiled head tilts to the left, as if measuring, and she speaks in a voice so reasonable she might be discussing the weather, or a particularly good brand of tea.
‘I could push your heart out through your spine if I had half a mind to. Considering the trouble you’ve caused me, I probably should. Don’t you agree?’
Margo’s eyes are fixed with unwavering concentration on the end of the stick. Imalia tuts. She flicks her hand up. The stick cracks into Margo’s chin, whip lashing her head and opening a long cut in her jaw. Blood cascades down Margo’s neck and into her cleavage. She doesn’t make a sound, just sits there bleeding from lip and chin. Strike two.
‘Are we paying attention now?’ Imalia asks.
Margo spits blood on the floor by the train of Imalia’s gown and raises her gaze to that blank, purple veil. ‘My attention hadn’t wandered.’
‘Good, because if it does I’m quite prepared to destroy that pretty face of yours, and anything else I fancy wrecking. You keep those eyes on me, or I’ll smash your tits apart.’
‘Good girl. Now tell me, where is my Angel and what does the other one have?’
‘Your Angel?’ Margo looks amused. ‘I rather think he belongs to himself. Or if we’re being finicky, to Leek. As for what Vespesian has, it’s not what you think, you know. I can guarantee you don’t want that. I’m rather surprised you haven’t guessed what it is already.’ Margo smiles then, realising something. ‘But then, you’re not as powerful as you think, are you?’
Imalia sighs and cracks the cane down on Margo’s tits, once, but with considerable force. Margo shrieks, and a dark bruise immediately begins to bloom across the tops of her breasts. Imalia rams the stick back into Margo’s chest, making her grunt. Strike three.
‘Manners,’ Imalia snaps out, ‘maketh man.’
Margo curls her lip. ‘No dicks here, darling,’ she sneers. ‘And you didn’t answer my question. Then again,’ she ponders, ‘you did, didn’t you? Actions speak louder than words.’ She appraises her cleavage thoughtfully. ‘I’d say this was a no.’
Imalia’s stillness is dangerous. ‘You think very highly of yourself.’
‘I rather think the habit is mutual,’ Margo replies, and smiles beatifically. The next strike is around her head, and knocks her out cold.
But it doesn’t knock the smile off her face.
© Ren Warom 2013