Simon gazed unflinchingly into Mortua’s black, hollow eyes and smiled, his expression intentionally ambiguous. “What do you want with me, Your Fatal Majesty?”
She mirrored his unreadable smile but did not speak immediately.
He studied her. Her beauty was equal that of her sister, but her features were stricter, all severely linear and without a trace of mischief. Her white-blond hair was pulled up in a knot on the back of her head, not a single strand out of place. Her lips remained tight together as she smiled, but somehow Simon knew that there were no fangs behind them, only a set of perfectly even white teeth—the thought of which was strangely more menacing than Moriba’s vampirical canines. Mortua looked human. Too human. So perfectly human that it was clear that she was anything but.
“I understand,” she began eventually, “that my dear sister has chosen something of a mission for you, Simon Marandur Edmund. Am I correct?”
“It seems so. To my knowledge, I am the only one to whom she gave the riddle.”
“Indeed. And how goes this riddle you speak of?”
“’Six shall go, three men, three not, all in masks of falsehood wrought, bearing a piece for every queen, into the land of light unseen. Make the three of dreams align, worm shall fall at three, six, nine.’”
“Do you know what it means, child?”
“To some extent.”
“There is more. Moriba did not tell you it in its entirety.”
“And you know the rest now.”
“Perhaps not consciously, but everything you need, you have.” She pointed her skull-topped scepter at his head. “I put it there, only a few moments ago. My art is…subtler…than my sister’s.”
Simon frowned. “The clockwork cat?”
“Yes, child. Speak it. Let the words weave themselves.”
He licked his lips and folded his numb hands beneath his arms. He closed is eyes and began to rock back and forth of the headstone, as if in a trance. “Clockwork cat in a patchwork palace…evil turned the youth in malice…two bonds be made, to be unbroken…master by his heir awoken. Make the three of dreams align, or perish all at three, six, nine.”
She smiled again, mirthlessly. “That is all, child. Farewell, and good luck to you.”
“Wait!” he requested, leaning toward her. “You spared my brother, didn’t you? Why?”
“At the appeal of my sister. She said he would be needed for the issue at hand…and I too wish the end of the Serpent, so I granted it.”
“He’s one of the six, then?”
“That’s what I thought. Thank you, Queen Mortua.”
She nodded once in acknowledgement and faded into the sunlight. There were no marks in the snow where she had stood.