Succubus Shadows Chapter 17

My initial time with the Oneroi had been a mix of true and false dreams.As time went on – and I really had no way of saying how much of it did go on – the majority of them seemed to be true ones.They were either visitations of awful memories or more glimpses into my current life, meant to demoralize me and make me homesick.

I was still torn apart, still feeling more animal than human or succubus or…whatever.

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Yet, the fleeting pieces of rationality within me wondered at the sudden lack of handcrafted visions. One might argue the Oneroi were being lazy. They were just giving me recycled material, and whenever I did see my friends in the world, I got the impression that it was less a dream and more like the Oneroi flipping me onto a TV channel to make sure I stayed distracted and gave them something to feed off of. It almost felt like they were trying to keep me busy because…well, they were busy. But why? What had happened? What had Dante been about to tell Roman and the others? Was it enough to make the Oneroi pull some of their attention from me? Or were these simply more mind games meant to leave me in turmoil?

I kept hoping I’d see a follow-up to what had happened with Dante, but the Oneroi had other parts of the life I’d left behind to show me. Or, well, parts I hadn’t left behind. Simone was still impersonating me, and the Oneroi wanted me to know.

Adding insult to injury, she was helping Maddie and Seth with the wedding. The three of them were out cake shopping, and honestly, I was almost more surprised to find Seth there than I was Simone in her disguise. He’d pretty much kept away from the wedding planning as much as possible, using the pretense that he was no good at decisions and was happy to let Maddie run things the way she wanted.

I didn’t doubt the first part of what he said but wondered about the second. In my heart of hearts, the one that believed he was still in love with me, I secretly hoped he was passing it to Maddie just because he was indifferent to it all. I wanted to believe that he really didn’t care about the planning because he didn’t care about the wedding.

It was clear, however, that I cared. Or rather – Simone cared. Considering my reluctance at dress shopping, you would have thought Maddie might notice the sudden increase in zeal. Nope. Maddie was too caught up in her own bubble of happiness and welcomed “my” assistance.

So, the three of them set off on a cake adventure, visiting all the bakeries Maddie had compiled and ranked on a list pulled from hours of Internet research.

“You want it creamy,” said Simone, licking icing off her fingers at a bakery in Belltown. Actually, it was more like sucking. “This is a little too sugary.” The threesome sat at a table where they had been provided with a plate of samples.

“That’s the point,” said Maddie. She was eating a bite-size piece of chocolate cake in a much less pornographic way. “Mega sugar rush.”

“Yeah, but if you get too much sugar, it just tastes grainy. You want it to slide right over your lips.” She turned to Seth. “Don’t you think so?”

Seth had taken a bite out of a piece of marble cake. “It is kind of grainy.”

Simone gave him a knowing smile, one that seemed to say, See? I know you better than anyone else in the world.

Seth held her eyes for a moment, but his expression was unreadable. He turned toward Maddie. “But we can do whatever you want.”

“No, no,” she said, not sounding too disappointed. “This is for both of us. I want it to be something you like too.”

Seth gave her a mischievous smile. “Does it matter? It all gets shoved in the face anyway.”

Maddie’s eyes went wide. “No, it doesn’t! Don’t even think about doing that.”

“Guess you won’t know until the time comes, huh?” His smile had grown.

Seeing him play with her made me (figuratively) squirm, but I took comfort in seeing a flash of annoyance in Simone’s eyes. Maddie was succeeding where Simone couldn’t. That was how it should be…or was it? Maddie’s unwitting triumph over Simone meant she had…well, triumphed over me. Or had she? Simone looked like me but wasn’t truly me. Damn. This was all so confusing.

“Seth wouldn’t do that,” said Simone, resting her hand on his shoulder in what was supposed to be a friendly way. Maddie couldn’t see it from her vantage, but Simone’s fingers lightly brushed the back of his neck. “Not if he wants a good honeymoon.”

She spoke lightly, but there was a sly undertone there. Having her sex life brought up in public made Maddie blush. Seth had shifted uncomfortably, but the reason was unclear. Simone’s fingers? The mention of sex? Maybe both. Simone removed her hand, seeming innocent to all the world, except Seth and me.

Maddie seemed eager to change the subject from the romantic goings-on of a honeymoon. “I think you should at least pick the cake flavor,” she said. “I’m choosing so much else.”

“I don’t know,” said Seth. He still seemed uncomfortable. “I don’t care if you do it.”

