We’re back with a brand-new episode of our queer, Philly-based switchblade-and-sorcery web novel, The Dread Eclipse, with new updates published weekly on Thursdays!
In “Family Loyalty,” Ash decides to go undercover for Soren—and contemplates just how far he’s willing to go to be free of his father.
story by Mabel Harper & Emrys Webb
written by Emrys Webb
What constraints could hold you with such a mind?
The sun was long since below the skyline, the streets relatively quiet as Ash pulled his Benz into the parking garage at 205 Race Street. He found a spot near Soren’s penthouse elevator, turned off the engine. Sat staring blankly at the gray cinderblock wall in front of the car.
There was a strange deathly quiet in his head, a feeling of liminality, like the world as he recognized it had slipped away, and an unnavigable unknown now stretched out in front of him.
After staying away all night, he hadn’t gone home to Antioch today either, and Dad had made no attempt to contact him or interfere via Creuch. Barely a peep out of the imp all day; not even the habitual Burn, boy, burn. Just a quiet background gibbering to confirm it still had its Aethereal talons in Ash’s mind…nothing more.
It was unprecedented, and it made Ash jittery, in a way that wasn’t quite either anxious or hopeful, or maybe was both. He wasn’t ready to throw up an image in the void in front of him, of what life could look like if Dad stopped breathing down his neck…if all it took was a reminder that Scipio was nothing without Ash and his accomplishments, nothing without Ash and his potentials. If that was really, actually enough to get the old vulture to back the fuck down.
Because the slightest turn toward hope raised its shadow at his back—a deep-rooted conviction that, as soon as he started to trust this new horizon, the other shoe would drop, and Dad would deploy the killing blow, crushing Ash beyond imagining…even beyond repair.
Which, Ash considered with a dull, doomy feeling in his gut, might mean he’d more or less accomplished that already.
He stirred from his trance, thumbed off an I’m here text to Soren. Wilhelm soon appeared to escort him to the penthouse.
Soren was waiting outside the elevator to greet him. “Ashton, so wonderful to see you again.”
I just saw you twelve hours ago, Ash thought. But Soren had a way of saying things like that, which most people said out of social habit, with a sincere enthusiasm, which was something Ash couldn’t comprehend at all, and of which he was kind of in awe. “Soren,” he replied, with a slight tilt of his head.
“Your timing is excellent. Dinner is being served.”
Soren led the way to the dining room, where his inner circle and Caren were all seated in their same places from the night before last—which raised the ghost of a gruesome and pitiful scene, which Ash immediately put out of mind.
The servants brought out a round of appetizers—a simple salad of microgreens and seeds for Ash, duck liver pâté for everyone else. Ash was even more grateful than usual, at the moment, that the contents of his plate were the furthest thing possible from animal flesh.
“So, about this new job,” said Caren to Soren, in that blunt way of hers that used as few words as possible and made a question somehow also a statement. Ash couldn’t put a finger on it, but there was a weird energy between her and Nathaniel, almost like he was turned slightly toward her while she was turned away. Ash remembered them walking together in the hall by the drawing room last night and wondered what was going on between the two.
Soren spread pâté on a slice of baguette. “You’d be tasked with doing what you do best,” he said to Caren. “Catching a rat.”
Caren nodded, glopped pâté on her own bread. “Who’s the target?”
“Some associates brought it to Nathaniel’s attention that one of Adrian Megyesi’s top lieutenants has recently purchased a bespoke underground magic fighting arena that caters only to elite clientele. Reports have it he’s very hands-on with both administration of the business and entertainment of the guests.”
“So you want me to infiltrate the place and nab him.”
“Indeed. And discreetly. It would be best if there were no trace whatsoever of my involvement. Unfortunately, that means Nathaniel and Vernon will be unable to assist you on this one.”
“That’s fine,” said Caren through her mouthful. “Frankly, on a job like this, they’d both be liabilities.”
Nathaniel looked slightly downcast, poked his knife at his pâté.
Sicko Mode gave a high-pitched whine. “But Daddeee, I want to go a-hunting the tasty little rat.”
“Never fear, Vernon,” said Soren. “You’ll have the opportunity to do what you do best once Caren has delivered the target to us.”
Sicko Mode beamed, bounced in his chair, clapped his big puppy hands.
“What do you plan to do with him?” asked Ash.
Soren looked him in the eyes. Said gently: “Extract information.”
Ash glanced at Sicko Mode, who was shoveling big spoonfuls of duck liver pâté in his mouth, with fresh enthusiasm. “So…torture.”
“That’s correct,” said Soren.