It felt like a beautiful morning, but it didn’t seem likely Ethan would be able to enjoy it. He opened his eyes to see where he was. There were trees and privacy, which was better than usual. He saw Matt walking over with his backpack.
“Good morning. Have a fun night?” Matt asked.
Ethan didn’t respond as he looked around the depression he’d been sleeping in. There was a bloody carcass nearby. It looked like a dog and a glance at his hands revealed he was covered in blood. There was a lot of blood and he was beginning to regret the choice to sleep naked. After the first couple of times he ruined his bedclothes he’d given up. Blood would wash off his skin, but not out of the clothes and he didn’t want Josh to know what was happening to him in the middle of the night. He had enough to worry about.
Matt handed him a package of wet wipes and he started to make himself presentable to travel home, where he he could bathe for real. He couldn’t look at the dog.
“Does it have a collar?” he asked. He knew Matt was rolling his eyes as he walked over to the corpse. There was a jingle as the tag popped into his hand.
Matt walked back over reading it, “See, this is why we have so many strays. People really need to lock up their pets overnight. Or at least train them not to attack demon possessed teens.”
“That’s not making me feel any better.” Ethan growled, something he’d discovered he was very good at.
“What if I tell you, you didn’t get as far last night?” Matt replied, pulling underwear out of the backpack and throwing at Ethan, “Knowing what’s going on is helping. You’re fighting him.”
That was true. Ever since he’d realized his true heritage he’d been able to fight his otherworldly parent’s attempts to control his body. He’d stopped midday blackouts and only had serious concerns overnight when he’d walked out of his apartment towards some unknown destination.
Nothing stopped him from leaving the apartment. Locks, wards, or even having Matt sharing his bed with a rope tying them together (one of those reasons Matt was really happy Josh never checked up on them in the middle of the night).
He’d wander off, cloaked in an impenetrable veil of sorcery while he’d eventually he’d fight the entity for control, the end result was he’d wake up somewhere. It was always the same direction from the apartment. Sometimes there were dead animals there or he’d see them as he walked home. The entity was ravenous and ate anything it came across. He’d known the dog would have a tag. All the strays were gone, there was nothing left but pets and humans.
What would he do if he killed a person? Would he be able to kill a person? Or would they kill him first?
He’d put on the rest of the clothes Matt had brought him while Matt had gone over to the dog and somehow vaporized the body – you could barely see an outline. There was a twinge in the back of his mind telling him he should be more concerned about how Matt did that or even knew how to do that.
Matt walked back to him and put a arm around his shoulders leading him back towards the street, “Come on, lets get you out of here and get you something cooked to eat.” He said with a conscious emphasis on ‘cooked’. Ethan had made too many comments the last few months about how he’d already eaten.
Shortly, they’d be at the Denny’s they’d become regulars at since they always stopped on the way back home. Even with his midnight snack, Ethan was always hungry in the morning and Matt would come looking for him before he ate.
The street they came out on was residential, he’d probably been sleeping in someone’s backyard. They came this way often enough they received waves from the home owners and Ethan had to pretend to be happy, or at least not terribly depressed.
Mrs. Smyth was walking her dog this morning and it seemed to know what had happened overnight. It didn’t stop her from beelining to them to chat.
“How are you two boys today?” She said.
“We’re great!” Matt said. Somehow no matter what he said people wanted to believe it. He swore he didn’t use any sorcery – which Ethan was sure was a lie.
“Well, I wish I could say the same. You know Mr. Younger, up the street?” she asked gesturing back the way they’d come.
Ethan tried to think back, “Uh, probably. Describe his yard and I’ll do better than a name.”
“You, know the house with the two messy trees in front? Usually has a labrador with him?” She said.
Suddenly, the mental picture of the house, the man, and the dog which he was pretty sure was the one he’d disemboweled last night floated across his vision. He’d liked that dog. It hadn’t been scared of him. Probably why it was dead now.
Mrs. Smyth had noted his recollection and continued, “We’ll apparently he was out giving Chewie a late night walk when something took Chewie!” she paused for dramatics, “He didn’t even see anything. One moment he’s letting the dog do it’s business the next he’s on the ground with a broken wrist.”
“Broken wrist?” Matt asked.
