Rolf wakes, stifling a scream as nerves driven to hysteria cry out in symphony. Screaming will only make it worse. He moves his head. The crackling of bones and a wave of nausea, deep as seasickness, warn him against trying, but still he persists. He needs to know. Last time he woke, imagining himself to be on the floor, he was trapped high on the wall like an insect and endured endless minutes of being slammed from one to the other. He doesn’t know if he can handle that again…and live.
Fighting the onslaught of bodily outrage, he shifts toward the right, trying to push himself onto his side, and breathes out a sob of relief when his body complies. Flickers of light fill the room, torches lit sometime during his unconsciousness. Where is the Shadow? Perhaps it sleeps. Does it ever sleep? He can’t imagine it needing to. And there’s a difference here, too, a wonderful, familiar difference. He finds strength to smile through the pain. Margo. Margo is nearby.
When Margo comes around she’s tied to the same chair, in the same room as she was before, and Imalia sits opposite, waiting patiently. The twins are gone, and the sun too. Torches light the room, their flames dancing against the walls. Her head hammers and hums, but even that can’t hide the holler of pain from her breasts. She hides the pain; fuck if she’ll let the old bitch see it.
‘Evenin’,’ she croaks out.
‘You took your time. I was wondering if perhaps I struck too hard.’ Imalia sounds unconcerned. She’s not the one to worry about accidental homicide, that’s for sure. To be truthful, neither is Margo particularly, although she prefers her homicide purposeful. ‘I think it’s about time we dealt with one another face to face, don’t you?’ Imalia says lightly. ‘Considering at some point one of us is going to die by the other’s hand.’
‘We’re not face to face now?’
Taking hold of her veil, Imalia raises it over her head in one swift, graceful movement. Margo blinks.
‘You might want to keep the name of your stylist to yourself,’ she says, but inside she’s reeling, a riotous cocktail of nausea, horror and pity. She knew about this face, and didn’t want to see it. It’s not just that Imalia is hideous, although she is. Worse than hideous. Horrific. It’s the fact that this face followed The Mother here. She can’t escape it. It’s carved into her essence.
Her cheeks are gone, the muscle beneath gone putrid, riddled with gangrenous black, purulent and oozing. In the midst, nasal bones jut over a fleshless, grinning mouth; her eyes above it are equally exposed, red and raw and weeping pus, and pale amber irises gone piss yellow leer with the stark hunger of the lone wolf. Lank wisps of black hair cling to islands of scalp between gleaming seas of bone, and only one ear remains, missing both lobe and upper edge.
Imalia raises her hands and frames her face almost comically, saying with pride, ‘All my own work. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here having this delightful conversation with you, dear. I did it to survive and, as you can see, survive I did. I may not be as powerful as I was, nor perhaps even as powerful as I think, but there are limits to what you will do to keep yours. I have no such limits. I never did.’
Imalia tilts her head. ‘Oh, you really are curious, aren’t you? Very well, then, because I suspect you’ll have your own run in with it soon enough. If I’m not much mistaken, it’s on the way here. It’s found an ally. The angel of Death. The one who thinks it’s his friend.’
‘That is not his name.’
‘No, but his name in front of you is power. I’m not foolish enough to speak it. You can steal yours from elsewhere.’
‘Oh very good. Very good. But without Solomon’s gift, you wouldn’t be like this; you’d still be channelling the Seraphim’s power, or my matrix, stolen by that bitch of his. So don’t be talking about stolen power like it’s a dirty word, hmmm?’
Margo nods, conceding the point. ‘Fair enough.’
‘And you are correct. Vespesian has it.’
‘So why ask me?’
Imalia laughs. ‘Why not? Any excuse to damage you. I like excuses. They amuse me.’
Margo sniffs. ‘I don’t need excuses. What does he have? I know it’s light, and I know it’s dangerous.’
‘The Radiance,’ Imalia tries to sound nonchalant, but the terror in her voice is hostage and will not leave her.
‘But you have the Absence inside of you. Just a drop of it. I felt it when we threw you from the Peggy Dunne’
‘Very good, my dear. Again. You surprise me. I didn’t think you had the wit to sense it at our first encounter. It seems I was wrong.’
‘You’re wrong about a great deal,’ Margo assures her. ‘Why is light more dangerous than darkness?’
Imalia smiles, Margo’s certain of it, just a glimmer in those exposed eyes, a flash of amusement. ‘Darkness hides my dear, it conceals. But Light. Oh Light. It exposes. Illuminates. It burns all that you are away and leaves you stripped bare. Oh the Light is beautiful to behold and it is terrible to stand within.’
‘Are you afraid of the light?’
‘Yes. And so are you, my dear. You have so many secrets to hide.’
Margo stares at Imalia, unable to hide the bubbling uncertainty that snuck inside when first she felt the dangers of the light. She had touched Imalia’s darkness, so did Rolf and Moe, and Leek and Kitty. It infected them. Infects them still. The Radiance stripped Imalia to find her darkness. She survived by stripping herself. How will Margo survive? How will the others?
What will they do when they stand in the Light?
© Ren Warom 2013