I raised my hand. “That makes sense, but I’ve got a couple questions.”
Amy raised an eyebrow—which I suspected meant, “You’re raising your hand? No one else did.” I put it down as Samita said, “Yes, Nick?”
“You mentioned that you were looking for confirmation that it was the same creature and not an alternate. Did you get that from the book?”
Samita nodded. “The writer survived a conversation with it. It said that it came from another world, and mentioned the Bloodmaidens.”
I nodded to show I’d heard, but then asked, “Did it say how it got here?”
“A gate from Faerie,” Amy said, shrugging. “It looks like the same Faerie connects to everywhere.”
By itself that was interesting, and probably said a lot more about the structure of reality than was obvious. I considered several different questions to follow up on that but realized they probably didn’t have the answers either. I went with a more relevant question instead. Meeting Amy’s eyes, I said, “You said the creature takes over a new host. How did you recognize it in the picture?”
She pursed her lips, but didn’t talk immediately, obviously thinking through her answer. “This gets depressing. You know how I told you the first Bloodmaiden fought and killed the Thing That Eats. Well, that’s true, but it kept on reappearing. It never stayed dead. Some Bloodmaidens have guessed that it comes from Faerie. Others have thought that if there’s even a little bit of it left, it can regenerate given time, and that’s where I lean. Anyway, it’s reappeared over the ages. The first time was back when we were part of a small settlement. The last time was when our family finally controlled the Northern Islands, but in between we ran into it again and again.
“I recognized it because it takes over a person, wearing their body, but after a few years, the body slowly changes into the man you saw in the pictures. It doesn’t matter what your age, race or gender is. By the time that they’ve fully transformed, there’s nothing of the original personality left.”
I thought about the pictures I’d seen. The creature appeared in all ways to be human, but it didn’t look quite right. The age spots, wrinkles, fleshy face, and wide, soulless eyes spoke to most people’s worst fears of age and gluttony. The clothing it wore made it a little worse, if possible. Anything could be concealed under its black suit—tentacles, for example.
I imagined it in running shorts and a t-shirt. It was much less intimidating.
All the same, the thought of slowly morphing into that thing… I shuddered. Was the original person devoured by then or were they pushed into some little corner of their own awareness, forced to watch as it consumed everything that mattered to them?
It wasn’t an answer I wanted to know from experience for sure.
Tara’s voice interrupted my thoughts. “Could you list how The Thing That Eats died and how and where it reappeared? I’d also like to know the address of the website you mentioned. I might be able to see patterns you haven’t.”
Tara was using her “Spock voice.” She didn’t really sound like Spock, but normally she sounded perky, friendly, and maybe a little ditsy. If that’s all you noticed about her, you could stop at her blond hair and assume she fit the stereotype. If you weren’t willing to stop there, you might go on to notice that she was as tall as I was, or maybe a little taller, and had clearly defined muscles.
Amy nodded. “We’ll be happy to get you that. If you find something new, we might be able to kill it for real.”
From the back row, Travis’ deep voice broke in. “Hey, do you have a date planned? We should set one so that we have a goal to aim for.”
On the other side of the room, next to Daniel, Izzy raised her hand, and Amy gave her a nod. Adjusting her glasses with the other hand, Izzy said, “I… Well, I don’t want to cause problems, but the last time I flew to Turkmenistan, it nearly caused an international incident. Are we going it alone on this one again?”
Samita shook her head. “We told Reliquary. He agreed that Amy should face it if anyone should. We’ll go to help, and if we’re sure of our wards, maybe more. He said that he knew who to call to avoid a repeat of last summer’s incident.”
We set a date for the second weekend in October. After that, we talked briefly about the Coffeeshop Illuminati, and the Nine, but the teams assigned to investigating them didn’t have anything that needed action.
After the meeting ended, everyone stood around talking. Amy had several refrigerators in her lab, and while they mostly held blood, she’d enough space for pop and a couple of bottles of wine. I only had a little of the wine, the first that I’d ever had. I wasn’t awed, but it was okay.
Still, there was something fun about being there. With everyone talking and laughing the room felt warm and friendly even if the walls were made from stone, the ceiling was twenty feet high, and we weren’t allowed to leave the warded half of the room—at least if we didn’t want to risk being heard.
While everything was still going strong, I noticed that Tara was standing near the edge of the group. She was talking with my sister, Rachel, and Jaclyn. I stepped away from the group I’d been next to. Haley, Vaughn, Amy, and Cassie were discussing something, but I’d missed the beginning of the conversation, mostly because I’d been talking to Daniel.
I caught Tara before she stepped outside the wards, tapping her on the shoulder. She turned, saying, “Hey Nick.”
I said, “Hey,” noting that she sounded normal, and she was sipping some of the wine. “Do you think we’ll get in trouble?”
She held up her plastic cup. “For this? I’ve seen worse. When I started here, the fourth year students used to sneak hard liquor in all the time. No one got in trouble.”
She smiled and took another sip.
“Really? I had no idea. Uh… Totally different subject. Kid Biohack came to Grand Lake and he wants to join the Heroes’ League. Did you know him when he was at Stapledon, and what did you think of him?”
She sighed. “I think I told you that I never felt like I fit in here except with the younger classes and the professors? He was in the class before mine. He wasn’t worse than the rest of them, but he wasn’t any better. I hope you’re not planning to bring him into the League.”
I shook my head. “Never.”