“He’s had the leash wrapped around his wrist. They say it was a miracle the link to the collar had snapped – might have broken his wrist clean off.” She said, “assuming the thing didn’t just drag him off too.”
Matt glanced at Ethan’s frozen, mostly neutral expression, “Thanks for telling us.”
“I though you two should know since you walk through the neighborhood so often. It attacked at night but God only knows what it is. I could come out in the day!” she said as she patted Ethan’s shoulder, believing he was upset about the missing dog.
“Thanks for telling us,” Ethan said, “we’ll try to be careful. We gotta go.”
Ethan rushed Matt along the road until Mrs. Smyth was out of hearing. “I remember it.”
“You do? You’ve never remembered before.” Matt said, almost running into Ethan as he stopped.
“I remember seeing Mr. Younger and almost going for him, but I decided he was too big.” Ethan said, his eyes getting wider, “I remember grabbing the dog and heading for the woods. I remember eating.”
“Are you sure it was you and not your ‘father’?” Matt asked.
“Yeah, sort of,” Ethan said, calmly, “I had control, but I was still… high on sorcery or something. I was hungry and wanted to go back to bed, so I…” he frowned, “ate a live dog and curled up under a tree and slept.”
Matt grabbed his shoulders, “Ethan, there is nothing wrong with this.”
“I ate a live dog.”
“You’ve been eating live animals once a week for six months. Anyone would grow to enjoy it after that long.”
“I almost ate a person.”
“But you didn’t. You just need to get it into your head that you can’t eat people. Because I can’t be friends with someone who eats people.” He hugged him, “Remember that. ‘Matt will not be your friend if you eat someone.’ Right?”
“Right,” Ethan said as he took a deep breath, “It was just a dog.”
Matt’s eyes narrowed, “You want one right now don’t you?”
“Just a little.” Ethan said, “But I think I can resist the urge to go after that yippy thing Mrs. Smyth was walking.”
They started walking down the street again as Matt started pondering aloud, “Maybe if I place a dog in the courtyard, you’ll eat and pass out in the fountain.”
Rob got too much pleasure from watching Eric sit down in the diner. They’re come there several times as kids, the place had probably never been particularly nice and now it was showing it’s age. The curtains and fabric showed signs of wear, layers of smoke and grease coated everything.
Eric grimaced as his designer shirt slid across the vinyl. It wasn’t like he stood out, there were plenty of people in suits or somewhere in between. Eric just disliked the dirt.
“Wonder if the burgers are as good as I remember.” Rob said, picking up his menu.
“Probably not,” Eric said picking up his fork, noting it’s distinct bend in a lateral angle, “Probably more… greasy … tasting.” Rob’s expression soured slightly.
“Just you’re probably right and I haven’t been able to enjoy some of those types of things much since I’ve returned.” Rob said, “Greasy in general and the extra layers of five years of cooking soaked in … I’ll be miserable tonight.”
Eric arched an eyebrow, “But it’ll be worth it? Right?”
“Maybe.” Rob replied.
The waitress came and took their orders. There was a long pause.
“So,” Eric started, “You seem to have a girlfriend.”
“Ooo, going into this conversation. That’s dangerous considering your girlfriend.” Rob replied.
Eric was non-pulsed, “What? I’m entirely comfortable talking about Alessa.”
“Really?” Rob said, “When did you begin talking to her? I’ve been trying to remember a single conversation you had with her before I left and I can’t remember one.”
Eric’s expression cracked slightly, he’d never been as good about playing the stoic as he thought, “About the time we realized you were gone. I think Lisa told her to cheer me up.” he shook his head, “I was incomprehensible, I was looking for you, but I couldn’t see you. It had been days and I knew the cops were saying you were dead. I thought I’d done something to piss you off so much you’d pass on without seeing me.”
“I’d have come to you if I was dead.” Rob said, earnestly.
“Where did you go? Why was it so important?” Eric asked.
Rob frowned, biting the inside of his cheek, “I didn’t go far. I just ended up further than I expected. I thought I’d have a chance to say goodbye. It didn’t work out that way.”
“Can you cut out the damn riddles?” Eric demanded, as he glowered across the table, “Is there any good reason you won’t just come out and say where you were?”
