“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”
– Khalil Gibran
Joey gritted her teeth and ran directly underneath the grasp of the Cenobite that emerged at the open gate. She had seen him before, as she had expected. It was the CD throwing former DJ of the Boiler Room.
Tom was ready with a thick shard of bone hurled into the monster’s throat from across the room. Unable to take the time to see the body fall, she had to trust that Tom and Louis would live and get out of the house safely. She couldn’t rely on courage for this mad attempt – it had drowned in the wash of her fear. Conviction was all she had left, that she owed it to Kirsty to help – to give her back her life, as she had given them theirs.
She held no illusions. The bright dream of possibilities opened up by their earlier escape might never be realized, at least not by her. The hordes of Hell would be deployed against her, and their powers were largely unknown. All she had was the horrid artifact: a knife hacked out of an unknown victim, and a Lament Configuration that could seal the gate behind her. Neither of these weapons represented much hope of survival.
The next problem loomed as she faced the first tangle of pathways. How would she find Kirsty, and if she managed to, could they fight their way out again?
Trevor said the strong will forces the configuration. Whatever that means, maybe it will help if I focus on finding her? We needed a way out of that jam and Trevor’s chamber doors opened. Did he do that – or is it possible that our need made it happen? She picked the center path and started down it. Kirsty, I’m here. Where are you? Answer me or find me!
“She’s calling for you,” Xipe Totec intoned, appearing behind Kirsty. The remains in her hand inspired no concern, and the configuration was impotent – unable to send him away or close the Schism that had opened again.
Kirsty whirled, bringing up her weapon between them. “Damn fool,” she muttered. “I got her out.”
“It seems her hunger to meddle has not abated with time. You both have enjoyed a measured peace, but that is ended now.”
“I’ve never called what you left me with ‘peace’. Julia’s helped me kill a lot of your creatures already – but I still want you.”
He smiled, spreading his hands. “At last you admit it. Yet with regret, I must disappoint you. Joey’s desire to help you has made my designs possible again and there is much to do. When the Toymaker is mine, we will speak again of our desires.”
His power removed him instantly from her sight. Reappearing beside Face in the Chamber of the Schism, he gave the order for the hunt to begin.
“Bring me the child of Jack Merchant. Kill any who guard him. Yet beware – they have discovered a way to kill the Hunters and others of lesser stock. It is unknown if they possess the weapons of the Harrowers as well. The Vasa Iniquitatis must survive this battle and ready ourselves for the war to come.”
“What of Grillard? I felt him fall. The whispers of it have traveled far.”
“He was following my instructions. The Engineer will see to him. Kirsty must be shepherded to her destiny, not taken on the threshold, and her imagined victory makes her carelessly bold.”
The Cenobite thespian nodded and stepped through into Chaos, a pair of Hunters following in his wake.
“Face me, damn you!” Kirsty’s voice ricocheted off of the stones. Holding herself still, she calmed her breathing. Joey. Where are you. You have to close the fucking gate.
Rage burned away her fear. She set off again, hunting for anything her adversary might value that she could kill, and calling out to Joey as she went.
Kirsty had begun to alter the Labyrinth whenever it caught her in a dead-end. The walls and patterns of it changed almost eagerly, bending to her will. She didn’t take time to wonder why. If it resisted, she learned that meant another mind was pressing on it.
In those moments, her hate rose, coiling up from her soul like the palpable power the Cenobites controlled. The wall or chamber that concealed her enemies would buckle under her desire to reach them, and over and over they died.
As another corridor shifted, a painfully familiar chamber was revealed. The stained glass window in the ordinary wooden house door depicted a red rose. Behind it, the lights of thousands of candles flickered, but the façade of 55 Lodovico Street couldn’t deceive her anymore.
“Bad choice if you’re trying to slow me down,” she said to whatever sentient being had set the trap. “I already know Frank’s in there. You dangle my father’s house in front of me but I know what you are and in a minute I’ll know where. Show yourself.”
A Cenobite barely dressed in dominatrix gear came through the door, a solemn expression on her alien face. Her lower jaw was held in place by the silver interlocking teeth of zippers that might have been taken from her clothing. The long narrow spikes in her bald head were a disturbing reminder of Hell’s Prince. Her voice was dark and hard.
“You destroy those who would serve you, but the Labyrinth conforms to your will; proof enough you are fated to stand with the Order of the Gash. I can almost see the echo of Merkova in your eyes.”
