Seed 1: Ravena
(Psst: be sure to read the short story Jonathan first!)
She usually did not come when called. Of course he could force her, make her, but he would not. The ties that bound them were already too fragile.
She stared down at the note, delivered by raven because its sender was a dramatic ninny, and debated whether to go.
Ravena, it began.
No “My dearest daughter”. No “My sharpened Knife”. No, just Ravena, without endearments, for the first time in thousands of years, and she could not decide if this omission made her happy or cut her a little more deeply.
I do not send this request out of mere whimsy, nor from the true, though repressed, desire to see you. I request your presence out of urgency, indeed and in truth an emergency which threatens both our families.
Not our family. Both our families, as though they no longer shared the same blood. Was this another blow, or was it acceding to her apparent desire for freedom? It was impossible to tell in the middle of his mawkishness.
Please come. I will be waiting.
Of course he would be waiting.
She turned her office chair and stared out the glass wall toward her Zen garden, lost in thought.
For three hundred years, they’d tiptoed around one another. Three hundred years of bare greetings, stiff nods, and occasional screaming fights—most notably over his theft of her property.
Though time lent her some perspective on what he’d done, she still could not forgive it. He didn’t expect her to.
To go or not to go? To risk the danger he spoke of—undoubtedly real—simply to make her point that he was being a fool?
Our families. In the end, it wasn’t really about him or her, was it? She’d tried to make that point to him, three centuries past, and he hadn’t understood. He thought they were their families, were salvation and survival.
If she chose to stay away because he’d hurt her, even with their children in danger, then she was no better than he. And he could have forced her—but he’d left the decision to her.
“Always, you place the hard thing in the hands of your Knife,” she said quietly, decision made. She would go.
But she would not go alone.
She did not truly need Seishirou’s aid, of course. Her own strength eclipsed any but Notte’s the whole planet over, but it was proper to travel with a servant when one went skipping across the parallel worlds of the Mythos.
Seishirou was her Sword—a step up from Knife, she felt—and officially her executioner. That she was taking him at her side communicated this was a business venture and nothing more. That she was taking him communicated something else, too: on this trip, she wanted Seishirou to realize that she knew he’d betrayed her.
He’d had time to come clean, more than he deserved, but he never had. And the night Notte stole from her, the night he took her property, Seishirou had been complicit through and through.
She knew. It was time he learned that—and it was always good to kill two birds with one stone, so along with, he came.
At the speed of high wind, they flitted like embers through the Sun-owned Zenith, rushed like streams through the Fey Silver Dawning, and lingered just a little in the cool darkness of Umbra before coming at last to boring old Earth.
The enemy’s home lay ahead.
Notte’s was a quaint manor, all sweet stucco and red clay, ornamented with round flower gardens and a circular drive welcoming visitors to the front door painted Bilbo-Baggins green.
To her disappointment, the door wasn’t locked. She’d have liked an excuse to break the handle.
The hall was occupied.
“Whoa!” Terrance, one of Notte’s strays, recoiling from her sudden entrance. “The … he invited you?”
The difference between Notte’s Knife and hers was stark: Terrance slouched, dressed casually and weirdly, and showed absolutely no one respect. Ah, but she had been Notte’s Knife first, and so she shared things with Terrance that no one else alive did.
It had the desired effect.
“Right-o,” said Terrance, eying her as though she were a cobra in full threat display. “I’ll just … shall I?” And he disappeared, going to dust and through the wall.
“Coward,” she said.
“See? This is why I discipline you the way I do,” Ravena purred in old Japanese, and stroked his cheek, though she had to reach nearly a foot up to do it. They both ignored his flinch. “You are stronger than His children, more noble than His children.”
“I know. And I am grateful,” Seishirou said.
And the last possible moment for his confession passed. “Are you?” she said, and stalked down the hall.
He hesitated before following now—the tiniest hesitation, undetectable to any who did not know him as well as she did, but it was there.
Notte’s home dozed, silent and dark. In lieu of windows were artwork and a thousand doors, the hall’s space made narrower by busts and other works of art on stands. Ravena did not hesitate; she knew where to go.
Notte’s presence, this close, could not be missed.
Notte waited in a sort of parlor—a long, high room with dark wainscoting and silk wallpaper. A hearth nearly the length of the wall burned bright with banked fire, lending warmth to Notte’s dark ochre skin.
