Seed 1: Ravena
She usually did not come when called. Of course she knew this was dangerous. He could force her; He could just make her do it, just snap His fingers and control her.
Of course He never did, but that wasn’t the point. He could. That was all. So she didn’t always obey. It was better to dare Him. To challenge Him. But this time, this one rare time, she decided to heed His invitation.
She traveled half the planet’s distance and three different worlds, skipping through Zenith (and no one ever dreamed she’d hide there in the land of the Sun), through the Silver Dawning (stupid Fey never saw her coming), and through Umbra (the world of the Darkness was home) before coming to plain old human Earth.
Which was boring.
She took Seishirou with her just for funsies. He followed with his usual solid, loyal determination, with the low-key joy of a job well done. And he really had no idea that she knew all about him and Jonathan.
She didn’t care what was between them. What mattered was Seishirou hid it, and that meant it was valuable, and that meant it could be broken.
Someday she would do it. Someday, she’d call him on the fact that he’d cost her her seer, freeing Jonathan from her grasp. Someday, she’d press that tender place until he broke, but for now, it was enough to keep him near. He was beautiful; solid; honorable; and as a bonus, he squirmed like a rat whenever he encountered Jonathan.
The prognosticating little prick. Someday, she’d crush Jonathan’s head – but only when there was no more future to tell.
All of these thoughts were distractions. She focused: the enemy’s home lay ahead.
It was a quaint manor, sweet stucco and red clay. Round flower gardens pocked the circular drive, welcoming visitors to the also-quaint front door, which someone had painted Bilbo-Baggins green.
He pretended to be happy here, to love the family who loved Him as much as He claimed to love them. Maybe on some days it was true; Notte was good at fooling Himself.
She didn’t knock.
To her disappointment, the door wasn’t locked. She’d have liked an excuse to break the handle.
“Whoa!” Terrance, one of Notte’s strays, recoiled from her sudden appearance. “The… he invited you?”
Terrance never showed anyone respect.
She smiled like a knife. Beside her, Seishirou put his hand on his katana – a pointless affectation among their kind, but why not? It communicated.
“Right-o,” said Terrance, eying them as though they might try to spit on him at any moment. “I’ll just… shall I?” And he disappeared, going to dust and through the wall in a glorious display of cowardice.
“This is why I do what I do with you,” Ravena purred in old Japanese, and stroked his cheek. They both ignored his flinch. “You are stronger than His children, more noble than His children.”
“I know. And I am grateful,” Seishirou said.
“You’d better be,” she said, and stalked down the hall. It wasn’t time to break this toy yet.
No more of Notte’s delinquent children came to greet them.
The tea room (as He called it for some insane reason) sat waiting for them. The fire in the wall-sized hearth burned bright. Kabusecha brewed on the low table. And the room was empty but for Him.
Her father in the blood. Her creator. The only other Night Child old enough to remember when the world was young. He’d made her, and in doing so became thief of the freedom she’d traded her soul to gain.
There He sat, fingers gently steepled, His damnably green eyes unblinking and expectant. His suit was always blue, a color she hated on Him – it didn’t match his ochre skin and delicate green undertones. A hideous combination, but then, He’d never understood beauty or appreciated it. Not even when it lay itself in front of Him, ready to be taken.
“Welcome, Ravena,” He said, and rose, and bowed.
Respect meant nothing. Not after what He’d done. “This had best be not a waste of my time,” she said.
Seishirou stood bravely beside her, as if he had any power worth mentioning in this ancient company. His honor was cute, so she let him.
Ah, but He was speaking again. “It is not a waste of your time,” Notte said, nearly a whisper. “Jonathan has had a vision.” Notte came around the small mahogany table, pausing to take from it a long, folded canvas. “It is a matter of such import that I will, in time, show the world. However.” He paused. “You are my family, though we are ever at odds; and so, I will show you first. You have your own people to save, after all.”
Ravena sneered. Then the canvas unrolled, and she forgot everything else.
It showed the Earth – familiar doggerel edges, continents narrowing and widening like some alien female form. But it wasn’t… right.
The oceans and landmass were brown-black, lightless, without indication of habitation anywhere. There were no mountains, no valleys, no grand sweeps of water or sand. It was as if the planet had been killed with poison, then raked smooth. There was one color, though: red.
