Pennsylvania, April, 2005 CE

She wasn’t looking at me, but was sitting back in her chair with her hands clasped behind her head and her bare feet up on the coffee table, staring out the window. I turned her words over and over in my head, but there simply wasn’t any way to avoid what she’d just told me.

“How long…” I started, but that wasn’t the right question so I started over. “How many… how many people did you kill?”

“It wasn’t killing,” she replied, her voice still flat and ominous, “it was murder.”

I didn’t argue. I noticed that the hair was standing up on the back of my neck, and had been for almost an hour.

“Less than one thousand?” she went on. “Yes, perhaps somewhat less than that, but not by much. It went on for some time, thirteen years. Once it took hold of me I’d say I managed to strike at least once a week, on average anyhow.”

“Why? What could it possibly mean to you?”

She turned her gaze on me and just stared, which was almost worse than any response I could have imagined. Ever since I’d come to Pennsylvania she’d seemed to be on this downward spiral, her personality oozing away and slowly replaced by this thing sitting in the chair, casually recounting horrors and cold-blooded murder. I remembered the story she told me about the pregnant woman Saennuz, but that was so different than this. Where was the regret, the quiet admission of being wrong? For that she’d seemed to want forgiveness, but for this she seemed unremorseful, almost dismissive she was so casual about it.

Her face was still completely expressionless, but she struggled to speak for a bit, then finally answered.

“They were vile,” she said, finally showing some emotion. Not remorse or regret: it was contempt. “They’d stolen something from me,” she went on, “something precious. I was determined to have it back.” She paused then, looking into my eyes. What she saw there made her frown, then she sighed, “It truly was that simple.”

“I don’t buy it. You had to know there was nothing to gain. How could you not know?”

“Nothing to gain?” she snapped back, and I saw genuine anger in her face. She suddenly leaned forward, her feet falling to the floor, and her voice became louder, almost threatening, and I recoiled a little as she went on. “Who the hell are you to tell me what I felt I had to gain? Who are you to presume to tell me what I had to have known?

I leaned back and put up my hand almost?I was a little embarrassed to admit?to ward her off. Defensively, I answered. “All I’m saying is that after everything you’ve told me up to this point, this sudden… spasm of violence seems out of place. Yes, Rufus was dead, yes it was unexpected, yes it was certainly humiliating, but… why lash out? Why didn’t you just leave? If these people were all just ephemeral to you, what was the point of hurting them so much? I don’t understand it.”

Of course you don’t understand it. You can’t!” Her voice struck me like a club, not shouting, but almost violently emphatic, and it set off something inside me that probably should have been left where it was. Fight or flight I guess: I went from fear to anger.

“That’s bullshit, Princess, and you know it,” I snapped.

She snarled and stood up suddenly, her fists clenched, and took a step toward me. I swear to God, without even thinking I leaned forward and shifted my weight to the balls of my feet, making to grab her as she lunged at me. My heart was pounding so hard in my throat and ears I almost couldn’t hear anything else. But she didn’t lunge. Her eyes just blazed at me, and then suddenly they went out. She was just staring at me, almost through me.

“Do you really think you could stop me from snuffing you like a cheap candle, little man?” she said, her voice a complete monotone.

“I won’t make it easy,” was all I said, keeping my voice as level as I could, even though my heart was doing a drumbeat like Bonzo from Led Zeppelin and my stomach felt like alligators were trying to get out of it. She just kept staring at me like a tiger ready to pounce.

Finally, infuriatingly, she started laughing at me. Contemptuously. She plunked back down in her overstuffed chair and threw her leg over one of the arms, still laughing a little and muttering to herself. I couldn’t tell what she was saying. It sounded like Latin, or maybe that guttural old barbarian-talk she’d taught me a few words of. She wasn’t even looking at me, just shaking her head.

“You didn’t hire me to take abuse,” I said.

She stopped and just stared at me. I went on. “If I don’t understand something it’s my job to ask.”

“You’ve lived what? Thirty-five years? You’re nearly halfway through your life and you know there’s an end to it. I was more than thirteen hundred years old… I was already far beyond human terms. I know you dislike that notion, that you prefer to think of me as basically just like you with a few added quirks, but it is not the case. It hasn’t been the case for a very, very long time.”

“So you’re just an utter mystery? Something fools like me can’t ever know or understand? If that’s the way you feel why are we even doing this? What’s the point?”

“I am,” she pronounced with certainty, “just what I am. I am not what you would like to think me to be. You can’t fully understand because no matter how much empathy you bring to the table my experience lies outside your understanding. You haven’t got anything to compare it to other than your own life and the stories you’ve internalized through the years. This doesn’t make less of you or…” the she paused and sighed, looking down, sounding resigned. “…or any more of me. It just describes the differences between us. Important differences.”

She was relaxed now, but still wearing that cold demeanor. I was pretty sure she wasn’t going to yield an inch in this.

“So you refuse to even try to explain any of it? Why you did it?”

She stared at me for almost a full minute, still looking almost through me. Finally she shook her head ever so slightly from side to side.

“No, of course not. I’m just not certain I can put it into terms you’ll be willing to accept.”

“Try me.”

Her eyes closed and she sighed. After another moment she finally spoke again.

“I loved Att, loved him in a way I’d never allowed myself to love anyone before. Until I met him I don’t think I was capable of loving anyone like that. And he loved me. I was everything he ever wanted in a woman. He knew I was different, but he never knew how or why. He never knew the truth, and I can’t be sure I ever would have told him. If there was any stain on our love, that was it. I knew he would die, but I pushed that all aside because I was so desperate to have what he offered me.

