Chapter 16: After the lightning strikes . . .
Copyright © 2018 by Brian Bixby
It’s gone. It’s been gone for a while.
Those are the first words I’ve been able to think for hours now.
I lie on the floor of the cell, shaken. Profoundly shaken.
I know what happened, in a general sense. My memory doesn’t seem impaired. I just don’t know how or why.
The smell of the herb is gone. It’s been gone for a while. Now all I can smell is my body, my clothing. I stink to high heaven of my own sweat, and this time it’s not fear-scented. This time it’s the scent of blood lust and sexual lust and other lusts and emotions so animal humans don’t even have words for them. I look at my hands. The fingers, the nails, they aren’t bleeding anymore, they look so normal now. The manacles pull a bit at my arms and legs. I can feel the bruised spot on my right arm from when I yanked on the chain so hard that the chain snapped.
See, my memory is fine. And physically, apart from that bruise, I feel great. It’s in every other way mentally that I’m a wreck. It’s like I’ve been hit by lightning.
That herb warped my mind. Instincts, subconscious parts of my brain that I didn’t even know I had, they all just took over. I mean they completely took over. I was conscious of everything I was doing. I wanted to do everything I was doing. I just could not reason about it or reflexively think about it or stop myself from doing any of it. I just acted without thinking about it.
I’ve been mind controlled before. This was worse. Because this was me, some part of me. What I did I wanted to do, and didn’t even think about whether I wanted to or not.
I changed physically, too, though I’m not so sure about how much. I could see only parts of myself, like the bleeding fingernails transforming into claws. But my body felt different, seemed to move differently. I’m having trouble processing exactly what changed. It all feels normal now. My fingernails aren’t several inches long anymore.
I sit up, then stand. My jeans have taken considerable damage; they are split and torn in several places. I look at the three chains still holding me. I feel strong enough that I think I could actually break them, too. But I don’t try, not yet. My intellectual processes might have been on vacation for the last however long that was, but they are working now. I need to find out what’s going on before I make another move. In particular, I have to find out if they’re going to treat me with that herb again, because I seem to be helpless against it.
I turn around and face the door. Theobald is still there, watching. Allia is long gone. I think she was too frightened to stay in the cell with me.
I hear the door unlock. Theobald enters the cell. The door locks behind him. No one takes up his position at the door’s window.
All Theobald says is, “I had to find out. I’m sorry.”
I let his words hang there for a while, to make him feel uncomfortable. And then I say to him, “What did you find out?” I am only mildly surprised how hard my voice sounds. After an ordeal like that, one is either hard or ruined for good.
He looks unhappy. “I loved your mother, at least a little, when she ventured here. Cynthia could be so wonderful. But she was never a one-man woman. And she was always a bit of a wishful thinker, a bit evasive with the truth.”
Nothing he’s telling me is news, but there’s a reason he’s saying it that I can easily discern. “You’re telling me you’re not my father.” Somehow, this doesn’t even surprise me as I say it.
“No, I’m not. Don’t blame your mother. I could have been. And she probably thinks I am. That is what she told me, too.”
“What you just did to me with the herb, what’s the connection? How was that a test?”
“As I say, it could have been me.” Theobald sighs. “Or it could have been my brother. The test proves you’re my brother’s daughter. You’re a hell cat.”
“I’m particularly mean when I’m being held in a dungeon.” I let the menace in my voice come through.
It doesn’t impress him. “You don’t understand. You are literally a hell cat. Well, partly a hell cat. That herb? That’s something we have here in Exile. It doesn’t affect humans at all, whether they be dwarves, demigods, or anything else. It only affects hell cats. It stimulates all their instincts.”
Which explains why I just spent hours in a combination of homicidal rage, rutting like a tigress in heat, and a few other feelings I can’t even describe. I am a creature out of legend, a killing beast. I sit down on the floor, my back up against a wall. I look balefully at Theobald, and this time he feels it. He backs up a step. I tell him, “You turned me into an animal.”
“You already are one, Daphne.”
There’s nothing to say to that.
He paces a bit before looking at me again. “So long as you stay here, we have to keep you chained up. You’re too dangerous otherwise. The best thing for you to do is to return back to the old world. I can arrange that.”
Great. Half of what I wanted when I came here. “What about my father?”
“Tarim? Dead for years now. Half his blood was hell cat. We had to kill him when it got out of control.”
A thought occurs to me. “But you’re Lord Theobald, an earl, presumably an honored man. Why haven’t they had to kill you?”
He shakes his head. “Ah, you don’t know. My brother and I had different fathers. Mine was our mother’s husband. His was a creature that took her in the night once.”
I fill in the blanks. “A hell cat.”
“A hell cat.” Theobald’s voice sounds like a leaden bell tolling my doom.
Because that’s what it is, my doom. I’m not even human, a lesser thing that becomes a raging animal the moment she smells some herb. Here, kitty, have some catnip. Here, Daphne, have some hell-catnip. We get our kicks from seeing you squirm, you out-of-control animal, you. If you don’t kill anyone, maybe we’ll keep you as a pet, chained up in the garage.
To hell with my doom. I stand up, advance on Uncle Theobald until I’m only a few feet from him. At first he doesn’t react, but as I get close, he gets scared. He realizes he’s stepped well inside range of me while I was sitting down. He takes one step back. I smile wickedly at him. It doesn’t make him any happier. I hold up my right arm, broken chain trailing from it. “You say you’re sorry, and yet you did this to me. What are you going to do to make it up to me?”
