Succubus Shadows Chapter 16

Really, when you thought about it, what I was going through wasn’t that much different from dying after all.They always said you saw your life flash before your eyes, and that’s how it was for me.Dream after dream.

I relived the most painful moments of my life, true dreams where I’d done terrible things and seen terrible things done to those I loved. More “realities” that had never happened were shown to me as well. In one, Roman’s recent display of affection turned out to be a scam. It was a front to punish me for my role in the death of his sister. Only, he didn’t go after me directly. He went after all my friends, mortal and immortal. I watched him kill them one by one as he ignored my pleas to just finish me off instead.

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The Oneroi latched onto how I was bothered more by the suffering of those I loved than of myself. They mocked me, claiming that Roman’s rampage was a vision of the future that had come through the gate of horn. I didn’t believe it…at least, I didn’t think I did. Nyx could see the future. Could they? Or were they maybe in contact with her, despite her imprisonment? My higher reasoning was giving way to paranoia as I was stripped further and further of my essence. I even began to dread the true dreams from the mortal world, the ones that showed me my friends. They were no longer a comfort; they only plunged me further into darkness. Because as the Oneroi had predicted, there seemed to be no hope of rescue in sight.

Still, I kept dreaming….

Roman, Hugh, and the vampires were in a van. Peter was driving, and the clock on the dashboard read two o’clock in the morning. No one spoke in the small space, giving me no clue as to what was transpiring. Their headlights illuminated a sign along the freeway that indicated an exit for Idaho State Route 41. Idaho?

“Can you change the station?” asked Hugh. “I hate talk radio.”

“Because you might learn something?” asked Peter.

“Because I’m trying to stay awake.”

“It’s a rule of the road: driver controls the radio.”

“What rule book says that?”

“Enough,” said Roman. His voice was weary, his face more so. He looked like he hadn’t been sleeping much, but considering the time of night, that wasn’t a surprise. He unfolded a map and then checked a piece of paper with some notes scrawled on it. “It should be the next exit.”

“How’d Carter even find this guy?” asked Cody.

“Because Carter moves in mysterious ways,” said Hugh. “Hard-drinking, hard-smoking mysterious ways.”

“Yeah, but if he knew, why didn’t he tell Jerome?”

“Because Jerome would go into blasting mode if he found out. I guess Carter was keeping it on the down-low as some sort of compassionate act. He’s an angel and all.”

“Oh, right.” Cody seemed to have forgotten about that. It was an easy mistake.

“Jerome’ll blast us too if he knows what we’re doing,” warned Peter.

“He’s too distracted. He thinks we’re just following a vampire lead.”

“That’s the point,” said Peter. “If he finds out we lied to him – “

“He won’t,” interrupted Roman impatiently. “Not if we just get what we need from this guy and get out of here. This is it – take that exit.”

Hugh veered off onto what hardly seemed like a road at all. It had no businesses and only one streetlight to illuminate an intersection, just before darkness swallowed everything. Roman continued giving directions, steering them farther and farther into the countryside.

“You can’t do anything to him,” said Hugh, craning his head to look at Roman in the backseat. “Show any flare of power in another demon’s territory, and you’re dead – probably along with the rest of us.”

“Do you think I’m stupid?” demanded Roman.

“Not exactly. But I do think you’re short-tempered, have poor impulse control, and would do anything for Georgina.”

I expected Roman to deny all of that – or at least the last part – but he said nothing. Silence fell again until Roman at last pointed to a narrow gravel driveway. It was so hard to see that Peter drove past it, squealed the brakes, and backed up. They parked near the driveway’s end and began walking up it. I saw then that the back of the van had blacked-out windows, and it was a safe bet that the vampires’ coffins were likely back there in case daytime travel was required. Out here in the middle of nowhere, stars clustered the sky, and night insects rained down a symphony of chatter. The faint outline of a house appeared. No lights were on within.

“Can we do it SWAT team style?” asked Cody eagerly. “Surround the house and swoop in?”

