8 – Flame-eyed Jealousy
Melody wished a wind would howl or that a light drizzle would fall, anything but this sunshine. Daylight framed the house before her as harmless, innocent but for a broken window by ground level that led into the basement.
Anthony Marsh’s house, the place Melody almost let Alex die.
Denying her failure would only lead to the same mistake happening again. Melody had to face what she did, what she didn’t do, and she had to overcome it. She had to be better.
Melody gritted her teeth and glared up at the house: 90s architecture, with whitewashed walls and slate-blue rooftiles. The angles of the roof and proportions of the walls channelled power down into the basement, unintentionally capitalising on the ley lines that cut through Rilhey. All as Melody remembered.
Ration severa. Ratio tenacis.
Taking a deep breath, Melody spelled the lock open and slipped inside. The door to the basement still hung open and several books had fallen from the bookshelf next to it, scattered on the floor. One of them lay open to a page scribbled with red.
Scorch marks surrounded the book and splattered against the walls, a charred hand-print trailing towards the front door behind Melody. More burns traced the locks on the front door, as if something newly-formed had taken a couple of minutes to figure out how to get outside.
A small smile. Melody needn’t worry about Alex anymore; he had a familiar to keep him safe. Technically, she should report the incident, but Alex was a nobody. The Knights didn’t need to know.
Melody ducked into the front living room and ran her hand along the mantelpiece. Her finger came away grey with dust. An armchair sat yellowing in the dusty light and a photograph of the ocean hung above the mantelpiece, but apart from that the room was unfurnished. Melody moved on to the kitchen, a large space that overlooked the garden.
Melody leafed through drawers and cabinets, but there were no letters, no papers, nothing. The plug sockets were all switched off and there was no sign of any electronic devices, either. No evidence. Even the fridge was bare, scrubbed obsessively clean.
A flicker of irritation. Anthony Marsh had disguised his tracks well. The Cult of the Forgotten were one of the most elusive groups the Knights knew of, and it was unlikely they would risk coming back to finish what one of their members had started. Still, Melody couldn’t give up. She didn’t want to disappoint Cemi.
Melody closed her eyes and reached out with her sixth sense. Sensations flickered at the edge of her mind, halfway between lights, sounds and smells, and Melody focused in on them. Malice still reeked from downstairs, the haunting scream of a ritual that almost succeeded, but apart from that only the brine of Rilhey that filled the air.
Her hand on the hilt of her blade, Melody made a quick pass of the garden, turning her nose at the stench of the chicken coop at the far end. Excrement had piled up and two chickens lay dead, their eyes glazed over and their flesh riddled with beak-wounds. Starvation, most likely. Melody swallowed in guilt. If only she’d thought to check sooner, the birds might have lived.
A breeze rustled the hedgerows and a hint of dusk brushed the horizon. Goosebumps broke over Melody’s skin. It would be a busy night, but Cemi had warned her. The Rhapsody approached. Melody knew what that entailed.
She stepped back into the house but froze just before she entered the kitchen. Her heart hammered in her chest.
Melody crouched into a stance and drew her blade, a ripple of blue in the twilight. A shadow fell from around the corner. Human? Or abomination? The shadow had stopped in the kitchen, but had they seen Melody in the garden? Her breathing hitched.
Melody burst around the corner then jerked to a halt with her blade inches from Kari’s neck, her eyes wide and her blood rushing in her ears.
“There’s a photo of the ocean in here too.” Kari stood perfectly still, glancing up at a second photograph hanging next to the fridge.
Melody cursed and sheathed her blade, schooling her face. “Why are you here?”
“You mentioned investigating,” Kari said. “I thought I’d come, too.”
“You said you’d leave it to me.” Melody snorted.
The photograph was a panorama, and it appeared to have been taken right from the seawall by the college. Melody couldn’t tell how old it was, but the blues and greys were tinged in sepia towards the edge of the print.
“Is it significant?” Melody didn’t recall the Cult of the Forgotten having anything to do with the sea.
“Maybe.” Kari didn’t blink. “Lots of things come from the ocean.”
Melody’s eyes narrowed. “That’s not helpful.”
Melody had passed basic training with flying colours; she knew where the most abominations were likely to appear. The oceans, the most unexplored places on the planet. Statistically, there was no better place a monster could hide.
“I’m going to look at the basement.” Kari walked off without another word and Melody followed with a grit of her teeth.
Kari saved Alex’s life. Remember that. You owe her thanks, no matter how irritating she is.
The basement was exactly as Melody remembered it: chalk circles on the floor, candles melted around them, a desk stacked with books against the far wall. The image of Alex, pale-faced and bleeding, leered in Melody’s mind, but she shook it out. She had to move forwards.
