I fired my gun, and the bullet passed through my opponent as if he was smoke. No surprise, of course, this foe was more wraith than flesh and bone. But flesh and bone he was, and filled with the blood of his prey. An Itoril, once long ago if ever, he had escaped the confines of mortality.
Thyme appeared precisely the same as he had on our last meeting some decades ago. Dressed in boots, a dark duster pulled open to one side to show off his wide belt sagging with a heavy iron handgun and a sword, a Stetson perched on his head, he looked as though he stepped right off the range and out of the nineteenth century. His face was the same, too, pale and leathery. His eyes dazzled with wisdom and enough confidence to melt a man.
I lowered my weapon and waited for him to speak.
Thyme nodded and cocked his head as if to say how nice it was to see me again. The feeling was nearly mutual. I took some comfort at gazing upon him as the nearly forgotten past awakened from slumber teasing the back of my mind with warmth of home and the eagerness to explore the world. When at last Thyme spoke, it took me by surprise. His voice sounded softer and warmer than I recalled.
“My dear Kandice, only one question I have for you. One burning query. After all that I had given you, sacrificed for you, why did you seek your own end?”
An Itoril Executioner was a position of great respect. Orders came infrequently, usually names written on cards or occasionally whispered. Preferences and frequency changed with each passing Magistrate. An Executioner’s position was a life sentence, and retirement came by the hand of her successor. Only the best remained Executioner for long. With length of service came more respect.
And decreasing number of applicants. In my fourth decade of service, I had defended my position for the last time. By my sixth decade of this sentence, I began discarding names without thought. It wasn’t as mundane as housework, but executing criminals felt as routine, and worse, it felt terribly cold.
I couldn’t fault Thyme’s teachings. No, for my curse I had Steve Reynolds to thank for that. I was never the best fighter. Not even close. Sure, my feminine charm allowed me to get close enough for murder or a snack. Still, I’d never have survived as Executioner until Steve had shown me his shadows between worlds, his shortcuts through time. Some Itoril could dip into the shadows. Rare could any follow me into the depths, and none swam as far into the violet storm as Steve.
Gazing at Thyme, I realized I wasn’t really a wraith at all. I was no longer alive, but I wasn’t dead. Steve could go on about the physics of it all. He had analogies to explain the shortcuts through time. There was one about the cat in the box. Schrödinger. I felt like that cat in the box, and the persons outside the box couldn’t say if I was alive or dead, not until they open the box. Until then I carried the memories of life and death together as one.
Around my eighth or ninth decade of service—I had lost track of time—I had seduced Steve Reynolds into finalizing my retirement. I still see his blade coming at me within Club Necropolis. I had fallen on the dance floor and landed inside my old music store four decades earlier. Shortcuts through time always led forward, but in death I had somehow stumbled backward like awakening within a memory.
“I had grown weary of my station.”
Thyme nodded twice and told me what I did took courage. He had wanted to return my body to its resting place at January Nine, but my corpse had been taken beyond his reach.
Steve had seen to that. Now I had no doubt my body rested deep within the murk between worlds, the box holding my state unknown, neither dead nor alive.
The fog swarmed around, and Thyme melted away.
I shouted after him demanding he tell me how to escape my purgatory.
An arrow into my mind, his message came to me.
Seek my perfect child. Meet my dearest Nine.
On indefinate hiatus (canceled)
It’s tough to let go, but best when unable to give Kandy, Nine, Peter, and friends the attention they deserve.
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