Chapter 22: Verdicts and decisions
Copyright © 2018 by Brian Bixby
“They passed a death sentence on your head.” Agatha’s words stun me. The Council stopped passing death sentences when Exile was discovered and put to use as a sort of prison.
And there’s one thing Agatha isn’t saying. So I say it. “Enforcement would have to carry that death sentence out.”
“Yeah.” Agatha’s tone is somber. “They make me head of Enforcement and then order me to kill my sister. Well, that wasn’t going to happen, and I told them so in no uncertain terms. I told them I’d declare blood feud on anyone who tried to kill you.”
And the whole reason the Council exists is to prevent blood feuds and other forms of excessive violence among the gods. Agatha just threatened the Council with something even worse than me: sustained purposeful vengeance and killing.
Agatha sees I understand, and goes on with her explanation. “So we ended up with another compromise that I hammered out with Vesta and Minerva in one of those little private meetings. Officially, you are outlawed. The Council isn’t ordering me to execute you, but any god that kills you won’t be punished, by the Council, that is. No matter, everyone knows, unofficially, that any member of the Council that tries to attack you will be taking on me and the entire Enforcement organization.”
I think about it and don’t like it. Not about me, mind you, but what this does to Agatha. “You can’t keep an agreement like that, sis. The Council won’t stand for the head of Enforcement openly supporting a criminal. They’ll turn on you. It’s inevitable.”
“I agree.” Agatha gives me a grim look. “Vesta Fox told me the same thing. And she suggested the one thing that will prevent that from happening, or at least delay it for many years. But you’re not going to like it, sis.” She pauses, because she really doesn’t want to tell me this, this is why it’s the last thing she has to talk to me about. “You have to go hide, go far away from the eyes of the Council. If they don’t see you around, they won’t keep worrying about you. That way, if they do ask, I can honestly tell them you’re not a threat, without going into much detail of what I mean by that, and they’ll accept it. Or so we think. I mean, Vesta, Minerva, and I think that will be enough.” Agatha sees the look of distress on my face, because she goes on to add, “I was afraid we’d have to send you into Exile, but it’s not that bad. We don’t even have to send you out of the country. Just out west some place, someplace the Council isn’t likely to go looking for you, isn’t likely to stumble across you.”
Yeah, but even so, what you’re not saying, Agatha, is that this will destroy my life as it has existed up to this point. Daphne Vane, human, college graduate, gainfully employing her talents at a firm in Boston, enjoying the company of many friends, co-workers, and various lovers at different times, is going to end. I’m going to become an exile without being in Exile, as it turns out, a fugitive from the law as it is personified by my sister.
Gods be damned, I wish I had killed All-Father. And a few others, just to make the point. I get up, toss off the bathrobe, and go jump in the swimming pool, and stay under as long as I can, holding my breath. And then I try to scream under water, and surface almost immediately, because screaming under water doesn’t work.
A lot of things don’t work. I got my sister the position she deserves, and I’m a criminal because of it. I’m some sort of animal because my Mum apparently favors males of any species. And the thrice-damned Council goes from trying to control my love life to trying to kill me. Ah, progress!
Agatha’s saying something to me. She’s been trying to get my attention for a while. I turn around. She looks down into the water and then looks me in the eye. “Why do your fingernails bleed that way?”
It takes a moment for what she’s saying to register. I hold my hands up. They’ve begun the transformation, the same one I did in the Council hall, the same one I tried to do here these last several hours and failed. That’s how angry I am at the moment.
I wade over to the side of the pool. Agatha bends down, and I give her one of my hands to examine. She sees the nails grow further into claws and bleed at their bases. She looks at me with a question in her face.
I have to know what she thinks. I let her see my eyes as they really are, and I quickly have control of her.
What I see floors me. My sister is so much more great-hearted than I imagined. Oh, there is fear in her eyes, fear that I will turn into some sort of animal and kill her. And yet there is also love for me, and, tucked away somewhere, even a little jealousy that I’ve had more freedom than she has had. And last, above all, there is wonder: a great tide of wonder, a curiosity at what this means for me.
I could kill my sister at this very moment. I have that ability. But I am not going to kill my sister. I would not even dream of it. Somehow, that makes us even. She’s been ordered to kill me, and I could kill her, but neither of us will harm the other. And it’s that sense that we’re equals that satisfies me.
We are equals. Agatha’s made a life for herself. That means so can I.
