Avalon’s sunlight caught the golden streaks in her hair, turning the dull blonde a vibrant red. Of all the girls he had fished out of the depths, Mireille was certain she was the most beautiful. She turned her petite, freckled face towards him and plucked a curl of hair between her fingers, stroked it, teased it. Him.
“Are you sure there’s nothing I can do to thank you?” she asked, flashing him a knowing smile.
Plenty, he thought and, in his fantasies, she offered it all and more. In his memories, however, he shook his head, turned her down with a sad frown. “I am afraid that would get me into an awful lot of trouble,” he told her. It was the same thing he told all of them. He had no other choice.
But, even if he did, even if he could take every last one of them, his hunger would never be satiated — because he knew they would never compare, not one of them, to her. No one ever could.
The maiden walked a long, low-lit corridor, its ceiling high, arched like the roof of a church. Beside her and in front of her, as if she were both living the memory and watching from afar, Mireille and his companions walked a slow, pondering march. A funeral match.
“You knew the rules,” said one. She didn’t recognise his voice, or his face, but she knew his name was Morgan Penfold. He, like Jonas Mireille, had an almost uncanny look about him, an unnatural, almost sculpted beauty. A synthetic beauty.
“But it—it wasn’t—I didn’t…” protested another — Jory Pryce — who, again, shared that same, pallid, synthetic appearance. “She loved me!”
Mireille chortled. Here, in this place far beyond his lies, his voice took on a darker tone. “She never loved you,” he said. “She was using you to get to the surface, just like the rest of them. All they’re after is kudos.”
“Kudos?” asked the girl with the red-gold hair. “I can give you more than kudos, Jonny.”
He forced that smile, that same, polite smile he always used. “There are rules,” he said.
“Rules?” the octopus squawked, a boisterous gwa-ha-ha. “You poor sod. They could’ve at least chopped yer balls off!”
“It’s no big deal,” he replied, dropping the glowing sphere into the pit. “It’s my job.”
The ape perched the sphere between its tombstone teeth, then bit down. With a harsh crack and a silent scream, the orb shattered, splattering the monster’s face with dripping globules of green ooze. “Some job,” it said, wiping its mouth with the back of its arm. “And what’s in it for you?”
“My work is its own reward.”
The lizard-bird raised an ivory eyebrow. It didn’t believe him. Mireille looked down at the sphere in his hands, the twisting, caged shadow in its synthetic prison. One failure, one moment of weakness, and that would be him.
He watched as the girl with red-gold hair entered the white room and jumped into the chair at its centre. The doctor smiled at her as he swiped through her readouts. “Had a busy night, I see,” he said.
“The usual,” she replied with a smirk. “I ran into that delegation from Malkuth. They don’t get out much, do they?”
“It’s a very stale culture,” said the doctor, as he tilted back her chair until she faced the ceiling. The silk robe clung to her body, accentuating her breasts. Women like her, young and perky, bodies unblemished by motherhood, were always popular with the Malkuthians. The doctor swiped aside another readout. “But that’s the matriarchy for you,” he added. Watching from behind the one-way mirror, Mireille could only smile at the irony.
The Saptamatrikas prefer their subjects to purge their bodies of lust sooner rather than later.