The Land Works in Mysterious Ways
Margo found them at the Bridge.
Bale stood beside the stone angel, doing something to its hands. Quint lay on the other side of the clearing. He was so transparent, he almost wasn’t there.
Margo stood behind a tree, watching from a distance. She raised the knife, staring at the back of Bale’s head, wondering if she could throw it far enough. As if he could read her thoughts, Bale said – without looking at her – “If you do anything, I’ll destroy him.”
Margo lowered the knife.
“Come down here, Margo.”
She did. Shakily, slowly, she made her way down the slope toward them.
“Bale, please…” she said.
“I don’t remember asking you anything,” said Bale coldly. “Stand there – yes, Margo, beside that stone.”
Margo couldn’t look away from Quint. His eyes were closed. She wasn’t sure if he was even conscious.
A flash of black. Bale moved like fog, and encircled Margo. Before she could even scream or try to run, he fastened something around her. It was wet and smelt rotten and felt like a dead thing. A boa constrictor, perhaps. It bit into her skin and rubbed her raw as Bale tied it around her and the stone. A corner of rock stabbed into her back between the shoulder blades. Once Bale stepped back, a man once more, Margo saw that it was the rope that had been slung across the tree in the Bride’s memory.
Margo struggled it against. The ropes held. Bale didn’t seem to care, barely even to notice. He turned his back to her and turned his attention to the angel.
His satchel lay at its feet, half empty. Most of its contents, the same things she’d seen when he’d first opened the Bridge, were set around the angel. He drew the last thing from the satchel, Dragomir’s Vapoursteel bolt, and began to inspect the statue. His movements were careful and deliberate; he’d been preparing for this for a long time.
“I call upon the Bridge,” Bale said, using the old words, the ones he’d found in the memories of the long-dead, “In all its names. Thraxar, Azraelis, Teeg, the Boneway, Whitechapel. I give my offerings.”
He picked something off the ground, a black and broken thing, and put it into one of the stone angels’ eye sockets. It was a piece of the Bride’s mirror.
“My enemy’s treasure.”
Next, he laid something brown and leathery on the angel’s head. It was a finger bone.
“The flesh of my body.”
A phial of crusted black stuff.
“The blood of the groundskeeper.”
He held the Vapoursteel bolt toward the angel. A sliver of ectoplasm, the colour of old pearls, curled off it, and around the angel’s neck.
“My prisoner’s essence.”
A wind began to coil around the clearing.
“What are you doing?” Margo shouted. “Stop! Bale!”
Bale didn’t listen. The ritual was almost complete.
He placed his hand on the angel’s chest.
“Memory of pain,” he said.
An electric hum filled the dark garden. Something like Vapoursteel, but much darker, and infinitely older, began to crackle in the angel’s hands. It was black of the purest kind, as if someone had cut a hole in the universe. It looked like what had existed on the day before the Big Bang.
Soon the angel’s hands were teeming with it.
It’s my memory.
Or it had been.
“What did you to it?”
“I did nothing,” said Bale. “In fact, you were the one that retrieved it.”
“That’s not my memory,” Margo said, staring at the black electric thing. “It can’t be.”
“That’s pain,” Bale said.
Bale had listened to the memories from the burial mounds, telling him about what he was seeing. But even he was unnerved. It was more beautiful and more terrifying than any tale had prepared him for.
“Your memory was just the first one,” Bale said. “Once you brought it up, and left it in the Bridge, it called the others. Those are a billion dark moments, an entire species’ worst memories, gathered together.”
“I don’t understand.”
The wind was howling now. The angel was trembling, its marble limbs creaking.
“The memories are made of, well, you could it call it the void, I suppose. That’s how I’m going to save everyone, Margo. That’s what the Bridges are for. Why do you think creatures as powerful as the Liches guard them?”
Bale’s expression was maniacal. Had it not been for the Fading boy lying behind him, had it not been for the blood and the mirror, had it not been for the darkness in the angel’s hands, Margo might have laughed.
“We used to just think it was to keep people from crossing between the worlds of the living and the dead, but it’s so much more. The Bridges are weapons, Margo. We just didn’t know how to use them. Until tonight. Until now. With the memories I’m going to dissolve the barrier between the worlds. That’s my Enigma machine.”
Margo understood, and she fought even harder against the ropes.
