After closing the door to their motel room behind them, Aion sat down and listened to the whine of the shower coming from the bathroom. His mind was spinning with a thousand thoughts, and for the first time in his existence he felt unable to juggle and utilize all of the information that he possessed. He knew that he was turning human already, and that he had to move faster – yet he was limited to Muriel’s pace, unable to push her into healing faster than she already was. He had to hold onto his true nature for as long as was necessary, and withstand the effects of the material realm; that was all there was to it.
The water turned off, and he roused himself in mental preparation of Muriel rejoining him, consciously reminding himself to remain cool and calm. He had not expected to lose his temper earlier, and he regretted it deeply; he was determined to keep a tighter grip on the emotions that were growing ever more powerful inside of him. She needed him to be predictable.
After a few more minutes, Muriel opened the bathroom door and stepped out, looking refreshed, with all traces of tears washed away from her face. That made him glad – no lasting harm done.
“You’re right, you deserve more answers than I’ve been giving you,” Aion said as he stood. He knew that at this point he was playing a dangerous game, that his calculations were slipping, but he could not risk losing Muriel. She was too important to him.
“You’re going to tell me everything?” Muriel was astonished, stopping in the middle of squeezing water out of her hair with a towel.
“As much as I can.” He had never felt uncertain before, and, while he hated it, he was never going to let it show – he needed to stay calm; no matter what was going on inside, he needed to appear placid for Muriel’s sake. She couldn’t know about the toll that the material realm was taking on him. “We used to live together in the Light, as husband and wife,” he began slowly, “but our kind have been under attack by the Outer Gods of Chaos, who have aligned themselves with the Darkness.” He was second-guessing himself. Could the young girl standing there in front of him, with dripping wet hair, and a heavy burden in her eyes, handle the story of their separation? She seemed too fragile to know the truth of the universe, and he wanted to protect her from it.
He had to say just enough to sound convincing; just enough to satisfy the goddess lurking inside of her and whispering of things that she couldn’t understand. But he couldn’t tell her everything. Not yet.
“They managed to capture me,” he continued, “and you were sent into a human body on Earth while I was imprisoned among the stars, bound helpless as I watched you live a mortal life. I saw and felt everything, every tear and heartache, and when I couldn’t tolerate anymore, after your mortal father violated and poisoned you, I found the strength to break free and rejoin you – just in the nick of time as well, because the Darkness had sent a Grim to consume your soul and destroy you entirely. That is why your life has been so hard, and why I am here now.” Aion took Muriel’s hand and kissed it gently. He needed to distract her from analyzing his story too carefully. He didn’t know how strong her spiritual connection was at the moment, and he didn’t want her to sense that he hadn’t told the entire story. Very slowly and carefully, he told her of another truth, “I have something to confess to you – your parents are no longer alive.”
A jolt raced through Muriel’s body and she felt herself go limp. Aion stepped forward to help her sit down, keeping a hand on her back, as the news sunk in. She felt strange; she had vowed to never forgive them – especially her father – and she had never wanted to see them again, but the thought of them being dead made her feel cold. They were no longer out there for her to hate. “How?” she asked numbly.
“I arranged an accident on that very first night. Carbon monoxide, so it was quick and painless.”
Muriel didn’t know how to respond; she didn’t know if she wanted to be angry, or grateful. Her parents were dead, and Aion was responsible, but they had also damaged her badly – sometimes, when she woke up sobbing from a nightmare, she feared that the damage was irreparable, and it was only Aion’s steady presence that kept her from losing her mind. For a moment, she wondered if a painless death had been too gentle on them, compared to the world that she now lived in.
Then it occurred to her that bothher mother and father were dead, and Aion didn’t seem like the sort who would punish an innocent. She said, more as a statement than a question, “My mother knew, didn’t she.”
“I trust you.” Muriel had already seen enough to believe everything he said, and she could feel the impact that he commanded under the surface of what she had always called reality. The soul retrieval, while visually uneventful, had changed her and brought her back to herself. Between the Grim, and Aion’s inexhaustible wallet, she felt ready to believe everything Aion said, no matter how absurd it seemed. And if Aion had thought it necessary to take her parents out of this world, then she wouldn’t question his decision. Perhaps they had known that she wasn’t really theirs, that she was the incarnate of something more than human, and they had decided to abuse her anyway, in hopes of dodging the consequences. If that was the case, then he had been more than justified in his actions.
“You look cute.” Aion’s voice broke through her thoughts. It was the first time that he had ever commented on her appearance, and it made Muriel blush. She thought immediately about how her hair was still wet and messy, and how she had quickly pulled on her old clothes, because her new ones had still been outside when she had started her shower, but she couldn’t help but beam. He thought she was cute.
“Thanks,” she said shyly. She wanted to say something else, but the words wouldn’t come to her. She felt awkward, but he said that she was cute, and that made her feel cute.
“Are you feeling better?” he asked, smiling as if he could read her thoughts. That made her blush even more, so she quickly pretended to towel dry her hair a bit more to hide her face.
When she regained her composure a bit better, she said, “Yeah. I guess so.” After grabbing their shopping bags from near the door of their motel room, Muriel sat down on the bed and dumped all of the clothing in front of her to sort through. As she carefully folded tops and bottoms, all the while trying to think of which outfit she should wear first, she remembered what had happened at the mall and what Aion’s reaction had been. “Why was the Tarot reading so bad?” she asked.
“Normally Tarot cards are benign, but it was dangerous because of who you are. Unfortunately, that woman didn’t call on any specific deity or spirit, but left the channel – so to speak – wide open for anyone to answer, and it was the Darkness that took up the call. All this time I’ve kept us moving to avoid detection by the Outer Gods, but that Tarot reading was like shooting a giant flare up for them.”
“Oh.” Muriel felt awful. “What’s going to happen?”
Aion’s face, smooth and blank, never changed as he said, “I don’t know.”