Chapter 1: Master Librarians Once More
“Are you ready, Jack?” Annie asked, waving her Master Librarian card at him. After their last mission, she had found it in the bottom of her old jewelry box and now kept it in her wallet. She was dressed for a casual outing in jeans and a light blue t-shirt, but Jack wore his usual cargo pants and a collared shirt. He had grown used to the more professional look while in college, a common mode of dress among archeology students.
Jack examined his own thin Library card. It didn’t look like plastic, and the magic spells made it shimmer slightly when he turned it up to the light. Jack, who had always been more practical than his sister, had come to accept magic as real, but only with reluctance and only when working for The Librarian. The New Age stuff his last girlfriend had been into had been simply silly. “Yes,” he said at last.
Annie grinned back. “Last time, you got a beautiful woman.”
“Are you hoping that’s the theme of these missions?” he asked. “Beautiful women?”
“Maybe,” she said. Pine needles crunched underfoot as they walked deeper into the forest, and then they came to the Treefort. Jack looked up. The cards had glowed true once more, for there was the Treefort, waiting for them. Annie eagerly climbed the rope ladder. Jack followed.
There on the floor of the treefort was a sheet of parchment, folded elegantly to form its own envelope, just like last time. Annie reached and opened it. She read it aloud.
Dear Jack and Annie,
This mission could be very easy, or it could be very hard. I will not deceive you. You have faced so much in the past that I believe you can face this as well.
I am sending you to France in the early nineteenth century, during the time of the Revolution. I am asking you to bring me back a complete book. You will find it in the hands of an incomplete man.
Good luck, and stay safe.
“Oh, man,” Jack said. “The French Revolution? Is she nuts?”
“We survived the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1912, Jack.”
Jack nodded. And potentially, they had changed history, too. He worried about that one. He wondered if any of the missions they had been on had actually wrecked a time-line, and if that was even possible. Jack had his own theory about the Treefort, about how the universe occupied a meta-time-line that allowed users to move through the perceived time at will because some supra-time-line ticked along relentlessly. The meta-time-line made sure that everything stayed in “place.”
Annie handed Jack the book on which the parchment envelope had been waiting. “I’m ready, Jack. Are you?”
The book was titled, Preface of Decadence: One French Revolutionary’s Contribution to Fin de’ Siecle Art. He opened to it to the bookmark and found the picture. He read it aloud: “The Asylum At Chareton was well-regarded for its humanitarian treatment of its prisoners. It’s most famous director, the Abbe’ de Coulmier, instituted policies that protected the dignity of inmates.”
“Wow,” said Annie. “Is that who we’re going to meet?”
“I don’t think the Abbe is going to be an incomplete man, like the Librarian said. It’s more likely we’re supposed to find one of the inmates,” Jack said. “Let’s go.” He pointed to the illustration and said, “I wish we could go there.”
The wind began to blow. The treefort shook. Annie laughed with excitement, and Jack couldn’t help but feel it himself. They had both seen so much and come through all of it unscathed. The world outside spun faster and faster, and the wind whirled past the window.
And then was still. Perfectly, reassuringly still.
Chapter 2: The other Marquis.
Annie clapped her hands and peered out the window. “Look, Jack, an authentic French keep!” She pointed.
Jack joined her. She was right. Less than a half-mile away, up the hillside, was a large stone wall around a wooden manor house. The air was crisp and cool tending toward cold, but nothing they hadn’t survived before. Jack sat down again and read, “The Marquis de Sade was an inmate at the Asylum until his death in 1814.” Jack looked up. De Sade? Everyone knew who de Sade was!
“Annie!” he said. His sister turned. “Do you have any idea who we’re here to meet? I think we’re here to meet the Marquis de Sade.”
“But I thought he died in the Revolution? I saw a movie about him.”
“This book says that he’s here.”
Annie looked at the building, and she shivered. “What could we possibly be here for?” she asked.
“It says here that Sade wrote a book called the 120 Days of Sodom, which cataloged a long list of perversions visited upon teenagers by a quartet of rich libertines.” Jack looked up. Annie’s face had become pale. “The book was never completed, and the edition published a century after his death contains many gaps.”
Annie took a deep breath. “A complete book from an incomplete man. I think you’re right, Jack. I think that’s where we’re supposed to go.” She pointed.
