As the monolith dragged himself back into the dusty corners, presumably to find a broom and dustpan, Rowan gave Rolly a shove. He’d been rooted in place, only swiveling his head from Mara, to Rufus, to Galbreith’s retreating form, back to Mara. The shove brought him back to himself in a hurry.
“Fuck off,” he threw at Rowan, stepping forward and holding out a hand to pull Mara to her feet and into his arms. He brushed kisses against her temple, tightened his hold when he felt her shaking. She clutched at his arm, rather painfully, with one hand and reached up to massage the bruises on her neck with the other. “Are you okay baby?”
She nodded. “Yeah,” she answered in a hoarse whisper. “Fine. Hurts, though.” She coughed. “Like, shit, it really hurts. Ow.”
He rounded on Rowan. “Did you get your funnies, Rowan? You happy now?”
She lifted a shoulder, let it drop. “I’m never happy and that’s always funny. Not gonna say I’m sorry, if that’s what you’re waiting for. I told you he couldn’t kill her, so….” she let the word peter out, letting him know how much she didn’t care one way or the other.
“Ahem.” Rufus didn’t clear his throat, he literally said the word ‘ahem’. It probably would have been amusing under less dire circumstances. “Since you are already here, in my hallway standing idly with your Rowan, I suppose that you’ve got to take these last few all important steps and get some answers for yourself, yes?”
“Why do you keep calling her our Rowan?” Mara asked him.
Without answering, Rufus turned and disappeared into the gloom behind them, through a plain archway, plainly confident they would follow. He was right, of course, because how could they not?
They entered a cavernous room that was mostly empty, soaring ceilings, windows the size of a barn looking out into a dark night that probably wasn’t the one they were used to seeing. There was one cozily appointed corner, nestled away to their left. A fire burned merrily in greens and blues with licks of yellow to add light to the heat, and Rufus led them towards the furniture arranged around in a semi-circle, as oversized as the room that surrounded it.
Mara climbed onto the cushions of a sofa and turned to sit, legs sticking almost comedically straight out like a toddler sitting at the grown table. Rolly slid in beside her, and Rowan beside him. She returned his glare with a winsome smile, marred slightly by the blackened gums and slightly pointed teeth that he hadn’t noticed until they were nearly face to face.
He opted to look back towards Rufus rather than examine them more closely.
Three expectant faces were now staring at the man who stood, in a fancy purple dressing gown, holding his hands out to the flames, spreading his fingers until they bent almost backward. Fingertip by fingertip, they alighted, his hand a living, terrifying birthday wish in the making. He held them up under his chin as he pivoted to face them, backlighting his face into the grotesque visage of campfire horror stories everywhere.
“Welcome to your nightmare.” He paused for a moment. “Mwah-ha-ha.” He paused for another moment. “I try to pretend that I do that to be funny, but in truth I do wish that I was capable of maniacal laughter. No matter. The nightmare thing, however. This being your nightmare? That is reality. This reality, anyway, where it appears that your Rowan has brought you without your consent, and before I tell you what there is for me to tell you, I believe that first she should explain herself.”