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The Soul of a Queen

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Alma fell backwards, landing with an undignified thump on her rear. Kamila squeaked in surprise, crossbow jerked up in a panic so as not to shoot her mother by mistake.

“Uh… Mama?”

Alma fumed. “He threw me out! That… that—” She got to her feet, stomped around in a circle, overcome with fury. “Ah! How dare he—” she looked down at the ball gown and gloves, persistent beyond Jowd’s dream. She sputtered in incoherent rage, reached up to her head, plucked off and threw the diadem still bound around her temples as far as possible.

Kamila stood, unsure what to say. She’d never seen her mother so incensed. Alma had always been kind, quiet, dignified. This woman kicking at her father’s feet was an alien, a virago Kamila was suddenly glad wasn’t focused on her.

Alma made a concerted effort, drew herself up and closed her eyes. “Just a moment.”

She breathed: four in, hold four, four out, still for four. Again and again, until she had regained a modicum of calm. The ball gown reformed into armor and the sword returned to her side.

“All right.” She turned to Kamila, eyes closed in forced tranquility. “You did say your uncle was also here?”

Kamila nodded, eyes wide.

Her eyes snapped open, burning with new purpose. “We need to find him.”

She pointed her fingers, snapped. A wheelbarrow appeared from nothing. “All right. Help me move your father.”

Kamila scrambled. If her mother could control this dreamworld to that extent—well, it was best not to speculate what else she might pull out of thin air. Between them, they managed to tump Jowd’s body into the barrow and set out yet again.

Hours later, they were forced to stop. Hunger and thirst didn’t exist here, but fatigue certainly did. They had seen the two small children over and over again, beckoning them onward. Every time they looked at Jowd, their hearts stilled. His face was being overtaken by the mask. It appeared to be coalescing from his flesh and seemed to settle more tightly to his skin with every shallow breath.

Kamila had tried, herself, to enter his dream, but had, too, been tossed out, similarly upset and lips tight around words she couldn’t figure out how to say. She had looked like a child of five when she was shoved backwards from Jowd’s crumpled body, but had taken a page from her mother’s book and figured quickly how to shape her soul more as she pleased.

“Mama, we’re going in circles. I don’t know where Uncle Cabs is. We need to take a moment.” Kamila stretched her back.

“I suppose you’re right.” Alma sighed and rubbed her temples.

“Oh, you can’t stop now! We’re hungry!” The children had appeared yet again, joined by the final one. “Food! Food! Food!”

Alma shot into stance, ready for attack. “I don’t know what sick game you’re playing. Tell us where Cabanela is! If you want us to go on, we need him.”

“Oh, I agreeee, baby.” The attack came from above, two Cabanelas striking from the sky like his lightning bolts.

One landed facing the children, one facing Alma, Kamila, and Jowd’s body. Mirror images of each other, down to the masks they wore. Kamila glanced back at her father. That mask, too, was identical to the one on her uncles’ faces.

Alma stood, frozen, sword raised. Her voice shook, but she stood proud. “I won’t let you hurt Kamila or Jowd.”

He made an elegant pirouette and danced forward, speaking quietly, “Oh, but you’d let me hurt yooooou, baby? How fitting for those who are miiiine to understand that they are my toys to break.”

“No, I—“ Alma’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t play semantics with me, you insane freak. If I’d known you were here, too, I would have found you first and put you out of your misery.”

The other Cabanela flinched but returned to his guard, saying nothing.

“Ah, but if you did that—“ the first rejoined, eyes sparkling with mirth, “--then you’d never see either one of us agaaain! Or maybe… that’s what you waaaant?”

He bent forward, closer than comfort, leaning his mask to her forehead. “Or will you admit that you wanted meeee all along…?”

“I—no! I never wanted you, you thing.” Alma struck with all her force, driving her blade at his face. The mask cracked. So did the makeup underneath, the façade shattering, leaving a black void. The jester dropped to its knees, raising its hands to its head.

The other Cabanela gasped and fell to his knees, hands raising in mirror image to the diadem bound round his temples, hidden until now behind the mask, which had cracked and fallen away when Alma broke the one on his double.

“Alma, I—“ he began, but pitched forward, landing at the giggling children’s feet. The other fell forward as well, falling over the side of the walkway and disappearing silently into the aether.

Kamila raced forward, shooting a scowl at her mother as she passed. “Dad! Let me help you!” She grabbed the crown, threw it to the ground, and stomped on it with all her fury.

The children stopped giggling. “Dinner’s alllllmost ready!” They began to disappear. “Just a little more seasoning.” As they faded, a final word floated in the air, “Fear and despair is almost the best spice, after all…

Kamila cradled Cabanela’s head, tears dripping from her nose. “Mama, why would you say that to him? Oh, Dad, she didn’t mean it…”

“I didn’t say that to him!” Alma protested. “I said it to the other one. That one!” She pointed to where it had fallen off the walkway. “It’s gone now, I guess.”

Kamila looked, puzzled. “Mama, there was no one else there. Just, um, Uncle Cabs and us and those gross children-things.”

Alma shook her head. This world was beyond fathoming. She drew closer. “You… know about us? Cabanela, Jowd, and me?”

Kamila nodded, blushing just slightly. “Amelie told me years ago.”

“Oh. And, umm… you’re all right with it…?”

“Mama! Of course. You shouldn’t be ashamed of love!” The blush was fiery red now, but she met her mother’s eyes with staunch resolve.

Alma sighed. “Out of the mouths of babes, I suppose.” She sat down, taking Cabanela’s hands into hers, and pressed his fingers to her mouth. “Kamila, can you believe that I saw something--someone else? I wasn’t talking to Cabanela. I was—well, I guess I was speaking to my own insecurities. Does that make sense?” She knew it didn’t. “I promise I’ll never say such a thing again. Will you guard us? I think… I think I’ll need to visit his psyche. And… I’m sorry.”

I don’t need your apologies, Mama. But you better bring Dad back!”

Alma nodded. “I swear.”