So Far Untitled - Chapter 13: The Unwitting Informant
Agatha thought catnip tea was some of the best she had ever had. It made her feel warm and sunny inside; the kind of feeling you get when you wake up in a soft bed with nothing to do for the rest of the day. She sat at the kitchen table with Tabitha and the two of them spoke.
"Yes," Tabitha said. "I murdered your whole family. And how do you feel about that?"
"Oddly neutral," Agatha said. "They were a shallow lot."
"Your father was my brother... of sorts, but he sort of strayed and lost his way. I tried many times to fetch him, but he got arrogant, and forgot where his empire came from. I became tired of reminding him. So I converted him to cat food so he may, in his last moments, provide some useful purpose."
"I don't have many memories of him. He was away a lot. Mother didn't know what to do with us kids. Ariel had her social life--"
"Is that what she called it?" Tabitha said with a snort. "Let me tell you, even a Preistess for Aphrodite would have considered her a workaholic."
Agatha snorted, and spilled some of her tea.
Tabitha dabbed a spot on the tbale with a napkin, and poured some more tea while a small radio played Brahms in the background. "It's a welcome treat to converse with someone who gets that joke. So how did they treat you as a Gate Keeper?"
"Fine. Lady Sarcastia is nice." Agatha looked out at the unfamiliar world of the daytime. A butterfly landed on a bush in front of the window.
"Good. I liked her the moment I saw her. We had our differences, but we had the same goals."
The room fell silent.
Tabitha stood straight in her chair. "Now. To business at hand. I hear that Lady Sarcastia is in some sort of trouble... eh?"
Agatha shrugged. "It's hard to tell. She usually keeps her cool unless someone disobeys her, and then it's up with the wind, and down with the light in the room. She got a new pair of eyes..."
"Ah... yes. The college student. She seems to have the gift. Very nice. Rumor has it that before she crossed, she predicted the return of ... the half breed."
"Misabel," Agatha said. She did not feel fear saying her name aloud to Tabitha.
"Yes. I remember her. Is she the only half breed?"
Agatha paused. That had not occured to her. "Well... no, but she is--"
"Is the most recent one. Yes, funny that. How one's mind always thinks of more recent events first. I suppose that works out most of the time."
Agatha felt a cramp in her stomach, and remembered. "Why did you kill Lord Scanlon?"
Tabitha put down her tea and nodded. "Ah... yes. Well, he was a Gate Keeper, as you felt. The decision was regrettable. We don't usually interfere with Gate Keeper work. We prefer to... watch."
Agatha understood. "So why did you interfere now?"
"Mm. I always appreciated your inquisitive nature. But I feel it would be unfair to indulge you at this time. Let's just say his balance of power was a little heavy handed. He took advantage of some of ... our people." Tabitha leaned forward and whispered hoarsely, "In a very... very bad way."
"What's that necklace you are wearing?"
Tabitha rose and looked at it. "This thing? Oh... it's a gift. It was supposedly garded in a museum in Bagdad, but apparently it started to wander. And now I have it back, that's all that matters."
"That's the symbol of Hathor."
Tabitha smiled. "Very good, Agatha. My, it's been years, and you still--"
"I know that symbol. I know the pendant. I have seen it before."
"Then you know what it can do?"
Agatha stood up and began to pace. "As I recall, it was used to control the undead. But the undead are fairly rare. With soul harvesting, there isn't much left to go around for those who are not in charge of angels or demons."
"Not all dead things are human souls, Agatha."
Agatha looked at Tabitha. "What do you mean?"
Tabitha sighed. "The souls on this plane are more than human. In fact, there are whole herds of souls roaming about. Humans are just one of them on the planet. You were born human. It is natural for you to feel that way... but there are... others that share this plane with you."
Agatha looked at the a gray tabby on the kitchen counter who slowly blinked at her.
"Very good, Agatha. Cats are one of them. Whales, lemurs, and kangaroos are some others. Just because they don't build great skyscrapers or machines doesn't mean they don't have a soul."
"So who collects cat souls?"
Tabitha narrowed her eyes. "Cat Gods, of course."
"I... I never knew that..."
