The bottle in his hand is too small to feel as heavy as it does. Moe longs to place it back in the cylinder, hide it, but it refuses to be contained, and it desires other hands than his. He can feel its disdain for his touch; feel its desire to be in hands that might be able to rip out the cork. Unleash it.
‘Eustacia Hermaini,’ he repeats thoughtfully, hefting the bottle and considering the implications of Andreus’s revelation. The Mother in their world, so close to them, so close to him. What does it mean? Does it mean anything? ‘We met her,’ he murmurs, remembering the Peggy Dunne, the horror of the dance hall, those slithering remains forming and reforming. The relief when they finally quit moving. The darkness she left when they sent her away. He feels it still. He knows he’ll never be rid of it. ‘She is the Mother. She’s an abomination.’
Andreus frowns. He looks disappointed too, as though this is not something he expected from Moe. Moe can’t blame him. In his old life, he would never have spoken so plainly of a client. ‘She’s a widow, helpless, and still in mourning.’
‘In mourning?’ Kitty asks, his golden eyes swirling in the dim light of the Librarian’s chamber.
‘She wears a veil,’ Andreus tells him. ‘A black veil.’
Kitty smiles, showing teeth, making Andreus take a wary step back. ‘If you’d seen her face,’ he says, ‘you would know what she is. And you would run. But you would not get far. The Mother leaves no loose ends.’ He looks at Moe. ‘What do we do now?’
Moe closes his hand around the bottle. ‘Margo needs this. We take it to her.’
‘You mean to give it to her?’
He catches the fear, the outrage, in Kitty’s eyes. It’s no more and no less the same mixture of emotion he harbours within himself, but they have no choice. Vespesian carries the opposite to this. The equal and opposite. Only the one can counter the other. Either they take this to Margo and allow her to open it, or they concede to whatever horror the Radiance brings. He nods, decisive.
‘Yes. I do.’
Kitty sighs. ‘I knew you’d say that. We’d better move fast then.’
‘Because my dear deluded brother, Vespesian, has opened the other bottle.’
Darkness wells through the walls, into the corridors of the castle. The Absence; stalking. So much flesh to explore. To maim. To play with. Greedy, starved of play for too long, it picks off victims with gleeful abandon, sucking them into itself and leaving them mangled in its wake.
Countless servants run ahead of it, trying to escape, screaming in terror. It revels in the sound. In the feel of their soft matter splitting, the brittle crunch of bone, the pop of organs, the slow-motion collapse of form to ruin. In every corridor, as it passes, the walls are spattered scarlet, and on it goes, level by level, consuming, destroying, and delighting.
When it reaches the great hall, it stops momentarily, casting about. The servants flee, and it allows them to leave. None can run from it now, it has all the time it needs to delight in play, and there are things to be done. Out from the great mass of it, Rolf is pushed until visible from the chest up. It shakes him.
Give us her scent.
His eyes crack open, a mere slit. They roll drunkenly, unfocused and dim, a light soon to be snuffed. He coughs and a small fountain of blood droplets arc almost gracefully into the air and spatter down upon his face like rain. He whispers, barely coherent, but pleading.
Ah. Slowly, as if digesting, it swallows him back into itself. Yes. Margo, it croons, a billion voices making of her name a grotesque lullaby.
It moves then, slowly, softly, drifting out of the hall and through the floor, questing after the scent of her drawn from Rolf’s desperation. It will find her. It will allow her to think that she can save him, and then it will peel him apart in front of her. The thought makes it shiver with joy.
© Ren Warom 2013