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Behind the Wallpaper

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"The front pattern does move - and no wonder! The woman behind shakes it! Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind, and sometimes only one . . ." - Charlotte Perkins Gilman, "The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories"

***

Are green and spring up again . . .

***

You open a door.

***

You leave the conjured scorpion on Malcolm's knee, but it's barely a moment before he brushes it away and lunges for you.

Physical combat has never been your area of expertise, it's only a matter of time. Laboured breaths - flash-memories of riding him, fucking him as sweet and delighted as you've ever wanted a man (which is to say, not often and not much, but he had been exceptional). His hands wrap around your throat instead of your hips, pressing into the delicate flesh, and you laugh.

"You won't have her," he growls, and you laugh again.

"Your girl?" you ask, and he tries to snap your neck before you get a knee between his legs. Winded and in pain, he's still a damn sight stronger than you and he has a hand back around your throat in two breaths. "Your daughter?"

As if she's been conjured, Miss Ives shouts his name from across the room, then switches to the Language. She has enough power to blow out the windows, shatter the glass, and snap something deep within you. You reach for the place inside you where the Master's power resides, call the Language to your tongue, and find neither.

You are alone.

You are powerless once again.

And as you find out, Malcolm had spoken true - he snaps your neck laughing.

My breath is earthly strong . . .

***

You open a door.

***

Miss Ives awaits you, clad in somber black and with a banked inferno in her eyes. You can nearly feel the flesh melting off her back like it did that night, and the reminder makes you smile. She doesn't like that.

"You took one person I loved from me," she says, teeth bared wolf-sharp. "I won't let you have another."

And you scoff, draw a fingertip across the blade on your ring. Her blood will paint the floors of this house, one way or another.

"Love, little girl?" you ask, and she growls. "I loved my sister more than you ever could."

"You killed her," Vanessa snarls, and you flick the blade out. Every word she speaks is in the Language, it beats depthless-hollow in your ears. She fights it, the words of the Verbis Diablo; it isn't easy in her mouth as it is in yours, and you want to laugh yourself sick. As if it'll be enough to save her from the Master. "Joan. Your-"

"Speak not her name," you spit, peasant French startled from your lips. Vanessa cocks her head in surprise. "That limping, age-bloated pathetic creature I had burnt alive was not my sister. My Jeanne would have boiled you in your own skin and laughed while she did it."

The girl's breath catches, and you give her a memory to prove it: Jeanne at a rite, so long ago that you were both still mortal, young and strong, her blonde hair shining in the moonlight, drawing a knife over the flesh of her arm, chanting to the Master. Too much emotion in it - you've refused to think of her for nearly two decades and it is because despite all, she was your sister.

You hiss a few words of the Language, and it staggers Vanessa. Makes her knees buckle, and you do laugh. Chant louder, bring the girl to her knees, and perhaps this was what you needed; to remember Jeanne as she was, to remember being Aveline, to say "never again".

The dagger up your sleeve is suddenly gone, and you look down to find it embedded in your stomach.

Hecate giggles, kisses your lips as you struggle for breath. You should have known this day would come, when the first among your daughters would try to outlive her mother. You should have prepared.

And if you kiss my cold clay lips, your days will not be long . . .

***

You open a door.

***

You know as soon as you see Sir Malcolm's servant.

It shouldn't have been possible, Malcolm escaping the sympathetic magic, surviving the possession. He didn't fight off your influence alone - he'd had help, and it had been this man. Tall and dark, sin-drenched scars across his cheeks. His aura beats in your head, and it's pure, untainted. Such goodness in such a man, and you draw your dagger as he unsheathes his knives.

He's skilled and he's fast, and while you have the Master on your side, all the dark magic in the world cannot withstand a blessed blade sliding between your ribs. The man catches you as you fall, and lays you gently on the floor.

"You won't save him a second time," you whisper, blood filling your mouth, trailing from your lips.

The man tilts his head, and retrieves his knife. "I save him every time. It is my curse, madame. My curse or his, and one your spellcraft cannot overpower."

You would laugh, if you had the breath.

Your daughter laughs for you, somewhere down in the doll chamber, and you hope she slithers her way out of this mess.

 

When will we meet again, sweetheart?

***

You open a door.

***

The stone floor is cold on your knees as you weep for Malcolm.

It is mostly pretense - you know this and he knows this - but for the magic to be binding, there must be truth and there must be sacrifice. Your tears fall chill and silent down your face, and the small void within your chest where your heart once was begins to warm.

He does not speak, but the flutter of his mind against yours tells you that you nearly have him. It has taken far longer than it should have, and this makes you feel a sort of absent affection for him - that he has the strength to resist again and again.

"No more guilt," you say, and he closes his eyes in pain. "No children to save, or to kill. No more choices, my Malcolm. You'll have what you've always wanted - a life of discovery, a life that matters, and you'll have me. You will always have me."

"Forever and a day," he murmurs, wiping the tears from your cheeks.

And he falls so *easily*, so sweetly, between one breath and the next. Looks up at you, acquiescence shining in his eyes. Such eyes on him, your creature. You kiss him, and you can feel his heartbeat pulsing through your veins, hear the whirlwind of his thoughts, and perhaps that's why you don't look for the garrotte that wraps around your throat.

It seems Miss Ives has slipped through your defenses in more ways than one. Malcolm catches you as you struggle, calmly and silently holding you still as you breathe your last, the sound of twin heartbeats fading as your vision goes black.

Dying in Malcolm's arms is not, you think, so bad.

The fairest flower that e’re I saw has withered to a stalk . . .

***

You open a door.

***

The werewolf leaves you alive.

Terrified and alone, you've been stripped of your power and abandoned by the Master. The girl has won, Malcolm is free, and you have nothing left to sustain you.

The fire, when it comes, is a relief. A blessed, beautiful relief.

Your daughter's voice is the last thing you hear, but your sister's name is the last word your lips ever form.

When will we meet again?

***

You open a door.

***

You win.

Your skin feels like it's glowing, your power at its peak. Everything they could have thrown against you, you have fought.

Miss Ives lies beaten on the floor, writhing with the Master's spirit possessing her.

Sir Malcolm and the young doctor lie dead in your psychomanteum, blood on each other's hands, victims of their own weak minds.

Sir Malcolm's servant lies dead at the top of the stairs, throat torn out.

Mr. Lyle lies dead in the corridor, plaything for your daughters and their claws.

The werewolf lies dead at your feet, your dagger protruding from his heart.

You have won, and it's not enough. Time's endless march beats behind your temples, and you think - what next?

There are no new worlds to conquer, not for you.

When the autumn leaves that fall from trees . . .

***

You open a door.

***

You open a door.

***

You open a door.

***

Memento mori, you think, and let the fire take you.