Neither Living Nor Dead
The world Below appeared around Margo again.
She lay on the ground at the angel’s feet, the smell of grass strong in her nose. She shakily forced herself up onto her elbows and her eyes readjusted. The goddamn throbbing pain in her arms let her know she was, indeed, still alive.
“She wakes up at last,” Bale said with a sneer, but there was uncertainty in his voice. He stood a few metres away, bolt in hand. “And where has the child been?”
The uncertainty turned to fear when Margo replied, calmly, “I think I might have died.”
Margo wasn’t looking at him though. She only had eyes for Quint. He was still unconscious, his body virtually transparent, almost gone. But she knew now that Bale had been bluffing; he wouldn’t let Quint Fade. After all, Quint was him.
“Get up,” Bale said, twirling the bolt in his fingers. “Get up and fight me.”
Margo got up.
She wasn’t scared now.
She held out her hand, and the mist collected in it. The hardness of the knife was familiar to her. Bale looked familiar with his Vapoursteel too. He handled it expertly, but he looked angry now, impatient. He wanted the task done.
Behind the two of them, the black sphere glittered.
“You’re going to die like a coward, Margo. Like the Light Bride, like Dragomir, like all the others.” Bale swung at Margo. She blocked it. The clashing Vapoursteel sang.
“I don’t think I’m scared of dying anymore,” Margo said, and as she said it she knew that it was true.
“Bullshit,” Bale hissed.
Sidestepping his attack, Margo said, “The Dark Bride’s gone.”
The fear was on Bale’s face again.
“I didn’t,” said Margo. “She chose to go.”
“No,” Bale said, as he stabbed at her with the weapon, again and again. “No! You destroyed her, you bitch. She would never choose that. She loved me.”
“She loved me!”
Bale was panting, his movements erratic. The look she’d seen in the Light Bride’s memories, before he’d been lynched, the look of madness, was back.
“Stop the ritual,” Margo said. She didn’t hate Bale anymore. She felt sorry for him. “You can choose too.”
The tip of the Vapoursteel nicked Margo again. A drop of her blood glistened on it, then turned black and burnt away. The coldness spread from the wound all along Margo’s body, and she realised that even though she pitied him, Bale was still too powerful for her to defeat.
“Bale, plea…” she began, and Bale delivered his killing blow.
It sank straight through Quint’s chest, the tip of the bolt emerging on the other side of his body. He’d risen quietly, unnoticed, and snuck up on Bale. He’d stepped in front of Margo, absorbing the blow. And now he just floated there, frozen, staring at Bale. Bale stared back, his eyes trembling.
With what remained of his strength, Quint turned to Margo.
“Thank you,” he said.
And then he was gone.
Bale roared, rounding his bolt on Margo. His eyes burned with something that Margo couldn’t identify – but whatever it was, it was not human.
He’s not invincible anymore.
But Margo didn’t have time for those thoughts now. Bale was still there.
Charlie’s words came back to her. “It would take something a lot stronger than you or Quint to stop Bale.”
With all her thoughts, every inch of her, Margo called the Lich.
It did not answer.
“I swear, I’m going to rip you apart, you lying piece of shit,” Bale said, approaching her. Judging by the way he brandished the weapon, he was.
It did not answer.
“Let’s make a deal,” Margo said.
“I don’t care what you have to say.”
“Listen.” Margo spoke, but she kept thinking about the Lich. Hoping it would hear her thoughts and find her. “I’m the master of the knife, and I know you want it. Having two Lich weapons – you’d be invincible. And then you’d be able to beat me, because I wouldn’t have it anymore. You could complete the ritual.”
Bale began to consider this, but he still walked forward, bolt raised. Margo took a step back for each one he took forward.
“In return,” Margo said. “You have to bring Quint back. You’re powerful and you know the alchemy. You understand how the land works. There has to be a ritual for bringing back a faded ghost.”
“Who calls the Lich?”
The voice entered Margo’s mind. Margo could feel its presence. She glanced into the shadows. The Lich was near, perhaps watching them.
Your knife’s here, Margo thought to the Lich, and the person who stole it.
“Who stole the Lich’s knife?”
Come and find out.
“The Lich can sense who the master of the knife is. The new master stole the Lich’s knife.”
What are you going to do to them?
“The Lich will eviscerate him, exsanguinate him, fillet him, flay the flesh from his bones and his bones from his soul and his soul from this world.”
To the right of her, Margo could make out a dark shape with six eyes appear. It crept closer. Bale did not see it.
“Give me the knife, girl,” Bale said, a grin spreading across his face. He held out his hand. “And I’ll bring Quint back for you.”
Margo did as she was told.
Bale stared at the knife in awe. It shimmered in his hand, got brighter. It was delighted to have found an even stronger master. But Bale didn’t look at it for long; he quickly looked back at Margo, and he looked at her cruelly.
“You’re a fool,” he said, “I’m going to kill you, and everyone else in this shit world, and I’m not going to give you Quint. Quint’s gone. Because of you. I knew you’d fail, Margo. You say you don’t fear death? Everyone fears death. It’s very dark. Cold.”
He hefted the knife, aimed it at her heart.
“Maybe you’re wrong about some of that,” Margo said. “And about what you said about pride making people lose to death, like with Eurydice, and how Orpheus failed. But you’re right about one thing: I am no Orpheus.”
The Lich attacked Bale.
Margo saw it in the moonlight for a split second, its true form. It was terrifying, impossible, not made to be looked upon by humans – similar, in a way, to the sphere in the angel’s hands. But a moment later, and she’d couldn’t even remember it.
His scream lasted only a moment, and was gone. Bale and the Lich vanished, but Margo could feel the Lich’s emotions. It was reunited with its knife, and it was happy. It was whole.
She couldn’t feel Bale at all.
It took a while for the sphere to begin to break apart. With Bale gone, the source of its power dwindled. Margo watched as the orb glowed a deep purple, threatening to explode, and then just collapsed in on itself. As the last of the sphere faded away, a feeling passed over the world Below. The power holding it released, and the weight of the world seemed to lessen. All over, the walking dead fell back into slumber. Hauntings ended. Spirits found peace.
Margo did not.