Winter paced in front of the vacant study, staring at her phone in a haze, terrified to open the new message. She recalled the deal: “Once the crown is in our debt, I’ll let you into Velia. You have my word,” her father said. Not only did she resolve former Advisor Arthur Mandegar’s scandal, but King Barasa Crow died, paving a simpler way for House Velia to slither deep inside the crown.
“Ugh, here we go! Just open it.” Winter scanned through the long message, searching for her father’s autograph, the one with the dollar sign — “YES! AHHHHHHHHH!”
Winter screamed louder than a damsel chased by a chainsaw wielding villain. She dashed back to her room and went to her diary, neglecting her shadow orb inquiry.
This is so wonderful, Daddy came through. He got me in Velia Inc! And I did it at nineteen, way sooner than I expected. What do I wear? I feel like I need a whole new wardrobe now, but my job is a white-lab-coat type of serious. Ugh, I don’t look good in white, though. No… I’ll buy an inky-black lab coat. Shorter, sexier.
The pen slipped from her grasp. Winter closed the diary, too nervous to go on as she simmered in excitement for a moment more. Her first day was in a week—she hugged herself to settle down. Ethan would be so happy for me… she mused. Wait, Ethan! She put the earth refugee away when the Living Theater closed. I forgot about him, she groaned, ashamed with herself. Maybe he’ll forgive me… I hope.
Ethan Dust was dangerous, and Winter knew only a small portion of his power. But her father had seen more, much more.
“Things happened to Ethan in America, events we won’t talk about. He’s the youngest I’ve taken from that dead world and knows no one else, but you’re the same age as him. Maybe you two could be friends…” Mr. Velia said when he introduced them two years ago. It feels like it was yesterday. Maybe if Ethan didn’t smirk as much, things could work out between us. Not that his smirk is ugly. He’s so hot… and manly… she reflected. It was clear to Winter what Ethan craved; certain things she didn’t feel ready to leap into yet. We never even kissed… It was physically impossible since Ethan was human, and humans were much smaller than the masterful beings of Aeterna.
Regardless, they were close companions and Winter missed his laugh, his light cynicism and kindness he’d shown her. She wanted the joyful times they shared in the past when he’d rest on her satin pillows and watch movies together but end up talking through them, somehow relating different scenes to their own lives. She wanted to apologize for putting him away. She wanted him, now, more than ever. He was on her shelf where she left him, a porcelain doll locked within a colorful orb. She seized it, drops it… Nothing happened.
“ETHAN!” Winter screamed.
She ran to the last place she knew her father would be when he wasn’t in the study–his bedroom. When she reached his door, stuffy, sophisticated scents of sharp suit manliness, ego, and pricey cologne greeted her. All usual and forever scents, the smell of home.
She knocks. The intercom connected to the wall buzzed in reply, but there were no words. Winter waited. Mr. Velia’s bedroom was not the norm, more of a secret house within the mansion, so it was impossible to know when he was around at all.
“Hello?” Winter asked into the intercom.
“Yes?” Mr. Velia answered.
“Winter? Ah! Darling. Congrats! Your office won’t be far from mine!”
I forgot all about that… Winter heard the smile in his voice but couldn’t reciprocate. She peeled her glasses off, letting her sad, black tears flow. Her skin transformed to a dusty, olive-green hue as per usual when she got upset.
“Oh dear, did you not accept the offer?” Mr. Velia asked.
“Ethan’s gone!” Winter shrieked. “I threw my orb down and nothing happened! He didn’t come out!”
“Ethan?” Mr. Velia paused. “Oh, honey—”
“Can you come out here? I hate talking through this thing.”
“I’m on a date. I thought you’d be so pleased with my offer. What happened?”
“Date? With who?”
“Whom. Nunya. Is that what the humans used to say?” he chuckles. Mr. Velia adored humans and treated the ones he took from earth with nothing but kindness since the Great War. “You know these women and men are never long term. I like variety—my personal carousel of desire.”
Winter didn’t have a mother, but she knew women well, notably the types attracted to her striking father. They consistently made her feel like they could replace her every time someone new came along. Lucky for Winter, he wasn’t big on committed relationships. There were only two women Mr. Velia showed unadulterated love for: herself and Paige.
“Your date must not be exciting if you’re talking to me,” she paused. There’s a loud bang on his end. “What was that sound?” She waits. “Daddy?”
Is that her?
I’ve heard that voice… Winter thought. “Who is that?”
“Winter.” Mr. Velia sounded rushed and stern. “Let’s connect later.” The com cut off. Winter gasped; her father never hung up on her.
“Dangit,” she frowned, sulking back to her room, upset he didn’t help.
Where are you, Ethan?
Winter slipped into bed later in a silky black kimono, settling beneath matching black satin sheets. She looked at the ceiling fan, desperate for the spinning stripes to hypnotize her into a dream. She speculated about her path, living a long life, like her father.
I’d love to see everything. Everything existence offers. Even that barren earth, before it rots away, Ethan could show me around… And when my path here ends, I’ll rip apart the walls of space and step through, and it’ll be mine, that strange unknown. A blank space. The Canvas.
