She stared evenly at this for a moment, absently rubbing at her sore hand where the rubber hose had bit, and then approached, observing. Andreas would have said the placement of the chapel and its small stacks of books would have some ritual significance, and that she recognized, but she was no mystic.
Shortly, Isabella was darkly amused.
The books were all catalogue-order books for killing. Deadly Knife Fighting, proclaimed one. Secrets of Hand to Hand Combat, said another. Glancing back at Kurt, with his face distended like a smashed plum, she thought he’d been a poor student.
Arrogant, a slouching pile of muscle with ponderous brow and craggy nose, Kurt had not wanted to talk to Isabella. A butcher with an obsession for platitudes, he had thought her a filthy thing, a creature to be brutalized, and thought strong women would fold weeping if they were hurt.
He arched and kicked under her, threads of spittle flying from his silently gasping lips, thrashing against the tiled floor near the bleeding rail. Reflexively, she hammered his face into the floor with a quick thrust of her shoulders, and he kicked some more, but weakly now.
Filing through the books, she tried to think of Andreas and his lessons. Before him, reading had been a practical exercise; it was something you did to survive, like anything else. When she’d been in the military, before he’d found her, there had been the technical manuals and booklets to remember, but even these were raw information, another weapon, another way to be more than she seemed, and thus survive.
She’d cringed, feinting, knowing his sort. He lunged for prey and got pain instead. Bleeding, he tried to fight, but she’d dislocated his kneecap. There had been a chance for him, then, in the tangle that followed, but she was too practiced.
Andreas changed that, the day he told her to take whatever she liked from his library.
Searching through the piles of books for traces of Marion, she thought of those days, the warm hardwood and brocade of Andreas’ library in contrast to the cold tiles and metal smells around her. She remembered the sense of discovery and the fascination of the words. Soon, she could not read enough. Her vocabulary grew swiftly
throttle, choke, strangle, asphyxiate, garrote
and she’d understood too that it was another exercise, a reaching outside of herself. Another test from her teacher, which prompted mild suspicion, but it did not stop her from reading. She sometimes suspected, in her lonely hours, that the experience of reading Andreas’ books was as close as she ever had been to being a child… as others saw children.
Isabella rode his back, elbows firm against his shoulders, rubber hose digging into his thick neck. Her muscles had settled into iron patience, wrists crossed and hands locked, knowing that all it would take now was time. The sour smell of strangulation was familiar to her; she’d done this before. She also knew the blood-hammering horror of being choked, knew how to beat down the frantic need to breathe and turn it into a gouging retaliation. Kurt had never fought for his life. Now, he never would.
Mysteries had intrigued her. Her sharp mind, always looking for openings, enjoyed trying to surpass the protagonist in deducting the truth, but she also found something of herself in a character, a man named William Monk. Though the time period the mysteries took place were alien to her, there were parts she could quickly relate to; the crushing poverty of mid-1800’s London, the rookeries, the warped and dangerous populations that fell through the cracks of civilization. But Monk was hard. Monk was a juggernaut; he marked his goal and nothing would stop him from getting there in the end.
But what Monk, a person who never existed, taught Isabella was that she wanted justice.
She’d found herself caught up in his drive to make things right, no matter the cost, taken by his hatred of hypocrisy and his ruthless will. She’d wanted purpose beyond pain and survival, not knowing until recently that there were deeper secrets to being one of the Children.
when he finally let go, she realized that she was smiling, and forced herself to stop
“There is no shame in taking joy at death.” Lucas, from before.
“Pleasure in killing is a weakness.” Andreas, reminding her.
Andreas had taught Isabella how to dream, how to reach outside of what she was, and the books had been the tools for opening those doors. But turning away from the mildewed pages before her, books that were empty, and gave her nothing, she went back to confront the shame she’d felt, and stood over the stinking heap that she’d made Kurt into.
“You taught me to dream, to better myself, to grow,” she whispered to an Andreas who was not there. “You brought me into a world I could not imagine. Dreams lit the mirror, and I can see clearly… and I am sorry, Andreas. I am not what you dreamt me to be.”
She cut Kurt’s throat, hung him on the bleeding rail, and then paced out in search of Marion. Her mind was filled with phosphorescent prose, made the brighter because it hovered in the darkness of the Children.
Isabella had opened her last door within.
“If I myself as yet do not know how to dream,” Professor Tardanza continued, “I have numerous theories; for example, that dreams are exhalations of the divine- of Will, if you prefer, or of Infinite Capacity. In other words, an ecstatic vapor, the dust of Potencies, or even the inventions of the gods as they sit together swapping myths on their mountains. Somewhere I’ve written that sleeping minds are the crystal balls of some other universe. Recently it came to me that sleep might be the theater where a sublunary race stages its plays; or even the playrooms of angels.
“But my favorite hypothesis (I do not believe in angels) is that dreams are the keys to the human soul…”
(William Monk is a character by author Anne Perry; the quote is from Rikki Ducornet's 'Phosphor in Dreamland'.)