Rob looked down at the table and toyed with his utensils, “If I explain it, it becomes more real. Right now, it’s something like a dream. Kind of like coming home.” he closed his eyes, “I cannot tell you how much I missed you, how much I wanted to be with you or have you with me. It just… would have made it so much easier.”
Eric rolled his eyes, “That doesn’t answer the question.”
“It does. You’ll understand when I tell you where I’ve been.” Rob said, blinking rapidly and looking away. Eric was going to continue to grill him, but he realize there were tears.
It was a hesitation, it immediately occurred to Eric that Rob has wanted to an actor when he was growing up and was pretty good when he wanted to be. But that moment was enough for Rob to take back the conversation.
“You’re trying to manufacture aetherium, or so Lisa tells me.” Rob said, attempting to recover, “You need a mechanical process to do it. It would be too labor intensive for a human to do it manually.”
Eric frowned, but it wasn’t like he could question Rob without answering some of his own. “I think I have a process. I just need a better location.”
“Describe it.” Rob said.
Eric gave him a bored look as their food arrived, “You really think you can stop me from prying—”
“I want to know how it works.” Rob interrupted, “I need to know how it works. If I’m going to help you with it.”
Eric hesitated, “It’s the same concept as any artificial gemstone creation. Time, pressure – the heat is a side effect. I have a, well, piston, that I’ve enchanted to effect the raw aether. The problem is I can’t really enchant it to attract aether into it because then I’d never get it out.”
“Better location. It would already be there.” Rob said to himself, “Just cycle it through the system until it gets compacted into aetherium?”
“That’s the idea.” Eric replied.
“The flaw is aether won’t reduce down from it’s natural plasmatic state and becomes more volatile as you compress it,” Rob said, “Without a conscious will to bind aether into aetherium it won’t remain that way for long.”
“What do you suggest?” Eric asked.
Rob rolled his eyes, “The end product is a battery in the way it works, the aetherium hidden inside a protective casing inlaid with an enchantment to only allow the energy out under certain circumstances. Not that helps in the production phase. You need to make a device that can absorb and store the energy, And for best results, transfer it to other methods of storage or directly for use.”
Eric started, “You think we can plug this thing into the grid?”
“Don’t see why not.” Rob replied, “It’s not like it would be missed. We lived without it for a couple centuries.”
“Thanks.” Eric said, slowly. “So… how did you meet Helena?”
Rob grinned slightly, “Same time you met her.”
“I’d never met her before the party.” Eric replied, “And you had her on the guest list so I assume you met her between leaving and coming back.”
“Sort of. Doesn’t surprise me you don’t remember her. You kind of dismissed her as soon as she walked up to you.” Rob said, humor in his voice.
Eric frowned, “Wait, when did I meet her then?”
“Last day on set.” Rob answered, “she came up to both of us and tried to talk to us and you ignored her and when on to do whatever you were doing.” his grin twisted into a smirk, “I’ll never understand why you were the popular one on that show.”
“I probably thought she was just some crazed fan.” Eric said, trying to remember a face or anything.
Rob nodded, “Probably. I convinced her she didn’t need to talk to you, just me.”
I light flashed on in Eric’s head, “Her. It was her.”
“I went willingly.” Rob said, “She wasn’t sure which of us to take until she met us – she’s still not entirely convinced she made the right choice. Sometimes I think she may have been right when she wanted both of us.”
“Why? What did she want?” Eric pressed.
“What did she say or what did she need? She said she needed a hero, she needed someone to die.” Rob said.
Eric gaped, “And you knew this going in? You went with her anyway?”
Rob toyed with his remaining food, “You do crazy things for love.”
“You’d barely met her!”
“I’d dreamt about her. I knew her and I recognized her the moment she walked up to us. Continued to dream about her while I was gone.” Rob continued.
“Wait, rewind – she needed you to die, you didn’t,” Eric said, “You’re talking nonsense.”
“Nope. much to her and my surprise, ’cause damn if I didn’t think I was dead.” Rob smiled, “See there? You got a lot more out of me than I’d given you in the last couple of weeks.”
“She tried to kill you. Why did you invite her?”
Rob’s grin didn’t change,”Because I love her. I loved her the moment I saw her. I would have done anything for her. I wanted — I needed to be a hero for her.”
“That worked out.” Eric said.
“Yeah.” Rob became a bit more sober, “It really worked out. Got to spend a lot of time … thinking.”