“Yeah, but she wants you to,” said Simone. “Come on, make one firm decision here. You can’t go wrong. Maddie’ll eat anything you pick.”

Loaded statement. Neither Seth nor Maddie acted as though they read anything into it, but I had a feeling Simone had intended it as a reference to Maddie’s very buxom figure.

“Exactly,” said Maddie. “What’s your favorite flavor?”

“I bet I can guess,” said Simone. “Chocolate.”

“Strawberry,” said Maddie.

Losers. It was vanilla.

“Vanilla,” said Seth.

Maddie groaned. “Naturally. Well, there’s one decision made.” She rose from the table. “Let’s try a few other places and get the rest of this taken care of. Not much left after this.” They reached the door, and Maddie stopped to glance at Simone. “Oh, hey. Will you do me a favor? Will you take Seth tux shopping?”

“What?” asked Seth. No neutral face now. He was shocked.

Maddie grinned. “If you don’t have a keeper, you’ll show up at the church in a Billy Idol T-shirt. And it’s bad luck if I go with you.”

“I thought that was just for the bride,” said Seth.

“I want to be surprised,” Maddie countered.

“Of course I’ll go,” said Simone, putting her arm around Seth again in that “friendly” way.

Maddie beamed, and the bakery faded away……transforming into Erik’s store.

Erik sat at a small table with Jerome and Roman, and – so help me – they were drinking tea. Even Jerome. Roman was visible, which made me think Jerome must have decided they no longer needed to fear the eyes of higher powers who might wonder why my “human” roommate kept tagging along with Seattle’s archdemon.

Erik was tapping his tea cup thoughtfully. “If your theory is right, it would explain a lot.” These words were directed at Roman. “The dream quality of the visions. Mr. Jerome’s complete inability to find her.”

Jerome’s slightly arched eyebrow was the only indication of his displeasure over the word “inability.”

Erik continued, eyes on his cup as he pondered it all. “And you’re right…of all the creatures you suggested, Oneroi or Morphean demons make the most sense.”

Oh! I thought in triumph to the Oneroi. How do you like that, bitches? My friends are on to you. No response came. No dissolving of the dream, as I would have expected.

“But why her?” asked Roman irritably. I had a feeling he’d taken credit for the dream idea, shielding Dante from Jerome’s wrath. “Why a succubus? Don’t they only care about human dreams?”

“They’re tied to Nyx,” pointed out Erik. Oh, yes. My friends were smart. Smarter than Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys put together. Maybe even Matlock too.

“The ‘why’ is irrelevant,” said Jerome, speaking at last. “Whether it’s Oneroi or Morpheans is also irrelevant. If something’s taken her to the world of dreams, she’s completely inaccessible.”

Roman frowned. “Why? Can’t you just go in there and pull her out now that you know?”

Jerome gave his son a smile that almost, almost seemed genuinely amused. “You’re half-human, and it shows. Greater immortals can’t go there. We don’t dream. Only humans do. The way is barred to us.”

“Because you have no hopes or imaginings of what might be,” said Erik. His manner and tone clearly indicated he believed such a thing to be a failing for angels and demons. “You need a soul to dream.”

“Well, if I’m half-human, then I’ll go there,” said Roman obstinately, cutting off any retort Jerome might have given. “I dream. So I can enter, right? And I can take on whatever’s there.” There was so much determination in his voice that I half believed he could take on an army of Oneroi right now.

“You have no idea what you’re talking about,” said Jerome. “Clearly. Do you have any idea what the dream world is like?”

“Do you?” asked Roman dryly. “I thought you couldn’t go there.”

“Dreams are what fuel human existence. Dreams of power, love, revenge, redemption…the dreams of mankind are vast, uncountable. Humans dream both waking and asleep. Those hopes and fears are what put them at risk – they gamble their lives and souls on dreams. You go into the world of dreams, and it’s like stepping into a blizzard. Every snowflake is some human imagining flitting by so quickly, you can’t even see it. All you see is a blur, a tangle of longings and chaos. If Georgina is there, she is one of those snowflakes. You would never find her soul.”

Heavy silence fell.

Finally, Roman said, “That was like poetry, Dad.”

“But he’s correct,” Erik told Roman.

More silence.

Roman glanced between the two of them incredulously. “So that’s it? It’s hopeless? You’re giving up without even trying to find her?”

