The Killing Cure (Part 27)
He must admit that it is mighty unsettling to have a massive dragon following behind him. A massive dragon, a leaky fish, and a very angry man with an absurdly large hammer. He isn’t sure that he wants to know what form Karl will take on should he have to.
“Things should go smoothly now that we have Dimitrecsu.” Karl comments. “Miranda’s a clever bitch. Powerful too. But we’ve got numbers and combined strength. This shouldn’t be a problem…” He trails off, sparing a skeptical look back at Alcina. “So long as your wife…”
“She’s not my…”
“So long as your wife doesn’t turn on us. That thing,” he jabs his finger at the dragon, “has less restraint than the lady.”
If Alcina has taken any offense to the comment, she doesn’t show any sign of it. Ethan slows his pace until he is walking alongside her. Cautiously he holds a hand to her side. He can’t suppress a shudder; gone is the inviting warmth that he is used to. That soft, wrinkled skin with all of its stretchmarks and blemishes. In its place is something scaly and unpleasantly cool. That sort of coldness that feels almost wet. He has to rub his fingers together to make sure that they are dry. He puts his hand back against what he assumes is the dragon’s side, truth be told, he isn’t sure what he is touching. “She won’t turn on us.” He says with more confidence than he actually feels. Mostly he hopes that a false confidence will sway Alcina more fully back to his side. “She wants to keep her daughters safe and she knows that stopping Miranda is the best way to do it.”
“She can speak for herself.” The dragon growls and he flinches. “As long as my children are safe, so are you and Moreau.”
“What about Karl?”
“Heisenberg will never be safe from me.”
Karl comes to an abrupt halt. “Now you listen here, you overgrown lizard! I’m the brains of this operation, I’ve been plotting this since we got Winter’s in our sight. If you kill me the bird bitch will win and we’ll be having some American ground beef for dinner with a side of fishsticks.”
“You couldn’t even keep track of the Giant’s Chalice.”
Karl scoffs. “We have the Chalice.” Despite the boldness of his declaration, his face falls. He moves his sunglasses down the bridge of his noes and peers over them. “Say Winters you did happen to grab the chalice, did you?”
“The one that you should have gotten after putting the four flasks in place?”
“There was a chalice?” He grimaces.
“Oh yes!” Salvatore squeals. “I saw it! I definitely saw a chalice sitting righ there!”
“Why didn’t you say something?” He shouts loudly enough to shake Miranda from her hyperbolic nest.
“Oh...uh...well...I didn’t think of it.” He stutters.”And you looked awfully occupied anyways.” He seems to shrinks under the combined weight of his siblings’ glares.
“You foolish manthing!” Alcina roars. “You yell at me for forgetting to tell you about the flasks and then you forget them yourself!”
Only she can induce such a full body cringe. She and the truth.
“You’re working with Mother Miranda, aren’t you Winters!? You’re the traitor. It was your plan all along to coax me to…”
“Okay, okay.” He lifts his hands. “I was being a paranoid asshole, I get it.”
“Yes!” He throws his hands completely into the air. “Yes, I’m the most idiotic of all manthings. Can we save the fighting for after we face Mother Miranda?”
“Maybe if you two can shut the fuck up long enough for us to get our shit together we can find her and get this over with.”
“Where is she, Alcina.” Ethan asks.
With all of the shouting that they had been doing, he can only hope that she didn’t flee. With any luck she will think that they are arguing with one another, that Alcina is tearing him apart. Instead the woman leads him through a tangle of root and mold. He can smell the stale, earthy musk all around him.
Can hear the roots shifting and the crackle of a fire.
His heart sizes.
He can hear her crying.
Her wails echo around the ceremony site, carried on a frigid breeze into a cruel, cold night.
“She’s still alive.” He notes quietly.
“Of course she’s alive. Her body is anyways.” Alcina comments coldly. “She’s a vessel for Eva.”
He swallows. So he is too late. Too late and perhaps only by a few minutes--the minutes it had taken him to coax Alcina to stand down and let him through. He glares back at the dragon, at what remains of the woman she was. He should level his gun with her head and fire until the dragon topples. “She’s gone because of you. I protected your daughters...I spared them and you got my daughter…”
“She’s still alive.”
“But she’s not my daughter anymore!”
The world around him seems to freeze, the mold wriggles and writhes. And he knows that Mother Miranda is staring at him. The mold seems to close in around him. And Rosemary screeches.
“She sounds like your daughter. She cried like that when she first got here.”
God, he hopes that she is right or he will torch this village and everything in it himself.
“I gave you strength, a purpose and this is how you repay me?” On the best of days, Miranda is about as frosty as the village has been this time of year. Today certainly isn’t one such day. Today she is a raging blizzard, all wind and shards.
She nestles Rose back into a cocoon of mold.