Cracks shown red and bright and sparking as if the heart of the world turned on a lathe. They left afterimages, jittering up the globe and threatening to split the globe into spinning chunks, lost in the void.
Silence in the tea-room. The fire in the hearth crackled.
She remembered to inhale, calm, self-controlling. “What is this?”
“What it appears,” said Notte.
She met His eyes. “Where is my child?”
“He was unwilling to meet with you.” That was apologetic, as if – as if! – He had tried to make things nice between Jonathan and herself.
She would believe that as soon as she believed in deities. She bared her teeth.
“He is not here,” Notte added so gently. “You know that. We have bigger things to discuss, do we not?”
“You actually believe this fantasy?” She gestured at the painting.
It was pettiness. They both knew Jonathan was never wrong.
“I do, and so do you. I propose, daughter, that we work together. I propose we act now to save our many children.”
He dared. “I am not your daughter!”
“Ravena.” And He probably didn’t mean to, didn’t intend to push His will with that one word, to force some calm or ease between them, but He did anyway, always just did it anyway, couldn’t help leaking power and being what He was any more than bones could help growing cold.
“We must save our children,” said Notte, each word a drumbeat. “I do not know how many humans can or will survive. There is bound to be high cost for them to move to other worlds. At the least, it will mean revelation; at the worst…”
“War.” She knew. “Extinction.” He wanted to save her. In spite of everything, He wanted to save her. Rage made her tongue taste sour and thick. “And when they go, our own will follow.”
“Yes.” He nodded, and closed His eyes. “I do not expect you to forgive me. I do not know how to earn it; but for the sake of those we love…” He opened his eyes again, and the pause was heavy. “Please.”
And in her mind, a plan burst through the soil of her thoughts like a weed.
It sprouted from roots unseen, roots grown over fifteen millennia. Burgeoned past flowering, spread seeds like dandelions and disease, and its leaves were poison.
This plan tasted of glory and death.
She smiled, and this was a real smile – calm, knowing, sure. “You are right. We must do what we can to save the ones we love.”
He raised an eyebrow. Seishirou glanced at her sidelong; she must have done a number with her tone, but she wouldn’t take it back.
“I am in contact with Mab,” said Notte, as if that were some casual thing. “Jaden is willing to see me, as well. I… am doing what I can.”
“Don’t want to try taking them to Ember, do you?” she mocked.
“Between extreme temperatures and extreme temperaments, I doubt they would survive,” He said with His usual pretty turn of phrase.
She bared her teeth again. “Fair enough. And the Fey are more likely to employ them than devour them.”
“Yes. Their tendency to… collect… may be to all our benefits. The humans will survive and eventually thrive, even if, for a time, they will simply be gathered.”
The thought-plant’s roots tangled below-ground, merging into one large and dominating mass.
She laughed. Sure. All was on track now, smooth as butter, lovely as blood sliding down goose-pebbled skin. This plan would work. It was foolproof – it was Him-proof. “Then we are done here. I will prepare my people. Don’t speak to me again. Send messages through our children.”
He looked hurt – a flash, there and gone – as if He’d actually hoped she’d stay and talk, as if He actually thought they could work to heal the rift between them just because of this crisis. “As you wish.” He held her gaze. “Ravena. If I knew how to earn your forgiveness, I would.”
An offer. He made those sometimes, and she always took Him up on them. She’d asked Him to suffer; she’d asked Him to die. She’d asked for many things, and He’d always given them to her (and wasn’t it a surprise when Death wouldn’t take Him? Oh yes, it was), but they were never enough.
Nothing could be enough. Not after what He’d taken from her. “Tell Jonathan I owe him a kiss,” she said, and blew one.
He took the imaginary affection with sorrowful aplomb, His poet’s face hiding His true heart.
She hated His face. Hated His curly hair and pretty, young eyes.
She spun on her heel and left.
Seishirou said nothing. Flanking, following, obedient and always loyal but for that one small thing. One small thing that had cost her the seer who’d painted that canvas.
If she’d still had Jonathan, she would have known this was coming. If she’d still had Jonathan, she would not have warned Notte, no matter what blood they shared.
