Mara’s skin crawled against the foul touch of her double. Her umbilical chord seemed to pulsate with the need to scram out of there, to claw her way out of the Deep that was now pressing against her from all sides, like a mounting tide crashing onto the shore.
“It will make everything so much, much simpler,” Xibalba sighed, her fingers playing with the old scar. In Mara’s mind, the memory flash was stark: she gripped the knife and plunged it into her flesh, spilling crimson and cutting through. How slippery the handle got from her precious, oh-so-very precious blood, wasted like this.
And when she reached inside, pulling out a misshapen lump of flesh, its olive eyes turning up to glare at her, and she had lifted her knife and-
“I am not going back,” Mara muttered against Xibalba’s lips. The skin of their lips almost touched, her breath coming out in scattered spurts. “I will not. I got over it. I got rid of you. I am safe.”
“Are you?” Xibalba asked, running her fingers down her arm in a soft and strangely-intimate gesture that made Mara’s stomach churn even more than the memories of her impromptu operation did. “You are running away. Running away. I have seen it, I have always seen it, all the time. How could I forget about you?” Xibalba knotted her arms around her neck, pulling her into an embrace that was as tight as a knot. Around them, the sea boiled and foamed, and the wind carried the smell of salt and a faint echo of accordions playing by the shore.
“This used to be our place. Nothing special, so special. Do you know what it feels to look the word through the eyes of another?”
“Let me go,” Mara pushed, but found she could not really affect Xibalba’s arms, not more than she could wish the sky red. She was in the Deep now, and everything around here answered her much more promptly. “I don’t want to stay here with you. I don’t want to see you ever again!”
“But that’s not how it works,” she retorted, tilting her head. “Can’t you feel it? The world is going mad up there. Why don’t you let me take the reins for a change? You are never going to get rid of me. I couldn’t get rid of you.” Her hand reached for her cheek. “Maybe I do not even want to anymore.”
Mara groaned, trying to focus her mind away from her words. She had tried to listen to Xibalba before, and it was a mistake she was not keep to repeat. Mara’s mind replayed all the images of the weird mutations that had begun to appear in the users of her Rubedo – eyes growing inside one’s stomach, organs fusing into new hearts, even hair and teeth appearing inside flesh.
The Master had tried to find a solution – but any solution he could devise required more use of Rubedo, more use of the same ability that would give Xibalba more and more strength.
She had been slowly incarnating into each of the people who drank from Mara’s veins.
Things had turned… difficult.
“I want to find a better way, I really want to,” she whispered, looking into her with her own olive eyes, but the feverish gaze was not her own. “Rebirthing is such a tumultuous affair, you wouldn’t believe it. Believe I am trying all that I can to make it least painful as possible.”
Mara closed her eyes. She did not have to listen. She knew better than to lend ear to Xibalba, even if she pretended she just wanted to spend her life together.
“Is that what you did with that girl?” Mara hissed, trying to push her away.
The Deep retaliated, pressing back against her feeble will. She was out of practice, and out of hope. Whatever power she might have wielded over the Deep plays came from the one who had been trapped there – and when she had cut the umbilical chord connecting her to the malformed fetus that had ben growing inside her all her life…
She had lost more than a good chuck of her sanity, that bloodied night.
Trying to push against the malleable essence of the Deep was like trying to pull on a rubber wall. No matter how hard she tried, it would go back, laughing at her feeble attempts. Even now, she couldn’t even detach from Xibalba’s embrace, because moving her arms would entail wishing they would, and against the will of the Deep keeping them frozen in place.
She could feel the flashing light of her heartbeat thump faster and faster.
She couldn’t die here. Worse still, she couldn’t allow Xibalba a lifeline to incarnate.
Her imagination ran to a woman just like she was, appearing in a fountain of blood and entrails like a Venus stepping out of the boiling lake, reshaping flesh and will at her whim, knitting life and death and beyond in one twisted root of moody desires.
“The girl did what she had been asked to. Asked to be useful. I merely allowed her to play her part the best way she could.”
Of course. In the memories on the layer above, she had seen Caterina take part in the blood-sharing ritual. That made her connected to herself, and thus, to the echoes of Xibalba still living in the Deep, trying to find ways to incarnate into the external world.
“Can you outrun your shadow? Can you outpace your heartbeat? I will always be there. And I will live the life you always denied me. Denied us.” She tilted her face, imposing her will so that the Deep made her eyes open. “Are you not tired of running, Mara? Let’s go back up together. Back up, and out. In flesh and blood.”
She had spent years as the Master’s bloodied puppet, giving out her precious blood – all the while the hum in her stomach came stronger and stronger. She had tried to be free, she had tried to listen to this girl who looked so much like her, save for her too-sharp smile – and she had paid the price of her naïveté when the first of the Master’s customers had his stomach turn into a maw full of teeth.
How many more? If she let her out.
The Deep pressed against her thoughts, trying to drown her. The smell of salt filled her nose and the echoes of the accordions attempted to over-write her worries.
“I might be out of practice,” she growled. “Let’s see if I still got it.”
She focused her will, extending her own hooks into the Deep, and the scene rippled as her heart pulsed. The effort was enough to make her dizzy, but the disappointed look on Xibalba’s face was more than enough reward.
The pier began to bend and crack – the foamy night rippled with blades of sunlight.
“I am going back, alone.” Mara fixed her gaze in that of her double, and then she pushed.