He sat before a low table in one of three chairs, and the scent of Kabusecha tea wafted from the cups and teapot before him.
Ravena’s fingers itched to do him harm.
It would do no good. He was too strong to kill.
“Notte,” she said.
“My child,” he said.
And that almost ruined it.
How dare he? How dare? She met his gaze—a thing only a half-dozen alive could do and keep their minds—and gave him one chance to undo it. “Who?”
He closed his eyes and hung his head, a deep sigh painting him the colors of melancholy, as still and sad as a lone violin in a dark and empty place. “I am sorry. Welcome, Ravena.”
It would have to do. “You never change. I see you’re still wearing blue.”
“Yes.” His affection for deep blue velvet was hideous, and she’d never been able to break him of it.
“I see you brought your Sword,” said Notte.
“Yes,” she said, and that was all the pleasantries she could stand. “Please reassure me I did not waste my time here today.”
“You did not.” He rose. “Will you take tea with me?”
They had not parted well the last time they took tea. His final no to her request, three hundred years past, had been the last brick in the wall they’d built between them.
Notte simply nodded. “Jonathan has had a vision.”
Raven frowned. “What vision? Show me.”
He’d come prepared to do that, and walked around the small table to an easel she’d missed in the corner, hidden under a dark drop cloth.
Of course, dramatically, he paused before the reveal. “It is a matter of such import that I will, in time, show the world. However, 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 rolled her eyes. “Could we please get on with it?”
And then he did, and she forgot everything else.
The canvas beneath showed the earth as if from space—familiar doggerel edges, continents narrowing and widening like some alien female form. But it was broken.
Oceans and landmass alike were blackened, fried, as if killed with acid, then raked smooth. Through all the world, there were no lights, no sweeps of sand, no hints of water—but there were cracks.
Cracks that jittered through the planet as though caught in mid-explosion, cracks that gleamed a painful after-image red and sparked as if the heart of the world turned on a lathe, cracks that couldn’t, shouldn’t, move, for they were painted, and yet they did, cruel from the corner of vision, hinting at madness and doom.
Jonathan had definitely painted this.
Ravena inhaled slowly, though she could feel a terrible tremble in her hands. “What is this?” she whispered.
“What it appears to be,” said Notte softly. “Jonathan has told me: the end of the Earth is nigh, and there is nothing we can do to save her.”
Could this be it? The end to their struggle, the end to their interminable lives? “So we are nearly to the race’s end,” she said.
“Not quite,” said Notte. “I have spoken to Mab. She is willing to let us rehome there for a time.”
Ravena turned her gaze sharply to him. “Us? You dared speak on my behalf?”
“I spoke on mine.” Here came a hint of the authority, the millennia-old rule she knew too well. “Regardless of our conflict, you have come from my blood. Safety for me will mean safety for you, should you choose to take it.”
Rebellion clogged her throat. “I may not.”
“And you may do as you wish,” he said. “I have long given you your autonomy.”
A joke, as long as they both lived. They shared blood. They felt each other, could find each other, could haunt one another’s dreams. There was no autonomy here.
He continued. “More importantly than this, Mab has agreed to take a large number of the human population.”
And that was more important. “I see.” So their children would not starve. That was simple and crucial and good.
She let a moment pass, let the silence steep like tea. “When will you ever let us go?” she asked in the oldest tongue she knew.
She did not mean her children or his, and he knew it.
Notte closed his eyes, inclining his head once more. “I dare not. Especially not now, when all is in danger.”
She swallowed bitterness down, sour, and jumped to the next sore point. “I see what he painted, but I do not see him. Notte, where is my child?”
“I am sorry, Ravena,” said Notte. “He was unwilling to meet with you.”
Did Seishirou exhale, the slightest hint of relief after such long and perfect stillness?
“I don’t believe you,” she said, though she did, and anger made her hot.
“I do not lie to you.”
“He is mine.” This was an old wound.
