The Hangman’s Daughter- Chapter 20

CHAPTER 20: KATHY

 

When she awoke, she was in bed.

Mariana’s perfume was still trailing in the air, and she could smell wisps of it on her clothes and sheets.

Mariana…

She wrestled with the idea of Mariana killing Virgil. Was that the right word?

On the one hand, she knew he deserved it. But then, that wasn’t the reason she had done it. And was it ever right to kill, even a monster like Virgil?

Even as her body ached for sleep her mind was flying, battering itself from one thought to another like a blind bird in a cave. She lay awake, thinking over everything that Virgil had said. To even try to rescue her father, it seemed, was suicide. The Nine Unknown Men would kill her without a qualm if she tried to alter history for her own ends, no matter how noble. In the darkness she gnashed her teeth in anger. It was so unfair. She spoke to herself silently:

I am Marie. I can travel back in time. I can slow time around me. And one day I’ll be able to move across oceans just by thinking it.

Wow. But, say if you wanted to save someone who you loved very much from dying, could you do that?

Well, no.

But, what if you knew that they were in Hell and the only way to save them was by going back in time and warning them, you could do it then surely?

Nope. Can’t. Rules.

Oh. Well, at least you won’t get old.

Um, well actually I will.

Oh. So this time travelling? Is it actually any use at all?

Well. No. No it isn’t.

Right so.

She kicked. She tossed. She turned. Nothing.

She was as wide awake now as she had been eight hours ago. Her mind was a storm, and it would not settle.

An hour passed. Still awake.

Another hour passed. Still nothing. Big sigh.

She stopped breathing. She could hear voices coming from downstairs. Isabella was asleep.

It must be Mariana and Virgil. What were they talking about?

A sudden horrible thought flashed across Marie’s mind.

Suppose, she thought to herself, and bear with me here, suppose what Virgil had showed her wasn’t true?

Suppose he lied.

Alright, why would he lie?

Well, it was Mariana who wanted him to tell me all that stuff. So the question is really, why would Mariana lie?

That’s stupid. You’re being stupid, stop being stupid Marie.

Wait, wait, hear me out. Let’s think. Why would Mariana want to stop me from saving Papa?

Because…

I know what she said. But might she have another reason? Just maybe?

Like what?

What would happen, if you were able to save Papa?

Well. He’d still be alive. And we go back to living in our little house in St Anne.

If only…

Alright. And would Mariana be happy about that?

Of course she would. She would want what was best for me.

Don’t be a fool. Why do you think she’s taken so much trouble over you? Why has she gone to all this trouble to feed you and clothe you and give you a place to live and train you? Out of the goodness of her heart?

Yes.

But even as she tried to reassure herself, the answer sounded hollow. Was Mariana really that generous?

So she wants you. Needs you for some reason.

Such as?

Don’t know. But Mariana does. She needs you here, and she needs to make sure you won’t go back to St Anne. That’s why she told Virgil to show you those things. She just wants to scare you off saving Papa! That old sow! Who does she think she is?!

But…if Virgil’s not really a Time Ghost, how come he can walk though walls?

Easy. He’s just a regular ghost.

Ah, you think of everything.

She could still hear voices coming from under the floorboards. One was definitely Mariana’ rich contralto, the other one was higher. It could be Virgil’s, but then again maybe not.

Go on. Listen in on them. Hear it from their own mouths.

Her foot slowly crept out from under the covers and spread itself over the ice cold floor.

The hall was pitch black, and she had to feel her way along the wall, her fingers worming over the smooth cold surface like moles in the dark. Every breath was like a gale, every little creak of the floorboards sounded like a tree being felled. Finally she was outside the door of the study. The door was ever so slightly ajar, and there was a tiny chink of light, blazing like fire in the darkness. She swallowed quietly, and leaned her ear against the door.

Two voices. One was Mariana, speaking in French. The other was another woman’s voice.  This is what Marie heard.

 

“Tell me what happened.”

“I told you what happened.” said Mariana.

“Tell me again. Who was he?”

“The brother of one of the girls. Name of Thomas.”

“The brother of the Temporal?”

“No. The other one. Isabella.”

“And you came across him, just as he was about to…”

“To kill them, yes.”

“How old are they?”

“Isabella will be twelve in a few weeks. Marie is around ten.”

Marie heard a pause, and understood how even a silence could sound furious.