The sound of the strange word confused her, and Kirsty’s hatred faltered. “What is…?” Steeling herself, she shook her head. This was no time for muddled senses. The S&M leather didn’t fool her, either. This was another warrior. “Who are you?”
“I am called Abigor by some, a member of the Vasa Iniquitatis and the Order of the Gash.”
“Yes, give me names. Aren’t they a way to control others – to harm them?”
“We of the Religion of Sorrows have many names.”
“What is his name – your priest, the Pope, whatever he is – his real name?”
“The Dark Pontiff of Pain, the Suffragor Filius – he was here before time. His names and titles are legion, though he is also called the Nameless One.”
“Bullshit riddles. You’re part of the in-crowd, aren’t you? What do you call him? The truth, Cenobite – I’m tired of playing games.”
“We call him ‘Lord’ – but his favored name means ‘our god, the flayed one’ – Xipe Totec. He is the beloved of Merkova.”
“I hope she-he-it isn’t jealous. He’s been out to make me a playmate for over fifteen years.”
“She is lost. We hope she will find rebirth in you. I can see why he believes it is possible. I have called the great Merkova sister and I call you the same. I would aid you now, if you were to accept your place.”
Possibilities beckoned but she had learned long ago not to trust Cenobites. “Prove yourself. Bring Joey to me. You can feel where she is, I know it.”
The black-ringed blue eyes narrowed a fraction. “She holds the key to the gate. I cannot allow you to close it.”
“Your choice,” Kirsty said and smiled. She raised her spear.
Abigor didn’t attempt to fight her, and when Kirsty struck, the Cenobite had disappeared. Agitated, she paced before the door. For a moment, the desire to see if the weapon would kill Frank gripped her.
That’s probably what they want me to do, waste my time playing with my psycho uncle.
The fate of the world hung in the balance and it had to be madness to think she could stop it. She almost whispered the Cenobite’s name, but then recoiled and struggled to avoid even thinking it – in case it might summon him.
I can’t afford to do that – not until I’m ready. A very human scream in the distance startled her. “Joey. Thank God. I need a distraction that won’t waste my time.”
Knowing it would be the only chance she might ever have to avenge her father, she turned away from the rose door and temptation.
You stole my childhood, Frank – then you destroyed my life. I won’t give you a chance to take anything more from me. You’re already in Hell. They can torture you for eternity; I can only end you once. Rot, you bastard – if you can.
Seric stood beside her seated lord in the Chamber of the Schism. The gate remained open. May the will of Leviathan redeem the mortal error of this husk, she prayed.
“Kirsty Cotton could do us all a great harm,” Abigor reported, standing regal and calm before him, despite her news. “The Labyrinth obeys her will, even aiding her in the taking of many of our servants.”
Seric looked down at her treasured pontiff. It was difficult to know if this distressed or pleased him.
“Minor creatures, none of them are vital to our cause. Daughter,” he didn’t look up at her, but watched the Schism, “go and find your former companions. Bring the configurations to me. Should Leviathan so bless you, make a gift to me of the troublesome babe.”
Nodding, she moved out of the chamber. Behind her, she heard Abigor speak in a careful and respectful tone.
“My lord, I sense that Seric is conflicted and commits the sin of remembrance. If she confronts those who once cared for her, she may falter. The commandments –”
“Are for me to interpret, as the purpose of Leviathan is revealed to me. Seric’s devotion is to the Path of Perfection, and to me. Do you question my judgment in this?”
“Never, my lord.”
“As for the matter of sins, bring Angelique before me.”
Leaving them, Seric used the transference power to take her to Joey. At the first sight of her transformation, the manifestation of Leviathan’s blessings, this woman had choked on the scream that she now allowed to echo through the Labyrinth.
The human who had claimed to be her sire wasn’t with her now. He must have fled into Chaos with Lemarchand’s heir.
Her failure in the matter of the child was a shame she was eager to redeem. Angelique hadn’t succeeded in reclaiming him, but he should have been given to Xipe Totec, not to the human male. The Favored Son had forgiven her that lapse, but Angelique was surely being punished that very moment. Would she be a sacrifice to appease Xipe Totec’s wrath?
Seric advanced on Joey without fear of her weapon. The others brought down with the bones of the damned had been weak, unworthy.
Joey backed into the wall, tears slipping down her face. “Lenore. Oh, God…”
“Weep for your soul, not for the being you knew. I wish now to taste your sweet tears.”
