Robin said, “I’m here.” mainly to himself.
But it made the short hairs on the back of Antioch’s neck stand on end.
Those two words repeated in his head, creating images.
A woman and a child.
And a dead man.
A dead man with his face.
That in itself was bad enough. But what made his short hairs go crazy was the perspective.
It wasn’t from the small boy sitting on the bed. Nor from the woman standing beside the bed.
It was from some point above the bed. Somewhere close to the ceiling.
Worst yet, he could feel the ceiling’s cool plaster against his back.
He felt a strong need to change the subject. So, he did so. “Why do you want to return to The Institute?”
“I need to see Isellta again.”
“He’s probably sleeping.”
“I know that! But I need to see him.”
He fell silent and held his silence all the way back to The Institute.
And the memory remained.
Robin followed him into The Institute.
All the way to the control room.
He stopped in the doorway, afraid to go forward. Afraid to move.
Antioch looked back at him.
What if he’s with her again?
What if he’s with someone else?
What if he’s gone full slut and hooked up with some guy?
Where does that leave me?
What do I do?
Where do I go?
“Are you coming in here, boy?”
Robin frowned at him. “I ain’t Boy. I’m Robin Hastings.”
Antioch turned away from him and checked a couple of monitors. “Sorry to leave you, but I must get to work.” He didn’t wait for Robin to object. He left the room.
Robin approached the monitors with a feeling akin to dread.
All of the monitors that he had smashed in had been replaced as well as most of the torn out cameras.
Including the monitor for Isellta’s room.
Isellta was not in his room.
Robin stared at that one for far too long as if he were expecting the fey to magically appear.
Isellta did not appear.
“Where is he? Isellta, where are you?” His imperfect gaze travelled from monitor to monitor, searching for that one skinny male fey.
Antioch stepped out into the hall and all of the tension that had been building up inside of him unwound.
The memory disappeared to wherever unwanted memories go.
He strode to Capernum’s office and knocked on the door.
Antioch entered the room.
Capernum sat at his large mahogany desk.
MLO sat on a rolling stool before the desk. His body curved into a hunch. His right hand rubbed his left shoulder and part of his back.
Capernum smiled. “Ah, Antioch. Good to see you’ve returned. You feeling okay?”
“We will discuss that in private. MLO. Did you find N1?”
His hand went still. “Yes.”
“And she saw me. She ran. She got hit by a car.”
Antioch felt like he got smacked in the gut with a demolition ball. But he kept his exterior calm and steady. “Is she alive?”
“So. We’re back to square one.”
MLO straightened his posture. “Capernum, do you want me to fetch XQ?”
Capernum gave Antioch a “Well?” type of look.
“XQ.” He was on the verge of saying yes, but then he saw Raven’s face. He could feel his gaze burning into him. It made him feel sick.
If we take her back, he’ll come running back here to get her.
He’ll find a way to punish me.
“No. XQ is lost to us. Don’t worry, Capernum. We will find someone else.”
Capernum looked like he had twelve thousand questions waiting to be asked, but he nodded. “I understand, sir. MLO. You may leave.”
The gray-haired boy fled the room.
Capernum raised an eyebrow. “So?”
“So.” Antioch walked over to his colleague and leaned against his desk. “I was changed last night.”
“Yes. He…My lord took XQ away. He would not be happy if we took her back.”
“I will not cross my lord. He is ruthless.”
“But if I were the one who did it—”
Antioch shook his head. “He’d see it as me doing it. I will not cross him, Capernum. I ask that you refrain as well. He would see nothing wrong with changing you. Believe me. You don’t want that.”
“So? What happens now? Will you stay with us?”
“For as long as I can. I will help you create a new XQ, as soon as we find a worthy replacement.”
“Very good.” Capernum smiled. “I was hoping you would say that.”
“My hours will need to be changed to night hours.”
“That’s a minor detail in the large scheme of things. All that matters is that you are staying with us.”
Antioch thought about Robin.
Obnoxious. Abrasive. Loud-mouthed. Demanding. Pushy. No good. Brat.
He smiled. “It’s my pleasure. After all, I’m good at this work. It satisfies me. There’s nothing else I’d rather do.”