Sunday, September 1, 2019

Succubus Dreams CHAPTER 18

My dream-self sprinted out of the kitchen and toward the sound of the crying. Aubrey and the mystery cat jerked their heads up, surprised at my sudden movement. On the other side of the living room, the little girl sat on the floor beside an end table with sharp corners, a small hand pressed to her forehead. Tears streamed down her checks as she wailed. In a flash, my dream-self was on her knees and had wrapped the little girl up in a tight embrace. I could feel what the other Georgina felt, and I nearly wept as well over the feel of that soft, warm body in my arms. My dream-self rocked the girl, murmuring soothing, nonsensical words as she brushed her lips against the silken hair. Eventually, the girl's sobs stopped, and she rested her head against my dream-self's chest, content to simply be loved and rocked. I opened my eyes and stared at Seth's plain white ceiling. He lay beside me, curled up near my body and still smelling like the massage oil. Even awake, the dream's images were still strong and so real. I knew exactly how my daughter's hair had felt, the way she smelled, the rhythm of her heart. My own heart pined so much for her that I could almost ignore the fact that last night's energy was now gone. This was turning into a real problem. I sat up, gently pushing Seth off of me. But as I tried to figure out what to do about this latest dream, a strange thought kept pressing into the back of my head. Erik. I couldn't stop thinking about Erik. It was nothing in particular, either. No specific problem. But, whenever I tried to think about something else – my job, the energy loss, Seth – it was Erik's face that appeared in my head. I didn't understand it, but it worried me. Seth's arms reached for me as I slipped out of bed, but I skillfully avoided them. Grabbing my cell phone out of my purse, I headed off toward the living room. No one answered when I dialed Arcana, Ltd. It was almost ten†¦usually he was open by then. I called information in search of Erik's home number, but it appeared to be unlisted. A sense of dread was building in me. Desperate, I dialed Dante's store. â€Å"Dante, I think something's happened to Erik, but I don't have his home number and – â€Å" â€Å"Whoa, whoa, succubus. Slow down. Start from the beginning.† Backing up, I explained how I'd dreamed again and woken up obsessed with Erik. â€Å"Maybe it's nothing, but after the drowning thing†¦I don't know. Do you have his home number?† â€Å"Yeah,† Dante said after several moments. â€Å"I do. I'll†¦I'll check on him for you and give you a call back.† â€Å"Thanks, Dante. I mean it.† I disconnected as a sleepy Seth stepped out of the bedroom. â€Å"Who's Dante? Was that a collect call to the Inferno?† â€Å"They won't accept the charges,† I murmured, still troubled. Seth's face turned serious. â€Å"What's wrong?† I hesitated, not because I was afraid to tell him about Dante but because I didn't know if I wanted him caught up in all of this. â€Å"It involves immortal intrigue,† I warned. â€Å"And the higher workings of the universe.† â€Å"I live for those things,† he said wryly, settling into an armchair. â€Å"Tell me.† So, I did. He knew about my first energy loss but not the rest. I didn't tell him about the content of the dreams, merely that they drained me of energy. I also explained about the self-fulfilling prophecies and how I'd woken up damp one morning and thinking about Erik today. When I finished, I stared at the cell phone accusingly. â€Å"Damn it. Why isn't he calling?† â€Å"Why do you always tell me this at the last minute?† asked Seth. â€Å"It's been giving you trouble for a while. I thought it had been a one-time thing.† â€Å"I didn't want to bother you. And I know how funny you are about immortal stuff.† â€Å"Things that affect you – that may be harming you – don't bother me. I mean, well, they do, but that's not the point. This all goes back to commun – â€Å" The phone rang. â€Å"Dante?† I asked eagerly. I hadn't even bothered to check the number. But it was him. His voice sounded grim. â€Å"You need to come over here. To Erik's.† â€Å"The store?† â€Å"No, his house. It's close to my place here.† â€Å"What's going on?† â€Å"Just come over.† Dante rattled off an address and directions. With quick shape-shifting, I was dressed and ready to bolt out the door in an instant. Seth told me to wait, and in less than a minute – not as good as me, though still good – he was ready too. I'd never thought much about Erik having a home of his own. To me, he just always sort of existed in his store. The address was about a mile from Dante's, in an old, yet well-maintained neighborhood. Erik's house was one of the small bungalow types so common in Seattle neighborhoods, and the front yard was filled with roses gone dormant for the winter. As we walked up the steps, I entertained a brief vision of Erik out there tending the flowers in the summer. Dante opened the door before I could knock. I wondered if he'd sensed me or had simply seen us through the window. He displayed no particular reaction to Seth's presence and ushered us in toward the house's one bedroom. The house's interior looked like it hadn't been updated in a while. In fact, a lot of the furniture reminded me of mid-twentieth-century styles. A plaid sofa with rough fabric. A worn velvet armchair in seventies gold. A TV that dubiously looked capable of color. None of that triggered any sort of reaction in me, though. What startled me was one framed picture sitting on a bookshelf. It showed a much younger Erik – maybe in his forties – with fewer wrinkles in his dark skin and no gray in his black hair. He had his arm around a thirty-something brunette with big gray eyes and a smile as large as his. Dante nudged me when I stopped, an odd look on his face. â€Å"Come on.