Part 2 – Love
"My daughter?" Susan demanded, suddenly feeling very vulnerable, "What about my daughter?"
Death was in his study, holding his cup of tea but not drinking it. He looked through the steam at the wine that was still sitting in its ornate crystal glass on the tea tray. The light from the window penetrated it, making it glow red. As Death looked, he thought he could just make out the shape of an hourglass, bone-white against the redness. It floated in the middle of the wine, motionless except for slight rippling with the movements of the liquid.
The image faded at the sound of the voice. Death looked up to find Kiara standing the doorway with the guitar slung on her back.
Kiara entered the room and perched herself on the edge of Death's desk.
"You gave this to me," she said quietly, running a hand along the neck of the guitar, "I thought you might want to hear me play a little?"
Death set his tea down and looked at Kiara critically. She didn't flinch at his stare like Albert did; either it was an inherited trait or her soul was stronger than Death had thought. He wasn't quite sure what being brought up by Susan would do to someone. He had been half afraid that Kiara would turn out somewhat like Ysabell. But instead of being a snobby, headstrong loafer like her grandmother – or even a logical, headstrong cynic like Susan – the girl seemed to be something different entirely. Headstrong, yes. That went with teenagers. But there was a range of emotion there, as well, one that Death had never seen with Susan, or indeed with most of the humans he encountered.
And she cared. Death was not used to people caring about him in any way. Albert only intervened when things happened because he didn't want there to be a mess to clean up. It was strange to suddenly have someone who actually wanted to spend time in his house and share things with him. Still, he remained distant when he answered.
GO AHEAD. He leaned back with his tea and listened.
Fifteen minutes later the tea was still untouched and Death was staring at his great-granddaughter with a look he usually reserved for his cornfields. He had heard people learning to play the guitar before, and he knew that it usually took a while to get anything right. Yet Kiara had only had the guitar for a few weeks and the music she made come out of it was unlike anything Death had ever heard, even during the whole Music With Rocks In fiasco.
WHAT WAS THAT LAST ONE? he asked, THAT WAS AMAZING.
"What, 'Discussions'?" Kiara shrugged, "It's not mine, I just like it."
I THINK IT'S WHAT HUMANS CALL BEAUTIFUL.
"Yeah, well, that's why I play," Kiara got up and wandered over to the corner, looking vaguely at the model of the Discworld that sat there. Suddenly, something seemed to occur to her and she turned around, took the glass of wine from the tea tray, and left the room.
Death sat for a moment, also looking at the model of the Discworld. Then he got up and walked slowly over to it, wondering. After peering at a particular spot for several minutes, he left his study and headed for the hall of lifetimers.
The door's usual ominous creak sounded when he opened it, but Death didn't notice. He made his way purposefully down the rows of hourglasses, listening to the hisses and pops but not really hearing them. Soon, he found what he was looking for.
A lifetimer sat on the shelf, the only one not making any sound. A single grain of sand sat in the top bulb, looking ready to fall but not actually doing so. Death shook the hourglass. Nothing happened. The sand remained stationary, as if it were glued in place by something beyond his control. Which, essentially, it was.
SO SHE IS, he said to himself, replacing the hourglass and stepping back, HMM…
Kiara sat in the library, an open book balanced on her knees. It hadn't taken her long to find the five books she wanted, and now she was looking through them. The ones for her mother's parents weren't very long, although they got interesting around the time that both of them had been in Death's domain. Susan's, naturally, wasn't very exciting until later on. Kiara didn't linger too long on her mother's life, however. She set that book aside and skimmed through her father's.
A wet blotch suddenly spread in a circle in the center of the page and Kiara remembered what she had come to the library to do. She sniffed and wiped her eyes, then carefully picked up her own book. She cradled it for a moment before opening to where she thought the most recent page would be.
"Just as I thought," she muttered after she read the last sentence. She shook her head and tapped the page thoughtfully, looking up at the ceiling and considering her options.
SUQEAK! The Death of Rats scurried across the floor and up to Kiara's knee, waving his tiny scythe and squeaking rapidly.
"Okay, okay, slow down. Now, what?" Kiara closed the book but kept her finger in it to mark the spot.
