“Alexander!” he repeats, rushing towards the green-eyed man. I expect the green-eyed man to back away, or run to retrieve his knife, or defend himself. Only drunks and monsters are out of this hour. Instead, the green-eyed man folds his arms across his chest, looking vaguely...guilty? “What have you done to yourself, Alexander?” The man begins to ease the green-eyed man’s jacket off to get a better look at the wound.
The green-eyed man. His name must be Alexander, if he responds to it. It suits him, I suppose.
“Leave me be, Xavier,” the green eyed man says. “I brought Tristesse here; go tend to her.”
Xavier. This in the man who was meant to be at the party, the man I was meant to recognise. I never imagined what he could look like, but if I had, I wouldn’t have thought he would look like this. He seems too old, too mature to be running around hunting monsters with the green-eyed man. Alexander, I remind myself. Alexander is the green-eyed man’s name.
“It’s nice to see you still have manners, even if you have no common sense,” Xavier tells Alexander. “You won’t bleed out, will you?”
Alexander pulls a face, and turns away.
“Tristesse,” Xavier says, coming over to me. “I am Xavier.”
He offers me his hand. I take it, unsure. Do I trust him? Alexander does, but I am not sure his opinion is anything to go by – I don’t trust Alexander himself.
Before I am forced to say something, to make up my mind about Alexander and Xavier, to choose whether to run or not, there are more footsteps. Xavier tenses up. He doesn’t pull a blade from his coat, like I half expect him to. Instead he just takes on a fighting stance and mutters something – a cuss, perhaps – under his breath.
A blond head is lit by the street lights. I glance at the green-eyed man; he has stopped cradling his shoulder, and looks ready to fight as well.
“Tess?” The owner of the blond hair calls out for me.
“Don’t,” Alexander tells me. “It could be a trick.”
I cannot help myself. “Damian!” I call out in answer. I run to the boy, take a second to confirm his features do match Damian’s, and throw my arms around him. He could be a monster. He could be a trick. Wouldn’t it be easy for a beast to change its features?
But this isn’t a ruse. He is Damian, my Damian. I just know, somehow.
“Damian,” I whisper. “Damian. They’re Nephilim. Alexander, the green-eyed one, he found me at the party. When I was in the gardens. You and Rebecca were dancing, and-”
“It’s alright, Tess,” he says. “I already know.”
“I told you to wait in the carriage!” Xavier says. “You-”
“I can take care of myself,” Damian interrupts. I let go of him, surprised by the ferocity of his voice. It is quiet, yet sharp.
He turns back to me. “Tess, you might have told me you saw him again. Why would you trust that man? Why would you agree to go looking for a beast? You could have been killed!”
Why is he so angry? I become defensive. “Why didn’t you tell me that the Nephilim were real?” I ask. “Maybe then I would have known better, Damian! I needed proof; I needed to see if what the man was saying was truth!”
I manage to hold my tongue before I divulge too much of what I’m thinking. I am trying not to hurt him, but he has hurt me. How could Damian not tell me what he knew? How could he keep the existence of the Nephilim from me?
“How did you find us?” I hear Alexander ask Xavier. I turn from Damian, and look over to them. Xavier has given Alexander a strip of material, and Alexander is trying to wrap it around his shoulder.
“Damian,” Xavier says. “He gave Tristesse a necklace with a simple tracking charm. When she left her apartment, he called on me.”
“A tracking charm?” I say to myself. Xavier manages to hear.
“Yes, a tracking charm. The caster can see your location, until the charm wears off. It would take days for the charm to fail, though,” he says.
I put a hand to my neck, and find a fine silver chain, with a blue stone dangling from it. The necklace I wore to the ball. I wear no other jewellery. This must be the necklace on which the charm was cast.
A charm. When I think of this, one thing comes to mind. The butterfly with silver wings, resting on top of Damian’s treasures.
You can’t keep a butterfly up your sleeve.
“You cast that charm,” I say to Damian without turning. When he doesn’t respond, I whip around to face him. “You did, did you not? You cast that charm to make sure I did not find trouble.”
“It was best you did not know,” he says. “I still had to keep you safe, even if I couldn’t tell you what was happening. Giving you that necklace meant that I could see if you were safe or not. When you started to walk around the other side of London, I knew that you were doing something questionable.”
Damian is able to use magic. The realisation leaves me numb. How could he hide that from me? Or perhaps he did not hide it. Perhaps he used only a little of it at a time, like creating the butterfly. Perhaps I am simply blind, or an idiot.
“I called on Xavier,” he says. “We came to rescue you.”
So he knew Xavier all along. I mentioned him to Damian, and he never said a word! He never said I was Nephilim, never said he knew Xavier, never said he could use magic!