“Annie,” Jack said, taking ahold of her wrist. “What if… I mean, de Sade was a sick guy. He originally ended up in prison because he poisoned some women for fun.”
“But that’s not a prison, Jack. It’s an insane asylum. He’s there because he’s sick in a different way.”
Jack was not convinced. He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Oh, man. I know we’re going to regret this.”
“Maybe,” Annie said. “Maybe not.” She started down the rope ladder. Jack sighed, knowing there was no way he could stop her from scrambling into the mission head-first once she was determined to go.
He had always thought of them as ‘missions’. The Librarian had said, the first time they had met, that she had had no intention of using small children to accomplish her goals. She had said that Jack and Annie had ‘forced’ the decision upon her by stumbling upon her treefort and one of her magical books. Jack had never regretted his decision, alongside Annie, to press the Librarian for more.
He had always thought that someday he might change his mind. He wondered if today would be that day.
He followed Annie down the ladder. She waited for him at the bottom, and when he joined her she pointed towards the whitewashed stone building. “Let’s go.”
The walk was mostly uphill as the Asylum was built into an old keep with a commanding view of the surrounding valley. There did not seem to be a guard anywhere, and as they approached old men dressed in stained white sacks with a belt about the waist shied away from them. The building itself was enormous, with stone steps leading up to a huge two-paneled wooden door. Two workers dangled from ropes up to the right, applying another layer of white paint to walls already so thick with ancient layers that it was beginning to fail and pit in places. “Jack,” Annie whispered. “Wow.” “Yeah, wow,” Jack said. He had been prepared for anything, but the age of the building took his breath away. He was a year away from declaring his major but he had been studying pre-archeology with a minor in history and he thought he would be prepared for anything. He had been ready for the asylum to be dingy and dirty, and he had been prepared for it to be shiny and new. What he hadn’t been prepared for was the impression that the building was so old. Clean, maintained, working, but ancient. It had already stood here for centuries and by the time Jack got back to his own century it would still be in this spot, centuries older still.
A man came walking down the stairs. He was dressed in a black, open robe, under which he wore a tired but clean suit that looked surprisingly modern. His eyes examined them. “Are you here to visit a relative?” he asked. His accent was very thick.
“Are you the Abbe’ de Coulmier?” Annie asked.
“That would be me, yes.”
“We’ve come to talk to the Marquis.”
“Which one? We have four,” the Abbe said gently.
“Monsieur de Sade,” Jack said.
“Ah.” The Abbe looked concerned for a moment, especially at Annie. “Yes, well, the Marquis is currently directing one of his plays. Preparing it for an opening show tonight. You are aware of it?” Jack and Annie shook their heads. “Ah, you shall see. He is quite harmless, although perhaps you should see for yourself. You are… pilgrims of the Marquis’ art?”
“Critics,” Annie said suddenly. “Of his literature.”
“Oh, well, the Marquis does love to speak of it. Shall I… show you to him?”
Annie said, “We would be delighted.”
Chapter 3: The Divine Marquis.
The Abbe’ de Coulmier led Jack and Annie into a corridor lined with closed doors. Jack knew very little about ancient insane asylums, but what he did know led him expect shrieks and gibbers and mad howlings. None of that seemed to be happening at Chareton. The hallways were quiet, the few people they passed calm and shy. “How many patients are here?” Annie asked.
“We have about four hundred all told. Many of them, like the Marquis, are capable of conversation and even thought. The Marquis, you know, is something of an enigma. He seems fully sane, but his power is such that he cannot be let loose.”
“Power?” Jack asked.
“The Marquis seems to have an enormous power about him, one which enables him to convince even the most raving lunatic to do as he asks. When conversing with ordinary and simple folk, he is utterly convincing even when discussing the most outrageous topic.” He smiled grimly. “Some clergymen seem to be partially immune to his influence, and I am capable of fending him off entirely, as are some of my staff. But one must always be wary around the Marquis. You would not think that a man like him would be capable of talking a young girl into his bed, not at his age and state, but he has. Several times. He has one, Marie, who will not leave him, although she is but fifteen. I suspect he has been fucking her for at least two years.”
Annie blushed. The Abbe’s grim smile returned. “I suppose that is not the language one expects of a priest, but I am also the director of this asylum. I must adjust to the people whom I am assigned to oversee. The Marquis is a special case, and I must adopt special language to deal with him. There is no other word to describe what he does with Marie and poor Henri.”