Tabitha clapped her hands. "Ha! I bet there are many men who would pay to hear you say those words! But come, curious one, and sit back at the table. We have some things to discuss."
Agatha sat back at the table, lured by a fresh poured cup of catnip tea.
"Now. Tell me about what is going on. What do you know about the Soot Man?"
"Nothing. He's half demon, I guess." Agatha brightened. "Is THAT--?"
"Maybe. It's hard to tell. Marideath didn't tell you?"
Agatha felt a cramp in her stomach again. "Why should I tell you?"
Tabitha straightened her posture again. "Good question. I will answer this as directly and honestly as I can. About 15,000 or so years ago, a bunch of Gods got together and discussed this new human soul that had started to build these huge mud walls near the Tigris river. Where had they come from, what were they going to do, and so on. Before, we all pretty much kept to ourselves, or if we had any interaction, it was an ancient agreement we had before even dragons lived here.
"But humans were another animal altogether. They... built things. First, tools. That went right under our noses, and I mean, it's funny to think about it now, but the God who took care of Elephants kept telling us that he wasn't chalking it up to coincicence that so many of his souls were suddenly befalling sharp sticks. But we figured, big animals have a bigger chance falling on sharp sticks. I mean, it happened all the time, right? The fact it was becomming more and more common... we completely missed the cue. I mean... Agatha. You didn't know the world back then. It's hard to imagine now Earth without humans, but 15,000 years ago, they were no more important than you would think of hippos now. Sure, they make a lot of noise, hang around in groups, and mess up their habitat... but who doesn't?
"Several thousand years of sharp sticks later, we were all in hot water. Human souls were exploding in number. And instead of having a volitile limit of how many could occupy the same space, they started to build cities. And in a move that I consider to be a plan of brilliance, their minds changed to adapt to city life. Human minds adapt quickly. No one saw this coming until it was threatening to overrun us, and let me tell you, the Gods of Dinosaurs are gone because they didn't think ahead.
"Some of us fought. But many of us took a shortcut, and adpated to humans. One of them was cats."
Agatha gasped. "You-- you're Bastet!"
Tabitha laughed, "Oh my Goddess, no! And when I tell her you said that, she will have a scream. And may eat me. So I won't. But no, Bastet saw her exit quicker than most, and unlike Anubis, she wasn't going to let her children be domesticated and change so haphazardly by humans. Have you seen what became of dogs? Ugh! Absolutely embarrassing! I look at a Pekingese, and laugh so hard that Anubis thought he could get one of those in every palace of the human world. Only those Chinese brats would-- ah, but I digress. God business, not Gate Keeper business. Anyway, we sent cats everywhere. Soon, we were worshipped and revered. We were in every temple, every palace of the human world! It was glorious!"
"But..." said Agatha.
"Yes... but, alas, those that harvested human souls grew jealous we were interfering in human soul exchangings. Demons and angels didn't fancy our ears poking into their affairs, and for many centuries, we were cast out and even exterminated. Our reign collapsed, but they paid a heavy price, for you see... we kept the rats at bay. Our secret back door back into human interests. And really, how could they keep us out?"
"So where do the Gate Keepers fit in?"
"Funny. Like humans, you were under our noses for a long time. We think you first showed up in the early middle ages. People in dark hoods, milling about in secret societies. Demons and angles didn't even know you existed until you started to show up in medieval paintings, and when they tried to stamp you out during the Burning Times--"
"The Burning Times?"
"Ah... yes. Well, humans call them the Dark Ages, but there was a huge mystery war on the moon which culmnated in a HUGE explosion in... I think the Christian Year has it at 1178... and the result of that sent meteors down to Earth which started huge fires, and Earth plunged into some pretty severe and depressing winters for over a century. The dragons, who I think were involved, tried to have the incident erased from Chinese records, the Chinese were such tools when it came to bowing to dragon pressure, that the human race doesn't even "remember" the incident. But human civilization was at a standstill, and even with all their buildings and tools, they couldn't seem to reclaim the glory that peaked with the Roman civilization."
"Is this going anywhere?" Agatha asked.
