I could have hugged him. "Finally, someone f**king thinks that's important."
"It's a pattern now. Can't really blame it on anomaly anymore."
"So what's it mean?"
"You sure you want the opinion of the worst dream interpreter ever?"
"Good grief! Get on with it."
"If you were human, I'd say without a doubt that you were being preyed on."
I flinched. "What? What do you mean?"
He reached across the table and caught my hand, flipping it over absentmindedly while he thought. I was too caught on the word preyed to care about him touching me. Little Kayla's words popped into my head.
They're monsters. They swoop in the air and go in people's dreams.
"You and I both know there are plenty of supernatural beings walking the world. Some walk the dreamworld and don't really have humans' best intentions at heart. Not that you do either. And honestly, some aren't too different from you. They crave human life and energy, and they can suck it out of dreams."
"But they can't do that to me?"
"Mmm." He let go of my hand. "I don't see how. You don't make your own energy. You steal it too. But who knows?"
I shivered. The idea of some creature - some parasitic creature - latching on and sucking out my life made me ill. I was fully aware of the hypocrisy, however, seeing as I did the exact same thing all the time.
"So...what kind of creature might be capable of doing that?"
"Dunno. Not my specialty."
"But you're a dream expert! Shouldn't you know about dream...creatures?"
"Supernatural creatures are Erik's thing, not mine. You should ask him."
"You're the worst dream interpreter ever."
"So I hear." His earlier seriousness flitted away. "So...are we going to have sex now?"
I stood up. "No! Of course not."
Dante threw his hands up. "What more do you want? I actually gave you useful information this time. And it's not like you couldn't use the fix - small or no."
"It's more than that," I said. Suddenly, I hesitated. "I...I know you now."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"If you were some anonymous guy, there might be a chance. But now you're like a..." Friend wasn't quite the word I was looking for. "...an acquaintance."
He appeared genuinely baffled for once. It was almost amusing. "I'm really not following this, succubus."
"I've got a boyfriend, remember? When I have anonymous, casual sex, it's not really cheating. But if I do it with someone..."
"...you like?" Was it my imagination, or was there something hopeful in his eyes when he asked that?
"No, I don't think I like you. But I don't exactly dislike you either. The point is, you aren't anonymous. It would be cheating."
He stared at me for several moments, and whatever glimmer of hope I thought I'd seen was definitely gone. "No wonder succubi are so good at passing as human women. You've certainly got the head games and complete lack of rationality down."
"I've got to go."
"You always have to go. Where to now? Some anonymous guy?"
I rose. "No, I'm going to find Erik and see if he can actually give me useful information."
"I did give you useful information!"
"Well, let me lock up, and we'll see what Lancaster has to say."
I froze. "What do you mean 'we'?"
Dante grabbed some keys from behind the counter. "You've piqued my curiosity. I want to see how this turns out. Besides, you owe me for my help, seeing as you won't put out."
"'Help,' indeed," I muttered.
He walked to the door with me. "Did it ever occur to you that in spite of how unuseful you think I am, I'm still kind of concerned about what happens to you?"
"No," I said. "It actually hadn't."
But I let him go with me over to Arcana, Ltd. When we stepped inside, we found Erik unpacking a box of books. He smiled without looking up, having sensed me.
"Miss Kincaid, always a - " He stopped when he noticed Dante. For the first time in our friendship, I saw Erik look angry. It was disturbing. Frightening, even. "Mr. Moriarty."
Dante nodded his greeting. "Always nice to see you."
The expression on Erik's face showed the feelings weren't mutual. He straightened up from his work and walked over to the counter. Crossing his arms over his chest, he peered at both of us.
"What can I do for you?" No cordial host or tea chats today. The air between the two men suddenly felt thick and oppressive.
I spoke uncertainly. "We...that is, Dante thinks he has an answer to my dream problems."
Dante laughed, wearing his trademark smirk. If he bore Erik the same animosity, he was hiding it well. "I wouldn't call it an answer, succubus. More like a theory."
"I've had the dream again," I told Erik. "More than once now. And I still keep losing my energy. Dante says it could be some kind of...dream creature preying on me." I stumbled over the words. The concept was still too ludicrous. "But he didn't know what kind. He said you might know."
Erik shifted his eyes from Dante to me. I could tell the old man was still unhappy about us being there together, but he cared about me too much and couldn't stop himself from helping me. I wondered at what point over the years I had earned such regard. And how. He sighed and gestured us to the table. We all sat down, but no tea was offered.
"Something like that going after a succubus is hard to imagine," Erik said at last.
"That's what I thought," said Dante.
His lighthearted mask had slipped a little. He looked much as he had in the store, thoughtful and curious. He reminded me of a mechanical engineer I'd once known. The guy couldn't help himself when it came to fixing some technical problem. Give him something in pieces, and he had to analyze it and figure it out. Dante might give me a hard time, but his nature, corrupt or not, couldn't stay away from this.
Erik's eyes studied me, hard and intent. I was an intriguing puzzle for him too.
"If I had to pick...I'd say the symptoms most match Oneroi."
I'd heard of them. They'd been in the Greek myths I'd grown up with. "Dream spirits?"
Dante considered. "More than spirits. They're the children of Nyx and Erebus."
I shuddered. I'd heard of them too. Nyx and Erebus. Night and Darkness. Primordial entities of chaos. They were powerful and dangerous. The world had been born of chaos, true, but it was also a fact - even science agreed - that the universe was always trying to move back toward chaos. Nyx and Erebus were destructive - so much so that they were now locked away, lest they tear the world apart. The possibility that their children could be sucking away my life made me feel sick again.
Dante was still turning this theory over in his head. "Yeah, that'd be the closest. But they still don't match one hundred percent."
"Nothing does," admitted Erik. "I've never heard of anything attacking a succubus."
"What do Oneroi do exactly?" I asked.
The two men exchanged glances, each waiting for the other to explain. Erik was the one who stepped up.
"They visit mortals in their dreams and feed off the emotions such dreams stir up. Victims of Oneroi wake up drained and sick." More irony. Legend said that succubi visited men in their dreams too and took their life.
"That's what's happening to me," I argued. "Why couldn't it be them?"
"It could be them," agreed Dante, "but like we said, the details don't fit. Oneroi can seize control and shape what you dream. But the dreams they stir up are usually nightmares. Fear and other dark emotions tend to be more intense - they offer more for the Oneroi to feed off of. Your dreams are short, and they're...fluffy."
"Well, I don't know. Not nightmares. They're intriguing to you. They bring out emotions - fascinated, happy emotions. They're giving you visceral reactions, I suppose, but not the type that the Oneroi usually go after."
"And," continued Erik, "there's also the fact that you aren't an ideal choice for them. You're inefficient. You're a conduit, a link to the mortal world and their energy. If Oneroi are stealing from you, they have to wait for you to get your power from someone else first. Far simpler for them to take directly from a human."