Kari flicked through some of the books on the desk, her expression disinterested.
“It’s all nonsense,” she said. “Blood sacrifice, perversion of knowledge… Outer gods only answer these rituals because they’re curious, not because they actually work.”
Melody’s attention snapped towards her. “How do you know?” She’d never heard anything like that.
“Oh, look at that.” Kari glanced at something across the room. “It’s the ocean again.”
Melody frowned at the change of topic but followed Kari’s gaze to a painting done on leather, almost identical to the ones upstairs but with water a deep crimson.
“Dagon.” Melody’s breath hitched.
Kari shook her head. “He doesn’t like cold water.”
Melody bit her lip. It was true the Mediterranean was as far north that Dagon’s cultists usually migrated.
“Then who is it?” There were so many abominations associated with the ocean it was almost impossible to count.
“Not who is it.” Kari pointed to where the foam broke into grotesque faces, scaled and snarling. “Who are they?”
Alex winced as he rolled his shoulder and a stab of pain ran down his back. He wasn’t quite sure what had happened; he’d kept his head up and wrapped his arms around the other guy’s legs, but somehow Alex was the one who’d ended up on the ground.
“You’ll definitely want to put a heat pack on that,” Nathan said. “Or ice. Or those fancy ones that are both hot and cold. They work great.”
“Will do,” Alex said.
A cold wind gusted from off-shore and Alex shivered, wishing he’d brought a coat. The mud splashing his skin was a small relief. Rugby had been a battle for Alex to keep his eyes open, even more so than the sixth-period maths right before it.
“You okay, mate?” Nathan’s brows creased. “You look tired.”
An anxious laugh. “Yeah.”
How could Alex tell Nathan he’d been chasing penguins through a magical fridge the night before? With the thought of the fridge came the memory of Calis’ body shifting underneath him, of Calis’ breath puffing back into Alex’s face, and Alex gritted his teeth.
Nathan was right next to him.
“Well don’t you and Calis stay up too late.” Nathan grinned.
“He’s really buff, isn’t he?” Nathan said.
Alex felt heat rise to his cheeks and his world fall out from underneath him. This couldn’t be happening.
Nathan cocked his head. “I wonder what gym he goes to.”
Alex racked his brain as he desperately tried to salvage the situation. “There’s… There’s only one gym in town.”
“I’ve never seen him there.” Nathan frowned. “How long has he been here?”
“Uh.” Alex blanked. “A month.”
What the hell was going on? Did… Did Nathan have a crush on Calis? No, that couldn’t be. It made no sense. Calis promised he’d help Alex. He promised.
“Calis isn’t one for the gym.” Alex was fairly sure he was in shock.
“Shame.” Nathan shrugged. “I was looking forward to a potential gym buddy.”
Alex’s mouth moved on its own: “I could join you.”
“Really?” Nathan’s eyes lit up. “That’d be great! It’ll be loads of fun, just you wait.” He pumped a fist. “We’ll get ripped together.”
Nathan. Gym. Shirtless. Showers.
Alex should have been excited, but the only name buzzing through his mind was Calis, Calis, Calis. This was wrong. This whole situation was backwards.
“Anyway, see you tomorrow.” Nathan clapped a hand on Alex’s back. “I’ll text you the details. Maybe if you come, Calis might, too.”
Alex watched Nathan leave helplessly, trapped in a fog of conflicting emotions. Nathan. Was interested in Calis. Maybe? And Alex was interested in Nathan.
This was almost a love triangle.
“Welcome home,” Calis called. A delicious smell wafted from the kitchen, of gravy and herbs. Of course Calis was making dinner. He wouldn’t stop, no matter how many times Alex told him he didn’t have to.
Alex kicked off his shoes, dumped his bag and trudged through the kitchen with his head down. A shower. That was what he needed.
“How was practice?” Calis asked.
Alex hesitated by the door to the laundry room, his fingers curled against the doorframe. He refused to look up, refused to let Calis’ smile lift his spirits. He couldn’t.
“What’s wrong?” Calis said.
Alex’s shoulder ached, his eyes throbbed from exhaustion and his brain swam, but he didn’t say any of that. Instead, Alex’s gaze caught on the slope of Calis’ forearms and the bronze hue of his skin. He could feel the worry in Calis’ eyes.
What was going on? Alex was a mess. His thoughts, his feelings, none of them made sense. He needed sleep. He needed to shower, lie down and wrestle his emotions back into submission before he said something stupid.
“Nathan has a crush on you,” Alex blurted out.
Shit. Well, there went that plan.
