It felt good to air my grievances and receive them. We were accomplishing something and making progress. Even if that progress was wholly emotional, we were connected again. After all the deceit and groping in the muck for half truths we finally seemed to be on the same team. The weather improved the next day, the sun seemed to cast out the dank chill of winter that had been lingering in the shadows.

I even attended class and tried somewhat to pay attention to the long winded lectures that consumed half of my day. It was a reminder that I was still mostly a normal person, that the circumstances at hand had not fully corrupted me. So I took notes, asked questions and tried to learn something unconnected to the madness that Altima had wrought. So it was a surprise to me that I found myself unconsciously preparing for my date with Aeolus that evening.

They watched me applying my mascara in the bathroom mirror half-heartedly from the living room while they studied something they swore was unrelated to her madness. Of course I had my doubts, but they had no real reason to deceive me. Yet I could feel her influence in their minds. She was a gentle yet insistent thing that evening, not too unlike a mother. If it was because of her knowledge of the previous days conversation or some meek reaction to my authority I couldn't tell. But I wouldn't depend on it.

I knew it was wrong and I was certain they were aware of my plans. But they made no attempt to stop me or ask what exactly I thought I was doing. Maybe if they did I wouldn't have been able to provide a reasonable answer and that would have been enough to stop my obvious dishonesty.

Ironically it wasn't my dear Hanz or my strong willed Gerald, but Altima who came to me. She hung in my peripheral vision in the mirror. Startled, I turned only to find her absent from my reality. I returned to the mirror and found her hanging there, just in the fringe of sight. I tried focusing on her, but whenever I did this her image slipped away and dissolved into the background. It was like she was a ghost, transparent and elusive.

Her face was impossible to resolve, it was a constantly shifting mess of colors. She was wearing an electric pink evening gown.

You're still carrying on with this Aeolus business. She stated through the mind ether. I could hear her clockwork heart beating through it.

Yes. I replied simply through the same medium, applying a little blush.

That's a pretty courageous step you're taking. I could feel her attention focus wholly on me and I heard the boys in the next room breathe an unconscious sigh of relief in unison. And you're doing this right in front of them nonetheless? But of course you're the boss in this relationship, aren't you? My, my. Wendy you've certainly made something of yourself. I think that's why I like you so much. You have gumption. You're a little soldier. It's too bad. You would have made such an excellent right hand woman. It's hard to find good help these days.

I didn't say anything, but I felt a smirk cross my face. The electric pink dress moved around behind me in a sign of agitation.

Why is it that I don't trust you with that man, my dear? I know you want to be sincere. You might even believe what you're doing is strictly business. Getting this little girl for me in some hope that I might just leave your boys alone seems like a pretty noble thing in its own corrupted way. But I don't think you're operating like that.

No, I suspect you're doing this for yourself. You get a kick out of having him in your pants, don't you? You like the power you're wielding over these puny bags of talking meat. It's even getting you off right now, isn't it? They know what you're doing. That's why they haven't asked. And it tears them up inside to know what you're going to come home stinking of cologne, just like they come home stinking of that cheap little girl's perfume.

But you want them to see you. You want them to hurt because they hurt you.

I curled my hair into tight little ringlets as was the fashion at the time. It was hard to focus on my grooming with her chattering in my ear and I found myself becoming increasingly annoyed with her distractions.

What's your point? I barked angrily, having had nearly enough of her poisoned words. That I'm only a reflection of you? That we're both cut from the same cloth because we like power and men? Or is it that this part of me is just a little bit of you wiggling into me?

I narrowed my eyes and bared my teeth in the mirror. I tried to be subtle, but my reflection probably scared me more than it did her. I continued, shrugging off the fear of what I was slowly becoming.

Because honey, I'm sorry. But if you believe that you don't know humanity very well. We're all about power and us simple womenfolk tend to like men. We're just a lot more subtle when we go about it is all. Do you think you have some deep insight into me? No. You don't. You and I both know that. Where you fail at directly manipulating me like you did Hanz, you try to excel at manipulating me through words and ideas.

But I'm not your puppet. I'm not under your control. I'm doing this for our mutual benefit. Not because I'm a coward or because I'm in awe of your power. But because I want what you've stolen from me.

There was a beat of silence. The image of her in my peripheral vision grew closer and I could feel her talons rake over my mind. They were dangerously close, like lion's fangs dragging over an exposed neck. It took a lot of courage to keep a straight face. Courage I didn't think existed within me.

You are such a simple thing, Wendy. You try like so many others to be something other than yourself. Throughout your entire mayfly lives you try to reach some greater coil of existence because you can't quite make something permanent. Your mark on your world is fleeting, like a fever.

But you're an ant before a skyscraper. This isn't a boast of my influence or greatness. No, I'm something altogether different. Indescribable in your limited scope. But it's a statement of your insignificance.

So go ahead. Clutch to your idea that you're somehow in control if it gives you the nerves to do what I'm going to ask you to do. Because "honey" you're going to need every ounce of strength in order to overcome those curious little personality quirks you call your "humanity."

She turned and left the room, but even after she disappeared from the corners of my eyes I could feel her angry presence brooding in the room. Her fangs were bared and my mind felt incredibly vulnerable. I was left wondering if she really was capable of harming me in any substantial way.

With a cold sweat slicking my palms I gathered up my strength, put on a smile and flicked a speck of lint from my dress. I knew that night would be productive, whatever horrors might occur.


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