“This is a nice surprise.”
“No, it isn’t.”
The woman looked to be about thirty. She was tall and athletic, with skin the color of old bronze and long dreadlocks pulled back into a ponytail. Her smile was warm and sympathetic.
“Ah. Then you aren’t here because you’re having a lonely night and want company.”
Milo smiled mirthlessly. “Nights don’t get that lonely.”“Milo, you need to loosen up. I’m not going to hurt you.”
“Tia, you’d kill everything living if you could. Can we please skip the pleasantries? I need your help.”
“No, we can’t. If I have to look like a human being, you have to treat me like one. You’re polite and personable with everyone else. Be that way with me.”
Milo sighed. “How are you? How’s the apartment?”
“I’m all right. Busy. The apartment’s nice, thank you. A bit small, though. I suppose if I were a mammal it would be a good size.”
“You’re comfortable, then?”
“As comfortable as can be expected. The boy who brings me my groceries has a crush on me.”
“You know the rules.”
“Don’t worry, I don’t let him into the apartment. Speaking of which, where’s Fairfax?”
“Nowhere near here.”
“You’re so careful, Milo. You aren’t afraid of me, are you?”
“Of course I’m afraid of you.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to go to bed with me? You troubleshooters do, sometimes. You’re always so tense.”
“No, thank you. I need to ask you some questions.”
“I don’t think we’re finished with the pleasantries just yet.”
The look Milo gave her spoke of a dangerous man’s patience quickly evaporating. Tia just laughed.
“All right, all right. There are old rules, too. What do you want to know?”
Milo got out his pocketknife and pricked his finger. He held it out to the her. She closed the distance between them, took it into her mouth and sucked on it lasciviously. He jerked it away.
“Just drink the blood.”
She smiled happily. “My way’s more fun. Ask.”
Milo took a leather thong from around his neck and held the platinum ring strung on it out for her to inspect. “What is this?”
Tia took the ring from him and examined it. “Some poor girl’s soul. She needs a body. When are you going to let me go?”
“Never. You’re the worst thing in the world.”
“Still killing my children?”
“Every chance I get. Open your mouth and tip your head back.”
“Mmm. Sure, baby.”
Milo held his finger over her head and squeezed out a drop of blood. Tia caught it on her tongue and sighed orgasmically. “Tastes good. Next question.”
“Where is Lucien Murdock?”
“Miskatonic University. I’d forgotten how much fun you are, baby.”
“Why do you hate me so much, Milo?”
“You’re a monster.”
“I can’t help what I am any more than that werewolf can. The one Fairfax is off looking for.”
“Save it. You’re responsible for the Ecthroi. We can’t live on Earth Prime anymore because of what you did.”
“I made it. I’ll do what I please with what’s mine.”
“Not anymore, you won’t. We aren’t your toys. You’re stuck here, on a desert planet. You have no power on our new home.”
Her smile was gentle. “Not much of a home now, is it?”
“And Lucien will bring the serpents back and wreck it again. He really can’t stand you, Milo. It’s very personal for him. He hates you the way you hate me.”
Milo stared at her. “You made them, didn’t you? Lucien got you to make the serpents, didn’t he?”
Tia smiled and licked her lips. Milo shook his head.
“No. I don’t need an oracle to tell me I’m right.” He squeezed his finger to keep the blood flowing. “Last question.”
“Three per day per person. Let’s hear it.”
He lifted his hand to her mouth. Suddenly, she was in his arms, nipping his lower lip with her sharp teeth, her hand sliding down the front of his pants. She moved so fast that Milo was caught off-guard. For a moment, he returned the kiss. Then the sound of the sea filled his ears, slimy scales replaced supple flesh under his hands, and something unbearably huge and bloated, bigger than a skyscraper, bigger than a continent, bigger than the world, was in his mind, laughing.
Milo tore away from the kiss. He caught her wrist with his unbloodied hand, locking it and twisting so that Tia was forced up onto her toes. He brought his other hand around in a practiced motion, slapping her across the face and lifting her off her feet, the blood from his finger mingling with the blood from her split lip. He stepped forward, took hold of her upper arm and pulled hard with the hand still holding her wrist, pivoting with his hips and shoulders as he did. Tia flew gracelessly over a sofa, her head bouncing off of the front door of the apartment with a dull thud. Milo tucked his shirt back into his pants.
“Don’t do that again.”
Tia arched her back. “Mmm. Come into the bedroom, Milo. Strip me down and really go to work on me with all that combat training. I won’t struggle. I’ll do whatever you want.”
Milo dabbed at his mouth with his handkerchief. “Pass. I’ll be honest, Tia. I don’t know why you suddenly want me off-balance, but I imagine it’s because there’s something you don’t want me to ask.”
“It’s your job to come up with the questions, baby.” She sat up and rubbed her jaw. “You troubleshooters are so polite. It’s like you never get to do the things you want to do. Are you sure you don’t want to hit me again?”
Milo ignored her. His eyes flicked around the apartment, lighting on a jewelry box. His hand came up, almost of its own volition, and touched the ring on its leather thong. He smiled.
“Final question. What don’t you want to tell me, Tia? Feel free to lick your lips for that last drop of my blood.”
Tia’s eyes went hard, but she licked her lips. “Epiphany Platinum can get you into what’s left of Miskatonic University. Get out of my apartment or I’ll kill you, geas be damned.
Alexander Karelis is co-founder of Writers Room DC, a boutique co-working space for professional writers of fiction and creative non-fiction and the unofficial literary nexus of Washington D.C.