Fair warning: this is almost completely unedited, beyond a quick skim for typos (which I probably missed anyway). It’s going to be sloppy, and a little odd, and have strange word-usage. That’s okay. First drafts are what they are.
Also fair warning: it’s in the middle of a chapter, and during a POV switch. Fun times!
It should have been a quiet evening.
Cool weather painted the leaves, stirring them slightly in the kind of breeze that carries whispers and dreams. Empty streets gave the fallen fauna room to play, skittering across with every gust, speaking a secret leaf-language like dead laughter.
Nobody lived here now, of course. Nobody stayed long enough to clean the leaves, or the moss that clung to the sides of shadowed walls. A curious absence of electric lights or wires – of boxes that showed consumption of water, electricity, or gas – fooled the eye and shrank buildings, shortening roads that lacked the depth-perception trick of power lines.
It should have been quiet, but at the end of the road, the manor-house shrieked with sound.
Competing music – someone’s idea of patriotism and racial pride – banged against the ancient stone as if intending to break it down like Thor’s hammer. Brass, strings, eerie out-of-tune woodwinds chose their own pace, uncaring who danced (if anyone could), only trying by dint of numbers to overwhelm each other.
In all of that, it was no wonder that voices rose high, laughter only came when strident, and words cut like sharp blades through thick and bloody meat.
Notte sat some distance away, watching sadly as though seeing the accelerated end of a great empire. The man who sat with him was not a man in the human sense. Delicately pointed ears marked him as something different, even if his interesting features were almost close enough to fool the average homo sapiens. He wore his hair long, slightly feathered back because he knew it drew attention to his eyes (fashion be damned), and complimented his strong, slightly feminine, slightly cat-like features.
His eyes – grey, a notable and rich color, his most striking detail and the cause for his name – stayed on Notte in spite of the commotion at the end of the street. “That’s a little hard to believe.” He waved one hand. “All of this. What, you were born at the end of the last ice-age, or something?”
The ends of Notte’s lips turned, a bare smile that just passed being polite by the width of a whisker. “Perhaps I was. I will never know. I do not speak of being born – only of being made.”
“I mean, really.” Grey now felt the need to support his sudden denial, embarrassed by his own lingering and reasonable doubts. “Fifteen thousand years? Fifteen thousand? Half the gods aren’t that old!”
“Most of them are quite a bit older, actually,” Notte corrected, and brushed a stray piece of lint from his sleeve.
Grey sighed. “You know, some might say that this is not the time for reminiscence,” he hinted broadly, and unconsciously mimicked Notte’s motion of brushing at his sleeve. “There could be any manner of things going on down there, and we would never know, because we’re up here instead. Away from the palace,” he emphasized, just in case his displeasure wasn’t clear. “On a moldy roof. Watching people down there at the most important meeting of our time, and you’re telling me… this.”
Notte sighed. The wind stirred with him, a long and weary exhale, exposing the weight of age, denuding the physical and false impression that Notte was at all young. “I am sorry for my secrecy. These things, I share with no one. I do so now because you are as a son to me – and you are my friend.”
Grey’s eyes widened. He looked away quickly, a flush creeping up from his silk mandarin collar to color his pale cheeks. “Those words are… very dramatic to you,” he said.
Notte smiled again. “They are. Very… dramatic.”
“I know you don’t use them lightly,” Grey admitted.
“I do not.”
Grey leaned against the crumbling facade behind him, briefly forgetting the stain it had already left on his blue silk. Son usually only applied to those Notte had made like himself – adopted, mutated, protected. Over-protected, in fact, to the point of total possession – those with whom Notte shared blood belonged to him, whether they wanted to or not. If any of this crazy tale was true, that his first daughter’s loss explained it.
Grey could not share Notte’s blood. Those tastes were limited to humans, or at least people who’d once been humans. To be called son anyway was more than dramatic. It meant intimacy and respect.