“Ravena.” And Notte probably didn’t mean to, didn’t intend to push his will with that one word, to force calm or ease between them, but he did anyway, just did it anyway, couldn’t help leaking power and being what he was any more than dead bones could help growing cold. “We are not here to talk about Jonathan. We are here to talk about the survival of our family,” he said, each word a drumbeat. “We must plan. There is bound to be high cost for the humans to move to other worlds, and I do not mean merely whatever the Throne and Scepter will extract from us. At the least, this will mean revelation; at the worst … ”
Damn him, damn him and everything to do with him, including herself. “I know,” she said. “War. Extinction. All we fear could come about. This will upset the balance between all the worlds, and those who fear us may strike.”
“I know you do not care to work with me,” he said softly. “But please. For the sake of our family, please.”
A strange thought reached her then: if Jonathan had still been hers still, and he had painted this for her, she would not have shared it with Notte.
She needed his death, as the world needed sunset, and this was a chance to end his long life—too-long, gone beyond its expiration date. Yet here he was, warning her. In spite of everything, he wanted to save her.
What words for the flood in her soul now—sour rage, hateful gratitude, bitter love? Her emotions and his were too old to untangle, too frayed to insulate. She loved him. She needed him dead. He needed to be dead, but he would not listen to her, could not hear.
Notte kept pushing. “For the sake of those we love … Ravena. Please.”
For the sake of those we love.
Ravena went very still.
A plan bloomed in her mind, sprung from unseen roots fifteen thousand years old, instantly burgeoned to spread its seeds like poison.
She knew. She knew how to end it.
“Yes,” she said, and smiled. “You’re right. We choose to do all for the sake of those we love.”
Notte raised an eyebrow. Seishirou glanced at her sidelong; her tone must have told its own tale, but she was beyond retraction now.
She changed the subject. “At least the Fey are more likely to employ the humans than devour them,” she said. “Kannon would slurp them like soup.”
“Yes. The Fey tendency to collect may be to all our benefit. The humans will survive and eventually thrive, even if, for a time, they will simply be gathered.”
She barely heard. The glimpse of victory beyond his power almost made her giddy. “Then we are done here,” she said brightly. “I will prepare my people. Oh and Notte, 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.”
“No, you wouldn’t.” She turned, then paused. “One more thing: tell Jonathan ,” she said for Seishirou’s sake more than Notte’s, and left.
Silently bleeding like the sap he was, Notte let her go.
Silently obedient like the coward he was, Seishirou followed her, always loyal but for that one small day that had cost her the seer who’d painted that canvas.
Her timing had been very good. After that conversation, Ravena had some tension to work out. “Seishirou,” she said as they left Notte’s manor. “I think it is time we talked about the night Jonathan nearly died.”
He knew she knew now. His fear was old, surprising, rank.
Seed 2: Terrance
The echoes of her exit faded, and left alone in a room designed for friends gathering, Notte released a sigh so long and so slow it carried ache like a groan. The meeting had gone about as he’d expected. This did not make him happy.
At last, he spoke without looking up. “Are you ready?”
Terrance had taken the shadows’ place. He leaned in the doorway, casual as Gene Kelly and narrow as a blade’s edge. “Been ready since this morning.”
“I had not expected her to come so soon.” Notte stood, laying the bone china cup down.
“She is a sort of natural disaster, eh?” suggested Terrance. “Strikes fast, makes a mess, and then heads down the coast to get your neighbors?”
Notte managed a weak smile. “Can any of us not say the same? Are you certain you wish to undertake this mission, my child? It will be difficult. Once you are in Jaden’s demesne, you will have no help.”
Clearly, they were not talking about Ravena anymore. Terrance made a dismissive sound entirely made of consonants. “Does a giant know how to pull his giant prick?”
“As always, my child, your euphemisms leave me both amused and disoriented,” said Notte with no small warmth. He came around the table and put his hand on Terrance’s shoulder. “You will be challenged.”
Terrance laughed. “About time. It’s the first real job you’ve given me in about a hundred years.”
“A hundred years? Surely not that long.” Notte walked past him, pausing to straighten a portrait that had gone awry when Ravena slammed the door.
Terrance followed, hands in his pockets, too lanky and snake-graceful to seem safe. “’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 hardly a challenge.” Notte paused, staring into the wind, blank eyes of a bust sitting on a table. It could have been anybody; age and style rendered it unspecific, impersonal beyond gender. Whoever it was, it grieved Notte. One clear, perfect tear slid down his cheek.
“Maybe not,” said Terrance, who was too used to Father’s high drama to be concerned. “But that wasn’t really a job, Da’. More like babysitting.”
