It had been years since she had done this. Mara’s will pressed against the Deep, pulsing outward to reshape it. It crashed like a wave over Xibalba’s imposing bedrock, and the impact made her rattle and take a step back, even as the sunlight above wavered and flickered.
“Ack,” she groaned, reaching for her nose where blood was now starting to spill.
“I hope this reunion could be more pleasant,” Xibalba replied with a sigh, taking a step forward. Mara pulled back, almost at the end of the pier now, swaying over the stormy sea. The echoes of the accordion music reaching from the shores filled her ears just as the sea salt filled her nostrils. She coughed, trying to stay upright, and pulled again, less forceful and more consistent this time.
I want a way out. I’m getting a way out. I need a way out. Show me the way out.
The umbilical cord in her hand pulsed. She tugged at it and felt firmness from above. At least this could work. It had to work, please…
It felt weird to hope, to pray perhaps. To what god could she beg for help or forgiveness?
The Deep was the only divinity she had ever encountered.
And yet, it seemed to grant her that wish. The sunlight focused and created a golden staircase that went up and out, away from the stormy sea and the shore, away from her double who looked at her with a tilted head and a strange look in her eyes.
“Do you hate me so?” She murmured, leaning forward. “And you think your little escapade will work? You have been away from me for too long, Mara.” She held up her middle and index finger.
Mara understood what she was going just a moment too late. She tried to tug on the cord to pull herself up, run on the golden staircase, reach for the upper layer and out, and-
Xibalba snipped her fingers like a scissor.
“Uhnhh!” Mara groaned, falling on her left knee. Up above, the sunlight disappeared, the clouds coming back together as fast as thunder and as sharp as glass. They cut right through her chord.
It slowly fell in front of her, turning into white dust as it disappeared, blown away by the seaward wind.
Mara’s heart, still pumping outside of her, skipped a beat.
“Now we are nice and comfortable inside for the night. We are. We are.”
“What did you do,” Mara gasped, grasping the fallen remnants of her way out. The chord disappeared until nothing remained attached to her belly button. She was left alone with her heart as her only source of light in a world that was collapsing against her.
Why? It did not make sense. Why would Xibalba cut through her only way out? If she wanted to be reborn, she’d have to follow her outside, hitch a ride on her and get outside. It did not make sense.
Mara blinked again, trying to separate herself from that last thought. She had caught herself starting to repeat things already. Twinning them. Xibalba’s influence over her was growing.
“And now how about we enjoy the rain, together?” The other said, widening her arms. A rumble rolled through the clouds and the wind poured scattered rain over her skin and her clothes and her pumping heart. “Together, like we used to do.”
Mara winced at the memory – back when Xibalba had yet to incarnate inside her and she was still only her imaginary friend, she had walked down the seaside town they used to live in, time and time again, listening to the murmur of the sea, the cries of seagulls, and the echoes of accordions playing their silly and sad songs.
“Back then you wouldn’t try to sculpt other’s thoughts, flesh and blood for sport,” Mara spat, standing up. She had to stay calm. It wasn’t the first time she got lost in the Deep. She would have to find her way back home, no matter what.
It still did not make sense. Why lock the two of them down there, while her body was outside the Deep, still alive and alone an-
Oh. Oh no.
Mara bit her lip. Xibalba’s smile widened in a grin.
“It was perhaps a bit too much to hope you wouldn’t understand. Understand you may do, but it changes nothing.”
Her body, out there, was not alone.
If Caterina had ingested her Rubedo, she was also under the influence of Xibalba. With her body out of commission like that, she could…
“It won’t work,” Mara growled, extending her hand out and then pulling in, as if rein a long line of threads. “I will make sure of it.”
She pulled, and the world responded. The Deep could answer to her only slightly, and she had to be reckless and violent if she wanted to escape Xibalba. With a noise like shredding paper, she pulled so hard the scenery between them changed – the effort rattled in her mind, making her eyes pull in with pressure and her throat seize at the strain.
But the scene with the sea and the shore and the pier and her double shivered and a black hole appeared right beneath her. She fell and fell and fell – and the last thing she saw was her own face looking down at her with pity.
Mara walked in the darkness.
Holding up her heart, she tried to make out where she was now. This layer looked peaceful enough, but it was treacherous: only the part that her heart lit up seemed to belong to reality. She saw the curves and rough wrinkles of some sort of terrain built out of desiccated skin, pulled awkwardly over dried flesh and bent bones that seemed to have grown too thick for it to pan over.
From time to time, a faint hush reached her eyes, but if she turned, she always found nothing there. The air smelled foul, like burned metal.
She had no idea what kind of layer this was – the Deep had an end, a bottom, but she really did not want to go there.
The one thing she knew was that it spread in sphere against sphere, each of the layers grinding upon each other.
But not even the Master would have been able to tell her the actual structure of the place, admitted it could be called a place.
Maybe not even Xibalba knew every passage, and she had been trapped here since the moment of Mara’s birth.
“I have to get out,” Mara repeated, trying to focus her thoughts. It was far too easy for her to lose the path, and it started by allowing her thoughts to just wander meaninglessly.
As she would soon do. Her heart was growing faint.
And Xibalba did not even need to chase after her, she’d just have to wait for her body outside to fall under her influence and then…
“No.” Mara balled her fist, held her heart closer and, closing her eyes, she tried to go back to the first few times she had crossed over the Deep.
Just listen to the pull of your organs, even if they were so far away, and she could only feel the soft rhythm of her heart, she knew where the others were.
They were out there and they were calling to her.
Around Mara’s lonesome form, she heard the finest thread shiver, brushing against the immobile air.
“There!” She grasped the air and when she opened her eyes, she found a thin silver ribbon coiled around her palm.
She tugged, and it went taut. The end seemed to disappear past the layer she was in.
Who knew what she would find on the other end?
But she had to follow it. And hopefully-
Hopefully she’d be faster than Xibalba this time.