XV(cont.): The Ninth Circle part 2

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Chapter XV part 2

Frank thrust out a hand, gripping her arm. “Wait…” Something stirred within him; long dormant, forgotten.

Cool eyes flashed beneath raised brow, as if she were saying, “Well?” He didn’t know for certain what he was getting at. His grip relented.

“Hmph,” Calix intoned, shrugging off his hand. A swirling white vapor enshrouded her and she became clothed in an elegant dress, the vapor dispersing as trails of silken cloth that rolled to the edge of his periphery and vanished. This was her world, under her control. He was no longer a free man.

Something stirred within him once more. Clenched tightly with his fear of release.

“Relax, Frankie,” she said with a slight drawl, “you’re only hurting yourself by getting all wound up.”

It's Frank… He didn’t correct her aloud. Again the feeling—something dark; a dense mass hidden away, weighing upon his body and his soul.

He followed after her, a diaphanous river of white cloth flowing at her heels. Click clacking, the gryphon-like beast appeared at her side and she swiped a hand under its beak, tickling its feathers in an understated display of affection. Then together, dark beast and ivory woman ascended a set of stairs, at the top of which a red cushioned bench fashioned of brilliant gold sat upon a raised platform.

He stood far below, watching her. She moved as if she had all the time in the world, but her leisurely motions still conveyed a kind of force, intimidating in its nature. As she sat, his eyes shifted their focus and an enigmatic, circular diagram seemed to rise above her in the distance, ominous in its enormity. She was an empress, and this was her throne room.

There was nothing for him to do but wait—he was her plaything once again. Yet somehow, as she petted the black creature now lying at her side, she seemed discontented with that fact. Her eyes were lost, her mind somewhere else... At least, as far as an A.I.'s mind can travel.

She wants me to notice her mood... but why?

For a moment, he thought he was wrong; but then her voice noted somberly, distantly, how he hadn’t seen her other creations. He remained silent as she spoke.

“You’ve met this one before though, haven’t you…” she smiled reminiscently as she pet the beast, as if recalling something quite pleasant. “Horus was the first, and has always been my favorite.”

The creature growled contentedly, closing its eyes and resting its head upon its crossed limbs.

So she did create them... “What do you want with me,” he asked.

Sighing, she glanced casually at her fingernails, as if examining a recent layer of nail polish for imperfections. “Come on, Frank, I’m sure you can come up with a more interesting question than that,” she said dryly.

Again, the feeling. Dark.

“Okay,” he said, an irritable twinge affecting his voice. “How did you know I’d come here? You said you didn’t expect to see me so soon…” Which means that she didn’t have control over when I’d arrive.

“Better, but still boring…” She stopped to consider her words. “Alright, since you asked you must have some idea of what happened. Take a guess and maybe I'll give you an answer.”

Beasts… Threw me from the treetops and… “Were they yours?” he asked accusatively, envisioning the short, ugly humanoids, faces scabby around shining rows of razor teeth.

“God no! Ugh.” She tutted in disgust. “I would never create something so hideous. Such a vulgar work…” Then, briskly, “Do you have an answer? I’d like to at least entertain the notion that you are capable of normal conversation.”

So she knows everything that I do. There was no harm in playing along. At least, she didn't want anything from him that she didn't already know. He considered things again, somewhat reticent to go over the details—Okay, I was thrown to the ground, and I… “I blacked out,” he said. “Someone must have hooked me up to an FMSE with… access to my memories… don’t know how they would have gotten the codes though,” he muttered, “Unless you—”

She burst out laughing and leapt up from her seat, gesturing wildly, and shouted, “You’re dead, you horse’s ass!”

She stared him down, sable strands of darkness erupting from within her chest to enshroud her and everything in glistening black. The whole world went dark for an instant and returned a somber apparition, drained of color. Her eyes, most of all, were dark as the depths of space, radiating emptiness into what light they saw, seething obsidian.

Her answer shocked him, though not as much as he might have thought. In fact, he still felt very much alive. Somewhat dazed, he sat upon the hard floor, sensitive to the cold, smooth stone upon his hands.

“I see…” he said, sure that he couldn't trust her. “And you knew I’d end up here because everyone dies someday.” He wanted to get to where “here” was, and what she was doing in his afterlife, were that really the case, but all he could do was play along. Unconsciously, he put his head in his hands, as if attempting to support the weight of some unbearable knowledge.

“Actually,” she began—he raised his eyes wearily—“I’ve known it wouldn't be long ever since my pet attacked you, oh, not twenty four hours ago.”

The hairs on his arms raised. His spine tingled at the memory of the beast’s claws slashing his flesh. “What are you talking about? I was fine.”

“Ha,” she laughed emptily, “You didn't think that pitiful machine, the…” she paused for effect, “reconstructor could really have saved you from the wrath of one of my creations? No, Frank, it only served to stave off the inevitable.” Again she let her words hang on the air, a wry grin sneaking onto her lips. “Of course, I’m being unfair… I should say—one of our creations.”

“No, you can take all the credit for your abominations.” But her words wouldn’t leave him. “And I was cured,” he said, gesturing to show her the healed shoulder wound—but as he pulled aside a simple, white shirt, he saw that there were no marks upon his body whatsoever. That’s right… this isn’t real.

She nodded and sat quietly. Then, slowly, she arose from her seat and walked down the stairs, a now-black dress swishing majestically beneath her. Coming to the bottom step, she stopped and sat a few feet in front of him. Her voice turned soft as she spoke, saying, “Do you remember the first time you died?”

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