Jack looked at Annie. He spread his hands in a gesture of helplessness. Neither knew what to do. Jack knew he wanted to get the book and get out, but he would have to wait until they found where the book was hidden, or convinced the Marquis to give it to them.
The Abbe led them to a large room, a half-ring of stepped benches looking over a small stage. There stood to one side a small and grossly fat man, holding a short staff in his hand. He bellowed, “No, no, no. First, you must raise your hand thusly!” He lifted the staff aloft. “And then you must strike! Over and over! You must be vicious! You must remember that you are an assassin!”
A man’s voice but very high pitched sobbed from behind a curtain. “I am trying! I am!”
The Abbe pointed to the fat man. “The Marquis de Sade.”
He did not seem like much, Jack thought. His obesity and the poxy pallor of his expression made it clear that he was a man on the edge of his life, yet he seemed robust enough. His clothes were tailored to his body and expensive enough to have seemed noble. The Marquis looked up at the sound of the door’s creaking hinge. “Ah, Abbe’! Have you come to judge the progress of our performance? I believe we shall easily be ready for the coming night.”
“I believe you will, Marquis. You have never disappointed us in the past.”
“And what gift have you brought me, my incorruptible Abbe?” There was an odd sneer to the way he said it, as if he did not believe in his own description and patiently waited for the Abbe to fall. Jack took an instant dislike to the Marquis de Sade.
“Students,” the Abbe said. “They said they wish to talk to you.”
“Students!” The Marquis roared with laughter. “Well, bring them down, bring them down! Let me have a look at them.”
As Jack approached, his assessment of the Marquis shifted imperceptibly. He wasn’t sure why, but as he got closer the Marquis’ appearance became all the more unnerving, even disgusting. When they stood on the same front row as he, Jack could smell the man, just as he could smell everyone they had met in the unwashed past. Only Rome had been vaguely clean, and then only the people. The streets had been filthy. The Marquis was particularly pungent, and some of that smell arose from perfume clearly meant to cloak any other smells that might emanate from the man. “Ah, what beautiful souls!” the Marquis said.
And with that, Jack understood the Abbe’s words. There was something almost magical in the way he spoke, something demanding admiration, but it was also something hollow and childish. Jack held onto his dislike of the Marquis like a talisman, for it was an effective feeling with which to fan away the Marquis’ odd charisma. It was not the charisma with which one could move crowds, but it was, face-to-face, a potent capability.
Annie said, “Monsieur de Sade, we come seeking a book.”
“A book, my child?” He waddled as he stepped toward her. “Which book would that be? I do not make books anymore.”
“Not even one that takes place over four months?” Annie said.
The Marquis looked up at the Abbe, who was now frowning. The Marquis sighed, “Not even one. But… but… ” His eyes widened briefly, as if an idea had come to him that he could not afford to let go. “Promise me something, child.” He reached out suddenly and took Annie’s hand. “Promise me you will take a place in my play tonight. Tonight, only. Promise me, and I shall tell you what I can.”
Annie looked at Jack, a worried look in her eyes. She was in the grip of the Marquis De Sade. “Promise me she’ll be safe,” Jack said.
“Untouched!” the Marquis said at last. “Unspoiled. I promise. Only–” He let go of her hands and brushed her cheek gently. “I cannot say where I have seen such radiant beauty, such cleanliness of skin and hair, such perfect teeth, in all of my life. My goodness, what beauty you have. Where do you both come from?”
“America,” Jack said.
“Is everyone in America so beautiful as you?” the Marquis said.
Jack remembered. Right now, Benjamin Franklin and George Washington were still alive. Washington had been downright ugly because of a childhood attack of smallpox that had left him with the complexion of a toad, and his wooden teeth made his cheeks hollow and cadaverous. “I think we have been lucky, to avoid the pox.”
“Ah,” the Marquis sighed. “That terrible divider of men. Yes, but your eyes, your hair, your teeth– It must truly be a land of plenty. I have wasted my years here in France. Beautiful, magnificent, ancient, corrupt, cosmopolitan France.” He looked at Annie. “I will corrupt you only in my dreams, my dear. What is your name?”
“Ann,” Annie said. “Just… Ann.”