“And then what happened?”

“We fought. We fought very hard. He almost beat me.”

“C’mon…”

“No. I’m serious. He came very close to killing me.”

“Do you think he was a Temporal?”

“No. I’m sure he wasn’t. He was just very, very fast. And I am getting old, after all.”

“But he didn’t beat you?”

“No. I managed to get the upper hand. Beat him harder than I really would have liked.”

“Creep like that. You should have killed him.”

“Kathy.”

“No. I’m serious. I mean, never mind that one of them is his own sister.”

“That may have been what he wanted too. When he realised he couldn’t beat me he started just striding towards me, screaming at me to kill him. There was a shade and an angel waiting. I knew one of us was about to die. And then I got it.”

“A flash?”

“Yes.”

“What did you see?”

“I saw him, transfixed by a bolt of lightning. I could see his bones, black as anything against the light. It was horrible. And then it happened. Or at least it was supposed to. The lightning hit. But he was gone.”

“Are you sure he wasn’t just vaporised? That can happen.”

“No. Because when I saw him get hit by the lightening, when I had the flash, I saw his body lying on the ground, charred and smouldering in the rain. But there was no body. He simply vanished. And you know how it works, Kathy. When I get these flashes, I only see what’s supposed to happen, not what actually does.”

“So this Thomas was supposed to die, but didn’t?”

“Yes. I spoke to the angel and the shade about it. They were both as bewildered as I was, and I do not like that at all.”

“Don’t they know where he went?”

“No. No. That’s the thing. He was supposed to die. He vanished. Now no one knows where he is.”

“Well, the big G does, right?”

Marie could not understand the long pause that followed Kathy’s remark.

“He…doesn’t?” the woman called Kathy said slowly.

“I…I…don’t think He does. I don’t see why He would keep it a secret from one of His angels if He did know. It was Thomas’ time to die. I’m sure of it. And someone was able to whisk him away without His realising.”

“Mariana. If this someone is who we think he is…”

“I know.”

“Is it even possible? Can he really have become that powerful? That he could actually find a way to hide from Him?”

“I know. It’s a terrifying thought. Which just makes it more puzzling as to why he would take Thomas. What would a man with that kind of power want with a mere psychopath?”

There was another long pause. The kind that made Marie wish she could see the faces of the speakers.

“He…doesn’t just want Thomas.” said Kathy eventually.

“What do you mean?” Mariana asked.

There was a sound, like a sheaf of papers being dropped on a table and then the rustling of pages.

“Files from the archives of the Nine. These aren’t supposed to be removed.”

“Somehow I thought it would be easier than getting you to come back to the Sanctum.”

“You thought right. What am I looking at, Kathy?”

“Reports of disappearances. You know they have been encountered before?”

“I had heard about them, yes. I’d never actually seen one before.”

“Well. There have been others. When she was around thirty, Pauline…”

“Pauline?”

“Pauline Holden of England 1830. After your time. She saw a Viking disappear after he got a spear in the chest at Clontarf. She made a report, it’s still in the archives. And there have been others. Your one will make the seventh recorded by one of the Nine Unknown Men. Do you see what I’m getting at?”

“I am no longer one of the Nine, Kathy. But yes. Given the tiny number of Unknown Men throughout history, the odds that seven of them would see these disappearances are huge.”

“Try “gargantuan.” So we began to wonder whether these disappearances are really a lot more common than we thought. So he began badgering the angels for information, travelling over the timestream looking for stories of bodies that just disappeared into thin air. Mariana, they are more common than we thought.”

“How many? Dozens?”

Silence.

“Hundreds?”

Silence.

“Thousands?”

Silence.

“Whatya doin’?”

Marie almost leapt out of her skin as she heard the cheerful whisper behind her.

She looked around to see, in the half light, Virgil and Isabella, grinning broadly at her.

Moving away from the door so as not to alert Mariana and her guest, Marie hissed “What are you doing here?”

“Virgil told me you were eavesdropping  and I wanted to join in.” said Isabella brightly

“How did you know I was eavesdropping ?” Marie whispered to Virgil.

“Oh right.” he said contemptuously “Because it’s not like I’m a ghost who has nothing better to do than wander the corridors all night long. Oh wait…”

“Fine.” Marie hissed “Just keep quiet.”

“So? What’d we miss? Who’s in there?” said Isabella.

