The Light Bride
They were strange times to be a ghost.
The Light Bride – the Bride Above – had seen all manner of peculiar things at Whitechapel since Margo and Quint had stepped across the Bridge Below. She’d seen ghost hunters working with ghosts to find evidence of Bale’s plots, she’d seen ghosts arguing about whether or not to remain secret from the living anymore, she’d been threatened multiple times by both the living and the dead, and she’d been excommunicated from the ghost council by the Light Triplets. She’d called for an election (the first ever held by Whitechapel’s dead) and was chosen as the sole (or soul) councilor of the ghosts of Whitechapel. She’d even been visited by the Lich.
The Lich had poured her a cup of tea in the cup she’d brought it, then rattled bones and dice inside it, claiming they were omens of destruction and bloodshed and peanut butter. She’d told the spirit hunters stationed on the grounds the Lich’s predictions, and they’d confided that they feared Bale’s plot was something altogether larger and darker.
She’d been with Dragomir when they’d decided he would rendezvous Below with Margo and Quint, extract them from the situation – because it was indeed too dangerous for them. For anyone, the Light Bride had thought with a shiver.
And now Dragomir had been gone too long.
The Light Bride paced outside the Bridge. It was still open: wavering gently, shining green like a tear in a plutonium curtain. She was worried.
Dying had robbed her of her faith, but hearing the spirit hunters whisper about Bale made her wonder if there was maybe some truth to the books about Lucifer. And now Margo and Quint and Dragomir were down Below with him and if they failed, their deaths would just be the beginning.
They were strange times to be a ghost.
The Dark Bride floated above Margo: her black hair straggly, eyes ablaze, gorgon-like. Margo scrambled back, falling against a pumpkin; clearly no Perseus. She tried to scream but no sound escaped her lips.
This amused the Dark Bride.
If this had been a story, the Dark Bride may have waited to say something clichéd before dealing Margo the killing blow, or revealed some sort of plan, giving Margo an opportunity to escape.
But this was not a story.
Her talons came at Margo fast, the first blow tearing her jacket, the second scratching her skin. Three red lines appeared on her cheek. What hurt more than the blow was the feeling of the air against her exposed flesh.
This time Margo did scream.
The Dark Bride’s grin widened. “Normally they beg me to spare them. After a while they beg me to kill them. Are you going to beg yet?”
Margo didn’t beg, or even speak, but took a step back, eyes trained on the claws dripping her own blood.
Finally, the Light Bride couldn’t wait anymore. Images of Margo and Quint in danger plagued her. Even thoughts of Dragomir (whom she had once called “a twenty-four carat idiot”) caused her unease.
The Bridge was getting smaller. She didn’t have much time.
So she stepped across it.
To mortal eyes, the world Below was almost identical to the world Above. But to a ghost, especially one as long dead as the Light Bride, this was no fine or private place. It hummed with a dark energy, a wrongness that the Light Bride felt all the way to her non-existent bones.
Afraid of what she’d find, the Light Bride headed in the direction where the energy was strongest.
Margo ran, but the Dark Bride was faster.
She caught Margo, laughing, and scratched her again. Margo fell to the ground and felt hands of iron grab her. They hoisted her into the air, making her cry out. She fought back, writhing, but the Dark Bride did not let go. She threw Margo to the ground, winding her, and pinned her down.
“You think Bale didn’t know?” the Dark Bride laughed, spitting in Margo’s eyes. “That he didn’t realize you were working for the hunters?”
She licked Margo’s face with her cold, dead tongue. It felt like some sort of prehistoric slug. Margo tried to roll away, but the Dark Bride clamped a hand around her throat. And squeezed. Margo beat at the Dark Bride, but she couldn’t breathe. Dark spots bloomed on her vision. She thought of the Worst Day. This was how Charlie had felt, she knew, as he sank beneath the water.
At the corner of her vision, between the blackness, Margo saw something silver.
“Beg,” the Dark Bride whispered, tightening her grip.
Margo would have liked it think she didn’t beg because she was strong. But in truth she didn’t beg because she couldn’t. She couldn’t even inhale, let alone form words.
“Beg like Quint is.”
Margo gaped at the Dark Bride, eyes wide with terror and lack of oxygen. Veins stood out on her forehead. Her face was bright red.
“Bale’s destroying him right now. And he’s begging to be spared. He’s telling Bale all your secrets so that he can survive while you die.”