† Erik lay in bed. To my relief, he was alive. I didn't realize until that moment just how worried I'd been. My subconscious had feared the worst, even though I'd refused to let it surface. But alive or not, he really didn't look so great. He was sweating and shaking, eyes wide and face pallid. His breathing was shallow. When he saw me, he flinched, and for half a second, I saw terror in his eyes. Then, the fear faded, and he attempted a weak smile. â€Å"Miss Kincaid. Forgive me for not being able to receive you properly.† â€Å"Jesus,† I gasped, sitting on the bed's edge. â€Å"What happened? Are you okay?† â€Å"I will be.† I studied him, trying to piece together what had taken place. â€Å"Were you attacked?† His gaze flicked over to Dante. Dante shrugged. â€Å"In a manner of speaking,† Erik said at last. â€Å"But not in the way you're thinking.† Dante leaned against the wall, appearing a little less grave than he had earlier. â€Å"Don't waste her time with riddles, old man. Spill it.† Erik's eyes narrowed, a bit of fire flaring in their depths. Then, he turned back to me. â€Å"I was attacked†¦mentally, not physically. A woman came to me tonight†¦wraithlike, inhuman†¦wreathed in energy. The kind of beauteous, enthralling energy I see you glow with sometimes.† It was a sweet way to describe my post-sex glamour. â€Å"Was she bat-winged and flame-eyed?† I asked, recalling Dante's long-ago joke about the mythological description of succubi. â€Å"Not a succubus, I'm afraid. That might be easier. No, this†¦I believe†¦was Nyx.† â€Å"Did†¦did you say Nyx?† Of course that was what he'd said, but I'd been waiting for him to launch into a discussion of Oneroi, not their mother. Nyx made no sense. It was one thing for dream spirits to appear in your bedroom and in your dreams. It was an entirely different matter for a monstrous primordial entity of chaos who had been instrumental in creating the world as we know it to appear in your bedroom. It was like saying God had stopped by for waffles on the way to work. Maybe Erik was still delirious. â€Å"Nyx,† he confirmed, no doubt guessing my thoughts. â€Å"Chaos herself. Or, more accurately, Night herself.† From the corner, Dante laughed softly. â€Å"We're all fucked now.† â€Å"She's the mother of the Oneroi,† Erik reminded me. â€Å"And, although dreams aren't her sole domain, she too is connected to them.† â€Å"Then†¦Ã¢â‚¬  I tried to grasp the implications. â€Å"Are you saying she's been responsible for what's been happening to me?† â€Å"It almost makes sense,† said Dante. Erik apparently agreed. â€Å"She's linked to time and all the myriad potential fates that exist for the universe. Fate and time are forever moving closer to chaos – to entropy – and that's what she feeds off of. She's trying to create more of it in the world, to bring us that much nearer to ultimate disintegration. But she's a long way from bringing anything like that about, so she settles for small acts of chaos.† I wasn't following. â€Å"My dreams and energy loss are acts of chaos?† â€Å"No.† Erik glanced at Dante again. â€Å"We believe you're her instrument. Since she's connected to time as well as space, she has the ability to see pieces of the future. And there is no greater way to cause chaos in this world than by revealing the future to mortals. Such visions prove consuming, and if crafted in a certain way, they can drive a person to madness. That person will obsess on it, struggling to either stop it or bring it about in a way it's not actually meant to unfold. Both acts are futile. The future plays out as it is meant to. In trying to alter it, we only make it happen that much more quickly.† â€Å"Like the Oedipus story,† noted Seth. â€Å"His father's attempts to change the prophecy's outcome are what actually made it happen.† Erik nodded. â€Å"Exactly.† I understood now too. â€Å"Just like the cop who saw his partner getting shot. And the man who saw his family benefiting by him swimming the Sound.† â€Å"It's how Nyx operates. Everything she shows them is true†¦just not true in the way they expect. The ensuing madness and destruction brought about by showing mortals their futures – futures that they end up bringing about – feeds her.† â€Å"But where do I fit in?† I demanded. â€Å"She isn't showing me my future or making me do crazy things.† â€Å"That's where the theory ends, succubus,† Dante said. â€Å"You're part of it, absolutely. And she needs you to do all this†¦but we don't know the mechanics of it.† â€Å"This is insane,† I said blankly. â€Å"I'm the instrument of an all-powerful primordial deity's wave of chaos and destruction.† â€Å"That's kind of extreme,† said Dante jovially. â€Å"It's not like you work for Google or anything.† Seth gently touched my shoulder. â€Å"Can I ask a question here? I'm confused by†¦like, how is it possible that you're just now realizing that this†¦Nyx†¦is out there? I mean, if she's as powerful as you claim†¦I don't know. Why didn't you think of her right away? Why hasn't this happened before?