Friend was entirely something else. There were perhaps four people at any given time on the face of the world who could claim that title from Notte, and in Grey’s lifetime, he’d known only two. Friend meant trust – something no one was good at in this broken, divided world. It meant no barriers.
That made the previous unknown nature of these facts uncomfortable, for either they were true – in which case, Grey felt like he barely knew Notte at all – or they were not, and Notte had gone mad. Notte had a sense of humor, but it never extended toward disinformation.
Laughter pierced the instrumental haze, loud, slightly drunk, and in a far deeper timbre than any human voice could reach. The buildings themselves seemed to shake, raining dust down on the street and its occupants.
Something with multiple legs landed in Grey’s hair, and he smacked it away with more agitation than he’d ever admit to displaying. Repulsive insects were the least of his anxiety; far from a child, far from ignorant, Grey could not identify nearly half of the things streaming down below, making their way into the manor house at the end of the road. They were beyond both his experience and his considerable education: bull-shaped things with forehead-wings instead of horns; smiling striped lion-beasts that pawed with the smooth silk grace of feline predators, and all had extra faces in the backs of their bodies; long white coral-creatures waving dozens of boneless, graceful tendrils above their inch-wide bodies. Those coral-creatures had no heads at all, or legs, or obvious means of locomotion. Yet move they did, at a pace to keep up with the marching tusked-pig-soldiers who marched beside them, wearing old dragon-bone armor.
“What on earth are those?” he murmured.
“Those are ancient dryads,” Notte said. “Far more ancient than I. Their trees grow in the center of the earth, in valleys so deep they have not been disturbed.”
That was possible. Many things in the world hid, or were hidden, from prying eyes.
It was unnerving to know so little, especially as one who normally knew so much. “The students would never let me hear the end of it,” Grey muttered. “Those brats I have to teach until my banishment is over. They’d never let it go if I admitted I didn’t know something.”
“Ah – your high-school deployment. Yes. It would do them good, perhaps, to see you demonstrate humility before them as an adult.”
“Deployment?” Grey snorted. “Humility? No. No, I won’t hear it. Let’s talk about irritable fey queens and their ludicrous punishments later. I’m ready to hear more of your strange story.”
Notte looked at him, really looked at him, making eye-contact with such sudden fervor that all the sound and all the world seemed to retreat like a departing train. “Remember with me.”
Grey could not look away, could not even blink. “What? What did you say?”
Notte gripped his arm. “I fear what is about to happen here. Remember with me, Grey. Remember for me. Please. I need… this.” He took a deep breath. “I need you.”
Everyone knew Notte – everyone who mattered. He could march before kings, queens, spirit lords and elementals without fear. “You’re coming to me for this? Whatever this is? You’re coming to me, instead of someone… important, instead of your actual fam….” Grey’s words faded.
“They do not have the memory you do,” Notte said patiently. “Everything I tell you, you will recall. Every word, every nuance of breath, every hint in my tone, I know you will recall. Please, Grey. Believe me or not, that is unimportant now – but hear me, and remember.” Notte released his arm.
Grey rubbed it, grimacing. Notte looked the younger of the two; his aging process had stopped around twenty, if looks were any proof, and his large green eyes bore a perpetual look of sensitive, sweet sadness that seemed only fitting to someone too young to know better.
Notte was not young. Nor was he weak. In this one moment of insanity, intensity, instability, he’d used more strength than he’d meant.
Or perhaps it was intended. Grey made a face – the bruise would heal in an hour, certainly, but it would be ugly until it did. “Yes. Of course, as if I would do anything else. You have my attention. All right?”
Notte dipped his head in subtle acknowledgment and gentle thanks, then turned back toward the street. “I did not know how to live without her.”
Perhaps he still didn’t. Grey clenched his teeth, keeping those words trapped on his tongue. Some things should never be spoken. “So what did you do?”
“I did not know how to live without her,” Notte repeated in a near whisper, his eyes half-closed, green irises peeking like shards of emerald. “So… I stopped.”