I panic. In another fragment of a second the candles flicker back to life, and my eyes adjust. The spirit of Geraldine May has bent down next to Sosostra, cupping her chin in one hand. Sosostra looks every bit the helpless sheep before the starving wolf.
It wasn’t supposed to go quite like this, but then I didn’t know what to expect, exactly. My grandfather never got this far, and I’m not ready to give up just yet.
“Geraldine!” Her eyes shoot up to me, dark amusement dancing behind them. “I offer you her soul. End this madness!” I didn’t realise how desperate I sounded until the words had left my mouth. Inside me I can feel my baby move, and it steadies me.
She laughs. Her hand reaches out for my belly and I try to step back, but I can’t move.
“No.” Her laughter echoes through the room. “I am very much enjoying this show. I have no reason to stop.”
Sosostra must be in unimaginable pain, or maybe her body has begun to grow numb.
“End it. Please.” Her words are almost impossible to make out. How she manages to speak at all is beyond me, but I imagine that Geraldine has something to do with it. Her voice is a bloody gurgle, and has lost all strength – her plea, however, has not. She sounds even more desperate than me, and I suddenly feel the sympathy I couldn’t bring myself to grant her before. My life has been terrible and lonely, until today. But Sosostra has watched her child and every child after that suffer and die in pain. If anyone is ready for this curse to be over, it’s her. “You’ve had your fun. Your family has been avenged many times over.”
Geraldine lifts a hand clouded in a fiery nebula of raw magic, and Sosostra screams. “Don’t talk about my family! You send them all to die!”
“I’m sorry. It was a horrible accident, but it happened so many years ago. The world has changed. I should know, it has changed before my eyes.”
Geraldine’s eyes are a vicious play of hatred and something else. Perhaps on another day I could have believed it to be regret. Perhaps in another person…
Her voice has lost its confidence when she speaks. “And you think a simple apology will bring them back?” She sounds as desperate as Sosostra, dying to have something that’s been out of her reach for a very long time.
“No,” Sosostra says, her face reflecting the regret I thought I heard in Geraldine’s voice. “But neither should it. The world they knew no longer exists.” Sosostra hesitates, and I brace myself for what is to come. “The mother they knew no longer exists.”
A heavy silence fills the room, and I don’t dare speak. If Sosostra is getting anywhere I don’t want to ruin it.
“How dare y-”
“You were a great mother, once. You came to me out of fear and love for your family. You were one of the most caring people I knew. They wouldn’t want this, Geraldine. Their memory deserves better.”
I prepare myself for the inevitable slaughter, and hold my breath. My eyes dart to the people who have listened to me ramble on for the last few hours.
To the closest friends I’ve ever had, besides Gabriel. They look terrified.
But the slaughter doesn’t come. Geraldine and Sosostra stare at each other, and I can’t tell what is going on behind their eyes. Does Sosostra mean what she said, or is she simply hoping to convince Geraldine? Is Geraldine affected by her words, or is she wondering how to hurt her next? How to hurt us next?
“Join them,” Sosostra says. “You must miss them. They miss you, too. They’ve gone without you for long enough.”
Geraldine’s face remains motionless, her eyes are void of all reaction.
“No,” she says, and my heart sinks. “It’s too late for that. You will suffer, as I have suffered.” The malice in her voice is back, and even though her words are no more than whispers they fill the entire room.
Geraldine lifts her hands, and a dark mist surrounds her. The candles flicker, and I run through every possible solution I can think of in my head.
By my feet, Sosostra has grown silent but I doubt that Geraldine has let her go. Her blood is everywhere – a dark pool has gathered around her body and my feet, and has begun to pour out of the circle. In the corner, my visitors have backed away more to distance themselves from it.
Geraldine murmurs something in a language I don’t understand, and pain shoots through me. I scream, wrapping my arms around my belly as I sink to the floor.
My eyes burn, and my hands shake. My legs don’t feel strong enough to support me, but I stand anyway. I refuse to die easily. My hands are slippery, and I can’t look at them. Sosostra’s blood has soaked them as well as the wooden floorboards beneath my feet.
And just like that, I know what to do.
Sosostra’s blood. It’s the key I need.
Geraldine is standing in the same pool of blood. If this isn’t good enough, nothing will be.
“Geraldine May, I banish thee.” My voice is shaking, but I don’t try to steady it. I need all my strength for the spell.
Geraldine looks at me, and grins. “Silly girl! You will continue to suffer just like-” She freezes, and her eyes go wide.
It is my turn to grin. “Geraldine May, I banish thee. With this blood, I send you to the Nether. With this blood, I lift your curse upon my family!”
The room fills with a bright light, and for a moment I’m blind. I think I hear her scream, and it is no human sound. When the light finally fades and my eyes adjust, Geraldine is gone and Sosostra lies still on the floor. I don’t need to feel her pulse to know that she is dead.
The implications make it nearly impossible to breath. My hand flies to the back of my neck, and I rush to the closest mirror. I have to twist my neck uncomfortably, but I can see just enough.
The mark is gone.
The mark, which has branded me as cursed for my entire life, is gone.
I can’t help myself. I cry.