“Purpose…” Alcina mumbles to herself. She has been given a purpose she just can’t say for certain if it is a meaningful purpose. She wonders if it is better to have a meaningless purpose or none at all--most likely the two are synonymous. She stares down the length of yet another form she can’t escape. Another form that she hates to look upon. But she supposes that it is strong.
“Yes, purpose. I gave you strength to fulfill your purpose and you let Mister Winters intrude upon my work.” Miranda’s eyes stray from her and Alcina realizes that she is addressing Heisenberg and Moreau as well.
She can’t explain it but it makes her heart ache.
She opens her mouth to speak only for a gunshot to blow the words away. Miranda lifts a hand to her chest, red-black fluid spurts between her fingers. Her impassive demeanor finally crumbles, “you wretched man!”
Her head falls back, her body hunches and sways.
And when she rises back to her full height her eyes are oozing.
“What the fuck?” Ethan hisses as Miranda throws her arms up. The mold rises and Heisenberg beats it back with his hammer while Alcina claws it away.
“Would you like to transform, Heisenberg?” She snarls.
“Don’t tell me what to do, woman!” He snaps. “I know when to…” the mold lashes out and gives him a sturdy lashing. She hears his body thud several feet away before the strand of mold puts a welt upon her skin. She severs it and charges towards the next.
Miranda rises again, a horrific amalgamation of wing, mold, and hatred. Hatred that ebbs off of her as freely as blackness runs down her cheeks. The gun is popping persistently now. Persistently and terrifically uselessly.
Heisenberg too rises and with a height that, though still measly, is more comparable to her own. The loud humming whir of a massive chainsaw adds to instruments to the voice of the gun. She wonders where Moreau has gone off to. She imagines that he is slinked off to a corner that the fire has not yet reached. She doesn’t know why they had brought him along at all--he is useless with not a droplet of water in sight.
Heisenberg severs mold as Miranda tosses it in Ethan’s direction.
“What are you waiting for, attack!” Heisenberg demands.
But she is still torn. She could make good on her word and devour Winters whole right now. He won’t have time to react, she will give him just enough of it to register her decision and rue the day he scorned her.
She swipes at another curtain of thrashing mold only to hear Miranda screech. Alcina tenses, her claws...they are bloodied. And Miranda lingers several feet from her, bicep spraying blood like the blow of a whale.
“How dare you!?”
Alcina doesn’t know…
She hadn’t intended…
“Mother Miranda.” She says as quietly as this form allows.
“You ungrateful beast.”
She is a beast. She always has been. She has been a beast to everyone but Mother Miranda who had sworn that she was a creation to be marveled at, to be envied no matter which form she took on. And it was a lie. A gorgeous lie spoken by a pretty, eloquent tongue.
“I am grateful.” She lies. “Let me pr--”
Mother Miranda sneers, “do you really think that you are important?”
Emotions bombard her all at once, they swirl about too rapidly for her to latch on to any one. She is humiliated and guilty for a heartbeat and then she is leathally enraged. And in another flicker, for a flicker, she is a depressed, sorry thing. And sorrow is swept away for petrifying fear. And the cycle repeats rapidly and out of order.
Miranda swoops in closer. “You aren’t special, Dimitrescu. You never were.” Only her Eva is special, there never was any room in her heart for any other fool who’d buy her spials. “You, Donna, Heisenberg, and Moreau--you’re all on the same level.”
And finally it settles in that Winters is right. He had been right all along. And if he is a complete dolt, then what does that make her?
A mindless beast, at least that’s what she has been reduced to. She thinks that she was more or less a mindless beast for years--as much of a puppet as Angie.
“You’ve outgrown your use.”
Finally an emotion settles. Two of them settle. And they settle with equality--there is hurt and there is unrestrained fury.
The dragon’s maw opens wide and she screams. Screams until her lungs may tear just the way her body does every time she takes a step. Miranda hasn’t given her power at all, she has given her death--a body that will outgrow itself until it breaks. A body that will split and tear by the time Miranda has no use for her. The woman is cunning indeed, it would have worked so well had Alcina not turned on her so soon. All this time she had been a thing to throw away.
Briefly she wonders about Heisenberg--a man and a machine. A collection of parts--probably spare bits and broken cogs. He had been assembled to discard. Destined to be reduced to a pile of scrap metal left to rust. Trash and clutter in a most literal sense.
Moreau had been a failure through and through a ball of slime and scales, deformed beyond recognition. She thinks that Miranda hadn’t bothered with him because she assumed that the pathetic thing would just shrivel up and die the same death as a beached whale in the smoldering sun.
And Donna. She was made to break, to fall apart with her strings tangled. A manipulator manipulated. Donna has always been delicate in a way that the others were not. Gentle and solitary she truly was but a doll to Miranda. A thing with a role to play until the story got old and she too got tossed under the bed--well used and missing pieces.
They were all made to be Eva and to wither away if they weren’t compatible. Wither away, just on time for the woman’s real daughter to take their places.
