With the sun falling in the evening sky, I opened the front door of my house, holding the door open for Aiden. He carried two dimensional bags, one on each shoulder. You do not want to place an extra-dimensional space inside another extra-dimensional space. The results are unpredictable, ranging from implosion to chunking you across time and space. One kills you instantly. The other could send you to the Jurassic Age. I’m not certain what’s better. Being crushed down to a single particle or being eaten by a dinosaur, but I do not want to find out.
“Where’s my room?” Aiden demanded, more than asked.
“This way,” I said, leading him down the short hall to the left of the entry. “That’s the bathroom. And you can have either of these. The one on the left is my office. This one on the right is my home gym.”
“The gym, obviously.”
He set one bag on the treadmill. The second, he opened and fixed to the far wall, beside the window. Inside was a luxurious apartment, complete with a full bar, arcades, and a TV as large as the wall. After he activated an arrium attached to the the opening, a door formed from mist. When it solidified, it appeared to be just another part of the house.
“All settled in.” He breathed a self-satisfied sigh. “What’s your wi-fi password?”
“Wi-fi?” I asked as if I’d never heard of it.
His blank stare went through countless emotions before settling into a suspicious glare. “You fucking with me?”
“Yep. I’m The Great Zoltar, password is my real name and the year I was born.”
“Of course it is.”
“What? No one is going to guess either.”
“Probably not,” he conceded. “Let’s go find what Abigail’s been up to, shall we?”
“Yep,” I agreed. “Gear up and meet me in ten.”
I went down to the basement. Before returning my dimensional bag to the rack, I pulled my favorite sword out. Runic scripts ran down the side. Visual foci would give the wielder wider access to ether for the infused spells, providing an anchor to funnel more energy than I could without the aid. The spells on it mostly gave strength and speed for battle but held a few protective wards as well. There was only one real attack spell. Fire spells are a bit primitive, but after thousands of years, hitting a bastard with a bolt of lightning still has a certain style. In truth, my sword was a weak version of Excalibur. I’m no Merlin.
That bastard went one-on-one with Zeus, and the battle ended in a draw. The mortals watching from earth thought the world was ending. The peoples of 6th century Europe talked about that fight for several hundred years, before the Law of Dubiety pushed the story into mythology. After all, it isn’t every day you see lightning-laced dark clouds turn to fists and pummel a glowing figure the size of a mountain. And Zeus never tried to take a second nexus after that. The pantheon dissolved, and the gods of Greece lost power.
When I sheathed the blade, the weapon shrank to the size of a belt knife. I grabbed a cloak of wyther protection and activated the illusion to make it look like a normal jacket to anyone but me. A coat would still look out of place at the tail end of summer in Florida, but less than a medieval style garment. Next, I grabbed my timepiece and fastened it to my wrist. This had come from the vault. With a quick word, the watch-face would expand into an ethereal kite shield and would protect against several types of spells as well as physical attacks. Last, I filled my cloak pockets with spell bombs, potions, and various arrium that might be useful in a pinch, also on loan from the Collective.
When I came up the steps, Aiden was in the kitchen, refrigerator door open. He frowned at me. “How do you not have any leftover pizza? I mean what is this?” He held up a carton of heavy whipping cream in one hand and lemon juice in the other.
“After making myself some eggs Benedict, I have egg whites leftover. I use them to make little white-chocolate mousse cakes.”
“Why? You live in America. They deliver everything to you.”
“It is therapeutic. I listen to an audiobook, and I cook. It relaxes me. You should try it sometime.”
“Nah. I’m good.” He bobbed a head toward the front door. “You ready?”
“No. We go out the back.”
“One of these days,” he said, following me, “you’ll trust the Law of Dubiety.”
“I trust it. But I don’t trust Mrs. Crangston across the street. She sits all day, watching the neighbors. Every time she sees me, she asks me about my plans for the weekend. Regardless of what I say, she insists that I join her at church. When I decline, she becomes insistent and judgmental. She already throws holy water at my lawn and prays, not quietly, for my soul. The last thing I need is for her to see us fly from the front yard.”
He snorted. “Let her. Would serve her right for getting up in your business.”
“I like this cover,” I said, leading him to the Live Oak tree. “Would you at least try not to blow it while you are here?”
“Sure,” he said, gathering ether. “Ready to do this?”
In answer, I pulled ether, made us invisible and flew into the air. I led us back to Carothers. With any luck, we could find some wyther still lingering in the air.
The parking lot was mostly empty, likely a few grad students lingering. Both buildings to either side of us were covered in windows. We would have to surreptitiously look about while flinging ether. Wyther had a way of conjoining. The best way to find wyther, was to make more.
“I’ll start over here,” Aiden said. “That’s where our fight ended. I’ll try to isolate our battle.”
“And I’ll look for older scars in the air.”
I walked to the other side of the lot. Just as I pulled several handfuls of either, I heard a feminine voice say, “Liam? Is that you?”
Turning, I loosed the ether back into my surroundings, wiping off him hands as if I’d been digging in a cookie jar. For Loki’s sake, she couldn’t see ether.
