I stand on the veranda, just before the porch steps. The summer heat is nearly suffocating and even without the sun, I can barely withstand it. Mosquitoes attack the porch light by the screen door. They fly right by me, uninterested in a bloodless body. I fold my arms over my chest and watch Leon’s car pull into the driveway. Inside the house, the twins attack the window and Eric and Tristan clamber down the stairs, knocking over each other in their haste to join the girls.
I allow them a moment of bickering before I bellow over my shoulder, “Go to your rooms.”
They blame each other, loud and obnoxiously while pounding their way up the living room stairs.
Leon exits his silver Mercedes. The door closes on its own as he walks around it, inspecting the paint. He slips out a yellow buffer cloth and quickly cleans a soiled spot before sticking it back into his pocket. He heads toward the house, finally noticing me. He slows down, adjusting his skinny jeans. “Hey, Felix.” He leans his head back so his oily hair stays out of his eyes.
“Where were you?”
He glances around, “I told Eric. I was at the mall.”
“Mall closes at nine. It’s near eleven. Try again.”
Leon takes the first step to the porch, “I’m not a kid, Felix, come on. I stay out all the time.”
“When I tell you to come home, you come home.”
He fingers his Flogging Molly t-shirt, “My friends and I were having a good time. What’s the big deal?”
Leon moves to bypass me and I latch onto his thin bicep. The smell of smoke is overwhelming. “You live in my house, Leon. You follow my rules. When I tell you to come home. You come home.”
His tongue plays with his lip piercing as his gaze narrows, “I may look eighteen to you but I’m near a thousand years old. I don’t need a father. Don’t talk to me like I’m one of them. One of your kids. I’m your friend.” Leon yanks out of my hold and stomps inside.
I hurry after him as he goes straight to the kitchen, “You’re also my subordinate.”
“You think I’m doing this because of some power trip? Tymician’s missing, Leon. I needed you here to look after the house so I can go. Yes, you’re my friend. And though it’s stupid of me, I can’t trust anyone else. So you want to stop acting like a rebellious teenager, like them, and start being someone I can rely on?”
Leon puts down his drink, “What do you mean, Ty’s missing?”
From the kitchen table, I toss him Misha’s first report, holding the newest one taut in my hand. He swiftly reads it over, his features brimming on dread. “There’s been no phone call from him?”
He looks at the other document. “What’s that?”
“This is a little bit more difficult to understand. I’m going to take Eric and Tristan with me to figure out everything.” I let him read but it’s easy to see that he is confused. “Cut through all the fancy words and numbers, she is basically stating a very strong Void made it through to Earth. She insinuates that Tymician fought it. She even has the boldness to say he lost.”
Leon shakes his head, “Ty can’t lose against a Void. He’s a Transcending Erelim. He’s as strong as Lucius.”
“But he isn’t a fighter. I can best Ty if it’s just physical combat. He’s smart, dangerously smart but he isn’t a warrior. And if he ever exposed his true strength on Earth, he’d decimate half the globe. Ty wouldn’t do that, even to save his own life.”
“So you’re saying he lost on purpose?”
“Maybe.” I shrug, scratching my orange scalp. “If I believe this at all.”
Leon sits at the table, his silver and leather bracelets clattering against the table as he spreads his adorned fingers over the documents, rereading them. “What about Kyla? She’d know what happened, right? Where is she?”
“That’s why I have to go. I haven’t heard a thing about her.”
“You think she’s dead?”
“At this point, it’s possible.”
“Alright.” He sits back, meeting my eyes, “I’m sorry, bro. I should have come home. I just lost track of time.”
Tristan, Eric, and I step out on a grassy floor of Greenwood Cemetery in Trenton, New Jersey. The Dust only allows access to places we’ve gone before. It does not operate like a GPS. I can’t input in an address and arrive at the location. This gravesite is home to one of my human friends that died in a car crash last spring. I vaguely search for his tomb as Tristan and Eric pace anxiously in dismay. They remember well waking up in their graves and the fear still riddles inside them. They rush off the property calling for me. I was never buried so a cemetery holds no dread for me.