Feeling the triumph of her future successes, Winter shivered with a satisfying grin and closed her eyes.
Ethan Dust set a broken body onto a great strip of cool, black marble. He stood back, looking helplessly. Shit, he’s hurt bad… What is that… a bone? A large wing shaped black bone stuck out of the man’s chest. His knuckles dig into the marble from the injury and the stink of death permeated the air. His wounds are old… Masked in bruises, blood and dust, Ethan couldn’t make out who he was or what happened. He bit back tears through grunts and expletives, each one louder, miserable, and beast like. There were many questions, but Ethan remained mute, mindful of Mr. Velia and Paige Grapheme’s attentive eyes on him.
Paige jabs the man with a lilac-colored needle. He passed out immediately. Mr. Velia removed his glasses, investigating Ethan’s soul with his black eyes.
“I think you’d say you know something about me now,” Mr. Velia said. He looks at the injured man, and back to Ethan.
“I suppose. Whoever this is,” Ethan said.
“And I know something about you,” Mr. Velia smiles.
“Yeah, you do.”
“… And you wish to be with my daughter.”
“Whoa… Let’s hear what Winter wants first. She may not. She put me away, after all…”
“I know you do. I’ll allow it, if it happens, in exchange for your eternal silence regarding this matter. Let’s call it… Nothing at all. Besides, I gave you what you wanted with the procedure. Doesn’t it feel great to be like us? No longer human size? Who’d want to reverse that?”
Mr. Velia nods. “It’s refreshing to find another man with common sense.”
“So, where’s Winter? I thought I overheard her.”
“Dreaming of you. It’s late, she’ll be around tomorrow.”
Ethan nods, glancing around at the splendid surroundings. In the distance, a mangled speeder caught his attention: a one-of-a-kind black on black, fully loaded, fast as hell KAMIKAZE 88. There were only two known in existence. One belonged to former King Barasa Wolf. Ethan remembered reading about it in Emprise the day the crown donated it to Museum Aeterna, years after his death. The other belonged to…
“Wait. Is this?” Ethan murmured, astonished. He thought he knew nothing, now he wished he did.
“It is,” Mr. Velia began. “Apologies. I didn’t want to disclose identities beforehand. I prefer to keep things tight. Paige will treat him well,” he sighs, shaking his head. “His extraction from House Diamond went well. I don’t like when that happens.”
Oh shit. Ethan remembered Winter’s views on House Diamond: “They’re bad people. Killers. Daddy’s enemies. Don’t get me started on the daughter, Summer Diamond.”
“What?” Ethan asked. “This is crazy… I didn’t know you’re involved in… in whatever this is. I mean, you—you wake me up from my operation and order me to drag Prince Resolut in here from the trunk of your sports car? What the hell happened to him? He’s damn near dead!”
“There is no balance, without chaos.” Mr. Velia said.
It was tough for Ethan to digest his words. Chaos was a regular guest in his previous life on earth. Why would anybody want it? Ethan thought. He looked at the fallen prince. No balance without chaos…
“I got the wheel of Aeterna a while before your earth came into existence. Never mind asking about my origins; just realize that I’ll always have the wheel, even when a Diamond tries to steer…” he pauses, stern faced. “You know, I’m an exceptional partner to have, Ethan Dust. I ask for a favor, you ask for a favor. I watch your back, you watch mine. We’ll share epic tales over whiskey and cigars and see our world prosper. But cross me?” Mr. Velia chuckles. “You’re dust.”
Shadows tower over Ethan. Mysterious, invisible hands navigate his insides, binding his heart in a powerful grasp. His internal light fades as he takes his last breath…
“That’s for breaking the Boy Next Door’s leg at the Living Theater,” Mr. Velia paused, “welcome to the family.”
Mr. Velia dropped his grasp. Clutching his chest, Ethan crumbled to the floor. He vaguely remembered breaking the leg, but did recall Winter putting him aside after. It upset him the more he thought about it. Now he had to deal with her father’s madness.
He caught his breath, recovered, and got up. Mr. Velia had his odd, shifting color glasses on now, standing near Paige’s side.
“Come along Ethan, you don’t want to miss Paige’s work. She’s about to get started,” he smiled. “You know, I created Paige, just like you created your beast. Do you remember him? The one that started the Great War? I always knew that Lone Star state would be the first to lose their minds.”
Ethan cleared his throat. The past was difficult to swallow. “It’s been a while.”
“After Resolut’s coronation, let’s come up with designs for another beast. If you’re to live forever — like myself, you’ll want a faithful pet of your own. A trusted one, one that doesn’t run away. One that obeys.”
Ethan noticed Mr. Velia’s stern look at Paige when he said that familiar word: obey.
“You may begin, dear,” Mr. Velia instructed her.
Paige’s steady, skilled hands claimed the fragmented bone from Resolut’s gaping chest wound one by one. Some pieces came out clear as a toothpick plucked from a finished cake. Others didn’t, like the massive wing in his center, black bone, splattered with blue blood and shimmering gold flesh attached.
Welcome to the family… Ethan reflected.