I disengage from my sister’s mind. I need to try something. I pull my hand away from her, hold them both up before me, and calm myself, will them to go back to normal. And, slowly, they do.
Agatha has quietly watched all the time. Now she observes, “You have some control over it.”
I shake my head. “If it’s control, it’s unreliable.” And I think about what that word means. Unreliable. It’s not that I’m a monster, it’s not that I’m a hell cat, it’s that I don’t know what I am, really. I don’t know this side of me except from very limited experience. I don’t know how to manage this side, I don’t know what I can use it for, I don’t know how it will change me in the long run. Unreliable. That, dear sister, is intolerable. That is what I need to change. That is what I must study if I am ever to answer the question of what I am, what I’m worth.
Agatha’s voice brings me out of my thoughts. “Why did you just take control of me, Daphne?”
I need to be honest with Agatha. If I can’t do that, then I’m lost. “I needed to see what you thought of me. That’s how much this whole business has screwed me up. I’m sorry I doubted you.”
Agatha reaches out and tussles my hair, an old familiar gesture. “Oh, Daph. After all you’ve been though, I think you’re entitled.”
I let myself relax a bit. And then a way to explain myself occurs to me. “What am I, sis?”
Agatha considers. “You’re one-half goddess, one-quarter—”
I interrupt her. “Wrong. That’s just a summary of my ancestry.” I pause, still getting my ideas in order. “I’m althani. That’s a word that belongs to one of the native Exile races they use to describe creatures like me. It means nothing here. I need to make it mean something for me.”
I am althani, of the gods, the hell cat gods, but still gods. I like that. I get out of the pool to grab a towel. As I use the towel to dry off, I tell my sister, “There’s a stash of an herb called merketh in an air-tight container back in my apartment. We need to get that and I need to take it with me. I’m going to use it to test what I am, what I can do, whether I can control it. And I need privacy, space, a secure place I can turn into a deadly creature and not kill anyone. Can you get me that, Agatha?”
Agatha frowns. “I think so. Enforcement has some secure facilities. I’ll have to talk with Vesta to be sure. So you’re willing to go?”
I laugh, a joyous laugh. “Willing? I have to, sis. Screw the Council. I have to do it for myself.”
Agatha smiles, but I can tell she’s still concerned for me. “This is only temporary, Daph. I’ll work on the Council, get them to reverse . . .” She falters as she looks into my face. “That’s not really important to you anymore, is it?”
I think about it for a moment, and then smile. “Nope.”
“I’ll do it anyhow. And now you better get going, sis. Charlotte will accompany you on the trip to a safe house in the West.”
We reach out and give each other a hug. It’s a long hug, a tight one. We don’t know when we’ll be seeing each other again, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be soon. And then I let go, give Agatha one last smile, and walk back to the house. Charlotte and her driver are waiting for me, a change of clothes and a suitcase in hand. I don’t look back. I don’t want Agatha to see the tears in my eyes.
The end of To Ride the Lightning Bolt
Not the end…the self discovery begins. Sequel sequel!!
There are actually two sequels I have in mind. You might call the first a voyage of self-discovery, the second a voyage of social discovery. I’ve written bits and pieces of both, but they are . . . complicated.
See, I thought that too. ‘Daphne Rides Again!’ Or, ‘Return of the Hell-Cat!’ Or . . . well, just to say Judy & I would like a sequel.
Concurrence duly noted. 🙂
Glad to see you’re surviving the deluge. Assuming there’s been one, of course.
There was. I kept dropping rags and paper towels on the windowsill of the leaking casement. Apart from that, we were unscathed, but that wasn’t true generally. This morning I was looking at the power outages map, and there were at least a dozen towns with over 90% of homes without power. Winds up to 90 MPH will do that. And coastal flooding took a toll, too.
Another winter some folks will remember with both sorrow and relief. But such is this world we live in, and such has it always been. No change on regular.
I have to confess that, for a concluding chapter that follows a penultimate chapter that ends on a note of existential dread, the tone of this chapter is surprisingly — and a little unnervingly — low-key.
If I might rephrase your point from a different angle, what you read is an “irresolution” instead of a resolution. In effect, Agatha and Daphne have stalemated the Council: Daphne still has a death sentence on her, but it’s not going to be carried out, certainly not by Agatha. At the same time, though, Daphne’s seen reasons of her own to get away, so she’s turning the bad solution Agatha arranged to a positive end. So some things are resolved, some are not.