The world's last wizards protect the 19th century from their lost parents' nemesis.
|With the first nexus past, and carnal thoughts of Sally fading - somewhat, anyway - Trevor could think again, for the moment at least. The effects of the second nexus were only beginning to make themselves felt, but he knew that they would become every bit as intense as the first. Already he felt hungry, and at the same time, he felt uncomfortably full. As the first nexus had been the Nexus of Lust, the second would be the Nexus of Gluttony. No doubt they would progress through the entire list of Deadly Sins before they were through.
He wondered why Lily would have designed the labyrinth in this way, and then recalled that, though it was meant to give access to the enemy’s Earthfont, it was conceivable that he might somehow use it to access Lily’s Earthfont. Thus, the nexuses were wards against intrusion. No doubt they would be far worse to pass through from the other direction.
As he swallowed phantom food and his stomach swelled while his compulsion to eat became more and more profound, he continued to pace forward. Across from him, Sally, looking terribly uncomfortable, did the same.
Heath’s wife was moving forward with him, pace for pace, and though she looked a bit nauseous, he could see the concentration she applied to the task etched upon her delicate features. She was truly magnificent. He felt a frisson of lust as he watched her, and pulled quickly back from that line of thought. Surely it was simply a leftover impulse from the first nexus…
He forced his eyes away from her and his mind back onto his own task: eating. He ate everything he had ever liked to eat as a child: cakes and cookies and flakey, sugary confections and gooey trifles by the bucketful, candies, chocolate and fruit jam, and his favorite: strawberries and whipped cream on yellow sponge cake.
The binge progressed to other things, savory foods that he came to enjoy as his tastes developed: meats - beef and pork and poultry and fish, prepared in all the delicious ways the chefs of Europe had invented; eggs and cheese and tart pickled vegetables, creamy sauces and an infinity of breads, all fresh and still warm from whatever infernal oven had baked them
And then there were the wines and liquors, and the coffees and teas, and just the simple cow’s milk he had so enjoyed, all consumed in such prodigious quantities that he began to feel as if he would explode.
His entire body felt swollen now, his bulk swayed from side to side with each waddling step, and still he swallowed food. When he looked down at himself, he still looked the same, but he could feel his cheeks puffing up, and rolls of fat bulging out, forcing his arms up and making his thighs squeeze one another as he waddled. He prayed for the ability to vomit, but it all stayed down.
Then the quality of the food itself changed. One after another, live toads and rats and snakes wriggled their way between his jaws and down his gullet. He felt them even after they were inside his stomach, squirming, kicking and scratching at his insides, fighting one another for space inside his distended belly. The feeling of nausea became unbearable, but he could not have vomited even had he the time to stop and indulge himself in that fashion.
He continued to plod forward, sickened and almost blinded by the paradoxical fat around his eyes that blocked his peripheral vision but disappeared when he tried to look directly at it.
His knees and feet hurt abominably, he was having trouble breathing, and his heart was laboring so that he was beginning to fear that it would simply stop beating. Then his foot came down upon the second nexus and he was himself once more. Breathing a sigh of relief, he looked over at Sally, who stood at her nexus opposite him.
They nodded to one another and stepped forth once more.
It felt good to be thin again, but Sally was already feeling the power of the third nexus taking hold of her. It was hard to believe that anything could be worse than what she had already gone through – those creepy-crawlers climbing into her mouth and slithering down her throat was something she never wanted to have to remember, much less endure, ever again. When she got out of this, she was going to find a nice, safe place to hole up with her husband and son, and never, ever come out again.
Except she knew she couldn’t do that. She was too much a woman of means to shut herself up. Besides, now that she was the owner of the Frisky Piebald, her responsibilities went farther than wife and mother. She had to run the business, take care of her employees, real people who depended on the jobs she provided. But she had to figure a way to get people to come back to Rattler’s Fang, or there wasn’t going to be a business left to run. When Gadsden’s silver mine was producing, the Piebald had been a gold mine, that was what. But with the mine played out, the town was empty and so was her saloon.
Then she remembered the solid silver room she had left just before Trevor had brought them to this awful maze. That belonged to her. Miss Lily had willed the Piebald property to her, and whatever was under it belonged to her, too.
