I’d never seen the new guy before. Aside from fitting my profile for the Cabal, he had dark, curly hair, light skin, and at least at that moment, a wide smile. He wore an oversized sweater and jeans.
Philo turned back to us. “This is Andronicus. I haven’t seen him in more than two, maybe three hundred years.”
Andronicus nodded to the group of us. “I have been busy this last little while.”
His accent reminded me a little of Daniel’s mom. She’d grown up in Greece, but her family had moved to Israel. I wasn’t sure whether the difference was because she had a hint of an Israeli accent or because Greek had changed in the meantime. Both might have been true.
Giving a short nod in return, I said, “You’re Cabal too?”
He looked over at Philo, who said, “Everybody knows now.”
Andronicus grunted a yes, his eyes roaming over the group of us, briefly settling on Vaughn.
Vaughn had pulled out a small spray can from his utility belt and started spraying the balls that attached him. I’d made it so that it would dissolve goo from the goobots. Even though this wasn’t the same, it was similar enough.
Vaughn pulled himself away from the top of the Escalade, leaving the big black balls, and jumped down to the ground. “That was embarrassing.”
For a second, I considered asking about it. Vaughn could be pretty funny, but this wasn’t the right moment.
Andronicus grinned. “This is a big city, eh?”
He surveyed the whole place, looking up and down the street we stood in the middle of, but then drifting toward downtown and past it toward the lake—not that the lake was visible from here.
I wasn’t completely sure, but it seemed like his eyes lingered on Vaughn, Haley, Camille and me.
“Kind of,” I said. “It’s bigger than most, but it’s not as big as the really big ones. Grand Lake is in the second tier of big cities. The first tier has the cities you’ve probably heard of—New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and so on.”
“It’s not too small,” Andronicus focused his attention on me. “You live here?”
“More or less,” I said. “I’ve lived a few different places in Grand Lake.”
Andronicus nodded. “You,” he nodded toward the rest of the group. “You all live here, yes?”
It seemed like an odd line of questioning, but he probably didn’t know about the ward around the city. We were all stuck here so long as we carried anything magical like the wards Amy made us.
Knowing that The Thing That Eats was somewhere in the city, we had to carry them. I had mine in a compartment in the Rocket suit. With any luck, I wasn’t the only one. We probably should have required it.
A message from Haley blinked in my HUD. She’d texted me, and the words appeared next to her name. “Smells like dead man becoming alive.”
I typed back, “Huh?” on my palm.
Even as I did it, the obvious possibility came to mind. She hadn’t been on the ground, so she wouldn’t be able to identify him by smell, but The Thing’s host had probably been a Cabal soldier. We’d left it close to dead, and with barely any brain function after we’d removed its essence.
Plus, The Thing’s magic (or something) had molded it into The Thing’s standard body.
To somehow get The Thing’s essence back, it would have to heal itself and fly back to the U.S. before Reliquary took it to the Council’s disposal facility for magical toxic waste. It would have had hours at best.
We could do it with the jet, but we didn’t have to regenerate first.
Of course, given what Haley had said, maybe being entirely alive was optional. Maybe it could heal the bare minimum and rely on time to handle the rest.
“Where have you been?” I asked. “Philo said you disappeared for a couple hundred years. What were you doing?”
Andronicus cocked his head for a moment, but then said “I traveled all over the world.”
And that didn’t exactly clarify anything. It fit solidly with both host and soldier. It’s just that it fit better with host.
“Fighting as a soldier?” I asked.
Philo glanced over at me, clearly recognizing that I was going somewhere with this—and why wouldn’t you after hundreds, maybe thousands of years of life?
“After a fashion,” Adronicus said, and transformed into The Thing That Eats with its globe shaped head and wide, wide mouth.