Miss Patience’s claws quickly became unwelcome tenants within the various rooms of my body, calling forth no small amount of blood. The cavern wall I flew into was particularly uncomfortable. I could feel a number of my weaker bones crack and snap, which is to be expected when bones pick a fight with stone.
I wasn’t stunned by the blow, as I’m certainly no stranger to the occasional, outlandishly powerful impact, but my inaction seemed to convince my opponent I was a bit more injured than I really was. In actuality, I was still processing all the queen had said to me. Could she even be trusted with the contents of her own story? Did she really know what had actually happened to her? Or might she be so pure and beautiful a monster that there was nary a fiber of reality woven into the fabric of her soul?
For the most part, her beauty lived in her appearance, if not her appetite—at least not the philosophy behind her appetite, as she presented it. I speculated that her strict diet of Darkness-infected meals was the means by which she acquired her most conspicuous and attractive features, as the Darkness must have progressively seasoned her soul with its protean flavors of nightmare and wonder. If my thesis was correct—and I had no reason to doubt that it was—then Miss Patience would be better classified as a shadow, rather than the exclusive product of the Great Darkness or the Deadworld. This effectively rendered her the offspring of both. Granted, all of us contain shares of death and darkness, but with much less impressive potency.
I was sure of it—Molly Patience was a hybrid of the Great Darkness and the Deadworld. This fact nullified the cannibal’s previous contention that the Darkness meant nothing to her, thus causing her blindness.
Having untied the philosophical knots that Miss Patience had proffered, it was finally time for me to kill her, once and for all.
The giant cannibal lumbered after me with far less energy than she had previously demonstrated. She may have healed quickly, but surely not completely. It wasn’t terribly difficult for me to evade her clumsy lunge and leap atop her back. My sisters weren’t long at their task of removing the monster’s eyes. It took them only a few additional seconds to slide into the bleeding pits that remained. However, the size of the monster’s head made it difficult for them to complete their job, as her brain was tucked away quite deeply within her enormous skull. Her awful claws were upon me again, raking across my back and shoulders, tearing me from my perch.
The queen spat the blood pouring down her face as she spoke, her voice betraying the pain she was in. “My eyes were mere baubles, I’m better off without them. I’d rather be rid of the foolish things, anyway. They give the wrong impression. I can still see you, little killer. Your fires are still burning plenty bright. If you’d do me the enormous kindness of holding still, I’d like to eat you now. It’s a long climb back to the surface, and I’m going need all the protein I can get!”
Her claws of her left hand only barely missed my face, instead sinking into the boulder beside my head (so much for the predictability of bones picking fights with stone). She retrieved her claws with remarkable ease and wrapped them around my neck. She lifted me from the ground and held me at arm’s length, hoping to disembowel me with her other hand. My sisters flashed their steel smiles, and I dropped to the ground as they severed her claw at the wrist.
“Was your hand a mere bauble, as well?” I asked, using both hands to peel the giant claws from my throat.
“It’ll grow back,” she returned. “That’s not the first hand I’ve lost to a knife.”
The queen was fond of charging at me when a more nuanced battle strategy eluded her, so she came at me again, shrieking. Despite her lack of finesse, she succeeded at crushing me against the boulder with her enormous bulk, pinning me between herself and the unflinching stone. Sisters back in hand, I thrust them into her distended belly. Using the boulder to brace myself, I pushed them forward with all my might, plunging them deeper into the heavy folds of the queen’s gut. She shrieked as my arms delved elbow-deep inside her, my sisters making a playground of her vital organs. The queen shot back reflexively, holding her gushing midsection with her one good hand as she stumbled away, finally collapsing to the ground.
My father’s blackening shadow fell across the prone monstrosity, seeming to add a substantial measure of weight to the queen’s efforts to shrug off gravity. I strode behind Miss Patience as she crawled through piles of glowing embers and sizzling bits of metal, until she finally found a wall to lie against.
“Born of nightmares and fresh apple pies, you are surely a perplexing creature, Black Molly Patience. I must admit that I’ve come to both loathe and admire you, simultaneously and in nearly equal measure. While you may have once been an artifact of the Deadworld, your hunger has made you a tar pit of sorts, filled with the fossils of the bygone Darkness. You are, after all, what you eat.”
Miss Patience laughed, little more than a gurgle. “I . . . suppose you might be right, at that. I really hope . . . you win this thing, little killer. You’ll find my kill list in my sleeping chambers. Provided you haven’t blown that to . . . smithereens, too. Though I have a feeling you’ll find it easily enough.” She paused for a moment, grasping ragged breaths. “I really thought I was going to take the prize. I mean, that dream of starving wolves—who better than me to appreciate that? My poor . . . poor beasts. I suppose it’s better that you killed them all. I’d rather not have them outlive me. They’d have no hope of surviving without me.”
Sightless eyes or not, it was hard to gauge her face with their absence, but her voice took on a resigned tone. “I’m . . . flattered you held me in such high regard. I just wish the Darkness had sunk a little deeper into my old, wretched bones. Every time I sat down to a meal of madness, I could feel such wonder filling me. But then I’d swallow . . . and it would all disappear. After the Darkness receded, it became more and more difficult to find meals like the ones I’d enjoyed. Eating became so horribly empty. Worst of all, I forgot the words to my song. Perhaps— “
My Father was quick. I doubt she sensed him coming.
Her corpse was brilliant art, and I would take no credit for it. I left it where it lay, sprawled out and in the middle of a thought.
I made my way through the injured underground. I spied the furtive movements of ancient things as they picked through the ruin for the ripening corpses of cannibals. Apparently, the rot-eaters beneath the earth held no grudge against me for ruining their supply line of meat, which suited me fine. I was eager to be done with cannibals and ghouls and mutants.
A short time later, a slight breeze had found its way into the cave. I saw the queen’s kill list drift across my boot, its names clearly displayed. I picked it up, sat down upon a pile of old bones, and transferred the names to my own list. I crossed off Miss Patience’s less inspired name and moved my eyes to the next.
I couldn’t wait to meet him.
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