“No work I ask of you is pointless,” said Notte, and resumed his slow walk.
“Eh, I know, but it wasn’t a challenge. The minotaur thing was the last proper job, and that was at least fifty years ago.”
“Still not quite a hundred.” Wind from nowhere kissed his tear dry. “You make me doubt your figures.”
Terrance laughed. “Wouldn’t be doing my part if I didn’t make you doubt something, eh?”
“Indeed.” Notte opened a door, and harsh light suddenly blazed, near-blinding.
The treasure room was always absurd. Piles of coins, mountains of silver, crates of jewelry, staves with sacred and sacrilegious pasts, headdresses heavy enough to break the necks of those who wore them—it all seemed like a cartoon, too extravagant to be real, but it was. Down to the last penny and ruby, it was. In the distance, slightly shadowed, rose shapes and figures of creatures long dead or long imagined, built to size and studded with diamonds, gold, ebony, jade.
Notte raised one eyebrow. “This place is hardly new to you. I seem to recall your vehemence when Roderick suggested it be organized.”
“Yeah, it makes a kick of an impact like this,” said Terrance. “Reminds me why I went into gentleman-thievery in the first place.” 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.”
Terrance laughed. “It’s freely given, Da’. What’s the fun in that?”
“All I have is freely given to those who are mine.” Notte was looking for something, peering into shadow, picking up and replacing items.
“Yeah, yeah.” Terrance tossed the coin back onto the pile. “If I didn’t have to be clever to get it, it ain’t fun.”
Notte smiled just a little. “Giving and receiving carry their own reward. Yours is a dangerous way to view life.” He was looking for something, and peered, bent, touched and rejected items, studied shadows.
“I don’t view life that way.” Terrance’s smile briefly faded. “I only view things that way. Never people.”
“I know, child,” Notte soothed, and suddenly darted like a cat. When he stood, a whole new world rose with him.
Whatever was in his hands cast purple, flickering darkness instead of light, and it engulfed him, stole his softness, wrapped him in an anti-halo that somehow revealed the dark and raw hunger beneath his human façade.
This, too, was not new, but Terrance had been prey once, and deep in his soul, could never shake it. He swallowed. “Da’?”
“I am here.” Notte pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and wrapped the thing from sight. The purple-dark faded, and he was simply himself again, more suited to a Delacroix painting than a veritable dragon’s hoard. “This is what you will take with you.”
Terrance eyed it, still unnerved. “Do I get to know what the bloody hell it is I’m carrying?”
“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.
Well, then. “Damn your deadpan,” said Terrance, and took it.
He was flying, falling, rising, tumbling through purple clouds, whizzing past stars like feral fireworks, sweeping through shadows of things with too many limbs that moved at the speed of sunflowers, glimpsing eyes orange and black and blue and blazing, and trees (no, just one tree, one great tree so big it could not be comprehended), hammers and horns and helmets and wings and —
To a throne room, to the Throne, the Unseelie power built from wood not of this world in borrowed shape ephemeral, and upon it the ghost of 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, took a step, staggered. This thing was what dreams said stars were made of, was somehow the soul of space, was somehow both the core of and the opposite of anything real. “Piece of Purgatory?” he guessed, rasping.
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, staring across a spill of gold coins at his maker, and for some reason was afraid.
“Can you do this for me?” said Notte quietly, draped on the piles of coins beside him and so close their noises nearly touched. “Is it too much?”
It was too much. It was clearly a thing Notte would normally do himself.
Maybe he would not be available to do the thing.
Nope, Terrance thought, pushing that thought away, burying it an unmarked grave. “I can do it,” he vowed. “I will do it. I owe you, Da’.”
“You do not owe me. If you do this, it will be because of willingness and love, and you will lose neither if you decline.”
Of what other motive would this come? It had always been love, from the moment Notte followed him to the prison he’d earned by killing cows and spiting the English, from the moment Notte offered him a new and powerful life and Terrance realized Notte was the best thing this filthy world had ever produced.
“I got this,” Terrance gasped, and shuddered.
“Let me help you,” Notte whispered, tilted his head back, and pulled Terrance close.
To bite was natural as breathing, and Terrance had been invited.
