Chapter 21: Daphne plays out her hand
Copyright © 2018 by Brian Bixby
Everyone’s eyes are on me. Before, it was fear. They still fear me. But I can tell hatred is growing up in its place. Let it grow. I can match them and surpass them in hatred. I’ve become a killer, thanks to you all. I growl in my throat. Let them hate. Let them fear.
And All-Father? All-Father wants a challenge, does he? He wants theatrics? Well, I will match him, too, and I will have justice for Agatha. You are tumbling down, old man.
I ignore the murmur rising against me. With my eyes fixed on All-Father, I step down from the stage, following his path, until I stand before him and Agatha. The three of us: we are now the focus of everyone in the room. The hall is silent again, waiting.
You wanted them to see a monster, old man. Well, they are going to see a Fury.
I hold up my hand, still dripping blood from the roots of my fingernails, now great black claws. And then I step forward and swipe the back of my hand across All-Father’s white robes, staining them with my blood.
I have just shocked the hell out of everyone in this room. Even Vesta Fox is stunned. I have assaulted All-Father and marked him with my blood. Killing him where he stands would have been less shocking.
I thought I might have to yell. But there is no need. The anger in my voice carries it to both ends of the hall. “You call me a monster, old man? Tell your newfound daughter what you planned to do to her. Tell her how you planned to ruin her happiness. Tell her who you planned to have bear your next child.”
I’ve done it again. It’s not just what All-Father was planning to do that upsets the Council; it’s that I dared say it to his face in front of all of them. They start whispering to each other. And in those whispers, I hear All-Father’s downfall.
Despite what I thought before, All-Father still hasn’t realized how completely he has lost. Or maybe he has, and is desperate to salvage something. He looks over to Agatha, looking for support, looking for understanding, at least looking for someone who will listen to him. But it’s too late. Agatha understands the meaning of my words. She stares at him as if she’s looking at a monster.
Desperate, All-Father steps toward Agatha, calling her name. She backs away, and when he keeps coming on and reaches for her, she reacts instinctively, and gives him a hard shove back. He is unready for it, and falls to the floor. And then he just lies there, rejected, defeated.
The hall is silent again. I thought to give them a Fury, but seeing Agatha standing there, anger and revulsion and outrage on her face, I yield the title to my sister. She raises her head and gives the Council a fierce look. She is All-Father’s daughter in pride and wrath at this moment. She is judging them all, and finding them wanting. And they know it, they know it.
Fully in command of the situation, Agatha turns about on her heels until she faces me. The pain and anger drop out of her face. She looks me straight in the eye, a sad smile on her face. “Go, Daphne. The Council can’t call you to account anymore. I’ll take care of the rest. Just go.”
She’s right. It’s her show, now. Time for me to leave. I turn and walk to the west end of the hall, through the aisle between the spectators, and out one of the large doors.
I stand on the steps outside. I’m done. I’ve played my hand as best I could. The rest is up to the others. And I am so tired. I am wiped out with emotions. I sit down on the steps. I drop my head into my hands, and just sit there, trying to wind down the tensions I’ve been living with these last few minutes. I just want to let my thoughts go away for a while.
Eventually I lift up my head and look at my hands. They are back to normal, no sign of blood on them at all. So I have some control, after all. Maybe it’s just the merketh that makes me uncontrollable. Then again, until I was exposed to it, I never had such changes happen to me.
I feel a tap on my shoulder. I look up. It’s Charlotte. “We have to leave, Daphne,” she tells me. “Vesta tells me it’s not safe for you to stay here.”
I’m tempted to tell Charlotte she doesn’t work for Vesta anymore, but why bother? I’m too wiped out to argue. So I go with her. Another Enforcer takes the wheel and the three of us drive for the better part of an hour before we arrive at a house. Charlotte tells me it’s her parents’ house, but they are away for the summer. And that Vesta says the Council meeting is still going on, and she’ll send someone to talk with me when it’s over.
The rest of the morning passes. I sit out back, by the swimming pool there, staring at the play of light on the water. Charlotte whips up a second breakfast for me and otherwise leaves me alone with my thoughts.
The food revives me a bit. For a while I speculate on what’s going on with the Council. But that’s pointless; there’s nothing I can do, and things happen in their own time. It’s me I have to think about. What the hell (cat) am I? I try beginning the transformation again, and find I can’t do it at all. What does it take to get me going? Fear? Danger? Both? I don’t know. I try simulating fear, but give up on that pretty quickly.
I think again of Pedro and what I did to him. Vesta was more or less right: I killed Pedro in self-defense. But I terrified and hurt and raped him physically and mentally first. He was no threat to me anymore when I killed him. Am I still justified in what I did? Until I know more about what I am, how much I am in control of myself in such states, I honestly can’t say for sure. It’s the same conclusion I reached yesterday. And I’ll have to confront the question again tomorrow, and for a long time to come.
Charlotte appears again just after noon, plunks down a beer and pretzels, and suggests I take a swim. She produces one of my bathing suits, my bathrobe, and a beach towel. I don’t ask. So I spend the afternoon swimming, dozing, and letting my beers get warm in between drinking them. Charlotte stays out of my sight most of the time. Considerate behavior, or is she just preoccupied with keeping me from being killed? Or from killing others?
It’s late in the afternoon when I hear someone coming up behind me from the house. I figure it’s Charlotte about to say something about dinner. Instead, someone kisses the top of my head and comes around to face me.
