The next morning was a bleak one. Freezing rain spit on my windowpane and a chill seeped up through the cracks in my floor boards. But Gerald and I were happy. We embraced in my bed and were thankful for one another's warmth. His arms were still mostly useless, but Altima's strength had grown the night prior. She was hard at work mending his body with her dark and mysterious magic.

When she grew weak she urged us to copulate. At first I was hesitant and ginger, but before long it felt natural and wonderful. What I had been told was immoral and wrong throughout my childhood seemed like a vicious lie. She didn't judge us and it felt good to have that validation.

Her claws dug in deep and she fed off of every moment of it. She watched, grew excited and urged us on with her seductress voice that failed to change regardless of whose mouth she used to speak.

It felt right being with Gerald. I knew the damage I had inflicted was necessary, but I couldn't help but feel guilty about it even as I helped Altima repair the terrible deeds that I had carried out in her name.

Gerald didn't seem concerned. He went with the motions and called my name like in every dream I had ever had with him present. I expected his eyes to be dead or otherwise vacant. But they weren't. Gerald was in there, but fundamentally changed through her influence. He was just better.

It seemed odd to me that it took so little time for her to tear him from humanity and it took her weeks of wiggling and gentle manipulation to even begin to cut me free. Was she really that weak when I stumbled upon her in the margins of that terrible book? Or was Gerald that pathetic and feeble minded, even through his overpowering masculinity? I didn't dwell on the thought, for fear of inflating my ego.

As we made love I could feel her build a clockwork heart inside of him. When I pressed up against his back I could feel it tick in unison with my own. It was a dynamo that crossed space and anchored us to her. Weeks ago it would have terrified me, but at that moment it felt strange and wonderful.

It didn't take too long to complete her repairs. She kicked us out of bed like an over zealous mother. When we complained and begged for more she crooned and sang, guilting us from our loving embrace in my tiny bed.

So we groomed together and dressed. I examined him as he put on spare clothes from my dresser. I kept looking for something alien, something altogether different from the Gerald I had known before this all started. I didn't know what it was, but I desperately wanted it to be there. Now I know that I was just looking to invalidate my feelings of contentment and the odd realization that my urges were not unnatural.

I didn't find anything. He moved, spoke, breathed and laughed like he was supposed to. He wasn't some puppet that Altima had created for my own deranged benefit. He was the man I had secretly loved since the moment I arrived at the university. The only thing that differed was that he was now my lover. It seemed like an odd stretch but it somehow made sense.

We emptied my book bag on my desk while chuckling over memories of the previous night. He seemed almost embarrassed over his desire to steal them for his own benefit. I knew the humor made him feel better, so I let it continue past the point of being somewhat funny.

The library was quiet and empty when we arrived. Gone were the days of nervous glances and hiding from the student population in out of the way kiosks. We casually strolled around the impressive shelves lined with texts on every subject imaginable. Few books called out to us, but they glowed iron hot to our strange and twisted eyes. We removed them. There wasn't a single book that was not on the subject of the Progenitors, but they were all very varied despite that fact.

Using the student credits at our disposal we checked out the tomes for the maximum length.

While we were in the library the rain clouds had smeared across the sky, having been boiled away by the sun which tried to shine through. There was still a brutal chill in the air, but the rain stopped and occasionally shafts of light broke through and offered some warmth.

Starving due to our exploits and with decent weather we walked to town beyond the university campus. We took command of my usual bistro table when we arrived, the wrought iron seats still wet with the morning's rain.

I tried to start a normal conversation with Gerald, but he was only interested in what we had just removed from the library. I too felt their pull, but it had become customary for me to play hard to get when it came to her influence.

"Hanz! Hi."

A friendly voice broke us from our investigation. We looked up and smiled warmly.

It was Wendy.

There was a beat wherein Gerald stood, took her hand and kissed it. I could see a flash of his pearly whites as he returned to his seat.

"My name is Gerald. You must be Wendy,"

He began. I could feel Altima pour from his eye sockets. Wendy smiled. You could see her melt before them.

"It's a pleasure. Hanz has told me so much about you."

"Oh, he has? I hope not too much!"

She blushed with me as I sat up and adjusted myself uncomfortably. It dawned on me that Altima had informed me the night prior of the fact that I'd never see the young woman again. That her intent was to abandon her. But here we were yet again. I was under the impression it was due to hunger and my own spartan wallet. But perhaps she too had manipulated that in someway.

But there was something different. If her domination over me influenced her in any way, then her shredding of poor Gerald must have likewise altered her yet once more.

"He was a gentleman. Trust me. Would you like to join us for lunch?"

He eased her, relaxing back in his chair like the man I had always known.

She fidgeted, uneasy.

"My shift starts in an hour.."

"Plenty of time."

He stood up and walked around the table, throwing an old jacket of mine he had borrowed earlier onto a wet chair. He pulled it out for her. She melted into it as he pushed her toward the table with a warm smile.

"Lunch is on us."

He said simply as he returned to his own seat.

We discussed The Progenitors and astronomy. I led the conversation, but Gerald and Wendy provided some interesting views. When our meals arrived they were consumed quickly and efficiently in the lulls of our discussion. The subject eventually drifted to Wendy and her enrollment at our university.

The topics of The Progenitors, astronomy and her intellectual pursuits were just foreplay. Altima reached out and tickled the young woman, sinking her fingers deep into her mind when she spoke. I could see the seed of madness that had started in me sprout and begin to grow.

The hour escaped us. We could see Wendy's peers look queerly at her sitting at our table, expecting her to be in uniform and taking orders. But she didn't.

"Why don't you come with us?"

I blurted out without forethought. A second later I realized it was Altima speaking with my voice.

"We could show you around campus, introduce you to some of our friends. It's really beautiful this time of year, the groundskeepers are some of the best in Isyr."

She didn't have a chance. Wendy bit the bait and she was hooked forever. The poor girl nodded in agreement, completely disregarding her duties at the bistro. But that was nothing now.

Gerald and I stood above her and threw money on the table. We offered our hands and she took both without question.

"You must see the library,"

Gerald started as we pulled her away from town.

"You'll fall in love with it."


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