Hello, friends. This is the longest installment at 1900 words. I wanted to cut to the bone (hehe), but much had to be told before we move on to our final pieces of the puzzle. I hope you enjoy.
As usual, links to previous installments:
Parts Two and Three
Parts Five and Six
7. In Paris Below
Moira scolded with seemingly endless breath. Death barely noticed, so conscious was he of the way her bum was cradled between his femurs. It wasn’t his fault; he kept his hands on her waist for balance and to keep some polite distance between them, but the horse’s gentle swaying and sloped back kept him sliding against her. The robes of Fate were like spider web, so that he could feel her hip bones. Also, her waist made delicious curves under his fingers. It was impossible to listen to her at such a time. He figured he’d catch up later, maybe get the tail-end of her harangue, as she obviously wasn’t even close to finished.
They passed a graveyard. Death wasn’t a romantic, but he would’ve liked to ask Moira to stop.
At last they came to a halt before a plain black door. She looked at him over her shoulder.
“Get off,” she said.
Behind the door, in what amounted to a cubicle, was an open hole with a steeply winding staircase descending into gloom. A few hardy tourists, bundled in their winter coats and scarves, were making their careful way down.
The people they passed shuddered, blamed it on the cold and the eeriness of their activity, and continued on. Moira and Death left them behind, walking through the stone walls into tunnels and rooms no human had mapped and yet, their bones had been left behind. Forgotten. So it was these catacombs were a special place, a disremembered place. The Fate held up a torch, and though Death did not need it, he was grateful for her light. And they walked further downward, below, below, below.
They walked a labyrinth that Death did not know; he had never been called to this place. It was silent and black and smelled of mildew and cold earth, and Death wondered if Moira had brought him here to personally see to his termination. He wondered if she would let him kiss her once before she did, or if he would be a coward, as he had been so often in life. He made up a little speech as he followed her, in which he asked for her hand to kiss before she dealt the blow. And then his imagination took over, and after the speech, Moira told him he could kiss more than her hand, and she sobbed in his arms at the unjustness of his termination just as they were beginning to know each other better, her breasts bobbing like apples against his chest, and then—
“This is it,” she said. “We’re here.”
She touched a spot on the stones that became a doorway, so short and slender that even had it been visible, one could easily have walked past, unnoticing its existence. She gestured for him to enter.
Inside a rough-hewn room with no benches or altar, stacked bones surrounded them from pocked floor to craggy ceiling. Here the metatarsals, here femurs, here a fan of ribs. Here a skull nestled in a pelvic girdle. In the silence, Death heard a voice, as from down a well or buried beneath the earth, and drifted towards it. Somewhere, deep among the bones, quivered the remnants of an old, old soul, lost and gone crazy with despair in the room. He reached a hand to pluck it. Moira grasped his wrist.
“But it’s my job,” he said. “Another Death must have lost it.”
“It wasn’t lost,” she said, pressing his wrist. “And you can’t take it.”
The soul, as if sensing Death at last come to collect it, strained towards his fingertips. And then, all at once, he heard them.
The other souls.
Waking now at feeling him near. Crying out for him. He spun around, Moira losing her grip on him.
There, and there and there and there. How many? The voices blended, filling his skull with their pleas, their shouts. He held up both arms, reaching. He could take them all.
Moira grabbed him, yanking on his robes, hauling with a strength that was, frankly, beyond his.
Before she could drag him out, he snatched one soul, one among the many, and then they were in the tunnel outside again. Death fell against a wall and shook.
“What the fuck was that?”
“That,” she said, “is termination.”
“What are you talking about? Those souls aren’t terminated. They’re nowhere. They’re in there. Trapped.”
“Why? Who are they?”
“It’s difficult to explain.”
“Do try,” he said, keeping the shard hidden, tucked in his fist as he slid it into a pocket.
“They are your predecessors. And the predecessors of some other Incarnations.” She took a deep breath. “When man was new, He created us to look after you. All the Incarnations that you know. But the Devil, that arrogant son of a bitch, saw a way to overthrow Him, using the Incarnations. Ignorant bastard started a coup, a very bloody one. There was a war, and we split sides.”
“And which side were you on?”
“His, of course. One of my sisters chose to fight for the Devil, as did War and Nature and Love. And a few assorted piss-ant little Incarnations like Disease.”
He hated to ask, but he had to know. “And Death?”
“He chose to fight on our side. In fact, it was because of Death that we won. But he…”
“Didn’t make it.”
“No. When the dust settled, neither had Love or Time. Disease and Fortune also were lost.” She snorted. “And Scourge. Honestly, we haven’t had a good replacement for that one since. Obnoxious little twats, all of them.”
“So, what? When an Incarnation dies, they come here? What kind of a reward is that?”
“Not all Incarnations—not the originals. Their souls disappeared. They were just… gone. Those were their replacements.” She put a hand on his shoulder, the first time she had voluntarily touched him since he’d arrived on the celestial scene. “Understand something. You are neither mortal nor immortal. There is no place for you once you become an Incarnation.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” said Death, backing up. “He makes replacements, but those replacements aren’t good enough, so he sticks them here, in some kind of lost-and-gone-for-good filing cabinet?”
“Heaven and Hell are for mortals. We Incarnations, the true ones--”
“Careful there, Moira. Your superiority is showing.”
“That’s not it!” She reached for him again, but he crossed him arms and she let her hand drop. “I have no choice in the matter. These were the rules long before I was even created by Him.”
