Chapter 15: The Scolding
Bianca’s feet seem to skim the top of the rubble. If she wasn’t floating she had an impossibly nimble and graceful gait. Sabonis stands his ground grinning as she comes after us, her face contorted in fury.
“Confound you Marco!” Her voice rings across the wastes. “This is the lowest thing you’ve ever done—taking an innocent soul, new here, disoriented, and my own charge no less, and involving him in your hopeless schemes. What are you trying to do to me? You know how delicate my situation has become.”
“Whoa, slow down,” says Sabonis. “I didn’t ask him to follow me. He’s tagging along on his own accord. It’s not my fault he didn’t buy your sales pitch.”
“What pitch?” says Bianca. “I only told him the truth about the one, true path.”
“Well, whatever you told him, he ain’t buying it.”
Bianca’s anger dissipates. Her lip develops a pout. Her eyes, like a doe’s.
“Stop lookin’ at me like that! He made up his own mind. Go on Dan, tell her.”
“Oh yes, I’m sure you had nothing to do with it. As if I haven’t watched you troll those shores, interrogating any poor soul that washes up. You told me yourself, the fresher they are, the more they remember. It doesn’t hurt that she’s a looker.”
I roll my eyes. “For crying out loud, I’m a he! A man. Male. XY. Got it?”
Even if none of those gender identity seminars in college ever sank into my brain, I get it now. When it is so obvious to me that I am a man trapped in a woman’s body, it is unbelievably frustrating for the world to see only the female outer shell. Not even Bianca, a Goddamn pseudo-angel can keep it straight.
“Honest, I didn’t push him to follow me. He invited himself. Just tagged along like a stray dog. You want him, take him. It’s not like there won’t be any other jamokes washing up on this shore.”
“Come along then, Daniel,” says Bianca.
“Nuh-uh. I’m not going.”
“And why not?” says Bianca, her annoyance obvious.
“I don’t want to be Cleared,” I say. “I want to remember my life. Frankly, I’m not done. I wasn’t supposed to die yet.”
Bianca swings around to face Sabonis. “What have you done, Marco? He’s brainwashed.”
“I didn’t do nothin’. It’s what they all think. Anyone who dies young.”
“Listen. This is not just another soul you’re messing with this time. Not only does he happen to be one of my charges, he’s of special interest to the Primentor Paxson.”
“Oh Christ. He’s one of them. What bum luck.”
“Who’s this Victoria person and why does she want me?”
“She’s a Primentor, not merely a person. A matron. Keeper of souls. Head of your line, or at least, the Paxson side.”
I know that name. They are distant cousins on my mother’s side. Most of them live out in the Midwest somewhere. Iowa or Arkansas. They’re not particularly close to us.
“And Victoria is one of the more potent of the Primentors, a candidate for New Jerusalem, some say.”
Sabonis sniggers. “You believe that propaganda?”
“Yes,” said Bianca, her eyes gone all pellucid and penetrating. She looks at me like she intends to absorb my soul. “And that is why I need you to come with me, Daniel.”
She holds out her hand. I just stare at it.
“Daniel, are you telling me that for the vaguest opportunity to commit a blatantly perverse, decidedly unnatural act, you have given up any chance at Ascendance? Do you realize how much this hurts any chance of your eternal salvation? How it hurts Marco? Hurts all of us? I am talking about eternity here. As a recent arrival, you are blessed with a grace period, but there will soon come a point when this mistake is not correctable.”
“I don’t care,” I say, emboldened by a mix of apathy and resentment.
Her glowing chest heaves. She quivers, almost imperceptibly at first, then into a full blown tremor. She is trembling so hard, I fear she will explode.
“I demand that you return to your stratum, immediately.”
“I … can’t.”
“Why can’t you?”
I gaze down at my dainty, borrowed feet. “I don’t belong there.”
“You think you’re better off, rotting on the beaches?”
“No. This is wrong. Me being here. I wasn’t supposed to die. It’s a mistake. Just like my body is a mistake.”
“Who are you to decide such a thing?”
I shrug. “I just … feel it. It feels wrong.”
“Doesn’t matter how you feel,” says Bianca. “You are dead. Dead people are not supposed to feel. And souls once dead do not return. It is not meant to be. It is not proper and more important, not allowed.”
“But it’s possible?”
“I did not say that.”
“But you’re implying that it’s possible.”
“I said no such thing.”
A ripple of excitement shuddered through me. Maybe there really was a way back.
“Listen, Daniel. There is an entity in Elysium, someone of considerable influence and power, who is very interested in your prompt Ascension. This is no ordinary soul. Not by any means, oh no.”
“So it doesn’t matter what you want. Victoria speaks to Seraphim. She has the means to force her will upon you. I am simply trying to spare you the trauma of what that would entail. Now, take my hand and come along. We can go and re-establish your stratum before night falls.”
“She’s bluffing,” says Sabonis.
“It’s true,” he says. “Victoria’s got no power down here in Lethe. Not much, anyhow. Her Facilitators use fucking bows and arrows for Chrissakes.” Sabonis sidles up to me. “Dan, you want no part of this.”
“Marco! Do not interfere!”
“I’ve already decided,” I say. “I’m not going.”
Bianca’s chest heaves as she takes a deep breath, more out of habit than from need. Her glassine lungs have no use for oxygen.
“You would give up your security, just to chase Hector? The marked man Marco has been pursuing for how long now with success? You would defy a Primentor’s will to engage in such futility … not to mention, danger?”
Her face sinks. “Then there is no hope for you. Or for Marco. Or me. Any of us. We are all doomed.”
“Bianca, what the fuck?” Sabonis puts his hand lightly on her shoulder. She shrugs it off and backs away, glaring.
“I am on probation because of you. And now I lose Daniel? How do you think Victoria will react?”
“It ain’t your fault he doesn’t want to go.”
“It will be perceived as such!” She starts to tremble again. The glow of her eyes intensifies. “You’re taking her to Dilmun, aren’t you?”
“You know it is off limits now. They will not tolerate your presence.”
“Fuck, if I care. I’m hardly ever there. And even when I am, my being there don’t hurt nobody.”
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” She turns to me. “I take it you’re not coming with me?” Her eyes beckon like water in a deep well.
“No,” I say without a thought or a blink.“Fine,” says Bianca. “But just to be clear. No one says no to a Primentor.” She lopes off back towards the massif, gliding as much as stepping away from us, her bare feet like moonstone against the dirty gravel. She tosses back a glance, her scowl sculpted in ice.