Tabitha lowered her arms, and rolled her eyes. "Yes, impatient one. The Gate Keepers came shortly after that, and we know somehow you are related. Bastet sent some of us to keep an eye on you, and we were one of the first ones to discover what you were up to. Before you came along, there were but a few gates. Now? Thousands. And more 'are discovered' every year. I suspect they are being built, but for what, we have no idea." Tabitha leaned over to Agatha. "So it would be ... nice... to know some of those missing gaps of knowledge."
There was a long silence as the both of them locked eyes.
"You don't think I have a clue?" Agatha asked. "Hell, if I knew, I'd blabber it for more of that tea, but I suspect that Lady Sarcastia knows this, and wouldn't let on a single thing to her assistants. All I know is we gather packages, guard packages, and report on packages."
Tabitha sighed and smiled in spite of herself. "And thus continues a stalemate for the last eight centuries."
"So... I am a spy for Bastet?"
"In a manner of speaking. But since you work for me, and not Her, and you don't tell me anything... I am not sure how that's even an issue. Hope springs eternal, though, as Aphrodite used to say at her lavish parties. How I miss those. Do you know she's reduced to doing rave parties in the former Czech Rebublic now? Poor thing. Hasn't harvested a soul since they shut down the red light district in Berlin during Nazi occupation. She's skinnier than a Russian model. Soon, she will be forgotten, along with Dkhek and Baal."
"The Gods of what fossil scientists call glyptodons and chalicotherium. I heard those two were a hoot. Before my time, but Bastet spoke fondly of them. Her saber tooth children found them ... well, worthy foes." Tabitha looked at her watch and her eyebrows raised in alarm.
"Look them up sometime. We haven't much time; I have to return you shortly. The creature that controlled the Shiante is no longer an issue," Agatha said, putting the gold necklace under her shirt, "and now we that we have evened things out a bit... we have one more thing left to do. Bastet and I cannot interfere in human souls collecting, but when they started working on cats, we stepped in. Right now, as we speak, a very dangerous demon has been let through the gates."
"Demons aren't allowed through the gates--"
"Without Gate Keeper approval. Your Lady Sarcastia, as wise, wonderful, and witty as she is, has been duped, I am afraid, of letting a demon into our world. He is about to create havoc and chaos on a scale not seen since certain World War I battlefields."
"How was she duped?"
Tabitha started looking through bookshelves, gently picking up cats and placing them on furniture as she went. "That's not a concern now, what's done is done. No use in being all human and analyzing it to death. We have to act quickly, and come down hard. Now what I need is some way ... ahh... where did I put that book?"
Agatha looked down at her humanly cheerful nightshirt, and smirked. "Tabitha?"
"Yes, my kitten?"
"How am I going to return to being a Gate Keeper? I mean, after all this? Lady Sarcastia has a great pair of eyes--"
"Sarcastia's eyes are not a concern." Tabitha paused, and bit her lower lip in thought. "You know... I think it's symbolic that we are trying to fight the Soot Man. How does one fight a half-demon that can turn to vapor?"
Agatha shrugged. "Get something that can capture vapor?"
Tabitha smiled. "Or...?"
"Prevent it from turning to vapor in the first place?"
"Clever girl... you're getting there. How does vapor become something not vapor?"
"How can... wait, is that possible?"
Tabitha walked up to Agatha and pointed a bony finger at her forhead. "How can one fight what one cannot see?"
"I'm... not... wait... you could listen? Hear it?"
"Like a Gate Keeper, cats have very acute senses. Sight is only one of them. Listening is another. Cats have another sense, which they use their whiskers for. But one thing we all have in common is the one thing that gives us a soul to begin with."
"Goodnight, Agatha," said Tabitha. "I don't know when we'll see each other again, but I hope soon." She shoved a small piece of paper into Agatha's hand, and kissed her forehead.
"Wait? What do you mean?" Agatha stumbled backwards. The world began to blur. The tea in her stomach churned, and the world started to spin. "No, PLEASE! NO! I DON'T WANT TO... to..." and Donnabel fell into a deep slumber.
All text copyright 2005 Grig Larson, all rights reserved. No reprinting without permission