It’s Agatha. And she’s smiling. That is what I need right now. I jump up and we both give each other a long, heartfelt hug. Agatha finally lets go and steps back to look me up and down. She smiles again. “Monster.”
In the same tone, I reply, “Goddess.”
“Yeah, well, that was one of a number of things that happened.” Agatha pulls up a chair so she’s facing me. Before she can get started telling me what happened, Charlotte arrives with a tall cold drink with ice which she puts down on the table beside Agatha. Agatha looks at it, and asks Charlotte, “What’s this?”
“Gin and tonic, heavy on the gin. Vesta said you need to slow down and take a break.” And Charlotte departs.
Agatha stares after Charlotte. “That girl is weird.”
I laugh at that. “She told me she’s a psychopath and the only way she keeps herself under control is to do whatever Vesta tells her.”
Agatha takes a sip of her drink. “Whew! If there’s any tonic in that, I can’t taste it.” She smiles at me again. “I suppose you want to hear about what happened at Council.”
I wave it off. “Not really. Just the results.”
Agatha takes another sip of her drink. “The results don’t make any sense without the process, but I’ll try to spare you the details. Just to start, things were complete chaos after your exit. Minerva Land had to adjourn the meeting, just to give us all some time to calm down. And that was the rest of the day, going back and forth between full Council meetings and private little meetings at which, so Vesta Fox tells me, the real negotiations get carried out.
“First order of business was deposing All-Father as chair. Turns out his plan to divorce his wife and marry me was known or suspected by something like a third of the Council even before today. Not that any of them had the courage to do anything about it.” The scorn in Agatha’s voice is obvious. “Some people wanted to kick him off the Council altogether, but realistically that wasn’t going to happen. Minerva Land became chair, primarily because she’s been such a cipher under All-Father that she’s not part of any faction on the Council.
“Oh, but she knows what she’s about. It was a given I’d get full Council rights. But it was Minerva who lined up a slew of Council members and worked on Arran Marshall to resign his seat on the Council in my favor. She persuaded him that he’d damaged his reputation too much to continue on, but that I’d be keeping the Council seat in the family.”
Agatha stops, takes another sip from her drink, and then goes on. “The next order of business was Enforcement. Dislike and fear Vesta Fox as much as they do, the Council still wanted her to take it back. When she flatly refused to take back her position, that somehow put her in the driver’s seat to broker a deal. I swear, Daph, that woman could teach Machiavelli a few lessons.
“Vesta told them they needed someone who wasn’t aligned with any existing faction, someone who could strike terror into the hearts of miscreants but wouldn’t lord it over the Council. And then she said today’s meeting proved there was only one person with full Council rights who could do that: me.”
As if on cue, I ask in astonishment, “They made you head of Enforcement?”
She nods. “I’ve just come from a two hour briefing by Vesta on what that actually means. Gods help me, I don’t think even the Council understands the scope of Enforcement’s operations. I’ve saddled myself with a full-time job, and I have you to thank for it.”
Agatha pauses, leans forward, and looks me square in the eye. “Vesta was also enlightening me about what’s been going on the last two weeks, including how one Daphne Vane journeyed to Exile and back and almost lost her life trying to swing this business.” She reached out to me, takes my hands up in hers. “I owe you, sis, big time. More than I can repay.”
I’m tearing up. I can’t do this. I pull my hands away, stand up, and walk over to the pool so Agatha can’t see me cry. After some moments, I get control back, wipe my eyes and face, and say to her, “I didn’t just do it for you, you know. I had to get the Council off my back. I couldn’t stand another one of their suitors.”
Agatha laughs, and I laugh a little. I wipe my eyes one more time and go back and take my seat.
“Well, that you did, sis. No one on Council will be suggesting a marriage for you anytime soon. You are officially off the marriageables list,” Agatha tells me. Then she drops the smile for a much more serious look. “Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of it. You really scared the shit out of the Council, Daph. I mean, they are terrified of you. They passed a death sentence on your head.”
Oops! That’s a bit drastic. Could even by terminal. But I’ve every expectation that the writer will pull Daphne’s hellish bottom out of the messy stuff before the story ends.
BTW, if you get this twice, that’s cos my internet connected went down just as I clicked on ‘Post Comment,’ Could be the wind. Or the cold. We’re having both at the moment, uninterrupted, straight from Siberia. I do like living in East Anglia!
I had a choice as to where exactly to end this chapter. I could have made it essentially one paragraph later, which would have significantly upped the tension, at the cost of reducing the organic unity of the final chapter. Oh compromise! This is thy sting!
I’d say you ended it in the exact right place.
(And lo, the problem lies with the browser?)
Next week is the conclusion, which for the longest time had a really lame chapter title, Changed it earlier this week. Now it’s only 2/5th as lame.
Now that’s as much a hook as anything you’ve ever written.
“You call me a monster, old man?” might be even stronger — and clearer — if “me” is in italics.
“For A while I speculate….”
Thanks for the latter; it has been corrected.
I do see your point about the former, and you are correct in your thoughts about how it would work better. But I’m inclined to keep it as it is for psychological reasons. Daphne’s trying to get her words across as coldly and clearly as she can, yet at the same time her anger builds as she speaks about what evil All-Father is going to do to Agatha. So the emphasis and emotion mount in her voice.