The Wrath of Cerberus - Chapter 5
by Jeannie

They continued on through the darkness, the air around them growing progressively chillier. If anything, it seemed to grow darker as they proceeded. Quentin turned his head. "Can you still see me Beth?"

"Just barely. Isn't it any better up ahead?"

"Not that I can tell. We'll have to stop again. I've got an idea." He moved his candle carefully from hand to hand as he removed his jacket & vest, his crisply starched white shirt now sharply visible. "Should have thought of this when we stopped before."

"Your shirt IS much easier to see than that blue jacket."

"Good. Soon I'll need both candles in order to see anything at all. It's getting colder, too - put on my vest and jacket and hand me your candle." They made the exchange and Beth struggled to push up the sleeves of Quentin's jacket so she could maneuver her hands, and wrapped some of the length of his suspenders around her hands to bring them closer together.

They started off again, and got some way down a path that grew steadily colder, darker and more slippery. Their steps slowed, then slowed even more as they fought not to slide or trip and bump each other. Soon they were sliding their feet along, like little children on their first ice skates, moving more and more cautiously as the darkness deepened still further.

"I can't see anything - even with both candles."

"Now what do we do?"

"I don't know. I don't know," he repeated, looking around desperately, dragging a hand through his hair as if the answer were to be found there.

"Imagine that - the great Quentin Collins not knowing what to do," the voice came from everywhere and nowhere, echoing through the cold wind around them.

"You always know what has to be done; and you always do what you must, don't you Quentin?"


"You remembered me. I'm touched." Carl materialized from behind an outcropping, carrying an old fashioned lantern, his hand held over his heart mockingly. "After all the murders you have to your credit, how DO you keep track of all the victims?"

"Oh, but I forgot," Carl continued, the words cutting into his brother like a knife. "You didn't actually murder me, did you? Spineless coward that you are, you couldn't even do it yourself. You made sure Barnabas would do your dirty work for you."

"I never wanted you dead! I couldn't think of anything else to do! Yes, I knew he might kill you, but I hoped he knew something I didn't -- some way to keep you quiet without killing you."

Quentin heard Beth draw her breath in sharply and he flinched. Had he ever told her about Carl? Had she known about Barnabas then? Or had she believed whatever story it was that Edward had thought up? He didn't even remember. He sat down heavily on an outcropping and slumped over, staring into the flames of the candles still clutched in each hand. "Beth - take the candles. You may need them later." He thrust the candlesticks forward toward her without looking up, unable to face the contempt she must now feel for him.

"And that's supposed to make everything just fine, is it. Well it's not. I'm STILL DEAD BECAUSE OF YOU!"

"And you don't know how much I wish I could change that." Quentin replied, his voice raw with pain.

Carl didn't answer, but gestured widely with his lantern, and for the first time Beth & Quentin were able to see their surroundings. "Do you know where you are yet?"

Quentin felt a tug as Beth pulled on his suspenders, trying to get his attention. "Quentin, let's keep moving. There's no point to this."

Quentin looked up and gave her a sad, cynical smile. "Oh, but there is. The candles won't light our way any more. Yet we can see clearly by the light from Carl's lantern. He's our guide - our only way out. We have to give him his pound of flesh; no matter what form it takes."

"You always were the smart one, Quentin. Everything came so easily to you. Looks, charm -- and brains too. When you were around, no woman ever gave me a second glance, except my Pansy. Yes, I get the dubious honor of being your Virgil - one of them anyway. But we have business to settle first. Answer my question."

Quentin looked at him distractedly, then got up and looked closer at his surroundings, still caught up in reliving the events of the past. The coldness, the victims frozen into the sea of ice beneath their feet - that plus Carl's presence brought him to an unpleasant conclusion. "9th Circle of Hell. It's for traitors."

"Those who have betrayed members of their families," Carl corrected sharply.

Quentin shut his eyes briefly in pain and nodded. He looked over at his brother but could not bring himself to meet Carl's eyes, staring instead at a point just past his left shoulder. "Why now, Carl? All this happened months ago. I expected your ghost to haunt me the way Grandmamma and Jenny did. But the only place I ever saw you was in my nightmares. I relived that night over and over and over - and every time it ended the same way. OH, WHY COULDN'T YOU HAVE JUST KEPT YOUR MOUTH SHUT?"

With a visible effort he met his brother's eyes. "Tell me, Carl. If I'd been the vampire in that coffin, what would you have done? Would you have tried to help your brother, or would you have hammered a stake through my heart the first chance you got? When Magda cursed me, Barnabas and Beth were the only ones who helped me; if you and Edward had known you would have shot me as soon as look at me. I didn't want you dead, but your betraying Barnabas would have been signing my death warrant. If it had been you in my place, you'd have done no differently."