The Death of Rats put his skull in his paws and did his equivalent of taking a deep breath, then repeated himself.
"Oh no," Kiara sighed, "Who told him?"
"Well, I suppose it was inevitable. I probably should have just said something when I showed up, but it would have gotten back to Susan and gods know how that would have played out."
A minute or so later, Death entered the library, found Kiara, and held up the hourglass. The one tiny grain of sand glittered.
WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME? he asked.
"Mrs. Ludd, I hate to have to be the one to tell you this," the watchman ran a hand through his hair and blew out a breath, "But your daughter is dead."
Kiara stood and faced Death, and shrugged.
"What does it matter?"
BUT YOU'RE NEARLY DEAD.
"Oh, out there maybe," Kiara waved a hand and shook her head bitterly, "Out there and three weeks from now."
BUT…HOW? HOW IS THIS POSSIBLE?
Kiara raised an eyebrow and gave Death a puzzled look. "I thought you'd seen everything."
SO HAD I.
"Basically, I manipulated time," Kiara explained, "My parents don't think I know how. But if they'd just told me earlier on what I could do, I might have made it back here with more than a shred of life left."
Lobsang's chair clattered to the floor. Susan was glaring at the watchman as if daring him to be joking. Then, suddenly, she took a step back and clutched the edge of the table.
"She's…dead?" she gasped. Lobsang saw the lines on her cheek go white while the rest of her face flushed.
The watchman nodded gravely. "I'm sorry, ma'am."
Lobsang helped Susan into a chair. "What happened?" he asked the watchman, "And please, sit down."
The watchman perched on the edge of a chair, his eyes flickering towards the door as if he wanted to make as quick a getaway as possible when this was over.
"She was in Quirm," he began, "I don't really know exactly how it happened, but she was by the side of the road and someone shot her."
"What?" exclaimed Susan.
The watchman held up his hands. "We're not sure why yet, or even if it was intentional. All we know is that she was found with an arrow in her back."
Lobsang's knuckles whitened as he gripped the back of Susan's chair. This couldn't be happening. In fact, this wasn't happening, at least the way the watchman was telling it. Lobsang knew how time worked, and there was definitely something wrong.
"Either way ma'am," the watchman said to Susan, "I'm sorry." He was out the door before either Susan or Lobsang could say anything else.
"She's not dead," Lobsang said suddenly.
Susan looked at him wearily and shook her head. "Please, Lobsang."
"I'm serious, Susan, she's not dead. Something here doesn't fit," Lobsang leaned back against the table and looked at the ceiling, "I think we need to go see your grandfather."
Death tried to put together what Kiara was telling him.
YOU ALTERED TIME… he said slowly.
"Yes," Kiara nodded.
"Well, for gods' sake, great-granddad, I'm only 18; I don't want to be dead yet."
AND YET YOU CAME HERE.
Kiara shrugged. "If I went home I'd only have to deal with Susan again, and that's one of the reasons I left home."
"Isn't that nice to know," said Susan from behind her.
Kiara looked round. Her reaction to seeing her mother standing in the middle of the library, legs apart, with one hand on her hip was a complete lack of emotion. Death was impressed; he had expected more anger.
The girl's first question was, "Is Dad here?"
Lobsang stepped out from behind the bookshelves. "Yes, honey, I'm here. We, er, we know what happened."
To Death's surprise, Kiara's eyes filled with tears.
"Why didn't you tell me?" she whispered, "All those years you let me think that heredity didn't count for anything more than a birthmark and passion for black. And now this!" She snatched the hourglass from Death's hand and held it in front of Susan's face. Light caught the last of Kiara's life and threw it into relief.
Lobsang put a hand on Kiara's shoulder in an attempt to calm her down. "Tell us what happened, Kiara."
Kiara softened a bit at her father's touch. She sat down next to the books she'd pulled from the shelves and set the hourglass on top of the pile.
"I was in Quirm and realized I didn't have enough money to get a coach anywhere else. So I got the brilliant idea to sit by the side of the road and play my guitar. That actually went along fine for a while; I made almost four dollars. Then somebody must have decided they didn't like my playing and the next thing I knew I was facedown on the gutter with an arrow in my back, this close to being dead. Only one thought went through my head, and that was –"
'I NEED TO VISIT HIM BEFORE HE VISITS ME,' Death finished. Kiara and Susan looked at him in surprise.
