Inquisition, Indiana

We Have a Lot to Discuss

She didn’t want to be so upset by this, Eleanor thought, sitting on the edge of her bed, knees pulled up to her chest. A cigarette dangled from her lips because she had thought she’d wanted the nicotine, but maybe she’d just wanted something to do, something to distract her; now that she was lost in thought, she’d nearly forgotten it was there. No, Eleanor, now having calmed some from her door-slamming, decided that she was not simply being petulant. It was Cullen who had pushed the issue. Cullen who had come to her after the bar, stayed in her bed to watch over her, come to her the next morning to talk, sent Dorian after her because of this. What would she have done? Nothing! Accepted the fact that she had somehow inexplicably saved herself from being accosted and moved on. She would have gone to bed, slept soundly, woken up, maybe scrubbed the kitchen, scrubbed until she forgot, and some years later when talking to friends, she would have recounted it as an old story told in the same way that one told stories that said, “When I was a kid I’m pretty sure my house was haunted,” when it was really just raccoons that lived in the attic but the haunting story was so much better. She would have written it off as one of those weird things you just can’t explain, one of those odd sensations in a moment that make you turn right instead of left and somehow you probably saved your life, but of course, you never really know.

But Cullen was here, and Cullen nagged her. Cullen made it "a thing." It didn’t need to be "a thing," Eleanor reasoned, except that it was too late now. As if to prove it, she brought the magic back up, let it surge into her hands, and -

There was a crash of thunder, a splitting burst of light. The room went dark. The red cherry on the end of the cigarette hung only inches in front of her face, and she could see it burn in the sudden blackness. The storm, Eleanor thought. It had only grown stronger through the evening, probably the last big storm of the year before it gave way to, or maybe even brought with it, the calmer, cooler, more autumnal weather, gentle storms and gentle sun and gentle breezes, but more often uniform grey days with no trees even to turn shades of red and orange and bring a subtle fire to the landscape. Maybe she would drive up north, she thought, or no; she would go south, south to warmer weather, if only by a bit, to the Great Smoky Mountains. It was a long drive, but god knew she could use a long drive and some scenery. If she could take the time away from here, for whatever reason, there were any number of national forests within an hour or so. But the idea was in her head now, and -

And it was not the storm. As Eleanor reached over to deposit her dying cigarette in the ashtray, an act so ingrained into her muscle memory that she did not need to be able to see to do it, her eyes slipped to the space under her bedroom door, slipped and were drawn there because the lights in the hallway were still on. And she realized that no one else in the house was shouting about the power. Cullen may have let it go, but Dorian certainly would not have. No, it must have been a breaker, the breaker for her room had been tripped. But she had plugged nothing extra in, turned nothing else on except…

Except her.

Despite the darkness, Eleanor looked down at her hands again, felt that lingering burn in her fingers, like the burn after a good workout, felt the magic there, ready to be summoned up again at her beck and call. She rubbed them together, tugging on her thumbs, massaging the circumference of her wrists. She could send the mana through her whole body, but Dorian was right when he had said that her hands were the best point to focus on. Apparently she had been able to focus a bit too well. Eleanor hadn’t thought of the consequences of doing magic indoors, even as she recalled Dorian having been hesitant to show it to her in the truck on the Inquisition’s first day here. It seemed he was right about that as well. And already, she could feel it getting stronger.

Eleanor’s shoulders began to shake, to shudder with an all-consuming laughter. She couldn’t ascribe to it a reason, it just was, and was there, pouring out of her like the power that had put out the lights.

Power, indeed.

Dorian’s training had taken it out of her, despite her intermittent fits of giggles, and so after she went down to the basement to flip the breaker back on, Eleanor had a cup of tea, during which time Cullen saw fit to go back upstairs to his own room without so much as a ‘goodnight’ while Eleanor boiled the water, and made her way to bed.

She thought at first the screams were in her head.

Her body drove her bolt upright, and the first thing she really took in as a waking thought was Swiffer meowing, shrieking, scratching, at Eleanor’s bedroom door. She rose quickly to let the cat in and the feline almost lept into Eleanor’s arms as she bent down to retrieve the terrified grey fuzzball.

“What is it, little girl?” she whispered to the kitten in her arms.

And then the screaming came again, though this time it didn’t sound so much like a scream, not a human scream anyway, but the high-pitched wailing of something evil, something damned. It had not been her dream.

There were boots on the stairs, first one pair, and then a second. If Dorian were roused from sleep, roused enough to dress, then this wasn’t nothing. As if agreeing, Swiffer tried to bury herself against the skin of Eleanor’s chest, the cat’s paws grabbing at Eleanor’s hair as though the locks wrapped around her would offer the kitten some protection against… what?

Dressed only in her pajamas, still holding the kitten, Eleanor left her room and went out into the hallway as the screen door slammed. Whatever it was, it was outside, and Cullen and Dorian were seeking it out. The scream came again and Swiffer cried out in response.

“Hush,” said Eleanor gently, and followed the mage and the commander out onto the porch. She saw their forms as they started toward the back of the house, rounding the porch on its right hand side, and then they stopped dead, looking up.

A shadow passed over the moon. Eleanor walked down onto the lawn and craned her neck skyward.

A dragon would have been bad enough. But this was no dragon, not anymore.

It had the shape of a dragon, but it looked diseased, ripped, torn. It’s teeth showed through, glinting in the moonlight, and Eleanor couldn’t quite make out its face as it soared overhead but every angle of the thing, every scale seemed to radiate evil, pain, sickness. It swooped and glided in the sky, letting out its mournful shrieks, making a sound almost like thunder with every flap of its wings.

“Mother of god,” Eleanor moaned.

Cullen turned around, summoned either by Eleanor’s invocation or Swiffer’s cries, saw her standing on the grass, still wet from the rain, barefooted, eyes turned up to the beast, and everything that had happened between them was wiped away. He took one slow step and then picked up the pace, almost sprinting the twenty paces between him and her. He took Eleanor into his arms, one hand around her waist, the other on the back of her head, and held her against him as she held the trembling kitten.

It must have been the sheer awe that drove the fear out of her voice, but it was level and strong if soft when she asked, “Cullen, what..?”

“The Archdemon, Ellie. I… should have told you sooner.”

The beast circled the house as if noticing them, and gave one more dive before it shot off in the direction of the ravine, crying out its horrible screams all the way. In its wake, more clouds rolled in, and the sky went dark, blotting out the waxing moon. A rumble of thunder cracked through the air.

“Let’s go back inside,” said Dorian, approaching them. “We have a lot to discuss.”

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