It didn't take too long for our server to appear from the kitchen with our meals. He was dutifully bland and uninteresting, a stranger whose time with the establishment did not overlap with my own. I was thankful of that and it made my meal of braised chicken and potatoes taste a little sweeter. Aeolus made a vain attempt at appearing cultured by ordering a bottle of a wine whose name he pronounced incorrectly. The quality was so-so, but I relished in its warmth for the sake of easing my own anxiety.

"Tell me," he started while cutting his steak. "How long have you been at the university?"

I narrowed my eyes slightly, but obliged.

"About a year."

"You've told me you're studying Art History, with a focus on Progenitor Mosiac."

"I wouldn't exactly say it's a focus. The subject interests me and it makes up some important classes, but I wouldn't exactly say it's critical."

He took a sip of his own wine. "It seems everyone is so enamored with them here. You can't walk down the street and not hear them mentioned or see their influence on this little town's culture."

"I hadn't noticed. I thought it was like that everywhere. You should know, you're the southerner."

He shrugged passively. The date felt like it was becoming an interrogation.

"Why are you interested in the culture here?" I asked while refilling both his glass and my own. I deliberately gave him more.

"It's relevant to my interests, Wendy. I'm just trying to get an accurate picture of you. We have a connection. I just want to understand it a little bit better is all."

I saw him glance quickly at his wine glass and then mine. His eyes seemed to harden while his his mouth curled into a warm smile. The man interested me more every minute I was with him. He was an oxymoron that just oozed depth and begged for exploration. I thought that maybe it was the danger associated with him, the fact that when everything was simplified he was the enemy. Even though he was charming and handsome in his strange, barbaric little way he was still capable of a lot, that impression was clear.

The remainder of the night was tainted by the comment sparked by Lyra. Oh, I know. Know what, exactly? And how much? The strange look that crept across his face as he spoke only seemed to deepen the dangerous mystery about it. It grew increasingly difficult for me to focus on the evening after that point. Conversation bled from our date and even though we went through the motions of romance with dancing and drinks afterward, there was little substance.

If he noticed my departure from reality he hid it exceptionally well. Either that or I failed to see through the mask that he put forward because of my own distracted train of thought. My mind was a stuck in a loop. Was he really aware my connection to the poor librarian's murder? If so, why all the cliché double agent subterfuge? Why not just interrogate me and get the whole thing over with?

As I watched him over the lip of my wineglass I realized that I may be asking too much. I was beginning to realize that he was more clever than he led on. But he was a wounded, emotionally flawed creature that seemed to operate on two parts discipline and one part longing for the unreachable. The strange kind of devotion he had to his sister and his awkward fumbling in our relationship was evidence enough that his personal life was wrought with dark corners that he probably wasn't even fully aware of.

I wasn't sure if he was capable of manipulating me in the same fashion I was spinning him. I definitely felt his strange masculine influence over me, however. Maybe that would have been enough had the situation been a normal one.

It was at that time that I could feel Altima's strange influence in the crowded room. We had abandoned the bistro after our dinner, instead opting for a nice public pub several blocks away. Somewhere were I could use the noise as an excuse for not being able to hear much of what he was saying.

At first I thought it was the wine I had been enjoying in moderation throughout the evening, but the sensation grew more insistent. It wasn't an unpleasant feeling, like when I could see her through Gerald's eyes as he lay on top of me. Instead there was a strange gravity about it, something impersonal and removed. Ignoring the conversation he was carrying on almost wholly by himself I let my eyes gloss over those clustering around the bar. No one met my eyes. No one looked familiar.

I wondered if she had taken one of the boys hostage again and was watching me from some unseen corner of the pub. It made me feel uneasy, so I put a hand on his arm to break his train of thought and excused myself to the restroom. I used the walk across the pub to scry through the mind ether. I knew my ability was capable of reaching other people besides Gerald and Hanz, but I felt clumsy and awkward. The pub was exceptionally crowded, so the fog surrounding the hot iron that was Altima was thick and soupy. But she was there, hiding and predatory.

I lingered in the restroom for only a moment when I heard the screaming.


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