“Pain’s a powerful thing,” Bale said. “More so than the powers that keep the worlds apart. I’m going to break down the wall with it.”
Bale returned to the black sphere, and continued the ritual.
“I call upon the Bridge,” he said again, and the ground shook. “With treasure and flesh, blood and essence.”
Margo screamed at him, not even sure if she was forming words. Perhaps hearing her, Quint stirred in his slumber, but did not wake.
“Just one thing left,” Bale said, to himself or Margo, she didn’t know. “Soul of a mortal girl, won in battle.”
And Margo understood why Bale hadn’t killed her yet.
Bale appeared beside her, and began untying the ropes.
“You can’t do this,” Margo said. She clutched the knife tightly behind her back, waiting.
“I have to kill you,” Bale said, “to complete the ritual. But it has to be a fair fight. You have to have a chance, or it won’t work. The land’s mysterious.”
As the last rope, the one around her left wrist, came undone, she lunged. The knife arced through the air, glittering, and drove deep into Bale’s heart. But it didn’t. It sunk into him, and straight through, without cutting him.
That doesn’t make sense. He should be Fading.
“The knife can’t hurt me anymore,” Bale said, sounding almost bored. “The killing’s been making me strong. I can’t be hurt by anything, living or dead.”
But I can.
Bale lunged at her with the Vapoursteel bolt. She dodged, stumbling, and scrambled to the other side of the clearing.
“You can’t run.”
He was right. As soon as Margo reached the trees, Bale appeared in front of her. He might’ve been able to move like a ghost, but he hit like a human. Margo fell over and began kicking at the ground, elbowing away from him.
Maybe if I don’t fight back, and he kills me, the ritual won’t work.
Margo forced herself up, cutting her arm on a stone, and moved out of the way as the bolt plunged down toward her again. It sank into the ground, and the grass around it withered.
She didn’t know if her theory would work. If it did, she didn’t know if you could do it. She was so scared. Even if she wanted to, her body did not. Adrenaline and fear made her run and duck, no matter how hard she tried to stay still. The human body is not easily persuaded to die.
“Quint!” she screamed. “Quint wake up.”
He did not.
The bolt came at her. She blocked it with the knife. It may not have been able to cut Bale, but it could stop Vapoursteel. When the weapons touched, they sparked and rippled.
“I knew you would come down here,” Bale said, “To try to rescue Quint. Do you know the legend of Orpheus, Margo?”
Margo didn’t reply, but kept her eyes fixed on the bolt.
“He was a musician, the greatest in the world, some say.”
Whenever the bolt came at her, she stopped it with the knife.
“He had a wife, Eurydice. The only thing she did of note was fall into a nest of vipers, and was killed.”
She stopped the point of the Vapoursteel and inch from her eyes.
“Orpheus found her. In his grief he played a song so beautiful that the gods wept. Not beautiful enough from them to restore his wife to him because, as history tells us time and again, the gods are bastards.”
Margo twisted her ankle on a rock, and nearly fell. She tried to right herself and, distracted, the edge of the bolt grazed her. The pain almost made her drop the knife.
“Orpheus was so overcome by grief and anger and hubris that he travelled to the world of the dead to bring back his wife. He played music for Hades, and Hades let him take his wife back with him, but on one condition.”
Maybe it was a trick of the light, but Margo thought she saw Quint move.
“If Orpheus looked back at Eurydice on their journey, she would have to stay in the underworld forever. Orpheus led Eurydice back through the underworld, keeping her safe from all the dangers there. They reached the exit to the living world, a Bridge like this one probably. He was so happy that Eurydice would be with him again that he turned back to see her face. He realized his mistake too late. Hades dragged Eurydice back down into the world of the dead and Orpheus returned empty-handed. He never played music again.”
The black sphere was trembling, it looked on the verge of exploding.
“Orpheus is a critique of the whole of mankind. They can’t handle loss, they think they’re invincible, and they always fail in the end, because of their own pride. That’s how I knew you would come down here, Margo. Quint’s your Eurydice. The only difference was that Orpheus could defeat the monsters he found below. You, Margo, are no Orpheus.”
Bale struck at her face with the bolt. She didn’t have time to block, so she jumped back, slipping, and fell.
Her shoulder struck the marble angel. The electric noise filled her ears, making them scream. As she fell, her body passed through the black sphere.
And the world went dark.