Cradled, clutching, Terrance drank. Notte’s blood electrified, energized, filled him with bright buzzing power and drowned all his fears until they were gone. He could feel inside his maker, feel every pulse of emotion and passion and peace and joy, and lightning-power surged through Terrance until he clutched hard enough to bruise.
“Better?” said Notte after who knew how long because time had ceased to matter.
“’Better’ is a bit of an understatement.” Terrance could sit up now, carry the thing, jump to the moon if needed, though he thought he might wrap said thing in something more substantial than a handkerchief. “So I just take this to Jaden? Then what?”
“Then remain. If all goes well, he will accept it, unlike his forebears.”
Notte wouldn’t be there to make it happen. Again, fear tried to spike like a broken EKG. Nope. “How long?” Terrance said, turning it into a whine. “I hate that place. Fey blood tastes like flat fizzy.”
“Until someone comes for you. Possibly Roderick,” Notte teased.
“Ha-ha, that’d go over well,” said Terrance, who got along with Roderick as well as cats and dogs. Roderick wouldn’t know funny if it bit him in the dick.
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 gold to put the thing into.
Notte watched him, silent, seated on careless gold and intent on his child.
Terrance wanted to whistle. “That’ll hold it,” he said, lofting the horrible sentient space wood.
“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 that’s somebody else’s problem.”
“True, and ever practical.” Notte’s smile rose as he did, then vanished again, too weighed down with reality to remain. He touched Terrance’s cheek. “I am proud of you. Thank you for.”
And Terrance lingered a moment just for that, to take it in, to wear that warmth and trust like armor. Then he waved, a casual farewell because this would absolutely not be goodbye, and did not look back because everything would be fine.
It had to.
Terrance gave in to the urge to whistle, a cheerful lilting tune about sunlight and sweet grass and kissing that hadn’t been heard in four centuries. The thing in the bag pulsed, but with Notte’s blood in him, he could ignore it.
Everything would be fine.
There was no other choice.
● Extras ●
This short story is part of a much bigger universe, and on the off-chance you’re picking it up without context, allow me to give you a few tidbits so you can just sit back, read, and enjoy.
To Read Before: the free short story Jonathan.
World: this is the world of the Mythos, an alternate history of Earth with pocket dimensions and magical shenanigans. While all manner of beings populate it, this story deals primarily with Night Children, otherwise called vampires. Night Children are humans who have been transformed into powerful beings by an exchange of blood.
Knife: a specialized assassin, dedicated to the welfare and safety of the one who holds their oath.
Notte: the first and most powerful of all Night Children, Notte is the “Father” of them all, and he takes that very seriously. Every decision he makes is to ensure his family’s safety and happiness—including strict control to help them keep their bloodlust under wraps. Not everyone appreciates that.
Ravena: his oldest “child,” she broke away from Notte three hundred years ago to form her own family of vampires. She believes that both she and Notte have outlived their time, and that he especially needs to die—but Notte believes that if he dies, so will his children, so he won’t take the risk. His death is the only thing he’s never been willing to give her. Because she was once his Knife, she feels possessive of and bound to him, and refuses to die herself until she can ensure he does, too.
Terrance: Notte’s current Knife, Terrance does the messy work—hunting rogue vampires, removing threats to the family—and he does it with gusto. Once a thief and murderer in 12th century Ireland, he loves being Notte’s Knife as much as he loves being Notte’s, and there’s nothing he’s not willing to do. He might be a little bit of a psychopath, but at least he has a healthy outlet.
Jonathan: he doesn’t appear in this story, but he does play a big part. He’s an impossibility: a magic-user who became a vampire, which simply doesn’t happen. His particular skill is telling the future by painting it, and he’s never wrong. He was Ravena’s, once upon a time, but Ravena doesn’t take well to rebellion, and she tortured him for years. Notte finally took Jonathan away from her because in her anger she was going to kill him.
Seishirou: Ravena’s “Sword”—which is her version of Knife—he was an honorable Samurai centuries before when Ravena took him. He’s been unerringly faithful to her with one single exception: in the story Jonathan, he helped Jonathan escape Ravena and go to Notte, a transition Ravena considers theft. Seishirou had good reason for it, but she doesn’t respond well to betrayal, so he’s been doing all he could to hide his involvement. Unfortunately for him, she already knows.