“Mariana and some woman called Kathy.”

“Oh God, not Kathy. Bloody cow.” groaned Virgil.

“Sssshhh!”

 

“Do we have any idea why he’s doing this?” Mariana asked.

Kathy shifted uncomfortably.

“The men he’s taking all have something in common. They’re all soldiers, or at least killers, like your friend Thomas, and from what we can tell they’re killers of the most brutal kind. Nazis. Vikings. Mongol warriors. Mujahadeen. Crusaders, you name it. Nasty guys. All spirited away at the precise moment of death. We think that he does that so that there‘ll be no real alteration of the timeline, since these guys were already dead and weren‘t going to make any major  contributions to history.”

“Strange. After all he’s done, he still won’t damage the timeline.”

“Well, he was one of the Nine. Old habits die hard, I guess.”

“And yet, if he ever decided to start plucking them from history before they died…the damage could be catastrophic. And we’d have no way of finding him and undoing the harm.”

“You mean killing him.”

“Yes.” said Mariana simply.

“Like we did to Virgil?”

Mariana looked up into Kathy’s face and did not flinch even for a second “Yes.” she said “And Mabus would be a thousand times more deserving. And I would find it a thousand times easier to carry out.”

Mabus? Marie wondered, who was Mabus?

There was an awkward pause.

“So. He’s taking soldiers?” Mariana said finally.

“It looks that way.” said Kathy “But the funny thing is, these fighters seem to be chosen as much for their brutality as for any fighting prowess. Soldiers who fought humanely for good causes, or who were just trying to survive as best they could don’t seem to be disappearing. Even extremely skilled ones. He seems to be passing them over.”

 

“What are they saying?” Isabella whispered, shivering in her nightgown.

“I don’t know. It’s all…they were talking about Thomas for a while. They said someone took him.”

“But Thomas is dead.” said Isabella, and her eyes were a little desperate.

“Ssssh! I know. That’s just what they said.”

“What else did they say?” Virgil asked.

“Something about soldiers disappearing. Shut up and let me listen.”

All three leant in closer, trying to pick up the muffled words.

 

“Mariana.” said Kathy “I am getting very, very, nervous about this. I’ve been speaking to a few of the angels. None of this is supposed to happen. This isn’t in the grand scheme. Whatever Mabus is planning to do with these soldiers, whether he’s going to try to conquer Rome or America…”

“But why would he? It would be suicide and he knows it. The Nine would wipe him out.”

“What if he was too strong?”

“They you rally every Temporal strong enough to make a difference and you swarm him and win by sheer force of numbers. No. He ‘s taken too much trouble to avoid damage to the timeline. It’s not that.”

“Then what is it? What’s he hoping to achieve?”

“I don’t know.” said Mariana, wearily “Kathy, I don’t know.”

“But you know him.”

“No. The man I knew is long gone. And I assure you the monster that took his place is just as horrifying and baffling and inexplicable to you as he is to me.”

“Mariana…”

“No. I know why you came here. But I am finished. Do you understand? Let me be perfectly clear. I am finished with all of it. I am finished with the Nine, I am finished with Mabus. Two things which brought me nothing but pain. I am going to stay here, and raise my girls, and hope that in the last few years of my life I will create something beautiful that will not turn to death and agony at it’s end. I am finished.”

“But…”

Done.” Mariana hissed.

“I don’t believe this.” said Kathy “You’re turning our back on us. We need you!”

“No you don’t. There is another that could help you. But you can’t bring yourself to talk to him.”

“That’s not true. I don’t want to, but I will if I have to.”

“Fine. Then talk to him.”

“Fine. Where is he?”

“I’ll see if he’s about.” said Mariana.

 

“Run!” hissed Marie as the door opened and they saw Mariana bathed in firelight. She was standing with a hand on either side of the door, and she scowled at the two girls and the ghost who were crouched near where the door had been only moments before.

Virgil was the first to react.

“What are you doing eavesdropping!” he roared at Isabella and Marie “Get to bed or I’ll tan your hides by thunder and…and….”

He trailed off as he saw that Mariana was not buying it.

“Worth a shot.” he muttered.

“Marie?” said Mariana quietly.

“Sorry.” she mumbled.

“We’ll discuss this later.” said Mariana sternly “Right now I want to see you in bed ten minutes ago.”

