Dues Ex Machina

By Vaar Aragon




(Ayah, old enigma that she is, sits impassive. The rest of the house is silent: no creaks from the garret, no violin song from the study, no hysteria from the garden. A shot rings out, echoes, fades. She is alone.)

Ayah smiles, briefly, then lapses into still contemplation of the end of her work. Hooves clatter upon the gravel. Ayah starts, then becomes still again, tuning out the noise. A door bangs far off in the house; she does not hear it. The door to the study opens and shuts, then that to the chapel. The curtain to her own shrine is pulled back. A human figure glitters before her, clad in white metal. She sees the long straight sword at its side-and screams out a spell. A moment later, her head rolls from its body.

The figure returns to the little chapel. A thin, refined man slumps over his Bible, eyes shut, perhaps dreaming some quiet, sad dream that cuts him to the heart. Or perhaps not: there is a red, wet hole in the left temple where the bullet went in, and the pistol has just slipped from his hand. The figure pulls off one gauntlet, touches the corpse's chest as though  looking for some sign. What, exactly, is hard to tell: the pulse is more readily found at the throat, and there is obviously no breathing. The figure produces a small, star-blue vial and puts it to the pale, dead lips. The vial's contents are emptied cleanly, without spillage, into the man's mouth. The figure hoists the dead man over its shoulders, not without 
difficulty, and carries him outside....

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Cold. The first thing Dr. Lawrence felt was a gust of cold air. The second was an impossible, intolerable pain in one temple. He opened his eyes. His blurred vision showed him something that looked like a beardless youth in armor.

"You're awake. Good." The armored one spoke with an odd accent that Lawrence could not precisely place.

"Where-?" Lawrence croaked. "How-?"

"You are about sixty miles from that accursed house. I brought you here. When you are a little stronger, I will give you directions to a woman who lives near here."

"But-?"

"Yes, self-killer. You should be dead. Le Bon Dieu decided otherwise."

Lawrence at last recognized the accent as an odd form of French. "What-?"

"The boule of lead is still in your skull, but it has not yet entered-or injured-your brain. It is still traveling inward, but very, very slowly, maybe a hairs-breadth every few hours. You will die in two days."

The once and future corpse laughed harshly. "So this is Divine Mercy." The youth raised his hand as though to strike Lawrence, then slowly lowered it. "The pain may be trouble you now, but it will be less so in a little while," he said. "Mercy you may find it, if it teaches you to die like a man instead of a coward."

Lawrence laughed again. "What do you know of cowardice?"

"Fear I know well, and I have turned coward at least once, though I regretted it afterwards." The youth answered. "But no more about me; as your strength returns, I will fade from your thoughts and seem only a dream. What matter is that you have been granted time-two whole days!-for repentance."

"What would you have me do?" Lawrence was a little ashamed of his dour tone, but he could not change it.

"You hate the people of a far-off land, because a few of them were evil and taught evil to those you loved. This
is...contemptible, and it must end." The youth hesitated. "This will be hard, I know because I once felt almost in such a way towards you English. But you must do so as best you can in the time given you."

Lawrence nodded.

"You resent your son and your wife for betraying you; you must forgive them. Likewise for the old woman I found in your house."

Lawrence started to shake his head, then stopped because it still hurt, though less than before. "The first I can do, I've always known it was wrong of me to feel that towards her and him. But the last-I cannot do; she is truly an evil creature."

The boy looked stern. "She has gone already before her Judge, and you are not her jury."

"You mean she is dead." Lawrence was silent for a moment. "I'll try," he said, "As best I can. Is there anything else I must do?"

"Pray. Pray as hard as you can."

"It's never worked for me before."

"You must try harder than you have before; don't worry, you will have guides, the same who guided me."

The youth stretched out his hand. "Can you stand?" He asked. Lawrence could, and a few steps seem to convince the youth that he was well enough to walk.

"You must follow the path that way, to the east," the youth pointed. "When you see a green house, knock on the door. The lady there is a mystic, and will accept you as you are."

"But won't my death be-"

"Inconvenable for her? Do not fear, that too has been arranged."

Lawrence had a feeling this...visitation, or whatever it was, was about to end.

"But why me? Why not-?"

"Perhaps because you fell less far or from gentler motives than the others. Perhaps because you alone tried to end the evil."

"How did Ayah die?" He knew that he didn't really want to know, that he was stalling, but he had to ask.

The youth was silent for a moment, seemingly not displeased with the question but with the answer about to be given. "She saw my sword and tried to cast a spell that would turn it against me. But my sword has a force of its own, and it took her head off." The youth shook his own head. "My sword is a very powerful weapon; it is why-or one of the whys-I may not 
fight with it." The youth had swung into the saddle as he spoke, and Lawrence for once got a good look at the sword. Five small red crosses were engraved on the hilt. He looked up at the rider's face, marveling that he had not noticed the girl's features beneath the boyish haircut.

"Where in France are you-were you-from?" He stammered, instinctively knowing that he would get no answer if he asked "who" or "when" instead of "where".

The armored girl looked down on him. "Domremy," she answered. "And now, it is goodbye as you would say."

"Will we meet again?" He asked.

She smiled, slightly. "If I see you again, I will know that this errand will not have been in vain." And with that she rode off towards the east. But as she rode, she faded from view. Doctor Lawrence set on the path of his two days feeling less alone, less empty than he looked.

COPYRIGHT VAAR ARAGON, 2001