She moved forward again, but stopped in surprise when the stones reordered themselves into an opening, making Joey stumble back. A familiar figure supported her, and then stepped in front of her. The expression evinced regret, but it was overshadowed by a desire for blood.
Seric felt an instant kinship with this flesh – and the longings and dreams Leviathan had shown her troubled her heart. Yet Kirsty was also the chosen, who would have what Seric did not. If Xipe Totec claimed this one, her glory would dim his sight for any other creature.
Jealousy was part of the sin of remembrance Abigor had sensed in her, but Seric felt at a loss to fight it. In moments of such confusion, she feared that the Engineer might have made her unfinished, incapable of the empty serenity of the Order of the Gash.
Anger at the thought twisted her mouth into a cruel smile. “Kirsty… You see how Leviathan has blessed me. Come – have the death you long for, the absolution you’ve sought for so long. It will be my gift to you … my blessing.”
Joey balked as she stared at the monstrous half-flayed creature. Details she wished she could look away from would likely haunt her. Lenore’s perfectly shaped bald head was studded around in a line with gold hooks like a crown, their chains supporting the patterned leather clothing of the Cenobites that hung from her bare white and red shoulders.
The bodice on the flayed side was opened to expose the ribcage, where sharpened ribs, detached from the sternum, had been tipped with gold and gleamed like blades.
Lenore’s eyes were not the empty black of the others. The sapphire irises were huge, the pupils dilated, but they retained a semblance of human emotion.
Joey was pushed through the opening Kirsty had made when the other woman backed away from Lenore.
“Time to go,” Kirsty muttered to her over her shoulder.
“You made the place change – do you know how to get out?”
“I can’t leave yet but you have to. You never should have come back.”
“I had to help you!”
“You helped them. They need Louis and you let them back into the world to hunt him down.”
“Tom has the bones, he’s watching –”
“Shut up. She’s listening, able to report anything we say to her boss. Come on. I have an idea, but we need to get to that overgrown Rubik’s Cube first.”
Kirsty turned and bolted. Joey raced to keep up as the horror that had been Lenore pursued them.
The droning din of Leviathan vibrated in her chest as they ran up a circling ramp to the top of the maze. Holding her bone knife to keep Lenore back, she began to realize that the Cenobite didn’t seem threatened by it at all. Kirsty inspired something close to fear in her, mixed with a deep hatred, but how long could it last?
“This place is dangerous for you,” the Cenobite said to Kirsty. “The Favored Son wanted you brought here.”
“One rock or another barely makes a difference,” Kirsty replied with a snarl. “The whole place is a death trap.”
“The Engineer is eager to receive you. All of your nightmares await you in his chambers below. Leave this place. Give me the box and I will let you run.”
“Xipe Totec is a much better liar than you. Keep near me, Joey. It’s your puzzle box they need.”
Pain struck Joey between the shoulder blades and she cried out, clutching the box to her chest and dropping the bone knife. Stunned, she watched Kirsty turn to face her attacker. The chain pulled, and the agony dropped her to her knees.
“Speak of the devil,” Kirsty said. A mad grimace on her face merely imitated a smile. Placing her configuration under her arm, she reached down and slipped the hook out of Joey’s back.
Turning her head, she saw Kirsty toss it at Pinhead’s feet. Warm blood stuck her borrowed shirt to her back, but she kept her hands on the box that could close the gate to Hell, holding it tightly against her.
Did she … summon him? Why? If I solve the puzzle box, close the gate – Tom and Louis will be safe. Tears fell again. I don’t want to die here, but I can’t leave them at risk. Her fingers had begun to move sluggishly over the six-sided cube when a shadow fell over her.
Joey’s mind was flooded with confusing images. The sensation of falling made her sick for a moment, and then everything was achingly clear. Like drops of water on a burning thirst, all the dreams and wishes of her innermost being washed through her soul.
Long after the shadow passed she knelt, dazed and dreaming, on the ancient stone. The box, forgotten, was held tight in her fingers. A familiar voice called to her faintly, but the words were indistinct and far away.
“Kirsty…” Xipe Totec smiled, savoring the syllables of her name.
“Joey, damn it, close the gate!”
“The revelations of the Black Diamond do not seduce you as they once did. Your understanding of the truth given must be almost complete. Alas, your companion may dream for hours – a pity.”
“Keep your bloody distance, you bastard. I whistled, you came – but I still have one last trick.”