We are only a mile from the address. I don’t mind a quiet walk
“Leon was lying.” Tristan suddenly tells me, gaining my swift attention.
Eric scoffs, “Oh, shut your gob.”
He ignores him and looks straight at me, “I can tell when someone’s lying. I’ve always been able too.”
“What do you mean? You think he’s lying?”
Tristan shakes his head, while Eric covers his face with his mask.
“How do you know?”
He shrugs his skinny shoulders, “I sense it. Either way, Leon wasn’t at the mall.”
I contemplate the idea of Leon actually lying to me. It sits heavy in my stomach. There aren’t many places he can go in Wilkes-Barre and he can’t travel outside it.
As all of my wards, Leon had gotten in trouble with the law. His, however, was perhaps the most severe and had Tymician not intervened he would have been sentenced to thirty years in the Ruling’s underground prison.
Instead, he wears a tracker, keeping him locked in our city for the next five decades. It is a fine price to pay for human trafficking.
When we arrive at the apartment building, there is a single police car sitting at the entrance. If there was any curiosity or speculative rumor spreading through the clans, the crowd has long since departed. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not.
Approaching the building, the Angel police officer exits his vehicle holding out a hand, “This building is under quarantine.”
“We are from Kio’s forensics. We have the right to look around.”
“Their forensics team has already been through here. I don’t need Newborns sniffing around on my watch. Get out of here.”
Eric growls in my ear, “Tell this posh git who you are. He shouldn’t be speaking to you like that.”
I attempt to ease his upset, smacking him on the shoulder, “It’s not always a good idea to lay all your cards on the table, Eric.”
Tristan disagrees. “You say that all the time. He’s one guy, we’re not in any danger. He needs to know his place.”
I unfold a document that I signed and step up to the officer again. “I have a warrant here from Kio’s Second. He wanted us to reexamine the apartment.”
He snatches it from my hand scanning the manuscript with a curled lip. “Damn Fallen.”
In the elevator, it’s awkwardly quiet. The officer notices Eric for the first time and can’t stop sneaking glances. It’s quite obvious that Eric has no eyelashes and his nose isn’t exactly the right size. The officer’s face reddens, perhaps seeing a piece of rotted flesh somehow beneath all the layers of clothing.
The officer shoves out of the elevator with brutal haste. Eric curses under his breath but Tristan manages to rein in his temper.
The apartment is demolished. The room is full of torn furniture, pieces of shattered glass, and fragments of wood splatter along the floor. There is no doubt it was once a beautiful place. But nothing of it remains untouched by the skirmish that ransacked this home just hours prior.
“Can you tell us your take?”
“We are not obligated to share our findings.”
Eric takes a threatening step but I clutch his arm, “Thank you. I’d like to speak to your superior, perhaps in the morning if that will be alright.”
His black brows knit in suspicion. “Don’t you know who my superior is? Do you think she’d speak to someone like you?”
I oblige an appreciative smile. “Try.”
He haughtily cackles before stepping out, leaving us alone in the place. Eric and Tristan mock him but I am interested only with the discoveries.
“Do you think she’s dead?” Tristan asks.
“It’s a hard thing to kill someone who is already dead.”
Eric pushes, “But it’s not impossible. It’s about intention.”
Tristan fiddles with a bookcase, “What are you talking about? What’s intention?”
“For the Undead, age and power doesn’t matter. If you truly wanted to kill another Soul, your intention must be greater than their will to live.”
“So you’re saying, I could kill an Erelim?”
“If they wanted to die, and you had a great purpose. Then yes. It would be possible. But the odds of that, I’d say are a billion to one.”
The boys grow uncomfortable with such logic given the fact that Tymician is missing. Eric changes the subject, “Why did they come here?” Eric questions. “What ponce owns this flat?”
“It belongs to a doctor.”
Eric cackles, “Makes sense. Kyla was always a bit off her trolley.”