“I’m so sorry,” I said, looking into the TA’s wide smile. “Do I know you?”
She flinched as if I had slapped her. The best way to win over a lady is to pretend you don’t recognize her.
“I’m Skyler. Your TA.”
“Oh. Right.” Then I let a smile slip. “Ms. Skyler Turney.”
“You asshole. I thought you were serious.”
“Had to get even for that whole Scottish crack.”
She nodded. “Guess I deserved it. What are you doing out here? Lose something?”
“Uh,” I said. Look at me, a bastion of sophistication and poise. “Yeah. Um. Dropped a twenty somewhere.”
“It’s long gone.”
“You think? No one would turn it in?”
“Cash? Not a chance. Just think of it as contributing to some undergrad’s pizza fund.”
I shook my head as if severely disappointed. “The kids these days.”
She laughed. It was a melodious sound. Made the hairs on the back of my neck tingle. Ah fuck. I thought I might actually like this girl. Despite her being a norm, this was not a good time for me to consider dating.
“Are you hard up?” she asked, glancing me up and down.
“What’s that?” American idioms were difficult to follow sometimes.
“Do you need to borrow some cash?”
“No,” I said quickly. “I have plenty of money.” In fact, I had close to a billion dollars in assets around the world and at least fifty million liquid. Being a couple hundred years old had its perks. There was no way in hades I’d take a few bucks off a grad student in this economy.
“Oh. Sorry. I just … that deep of a frown and the thrift store jacket, I just assumed … I shouldn’t assume. Wait. Why are you wearing a jacket? This is August in Florida. Aren’t you hot?”
“Thrift store?” I said appalled. “This is vintage.” Note to self: look up stylish jackets. “And some of the buildings get pretty cold.”
“You must have been in HCB. Feels like a morgue in there.”
“Hang out in a lot of morgues do you?”
“I have worked with cadavers.”
“You have? Why would—”
“Well,” Aiden said, coming up from behind me. “I didn’t find anything on my side. How bout you?”
“Not yet, but I’m—”
“It’s pretty obvious what you’re about,” Aiden said. “This is serious. Why are you cavorting with her kind when we need to be—”
“It’s just twenty dollars,” I said in hopes of cutting off words that would destroy my hastily wrought lie. At the same time, Skyler asked, “My kind?”
“When you are done fucking off,” Aiden said, walking toward the Love building, “I’ll be over here. Always leaves the tedious work to me. Un-fucking-believable.”
Skyler raised an eyebrow.
“Sorry,” I said. “He’s Scottish. Gets murderously hangry.”
She chortled. “I understand.”
“But I should really help him. It’s his twenty. I’m just helping out.”
“Right,” she said, pulling a pen and paper out of her purse. “If you change your mind and give up, I’m on the fourth floor of MCH.” She bobbed her head to Carothers, “It’s that one. Here is my cell and office number. I plan to be here late. Come up if you want some pizza.”
She handed me the piece of paper. Looking at it, I said, “And by pizza, you mean …”
“Food. I always order Momo’s to encourage students to come during my office hours. What do you think I meant.”
“I thought you were hitting on me.”
“Nope. Can’t date students.” She shrugged an apologetic shoulder as if to say, But you won’t always be my student.
I actually breathed an audible sigh of relief. In hindsight, this is not the best way to win over the ladies.
“Wow. Didn’t realize I was such an ogre.”
“No. Not at all. You are gorgeous. More importantly, you are witty. I love that. But I just got out of a serious relationship, and I’m not ready to date anyone right now.” I almost said court—rather than date. Fuck I’m old.
“Liam,” Aiden said. “I swear to Zeus—”
“Zeus?” she asked.
“I have to go. See you Wednesday for class.”
“Bye!” she called after me.
As I joined Aiden, his scowl only deepened. “Have a good time did ya?”
“Yes, thanks. Did you find anything?”
“As a matter of fact, aye. I did. Come look at this.”
Gathering ether, I followed Aiden to a small field behind the physics building. Long before he stopped, I felt the swirl of wyther. Drawing ether into my eyes, I could see a residue of patterns. It was designed to make people more susceptible to suggestions by the caster.
“What the fuck?” I asked, feeling a tugging thought I knew was not my own.
“Check out the flier on the wall. Anyone walking through here is compelled to look at it.”
It was an advert for people in Mythological Studies. There was an email address to get more information. Drawing ether into my brain, I seared the image of the flier into my memory. Aiden was way ahead of me. He typed and sent an email into his phone. Seconds later, he got an auto reply.
“Meeting every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 9 pm. The location is off campus. There are free ride share codes to get there. And there’s a party across town for existing members tonight at the same time as the meeting. Look with ether sight. There are glyphs of influence laced into the white space.”
“This is too obvious. It has to be a trap.”
Aiden moved aside his jacket and placed a hand on the knife at his belt as if it was a hilt of a sword. “That’s why we came prepared. Also, what choice do we have?”
“Guess we don’t. But I don’t have to like it.”
“Who goes to the meeting? And who goes to the party?”
“You think we should split up?” I asked.
What do you think? Should they split up? Poll closed! Thanks to everyone who voted!!