“I don’t think that’s necessary,” said Roman. He gave the door a sharp kick. It shuddered but didn’t come close to breaking apart action-movie style. Keeping his nephilim powers in check meant he had the same abilities as a human.

Peter sighed. “Let me.” He took Roman’s place, repeated the kick, and this time the door did burst in and break apart. With their goofy attitudes, it was easy to forget sometimes that both Cody and Peter had super fast reflexes and enhanced strength. Peter stepped back, brushing splinters off his pants.

The foursome entered, and a light turned on in the back of the house.

“What the hell?” a voice demanded.

What the hell, indeed. Dante entered the room.

He took one look at my friends and said, “Oh, shit.”

Then he bolted back toward the room he’d come from, no doubt heading for a window. He was too slow, though. In a flash, Cody had Dante by the scruff of his shirt and dragged him back to the living room, shoving my ex-boyfriend into a chair. Dante immediately started to rise, noticed how my friends had closed rank around him, and then thought better of it.

Dante sighed. “Well, I knew this had to happen some day. Why didn’t your boss come himself?” He peered at Roman.

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“And haven’t I seen you somewhere?” Dante had seen Roman on a beach when we rescued Jerome from the summoning. There’d been a fair amount of chaos, so I wasn’t surprised Dante’s memory was sketchy – especially since he’d been beaten up by a demon.

“We’re not here because of Jerome,” snapped Hugh. Then, he reconsidered. “Well, we are, but not for the reasons you think.”

“Answer our questions, and you might live another day,” said Peter. Apparently, the action-movie theme was still going strong.

“Where’s Georgina?” demanded Roman. It was interesting that every time my immortal posse interrogated someone, they phrased the question that way first, instead of, “Do you know where Georgina is?” When you worked for Hell, everyone was guilty until proven innocent.

Dante’s face lost some of its fear and took on its usual cynical look. He tossed messy black hair out of his face. “In Seattle, sleeping with that fucking writer.”

“No,” said Roman. “She’s not.”

“She’s not what? In Seattle or sleeping with the writer?” Dante arched an eyebrow. “And who are you exactly?”

“The muscle,” said Hugh dryly. “Georgina’s gone. Vanished. And if anyone’s got reason to make her disappear” – he paused and glanced uneasily at Roman – “it’s you.”

“I’m not the kind of magician that pulls rabbits out of my hat. Or makes them disappear.” Dante was growing more and more confident, now that he knew Jerome wasn’t going to send him to the torture pits of Hell. “If you can’t find her, ask your archdemon. Unless he’s been summoned again, he’ll know.”

“He doesn’t,” said Cody. “But maybe you already knew that.”

Dante rolled his eyes. “You think I’m going to go anywhere near Seattle when there’s a price on my head? Do you think I’m hiding out in the fucking sticks because I want to? The best I can do is sell charms and fake fortunes to tourists in Coeur d’Alene.”

“Carter should have come with us,” said Hugh in exasperation. “He should have known that too after sending us here.”

Dante stiffened, his arrogance faltering. “That angel knows where I am? Then Jerome has to know.”

“He’s keeping it from Jerome. For now.” Peter was still using that melodramatic voice. “That can change if you don’t help us.”

“I don’t know where she fucking is, okay? I told you: I can’t make a succubus disappear.”

Roman’s hand closed around Dante’s neck in a fair approximation of Jerome. Even without supernatural abilities, Roman was still strong. “You’ve worked with immortals before. You could do it again and have them do the dirty work.”

“I show my face to any immortal, and I’m a dead man,” choked Dante. Roman fixed Dante with a dark glare that reminded me of the time Roman had tried to kill me. And when he had killed me in a recent Oneroi dream. At last, Roman let go. Rubbing his neck, a puzzled Dante asked again, “Who are you?”

Cody glanced at the others. “Do you think he’s lying?”

“Wouldn’t surprise me,” said Hugh. He crossed his arms across his broad chest. “But maybe you can be useful. What could make a succubus disappear?”

“What’ll you give me for helping you?” asked Dante slyly. Yes, that was my ex. Always looking for an advantage.