He tries to take another step back. I threaten him. “Don’t move. You wouldn’t want me to try to break the rest of these chains because I’m mad at you, would you?”
He stops. In a voice that sounds a lot less confident than the words implies, he says, “You wouldn’t do that. You’re my niece.”
“After what you just did to me?” I pull on one of my leg chains, the more vulnerable looking one. To my surprise, it does break. I am stronger than I usually am. Must be an after-effect of the herb.
And if I am surprised, Theobald is terrified. He eyes the door, wondering if he can escape before I pull free altogether. So he thinks hurriedly, and decides to play it safe. “What can I offer you? Gold?”
I laugh. “Easier than that, Uncle Theobald. Or maybe harder, I don’t know. I want to you to tell me everything that is known about hell cats.”
He is relieved. “Allia’s people are the experts. If you’ll let me go out into the hallway —”
“Summon her, Uncle Theobald. You’ve got guards out there, I’m sure. Call to them, give them orders. Once she’s here with me, then you can go and start arranging my departure.”
Theobald decides he’ll go along with me. He is most definitely not going to risk being in this cell with me if I pull the other two chains loose. Hell cats must be something fierce, just as their legendary reputation claims. He calls out to the guards, and orders them to bring Allia. She can’t have been far away, because she enters my cell less than a minute later.
She pays no attention to Theobald once she enters the cell. She has eyes only for me. She comes before me, kneels, goes down flat on the floor, and clutches my left foot with her hand. When she looks up at me, there are tears in her eyes.
Drat! It gets curiouser and curiouser, and then he stops. Wait for next week. So what’s this with Allia? You’ll probably tell me you laid it all out last week, but my head doesn’t always follow continuity-wise after I’ve slept a few times. Has this Allia the hots for pussy-cat? Ought I to omit the ‘cat’? Must I wait till next week? Groan. Grrr. Give me that weed, I’ll join Daphne in the Hell-Cat Club. 🙂 Yea, interesting episode.
Allia: tall alien who deposited the herb in front of Daphne in the previous chapter, saying “I’m sorry.” Now we know her people know a lot about hell cats. We know nothing more about her or her motivations. That is for, dare I say it, next chapter. (Yes, you may groan. But only until you read the next chapter, in which Allia’s actions will be explained.)
Incidentally, this chapter’s contents are why I had to sound a bit vague about the herb when replying to you last week, and also in discussing what turned out to be Cynthia’s inaccurate identification of Daphne’s father. It’s been a bit frustrating, but secretly a bit of fun, too! 😉
You just like winding the readers by withholding information and making us wait till next week’s next week. (no, that’s not a typo, I do mean next week’s next week.)
Why, yes. It’s called maintaining suspense.
While I was at ARISIA this last weekend, the writer guest of honor, V.E. Schwab, whose first volume of a trilogy I gave you back when we visited, was apologizing for ending the 2nd volume of that trilogy on a cliffhanger, noting she’d never done that before. I was tempted to tell her (as if she doesn’t already know) that there are good cliffhangers, that develop the situation, and bad ones, that just manipulate the reader. “The protagonist may die!” is usually (not always) a bad one, since it’s of low likelihood. Though I did kill off Harry in “Magician’s Misfortune,” so there you go. And cliffhangers become worse the longer you have to wait . . . although some beloved TV series were famous for them.
I AM guilty here. Hey, I’ve been leading up to this chapter since the end of chapter 4, when Agatha told Daphne that people had lied about their fathers. I even threw in a misleading claim in chapter 13, when Cynthia seems to tell Daphne who her father is (and turns out to be wrong). I’m quite proud of running the issue that far.
So, yeah, we’re left with two issues, the old one (how will they stop All-Father from forcing Agatha to marry him) and now a new one (what does it really mean that Daphne is 1/4 hell cat). Expect the answer to one to affect the answer to the other!
Tis true, to my knowledge you’re not in the habit of killing off protagonist, or rather, threatening to, just to create a hook to next episode, so I shall forgive you you certain talent for all other kinds of hooks, kicks and carrots. And thank you for reminding me od V A Schwab. Must get that second book.
Just remember, a habit isn’t a guarantee. 😉 🙂
And I’ve read the second, which oddly I didn’t like as well as the first, but it made me like the first better as I could see the trilogy’s design develop. Waiting for #3 to either go to paperback or to pick up from library.
Do you mean “Those are the ONLY words I’ve been able to think for hours now.”?
“Theobald enters the CELL.”
To the first, what I meant is that Daphne hasn’t been able to think in words for some time. So she’s just now becoming verbally proficient again. Hence “first” is appropriate. “Only” would imply that is what she’s been thinking either during the time she was under the influence of the herb (when she was nonverbal) or that since she’s recovered, that’s all she could think about (a plausible construction, but not what I meant).
For the second, yes, an improved word choice and I will so change it.
Can’t be all bad to be 1/4 hell cat! Better than 1/2 dwarf probably as a coolness factor.
Daphne’s problem is that the gods are racists. Gods at the top, demigods below them, regular humans below them. Dwarves come in even lower: it’s telling that dwarves include themselves in the term “human,” but usually the gods do not call dwarves “human.” And anything obviously inhuman comes in even lower.
Daphne assimilated this attitude while growing up, but because she enjoyed hanging out with us regular humans, and because she got a low rank in this system, she’d tell you she doesn’t accept this racism. Still, hard to escape upbringing.
There will be more on this before the story’s over. Almost accused you of sneaking onto my laptop and seeing what’s in chapter 19!