She was rich.
A thrill of terror went through her, and her eyes darted over to Trevor. He was the only one who might challenge her claim to the silver. He was dangerous, too. He was fast with those guns, and a magician, to boot. He might just decide to take it all away from her, lock, stock and barrel. She couldn’t let that happen. She wouldn’t let it happen. She’d get Heath to lock him up first, or maybe just shoot him. Yeah. That would be best. Just shoot him.
Then it would be just Heath and her. But, what if Heath decided to take control of everything? He could do that, being her husband and all, and he probably would, too, once he knew just how rich she was. He was a man, wasn’t he? They were all alike, every one of them, thinking they were better suited to handle wealth than a woman was. He’d push her aside and she’d be stuck at home with Little Pete, doing laundry, cleaning the house, and cooking his blasted meals for him!
Well, if he thought for one minute that she’d just meekly step aside so he could take away what was hers, he had another real good think coming to him! She’d fight him! She would stand up and demand her rights!
But, really, what rights did a woman have? Her husband had all of the rights. He could command, and she would be expected to obey. But she wouldn’t let it come to that. She’d… she’d…
She’d kill him first.
Yes… that was it. Like a parasite, the thought slipped into her brain and began to feed. She would head the whole thing off at the pass. Nip it in the bud. Avert it. Fend it off. Stop it a-borning.
She’d kill him before he ever even knew about the silver. He’d never take it from her. Never! After he killed Trevor, she would kill Heath.
Then it would be just her and Little Pete… The dark parasite was growing, its swelling bulk pressing outward. Her head throbbed, and her awful certainty grew. Suddenly she felt searing pain all over her body, as if her skin were being fried like chicken in a skillet, but even the sensation of her flesh cooking on her bones couldn’t take her mind off of her wealth. Little Pete… her sweet little boy… A speck of corruption appeared on the image of his perfect, innocent cheek, grew into an ugly, oozing sore, and her stomach turned over.
Her baby… Surely he was too little to want her silver? But he wouldn’t stay little forever, would he? He’d grow up and be just another grasping, bossy, bull-headed… man. He’d end up casting her aside just like his father would have. Maybe a little more preventative medicine was called for… maybe she should nip him in the bud, too.
As she placed her foot on the third nexus, Sally realized what she was thinking and nearly swooned with horror.
Trevor wanted to lie down and die. It was his fault that the enemy was so strong, his fault that this little town was being wiped out, his fault that Heath and Sally and Little Pete and their friends were endangered.
It was his fault that Lily was dead.
His heart was as heavy as if it were made of lead; his head pounded with each and every one of its ponderous beats. His feet seemed rooted to the floor; with each and every step, he had to tear the hind one loose, heave it up and forward, only to have it plant itself more deeply where he set it down, further along the path. The endless path. Instead of getting nearer with each massive effort, the fourth nexus seemed further away. He would die of old age long before he reached it.
Snakes were slithering all over him; his feet were entangled with them. Their fangs sank into the flesh of his legs, his arms, his throat. Their poison burned in his veins, and his footsteps became even more difficult to manage. The strength to tear them free from the earth and re-plant them was draining from him even more quickly than before. This was hopeless. He was certain that he would fail; that all of the guilt he felt for the past would be nothing beside the regrets to be his in the future. The thought of those future regrets was the only thing that kept him struggling.
When he finally reached it, he knew that much of the despair he was feeling was caused by the fourth nexus, the Nexus of Sloth, but that didn’t make the things he was thinking any less true. It was all his fault, but that was simply more reason for him to keep fighting, to get through the Labyrinth and face Myrddin Moridunum once and for all.
To his great relief, he saw that Sally was still with him, though she looked as if the ordeal was taking its toll upon her. He offered her a smile of support, which she weakly returned. He reminded himself that the only hopeless cause was an abandoned one. The final three nexuses were Anger, Envy and Pride, each of which would offer a formidable challenge. But they had both come this far; he truly believed that there was no obstacle before them that they could not overcome.
As he stepped forward to approach the fifth nexus, the Nexus of Anger, he began to plan his attack.