A pause. “What?”
Alex finally glanced up to find a look of bemused confusion on Calis’ face, almost as if he was laughing at Alex. The oven light was on and Alex could make out what looked like a pie through the window, and a pot simmered on the hob. Calis wore a pink apron a size too small for him, bunched at the waist. Alex’s mother’s apron.
“Nathan,” Alex repeated. “He likes you.” A stab of contempt. “You said you’d help me.”
“Nathan does not like me.” Calis straightened and his expression narrowed. “I can guarantee you that.”
“How?” Alex said. “How do you know? With your sex demon magic?” Tears pricked at his eyes, and god, he needed sleep. He needed to stop, right now.
“I’m not a—” Calis clenched his fist and locked his jaw. “I just know. You… have a chance.”
Alex closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. Calm. Everything was going to be alright. He had a chance. He… had a chance.
“What was that pause?” Alex’s eyes widened.
“What pause?” Calis swallowed.
The pot bubbled and spat. Gravy flecked the hob.
“That pause. You hesitated.” Alex stepped forwards. “What aren’t you telling me?”
Everything was piling up. It was Friday, the end of the week. The end of Alex’s stamina. He liked Nathan. Calis knew he liked Nathan.
“Alex…” Calis warned.
“No. Tell me!” Alex said. “I…”
A long silence dragged out and each second that passed was a stab to Alex’s heart. His breathing was shallow and butterflies swarmed in his stomach. Too much. Alex grabbed onto the back of a chair so tight his knuckles turned white.
“Nathan…” Calis met Alex’s gaze. “Nathan’s straight.”
Whatever Alex had been hoping to hear, it wasn’t that.
It was never, never that.
“No.” Alex stumbled a step back. “You’re lying. You can’t know that.”
“Alex, I’m sorry.” Calis’ brows creased and he edged forwards. “I tried, but all the signs I’ve seen are clear. He’s straight.”
“He likes you,” Alex repeated, his mind reeling. Nathan had to like Calis, because then Alex had a chance to change Nathan’s mind. There was still a chance Nathan could grow to like him.
But then, why would Calis lie? Calis always did everything for Alex, even when Alex told him not to. Calis’ smile, his voice, each touch of reassurance…
Alex’s eyes widened. “You like me.”
“I…” Calis froze. “I don’t.”
A mad laugh. “You’re a terrible liar.” Why did Alex love that so?
He didn’t want this. These feelings inside of him, this happiness bubbling through his veins, it wasn’t real. The soul-bond. It was all a fabrication of the magic that birthed Calis, the magic that yoked him to Alex for life. That shackled them.
“It’s not real.” Alex shook his head. “You don’t feel this. It’s the soul-bond, it…”
Calis snapped. “Don’t you tell me what’s real and what’s not!”
Alex flinched and Calis stormed forwards, his nostrils flared. Fire ringed his irises.
“I like you, you’re right,” Calis said, “but that’s me. I might have been born with these feelings, but that doesn’t make them any more fake than the rest of me!”
A shiver of fear ran down Alex’s spine and the chair scraped against the floor as he stumbled back. Tears stung his eyes and he covered his face with an arm, his entire body shaking. Calis was real. Calis was fake. Alex didn’t want this, he couldn’t.
“You don’t get to tell me what I feel,” Calis said.
The oven timer exploded through the air and Calis hastened to get it, but Alex covered his ears. Too loud. Ceramic scraped against metal as Calis removed the pie and the pot still hissed. The pie smelt delicious.
Too good to be true.
“Go,” Alex whispered.
Calis faltered. “What?”
“Go!” Alex shouted. “Get out!” Calis couldn’t be here. Alex had to be alone. “Please.” His voice broke.
Calis sniffed, a sound almost as if he was crying. “I…”
The pie dish clunked softly as Calis set it on the table and gas rushed as he switched off the hob. A drawer scraped as it opened but Alex didn’t look, not even when he heard metal clink against metal.
“Okay.” Calis’ voice was barely a whisper.
Footsteps. The front door opened then closed. Alex looked up to see a single knife and fork laid on the table and steam billowing from the pie.
He was alone.
Storm clouds roiled in the sky and waves crashed against the shore in a maddening frenzy. Violence. That was what rode the wind, what churned the waters and stewed in the black depths. The sea was angry. The sea was hungry.
Seagulls fought through the air and a lone student hurried along the seawall with her coat drawn tightly around her. Something caught her eye and for a moment she thought she saw a creature in the foam, a scaled figure dripping with seaweed, then it was gone.
She hurried on and the ocean raged. A hint of static in the air.
Ever so slowly, it began to rain.