Grendt teetered on the stepladder getting a massive steel pot down from the top of the kitchen cupboards. It was bigger than necessary, but it was the best way to ensure that the blood wouldn’t spill from the container when stirring in the ingredients. Brona helped her by clearing the pans off the stove and wiping down the countertops. There was technically no need to add anything to the blood before having it drank since a Distorter only needed to drink the blood to gain the Projection, but blood tastes like coins, so most Distorters opted to making it into a soup to make it more bearable.
“You sure you want to do this now, Brona?” said Grendt. “We can wait you know. Like, maybe until Tadhg gets back?”
“Why should I wait? I for sure won’t be able to sleep now not knowing what kind of person my new battery drainer is.”
Grendt mouthed the word ‘thanks’ sarcastically to herself. Yielding to Brona’s whim, she went to the bookshelves and collected her notebooks. There were eighty-four of them. Grendt was a very efficient note-taker when she was alive. She even kept a notebook now, but she rarely wrote in it. “When Brian comes around, don’t tell him about these.” Grendt did her best to balance several books in her arms and Distorted the rest to follow her by flipping cover-over-backside to the basement. Brona nodded understandingly. Even the dead needed their privacy.
Back in the kitchen, Brona watched as Grendt reached for a flaky onion from under the sink. She chopped it into the oil coated pot and simmered it. She then poured in the water, a mushroom bouillon, and some jarred Bruise tomatoes from last year. She added bay leaves, bitter rosemary and salt, some sliced potatoes, and then emptied Brian’s entire Revenis vial into the pot. She left the soup to boil.
“Now what,” asked Brona.
“Now we wait unless you wanna eat a raw-ass soup. You wanna show me how your Dorin Distortion studies are going?” Brona hid her hands, not wanting to show Grendt her progress. She always laughed when something went wrong.
Since removing her notebooks, there was a sequence of books on the shelf that were no longer supported. The frontmost book gave way and fell to the floor. The book which fell was one that Brona was currently reading.
“Do you want to watch a chapter of Midnacht Dracon?” asked Brona excitedly. “I read chapter twelve so I should be able to see it on the Visual Box now.”
Grendt considered the option. “Well its been thousands of years since I read Midnacht Dracon, but let’s see what I can remember.” The two preoccupied themselves by watching a chapter of the book on the Visual Box. Perin appeared just as Brona imagined her, a face full of freckles, hooked nose that looked like a beak and untameable green hair. To Grendt, Perin just appeared as Brona, because she couldn’t remember jack-shit about how Perin was supposed to look, so inserting her daughter into the part of a strong heroine worked as a fine substitute. Near the ending of chapter twelve’s visual telling, the timer on the counter notified Brona and Grendt that the soup was ready.
Grendt very carefully emptied the contents of the pot into a large bowl on the kitchen table. Losing a few drops of blood wouldn’t negate the Blood Projection, but there was a certain threshold amount that had to be drank in order for it to work, and Grendt couldn’t quite remember the amount at the moment.
The soup smells good at the very least, thought Brona. As she reached for her first spoonful, Grendt stopped her hand.
“Maybe we should do this outside,” said Grendt with concern.
“It’s cold as tits outside,” said Brona. “Plus, why do you want me to eat the soup outside?”
Grendt clenched her jaw and it clicked. She turned towards the coats closet and grabbed Brona’s winter jacket. She helped Brona get dressed and ushered her outdoors. The crickets quieted as they walked to the stone fence.
Brona brought a spoonful of soup to her lips. It smelled like onions. Not metal. Brona willingly ate the soup, spoonful by spoonful, until it was mostly finished. She hadn’t realized how hungry she was running from the Giant until that moment. Grendt kept a vigilant stance. She stared up at the sky with a facial expression that registered to Brona as anger.
As Brona attempted to force another spoonful, the sound of something breaking in the kitchen alerted the girls’ attention.
“He’s inside,” said Grendt in relief, a plume of air leaving her lungs.
Brona suppressed the urge to heave-up the last spoonful of soup. “Can we go back inside now?”
Grendt dumped the rest of the contents of the soup onto the lawn and walked in hand with Brona back to the front door.
Brona opened the door. Her eyes immediately found a broken mixing bowl on the floor and the man standing on the kitchen counter who had pushed it. He looked no different than any other Sunnish man. A little podgier maybe.
“Apologies, I seem to have broken your bowl,” said Brian, looking somewhat apprehensive descending the counter. He eyed past Brona. “Where’s my boy, then?”
Brona was unsure how to answer, “Um—,”
“Brona, is actually your host, Brian,” said Grendt pushing Brona towards the kitchen. “Brona is only six years old, but she’s a very skilled Distorter for her age. My brother Tadhg found your Revenis vial. He gave it to Brona to further her studies.”