“Her, mostly. I was trying to imagine what she’d look like. What I’d say to her.”
“Never thought about me or Alessa?”
“Of course I thought about you. Alessa not really. I kind of assumed she’d be dead in a ditch by now. Probably has you to thank for that not happening.”
“We do make a good team.”
“Oh, you’re a team, are you?” Rob said.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You just always seem to vying for dominance over each other. It’s like…” Rob shook his head.
“Tell me.” Eric gaze leveled with him.
Rob rolled his eyes, “It’s like you asserted yourself in the relationship and she never accepted it. She keeps trying to take over, but you stop her, reminding her you’re in charge. It’s fine, except you only seem to know one way of proving yourself over her.”
“That assessment could be considered valid,” Eric stated calmly.
“Well, the thing is,” Rob said, “It makes me wonder. When did you first have sex with her?”
“What does that matter?” Eric asked.
Rob hesitated, “It doesn’t. I just don’t like the idea you were taken advantage of. It would be my fault.”
Eric stared at him for several moments, “It wasn’t.” he said, “How’s the grease?”
“It’s fine.” Rob replied. Eric wouldn’t meet his eyes anymore.
He continued, “Good even. So, didn’t you say something about a list of movies I missed and have to see?”
Gabriel poured himself a glass of whiskey, downed it and poured himself another.
It wasn’t his whiskey. He’d walked right inside the Reinhardt’s mansion. He knew how to bypass the security system and knew exactly where his new master wanted him to wait. If he didn’t want him drinking his whiskey, he shouldn’t have directed him to a room containing it.
He was in a sitting room or study off in the corner of the building. It was finely appointed and reminded him of the place the Gatekeeper’s liked to meet. It didn’t match the rest of the decor and he assumed it was Mr. Reinhardt’s doing. He seemed like the type to have a wood paneled study in his house ‘just because’.
Sounds began to echo through the house. The residents had returned home and he had to remain silent until his master could come to him. Paranoid fear gripped him. It was like he was shoved into a closet waiting for a horror movie monster to find him.
Finally, the door opened and Eric walked in. Gabriel hadn’t been expecting the feeling of awe that flooded him.
Eric barely paid him any attention. He just walked across the room, pulled a bottle out of the desk and tossed it across the room. Gabriel caught it, popped the top and drank it without a thought.
He didn’t realize it was blood until it was already gone. That may have had something to do with feeling more like himself. He could breath again and move without fear. Eric didn’t even feel particularly awesome any longer.
“Better?” Eric asked, taking the seat next to the desk.
“Yeah.” Gabriel said.
“Good.” Eric pulled a vial out of the same drawer and drained it, “You’re my personal assistant and bodyguard. That will mean shadowing me when I make appearances, maintaining my schedule, finding me dinner.”
“I thought this was going to be more of a slave position.” Gabriel said, “not that I mind, but I’m just surprised.”
“If you were working for my step-sister, then it would be. She likes her men to be mindless drones. I know from experience. That’s why some of that was her blood. Feel free to test that out, just to make sure.” Eric smiled, “The twins too. She gives them too much leeway and they should be punished for doing this to you.”
Gabriel too a deep breath. He glanced in the mirror to check his reflection. When he turned back Eric was nodding and smiling.
“It’s all a load of bullcrap. Since it’s just a form of energy transfer, we reflect, we can go outside, we can eat garlic in moderation.”
“Then what do the stories come from?” Gabriel asked, absently trying to get more blood out of the bottle. It hadn’t been automatic, he’s done something to absorb the energy out of it. Eric had probably made him do it without him realizing.
“Depends on the story. If you drain someone dry you can turn the corpse into a soulless puppet with barely a thought. Mirrors can be enchanted to reveal the soul and reveal the monster you’ve created. Counting objects is actually fae lore twisted and confused with vampires. Crossing running water has more to do with the deadening effect it has on sorcery. If you don’t remember to restrain your energy while crossing, it might get carried away, and it can happen fast enough to make you lose track of yourself.”
Gabriel set the bottle down on the table and picked back up the glass of whiskey. “But apparently the thirst is real.”
“Like the best drugs. It’ll get worse as your body gets used to the extra energy.” Eric replied pulling out a case of syringes, “Now, on to specifics.”