“We won’t call Jerome,” growled Peter. This time, the anger in his voice was not faux movie style. It was real, again a reminder that at the end of the day, he really was a vampire who could break necks easily.

This sobered Dante up. “Fine. Not that I care what the fuck happens to her. How did she disappear?”

Again, the story was recounted, something that was beginning to depress me – largely because everyone seemed to emphasize just how depressed and miserable my life was.

“It’s a lure,” said Dante with certainty.

“We know that,” said Roman. “Erik told us.”

Dante scowled at the mention of his nemesis. “Of course he did. It’s a wonder you need me with his almighty wisdom at your disposal.”

“What would lure her?” said Peter, no doubt interrupting Dante from asking again who Roman was.

“All sorts of things,” said Dante. “Anything could create a lure, but visions like that would most likely be tied to dreams. Did you guys lose Nyx again?”

“No,” said Hugh.

Dante shrugged. “Then look for something else that can control dreams, maybe try a – “

I stood in the village I’d grown up in.

The transition was so abrupt that I was dizzy for a moment. There hadn’t been a transition, no fragmenting of the image or a fade to black. It had been a quick movie cut. A bad editing job.

I stared around, seeing again the place that had caused me so much torment. I wondered what else the Oneroi had to show me here and why I’d come here so suddenly. I’d already relived the false wedding accusations. At one point, they’d even had me dream the true story of how my infidelity had led to me selling my soul. I was probably now in store for some new contrived horror. The world spun around me, the buildings and people moving around in rough-spun clothes dizzying me.

“Are you all right?” a voice asked.

Turning around, the scenery settled a bit and I found myself looking into the face of an ancient man. Bushy eyebrows stretched across a heavily lined brow, nearly obscuring dark brown eyes.

“Yes…I’m fine.” I frowned and did a double take. “Gaius?”

Those eyebrows rose. “Have we met?”

I stared, unable to speak for a moment. I’d known Gaius since the time I could walk. He was a blacksmith, the brawniness of his arms proving as much. But he’d been young the last time I’d seen him, a man in his prime. With no control, words spilled off my lips, words I’d spoken before when I’d lived this event the first time. This was a true memory. So far.

“We met a very long time ago,” I said.

He chuckled. “Girl, I’d remember you. And ‘a very long time ago’ could only have been a few years for you.”

I became aware of my body, knowing what I looked like even without a mirror. I had shape-shifted just before entering the village, taking on a form I had sworn I would never, ever wear again. And, in fact, after this day, I never would wear it again. I was in my original body: fifteen-year-old Letha, too tall with thick, tangled black hair. I’d come here to find out something. Something I had to know.

I gave Gaius a weak nod. My old self had been as shocked as my current self at what time had done to him. How long since I’d become a succubus and left my village? Thirty years ago?

“Can you tell me…is there a man here – a fisherman – named Marthanes? Does his family still live here?”

“Sure,” he said. “Same house they’ve always been in, out past the – “

“I know where it is,” I said quickly.

He shrugged, not minding my interruption. “He’s probably down at the bay, though. He’s too old to still be working but swears his sons-in-law can’t get by without him.”

Sons-in-law. Of course. My sisters would have gotten married long ago.

“Thanks,” I said. I began to walk away. “It was nice seeing you again.” He gave me a puzzled look but said nothing more.

I walked toward the bay, where the water glowed with such a vivid, teal-tinged blue that it seemed to be some Technicolor vision. Surely nothing in nature could produce such beauty. Longing and nostalgia welled up within my watching self.

The town was busy at midday, and I recognized more faces than I expected. Children I’d known grown to adulthood, adults I’d known now in their golden years. The waterfront was just as busy, with ships loading and unloading goods that made commerce in the Mediterranean boom. It took me a while to find my father, and here, I earned more looks than I had in the village. Women were rare in this district, choosing to avoid the rough sailors and workers. I located my father largely because of his voice, shouting orders just as he had in my youth.

“Are you trying to cost me a fortune? What do you do out there all day? My granddaughter could catch this many fish wading by the beach!”