“Oh, you and your rules! ‘I have no choice,’” he mimicked. “So what you’re telling me is that this is where I go next. In that room.”
“Yes. But—no, listen to me!—you have a chance. Every replacement Incarnation has a chance to make it last. Maybe even for eternity. But you’ve got to want it, and you’ve got to give them no reason to terminate you.” She huffed. “You’d know all this if you’d read the manual.”
“I did read the manual,” he grumbled. “Well, I’m not going in there. Even if I have to do this stupid job for eternity.”
“You might not have a choice. They’ve called a meeting to discuss your termination. There will be a vote. I don’t know who will vote for you, though.”
Death realized that he didn’t know anyone who would vote for him, either. Maybe the other replacement Incarnations, if they knew the deal. But if they didn’t, they might just see him as a slacker who sometimes made their job harder.
He probably should’ve taken this whole thing a bit more seriously, but it was a little late now.
“I would. Vote for you. I mean, you haven’t done a horrible job. There’s room for improvement, yes--”
“You’d vote for me?” he asked, incredulous. “All right. Let’s say I make it, and they don’t terminate me. What about them? The ones in the room? They can’t stay there. That’s cruel.”
“It’s the way it is. The only one who has true domain over every soul is Death—the first Death. And his soul is gone.” She paused, lips open to say something. Shutting. And finally she said, “We wait. For him. For all of the lost Incarnations. He says that their souls have gone somewhere, but they will return in their own time. That’s why we pick you, the mortal ones. We’re hoping that they reappear. Come back. He says they will.”
“And you trust Him?” At the moment, Death wasn’t sure he’d trust anyone who stuck souls away to be ignored just because He couldn’t decide what they were. It was indecisive and downright unkind.
“I do. I fought for Him once. I would again.” Her eyes fell to his pocket, where a bit of tarnished silver gleamed. “What is that?”
“What? Nothing. Just a soul I picked up earlier, forgot to bag it. Yeah, I’ll, uh, do that now.” He reached for his bag.
“No. No, no—that’s not possible.” She grabbed at the thing, but Death sprang away.
“Moira, it’s nothing! Some old geezer’s soul I got in a nursing home in Cleveland.”
“It is not! My God, how did you…? Give it to me!” She lunged, rippling through the space between them and knocking him back twenty feet. He rolled on the floor and leapt to his feet, but she was on him. The two of them grappled in the narrow passageway, whirling through walls and into other rooms. Death hoped it wouldn’t hurt her too much and kicked her viciously in the stomach. Instead, she spun, her elbow smashing squarely into his ribs, sending him reeling into yet another room. His kick, apparently, hadn’t hurt her too much.
“Stop!” He barely managed to hold her off, her hand grasping at the shard in his pocket. He grabbed it and held it aloft. “Stop! Moira, you’re going to die soon!”
She froze, fist inches from connecting with his chin. “What?”
Death yanked open the bag and flung the soul in. “You’re going to die soon,” he gasped, holding the bag close to his chest. “And Jesus, why do the Fates need to know how to fight like that? That was scary. My God, you’re scary.”
She straightened to her full height. “We learn to fight because not everyone follows the rules. You can’t take that soul.”
“But…” She stared, and, he noticed, she wasn’t even breathing heavy. “You can’t. It’s impossible. You don’t have all the properties of the full office of Death. You’re…”
“A replacement. Yeah. I get that. And guess what?” He jiggled the bag. “I can, and I did.”
She bit her lip in contemplation. “And I’m going to die?”
“Yeah. You’re going to die soon,” he said. “Or whatever it is that happens to special, original Incarnations. I don’t know when. They won’t give me the tape that far ahead.”
She stared, and after a moment, she laughed. It disconcerted him, that laugh. It wobbled, like a child on a stilts, a glass on the edge of a table about to fall over.
“It doesn’t matter. Tomorrow. A hundred years from now. But the clock winds down at last. Well. That explains a lot. Thirty-thousand years,” she said. “It’s about time. I’m so tired.”
“You’re not upset?”
“No. Each Fate gives her own fate to a sister to hold. I thought Clotho had been looking at me funny for the last decade or so.” Her fingers brushed over a pile of jaw bones. He wished one was his. “If I’m going to die, then it means a fight is coming. I don’t know what’s going on, but we’re going to that council meeting right now.”
“I want to go back to that room.”
“Absolutely not. And don’t try me, Death. Next time I won’t hold back. Now come on, we’re going to be late.”
She strode away, weaving through walls and tunnels towards the surface.
“That was holding back?”
She looked at him meaningfully over her shoulder and snapped her fingers. “Like a twig.”
Just as Death thought it would be impossible for the Fate to be any sexier than she was at that moment, and that a kiss might potentially be within his reach—excluding the possibility of his almost certain termination—two shadows dropped down in front of them.
The demons rose up from a crouch, tails lashing with eagerness.
“No council for you,” they hissed. “Termination now.”
Moira didn’t hold back.
Thank you to everyone who has been reading. We are nearing our thrilling climax and end, and if you've got questions, they will be answered. Probably. :-)
Part 8 here.
Also, please take a sec to check out Lily's February Femmes Fatales over at the Feardom. Today's offering by Marissa Farrar, Faces, takes childhood fears and brings them into tangible adult reality. I've never read anything by Marissa before, but I'm really impressed by her writing. She's got a vampire romance novel out now as well--but you can find out all that over at Lily's blog.