I left the mess hall after that dizzy with a feeling of dread hanging over me like some dark rain cloud. Aeolus was quick to follow me, all questions and energy quite suddenly. He was very eager to know the secrets which his sister has confided in me. It didn't take much for me to grew annoyed with his hurried inquiries. I was first and foremost an ear for the young girl, but my strange uncertain duty took second. My fleeting devotion to Aeolus unfortunately came in last, so I provided little insight as to why exactly she was behaving oddly.

Unsatisfied he continued his questions, so I lied and informed him that she was mostly bored. That she was looking forward to the summer months when she could do much more and enjoy the sunshine. It was a transparent half answer and he likely saw through it. It wound up being enough to ease his immediate fears and leave me to return home in peace.

Of course I suggested he leave her to her own devices and not harass her before he departed. He thanked me maybe a little too half-heartedly and wandered back to camp looking at his feet.

Had I really suggested that she continue the relationship that in all likelihood would spell some sort of twisted and terrible fate? I thought myself incapable of such selfishness, but her enigmatic promise still rung in my mind.

The strange creature which stalked minds of those on campus was selective and brutal, but through that a strange and calculating intelligence shone through. Could I trust it to deliver my boys from the doorstep of Hell? Would I be damning myself to some sort of internal torment if I willingly watched this girl slip beneath the waters of madness for my own benefit.

As I climbed the steps of my building I was left wondering if it was required of me, would I do more than passive inaction? I didn't think myself capable of willingly betraying another human being on such an intimate level. But then again several months prior I thought it impossible that I would be unfaithful to my commitment.

In the weeks since I first learned of Altima's influence I could feel my ability to trawl the mind ether increase. At first I snatched snippets from Hanz and Gerald from behind closed doors. But then I learned to stretch out and stroke the influence she wielded. Maybe I had even learned to resist her madness a bit better because of it. Then I had directly spoken with her and held my own. Was it a spark of her smoldering inside of me from her failed attempt to take me as she took Hanz? Or was it just an ability that laid dormant up until now, only uncovered by her tinkering?

Up until that afternoon the only other human beings I had interacted with through that mind fog had been my boys. Ilythia was an unwitting first. But as I walked the long corridor to the home I shared I could feel the flickers of life behind many of the doors. Their hopes and dreams were small and fleeting, but they were there and likely no less important than a wood-jay and its role in eating insects. They were important, but otherwise unseen and unappreciated.

I couldn't focus on any particular one, but they were there before me like an open book.

Perhaps because of this attention to my growing ability I heard their frenzied conversation with my mind's ear before I even reached my door. I slowed my pace and listened.

-uestions again. We can't afford to be so risky, Gerald.

You don't think I understand? Do you think I'm doing all of this just because I have a bad case of the Hanz-syndrome? .....sorry. But no. I understand that they're asking questions. I know they're looking for you. But they're not going to find you, sweetheart. They're army. You know what that means? They were either too stupid or too poor for school. We need to continue our studies before we lose the library altogether. There's already talk of curfew.

They're smart enough. Plus, that alone should tell you they're on to us. God, I never should have stolen all those books. I should have known they'd find them missing and connect the dots.

God? "God" has nothing to do with it. And it's not like you were yourself. As I recall those fits were wholly Her fault.

Regardless. What am I going to say when they drag me in front of the firing squad, exactly? Oh. I'm sorry Captain Aeneas. I wasn't fully myself. But I was under the influence of an ancient evil responsible for wiping out The Progenitors who happens to fancy calling herself Altima. You see, she had this hold over me. My boyfriend Gerald can corroborate.

Don't be smart with me, Hanz.

It's hard not to be.

Cute. Very cute.

I stalked toward the old wooden door which held them. Altima was absent from their minds. I could feel the void that she had left and I relished in the silence that her clockwork heart would have otherwise occupied. As I listened to their conversation it didn't take very long to form my own unique opinion.

It turned out that my suspicion was correct. Aeolus and his cronies were still trying to root out the person responsible for the library murder. I stopped in front of our door and dug around for my key. Was that why she was interested in his sister? Moreover, was that why I watched her like a cat watches a bird?

Was it possible she was trying to protect us in her own demented way? Or was something else afoot?

I was left wondering if I should step aside and let events play out as they would have had I been absent. Just abandon everything altogether and let the three men whose beds I shared destroy one another. But there was more at stake than that. She was capable of murder once and she'd be capable of it again. Beyond that, if what Hanz said was true she was guilty of genocide of a civilization far grander than our own.

She was some sort of unwilling ally now, but she wouldn't be one forever. Her allegiance to us was one of convenience. She had something I wanted. She held my boys hostage and bound me to them with emotional strings of my own making. This I would never be able to change, I realized. Through all their deceit and dark deals I loved them.

When she was done with us she'd go on and do more terrible deeds. Maybe even repeat what she started with The Progenitors. She was an ancient evil far bigger than any petty human invention or greed.

I remembered the wastelands of the south, radioactive deserts that had been scoured clean of life millenia ago. The shattered and buried cities of a long dead people whose grand civilization once tapped creation itself. If she was capable of such raw and awesome power..

No. I thought to myself as I shoved my key into the keyhole and felt the tumblers give. Nothing like that is going to happen.

I turned the door knob and walked into the room. My boys and I had something to discuss.


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