Mona had never felt smaller than she did now, staring up at this being that claimed to be a god.
He was lying, obviously. His presence felt anything but divine. Besides, a god weighing people’s sins and judging them was such a Western, Christian idea.
Mona wasn’t an expert on Christianity, but she didn’t think any part of it involved snake men and giant pendulums.
She tried to swallow her fear, to make her expression defiant as she stared up at the snake being.
“What are you?”
He spoke again in the strange language that wasn’t Hindi, English, or anything else she recognized. Somehow, she understood it.
“I’ve told you before, mortal. I am the almighty Zogzhesh, the decider of your fate.”
“How dare you accuse the great and powerful Zogzhesh? Tremble before the mighty cosmic pendulums of justice!”
Before she could respond, the pendulums began to swing faster, and the strange rushing sensation in her ears picked up until it was loud enough to overwhelm her other senses. She couldn’t see, or feel the strange hot air on her skin. The rushing was all she could perceive.
When the rushing died down enough for her vision to return, the snake man was gone, replaced with the much smaller figure of an older man. His silhouette, the way he held his back and shoulders ramrod-straight, it was all so familiar.
It couldn’t be.
She gasped as the light hit his face.
Her father fixed his eyes on her. He’d been known for his stern expression, but his eyes had always softened when he looked at her–his favorite daughter.
They didn’t soften this time.
“I’m very disappointed in you,” he said.
“I–but why?” was the only reply she could manage.
She felt the threat of tears sting the corners of her eyes.
“Your sister was always going to be a disappointment. But you? You were supposed to make your family proud.”
“I–I always tried–“
“No! What did I always tell you? You decide who you are and what you do. You decide whether to be lazy and irresponsible, or to do something with your life. You failed, and that means you didn’t try. Not enough.”
“But I–I thought–“
“You threw everything away. Your whole family. Abandoned them for her.“
The tears escaped Mona’s eyes and begin to roll down her cheeks.
“I didn’t abandon them. It was CPSI. They put me here,” she said. “And I’m her family too. I was the closest thing to family she had.”
“And you failed her too, didn’t you? You failed everyone you ever cared about, and now you’re here. You have no family left. You’re nothing.”
“What do you think will become of my grandchildren, growing up without a mother?”
Images flashed before Mona’s eyes, images of her children, of Nick and Emily. They were ten years older than they’d been when she’d seen them last, but she couldn’t have mistaken them for anyone else. She saw Emily sleeping her days away, ditching class to get high, screaming at her father that she hated him. Nick, in a filthy apartment bedroom, surrounded by trash and dirty dishes, crying until his voice was hoarse. Emily sitting lethargic on a couch while her keyboard collected dust; she hadn’t played music in months. Missed tests and failed classes. The voices of professors and teachers calling her brilliant children ‘lazy’, ‘irresponsible’, ‘stupid’–
No. No, this was all wrong.
Her children would never end up that way. Her children were stronger than that.
“How dare you,” she said to the thing pretending to be her father.
Mona tried to keep her expression neutral as she faced down the creature who’d turned itself into a mockery of her father.
She wasn’t going to let her composure crack, not in front of 131’s sisters, not in front of the unruly group of college kids and Stanley fabs she’d managed to accumulate, and not in front of this thing.
“Don’t help him with anything,” Mona said to Angelina. “I don’t know what help he thinks you can give him, but he can’t be trusted.”
“I know that!” said Angelina. “But I agreed to help him get home, and he agreed not to eat me or my friends, so I kind of have to.”
The snake man fixed his cold eyes on Mona, flicking his tongue at the air.
“I see you’re still holding a grudge, mortal. You’re so full of anger. What would your father say?”
Mona sheathed her knives, placed them into her bag, and slid her axes from their holsters.
“Mention my father again and see what happens.”
“Well,” said the taller of the Sarah fabs. “This just got a little more exciting.”