He was yelling at a man I didn’t know, his face sheepish and cowed as he displayed what must have been today’s meager catch. I wondered if this was one of my sisters’ husbands. The man promised to do better and then scurried away.

“Fa – Marthanes?”

My father turned at my approach, and I tried not to gasp. Like Gaius, the years had carved away Marthanes the fisherman as well. How old would he be now? Sixties? Seventies? Time had grown blurred since I became immortal.

“What do you want?” he snapped. “I’ve got no use for prostitutes anymore. Go down to Claudius if you’re looking for business. He hasn’t slept with his own wife in ten years. Not that I blame him. That woman’s a harpy.”

Age might have grayed and thinned out his hair, lines might have creased his face…but my father’s tongue was still the same.

“N-no. That’s not why I’m here. I met you…a few years ago.”

He frowned, looking me up and down. “Never seen you in my life. Pretty sure I’d remember someone as tall as you.”

As a succubus, I could change into any man’s fantasy, taking on the shape of a woman whose beauty transcended words. Yet, even with that ability, the old remarks about my height still stung.

“Well, I remember you.” Seeing his eyes shift impatiently to his workers, I asked, “Do you know a musician named Kyriakos? He’d be my age – er, about thirty years older than me. He used to live south of town.”

My father snorted. “That Kyriakos? He’s no musician. He took over his father’s business when he died. Does okay with it, even though the rates he demands for my fish are ridiculous.”

“Does he still live in his same house?”

“You mean his father’s house? Yes. Like you said, in the south.” My father’s restlessness was palpable now. He didn’t know me. He had no use for me.

“Thank you,” I said. I was about to tell him it was nice to see him, as I had Gaius, but my father was gone before I could.

With a heavy heart, I walked back through town but instead of heading south, I took a detour to my old home, wondering what I’d discover. What I found was my mother, hanging clothing outside, humming as she did. Off to the house’s side a middle-aged woman dug herbs out of the ground. It took me a few moments to recognize her as my younger sister.

My mother’s face was different, but her kind eyes were still the same as she gave me directions to a place I already knew. My sister glanced up and watched a moment, then returned to her work. Neither recognized me. Just like with my father, I was a brief interruption to their day.

I’d known this would happen. It was what I’d sold my soul for. My contract with Hell had erased all memories of me from everyone who had ever known me. The Oneroi had shown me a lie on my wedding day. I’d been a virgin, faithful to Kyriakos. But a couple years later, weakness had struck me. I’d betrayed him, and it had devastated him more than anyone could have imagined. He’d wanted to kill himself over the heartache, and only my bargain had saved him. That was the truth.

Still…some part of me had thought maybe, just maybe someone might recognize me. Just the faintest spark of remembrance.

Kyriakos could have been down near my father, overseeing his fleet, but something told me he’d be doing administrative tasks, not manual labor. My hunch was correct. Before I’d become a succubus, Kyriakos and I had had our own house. He must have moved back to his family’s home after Hell erased his memories.

I braced myself to meet the lady of the house, the woman Kyriakos must have undoubtedly married. But when he came out to see who was visiting him, I found him alone. Seeing him made my heart stop. He too had been touched by age, but he was still young enough that the lines were few. Only the faintest of gray graced his hair, and like my mother, his eyes were the same. Dark and wonderful and full of goodness.

“Do you need help?” he asked, voice friendly and curious.

For a moment, I couldn’t speak. I was drunk from seeing him, filled with a mix of love and pain. I wished so badly that I had stayed with him, that I had never committed such sins. I wished I didn’t wear this youthful face. I should have grown old with him. My ability to conceive children had seemed sketchy at the time, but maybe we would have eventually had a family.

Just like with everyone else, I claimed to need directions, stammering out the first random place I could think of. He described the way in detail, though I already knew it.

“Do you want me to escort you there? This is a safe area…but you never know.”

I smiled but felt no joy. The same Kyriakos. Infinitely kind to others, even a stranger. “I’ll be fine. I don’t want to take you from your work.” I hesitated. “We met…a few years ago.”

