Eddie returned home from work, walking into the lobby to find Clarissa saying her quiet farewells to her new companion, Zaum. It was a chaste kiss but her flushed skin and his tender touch spoke volumes of their relationship. Bitter jealousy coiled to a near snap inside Eddie. Would her passion for him burn the same if she knew the way he flirted with that cybernetic beauty? No that wasn’t it. His treatment of women appeared universal. So was it truly flirting or demonic custom? Why did she choose the demon over him?
He nodded to Clarissa as she floated out the door on her way to work. He didn’t buy into the descendant of Lilith line. The concept of soul mates was a romanticized ideal itching for heartbreak. She had a choice in the matter. Zaum ignored his glare as he closed the apartment door. She could choose someone safer that had her best interests in mind. Ignoring the shrine he set up for his sister and her son, he entered his apartment with his dark mood in tow.
He shrugged his ocher suit jacket off and hung it up on the coat rack by the door, revealing the apricot silk shirt against his dark skin. His tiny grayed, elegant boxed braids swayed at his waist as he walked to the black leather recliner to pull off his work shoes. As he got up to set those by the foot of the coat rack, movement in the kitchen caught his eye. Korg raised a silencing hand and poured the tea for two. Huffing, Eddie took a seat at the table.
“Have you always done this?” he asked Korg, studying his scaly gray iguana-like face.
Korg regarded him somberly with his narrow, lemon-yellow eyes beneath his twin red long cowlicks framing the small spiral horn protruding from his forehead. The bony fin-like plates on the sides of his head twitched as he pressed his human-like lips together. Gingerly, with a claw-like hand, he handed Eddie a tea cup from across the table while his large elegant wings flexed slightly for balance. With the hypnotic idleness of a cat, his whip-like tail tipped with a bony club swayed along the floor.
As fascinating as Korg was to him, Eddie didn’t feel up to having company. He felt the need to brood and resented somewhat that Korg was here uninvited.
“It is my duty to tend to the flock,” Korg said as Eddie sipped his tea.
The tea was perfect. Everything Korg did was with precision. Eddie appreciated that and had no doubt as to why Donna found joy in his company. Maybe under his guidance he would tame her wild soul.
“You misunderstand me,” Korg said.
“What?” Eddie said.
“That look you have,” Korg said as he set his own cup down. “You think I’m here to control you all. That’s not it. I’m here to protect and heal. Nothing more.”
“So you’re just going to let Clarissa run off with that demon then?”
“Why is it a concern of yours how she defines happiness?”
Korg’s eyes narrowed. “Define decent. Define better.”
“Why are you treating me like the bad guy here?”
“There was a time when people said the same of Donna and I,” Korg said. “There was a time I was punished for her choice in me.”
“I never said that,” Eddie said.
“No,” Korg said. “Before Nusquamton was what it is now. Before her and I were who we are now. Before we were torn apart and forced to forget.”
Eddie stared into his tea cup as those words sank in. He hadn’t known what they had gone through. He had assumed Donna was no different from the other girls at the club he worked in but that was unfair of him. Now he wondered how many of them walked a similar path as Donna. Did he really wish that for Clarissa? Is that what he wanted? Did he really think he was better?
“It’s never our place to determine the happiness of another,” Korg said gently.
“But I met her first,” Eddie said stubbornly as he gripped the cup.
“Yes, you did and you helped open a door,” Korg said, “but you cannot hold her in debt for that. You did the same with your sister, didn’t you? A debt like that can never be repaid. So you resent your sister just as you resent Clarissa now.”
“Get out,” Eddie said, wishing now for something stronger than tea.
Korg stood up. “Until you let this go, you will never heal.”
“I said get out.”
Sighing, Korg walked away and vanished through the wall. Eddie leaned back in the chair as he tipped the rim of his tea cup toward him. Korg’s words stung as they echoed in the barreled chambers of his mind. He didn’t resent his sister, did he? No, she only left him alone here after ignoring his warnings against the party life and getting herself killed from drunk driving. If she had just listened to him and focused on her studies, she’d be alive now. She might be married now and living a full, productive life.
Rolling his eyes, Eddie set the cup back down. Korg was right about his sister. It meant he was right about Clarissa too if Eddie thought about it hard enough. He didn’t want to. It hurt too much. It needled and wormed inside of him, burning a path along the way.
Eddie got up and put the tea away, skipping breakfast. He cleared the table and used a soapy cloth to wash it down. Using a different wet cloth, he rinsed it before drying with a towel. He washed the dished and cleaned the counters and stove top in the same way he had the table. Shoving thoughts aside, he dried the dishes, put them away, and swept the floor. He carried the used towels and cloths to the hamper before heading for the shower.
The shower provided no respite from his thoughts. He resented how her skin flushed for someone else. In the end he admitted to himself it wouldn’t matter who she picked if it wasn’t him. Frustrated, he finished up in the bathroom and crawled into bed. According to Korg, Clarissa didn’t need a hero. His sister didn’t need a hero. As he drifted into sleep he wondered if the time for heroes had passed him by without leaving him the memo.
Timil woke up naked beside a human stranger still slumbering in bliss. It was nothing new but this morning her dreams of solemn gray eyes beneath long, elegant and equally gray braids left her feeling despondent. As she rubbed the sleep from her deep-set green eyes, she wondered what troubled the gentleman. Her rounded tufted ears laid back and she swished her plume-like-tail. It did no good to fuss over dreams when there was a job to complete. She needed to report back to Koba. Rising from the bed, she silently stretched her lithe form. The mission proved fruitful. With the clever application of her lips and hands, humans unwittingly gave far too much between the sheets. Grabbing her umber floor-length dress, waistcoat, and black heels, she quietly slipped away.
