I could feel hot tears well up and spill down my cheeks as I stood there amidst the scent of treachery and malice. I was left wondering in how tight a fist was she holding them. Was her grip so vice like and powerful to cause them to carry out this horrible act of betrayal? I wondered whether they had any self control at all. I had snatched their previous conversation from the ether and came away thinking that they were not monsters themselves, but instead sweet boys with their own demons.

But as I stood there watching their chests rise and fall in the light spilled by our tiny window I wondered if that was true at all. Maybe they were wholly puppets and that the men known as Gerald and Hanz were long dead, replaced by the brooding thing that called itself Altima. I knew in my heart that this was a lie, but it eased the pain and guilt of my own betrayal to wonder.

Most of the time when I looked into their eyes I didn't see a monster, but instead the men I had grown to love. They had become my best friends and it hurt immeasurably to recall those facts. But the monster was a fleeting, strange thing and easy to despise. It was easy to rage against it and blame it for their errors.

The woman that they had enjoyed had departed prior to my arrival. But her stink was thick in the air and I could practically taste it. The kind of smell was born from port cities with bathtub excuses for perfume and exuded cheap.

A seed of anger sprouted in me at that moment as my own anxious body sucked down the same air that she had breathed not more than hours before. I slowly curled my hands into tightly balled fists and screamed in my mind.

I could feel her smiling eyes locked on me from the world she seemed to inhabit, that strange ether from which I had only recently gained the ability to trawl. Perhaps that was why my eyes hardened and I began to watch the sleeping forms before my like a predator. Like Altima would. Like someone who could do something.

To say that I could feel her infiltrate me would not be accurate. But there was a gentle caress and a guiding hand that directed me to that seed of fury that was living within me. There was a strange authority about it. That seed oozed power and as I focused on their vulnerable, naked bodies I could feel it smolder and heat. It was a reflection of Altima, some gossamer imprint left by one of our previous encounters. It paled in comparison to the real thing which stalked my mind, but it was there nonetheless.

Was this why I had such sway over my boys? Was this queer, ethereal thing responsible for my ability to snatch voices hidden behind walls and thoughts held in reserve? Moreover, was this why I suspected danger from this Aeolus character?

At first I recoiled and retreated toward the door slowly, almost losing my nerve completely. I was terrified of the fact that something so like her lived within my very heart of hearts. But in the corner of my eye I caught my reflection in a mirror. I wasn't some ancient, brooding monster with a mysterious fascination with The Progenitors. I was Wendy Mills. I was a daughter, a big sister and a former waitress. I was a regular woman thrown into irregular circumstances.

I stared in my own eyes and failed to see anything but myself. I was hurting and angry, yes. But she wasn't there, with all her cold calculating malice and manipulation. That predatory stare wasn't hers. It was mine.

Gerald stirred but didn't wake. I watched his exposed jugular twitch with each beat of his heart. I could hear the clockwork heart tick in unison with it.

You're were such a fragile thing in the start of it. But you've proved yourself to have a guile about you, Wendy. The night we first met I thought you made of glass. That I could snuff you out with a flick of the wrist. But oh my, you've proven to be made from much tougher stuff.

Her sultry voice whispered in my ear.

"Why'd you do this?" I asked, my voice betraying me slightly. I was left wondering if I was really as strong as I felt while caressing this hardened seed within me. "Why did you take my Gerald and Hanz? Why all of the cloak and dagger to turn me into a.. slave like them?"

Mmm. She laughed and I felt her influence increase. She had her claws around my mind. Her teeth raked against my sanity, but just only barely scraped the surface. Why do you desire them? Hanz possesses a ferocious intellect that even he barely knows of. That big, fat brain of his is sexy in its own way. The knowledge it contains and is capable of containing.. interests me. Like you, I have my own goals.

Gerald? An oxymoron. A skeptic with a dash of ignorance. I don't need him per se, but he tempers the other. Oh, if it wasn't for him our Hanz would have killed himself long ago. And I would have been at a loss.

The image of her reclining on silk sheets popped into my head. Her long blonde hair obscured everything besides her ruby red lips and a single blue eye.

"What are you?"

I'm the sum of my parts, sweetheart.

"You're not answering my question."

You're not asking the right question.

Gerald stirred once more. He moaned a little, his dreams either invaded by pleasure or horror. I couldn't tell. I thought Altima perhaps responsible. Maybe she was amusing herself by clawing at his dreams while we conversed.

"Why did you do this?" I asked, holding my arms out before me.

I could lie. There was a beat. I could say that they all had something I needed, but from your perspective that'd be another evasive answer, no? Why didn't I use you in the little tryst, you mean? Simple. You're poison, dear. You're a little too much like me, all moxie and control. No, I needed something a little softer. More putty-like. So I found someone to take your place. I hope you don't mind.

She laughed, likely feeling my heart wrench from my chest. She was replacing me in the relationship that I had built. I caressed the smoldering seed within me and I felt it reach into the ether from which she spoke. I felt its claws grow and rake across her mind.

I felt that we were two lioness circling one another in the savanna. I shared the image with her more through lack of control than anything. She had her own analogy that I gleamed from her stretching mind, but it was alien and strange.

I lowered my voice to a whisper, not wanting to wake the men we shared.

"You knew about my planning."

Planning? I suppose that's a good a word as any. I imagined her shifting positions, sitting up and staring at me. That face was still obscured by golden curls. Those luscious lips twisted into a smirk. Yes. Gerald suspected you might not be telling us the full truth. Sweet boy, he tried to hide it from me. But of course he isn't the strongest or the smartest. So I saw the little cogs turning in his head and plucked it out. He raged against me, but I smoothed that bit out.

But no. There is no magic bullet. Your studies were in vain. Nice try.

"Why tell me this?"

There was laughter. Hanz and Gerald both stirred, likely nearing the surface of consciousness. I knew full well my research had been largely fruitless. But if she was looking to dissuade me it was a rather poor way to go about it. Why would I trust her word?

My dear. Because I have something you want and you can help me get something I need.


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