That was all right. Notte’s weakness was wonderful fertilizer for the seed of this new plan.
This perfect plan.
This final plan.
“Seishirou,” she said, because the little things had to be taken care of first. “I meant to ask you the other day: what happened with Jonathan on the night I turned him?”
And she smiled.
“Are you prepared?” said Notte.
Terrance looked up. He’d posed in the doorway like Gene Kelly gone rogue, all knife-slim and limber as a whip. “Yeah.”
“Be certain. You will not have help.” Notte rose. The tea was cold, the delicate bone china almost translucent in his dark hands.
Terrance grinned. He always grinned. “Does a giant know how to pull his giant prick?”
“As always, my child, your euphemisms leave me both amused and disoriented.” Notte came around the table and put his hand on Terrance’s shoulder.
They were very different, these two.
Terrance – tall, gangly, red-haired and orange-freckled. Notte – shorter, darker skinned, beautiful in the way ancient forgotten things can be at the bottom of ocean trenches.
They shared blood. Literally, by choice. In this place, that made them family.
“Are you sure?” said Notte.
“Yeah.” A rare serious answer.
“I ask too much of you.”
“Naw.” Terrance drew the word out like taffy. “It’s the first real job you’ve given me in about a thousand years.”
“Surely not that long.” Notte walked past him, pausing to straighten a portrait that had gone awry when Ravena slammed the door.
“’Tis. Let’s see, first there was that pickpocketing thing.”
“That was when you were still human,” said Notte. The candles winked out as he passed them.
“Then there was that business with the horses,” said Terrance, counting on his fingers as he followed down the hall. “And the fire. And then those weird fairies.”
“Furies. They were Furies, caretakers of Death.”
“Whatever. They ate cotton candy and drank gin,” said Terrance.
“Cotton candy is not a thousand years old.” Notte paused, staring into the wide, blank eyes of a bust sitting on a table. It could have been anybody; art like this wasn’t specific, wasn’t personalized beyond gender. But he knew who it was. One tear – clear, in spite of diet – slid down his cheek.
“True, not a thousand,” said Terrance. “But that wasn’t really a job, either. More like babysitting.”
“Then perhaps you should revise your list,” said Notte, and resumed his slow walk, snuffing candles by his presence.
Terrance did not ask about the tear or the bust that caused it. He was used to Father’s drama. “The minotaur thing was the last proper job. And that was at least five centuries.”
“Still not quite a thousand.” Notte pushed a door open. His tear had dried, kissed away by wind from nowhere. “You make me doubt your figures.”
Terrance knew Notte’s humor well. He grinned. “Wouldn’t be doing my part if I didn’t make you doubt something, eh?”
“True enough.” The room suddenly exploded with light. Golden, harsh even to their eyes, it briefly blinded. When their vision cleared, the gold still shone.
It was like something in a cartoon. Piles of gold, mountains of silver, coins, jewelry, staves with numerous sacred and sacrilegious purposes, headdresses heavy enough to break the necks of those who wore them. In the distance – slightly shadowed – rose shapes and figures of creatures long past or long imagined, built to size and studded with diamonds, gold, ebony, jade.
“This is not new to you,” Notte said.
“Yeah, but it makes me remember why I went into gentleman-thievery in the first place,” said Terrance. He picked up a gold coin – so old its embossing had worn into a gently bumpy cloud – and ran his thumb across it. He shuddered. “Oh, that’s the good stuff, that is.”
“You may keep it.” Notte was looking for something. He peered, bent, touched and rejected items, studied shadows.
Terrance laughed. “Why? Without the taking, it’s dull. No thank you for your gift.” He tossed it back on the pile.
Notte shook his head, lips quirked, but continued looking. “A dangerous way to view life.”
“I don’t view life that way.” Sharp, bitten-off words. “I only view things that way. Never people.”
“I know, child,” Notte soothed, and suddenly darted at a pile like a cat. Then, something in hand, he stood still. Whatever that something was, it cast purple darkness around him like flickering shadow.
It engulfed, colored, stole light like the opposite of light, filling the air with an anti-halo the color of dreams underwater, and shadowed his features so that they seemed gone.
Terrance swallowed. “Da’?”