† â€Å"Because she's locked up,† I said. â€Å"Or well, she's supposed to be. Heaven and Hell have their own agendas for the world; they don't want her running loose and messing it all up. If this is her, I have no idea how she got loose. She's supposed to be guarded by angels, and if there was ever a group that could – † I let out a gasp that turned into a groan. The others stared at me. â€Å"What's wrong?† asked Seth. â€Å"That's why they're here,† I said. â€Å"I'm such an idiot. There's a monstrous regiment of angels in town. I knew they were looking for something, but I didn't know what.† That would also explain Vincent's interest in local news – he was looking for Nyx-patterns that would provide them with a trail. He'd even started to pursue my knowledge of the cop story, but Seth's shooting and his outing as a nephilim had distracted us all. â€Å"Yeah, well, they're doing a bang-up job,† said Dante. I rose from Erik's bedside. â€Å"I have to tell them what we know. Maybe they'll understand what she's doing to me.† â€Å"Be careful,† Erik warned. â€Å"She's suspicious now†¦I think that's why she came after me. I was looking into this, and she didn't want me to succeed.† Something else suddenly occurred to me. â€Å"Erik†¦did she show you a vision?† He nodded. â€Å"What was it?† It must have been horrible, whatever it was. He'd clearly been in shock when Dante had found him. Erik looked at me, and for an instant, I saw a flash of the terror he'd shown when I first walked into the room. Then, it was gone. â€Å"It doesn't matter, Miss Kincaid. She wanted to scare me, to stop me from helping you†¦but it didn't work. The future will unfold as it's meant to.† Seeing my doubtful look, he smiled again and pointed toward the door. â€Å"Stop worrying about me. I will be fine. Go find your angel friends before anything worse happens.† I gave him a quick hug before stepping into the other room with Seth and Dante. Once again, I paused to study the picture of Erik and the woman. Just as I'd always imagined Erik living in his store, I'd also never pictured him having any sort of personal life. Obviously, that was a foolish thought on my part. Who was this woman? Wife? Lover? Just a friend? Beside me, Dante held out his hand to Seth and introduced himself. The two men sized each other up. â€Å"I've heard so much about you,† said Dante cheerfully. â€Å"I never heard of you until this morning,† remarked Seth. My eyes were still on the picture. Near the edge of the frame, I noticed a crease in the photograph. I don't know what made me do it, but I picked the frame up and pulled the picture out. The right-hand third of the photo had been folded, obscuring another person who had been with Erik and the woman. Dante. I looked up in surprise. Dante took the picture and frame from me and reassembled them. â€Å"There's no time for this, succubus.† â€Å"But – â€Å" â€Å"We have more important things to deal with than your own curiosity right now.† I cast an uneasy look at Erik's closed bedroom door. Dante was right. â€Å"Do you think you could maybe†¦Ã¢â‚¬  Dante sighed, anticipating my question. â€Å"Yes, succubus. I'll check in on him today.† For a moment, I thought I saw something in his face†¦something that wasn't just him grudgingly humoring me. Like that maybe – maybe – he cared about Erik too. It was weird, but then, they'd all looked pretty happy in the photograph. The worst enemies were often those who had been friends. This Erik-Dante puzzle just got weirder and weirder. I started to turn away, then Dante called, â€Å"Oh, hey. I can probably make your charm, now that we know what this is.† Hope surged up in me at the thought of finally having safe dreams again. â€Å"Really?† â€Å"If you still want me to,† he added warily. I presumed he was subtly referencing my skepticism – which hadn't entirely abated. Still, now that I had a name for my predator, I was more anxious than ever to take whatever protection I could get. â€Å"Definitely. If you think it'll work.† â€Å"In theory, at least. Nyx isn't exactly a run-of-the-mill spirit. I'll see what I can do.† I drove Seth back to his condo, anxious to let him off, so I could do some searching. â€Å"I have to go find the angels,† I told him. â€Å"I'll catch up to you later.† â€Å"So†¦no movie tonight?† â€Å"I – what? Oh, damn it.† I'd forgotten about the plans we'd made. He'd gotten tickets for an indie movie that was showing one night only here. â€Å"I'm sorry†¦I really am†¦Ã¢â‚¬  â€Å"Well,† said Seth wryly, â€Å"considering life and death are literally on the line, I think I can forgive it this time.† â€Å"You know what you should do? You should take Maddie. You still owe her a date.† He smiled. â€Å"I have the best girlfriend in the world, always trying to push me into the arms of another woman.† â€Å"I'm serious! She's feeling unwanted. She thinks you don't like her.† â€Å"I like her a lot. The whole thing is just weird, that's all. I think I'm going to see if Terry can go to the movie. Don't give me that look,† he warned. â€Å"I'll still take her somewhere. Just not to this.† We kissed good-bye, and Seth promised to check on me later. Once he was gone, I set out to find my guardian angels.

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