Tristan peeks into the refrigerator, “Remember in the beginning, she used to sit in front of the TV and repeat everything that’s being said. She’d do that for hours.”
“She’d watch blighty channels like the BBC, to talk like me.”
“It used to piss you off so much.” Tristan chuckles, taking a long swing of a beer, “Ahh, I used to like her then.”
I step over the destroyed pieces of a coffee table and peering into the bedroom. All the drawls have already been inspected and analyzed. They have removed nothing from the scene, waiting no doubt for the Ruling to come.
I look down the balcony hearing the lulling sounds of traffic. “This can’t be an Angel’s apartment.” I break into their bickering.
Their footsteps sound heavy on broken glass and cracked wood until they stand beside me. “Why not?”
“We’re seven stories up. What Angel do you know that isn’t afraid of heights?”
Tristan shares a waning grin, “Roger’s the only Angel I know.”
“And he’s afraid to climb the stairs of our house.”
“The doorknob’s missing.” Tristan vaguely mentions.
Eric wonders, “Fallen then?”
“He’s a doctor. He’s got to be human. Perhaps a Seer. Either way, it’s possible Kyla’s with him.”
I meet Eric’s gaze through the holes in his mask. “Yeah. And Ty.”
The boys meander slowly, eating their ice cream cones with deliberate attentiveness. It’s pointless though, most of it is on their face or dripping off their hands but they continue in a vain attempt to get it into their mouths. We had to stop in Trenton because everything in our town closes by nine.
I glance over my shoulder with a bit of envy. Food is the first thing I ceased to desire. I can’t taste the sweet juice of a tangerine. I am unable to savor the meat of a steak. To me, it’s sand on my tongue. I force myself to eat, so my wards won’t be afraid of who I am or who they will one day become.
I hear it’s supposed to get worse with age. Age steals every human trait we possess. It takes it slowly, one quality at a time until there is nothing felt but this hollowed shell.
Looking down at my fingertips, I touch each one with my thumb assuring myself that I have many features still left to me. But I wonder, what was life like for Tymician, a Transcending Erelim Elder?
I am two thousand years old and only a fifth of Tymician’s age. What attributes did he have left, if any? He appeared so normal. Am I to believe that he faked it all?
I fake it, I realize. It’s simple: eating. I still have hope that I will taste something, even if it’s something stupid like salt or a spicy pepper. After as many years for Tymician, I’m sure faking just became natural.
I then have to ask, how much playacting did he really do? How many lies did he tell me? And if he did tell me lies, then did he ever really trust me?
As we come upon the house, I know something is wrong. The gate is open.
“Didn’t we lock this?”
Eric throws the end of his cone to the floor and rubs his hands on his pants, “Budge up, let me look.” He plugs his cellphone into the jack of the Rune and waits for the sync. Tristan doesn’t pay much attention, attempting to call Leon as we stare at the house through the steel bars.
“Leon isn’t answering.”
I scratch my head. “I can’t wait. The girls are in there.” I shove past him.
The house is quiet. I signal the boys up the stairs to look for the girls while I head toward the kitchen. There is a single light on above our glass table. I crane my neck, spotting Leon at the head of it. He stares at something or someone, stiff and nervous.
I connect to the Source, preparing for battle as I place my foot on the tile.
“Felix!” Asura Elder Phil greets me with a wild grin. “Please do not stress. I am nothing to fear.”
The boys tumble down the stairs and I hold up my hand, “It’s alright.”
Leon gets up quickly and whispers in my ear, “I’m sorry, Felix, he’s an Elder. I didn’t know what to do. He just showed up.”
I pat him on the back, “It’s okay. You did fine. Go lock the gates and get to bed.” I quickly ease their doubts, “Elder Phil is a member of Kio. You don’t have to worry.” I wait as they climb the stairs, “Can I offer you a refreshment, sir?”
“We’re friends, Felix, aren’t we?”
