Mara’s hand stood still. Her treacherous heart, the one thing that kept her anchored inside the Deep, shivered with an atavic fear.
Her hand froze on the umbilical cord.
Next to the man.
The shorter figure.
She had assumed it to be his wife.
But the tuft of blonde hair sprouting from the hem made her reconsider. It can’t be.
She did not want to believe it.
Mara took a tentative step to the side. Behind him, a girl not older than sixteen lay on her knees, holding her hands in a cup as she too received her first, fatal drop of Rubedo.
Caterina poured Mara’s own essence into herself and the Mara inside the Deep, watching the past scene unravel, grasped at her cheek in despair.
And then, it hit her nostrils. Tangy and melancholic. Her lips dried.
The salty smell of the sea.
“No,” she whispered, as if her desires held any power.
She had been such a fool. Now that the lid had been taken off, all the details pulled together in one shard of awareness, piercing and cold through her chest.
Caterina looking at her, and only at her.
She had been repeating words. Entire phrases. Not surprised enough by her show of Rubedo. Too late for regrets.
The scene changed yet again – this time it happened in thin ripples, like tired rain washing away the vision of a weary painter. She pushed and held her hands up, trying to fight against the current, to hold the scene, hold onto the memory, onto the stability of the Deep… as futile as that might be.
She just tired even more.
Mara fell on her knee, then the other. She lay on the blurry pavement inside the emptiness of the Deep, holding onto her inside organs, now pulsating a more violent, panicked light.
The salty scent was so pungent. It bit against her lips, prickled her nose.
Sound came again. A pitter-patter of steps.
Beneath her stretched a wooden pier – it elongated towards the steamy shore where lazy waves broke in slow-motion plumes of foam, rising tall into the starless sky. Mara lay at the end of the pier – her hands touched the rough, damp wood. She bit her lip – the Deep warped all around her. She tried to push it back to her own vision, to open a gateway to the upper levels, where she could try and escape… but her extracted heart beat with just the faintest light now. The Deep did not listen to her. The pier, the storming sea, the hostile memories. They all stayed.
And she was not alone anymore.
She turned towards the shore – golden lights appeared, hazy through the slow-moving foam. Lamp-posts and forgotten windows. They scattered in shards, illuminating the lean figure proceeding down the pier, getting closer and closer.
Mara grit her teeth. Her scar prickled, like the handmade stitches she had to use to keep it close had came back, biting into her skin and into her flesh and celebrating the union of the old blood with the new.
Still, she would not face her lying down. She pushed herself upright, one leg and the other.
The other smiled. Smiled with step, with each echo of her naked feet against the puddles of saltwater and the weary creaking of the planks. Mara spat a wad of iron-tasting saliva, lost among the waves.
She who approached looked pristine, unlike the last time Mara has seen her. Gone was the blood or the excess skin, the growths that spat her out of her ontological vulva. From her feet up, lanky legs giving way to svelte hips, a tuft of hair over her sex, her belly button like a disapproving eye. Up to her waist, small breasts softly swinging in the windless air, just like her own. And a face, a smile like her own. Brown hair like her own. Olive green eyes, open in triumph. So different from her pinpricks of terror.
Mara licked dry lips. She glanced at her umbilical cord but it lay useless at her feet. Her heartbeat barely strong enough to allow her to exist under the pressure of the Deep, now conforming itself to the will of a far more powerful blood than her own.
The other slowed down. Stopped. She tilted her head to right, studying her with the same loathsomely caring smile, like a lost puppy about to rush onto its owner.
“You have not changed,” the other said, in her own voice. “I tried so hard,” Mara replied.
A thin laughter was her only answer. The other took a step forward and Mara one back. Maybe she could just drown herself. Fall into the hungriest layers of the Deep. Could she still find her there?
Would she find her forever?
But in the space of a blink the other was right in front of her, olive eyes chained to olive eyes, Mara’s tight- lipped frown to an impatient grin. The other’s fingers rose to touch her cheek.
“I missed you. Missed you so much.”
“Xibalba,” Mara whispered. “Xibalba…” Mara begged.
“You must be really tired from all that running. Tired. Come home. Home with me.” She was so close. No breath, no warmth come from her body. Only the feeling of her fingers on her cheek, talons hooked into her past. “Let me take. Take you back.”
“I… I… ground you…” Mara’s other hand reached, treacherous, for her own wound. It burn even louder so close to the other. “I smashed you into a pulp. I erased you…”
“Oh love,” she glitteringly let out a weary chortle, like a parent who tries to explain her children such banalities, “Your delusion is so endearing. Getting rid of me with just a little bit of death.” She chuckled again. Her hand descended in a smooth line of dread from her cheek to her neck to her breast to her stomach, resting against her wound over her womb, a five-pointed crown above the throne of scars.
Xibalba’s mouth leaned closer. Her breathless voice focused to a single whisper as she brushed lip against lip. “Let me back in.”
Author’s Notes: to be fair, I am not exactly sure if I should rather stop this here. I like the cliffhanger. At any rate, thanks for reading!