Last time on Inkling:
“You shouldn’t have brought your friend. He can’t see what he’s seen, even if he doesn’t understand it. It’s been a long time since I devoured a memory.” Emygdia leaned in close, and Grayson didn’t know whether to look at her eyes or her teeth, both equally terrifying, and equally near. “I remember what youth tastes like, though, and he’ll do.”
(If you need to catch up, you can always read the full story (for free!) here: Inkling )
The worst part was knowing that no matter what happened, he’d gotten himself into it.
No, scratch that. The worst part was her teeth, the way she seemed to inhale him, like she was taking in his life breath by breath.
“Stop it. He’s under my protection.”
Emygdia smiled, and watching her features smooth back out into something almost human made Grays want to flinch, except he’d forgotten how to move, or she wasn’t letting him anymore. He could hear the blood rushing in his ears, the throbbing whooshwhoosh of it almost painful as he stared at her. If he wasn’t going anywhere, at least he was going to meet her eyes, no matter how uncomfortable it made him.
“That’s all I wanted to know.” Grays refused to slouch away once her hold on him was gone, glaring as he shed the feeling of her compulsion. Her laughter was sharp, but not so pointed that it didn’t seem real. “It’s okay, shake off that scruffing, puppy. I won’t think less of you.”
“Could you?” The words escaped him without thought, and for a second he swore he could see them hovering in the air, letters and syllables like soap bubbles before he blinked and they were gone.
“There’s room.” Waggling her fingers towards the door, Emygdia watched him, but when she spoke again it was to Collin. “Have a care with him, Bastion. He’s got a bite lurking in there, I think.”
When the world around him changed, Grays expected there to be some sign. He expected a flash, a bang, maybe a little sparkle, but definitely more than finding himself in the parking lot with no warning at all, and the store they’d just been in abandoned and dark.
The world turned with him when Grays moved. He swore the asphalt swirled under his sneakers when he moved, rippling out like he’d stepped in a puddle. “Why is the sky purple? Why—“ He couldn’t finish his questions. Collin’s eyes weren’t right, and the smudge of shadow between them stretched wide, obscuring the sickly green rays of the oxidized copper sun. Fireflies darted across the parking lot, but there were no fireflies in Phoenix.
“It’s magic afterburn. You’re seeing the shell of Emygdia’s spells as they collapse. It’ll fade in a few minutes.”
Grayson laughed, and there were the soap bubbles again, oil-sheen rainbow and drifting up into the sky. He didn’t realize he was following them until Collin grabbed his foot, holding him still as he hovered five feet above the ground and giggled uncontrollably. “The world tickles.”
Collin grinned at Grays, his teeth bright as he laughed. “Oh my god, you’re so spell drunk right now. You know if I let you go, you’ll fly higher and higher, right up until you don’t float anymore, right?”
“Splat.” The giggling was only making it worse, each golden sound tingling like champagne in his throat. “I did that once. For a project. Covered myself in paint and fell on the canvas. Splat.”
Collin pulled the leg of his jeans, tugging him back and forth like a helium balloon. “I bet you didn’t do it from fifty feet up, did you?”
“My Mom would kill me. You know, if the blood loss didn’t do it first.”
“Your Mom has good sense.” Using the hand not wrapped firmly around Grayson’s ankle, Collin fished in his pockets for something, coming up with a tin of mints and popping the lid. He offered the tin up to Grays, shaking it like a bag of cat treats. “If you come down, you can have candy.”
He didn’t even know he liked mints, until they started marching through the air towards him, ants on the wing, or the dance of the wintergreen fairies.
Collin rolled his eyes, snapping the tin shut. “As charming as this Mary Poppins interlude is, I need to get going. So could you come down here and hold onto something, so I can head out?”
It was hard to grumble when you felt like you were made of spun sugar and breeze, but Grays had worked retail long enough that he could grumble at the drop of a hat. Taking one final look around from a height he wasn’t likely to achieve again without stilts, he sort of aimed towards the ground, guided by Collin’s hand, and managed a nearly-graceful landing, even though his shoes kept trying to leave the earth again.
“Where are you going?” He smiled, a sloppy sort of thing that stopped just short of a laugh. “It might be the, you know, potential head injury, or the sixteen impossible things I’ve seen in the last two hours, but if you need a ride somewhere, I could be convinced to give you one.”
Pushing up his sleeves, Collin ran his hands over his arms, obscuring and revealing his tattoos by turns. “I shouldn’t get you any deeper into this than you already are.” A quick glance back at the empty shop, and he turned his attention on Grays again. “I can’t guarantee it, but I think she liked you. If anything happened, if I screwed it up and something came after you, you could probably come here and seek shelter.”
“Why won’t she give it to you?”
“It’s complicated. Ancient history, most of it. She can’t give me shelter without bringing me into her homestead, and because my uncle’s blood claim takes precedence over the rights of a guest, he’s basically have a free pass into her realm.” He didn’t seem to realize he’d started chewing his thumb, worrying the corner between words and looking over Grayson’s shoulder. “It could wind up hurting a lot of people, and I don’t want that.”
Grays nodded like he understood, but his reply was cut off by the roll of thunder, out of nowhere. It was late for monsoons, late enough that he glanced up to see which direction the clouds would roll in from. “How long does this magic hangover stuff last? Those clouds are… What the hell?”
The clouds were coming in from the west, but he would have sworn that tiny bits of them were breaking off, zipping away lightning fast as they sank towards the ground.
“Shit. You need to go home, and stay in your house, okay? It’ll be over by tomorrow. I have to go, I have to find somewhere to hide.” Collin grabbed Grayson’s arm and shoved towards the car, but his attention remained on the sky. “It’s not a cloud, it’s an illusion. He must have sent the flock out looking for me, when the dogs didn’t come back.” The grip on Grayson’s sleeve went slack, clearly forgotten. “Thank you for everything you’ve done.” Tearing his attention away from the sky, Collin’s smile was rueful. “Normally that would count for a little more, but I don’t think I’m going to be around long enough for you to cash in.”
More than anything, the resigned fear was what prompted Grays to latch onto Collin and drag him to the car, though he wasn’t getting very far. “Just come with me. Maybe we can make it to my house before… Uh. What’s going to happen? What flock?”
“Demons. You can’t. You don’t even know me.”
Grays, hardly the most physically capable of young men, managed to shove Collin into the front seat, and pixie dust hangover or not, this time his quiet laugh was faintly bitter, the taste of almonds and stupid decisions at the back of his throat. He snorted, slamming the door to make sure it latched. It was probably better that Collin was sealed away from his bemused muttering.
“Yeah, like you’re the first stranger with demons I’ve taken home. Please.”