“Then tonight, Ann, you will be the bathmaid in my play. You will have but one moment on stage, but it will be a defining one. You shall find the victim, Jean Paul Marat, dead in his bath, and you will scream. You must scream as you have never screamed before. It must come from deep within. It must shock and horrify the audience. It must even frighten your companion, who will be watching with the rest of them.” He smiled, and it was no less alarming for its toothlessness. “You will get as much as I can give you then.”
Annie nodded. “I’ll do it.”
“Excellent. You, young man. What is your name?”
“Jacques! An excellent name! Sit, watch with us.” He clapped his hands. “Jean! Naf! Let us begin again!”
Chapter 4: Marat / Sade
To Jack’s surprise, the afternoon seemed to speed by without interruption. The Marquis was truly a taskmaster but he kept the rehearsal moving along and then let everyone break for dinner. Annie joined him, and both agreed that neither was hungry, nor would they trust the food at the Asylum. “After the play,” Jack said, “We get the book and then we run for it.”
“But, Jack, don’t you want to stay?”
“Annie, this is the Marquis De Sade. You know he’s not a nice guy.”
“I know, Jack, but this is such an opportunity!”
“To what? Annie, this guy commits rape for fun, and then convinces the victims to pay him for it! I’ve been reading.” He held up the book. “His ex-wife and daughter are paying to keep him in here, even though they hate him, and the alternative is that he gets beheaded! Despite their feelings for him, they can’t not do what he asks. Those two people who came in toward the end of the rehearsal? Those are his lovers. He keeps them here simply by asking them to stay.”
“They can’t be his lovers! The girl, Marie, can’t have been more than fourteen, Jack. I can’t even imagine her trying to have sex with that… that old hippopotamus!”
“Trust me, Annie, he’s banging her.”
“Yuck! And what does the other one do?”
“Henri? He’s banging the Marquis.”
“Yuck! Jack!” Annie playfully tagged Jack on the arm.
“It’s true,” Jack said.
As if he had heard his name, Henri came up to Annie and said, “The Marquis would like you to take your place. The play is beginning.”
Jack went to sit in the back of the small theatre. The audience was well-dressed and well-perfumed but the stench of so many rarely washed bodies was nearly overwhelming. Jack had been in many places throughout history as he had travelled with The Librarian, but he had rarely smelled the people with whom he had associated. It was unavoidable here. And these were people from Paris, thrill-seekers, the youthful nouveau-nobility, those who had risen to power not from heritage but through some combination of patronage and merit. They had come to bask in the influence of this evil man, now supposedly caged and tamed. And they still reeked.
He knew that he should have been forgiving, as the importance of hygiene was unknown to most peoples throughout history, but he could not be, not with his sister so close to so many of them, and the ones around her were mad. Certified to be so.
The Marquis was not mad. Jack was sure of that. He was coldly sane, calculating, driven by an inner hunger for control over others that manifested itself only in the small, not the large. For that, sadly, France had had Robespierre and Napoleon. Jack was not sure if France got the best deal.
The play itself was an endless bore of speeches, arguments, all in a flowery language that probably wouldn’t have made sense even if Jack had understood it perfectly in its native French rather than through the Librarian’s mystical translation ability.
Annie had her first part, the walk-on when she would draw the bath. Her hair had been done up in a bun, her face powdered most gently, but otherwise she was Annie, Jack’s sister. He knew she was pretty, but the audience gasped as she came onto stage and bowed to them. Was she really that much of a rarity? Jack looked at the women who had come to watch, and he determined that yes, in this age and place, she was.
He watched as she moved off-stage. A few moments later, Henri walked out of a side door and came to him. “Jacques,” he said, “Would you come with me?”
“What is it?” Jack said. “Is something wrong?”
“It is best if you come with me.”
Worried, Jack stood up and followed Henri through the door. The room inside was dark, lit with a single candle. “Wha…” He was grabbed roughly from behind. “Hey!”
The Marquis’ voice was in his ear. “Ah, Monsieur Jacques, so nice of you to join us.” Jack’s eyes went wide. Henri looked at him, apologetically. “I did say that your companion would be uncorrupted. I made no promises about you.” A hand, meaty and shaking, stroked Jack’s side. He was horrified. “I have no desire to gain the wrath of powers beyond my own. You will leave here unmarked. But you must leave me something to feed my imagination.” Jack had been so busy listening he had not been paying attention to Henri, who was now on his knees before Jack.