The silver thing got closer.
The Dark Bride slammed Margo’s head against the ground.
The silver swirled, getting thicker. Drops of it pulled together, forming a shape.
Vapoursteel, Margo thought groggily.
The Vapoursteel curled around Margo’s hand. It hardened, sharped, elongated. It glittered with glee: the Knife had found its master.
The Light Bride found the vegetable patch and the two figures wrestling beside it. Margo was on the floor, her face an unnatural shade of violet. A dark figure held her down. When the Light Bride realized who it was, her world seemed to stop.
She knew at once what the thing was. It had once been a part of her. The Dark Bride – her dark self, this reflection in a tainted mirror – had not yet noticed her. Or the glowing thing in Margo’s hand.
With disbelief, the Light Bride realized what it was.
Summoning what little strength she had left, Margo plunged the Lich’s knife into the Dark Bride’s arm. The knife pierced her where it touched the flesh: leaving a shining hole, leaking ectoplasm. The Dark Bride’s screech was cataclysmic. She rolled away in agony, grabbing at the puncture, where the very building blocks of what she was were so quickly draining away.
Margo took a breath so deep it burnt her lungs.
“Get away from her!” the Light Bride yelled. For a moment Margo didn’t know if she was talking to her or the Dark Bride.
The two Brides looked upon each other. For a moment, they forgot Margo. They forgot about everything. All they focused on was each other: the two parts of the one person that had divided in death.
Margo, however, thought only of the knife. She scrambled across the grass, away from the Brides, gawping at the blade in her hand that looked as if it had been forged from starlight and felt as if it had been woven from mist.
I’m the master of the knife.
She could feel from the way the knife fit perfectly in her palm, the way it responded to the movements of her fingers. Margo may have been panicked and afraid, but she wasn’t stupid. It had been when Bale had told her to cut open the Bridge. In handing her the knife, he had transferred ownership.
Margo was also bright enough to know that the thing in her hand was profoundly dangerous.
The Dark Bride knew it too.
Without tearing her gaze from her counterpart, she said “Margo, give it to me, girl.”
She held out her hand.
Margo raised the knife. “Beg,” she said.
“Let’s make a deal…”
“I’m not making any deals with you,” said Margo.
“Then you’ll die,” said the Dark Bride.
The Light Bride said nothing. Just stared at her own face.
“We can take her,” Margo said to the Light Bride, motioning toward the Dark one.
The Light Bride snapped out of her reverie. “No,” she said, “It’s too dangerous.”
“I’m not scared,” said Margo. A lie.
“Not just for you,” said the Light Bride. “What if she gets hold of the knife?”
“Afraid of what we’ll do with it?” The Dark Bride said, her face contorting into a sneer.
The reply was quiet. “Yes.”
Maybe she sensed the weakness in the Light Bride, because the Dark Bride attacked. A clawed hand hurtled toward the woman in white, but it stopped half way, caught in a frilly-sleeved hand. The Dark Bride broke loose and swung again, but the Light Bride dodged. The third blow landed, sending the Light Bride staggering backward. Before falling, she became transparent and leapt to the side – where the Dark Bride leapt to stop her.
“You can’t beat me,” the Dark Bride, “I’m you.”
“No you’re not,” said the Light Bride. She tried to grab the Dark Bride, but the Dark Bride was no longer interested in her. Instead, she homed in on Margo at high speed. It had all been a feint to distract her light self from her real prize. Before Margo even had a chance to lift the knife, the Dark Bride was on her. She fell back, falling hard against a headstone, hearing the almost comical whoosh as those claws flew toward her. But then came a flash of white, and the Light Bride blocked the whooshing claws, crying out. Ectoplasm splattered the headstone. The Dark Bride’s talons at her throat, the Light Bride hissed at Margo, “Run. Take the knife and run.”
Margo didn’t run immediately but when she did, she ran hard. She didn’t run because she was scared or angry or to keep the knife from the Dark Bride. She ran because her heart was too heavy to keep in one place, and running to escape your heart is – as every fairytale has shown – the hardest running of all.
She felt as if everyone she knew was falling beneath ice and she couldn’t save them. So she ran, weaving between bushes and tombstones and trees, toward the Bridge. And while she ran, things glittered down her cheeks. If you’d asked her, she would’ve told you it was the reflection of the Vapoursteel she carried.