Q_uizzical R_eparation and a S_urprising T_urn of events
The door closed behind her, leaving a hollow in her ears about as large as the one she felt in her mind. Declan had volunteered to join her but she adamantly refused. This was something she had to do alone. Besides, she wasn't quite sure what she would say if she really did meet her father.
Declan assured her he was there. Looking around, Ima wondered exactly where "there" was. It looked like a dungeon. Only it was well furnished with leather and tapestries and silk. The bars on the windows and shackles on the walls were the only indication that she was, indeed, in the dungeon of the enormous house.
"I told you it would be tomorrow before I could have another vial." A voice echoed off the stone walls.
Ima blinked. "Hello?"
A shuffling; then a thin man in a white coat appeared. He was wearing some sort of goggles that magnified his eyes to absurd proportions. There were at least six other lenses sticking out in all directions and his grey hair seemed to take its cue from the goggles. Ima frowned. No. This couldn't possibly be him.
"Who the hell are you?" The man asked, wiping his hands on his coat, smearing it with something green and vile and -
"I'm Imogene Ipswitch," She said, braver than she felt. "Who the hell are you?"
The man stopped wiping his hands. He took of the goggles and stared at her. "Emmy?"
A shudder went up her spine. Her father-and only her father- had ever been able to call her than without instigating a repulsed reaction. She looked at the floor, the ceiling, the framed pictures on the mantle above the-
Slowly she moved to the fireplace. A fire had been burning; she could still feel the heat. Something crunched beneath her feet but she didn't care. It was the pictures, or more precisely, one picture. Ima picked it up and held it out in front of her.
"Where did you get this?"
"I had it made."
"This is my father."
"Yes." He walked over to her and took the frame gently from her trembling hands. "And it's also me. A very, very long time ago."
Ima didn't really know what to do. It felt as if someone had kicked an ant hill inside her stomach. A hundred questions bubbled to the top of a thousand more. Where have you been? She wanted to scream. Why did you leave me? She wanted to demand. Why did you drive my mother mad? Instead of questions, she drew back her fist and hammered him in the stomach as hard as she could. The man reeled backwards, catching himself in a large, leather arm chair. As he gasped for breath, Ima balled her fists, ready to punch again if he tried anything crazy. Because he was crazy. That's what her mother had told her. Right before she ran off and joined the circus.
But her father didn't try anything crazy. He doubled over, clutched his stomach, and after about a minute he gasped, "I suppose I deserved that." He struggled to sit up straight. "Nice right hook, by the way. You take after your mother in that regard."
Ima blinked back the tears of anger and frustration and whispered that one question she'd been dying to ask him since she was three. "Why did you leave?"
"Oh Ima dear, I had to." He grimaced a smile. "You see, this," he looked around, "is where I belong."
"You belong with your family!"
"Yes. And I had every intention of coming back for you. But there was a rather unforeseen turn of events."
Ima knew this was coming. An excuse.
"You see, Greyson sent me to your time to collect some vital bits of information against some rather sinister characters. While I was there, I met your mother, fell head over heels, and tried to forget about Greyson and Marcus and this whole damned mess of a world. Unfortunately, the mess found me and I had to flee."
"Of course. Because if you didn't, we'd be in danger and you couldn't live with yourself if anything happened to us." Sarcasm dripped from Ima's lips. She was surprised it didn't pool up at her feet in one, sticky blot.
"Well, yes. You see, no one here knew I'd married or had a child. When I realized they'd found me, I knew the only thing to do was hide what they were looking for there, and come back here."
"And what were they looking for?"
The man who was her father stood and pointed to her neck. "Why the key you've been wearing since you were three. I gave it to you, you know. What did you think it opened? A diary?"
Ima pulled the chain from her blouse and held the strange key between her fingers. "I don't know what it goes to."
"Why do you still wear it?"
"Because it's all I have of you!"
"What-what does it go to?"
"It's the key to the universe, my daughter. The key to the universe."