“I do not doubt it. You have become a magnificent being, the spirit of carnage – almost the embodiment of Chaos itself. Yet I know the secrets of your soul, the hunger in your heart; I feel the reckless intent to spend your soul in the destruction of my god. These desires conflict, tearing you – but Leviathan is beyond your understanding, eternal and inviolate.”
“You should have stopped Elliott from giving me your secrets. I can hurt that thing. Maybe it’ll damage you, too.” She lifted the box she held and the spear at once.
“These objects cannot harm me, child.”
Her voice was cold and quiet. “I’m not your fucking child.” The spear was poised for a breathless moment, and then she brought it stabbing down, piercing the configuration through its center.
Xipe Totec staggered as the fearsome blow destroyed a portion of Leviathan’s flesh. A roar of outrage was torn from him as the puzzle box exploded in a flash of blue lightning.
The bone spear’s jagged tip fell with a clatter as Kirsty gripped its shorn and smoking haft.
His cry was echoed in the deafening and broken cadence of Leviathan. The pattern on the diamond’s surface writhed, seeking to reform, to find order and perfection again.
Teeth bared, he summoned chained hooks. They burst out of the stone at Kirsty’s feet and snagged in her body as she screamed, dropping the bone. Still, the light of triumph did not fade from her eyes.
The attack had stunned Seric, as it must have all of his servants. Reaching out, he lifted her to her feet. She turned and stared as the Engineer’s shaft rose behind the pinioned Kirsty.
“My lord,” the acolyte whispered, clutching at him. “You would bring into the Order one who wounds the Perfect Shape?”
Openhanded, he struck her. His strength hurled her body to the foot of the shaft.
The voice of she he’d waited so long to possess taunted him. “Evil turns in upon itself.”
Enraged, he faced the bleeding and defiant Kirsty. “I am son, high priest, and lover of my god. I know his purpose, and speak his will to all. I shall not abide any who oppose that will.” He stepped within inches of her shuddering flesh. “You have not forgotten the hidden things Leviathan showed you in the black light of his blessings. Your blood pounds in your aching veins only when I look upon you. You draw breath without despair only at the sound of my voice. Knowing my touch, your longing twists you into a thing that can wield power in my realm.”
She gasped as the glory of suffering leaked from her eyes. “I will fight you to my last breath…”
“Yet you insist on playing games, rejecting what your soul cries for and offering harm to my god. Kirsty… I might have lured you with pleasures and power to my side, but now I will take the soul you value so little and tear it from this husk. I will show you how the loss of portions of flesh can wound, but not destroy your body, and pain that eclipses all memory of suffering shall be yours.”
Banishing the hooks and winding chains, he caught her as his hands slipped under her jaw. Welling up from the abyss within him, the pain flowed into her, unshackled by the veil of dreams.
The blessing of Leviathan fell over them again, the siren call of it pulling Seric to her feet. Flushed with delicious pain the moment she touched the woman, she tore her rival’s body from her lord’s grasp; the shocking disobedience of the act filled her with shame. Yet the god wanted this husk, and she knew her vision was true when she was given a choice as a reward.
A creation chamber of holy machines had risen to accept the prize. Hauling the woman into it, she held her there and allowed the stings of the Engineer to pierce and punch into both of their bodies. She felt more than heard the woman entreat her companion, but she did not sue for release.
Seric held her beloved lord’s dark gaze as she was taken from him, his pinioned prize cradled in her arms. She watched, afraid, as his pierced alabaster countenance rippled into a chasm of rage, opening to issue a scream that shook her faith.
Indifferent to the Cenobite entrapped with the human, the shaft began to sink down as it had before.
Servant of the Dark Pontifex, Daughter of Hell, had made her choice and it could not be undone. Longing to soothe his rage, she released her fear and gave herself over. She submitted to the blades of him who had remade her with one trembling hope – that she would be transformed again, and made pleasing to her lord … at last.
The power that held Kirsty up entered her with an agony that began to crush all thought or knowledge of herself to dust as the strange world around her crumbled away.
Something sliding inside the pain hooked what was left of her mind and spoke to her of a sickening hope – a possibility unthinkable before. She saw it and recognized it for the abomination it was … but fleeing from the pain, she allowed it to swallow her.
In the midst of a shining dark light, her senses returned all at once, for a flashing heartbeat. She saw Joey rising, released by that same shadow. The remaining configuration and the bone knife were in her hands. Sounds that became her voice whispered to Joey.