Brian had fading red hair, and a pair of half-moon glasses. The buttons around his stomach just barely held the two sides of his cardigan together. Since Distorters aged to a degree and then paused permanently, Brian’s age couldn’t be discerned, but he had lines on his forehead and around his mouth. His crooked teeth were on display as he smiled down at Brona. He kneeled and offered his hand.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, my dear,” said Brian, patting the top of Brona’s hand which was almost lost in the fattiness of his thick fingers. There seemed to be an apprehension to every movement Brian made, but Brona thought maybe it was because he was newly projected and hadn’t quite come to terms with it. Brona remembered how Grendt had gone through her uncle’s entire liquor bench the first week of her projection.
“You sound weird,” said Brona. “You’re speaking Language, but it doesn’t sound like Grendt and me.”
“Grendt and I,” corrected Grendt. “That’s called an accent, Brona. People all around the growing world speak Language but in their own way. To someone like Brian, you’re the one who sounds weird.”
“Oh. Sorry?” answered Brona, confused. Brian laughed up towards Grendt, his eyes crinkling at the edges.
“I am the one who should apologize this evening. I broke your bowl,” said Brian. He stood up and walked over to Grendt. The two exchanged a slow handshake. “Forgive me, you look very familiar.”
“Grendt of East House. I believe we met once when Freinmar visited your country. You were taller then,” chuckled Grendt.
“Yes!” exclaimed Brian. “You were the wily Distorter Frein had on retainer. Dazzlingly clever, you were. Ah— I’m sorry to hear of your passing.”
Grendt brought Brona towards her hip in a sideways hug. “Never been happier.” Brian gave a knowing look.
“Might I ask where I am? And for that matter, what is the title of the era?”
“You’re in Hell,” said Brona.
“Late Sun,” said Grendt. “And we’re in the era past Galladrad’s Veining.”
“Late Sun…” Brian chewed on the name, shaking his head. “Can’t say I’ve ever visited.”
“It was called Titan’s Table about twenty years ago.”
Brian’s breath paused, “Now that name, I know.”
“I thought you might,” said Grendt. “Care to sit, Brian?” The table dragged along the floor as Grendt Distorted it towards them to be closer to the door. Brona thought it was a weird waste of Ouroborics. Beneath the table, Grendt’s fingers pinched forward and started shaking back and forth in minute movements as though she was writing something in the air with an invisible pen.
Brian carefully pulled a chair from the table. He made strained sounds bending over to sit. “I have to say, having passed on, would’ve thought the joint pain would be alleviated.”
“The pain carries over,” said Grendt, but she remained standing. Brona followed Grendt’s lead and continued to stand but shifted to stand directly across from Brian. She noticed he curled his hands inwardly towards himself as if he was allergic to touching things.
“Are you hungry Brian?” asked Grendt.
“For the first time in my life, no. Can I eat?”
“You can find the desire, but you don’t have to anymore.”
Brona looked to Grendt, “Can I ask him a question?”
Brian smiled widely, “I am here to abet you, Brona.” ‘Abet’ was a word outside Brona’s vocabulary. She assumed it to mean teach? Either way, his intonation sounded like he welcomed her question.
“Why is your blood so special? My uncle lost a finger for it.”
Brian continued to smile, “Did he now. Which finger?”
Although Brian appeared mundane, there was a strange air about him and how he spoke. And it wasn’t just his accent. Brona was about to ask Brian the same question when her vision began to swirl. She tried to steady herself against Grendt’s legs, but her own legs gave out.
“Its probably a bit much for Brona to have both of us here right now,” said Grendt.
“I’ll make myself scarce,” replied Brian, and as he had offered, was disappeared in an instant. The house sat silent for a few moments. The crickets slowly began to chime again outside.
“Uppitty you go,” said Grendt, lifting Brona into her arms. “It might still be a while until you can have Brian around. He’s gonna be a bit more energy draining to have around than me.”
“I don’t think it’s possible to find a more difficult person than you,” mumbled Brona into Grendt’s shoulder. Grendt chuckled. She rested Brona down on the chesterfield with a ‘downstairs’ blanket. “He’s kind of scary though. Brian.”
“You think?” Grendt folded another smaller blanket and placed it under Brona’s head. “He’s very smart. He used to rule a country.”
“So, he’s in history books like you.”
“He was smarter than that, managed to keep himself and his world off the books. For the most part.”
It was hard for Brona to imagine the number of items a person in such a position would have to be aware of. Maybe that was why Brian was so apprehensive to move. His actions used to affect an entire nation.
As Brona felt a familiar dizziness returning, she turned to Grendt. “I don’t want to dream about the Giant again,” said Brona, the colours of the brown leather already flooding her subconscious.
“Don’t worry,” said Grendt, smoothing Brona’s hair, “Brian will protect you from the Giant.”