To say that I grew confident would be an understatement. I was borderline cocky and I admit a small curl of a smirk materialized on my lips as I felt the queer power of those stacks of literature diminish before me. They didn't evaporate altogether, but instead regrouped and watched me like a viper from a den. Knowing its venom was no less potent even through its weakness I opted to abandon our dorm.

As I exited the building I pulled on my parka and admired the shafts of light the warming sun cut through the heavy cloud cover. It looked like rain, but there was a strange electricity in the air and a sharp tang of ozone.

I strolled the grounds, observing soldiers run through their drills and students cramming before the start of the school week beneath the famous university willows and on antique benches. It wasn't difficult to think, it all just churned in my mind and the logic flowed. There was an unusual clarity about me that morning.

Was the ghostly influence produced by the books that now shared my home this enigmatic Altima that my boys feared and worshiped? If so, why was I unaffected from her cruel and terrible hand? Or was I? Was this just an elaborate illusion and she was indeed toying with me as my Hanz had pleaded?

The thought that I was mad was indeed a niggling doubt in the back of my mind. The truth of it scared me more than this Altima. At least I seemed to keep her influence at bay, with madness there was would have been an inherent flaw with me. Some terrible, long buried seed from a childhood trauma or chemical imbalance.

Jamming my hands into the pockets of my parka and bathing in a shaft of warming sunlight I came to the assumption that I might be going mad, but it was immaterial in the shadow of the alternative. I came to the realization that I had to do something. I couldn't just stand by like some cow in the face of the slaughterhouse, waiting patiently for my turn to be culled.

I shared my home with an incredible power that seemed to lust after influence and there was no promise that it would not raze my sensibilities at a later date. I decided that I would do my best and head it off. Even if it meant confrontation with my lovely boys who earnestly seemed to care about me through their growing madness.

In a snap decision I head off to the library. I wouldn't inform my boys of my decision, not yet. Her madness appeared to have taken root in their minds and even though her control of them seemed to be fleeting and tenuous at times I was not going to allow that abomination that went by the name of Altima to figure out my plans. Not before it was too late.

When I arrived I greeted Gerald and Hanz quietly with hugs and pecks on the cheek. I informed them that yes, it was foolish of me to reject their invitation. I made the excuse of fear of a pop quiz to study in a little out of the way alcove. When Hanz looked at me from behind the lip of his reading glasses and half-heartedly asked if I needed a study partner I politely declined. Gerald seemed satisfied with this answer, but Hanz looked uneasy. It was as if he could just barely grasp my thoughts but couldn't quite put everything together.

That of course was the start of it all. I was the master engineer of my own obsession that rivaled the intensity of theirs. We both held terrible secrets from one another and in some ways we mirrored the same objective. Our end goals stretched out before us with the final result of subversion of the loser. Of course they were likely unaware of their scheme such as the dark magic Altima had weaved through their minds. But that didn't make it any less dangerous.

I spent the rest of the week in a daze and it dissolved into nothingness. School became a chore that I unfortunately began to discard as my studies grew more intense. But progress was slow.
I placed their collected volumes of madness off limits, for fear of her influence. This unfortunately cut a swath through some of the best material available to me on the subject that seemed to unify those works, The Progenitors.

Everyone knew the story of the lost civilization from the deep past whose mysteries fueled our nation and its imperialist hunger. Their trinkets that we pulled from the earth, likely no more than garbage and disused machines to them had brought us from the era of horse and buggy to an hyper-industrialized nation state in the span of half a century. As such it seemed fairly reasonable to assume something else had been seeded in those depths beneath layers of sediment and sinking time. Something uncovered by these academics toiling deep beneath the earth hundreds of miles to the south, where their magnificent cities lay in ruins.

Little was actually known about them as a people and the best my research uncovered were little more than myths and legend. The most popular theory was that they were quite literally progenitors, ourselves before some great cataclysm and we were just scrambling in the carnage of the aftershock, trying to rebuild and regain some lost glory.

But I also became aware of alternative, fringe theories that piqued my interest fiercely. One academic in the era of enlightenment, a narrow band of time just after discovery of what appeared to be their charred and buried capital suggested that they were not human whatsoever. That The Progenitors were wholly alien to our world and came from elsewhere. Presumably from the gulfs between stars, he suggested. How one would live in such a dark place was beyond my imagination. But I supposed anything was possible, especially if these men were not men at all.

Another rival fringe group proposed that perhaps we shared a common ancestor. That they were just our older and wiser siblings who had since left for greener pastures and just so happened to leave us a couple of dirty and tattered hand-me-downs. Hand-me-downs that were even now enslaving our neighbors to the north and across the seas in through the fire of nuclear infernos.

I uncovered theories surrounding their destruction that ranged from civil war to pestilence, some even suggesting the enigmatic plague that stalked the south was a resurgence of the illness that had originally wiped them from the face of the earth and buried their wondrous cities of metal and radioactivity.

There was a lot of spin. Cults had invariably sprung up surrounding them and they thrived in the margins of society. As such most of the media I went through had to be disregarded as unreliable. Several whispered about ghosts and malicious forces beyond reason that seemed to match up eerily with the thing that lived on my table. But these were just rumor and whisper, nothing concrete. Science eluded most of these fanatics and they seemed wholly disinterested in the facts, instead peddling snake oil religion.

I formed a jewel of knowledge that changed daily and I protected it fiercely, always hiding my notebooks and remaining elusive in that cavernous gothic building which my two lovers stalked in search of their own twisted truth. Throughout the week they encouraged me to read from their volumes of madness and I humored them, pretending to lose myself in those pages while in reality I retreated to the back of my own mind, unaware of the red scrawl that belonged to the creature which paced nervously around my mind.

They seemed pleased and convinced that my grasp on reality lessened with each passing day and I resented them for their attempts of driving me mad. So I thought about Aeolus and the taste of his lips as a sort of revenge, even though I had not seen him since our first date. My mental infidelity drove stakes through my heart but it seemed worth it. Before the end of the week he became a sort of mental anchor. An anchor that I learned to crave almost as much as freeing my boys from the terror which stalked the three of us.


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