Run, destroy the box. Live…
The single heartbeat ceased, the agony driving her past the edges of death. Xipe Totec’s frustrated scream filled the void as she was pierced and torn. She felt her soul again only as it was ripped away.
In its wake, a mind-voice unknown to her spoke comfort. A brief memory of a scorpion-tailed being melted away as she was given over by Leviathan’s shadowed light to the void of emptiness that filled her shell.
The voice, ancient and soothing, whispered to her. The embrace that held what was left eased her into the abyss.
Ah my sister, it is as Leviathan promised. Give over to me all and I shall guide you back to yourself. Behold: the Path of Perfection is yours once more…
Beaten down under the black light, Joey was a helpless witness as Lenore had risen and torn Kirsty’s body from Pinhead’s grasp. As the revolving beam of shadow moved away, she shook her head and fought to stand.
Kirsty was pulled into the horrifying chamber and stabbed alongside the Cenobite who had stolen her. Bloodied lips moving, she had spoken. The voice had echoed around her, yet Joey wasn’t certain she had heard it aloud at all.
Run, destroy the box. Live…
Joey stumbled back away from them, sick and dizzy. The alien scream of Leviathan’s priest shocked her back to reality. Without thought or question, she turned and ran.
When she reached the circular ramp, the first hooked chain sank into her thigh. Crying out, Joey struck it with her blackened knife, tearing the hook out of cloth and flesh.
Oh God, oh God, please… She fell at the bottom, struggled to rise, and ran on down to the next level. The strong will forces the configuration. Kirsty had made it change, moving the gate near them instead of leaving them to search for it. It’s not a question of finding the way out, it’s if I can create a way out where I am.
She skidded to a stop, striking a wall to break her momentum. The Cenobite Pinhead was coming, the horror Kirsty had called ‘Xipe Totec’, the master of all the monsters of Hell. Abruptly, she could almost feel them – hordes of them – in different parts of the Labyrinth around her. The feeling seemed to come from the puzzle box itself.
Concentrating on her will, Joey tried to do what Kirsty had done, but the stones around her would not change.
“Damn it!” Panicking, her thoughts whirled.
A memory of Kirsty’s voice surfaced, telling her about the escape with Tiffany. As Leviathan had changed shapes and the gate closed, the transformation had sent bolts of power across the Labyrinth. They came through the gate as if drawn there, destroying things in explosions of light. The women had … followed them, to find the way.
Why didn’t I see that in Tom’s house, or while Kirsty closed the gate on us before opening it again?
Many of the servants of the Labyrinth had been defeated, if not destroyed, back then. When Kirsty stabbed her puzzle box, Leviathan was … wounded … and sparked with lightning like that. Maybe the damage and the closing of the gate caused the electric surges?
The strong will … or maybe desperation and damage – can affect this place? Kirsty and Tiffany had been at the top of the Labyrinth when Channard was destroyed, not lost in the underworld maze. Joey looked up and startled; a blank wall had changed to stairs, going up. Holy… That’s it – it has to be. Did I make it move?
She shoved the blunt end of her weapon into her waistband and ran up the stairs as shaking fingers began caressing the puzzle box. It started to move the moment she reached the top. Turning to see Leviathan, she winced at the sight of Pinhead.
“Stop!” The voice of the Cenobite was urgent, commanding – but his sick god overhead was still sparking as the patterns on it twisted like black and gold snakes.
Another chain erupted from the floor beneath her, embedding its hook in her shoulder. Whirling, she ran, feeling it tear away. The puzzle box separated, spun, and solved itself in her hands.
At once, the phenomenon Kirsty had described began all around her, as if the transformation was impaired. Joey escaped down the stone path in the direction of the incendiary lights.
Fearing that her heart might burst, or the hooks would catch her and drag her back, she pushed herself past her flagging strength when the gate came into sight. The walls were moving, pulling together to heal the slash between dimensions.
Another chain buried its hook in her back as she fell through the gate. Covering her head with her arms as the lightning orbs exploded in the house, she screamed – only to hear the sound blend horrifically with the inhuman rage behind her that shook the walls of her world. The gate rumbled to a close, snapping the chain that pulled at her and covering her with a shower of dust.
Gasping and bleeding, Joey tried to reach the hook, but failed. She palmed her bone knife and struggled to her knees. She would do what Kirsty had asked of her with her last breath.