“No,” Jack said.
“Such a low and disgusting thing, is it not?”
With a guy, yes, Jack thought. But he couldn’t deny that his cock was rousing at the anticipation of his receiving a blowjob. It nudged against the zipper, waiting for a touch to awaken it completely. When Henri found the clasp of his pants and tore it open, Jack struggled against the Marquis’ terribly powerful grip. For a fat old man, the Marquis still retained a fair modicum of strength and even the athletic Jack couldn’t break free of that grip.
And then Henri’s mouth touched Jack’s cock. Jack jerked up, shuddering. The Marquis’ breath was in his ear as Henri’s mouth slip up the length of Jack’s firm erection. He couldn’t believe what was happening to him. Why was he hard? Was he excited by… what? Maybe it was just the friction. Cocks, he had heard often enough, were simply stupid, and would enjoy anyone’s attention. Jack held his breath.
Henri’s mouth was affixed to him like a lamprey now, but one that sent shudders of reluctant pleasure through Jack, torturing him even as he knew that his climax was inevitable. Henri’s lips slid along the length of Jack’s cock, his eyes closed with obvious pleasure at the act of sucking another man’s cock. Was he like that with the Marquis? Jack had no doubt.
Jack couldn’t help it. His cock was stupid. He felt nauseous. He knew he was about to come around that soft, skilled mouth. The sensation rose like a cobra within and then struck, he came with a gasp, a low moan of sickly pleasure, his hips jerking with reflex and bile crouching behind his tongue. He heard Annie scream. He panicked before remembering: the scream had been the main point of Annie’s role in the play.
The Marquis released him. “Ah, Jacques, you have been a good sport.” Jack glared at him even as he tied his pants back up. “Your sister has played her part, and now will be in the audience, watching the end. Go and find her. What you seek you can find. Ask Marie to show you my chamber, and there you will find it, under my bed.”
Jack fled. He remembered the way back to the theater and, dazed, walked in and found Annie. He slid in beside her. “Jack,” she whispered. “Are you okay?”
He swallowed hard, then nodded. Nothing had happened to him. Nothing he couldn’t forget, someday. Slowly, the disgust he felt turned to anger. “The Marquis is a real bastard.”
Annie’s eyes widened. “Did he hurt you? He did, didn’t he?”
Jack’s laugh was dark and brief. “No,” he said. “He was just… annoying. He told me that Marie would show us his room, and there we would find the book, under his bed.”
Chapter 5: 120 Days
They found Marie as the Marquis had said, and she led them willingly to the Marquis’ bedroom. It was tidy although one large trunk was thrown open revealing an orgy of ropes, scarves, and large leather dildos. Annie giggled then said to Marie, “I hope he doesn’t use those on you.”
“Oh, no, Madam. The Marquis uses them on himself.”
“Watch my back,” Jack said. Annie nodded as Jack reached under the bed and dug out a huge leather-bound manuscript. The writing was incredibly tiny as if the Marquis had never been sure that he would ever have another sheet of paper again for each page that he wrote. “Got it. Let’s get out of here.”
Jack was more than eager to leave. Annie was too. They ran from the asylum as if evil with a corporeal form was after them. Jack could not remember running harder. Not even when a dinosaur had tried to eat him.
The treefort was still there, still waiting for them. Jack defied tradition for once and scrambled up the rope ahead of Annie. He waited until she was in the treefort to open up the New Hampshire book. He found the picture of Frogton, pointed to it, and said, “I wish we could go home!”
The wind began to blow. The treefort shook. “Yes!” Jack shouted. The sound of wind was so familiar now, so precious. Jack held onto it, sure that he was leaving behind what had to have been the worst mission he had ever been on.
The roar of the wind grew, louder and louder. And then, suddenly, expectedly, everything was still. Utterly still.
Jack sagged. Wearily, he left the manuscript on the letter ‘L’, not even bothering to open it. He had no interest in this one. And already, the experiences with the Marquis were fading, as if they had been nothing more than a dream, a story, something he had read, something that had happened to someone else. It was not always this way, but this time he was grateful for the effect. He smiled at Annie. “Let’s go home.”
“Yeah,” Annie said.
They descended the rope ladder one at a time, and walked slowly back to the house. Jack had a long drive back to the University, and Annie had class in the morning. Both of them were worn out.