Part of Apex of Creation
“Whoops.” I said, as Emily gave me a confused look. I shut the bathroom door, focused on returning to Hell, and re-opened the door.
“Cael.” I called.
He stood up and walked over, still sipping his coffee. “What’s wrong?”
“The Gate to Hell is gone” I said, opening and closing the bathroom door several times to demonstrate. “There was one here, made by Aloc- Oh right. He’s a demon too. Damn it.”
I felt betrayed. And stupid, for not seeing it coming.
Cael examined the doorway. “Yep. Definitely closed.” He ran his fingers around the frame. “And sealed. I can’t open this.”
“So what do we do?” Emily asked.
“Theoretically, Hybrids can re-open Gates, at least, it’s happened in the past. James might be able to do it, but it’s not a guarantee. James?”
I ran my own fingers around the door frame. “Feels normal to me. Wait, hang on. There’s a little something. It feels… I dunno, like a little defect in spacetime.”
“Good, anything else?”
I envisioned the portal reopening, but nothing happened. “That’s all I have for now.” I said.
“You’ll have to keep at it then.” Cael said, frowning. “But for now, it sounds like there’s no point staying here any longer.”
Dejected, Emily and I made the long walk across campus back to the dorm tower. As we got back to the elevator, I let go of time, and of Emily’s hand. The elevator doors finished opening behind us, and I mashed the button for my floor.
It was a long, silent, disappointing, and frustrating ride up.
Detective Darren Sanders
Some idiot judge had denied the warrant for James’s school records. According to him, “the only connection between James Exosia and the crime is the statement of one witness who blacked out and which, by Detective Sanders’s own admission, is undermined by the security video. Between that and the clean background check, the warrant is denied for lack of probable cause.” Bang!
But something was clearly wrong about James Exosia. He spent a lot of time with Emily during the day. I didn’t know what he and Emily were getting up to in the dormitories, but there’s no way it could be entirely innocent. Sex would be the obvious guess for a pair of college students, but given Emily’s past that seemed unlikely.
I took another swig from my flask. If my endocrinologist didn’t like it, well, he would just have to blame the judge.
Ding. The elevator door opened. Two people - James and Emily - coming out of the elevator. They were even holding hands. And carrying some kind of bundle of equipment.
Then I blinked, and James and Emily had switched places, facing the other way. And they were entering the elevator.
The elevator door closed, and they were gone.
As Emily and James returned to their dorm, I went back to my office. Just as expected, Alocer had closed the Gate, foiling James’s heroic attempt to retrieve the Scroll and prevent eternal monotony. Now, it was just a matter of time, waiting for Lucifer to get greedy and attempt to break the seals on the Scroll. Of course, Lucifer wouldn’t be able to break the seals on the actual scroll, but if the Scroll was actually a decoy…
Well, Lucifer might just end up with something a little different than what he expected. Something that would set back Hell by several centuries, as long as James didn’t manage to punch a hole to Hell first.
I picked up a self-refilling chai tea and went for a walk to the decoy’s hiding place in the Library, just to double check that the trap had indeed been laid. I found the right bookshelf and ran my hand over the scrolls inside.
With a stomach-churning sense of horror, I realized that the decoy was still sitting where I had left it.
I had been wrong. We were so, so screwed. And now James needed to get that Gate open sooner rather than later.
As we entered the dorm tower elevator, I finally let go of James’s hand. It had gotten sweaty during the walk across campus and back, but that was a small price to pay for something as amazing as walking through a frozen moment in time. That alone had been fascinating.
Especially after I had just fucked up so badly with the Scroll.
I hadn’t failed to notice the way James had gotten nervous when he’d first taken my hand. Even though we’d held hands before, it was still cute that his cheeks had gotten slightly redder. And if I was guessing correctly, James was disappointed that the hand-holding had come to an end.
Maybe James wasn’t that bad after all.
Ιt was kinda nice, I had to admit. Even though I wasn’t able to get a look at the Omega cells that my dad would eventually be condemned to.
We reached James’s dorm room - geez, I’d been spending a lot of time there lately - and stashed the climbing equipment away in the non-Heavenly version of the closet.
With no plan and no portal, James and I said our good nights and went to bed. We could always try something else later. After all, we had all the time in the world.
Over the next few days, I stopped by the coffee shop between classes to try to re-open the Gate. I’d been able to find the residual distortion in spacetime left behind by the portal, but that was all. I’d also been able to find traces of the pit in my dorm floor, and had occasionally been working on that one, whenever Kevin wasn’t around and I didn’t have other things to be working on.
Like studying. With the first round of exams approaching, my time for supernatural exercises was limited - I did not want to leave my grades up to the chance that I’d divine the answers at test time. Especially since, according to Cael, “life as normal” was now going to be the eternal fate of humanity.
I’d tried to call Alocer on several occasions as well, but I had nothing but radio silence from him. Really, I should have expected that - he was a demon after all - but Alocer’s cold shoulder honestly just made me angry.
Out of frustration, I focused on studying so hard that I almost forgot about my dad’s visit coming up. I’d have to warn him not to ask Emily about family.