"You knew?" Susan demanded hotly, "You knew she would be dead and you didn't say anything?"
ON THE CONTRARY, SUSAN. YOUR DAUGHTER IS NOT DEAD, MERELY ALMOST SO.
"But you know everything! I've done your job; I've seen!"
Death shook his head slowly. THIS I COULD NOT FORSEE. IT IS BEYOND MY POWER. I AM ONLY THE FINAL JUDGEMENT WHEN THE NORMAL RULES OF TIME APPLY.
Lobsang knew this was where he came in. When Time herself was absent, he always felt that the responsibility of the powers rested on him.
"The rules of time aren't hard for Kiara to alter," he admitted, "If she made it back on the brink of death, then it may be easier for her than we thought."
Death nodded, seeming to understand. Susan, however, was watching the exchange with some suspicion. She looked at Kiara for another moment before saying anything.
"Why did you come here, of all places?" she wanted to know.
Kiara turned and gave Susan a long, slow look. Susan tried to break the eye contact, but found herself drawn into the stare, brought behind her daughter's eyes and into a place she couldn't understand. It was worse than the first time she'd ever seen into Death's eyes. In Kiara's mind there was the strength she usually showed, the outside of her, but there were also the things the strength hid: the love for the music she played, an intense bond with her father, and pain. It was a pain of detachment, of alienation, a pain that, Susan realized, she caused.
"Because he knows," Kiara said suddenly, her voice low, "He understands. He wouldn't have been able to make the guitar otherwise. And you hate him for it." She stood up, advancing slowly towards Susan as she talked, "You hate him because he somehow understands me. You hate him because I relate to him better than I do to you, and I've gotten along with him better than you ever did. I left because of that. I'm dead because of you."
"That's enough, Kiara," Lobsang said quietly. Susan found herself trembling as her daughter backed off, but whether it was with fear or anger she couldn't tell.
Tears were streaming down Kiara's cheeks. Lobsang stepped forward and Kiara allowed him to hug her.
Susan went over to Death and glared up at him. "Can I have a word with you?"
They walked away down the aisles, the scratchy whispers of lives writing themselves the only sound above Kiara's quiet crying.
"What can you do for her?" Susan demanded once they were out of earshot of the girl.
Death seemed surprised. ME?
"Don't play dumb with me, grandfather, I know you can do something."
YOU DO UNDERSTAND THAT THIS IS A MATTER OF TIME.
"Yes," Susan nodded.
AND THAT, IF SHE GOES BACK INTO THE WORLD NOW, SHE WILL ONLY BE ALIVE FOR THREE MORE WEEKS. THAT'S HOW FAR BACK SHE BROUGHT HERSELF.
"Yes," Susan said again, beginning to get impatient.
SHE WILL NOT BE ABLE TO USE HER POWER TO HER ADVANTAGE A SECOND TIME.
Susan sighed. "Yes, grandfather, I know. But what other options does she have that you're not telling me about?"
I SEE, Death nodded, WELL, TIME IS RATHER BEYOND ME. I CAN DO NOTHING MORE FOR HER THAN I DID FOR YOUR PARENTS.
Susan stiffened. She'd seen the fight between Death and Mort when she was a teenager and it hadn't been something she wanted to remember. However, another eighteen years for Kiara wasn't as bad as all that…
OR SHE COULD STAY HERE.
This caught Susan off-guard. "What?"
SHE WOULDN'T DIE, HERE.
"I know that," Susan snapped. But her mind was racing. Her daughter? Live here, in Death's house? What kind of life would that be?
I AM SIMPLY PRESENTING THE OPTIONS AS THEY STAND. IT IS NOT MY CHOICE TO MAKE. NOR IS IT YOURS.
"What?" Susan exclaimed, taken aback, "She's my daughter!"
YES. AND IF YOU MAKE THIS DECISION FOR HER, YOU WILL LOSE HER. THE GIRL FEELS WITHOUT LOGIC OR ANYTHING TO GET IN THE WAY, SUSAN. LET HER DO THAT.
