She was blond today, dressed in a plain blouse and pair of jeans. It was a sign of her agitation that she didn't widen her neckline when she saw Carter. "What - what's going on?" she stammered.
"What'd you do to Georgina?" asked Jerome.
Her eyes went wide. He might still wear the guise of John Cusack, but as he stared her down, it was easy to see that he truly was a demon of Hell.
"Nothing!" cried Simone. She cowered back into her chair. "I don't know what you're talking about!"
Jerome was up and out of his chair so fast, he might have teleported himself. He jerked Simone up as well and shoved her against a nearby wall, hand on her throat. I'd been in a similar position with him before and felt pity for the other succubus. No one else in the bar noticed, so Jerome was either glamoring them or making him and Simone invisible.
"Do not lie to me!" he exclaimed. "What have you done? Who did you get to do this?"
I could see his line of reasoning now. What Roman had sensed might not be demon or angel, but it wasn't impossible that someone from our side could have worked with an unknown entity. It wouldn't be the first time. Roman had caught on as well and leapt up to stand beside his father.
"I swear, if you've hurt her even a little, I will rip you apart!"
Simone's fear was put on pause as she gave Roman a puzzled look. With his signature hidden, he only came across as a human to her. As far as she was probably concerned, he had no involvement in any of this - and no ability to back up his threat. Little did she know.
She turned back to Jerome, cringing when she saw his face once more. "Nothing," she said, her voice hard to understand with Jerome choking off her air. "I didn't do anything to her, I swear it!"
"You were trying to get Seth into bed," said Roman.
"That's all! I didn't do anything to her. Anything." Simone's face turned pleading as she spoke to Jerome. "You have to know why I'm here. It's not to harm her."
Jerome's face was still filled with terrible fury, but there was also a flicker of consideration in his eyes. He said nothing, and it was Carter's voice that filled the tense silence.
"She's telling the truth," he said.
Jerome didn't break his hold on Simone, but that calculating look was still in his gaze. "Do you know anything about her disappearing? Anything at all?"
Jerome glanced back at Carter, who gave a swift nod. With a disappointed sigh, Jerome released her and stepped back.
Roman looked doubtful, but he too had to know that if Carter vouched for her, it was gospel, so to speak. Jerome returned to his chair, downing his drink in one gulp. Roman joined him a moment later, but Simone remained standing, watching the whole group uncertainly as she rubbed her bruised throat.
"I don't know what's going on, but if there's anything - "
"I'm done with you," said Jerome harshly. He waved his hand in a type of dismissal, and Simone vanished as quickly as she'd arrived.
"That was mean," noted Carter, idly stirring his bourbon.
"I sent her back to her hotel," said Jerome. "Not to a desert island."
Roman's anger had cooled a little, and he wore a calm, considering expression that looked remarkably like his father's. "What did she mean when she said you knew why she was here? Why was I following her?"
"I can't report this," said Jerome. He was speaking to Carter, like Roman wasn't even there. "Not yet...not unless I have to. We can't let any higher authorities know."
"And I can't do anything at all," mused Carter. "This is technically your problem." He took a long drink, as though that would fix everything.
"But you will," said Roman boldly. "You'll try to find her?"
"Of course," said Carter. One of his trademark cynical smiles lit his lips, replacing the grim expression from earlier. I suspected it was a cover-up for how he truly felt. "This place would be too boring without her."
For a heartbeat, I kind of liked this invisible watcher thing. Carter had no sense that I was there, and for the first time, I was able to truly study him without him looking back. He might have that annoying levity on now, but he'd already shown concern for my well-being. And I really couldn't believe it was simply because he found me entertaining. What was his game? Those gray eyes revealed nothing.
"Yes," said Jerome dryly. "Who knows how we'll get by without her maudlin misadventures."
Carter started to protest, but again, Roman came forward with an interruption. "Oh. That's the other thing, what we talked to Erik about." He gave them a brief recap of Erik's observations and how I was only visited when I was depressed. Roman also described each of the incidents in as much detail as possible.
Jerome and Carter exchanged looks. "With as down as she usually is, that's not much to go on," noted the demon. "But it might be worth a visit to the old man."
"Jerome," said Carter in a warning voice.
The two locked eyes again and had some sort of silent communication. When Jerome finally looked away, it was to casually pick up his latest drink. "Don't worry. I won't scare him. Much."
I wondered if he'd go to Erik right then, but I didn't get a chance to find out. The world dissolved once more, and I found myself back in my prison. Aside from being terribly uncomfortable, I also felt exhausted. Studying the smiling, shining Oneroi, I could guess what had happened. In feeding off my dream, they'd taken some of my energy with it.
"Dream..." I murmured, suddenly confused. I'd braced myself for some terrible outcome, but it hadn't happened. "That wasn't a dream. That was real. You showed me what was really happening. What my friends are doing."
"Some dreams are true, and some are lies," said Two. I really wanted to slap him. "That one was true."
A story came back to me, the faintest memory from my childhood. Christian priests had long had a foothold in Cyprus when I was born, but old stories and rites had lingered. What were considered myths today had been held as fact back then. One such story said that dreams were sent to humans from one of two gates: one of ivory and one of horn. Those from the ivory gate were false; those from the horn gate were true. I didn't know if that was just a metaphor, but the outcome apparently had some validity to it.
"But why?" I asked. "Why show me true dreams? You'd torture me a lot more with another stupid nightmare." That nightmare hadn't been stupid. It had been agonizing, but I didn't want them to know that. What was stupid was me suggesting how they should torment me.
"Because you don't know," said One. "Soon you won't know truth from lies. You assume everything that causes pain must be a lie. But you won't know. Soon you won't trust anything at all."
"I'll know," I said adamantly. "I can tell the difference."
"You believe what you just saw was true?" asked Two.
"Good," said One. "Then you've also learned another truth: it's impossible for anyone to find you. You'll stay here forever."
It occurred to me at some point that I wished the Oneroi would only send me false dreams. They hurt - no question - but there was a very, very small comfort afterward in knowing they hadn't really happened. Yet, my next few dreams were true ones, and I was forced to keep reliving the past.
One memory brought me back to fifteenth century Florence. At first, I felt a small blossoming of joy at repeating this. The Italian Renaissance had been a beautiful thing, and I'd been in awe watching the ingenuity of humans reawaken after the last few depressing centuries. Things were made that much more interesting because the Church was always pushing back against this artistic flourishing. That kind of conflict was what my kind thrived on.
Another succubus and I had shared a house, living luxuriously off of a textile business we ostensibly managed while our merchant uncle (an incubus who was never around) traveled. It was a good setup, and I - going by the name of Bianca - was the favorite child of our local demoness, Tavia, thanks to conquest after conquest.
It all started to go awry when I hired an eccentric and extremely good-looking painter named Niccolò to create a fresco for our home. He was flamboyant, funny, and intelligent - and had been attracted to me from the first day. Nonetheless, a sense of propriety and professional boundaries made him keep his distance. This was something I intended to change, and I frequently stayed with him while he worked on the wall, knowing it would only be a matter of time before he gave in to my charms.