“Hop hop hop!” says Elisabet.
“Hide in shadows!”
Elisabet deforms into a protoplasmic blob of murky substance that flails its way into a nearby shadow and is gone.
Then she emerges from the shadow, taking form as herself again.
“Hop hop hop!”
She walks into the room at the base of Gargamel’s tower. It is a room with many entrances. The entrance opposite her is a door, which opens. Manfred stands there, silhouetted against the light.
“Ack!” shrieks Elisabet. She flails back towards the entrance, eight shuriken winging from her hands towards Manfred. She stumbles a little, because the room has an unexpected gutter around its circular edge.
Manfred slams the door. The shuriken stick into the wood.
There’s a pause.
Slowly, Manfred opens the door again.
Elisabet waits there, tensely, afraid.
Manfred sighs. He shakes his head. “I’ll visit father later,” he says.
He closes the door. His footsteps loud, then ever softer, he walks away.
An Unclean Legacy
The Soulless Girl
Christine and Sophie meet along the road from Tantrevalles to Gargamel.
Sophie is trudging, slowly, with a travel bag over her shoulder. In the distance, behind her, she can hear a clamoring and clanging as of smith-gods on their anvils. In between the bursts of metallic sound there is the silence of the night and an occasional high-pitched whistling scream.
It is getting closer.
“Heck,” says Sophie.
She steps to the side of the road, but she does not step off of it.
Soon Christine’s house hoves into view. It runs clangorously on its three great iron legs. Steam pours from its chimneys into the cloudless night. The lights through its windows are red.
There is a fourth limb, a sickle-limb, crooked and sharp. When there are branches that overhang the road, it cuts them down and knocks them out of the way. When trees pack too closely around the road, it severs them at the root.
As the house passes Sophie, its sickle-limb cuts down the tree to Sophie’s left, the tree behind her, and the tree to her right with one great sweeping blow.
And . . .
Once upon a time there was a girl whom the Devil liked.
There aren’t many girls whom the Devil likes. Most people have a calling to God and a fear of the Pit. No matter what he does, there’s always the taint of good clinging to their souls. But this one didn’t even have a soul.
Her name was Sophie.
Her family kept her safe from the Devil’s whispers for many years. They taught her goodness. They turned away the Devil when he called.
They gave her guidance, but they always wondered:
Is that what’s best for her?
Is there a point in saving a soulless girl for God?
One day Sophie rejected them. She turned her back on her sister and her kin and went out to meet the Devil on her own.
Her siblings tried to kill her, sometimes, the soulless girl. They didn’t want the Devil to win. But Sophie was different now, and she just wouldn’t die.
Sophie flickers as the sickle-limb passes through her. For a moment she is not herself. Then she is standing there, pale, in the wake of the blade.
The house shudders to a stop. It hunkers down.
Christine opens the front door.
“Sophie,” says Christine flatly. She’s wearing an apron over her dress. She has flour on her sleeves. She flicks her eyes up and down Sophie’s unhurt form. “I didn’t see you there.”
“I’m all right,” Sophie says.
Christine shakes her head, just a bit, as if resigned. “Going to try for the old man’s legacy?”
“He invited me,” Sophie says.
Christine steps down to the ground. She marches up to Sophie. She taps Sophie’s chest, just under the neck. “You want the power,” she says. “You want the secrets that he’s hoarded all those wicked years in Castle Gargamel. But you won’t ever claim them.”
Sophie’s eyes shift. She looks uneasy. Then her chin comes up and her jaw tightens.
“That’s a mighty high horse you’re on,” Sophie says. “You think you’re going to get his legacy?”
Christine laughs. It’s a disdainful laugh. She steps aside.
“Come in,” she says. “It’s faster than walking.”
They enter the house.
“Sit down,” says Christine.
She gestures at a chair. So Sophie gathers up her skirt and sits.
There are tiny flecks of ash on almost everything in the house—the furniture, the walls, the tapestries. It is surprising to Sophie that none of it is burned. There is palpable heat pushing against her face.
“I have food,” Christine says. “Bread, cake, other things.”
Sophie looks up. “Why would you feed me?”
“Because you’re my sister,” Christine says.
“Bread,” Sophie says.
Christine heads deeper in the house to fetch it.
“I didn’t,” says Sophie, to the empty air. It’s like she’s rehearsing. “I wouldn’t. I don’t have to—”
But there’s just defiant silence left to her by the time Christine returns.
Christine’s house begins once more to run.
What is Christine cooking?
What is Sophie’s secret?
Does Montechristien Gargamel have any mysterious threshing machines?
Don’t forget to read the first three installments of this story, and tune in tomorrow for a must-read Unclean Legacy flashback: “The Blessing Beyond Price!”