“I never know where I stand with Elders. You were my mentor for a few years. It’s because of you I know how to speak in the presence of an Elder and the etiquette that’s involved. So forgive me if I’m… trepid.”
He cackles, clasping me on the shoulder, “Very good. You haven’t forgotten your education. I fear it is going to become quite important. Come, speak with me in private.”
We journey into the backyard, past the screened-in pool deck. He prefers the isolated fire pit surrounded by willow trees and cumbersome bushes. Phil groans loudly resting in a lounge. He gazes up at the sky, spotting stars through the limbs of the trees. I am less inclined to relax. I sit but observe him with wide eyes.
“It is beautiful tonight.” He begins. “Mother Nature is happy.”
His hesitation doesn’t go unnoticed.
“Forgive me if this seems forward.” I wonder if I sound as stupid to him as I do to myself. But I don’t want to insult him with talking like a dumb kid. “I haven’t heard anything from Tymician and I can’t find my ward. Besides Misha, you are the first Elder to contact me and I doubt that’s a good thing. So please, tell me what’s going on.”
Phil removes his black rimmed glasses and cleans them with his shirt as if my little plea meant nothing to him. He takes his time rubbing each lens carefully before placing them back on his pointed nose and adjusting them to his liking. “In the morning, the Elders will convene to discuss Misha’s reports. We will make the announcement that Erelim Elder Tymician fought against the Sins, Wrath and Sloth, and he lost.”
I struggle to interrupt but I can’t seem to find anything to say.
“We will declare him dead.”
I snap to my feet, “No, you can’t!”
Phil straightens his head, “No? Did you say no?”
I lick my lips and sit down. “Ty can’t lose. He’s the strongest--”
“He chose to lose. Tymician could have done many things in the battle. He could have called for aid. He could have left the scene altogether. He could have used his Light and destroyed a city. However, he chose none of these things. Life for an Erelim is not what we think it is. Perhaps he found a death of his desire.”
“What, you think he wanted to die? You have no idea who he was!”
Gravity thickens. The trees above me bend as my own body sinks closer to the floor. It feels like cement pours upon me and no matter how I move I cannot get out from under the flow.
“You live with him for a few centuries and you believe you know him? I am six thousand years old. I was beside him as he built this clan. I appreciated his failures and admired his accomplishments. There was no better man in this universe. Make no mistake on loyalties, Felix.”
The weight dissolves so suddenly the branches snap up, bouncing in relief. I blow out needless air through my lips, apologizing. “I’m Irish.” I explain. “We’re irrational.” It makes him cackle, easing the heated air between us. “I ask you to wait. Let me find more information first.”
He shakes his head, “Don’t you understand what this means for you, Felix? You will become King. You must procure Tymician’s last will from the Ruling. Be assured there are Elders that will contend for the throne. You must move fast.”
Confusion reflects in my tone, “How can they do that? I’m his heir.”
“Yes. But if they can prove you are ill-equipped, there is a good chance they will impose a regency, making one of them the primary leader. And right now while you are vulnerable, it is a perfect time for a coup d’état.”
“They’d kill me?”
I ease back, stiff and feeling like a buffoon. “Wow. You didn’t even hesitate. You didn’t even think about. You’re one of them. You’re an Elder.”
“Unlike most, I still regard my Soul with dignity. Though I believe you are not the perfect choice, I trust in Tymician. I will protect you. It is the reason I came. Now this house has top-notch security with only one flaw. It allows all of Kio’s members to access it.” Phil pulls out his cell phone, “I can fix this.”
“Wait. I’m not hiding from my own clan. I don’t believe anyone would hurt me. Can we go back to the beginning here. You’re moving too fast for me, I’m sorry.” I take a moment, darting my eyes on the ground searching for answers. “What if I can find some proof that he’s alive? You see my ward, Kyla. She’s with him. Or she was. She knows what happened. So once I find her, she’ll clear up everything and we won’t have to do all this.”
He contemplates my words. Phil rotates the single gold band around his ring finger staring into the bare fire pit. “You have till morning.”