“But I’m still in bed ten minutes ago.” Marie protested “I’d have to sleep on the floor.”

“Five minutes ago, then.”

“What about me?” Isabella asked.

“Just go.” said Mariana wearily.

“Whoa, whoa, wait, let me get a look at you both.” said another voice.

Kathy had now appeared in the doorway and was regarding them with a good deal of interest.

“Who’s Isabella and who’s Marie?” she asked.

“Isabella, Marie this is Kathy. Kathy, these are two of the thorns in my side. The third thorn you already know.”

“Hey assface.” said Kathy to Virgil, with absolutely no affection.

“Well met, thou cancerous blemish on the carcass of mankind.” replied Virgil in much the same vein.

“It’s very nice to meet you both.” said Kathy to the two girls, as if Virgil had suddenly ceased to exist.

There was no reply.

“Mariana. Why are they staring at me?”

“Oh.” said Mariana, a little uncomfortably “It’s just, they’ve never met a black woman before.”

“Ah.”

Another pause.

“For God’s sake girls, blink before your eyeballs dry up.” Kathy snapped.

“Sorry.” said Marie, suddenly aware she was being very rude.

“Sorry.” Isabella echoed.

“Are…are you a Temporal too?” Marie asked.

“Yes I am.” Kathy answered.

“Well, depends on your standards.” Virgil snorted.

“Oh Virgil, wanna see a trick?” Kathy replied “Look, look, are you watching?”

She rapped smartly on the door.

“Isn’t that amazing? Bet you wish you could do that, huh?”

Virgil sneered sarcastically under his breath but did not rise to the bait.

“Yes. Thought so. Shut up.” said Kathy. Then she turned and knelt down so that she was on a level with Isabella and Marie.

“Well look, I’m sure I’ll meet you both again, for the time being Mariana and I need to talk to Virgil alone. Without an audience, alright?”

The girls nodded.

“Alright. Good night.”

When both girls had gone Virgil turned to the two Adepts.

“So.” he said “What are we gonna talk about? The weather? Sports? How about that local La Chule team, eh? ”

“Mabus.” said Kathy simply.

“No.” said Virgil.

“Virgil…”

“No!”

“I need…”

“You need to get out of here. I am not, repeat not, talking about him. Do you know why? Because I have spent the last fifteen years trying to forget about him! And you are not going to set me back fifteen years, do I make myself clear?!”

 

Upstairs in bed Marie listened as the three voices, Virgil’s, Kathy’s and Mariana’s rose angrily through the floorboards. The argument was still raging when she finally drifted to sleep.

5 comments

  1. Neat for Marie to question the ethics of killing a person no matter how evil they may be. It makes a lot of sense I think, particularly from her perspective of knowing that taking lives was all it took to land Luke in hell. Not to mention that she had lost someone quite close to her to a vengeful strike on a killer, so of course it would make sense for her to wonder these things. Also, the question of whether killing someone who has done bad things is right if ones’ own reasons for the killing are beside the victim’s misdeeds. I sure love philosophical musings, so I’m enjoying their incorporation.

    Marie’s internal monologues are a tad confusing with the shifting of person and all. I thought it might be foreshadowing something at first, but if not, maybe it could be reworded.

    “Every little creak of the floorboards sounded like a tree being felled”. Perfect. That’s the description of someone who’s been sneaking before. Particularly someone not a professional. I love your descriptive writing so much.

    Ha ha, Isabella and Virgil’s reaction to catching Marie snooping cracked me up. Isabella’s wily side sure is fun. And Virgil’s giving it the ol’ “accuse the other person of what you both were doing” scheme made me laugh too. So did Mariana’s temporal telling-off. And Kathy’s taunting Virgil by touching something. Though how can a ghost sneer under the breath he doesn’t have? Bit of a slip there or is my understanding of this story’s version of ghosts a bit off? In any case, you’re pretty good at throwing in humour, even at quite serious times. I’ve been getting a good chuckle.

    But yikes, a former Old Man who can apparently actually hide from God? I’m scared. Very, very scared. *shudders* And damn, I wanted to know what Kathy and Mariana wanted to know from Virgil. Hooks, hooks and more hooks! *waves fist*

      1. Maybe Virgil just projects his thoughts the same way he can project memories. Though I’m not sure it would make sense for anyone to overhear him say anything if that’s how he does it.

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