Setting the puzzle box on the scorched wooden floor of Tom’s ruined home, she held the weapon over it and closed her eyes.
“For Kirsty,” she whispered. There were no tears left. They would have to forgive her. “For Doc and Terri… Bobbi. For Elliott, and poor Renée… For all of them.” She plunged her knife into the box.
It exploded, scorching her forearms as she threw them up to protect her face. When she dared to look, nothing was left.
“All unravels before me, Lord Leviathan. The Toymaker is lost, Chaos threatens still, and one who knows how to injure the Eternal Pattern has escaped thy servant. I kneel before thee, not in devotion, but supplication. Let thy judgment fall, and if thou will it, set aside thy favor.”
Xipe Totec bent his head before the silent revolving cube. A sound intruded on his prayers and his back stiffened. Who dared?
The shaft of the Engineer was revolving up, rising from his chambers below. Another failure, for the Daughter of Hell had betrayed him with human jealousy. Would she return now, twice made and melded with Kirsty, locking her soul out of reach forever in Seric’s form? He did not turn, or lift his head. Surely Leviathan would cast him down and call another to command his war. He could almost welcome it. Perhaps the intruder had come to deliver the judgment.
A noise as of stone striking against stone rang out behind him. A dark and sonorous voice, full of malevolence, spoke one of his uncounted names like a caress. Unwilling to believe, he raised his head to stare at his god as she spoke again.
“When will you learn, my precious devoted one, that our god will forgive you anything?”
He fell still as she stepped around him. The gleaming black hooves scored the timeless stones before his eyes. Long hair, as dark as her heart, clung to the supple humanoid body’s white thighs and arms, and flowed from a high widow’s peak over her head. The Mohawk fell down her back in a lustrous mane.
Her black eyes stared down into his over the smooth white equine muzzle of bone stitched to the skin of her face. The craved smile split her mouth inside it, the long tongue licking out teasingly.
A narrow short loincloth of black human hair hung on a chain thong, barely hiding the scent of her desire. She was armored in black from knee to hoof, her shoulders covered with heavy black pauldrons on a delicate jeweled gorget. The middle finger of her gloved right hand, ending in a curved serrated blade like a talon, pierced him under his chin.
“On your knees, too. So thoughtful, my beloved.”
She offered her slender fingers to help him to his feet. Xipe Totec bent his head swiftly to kiss the swelling breasts that threatened to escape the narrow strip of laced leather she’d bound them with. His golden pins scraped against her flesh.
“Do you forgive, my sweet? My failure to recover you –”
“Is at an end.” Her gloved fingers slid into his flayed chest as he met her gaze again, burrowing under the skin, the finger blade making the blood flow. “We are eternal, Xipe Totec, Prince of Hell. Even so, you should waste no time showing me I was missed.” The tongue stretched out from the bone to lap his blood as he filled her hungry flesh with searing pain.
Somewhere in the bowels of Chaos beyond their realm a configuration was solved by a soul that sought unearthly pleasures. Leviathan cracked and turned overhead as his Pontifex was pushed down to his knees. The Eternal Pattern was whole once more – as he was.
Erupting from the stone, a chain of razor-edged links pinned him on his back, cutting deep into flesh that thrummed with the pleasure of pain. His hands chose a serrated blade from the cord in his skin with care, and as she brought the angling tongue within reach, he sliced it, feeling her blood bathe his throat as her tongue entered his mouth.
Dark blessings roved over Leviathan’s chosen once more and as they coupled beneath his form, the unbroken song of the Black Diamond resumed.
Kirsty woke from a memory of torment, her screams echoing in a cold chamber of stone. She fought the hands that sought to quiet her, struggled against the chest that tried to still her cries.
“It’s done, it’s over,” a soft voice whispered over her head. “Kirsty, please… Don’t fall back into madness. Be with me now.”
“Yes. Kirsty, look at me.” He released her to allow it.
Shocked, her trembling fingers rose to touch his face. The brilliant blue of his eyes were as warm as his gentle smile.
Confusion filled her. “You’re alive…? You escaped – how?”
The smile faded, his face shadowed by sorrow. “No, I didn’t … and I am … not.” He leaned in and kissed her forehead, drawing her into his arms again.
She fell into sobs. “Oh God… Elliott, I’m so sorry.”
“Ah, Kirsty, no – it was I who failed you. I could never control him, and I lost Lenore long before that.”
