Halfway Between Noon and Sunset
Disclaimer: Terry owns. I don't. I own Jenna and any character you don't recognize from Discworld, though. And I wish I owned Teatime. A nice, semi-insane assassin to keep me warm at night…grins
Teatime was dead to begin with. Well, that's not exactly true. He was…mostly dead. No longer living, certainly. Few survive a poker through the chest, after all. Jonathan Teatime simply passed off the mortal coil…and into somewhere else.
So it was quite a surprise to Jonathan when he awoke not in the afterlife, but upon the cold hardness of a mosaic floor. Getting to his feet, he blinked. Bugger….his other eye was gone…back to monocularity…until he could get it back. He gazed at his surroundings. A red-haired woman stared back at him.
"I was wondering when you'd come to," she said nonchalantly. "It was getting rather boring, to tell the truth."
He looked at the woman, who was seated on a throne upon an elaborate dais at the end of the room. Her green eyes flickered as she took a drag on the cigarette situated between her index and middle fingers. He blinked. "…I don't believe we've met, Miss…" The training bought of twenty years of training in the Assassin's Guild came to the fore as he tried to make some sense whatsoever of the situation.
"Ellis. Jenna Ellis, Lady of Limbo and Mistress of the Mists Between."
"Mistress of the Mists Between what?"
"It's a title. Inherited." She took another drag on her cigarette. "It doesn't have to make sense."
"What am I doing here?"
"Well, Mr. Teatime…Let me tell you a story," she said. "Once upon a time there was a woman named Jael, who was from a very poor family. Her mother, her brothers, her sisters, they were all gone, killed in the plagues that swept the land. Only she and her father remained, but her father's sight was going and he could no longer work as a tailor, so when Aram the baker asked for Jael's hand, she accepted, for while she was pretty, few men in those days would take a wife with no dowry. And Jael was happy,
working in the bakery. But the plague came again, and Aram died, and so Jael, not yet twenty, was left a widow.
And it came to pass in those days that the Lord of Limbo, Oldaho, walked upon the Disc, and saw Jael, and was enamored. He waylaid her in an alley and took her by force. And he left her with child…a daughter whom Jael named Jenna. Jenna grew up, helping her mother in the bakery, but when the plague came again, Jael was taken, as was Jenna's grandfather. Jenna was all alone in the world.
So Jenna set out traveling, and came upon the dukedom of Munas-Ciresti in Uberwald, and encountered the young duke, Jehan von Mureciz. Jenna had her mother's beauty, and the duke was enamored of her, and Jenna in her turn, loved the duke. They were married two years when Jenna bore a daughter, Jocelin, and Jenna thought her life could not get any better." She inhaled deeply on her cigarette, and continued.
"But pestilence came to Uberwald as it did to the plains, and the whole town was sickened. Many died, including Duke Jehan, and Jocelin, who was but three. The dukedom went to a distant relative, and Jenna wandered again. And it was upon her wanderings that she was summoned to Limbo. Her father, Oldaho, Lord of Limbo, had died, and the power of Limbo passed unto his only child, Jenna.
And Jenna stayed in Limbo, keeping an eye on the Disc, and recruiting agents to serve her purposes. Which is where you come in, Jonathan."
"Why should I help you?"
"Well, here's another little story. This one takes place in Ankh-Morpork, not too long ago. You see, once there was a woman named Elizabeth. Her father, William Graves, was a famous Assassin. He had hopes that Elizabeth would marry an Assassin and continue the family tradition of inhuming others. But Elizabeth caught the eye of a young mortician named Ambrose, and against her father's wishes, they were wed. They were quite alike: brilliant, curious, and above all, inventive. Ambrose was always experimenting with different ways of preserving bodies. Unfortunately, it was those experiments that led to a terrible tragedy.
"Now the family, I say family because by that time, Elizabeth had given birth to a son, Jonathan, and he was the best of both Ambrose and Elizabeth combined; the family lived in the upper two floors of the funeral parlour. But late one night, a candle tipped over and ignited some of Ambrose's experimental embalming fluids. The parlour was set ablaze by the spreading fluids, and Ambrose and Elizabeth died in their beds from the ghastly fumes. Only Jonathan, asleep in his attic nursery, for he was only three at the time, you understand, only Jonathan survived, along with a tabby cat who had most of its fur scorched off.
"Jonathan was sent to the Assassin's Guild, as per the wishes of his grandfather, his only surviving relative, who used his influence to ensure that Jonathan would be looked after. But Jonathan's grandfather died in an unfortunate incident involving a pineapple and a pair of bootlaces a few months later, and young Jonathan Teatime was quite alone indeed."
His eye narrowed. "I already know this."
Jenna waved her hand dismissively. "In time, Jonathan grew into a fine young man. He excelled at his studies, but he was often bullied by other students. And as often happens with the perpetually powerless, Jonathan turned inward, until one day, he had a plan. With ritual exactness, he offered a bargain to the powers that be. Ah ah, Jonathan, don't argue, it was indeed a bargain, though you were unaware of the consequences of it. In exchange for the sacrifice of an eye, he fashioned himself a new eye of scrying crystal, and with it, gained the power to see things others could not. But who gave him that power? The crystal on its own could not have caused such changes. No, someone that day was –listening-. Me."
"We never had a bargain!"
"We did, and we do. I delivered my part, now it's time for you to do yours. When I saw you, all those years ago, I saw the same chaos in your soul that is at the very heart of Limbo. And someone of your talents will be very useful to me in my next undertaking." Her voice turned unctuous. "But I'm not entirely heartless. In exchange for being my agent, you will be granted a chance to finish what you started. A way back. A body." She let that sentence hang in the air like a tantalizing fruit to a starving man. "Think of it, Jonathan. To be back on the Disc, to live again…to perhaps pursue that lovely Miss Susan you had such chemistry with inside the Tooth Fairy's castle…"
Jonathan felt himself regain corporeality. "I think I can handle things on my own," he said, and in an instant, had his knife at her throat.
His knife fell to the floor. Jonathan looked down. He was incorporeal again. Jenna's eyes had turned dark with anger. "Let me make this clear, Mr. Te-ah-ti-me." She pronounced every syllable like it was a dagger into his flesh. "Your life, such as it is, exists solely because I will it so. When you gave up your eye, you became…how do I put this…not completely human. Only mostly human, in fact. A bit of Limbo now resides within you, melded irrevocably to your essence. And as I am the Lady of Limbo, you are subject to my will. Do you understand?"
He nodded, staring through his hand. Slowly, it solidified into flesh once more.
"I will gift you with life, and money, and other such mortal accoutrements, and in exchange, you will be my Assassin on retainer. I am hiring you. But there is no getting out of this contract, no changing the terms. You will inhume who I tell you to, and if I specify a method, you will do that, as well. You will reap the benefits, believe me. Now do we have an agreement, or will I send you back to the void of Limbo, doomed to wander the mists until the end of time or your soul evaporates, which ever comes first?"
"We have an agreement, Miss Ellis." He grinned and bowed to her, doffing an imaginary hat.