This time what she unleashes is a howl of pure rage. She swipes her claws at ‘mother’. And mother batters her with mold. She draws upon the megamycete’s power. It showers over Alcina in vicious bursts of gold. Heisenberg saws through the worst of it.
The gunshots are louder now, their blasts more powerful. He must have swapped guns. She thinks that he is just firing at this point because now and then the bullets find her flesh or ricochet off of Heisenberg.
Miranda stikes her with her wings. She throws Winters back. Back and perilously close to Heisenberg’s saw. Alcina ducks under it as he moves it away from the incoming Ethan. In the process he severs one of her tendrils. She roars in pain cursing the man with more vigor than usual. Miranda slams into her and she topples hard. Mold tangles itself in her wings, ties her tendrils in knots. Alcina shouts her voice raw. She is anguished, frustrated, and resentful. And she thinks that this is how she will die.
“Alright, you bitch, it’s time to die. I’ve always wanted to snap a bird’s neck.”
Miranda looks back in time to see his blade whirring towards her neck. Ethan takes aim and unloads his gun into her falling head and into her chest.
Her head crystalizes first, crumbling into a fine, glittering dust. So too does her body. And the world around them. Mold falls and disintegrates like the snow she has gotten used to.
She hears the wail of a baby…
She remembers when she held her daughters for the first time.
The dragon falls and he is torn between she and Rose.
Behind him, Heisenberg is crumbling in his own way and for a moment Ethan thinks that he is fading with the mold. But then man steps out of machine. “Ah fuck.” He rubs the back of his head. “Gonna have to get me some new parts. Where the fuck are you, Salavatore?”
Ethan, breathless and bleeding scoops Rose into his arms. Once she is nestled there, he pours a green potion over the worst of his wounds as his own share of mold closes the others. He rocks Rose back and forth until she finally falls into a hush. He could cry, he thinks that he already is. How wonderful it is to have her in his arms again. To feel her kicking and squirming as she babbles and coos.
“Son of a bitch!”
And just like that, Rose is wailing once more. Had Karl not been so helpful, he might have murdered the man then and there. His attention turns to pounding boots of Chris and his Hound Wolf Squad. He hears the uniformed click of several guns. “Wait!” Ethan shouts. “Don’t shoot him!”
Chris holds up a hand and steps forward. “He’s the enemy.”
Ethan shakes his head. “He helped me, they all did. Well, Salvatore mostly just hid behind a tree and Donna isn’t here but they stayed out of the way. I couldn’t have finished Miranda off without these two.” He gestures to Karl and Alcina.
He cusses to himself as he scrambles over to her. She has curled in on herself, the entirety of her form is still. With his hand in such a horrid state and Rose in his good arm it is a struggle but he climbs the body of the dragon, up her wing, and to the humanoid figure affixed to it. Her eyes, already a silvery shade of death are hazy.
“Winters?” Her voice is raspy and sad.
“Yeah, I’m here.” He smiles weakly.
“It took you long enough to remember me. I thought that you wouldn’t.”
He thought that it would be much harder to find Alcina when looking upon the dragon. He was dreadfully wrong--her eyes are the same. That expression is the same. In fact he finds that he can only see the Alcina that he has come to cherish. And the Alcina that he has come to cherish is growing dim.
“Tell me that you don’t hate me.”
“I don’t hate you!” He says quickly. “I promise, I don’t.”
“How can you not? Look at me.”
“I like looking at you.” He smiles. He had very much planned on looking at her day in and day out.
He had grown attached to the scenarios in his head, the one where he hands Rose to Alcina and she cradles and coos at the baby. The one where he reads bedtime stories to not just one but four children. The one where Alcina’s smile lines are beautifully prominent--he likes to imagine that she’d smile more with a baby in her arms. She seems to have a soft spot for them. Sometimes The Duke is in his daydreams cracking the same annoying jokes. And sometimes the other three lords join them and het gets to listen to the back and forth between Karl and Alcina.
Most of the time Mia is there too; most of the time he watches she and Alcina bond over Rose and over Alcina’s daughters.
He has many daydreams and each and everyone of them begins to crumble as Alcina seems to grow weaker still. As her head begins to droop and her tendrils seem to shrivel. He cups her cheek, “don’t do that, we haven’t had a chance to make up yet.” He longs to reach for her hand but she has no hands to hold right now.
God, he hopes that it is only the body of the dragon that is crumbling. That once it crystalizes or sloughs away, he can pull Dimitrescu as he knows her from its shriveled husk.
“You’re going to be alright.” He murmurs to her. “Here, drink this.” Admittedly, he has never tried to drink the green medicine. He has never dared to test the effects of doing so. But Alcina has nothing to lose so he empties it into her mouth.
She seems to shudder, the stuff probably tastes awful.
Her consciousness wanes but he can see that her regenerative abilities are beginning to kick in. He squeezes her tightly and holds Rose close.
It’ll be fine, he assures himself, they will be a family.