“When Att died… when he died it was sudden, and unexpected, but it wasn’t a mystery. I understood what had happened because I’d seen such things before. And I had Attuz, a chance to honor Att by seeing his son safely in the embrace of a new family. It was as if I’d been given the chance to somehow seal our relationship, to make it so real and so… permanent. Despite all its flaws, that love was perfect in my memory. Its only failing being that it was so terribly brief.

“After that, I never dared to allow myself to love. I knew how dangerous it was, how fleeting. Att gave me something precious, but it was special because nobody else could have done it, and it could only have happened precisely when it did. I had four centuries behind me, but they had been dead and thoughtless, aimless and pointless years. I understood nothing, had no grasp of what it truly meant to be what I was. Loving Att, and losing him, brought that home to me.

“Rufus… I knew better by the time Rufus came along. I saw him, and I hated him. He was just another mortal with an enormous ego. Yes, he was handsome, but that just made him more intolerable. Then he defied me. He pursued me, captured me, and humiliated me. After that I hated and feared him as I had hated and feared no other human being before.”

She stopped, her eyes closed, and she didn’t speak for some time, but I could see things, her face changing as if she were remembering something painful.

“But you came to love him, eventually,” I said.

Her eyes snapped open and locked on my face, but there wasn’t any of the cold anger in them anymore. Instead she looked… confused.

“I’m not really sure anymore. I thought I knew, I thought I loved him… we certainly had a passion for each other, that’s undeniable. But love him? I think I was in love with what he promised me he would be. I attached my fate to his far more deeply than I could ever have imagined and it made me ignore things… things I shouldn’t have… and when it all came to naught I was sent reeling.

Her voice wavered a bit as she went on “Once I’d fallen under his spell it never occurred to me that he might…” She stopped, and closed her eyes again. “…that he might fail.”

Her voice cracked, ever so slightly, on that last word. She didn’t open her eyes. I just waited.

“He created a world about me that was so real, so very familiar, all his talk of Gods and Goddesses and the twists of fate that brought us together. Even in those final days when I began to wonder, to have doubts, his absolute confidence in himself succeeded in overwhelming me. He truly did not see his end coming. It must have pained him so when he realized there was no undoing it and that we were finished. And yet…”

Her voice caught again, and I was surprised to see a glimmering of tears around the edges of her closed eyes. She visibly forced herself to take control, shaking a bit before she continued.

“And yet he sought to protect me. In the end he sent warning. He thought he’d failed me. He told me to flee. Instead I sought to save him, to confront whatever mischief his wife had set in motion… and found myself powerless.

“I once had the power to send armed men fleeing before me in terror. Those who worshipped me, they did so out of fear. They knew that to hunt my woods without paying homage meant death, and that to confront me meant punishment even more drastic. I was a real deity to them because my anger had very real consequences, and I had been a part of their existence for more than three hundred years. But amongst the Romans? Amongst them I was nothing. They stripped me of my power, first luring me away from my lands and the peoples I knew, then laying waste to the hopes and dreams they gave me. Rufus thought he had failed me, but the truth is I failed him. I allowed my desire to lead him to his doom, and allowed myself to be robbed of my godhood… then of all my hope.”

I cleared my throat. “So it was revenge…” but she held up her hand to silence me, her eyes still closed, her head tilted back, although she was becoming calmer.

“Killing those men and women made me powerful again. At first it was the thrill of embracing the raw hate buried inside me, but it grew into something more insidious, and more desperate. When I killed I had power over those people. Not just the victims, but their families, friends, neighbors. I could twist them to my bidding, turning my one murder into two, or even more as they flailed about in vain attempts to find and punish those responsible. I was able to play the part of the frail innocent too perfectly, and to manipulate those around me too well. I began stalking some victims, finding people who had open enmity with others, then weaving my spell. Sometimes just a few minutes effort with my hands, or perhaps a well-placed drop of poison was all it took. And then I could watch the aftershocks ripple outwards, and I was a goddess once again.

“When it was over… I told myself it was revenge. But it was never about revenge. It was just about my hunger to return to that place of power.”

Her eyes stayed closed, and then she suddenly sighed, and seemed to relax. She was almost completely still. “You could not understand,” she said, quietly. Almost as if she were falling asleep from exhaustion.

She was wrong though. I did understand what she was saying. She sounded like every confessed serial killer I ever read about.

“I was evil,” she said. It was as if she’d read my mind. Her eyes were still closed, her voice a quiet whisper. “Naked, unfettered evil. Such is the price of love for me.”

I had to say something, but I was honestly afraid to provoke her. I wasn’t sure I could bear to listen to any more of this. My thoughts kept sliding back to Joshua and his fears. I had to admit they might not be as foolish as I’d thought. Remembering that caused something to come to mind though, something so obviously important that I couldn’t let it pass without asking.

“Yet you fell in love again. Why?” She sat up and her eyes snapped open. They were cloudy, stormy, but not angry. She just looked lost. She stared at me, her eyes almost accusing, but I thanked whatever higher power there was anyway because she’d finally lost some of that horrible blackness. “You fell in love again,” I repeated and I waved my hand around the room, “You spent twenty years here, and you’re living in this house today with descendents of his family. Why?”

She turned away from me and looked at the floor, her hands clasped tightly together in front of her. When she spoke, it was almost too faint to hear.

I don’t know…” she said forlornly. Her eyes were still brimming a little at the edges, anger warring with regret. But then she took a deep breath, sat up straight and scrubbed her face, and looked at me fiercely. “Have you had enough yet tonight?” she said, sharply.

I paused. “It’s up to you but you haven’t finished telling me what happened.”

Her eyebrows moved down a little, then one raised slightly. “What?”

I was afraid of this question. “Why did it stop?” I asked. “Or did it ever stop… completely?”

“Oh,” she said. Her head tilted back a little and her eyes rolled up a little and to her left. “Yes it stopped.”

“When?” I asked.

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