“Trying is hopeless,” said Jerome. Demons might not dream the way humans did, but I suspected even he could picture what his superiors would do when they found out he’d lost a succubus. “Human magic could access the world of dreams, but it’d do no good.” He glanced at Erik, who nodded.

“Someone lost among all that couldn’t be called back. Not even the strongest ritual could do it. Her soul would never hear anything we could muster.”

Roman’s face was a mixture of emotions. Anger. Disbelief. And…resignation. That didn’t surprise me. Jerome’s face did, however. He had stiffened at Erik’s words, a spark of insight flashing in those cold, dark eyes.

“But you could do the ritual, correct?” he asked Erik. “You’re human. You’re strong enough to open the way.”

Erik eyed him warily. “Yes…but by your own admission, it would achieve nothing. The connection you had to her was theoretically strong enough to possibly summon her back, but you can’t enter. All we’d have is a useless doorway.”

Jerome stood up abruptly. He glanced at Roman. “Find your own way home.” The demon vanished with a showy poof of smoke.

And I vanished back into the Oneroi’s prison. They stood there in the dark, glowing from what they’d taken from me. In dreams, though I suffered, I never felt the horrific effects they caused until I returned from them. That was when the agony, energy loss, and confusion hit me. Yet, this time, I wasn’t completely lost to despair.

“You were wrong,” I said. I tried to put some smugness in my voice, but it came out hoarse from my exhaustion. Good God. I was so, so tired. I guess dreaming didn’t necessarily mean sleeping. “My friends have figured it out. They know where I am.”

As always, One and Two were nearly impossible to read. “What makes you think that was a true dream?”

Excellent question. “Gut instinct,” I said.

“You believe you can trust it?” asked One. “After all this time? After so many dreams? How can you tell what’s real and unreal?”

I couldn’t. I knew when the memories were true – for now – but the “real world” scenes were harder. Maybe it wasn’t my gut so much as my blind optimism that believed what I’d just seen was real.

Two guessed my thoughts. “You hope. And we’ve fed that hope, making you think you have a chance. So you will wait. And wait. And wait.”

“It was real,” I said firmly, as though that would make it so.

“Even if it was,” said One, “it meant nothing. You saw for yourself. There is no way to bring you back.”

“Maybe that was the lie,” I said. “Maybe the rest was true. You mixed it. They figured out where I was, but you didn’t show me the part where they learned how to rescue me. They’re going to do that ritual.”

“They will fail. Nothing can pull your soul from here.”

“You’re wrong.” I didn’t even really know what I was saying. My essence felt like it was tearing apart, and really, the only thing I knew to do was to keep contradicting them.

“And you are naive. You always have been. Lesser immortals carry that weakness over from their human days, and you’re one of the worst. Our mother nearly used your weakness to free herself from the angels. Now it will be your downfall.”

“What do you mean Nyx almost used it?”

The Oneroi exchanged glances – very, very pleased ones. “Your dream. Your fantasy,” explained Two. “The one she promised to show you if you freed her. You wanted so badly to believe it was possible, that you nearly gave in.”

For a moment, I didn’t see them or that perpetual blackness. I was in a dream of my own creation, not theirs. The dream Nyx had sent to me over and over had been one of my future, with a home and a child – and a man. A man I loved whose identity remained a mystery. Nyx had never shown me the ending. Never shown me the man in the dream.

“You are so full of shit,” I said. “You claim Nyx shows the truth – the future. But how could that vision have been true if I’m also supposed to be locked here for all eternity? They can’t both be true.”

“The future is always changing,” said One. “That was true when she showed it to you. Your path shifted.”

“Oh, come on! What’s the point of having a vision of the future if it can change at any moment? That’s not a truth or a lie. That’s a guess. And I never believed her anyway. What she showed me was impossible – even if I wasn’t here with you two assholes.”

“You will never know if it was,” said Two. Then, he reconsidered. “Actually it was possible, but you will live with the knowledge that it’s a future that’s been taken from you.”

“You can’t take what I never had,” I growled. “Succubi can’t have children. I could never have that kind of life.”

What I didn’t add was that one startling thing had come from the dream. In it, I’d had two cats. At the time, I’d only had one – Aubrey. Not long after, I’d found Godiva, who was the other cat in the dream. Coincidence? Or had I truly been on the path to that future, only to have it ripped from me now? As always, the Oneroi could see into my heart and knew what I was thinking.

“Do you want to see?” asked One.

“See what?”

“The man,” said Two. “The man in the dream.”

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