“Lenore? Renée… Where is she? Where are we?”
“She is bound to Merkova, as you are. It was her choice; she pulled you away from him and joined you in your fate. Her soul was consumed in tearing the Cenobite from the bonds of death beyond death.”
“But I’m here…”
“The Engineer chose. A mere mortal soul would not have been strong enough. Lenore was a Cenobite already, able to break Merkova’s essence free – but you are bound with her, I’m afraid.”
“How do you know –” Staring up at the grief in his eyes, she faltered. She could almost see the shadow of the Cenobite around him. “You know because you are him. Now, I am … I am her. I’m dead…” She shook her head against his chest. “Then we lost. They’re loose now, both of them.”
“They must abide by the commandments of Hell.”
“Joey!” She sat up, her hands on his shoulders. “Did she –?”
“I will show you how to reach her, in dreams – if you like. You must first be stronger, able to keep her safe from Merkova.”
“Merkova…” Her face twisted and the sobs came again.
Elliott held her, his hand stroking her hair. “Hush…”
“The torment, the punishment … I deserve it. When will they –?”
“You are simply here, with me, as Lenore was. No creature here may punish Merkova. She is … favored.”
“Elliott,” she whispered, hardly daring to hope. Could hope exist in Hell? “I can stay with you, I won’t have to leave, she won’t make me go…?”
“These two are bound, for eternity.”
Bitterness soured her hope. “Soul mates?” she asked with a sneer.
Kirsty studied him for a moment, finding nothing there now but kind sorrow and a glow of warmth for her in his beautiful blue eyes. She sank back onto his chest and felt his arms hold her gently. “Did I ever tell you I love you?”
He didn’t answer immediately, but as her spirit bled softly into his, she could feel his smile – and she already knew his answer.
Merkova stood at the wall, stroking the flesh of the artistry of Kirsty Cotton’s hate.
“It is as exquisite as you promised,” she pronounced.
Turning to face him, she leaned against the wall, allowing the drops of blood to adorn her mane like rubies. She held a roll of thin leather in her left hand, tapping it against her thigh.
Xipe Totec stood silent before her. Merkova’s spirit had consumed the form and essence of the Daughter of Hell utterly, though the shade of Kirsty was an echo in her eyes.
“The artist is restless,” she answered his thought. “It is – distracting.”
“These shadows within are part of the design of Leviathan, showing us the way to defeat Chaos.”
“Hell writhes with anticipation for the coming war. You’ve turned anarchy into order again.”
“The matter of Lemarchand’s heir remains. The gate of his grandfather’s vision waits, impotent.”
“The Toymaker is a child – weak and undefended.” She lifted her fingers to pet the corpses. “We know his blood, his face. In time, we will take him – perhaps to raise him here, learning our pleasures, eager to finish his ancestor’s work for our purpose.”
“His guardians bear knowledge that may endanger the god himself. If we had the means to understand the device of Lemarchand … but I never made a proper study of the design Seric bore, seeing only her potential as lure and weapon.”
“As to that, I am remembered of a gift.” She held out the leather and began to unroll it. “The Engineer saved it for you, but events kept him from bringing it to your attention until now.”
The leather was etched with a dark pattern of ink. Panels in Leviathan’s image enclosed a twisting swirl of lines representing a spinning entrapped light. Smiling, Merkova rolled it again and when he approached, she placed it in his hand. The leather still held the scent of the one he had lost in the creation of the one he loved.
“This is the key,” Xipe Totec breathed. “The placement of a configuration Guardian at the site of the gate and desire seduced to call us there – with this, we can drive Chaos to the Path of Perfection, anointed by blood.”
Merkova’s laughter echoed as she pulled him against her. “The Pontifex is eager for war and that is good. Yet there is much to do and more to learn before this skin can be used against our enemy.”
“My angel,” he whispered. Watched by ten eyes, he succumbed to her hunger, aching to fall under her blades again.
Laying all of his power down, giving himself into her control, he allowed her to bind him against the wall with ropes of viscera and slick flesh. The bladed finger talon of her right hand stabbed into his flayed chest, her long tongue catching the blood and lapping it.
Straightening, she stared into his eyes, letting his blood drip over her hands as she pressed him against the stone and into the intoxicating perfume of flesh. Her voice purred at his ear, full of dark desire.
“We need not hasten – Leviathan is patient, my beloved … and the glory of Order is slow.”