Margo was angry, and she looked it.
She walked across the garden Below, the blade at her side. Her brows were furrowed at an angle not yet known to geometry, her face was so steely it could’ve made a fine shield against Vapoursteel, and she looked on the verge of smouldering. At that moment, Quint was right: she did indeed look like a Heroine.
Bale was at the Bridge. On the way, he’d stumbled across the remains of the Dark Twins. That was good. It meant Margo was Below. He needed Margo.
Bale crouched beside the Bridge. It was still open, Margo’s cut still glowing green. Soon there’d be no need for Bridges; there wouldn’t be a barrier for them to cross between.
He looked up at the stone angel. It marked the resting place of the first Bale, the first dead man buried at Whitechapel who’d risen. It was here – at the Bridge – that the land power’s dwelt. It was the seismic fault line. Glittering quietly in the angel’s hands was Margo’s memory, preparing to cause an earthquake.
Quint groaned behind him.
Yes, almost time. He just needed the sacrifice.
The door swung open. A hurricane called Margo stood silhouetted in the doorway.
Margo cast a shadow on the dinner table. Sitting at the head of it, taking small bites of tiramisu, unfazed by the hurricane, was the Dark Bride.
It was three minutes past midnight.
The Light Bride may have been gone, but the Dark Bride was more whole than ever. She could even taste again, and tiramisu was the apotheosis of tastes, but right then she was in the mood for something a little more sanguine.
“Bale murdered you,” said Margo quietly. “Just thought you should know.”
A spoon of tiramisu froze halfway toward a pair of black lips.
“I know,” said the Dark Bride, even softer.
“Then why are you with him?”
There was no irony when the Dark Bride said, “It’s in my nature.”
“I can tell you your name.”
“It’s Nora Adamson.”
“I don’t want to hear this.”
“And the man, the one you were going to marry, his name was Peter, but his middle name was Bruce, and you never thought he looked like a Peter, so you called him Bruce.”
Margo moved closer with every word.
“No,” she said, “I saw it in your memories. The Light Bride showed me. She’s proud of you, you know. She said you did the best you could.”
The Dark Bride got to her feet. The plate on which the tiramisu sat shattered.
“I saw lots of things about you,” said Margo, “And none of the good ones were about Bale.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
A claw slashed at Margo. She raised the knife, and the claw glanced away.
“Weapon against Worst Days,” Margo whispered. The mantra of hurt things.
The Dark Bride paced at the edge of the room, beside the fireplace, talons unfurled, tongue darting over her lips. She looked more dangerous than the Twins ever could, because she looked frightened.
The Dark Bride attacked. It was in her nature.
Margo barely avoided the blow. “Music,” she said.
Another blow. She blocked it with the knife.
A talon grazed her arm. Blood landed on the tablecloth.
“Great Moments of Infinite Depth.”
The cabinet beside her fell over, shattering.
“You lie like the rest of them,” said the Dark Bride, flying at Margo. Her voice was more screech than anything else, and her movements were avian. They were not, however, slow, or weak, and she knocked Margo to the ground. Her fingers closed around Margo’s jaw. The bones ground against each other, and she yelped.
“My…my parents,” Margo choked out, and thrust the knife at the Dark Bride. It didn’t touch her, but the Dark Bride released her and leapt away.
“That’s not who I am.” The Dark Bride and Margo circled each other. Margo’s shoes crunched over the broken glass.
“Maybe, but neither’s this.”
The Dark Bride vanished, moving through a pillar, and reappeared beside Margo. A talon extended, stiletto-like, and ripped through Margo’s jugular.
Or it would have, had Margo not pulled back just in time. The talon pricked her, drawing blood, making her teeth clench and tears sting the backs of her eyes. But she was alive, if only for a moment longer.
“Cats,” she said under her breath, and almost laughed.
Then the blows came in a whirlwind.
Margo tried to block with the knife, but her hands shook too much. She fell over, struck her chin, and scrambled away from the Dark Bride, cutting her arms on the fallen glass. By then she was crying.
“Is this better than death?” the Dark Bride half screamed, voice straining, as if she was about to start crying too. She grabbed Margo’s hair, hoisted her head up. Blood beaded on Margo’s split lip. “What’s so glorious about this shit?”
She bashed Margo’s head against the floor. The world flickered in and out of sight
“Say it!” the Dark Bride hissed. “Impart your wisdom, you pathetic bitch!”
“It was… a boy,” Margo said.
The Dark Bride’s eyes faltered.
“And it wasn’t Bale’s.” Margo spat blood onto the floor.
“That’s, that’s not true.”
Margo didn’t answer.
“N-n…I…” The Dark Bride stammered.
“Then why, why isn’t he here?”
“Why isn’t he a ghost?”
The look on the Dark Bride’s face was pitiful. Hurt, lost, irreparably broken.
“Because he chose not to be,” said Margo.
“You don’t know that.”
“No. I don’t know much. But I’ve been thinking. About Quint, and you, and Bale, and Whitechapel, and Dragomir. Where is he? He should be here, if everyone who dies here really does come back. But he’s not. Not because he’s special, or because the land’s not working or whatever, but because that’s what he chose. It isn’t even a matter of unfinished business, it’s a matter of choice.”
“I don’t understand.”
“You do,” said Margo.
In the Dark Bride’s eyes were shifting shadows. They were almost tears.
“I don’t know why I got the knife,” said Margo. “I don’t know if I believe in fate, or any of that stuff. Maybe it was just luck. But I’m beginning to feel like this knife isn’t a weapon, not really. It’s a tool. It’s something that helps. It’s a way out.”
“What are you saying?”
“No one has to be a ghost.”
“That’s impossible. Bale said…”
“You can be with your family again, Nora. All you have to do is choose.”
Slowly, Margo extended her hand. She held the knife out to her enemy. It balanced between them on her shaking, scratched palm.
The Dark Bride stared at it for a long time.
“Why are you doing this?” she said softly.
“Because I’m trying to be brave.”
“This is a trick.”
Margo shook her head.
The Dark Bride watched the knife.
“If I take it, I could kill you.”
Slowly, hesitant, the Dark Bride reached out and took the knife.
“Do you think it would really work?” she whispered.
“Will I see him?”
Margo said nothing. She didn’t know what to say.
The darkness began to draw together around the Dark Bride. Oblivious, she watched her own reflection in the blade. It made her think of her old mirror.
Margo didn’t see what she did next with the knife, but she saw the light appear in the centre of the shadows.
“Bale’s at the Bridge,” said the Dark Bride. She was Fading, the darkness she was made of turning grey.
“Thank you,” Margo said.
The knife clattered to the floor.
The greyness lightened even further, but never quite reached white. Soon all that was left was a pinprick of light, the knife wound. She saw a shape in it, barely there, that might have been a person. It paused, and Margo thought it even looked back at her.
Before it vanished completely, Margo saw something beside it. They looked like two other shapes, one large, one small. A parent and child, side by side. But she could never be sure.