Carl turned and moved forward, gesturing to Quentin to follow him.

"Answer me, Carl. Would you have risked your life to keep from killing me? You know you wouldn't -- any more than I could." Carl continued moving forward as if Quentin had never spoken.

"Quentin - How can we trust him? He might get us lost deliberately so we can never find our way back. As much as he hates you.."

"Do you see any other choice, though? I don't." Quentin moved to walk beside his brother, with Beth bringing up behind them, still holding the candles and the loops of Quentin's suspenders.

"You've left quite a trail of destruction behind you, Quentin. After Barnabas killed me you were so terrified that you couldn't even look at me in my coffin - much less go to my funeral. You hid in your room, playing that miserable music and drinking yourself into a stupor. It was almost worth being dead to see you that way - terrified the way you'd always terrified me when we were children."

"We had a lot of fun together when we were kids."

"Sure, we had fun - when I did what you wanted me to. When I wouldn't go along, you made my life hell on earth. Now I can do the same for you."

"Carl.Your quarrel is with me. Leave Beth out of this; she's done you nothing. You must know about the wager - why I'm here." Carl nodded shortly and Quentin continued in the same low voice, trying not to let Beth overhear their conversation. "Then you know she can't continue on without me. Best would never allow her to leave. Don't punish her for what I've done, Carl. She deserves better."

"So did most of the people whose lives you destroyed. Want to know why I didn't haunt you the way you deserved, Quentin? It was Jenny. She came to me and convinced me not to do it."

Quentin's eyes widened in surprise and Carl continued, "How does it feel to have the woman you've wronged cloak your sins for you? Your wife, the woman you drove mad, then murdered. The woman whose last memory on Earth was of the hands of her husband and lover, the father of her children, the man who SHOULD have been her protector, choking the life out of her. The hate in your eyes was the last thing she ever saw."

The sound of a resounding SMACK echoed. "You HIT me!" Carl's hand went to his face as he turned in surprise to see Beth, livid with anger, glaring at him, her hand still raised.

"And I'll do it again if you don't stop it, you vicious spoilt brat! There's no need to torment him this way."

"How can you defend him when he killed you too?"

"PETOFI caused my death, Carl. Not Quentin. That's one thing you can't blame him for, but that hasn't stopped him from blaming himself. Just as he can't stop blaming himself for Jenny's death and everything that's happened since he was cursed."

"Ah, but is it really remorse, Beth, or is he like the thief who isn't a bit sorry he stole, but is terribly, terribly sorry he's going to jail?"

Beth's expression was cold and furious as she faced Carl, her hand partially raised as if to strike him again. "You already know the answer to that. You couldn't use what he did to torment him if his actions didn't bother him. Not even Petofi was able to do that. Petofi used the rest of us - made us face the things that we'd kept hidden, even from ourselves. He tried to use your death against Quentin, but he couldn't. Not because he was so callous that it didn't bother him, but because he'd never denied his responsibility for your death."

Quentin stared down, oblivious to this exchange, not seeing the frozen heads and bodies he was stepping over, half imbedded in the ice, not hearing their bitter laments. Memories replayed themselves inside his skull; the images of a thousand nightmares, watching himself, hands around Jenny's neck, not letting go until her dead eyes stared at him. He looked at Carl, his eyes reflecting a deep, unending pain. "I know what I've done, Carl. Dear God, I know what I've done and how many people have suffered for it. Better than you or anyone else could possibly know."

Beth moved around Quentin so that he couldn't avoid looking at her. "Quentin, if you were as evil as Carl wants you to think you are, you wouldn't regret anything you've done. Look at Petofi. He murdered and used people and enjoyed every second of it. The more he hurts people, the happier he is."

"But that doesn't undo anything that's happened, does it Beth? What is it they say, 'the road to hell is paved with good intentions'? I never set out to hurt anyone. All I wanted was enough money and freedom to do what I wanted. Everything else just. happened.

"Carl wanted the same things I did, didn't you, Carl. To be rich enough, powerful enough that you could live your life the way you wanted to and the family could never touch you. Did you really think I'd managed that? I had to crawl to Grandmother for everything I wanted, same as you did.

"How can you still envy me, seeing how things have turned out? I truly did love Jenny - beautiful Jenny with that wonderful voice - but then we came back to Collinwood and it all started falling apart. I'm to blame for her death, but it took more than me alone to turn her into the murderous lunatic who drove that knife into my chest."

"You've done enough Carl. Quentin and I have made our peace."