Ι managed to find Emily one morning before class. “Don’t forget, my dad’s coming in tomorrow night.”
“Oh man, I’d completely forgotten about that.”
“Yeah me too. Βetween exams and repeatedly learning that I can’t open portals to Hell, I’ve been busy.”
“Still no progress on that?”
“Not much, no. The portal in the floor seems marginally easier to work with but not by much. Maybe those demons are just less skilled? I dunno.” Another passing student gave me a weird look.
“You’ll get it eventually.”
“I hope so. Apparently, not all Hybrids develop the same way, so I might not even ever be able to.”
“Look at it this way. If you didn’t have the ability, you wouldn’t even be able to detect the part that you did get.”
Well then. Apparently Emily had more faith in me than I did.
“So what does your dad do?” Emily asked, as we pulled into the parking lot of the Texas Roadhouse.
“Pharmaceutical sales.” I answered. “Been doing it for as long as I can remember. So that’s why he’s in town right now; must be visiting a client.”
My dad had arrived a few minutes before us, so I hopped up on the sidewalk, threw the door open for Emily, and made a beeline for the booth he was waiting in. I caught the flash of surprise in his eyes as he realized I was walking in with a girl.
“James, hey, how’s it going?” he asked, as he got up for a hug.
“I’m good. Dad, this is my friend and study partner Emily. Emily, my dad.”
With introductions made and greetings exchanged, we shifted into the extremely important business of reading the menu.
After settling on our dinner choices, we made conversation about classes, grades, professors, my dad’s job, and engineering industry news, until eventually we were interrupted by a blooming onion, steak, potatoes, bread, fish, coleslaw, and fries. The conversation promptly turned to gravy, salt, pepper, napkins, and sticky fingers.
Towards the end of the meal, Emily excused herself to the ladies room.
“So James.” my dad said, with a glint in his eye. I didn’t need to be partially omniscient to know what was coming next. “You didn’t tell me your friend was *a girl.*”
Hint hint. The implications It couldn’t be more obvious if they had been shouted from the rooftops with a megaphone.
“I met her on, like, the second day of class, Dad. We started studying together, since we live in the same dorm building. And yeah, she’s a good friend.”
“Oh… is that all? Valentine’s Day is this week, you know.”
“I know, Dad. But yeah, for now, just a friend.” With a quieter voice and a surreptitious glance towards the restrooms, I added “I don’t want to get into details right now, but as much as I’d like us to be more, that has to go slowly.”
“I see. Understood.”
“And thanks for not asking her about family. She’s kinda going through a lot with them, and it’s not great.”
Emily came back from the bathroom, my dad paid the bill, and a little while later we went our separate ways.
It had felt wrong, not telling my dad about the biggest part of my life. Not that he’d asked, but not bringing it up seemed like a lie of omission.
Of course, the middle of a busy restaurant probably wouldn’t have been the best place for a demonstration anyways. I didn’t need to draw that much attention to myself. But still, I was right back to mildly deceiving the people I cared about. And I wasn’t sure if I could spend the rest of my life doing that.
It was hard to sleep that night.
To James’s credit, the dinner with his dad had been less awkward than I had anticipated. I smiled and chatted and pretended life was normal - it was easy for me after having practiced that my entire life.
But something about the whole event seemed to be bothering James. He wasn’t quite himself: he’d been a little more fidgety, a little more jumpy, when we were around Mr. Exosia than he normally was. And if James was ever going to raid hell and get the Scroll of the Apocalypse back, then he would need to be in a healthy state of mind.
I needed him to be in a healthy state of mind.
“Penny for your thoughts?” I asked the next night, over homework. We were in James’s dorm (again), drinking extra large decafs and working on chemistry.
“Trying to figure out the dissociation constants of these acids.” he answered flatly. “What did you get for 12c?”
“I mean, what’s on your mind?” You were jumpy last night and you’ve been nervous all day.”
James sighed and looked up at the ceiling. After a moment, he responded. “You know the whole… spiritual thing… with me. Right?”
“I told you about that, because, I dunno, I felt like you needed to hear it, and I needed to share with someone.”
“And I had known you for what, two and a half weeks at that point? Not even?”
“I won’t tell anyone, if that’s what you’re worried about. Not that anyone would believe me if I tried.”
James shook his head. “It’s not that. You’re the only person who knows. I haven’t even told my dad, and he’s my dad. If anyone should know, it’s him, and it’s been killing me inside.”
I frowned. I was probably supposed to feel some sort of automatic agreement here, but I just… couldn’t. There was nothing. This was another of those normal-person things that my own goddamn father had forever ruined for me.
So I pretended. Like I always did. “You can’t beat yourself up too much. I’m sure you’ll figure out how to tell him when the time is right.”
“Yeah. I mean, you didn’t tell me right away, did you?”
“So don’t feel bad about not telling him right away either.”
“Yeah, that’s fair. Still though. It would help if I didn’t have to pretend.”
You’re not the only one pretending I thought. Not the only one at all.
This chapter was produced with the support of my Hybrid patron:
- Olli Erinko