"It must be nice to feel like a god. I guess I can understand wanting that. "
"Well," said Jerome, speaking up at last, "as we all know, you can't get something for nothing."
Carter nodded. "At a basic level, it's an addictive substance, and everything addictive has a cost - mainly that it enslaves you and makes you feel horrible when you don't have it. But, the other truth is that humans are not meant to be perfect. That's what humanity is: a series of successes and failures, a testing of one's own nature and aptitude. Neither the body nor the soul can sustain such a state. Eventually it consumes a person."
I pointed at the crystals. "What would have happened if I'd taken them?"
"Isn't it obvious?" asked Jerome, his tone suggesting the same sexual possibilities I'd wondered about earlier.
Carter gave me a straight answer. "Similar superficial effects. Enhance your good qualities. Immortals wouldn't fall prey to the addictiveness so quickly; they can sustain it for quite a while since in some ways, they already feel like gods. But in the long run, the consequences are still the same. You can't function at such high levels. Now, the ambrosia couldn't destroy your body, of course, but it'd still cause other serious problems if you took it for a long time."
"It'd probably just make you go insane," explained Jerome helpfully. "Until the end of time."
"That's horrible," I said.
"Don't worry, Georgie. If it happens to you, we'll put you down first."
Ignoring him, I looked over at the crystals, suddenly feeling more repulsed by them than I had before. This time, my reaction had nothing to do with the creepy aura.
"The real question, of course," said the archdemon more seriously, "is where the hell did you get these?"
"I told you. From Alec."
The two higher immortals exchanged glances once more.
"Tell us about this guy again," ordered Jerome. "Everything you know."
I did. When I finished, they looked at each other once more, having a mental conversation I was not privy to. God, they were annoying.
"Alec's not the one," said Carter finally.
"The one who...?"
"The one who this is coming from," explained Jerome.
"Well, I got it from him..."
"Doesn't matter, Georgie. Some twenty-year-old blue-haired punk is not the source here. He's getting it from someone else. He's a peon in the chain. Besides, you never felt anything off him, did you? Something like the crystals but not quite like them?"
"No, but..." But I had felt something from another person. Someone who spent time with Alec. The last card in my head flipped over. "I know who it is. It's him. That guy."
"Of course," said Carter dryly. "I knew it was that guy. It's always that guy."
"Hold on, and I'll explain." I turned to Jerome. "Remember that funny immortal I told you about? The really romantically dressed good-looking one? He's got to be the one. Alec's supplier. I've seen them talking together and even saw Alec sort of having a breakdown with him. " I added a little more background for Carter's benefit, explaining how GQ Poet Guy and I had sensed each other.
Jerome and Carter considered this in silence. At last, the demon said, "Yes, that sounds like him."
Nobody said anything for a while after that. I was dying to ask who "he" was exactly, but recognized that angel and demon would take their own time on this.
"So what are we going to do?" Carter asked a few minutes later.
Jerome cut him a narrow-eyed glance. "Why do we have to do anything?"
"Because it's the right thing to do."
"I don't know where you've been since the beginning of the universe, but the 'right thing' isn't really on my list of priorities."
"He's poisoning mortals."
Jerome crossed his arms over his chest. "I don't care."
"He's doing it in your territory. Right under your nose."
"Stop trying to bait me. He's not involved with us. He can do whatever the f**k he wants to mortals."
Once again, I was dying to jump in but restrained myself. Listening to Carter and Jerome argue always unsettled me. Mostly, it just didn't happen that much. Usually they stood together in an exasperating wall of solidarity, good and evil notwithstanding. And, of course, watching them argue always made you wonder if something terrible might happen if tempers got out of control. Tables tipping over. Glasses exploding. The Four Horsemen showing up.
Nonetheless, I felt confident Carter wouldn't let this matter go unattended. He would win. As I had noted earlier, I didn't know if I could trust him, but I did respect him - and his powers of persuasion.
"It's a power play," warned Carter. "He shouldn't even be trying it. His time is past; we're the ones who control the game now. Doing this insults us - especially you, since you guys are the ones who actually draw territorial lines. It's an unannounced challenge."
This, I saw, had an effect on the demon. He recognized Carter's attempts to draw him in, but it was working nonetheless. Pride wasn't one of the Seven Deadly Sins for nothing. Jerome, as a faithful servant of hell, couldn't help but be susceptible. I'd seen his pride come into play before; he didn't like others messing with his reputation. And while the demon naturally had many weaknesses, I'd say it was this more than anything else that would make him take action.
"We can't intervene," he said flatly. "You know that. Even if we are in control, we'd start an outright war. I for one don't want to deal with the repercussions of that."
"Agreed," murmured the angel, lapsing into silence again.
I looked back and forth between their faces, waiting for one of them to offer a brilliant plan. A brilliant plan which involved the angel and demon fighting in awesome, smiting glory to destroy Alec and his bastardly supplier friend.
"Georgina could do it," said Carter suddenly.
"What?" I squeaked. That wasn't how the fantasy went. They turned their eyes on me.
Dark outrage flashed in Jerome's eyes, then it faded as quickly as it had arrived. "Hmm. Perhaps."
"What are you guys talking about? I'm not doing any smiting."
"It wouldn't exactly be smiting," said Carter, face promptly sobering. "But it could be dangerous if not done the right way. "
"Why do I have to do it?"
"Because you, Georgie, are a lesser power than we are. You are less subject to scrutiny and ramifications than us. It's the difference between a country declaring war and a small rebel faction striking out."
"Great," I said, sinking back in my chair. "I'm a faction."
Carter was smiling again. "Don't you want to help Doug?"
A moment passed. "You know I do."
"I meant it when I said it'd be dangerous, but if we're careful, you'll come out okay."
I thought about Doug's black despair and reckless behavior. The thought of this ambrosia "destroying" him clinched it for me. "Yeah, okay. I'll do it. Whatever it is. Dangerous or not." I paused. "Um, what is it?"
"Oh come on! You can't expect me to do this and not know what it is."
"It'll take some prep work," Carter told me, apparently enjoying my consternation. But there was another expression on his face too...pride, I thought. The good kind of pride, like when you thought someone was doing the right thing. Not the bad kind of pride that made you do rash things. "As soon as it's in place, we'll let you know. I'll come find you."
I made a face. "You'll understand if I don't really find that a satisfying answer. "
"And you'll understand," retorted Jerome, "that it's the best one you're going to get."
Carter was a bit nicer. "What you can do in the meantime, however, is try to get access to the supplier. He's the one you'll ultimately have to deal with. Keep schmoozing with Alec. Do what you've got to do."
I nodded. Schmoozing I could do in my sleep. I felt relieved to be back in familiar waters.
After leaving them, I put the ambrosia assignment on hold and went over to Seth's to play Scrabble, in keeping with a prearranged date. I'd vowed I wouldn't cheat this time, but I supposed that would depend on how desperate the game became. When I arrived, however, I found Seth in no condition to play.
He sat at the desk in his bedroom, brow adorably furrowed as he stared at his computer screen, apparently willing it do something for him through mental determination alone. His condo had an office, I knew, but unpacked boxes currently filled it, making this room the combination office-bedroom. All his essentials in one place. If it had had an attached bathroom, he would have probably never emerged.