“Did we?”

He studied me, apparently searching for the memory. His eyes remained blank, though. No trace of recognition. I was a stranger. I had never existed for him. I wondered if he’d even remember me when I left here.

He shook his head, sounding sincerely apologetic. “I’m sorry. I don’t recall it….” He was waiting for my name.

“Letha.” The word burned on my lips. Like this shape, the name was dead to me. Only Hell ever used it.

“I’m sorry,” he said again.

“It’s okay. Maybe I’m wrong. I thought…I thought you were a musician.” When we’d been married, he worked for his father but had hopes of giving that up and playing music full-time.

Kyriakos chuckled. “Only as a hobby. Most of my days are hunched over numbers.”

The loss of his ambition made me almost as sad as his lack of memory. “Well…your wife must be glad to have you home.”

“Not married, I’m afraid.” He was still smiling. “My sister keeps house for me when she’s around.”

“Not married?” I asked incredulously. “But why? At your age…” I blushed, realizing how rude I sounded. “I’m sorry.”

He wasn’t offended. “At your age, marriage is all girls think about, huh? You probably have a dozen suitors with as pretty as you are.” Typical. Few had found me pretty while mortal; he had always believed me beautiful. “I just never found the right woman. I’d rather be alone than spend my life with the wrong person.” A dreamy, sad look filled his features, and then he shook his head and laughed. It was an uneasy laugh. “Anyway, you don’t want to hear some old man babbling about romantic nonsense. Are you sure you don’t want me to show you the way?”

“No, no…I think I know where it’s at now. Thank you.” I started to turn away and then paused. “Kyriakos…are you…are you happy?”

This question from someone less than half his age caught him by surprise. And I was surprised he answered. “Happy? Well…content, I guess. I have a good life. Better than most. A very good life, really. Sometimes I wonder…”

My breath caught. “Wonder what?”

“Nothing,” he said, giving me another good-natured smile. “More nonsense. Yes, Letha. I’m happy. Why do you want to know?”

“Nonsense of my own,” I murmured. “And you’re sure you don’t remember me?”

I had my answer before I spoke. No. Those eyes had never laid sight on me before. I was just an odd, passing girl. I was no one.

“I’m sorry, I don’t.” He winked. “But I’ll remember you now.”

Somehow, I doubted it. Leaving him, I felt my heart break. Really, my heart was breaking all the time. You’d think it could only happen once. This was what I’d wanted. What I’d gambled eternity for. Kyriakos was happy. I’d saved him and should be happy in return. Yet, I felt unhappier than I had since becoming a succubus. I decided at that moment I’d never use Letha’s shape or name again. I wanted to wipe her from my mind too….

“It’s so easy with you,” hissed the Oneroi. It was Two, I thought. I was back in the box. “We don’t even need the ivory gate.”

I was so scarred from that memory of Kyriakos, by the truth of what it really meant to be erased from someone’s life, that I was inclined to agree with Two. Then, a tiny spark within me glimmered just a bit. I studied the two Oneroi carefully.

“What was the other dream?” I asked. “Before the one about my husband? Why didn’t you let it finish?”

“It did finish,” said One. Their blue, blue eyes were the same, revealing nothing.

“It didn’t,” I argued. “You cut it off. It didn’t go the way you planned, did it? My friends found out something from Dante – something you didn’t want them to know.”

“They found nothing,” Two replied. “It was a lie. We gave you false hope, hope that will turn to ashes when you find yourself spending the rest of eternity here.”

“You’re the lie,” I said. The spark within my ragged, worn body flared just a little more. “The dream was true.”

One continued the denial. “The only truth is that you can’t tell the difference. And that there is no hope.”

“You’re lying,” I said, but as those cold sets of eyes surveyed me, my spark wavered. Uncertainty spread within me. I’d been through so much, a mental rape of sorts, that I questioned once more if I trusted myself. My words were bold, but I no longer knew if I could believe them.

Two smiled, able to see into my mind. “Dream,” he said.

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