“I am here.” Notte sighed, pulled a handkerchief from his pocket, and wrapped the thing from sight. The purple-dark faded. “This is what you will take with you.”
“I get to know what the bloody hell it is I’m carrying?” Terrance blurted.
“You will know the moment you hold it in your hands.” Notte held it out.
This, thought Terrance, is one of those naffing trust falls. “Is it gonna eat me?”
“Have I ever allowed anything beyond myself to do so?” said Notte with nary a twinkle.
“Damn your deadpan,” said Terrance, and took it.
Flying, falling, rising, tumbling through purple clouds with stars whizzing past like feral firecrackers, shadows of things with too many limbs undulating at the speed of sunflowers, glimpses of eyes orange and black and blue and blazing, and trees (no, one tree, one great tree so great it could not be comprehended), hammers and horns and helmets with wings, and –
A throne room. A Throne, built from wood but not wood grown in this world, a piece of living Tree (that tree, that tree was too big) living in borrowed shape but only for a time, and upon it sat the ghost of someone terrible, someone beautiful, someone whose long, delicate ears warped with the weight of ghost-gold piercings. Her eyes shone with that purple-black anti-light and saw far, too far, into eternity.
Back in the treasure room. Terrance swayed.
Notte steadied him, hands on his shoulders. “Breathe, child.”
“Don’t need to sodding breathe,” Terrance muttered, and his knees buckled.
Notte went down with him, directing the fall, softening the landing.
Like he always does, Terrance thought, and for some reason was suddenly afraid.
“Can you do this for me?” said Notte quietly. “Is it too much?”
And Terrance hadn’t bothered to ask why Notte couldn’t do it himself, but now he knew, understood, that Notte should but would not, so why? “I can do it,” he said anyway. “I will do it. I owe you, Da’.”
“You do not owe me. If you do this, child, it will be because of willingness and love, and nothing more.”
Always softens the falls. Always take the blows and the arrows. So why this now? But Terrance could not verbalize any of that. To verbalize it might make it real, might make Notte say whatever reason he was handing off something he’d normally do himself as if he wasn’t going to be available to do it.
Nope, Terrance thought, pushing it all away the same as he had when nearly killing cattle he could not steal almost got him executed, the same as he had when Notte had crossed the ditch-and-fence boundary of the Pale to save his life. To change his life. To give him a new life entirely.
Always softens the blow….
“I’ve got this,” Terrance gasped.
Notte bit into his own wrist, then pressed that to Terrance’s lips.
He drank. The blood electrified, energized, filled, and he swallowed, eyes closed, twitches silenced and fear-whispers knocked unconscious. There was no blood like Notte’s blood. Anywhere.
“Better?” said Notte after the shakes had passed, after who knew how long.
“Better.” Terrance could sit up now, maybe even stand. He could also carry the thing, though he thought perhaps he might wrap it in something more substantial than a handkerchief. “So I just take this to her and then…?”
Fear tried to spike like a broken EKG. Nope. “How long?” Terrance whined. “I hate that place. Fey taste like flat fizzy.”
“Until someone comes for you. Possibly Roderick,” said Notte with that tiny, subtle smile.
“I think I’d rather die, thanks,” said Terrance mildly, and managed his own grin back. Notte’s blood pulsed through his veins like a whole new life, and everything was funny. Even Roderick, who didn’t know how to be funny at all.
Notte’s smile faded. “Be cautious and strong. Things move quickly, now.”
“Yes, Da’. I got it, Da’.” Terrance stood, danced a little jig to prove himself fine, and took a moment to empty a thick leather sack of its gold to put the thing into. “That’ll hold it.”
“For now. Now that it knows it must be used, it will wake, and grow stronger.”
Terrance stared at him. Then he laughed. “Well, I won’t be holding it by then, so who gives a duck?”
Notte smiled in return, but only briefly.
Terrance left quickly. It felt good to be needed. It felt better to have Notte’s blood in him, reviving, renewing, inflaming with white-hot fire that made colors brighter and air sweeter and skin more sensitive. He waved, a casual farewell, and did not look back because everything would be fine because it had to be. The thing in the bag pulsed, too, but for now, he could ignore it.
Notte’s blood kept him strong. Some things were better received than taken, after all.