Sunlight glittered off the water in the harbor as Timil walked down the docks. She wished she had traded the dress for practical attire but knew Koba preferred she wore the dress. As it was she frowned upon Timil’s preference for high collars and low hemlines. Koba waited for her at the end of the dock with her entourage next to their schooner, the Black Marie. A black lacy dress with a plunging neckline showed off her cleavage while the high hemlines gave little to the imagination with her leggy build. Her calculating steel eyes narrowed as her tufted ears and thick, smooth tail twitched at the sight of Timil’s approach. Flicking her silky, straight magenta hair from her shoulder, she sauntered forward to greet her.
“Well?” she said.
“Last known location was inside the Astrosystems Paragon,” Timil said.
“Damn,” Koba said. “Did he say how it could be pinpointed once we got there?”
Timil’s eyes widened and shook her head in dismay. Koba yanked her head back by her coffee-colored hair as she hissed in her ear.
“How are we to find it under all that rubble and lava now?”
She fought back the tears as Koba seethed. How was she supposed to know that Koba didn’t know how to detect the Hidden Sanctum of Knowledge? Koba instructed her to discover its location and she did that. Timil hated using her body to get information but she did it anyway because it was usually the easiest method to get what Koba wanted. Koba shoved her back with hate in her steely eyes.
“Surely the Astral Syndicate didn’t plan to destroy the archives with the rupturing of the volcano, Madam?”
“Who knows what they planned,” Koba said darkly as she boarded the Black Marie.
Timil and the rest of the entourage followed behind. As the Black Marie left the harbor, her sails unfurled and filled with wind. She watched Koga plot with her cronies from afar. She didn’t know why the Astral Syndicate wanted them to find the Hidden Sanctum of Knowledge or why they had erupted the volcano on Saltus Floriger. What was there to gain in the destruction of an entire island? If the sanctum they wanted was located on this island then its destruction was counter-productive. Timil couldn’t understand them and never wanted any part of this.
She scanned the horizon, watching the sea gulls soar in the gray sky. The color reminded her of the eyes of the gentleman her dreams. Drinking in the salty breeze as she adjusted to the sway of the craft, she wished he was here to rescue her. Slipping her heels off in favor of walking the deck in bare feet, she reminded herself that dreams don’t play rescue. As she walked below deck to her cabin, she could help but find herself hoping anyway.
Eddie closed and locked the door to his apartment. He paused as he thought about the feline woman with the green eyes in his dream. Hadn’t they just been to Saltus Floriger? Who was the Astral Syndicate?
“Heading to work, Eddie?”
He turned to Donna. “Yeah,” he said. “Hey have you heard of something called the Astral Syndicate?”
“No, why?” she said, her bronze eyes squinting at him.
“Nothing really,” he said. “Just a dream I had about the volcano.”
Her eyes widened. “Really? I’ll ask Lini then. She might know.”
“Thanks,” Eddie said with smile. “Let me know will you?”
“Sure thing,” Donna said before heading up the lobby stairs.
It wasn’t until he was halfway to the club that he realized he forgot to ask her about the sanctum as well. If it had been beneath the archive surely the sprites moved it to Nusquamton along with everything else. Did this mean they would be in danger soon? Did this syndicate even have the means to find them? What exactly were they looking for? Given how they sacrificed an island the way they had, these questions troubled him. Months ago dreams like this meant nothing. Now after seeing and doing what little bit he had in Nusquamton, the dream brought a sense of foreboding. It made him feel small and insignificant.
The busy club with its music, lights, and packed bodies provided little in the way of distraction for him. Work was routine for him. He was old enough now that he was past the age for the party scene. No one came to the club for him. He was just there to do his job. At least that’s how he felt. The alcohol flowed from his hands into the hands of others as his mind busied itself with thoughts of those green eyes. Who was this Timil and why was she with that Koba? Why couldn’t she just walk away if she was unhappy with her job? As he served one drink after another to the mindless party goers, he wondered the same about himself. He watched the people that came there night after night to throw their money away to waste themselves and wondered if he was really any different from her.
Eddie decided he wasn’t better or wiser than her. Sometimes life tangled you into shit you can’t get out of even if you wanted to walk away from it. There were bills to pay and mouths to feed. You kept your head down and did what needed to be done. He wondered how many of the people there at the club came with the hope of forgetting that just for a few hours. Had his sister done the same? Why was he willing to forgive Clarissa’s means of escape but not hers? Why was he willing to forgive any of the patrons at the club but not his sister? The horrible truth he struggled with wasn’t her drinking but the fact that she left him behind. Now it looked like Clarissa was leaving him behind too.
As the night wore on to dawn, Eddie realized he needed to let both of them go somehow. His sister chose her life and he refused to accept it. His last words to her were spoken in anger. Did she die believing he hated her? That question haunted him. It branded him as a monster. This was an ugly feeling to have. He didn’t want the same to happen between him and Clarissa. He came home thinking that Korg was right. It was time to let her go. He entered the lobby to find Clarissa and Zaum in a passionate kiss. His chest tightened as it choked his breath. A chill ran through him even as his blood warmed his skin. Wanting to run anywhere to take him away from their private moment, his feet refused to obey.
To be continued…