Susan sighed. What could she say? Death was right. She had seen Kiara's eyes. Like it or not, Susan would have to let her make the decision on her own.
They came back to where Lobsang was now sitting on a bench with Kiara, his arm still around her shoulders and the girl dried the last of her tears. She stood up as Susan and Death approached.
"Well?" she asked quietly.
Susan nodded. "It's time to make a decision."
Kiara stood and listened patiently to her options. Then she turned to Susan and said, plainly, "I'm staying."
Lobsang's intake of breath was audible, but to his surprise and Kiara's, Susan did not object. Instead, she just nodded, as if this was what she had been expecting to hear.
"Well, we'll miss you," she said, a bit woodenly. Lobsang was the only one who could tell she was trying not to cry.
"It's not like you can't visit," Kiara pointed out, picking up the hourglass once again and looking at it.
"It won't be the same not having you around the house," Lobsang elaborated, seeing that Susan was not in the condition to do so herself.
Kiara grinned a little. "It'll be quieter for a start."
Lobsang laughed sadly. Kiara hugged him, not wanting to see him cry.
"I love you, Dad."
Lobsang returned the hug. "I love you, too, honey."
Kiara sighed, then turned to Susan. Silently, mother and daughter looked at each other, then reached a mutual decision and shared a long hug. Then Susan said something that she found very hard to say aloud.
"I love you, Kiara."
This didn't take Kiara by surprise. In fact, somehow, she'd know it, but there was something about it being voiced that undid the damage of years.
"I love you, Mom."
A new morning dawned on Death's domain, at least theoretically. Albert had been awake for hours already, having gotten sick of sleeping. He was currently frying his breakfast and was surprised to hear a set of footsteps on the stairs.
"Morning Albert!" Kiara said brightly, bouncing in with her guitar slung on her back, as usual, "Eggs or sausage this morning?"
"Er, both actually," Albert replied, stirring the globular contents of the frying pan vigorously.
Kiara looked over his shoulder at the bubbling, yellow-brown mass. "I think I'll have something else, thanks." She was out the door before Albert could say another word.
Outside, Kiara wandered past the stable and soon found herself in the orchard. The trees were laden with the usual glossy black apples. She picked one and sat down with her guitar in her lap. The apple shined in the light of the landscape and Kiara wondered…
She broke it open on the rock and three black seeds rolled out. It was hollow inside.
But then again, so was the guitar.
Some time later, Kiara looked up from playing to find Death standing a few yards away, leaning on his scythe and watching her.
'ANKH-MORPORK MORNING'? he inquired.
Kiara nodded. "It's my favorite."
There was a moment of silence. Then,
DO YOU REGRET IT, STAYING HERE?
Kiara thought about this and shook her head. "No."
The girl shrugged. "Because you get it. You're the only one I know who takes a genuine interest in things and then tries to get them right."
Death marveled at this. Those were the precise reasons that Susan had always been so frustrated with him.
EVEN THOUGH IT DOESN'T ALWAYS WORK?
"Yeah," Kiara nodded, "At least you make the effort. That's more than I can say for most people."
She strummed a few chords, and Death thought. There was always someone, wasn't there, someone in the world who was supposed to care about you and what you did. Up until now, he'd always thought that rule didn't apply to him.
He looked at the apple tree for a minute, then reached up and picked one of the apples, looking it over critically. He'd made the guitar, hadn't he? If he'd gotten one thing right, he could get two. He handed the apple to Kiara.
"Um, thanks." The girl took it and looked at it critically.
SQUEAK, the Death of Rats prompted from the tree, where he had landed with Quoth a few minutes earlier. Kiara shrugged and took a bite out of the apple. She chewed slowly and then, finally, swallowed. The fruit was black all the way through, but it was an apple all the same. She played a few more chords thoughtfully, then looked up at Death.
"Could you do that again?" she asked.
"Susan Sto Helit Ludd?"
Susan closed the door and looked at the box in her hands. It was heavy, and weatherworn as if it had come a long way. She set it on the table and opened it slowly, trying to think what it could be.
Inside, under old papers, there were several dozen glossy black apples. And Susan Sto Helit Ludd, emotionless and logical, stood there staring at them. And Susan Sto Helit Ludd cried.