“How do you know Xavier? And how I am meant to know him?” I ask Damian. He doesn’t give me a reply, which frustrates me. I want to twist his words, to make him sound bumbling or selfish or unattractive in some other nature. I want to yell at him, scream at him. Did he not trust me? Is that why he told me nothing?
Through some miracle, I hold my tongue. Before the pause becomes too long, I turn to Alexander. If Damian doesn’t give me answers, will Alexander? Perhaps he will stop feeding me riddles now that Xavier, who radiates authority, is here.
“You kept insisting that I was an acquaintance of Xavier’s,” I say to Alexander. “Yet I am certain I’ve never met him before this night.”
Alexander begins to give an answer, but Xavier interrupts. “We have met, though you were very young. I didn’t expect you to remember me completely, but I hoped that you’d have some sort of recollection of me.”
“Why did you not come to me, instead of sending Alexander, if I knew of you, and knew nothing of him?” I ask.
“Alexander insisted. He was eager to meet Nephilim who weren’t my age,” Xavier says. “I was out of London, in addition, so I had little choice.”
I would have preferred to meet Xavier, I decide. Alexander’s temper has in no way convinced me to trust him, or believe anything he has said.
Why did I follow him into the night, then? It makes almost no sense. I was not scared, or angry, simply tired.
This thought is shoved out of my mind by more pressing questions.
“Was there no one else to send? I shouldn’t think there could be so little Nephilim,” I say.
“They were – and still are – occupied,” Xavier says. “They comb the streets, looking for the beasts that plague us.”
“So yourself and Alexander...why are you not looking for beasts, too?” I ask.
“Alexander doesn’t have a group, or even a partner, to hunt with,” Xavier says. “And I...well, I am too aged, too feeble to fight.”
Alexander has his head ducked, I observe. What expression is he hiding?
He looks up. Discomfiture. He does a good job of concealing it, but I can still see it.
“Which is why,” Xavier continues, “I am so angry with Alexander. He is not to be out, trying to prove himself, risking not only his own life, but the life of Nephilim who haven’t sworn their oath yet.”
I shift, ill at ease, feeling as if I am being scolded myself. Xavier has just made it plain how at risk I was; had that monster bested Alexander, I would have had no chance of fending it off.
“There are many beasts in London, then,” I say. “Do they all take a human form?”
I realise that, impossibly, I am interested in beasts. They are real, or I am mad, but I have convinced myself to rule out the latter. And I am eager to learn more of them.
“Stop! Tristesse, why are you asking after beasts?” Damian says. Finally, he has decided to speak. “You need to know nothing of dark creatures!”
“Why not?” I ask. “I am Nephilim. I have every right to this information! I want to learn more, Damian!”
“You will only endanger yourself further!” Damian argues. “You will decide that you would like to try and hunt these beasts too!”
“Telling me nothing hardly keeps me from harm!” I yell. “If you had told me the truth, that magic and Nephilim and evil creatures and who-knows-what-else were real, perhaps I wouldn’t have followed Alexander into the night looking for proof!”
Damian wrinkles his nose, a sign of discontentment, but keeps his cruel words to himself. How, I am unsure. I am unable to hold mine in.
“Damian, we are meant to tell each other the truth!” I say. “I would have told you what I knew of Nephilim, were you in my position.”
Now I sound as if I am sulking. Pathetic.
“Tristesse,” Xavier says gently. “We should leave. I am sure you are cold, and tired, and wish to spend no more time in this alley. It has been a long night for you.”
I make an agreeing noise, while glaring at Damian. He looks at me with an equally furious expression.
“Come, now, Tristesse,” Xavier says. “Think about what we must look like, if nothing else. A young man and a young woman arguing over magic and the spawn of angels, another young man trying and failing to tie a strip of shirt material around his wounded shoulder, and an old man trying to reason with them all.”
I snort. How can I laugh at a time like this? Xavier is right, though. Damian and I are furious at each other, I am not longer sure what to think of Alexander – perhaps I view him as a bad-tempered, rash young man, who is akin to a petulant child – and Xavier really is like a grandfather, trying to sort everyone out.
I am offered a small smile by Xavier.
“Yes. A fire and a change of clothing...that would be nice,” I say, trying to put my anger aside, which is easy considering Xavier has done nothing to vex me.
“Excellent,” Xavier says. “Let us depart, then.”
He turns on heel, and walks out of the alley. Alexander, Damian and I follow. We are all careful to walk with a few yards between us.
I was half expecting Xavier’s carriage to be identical Damian’s; crafted out of dark wood with ornate carvings. It turns out that Xavier’s is of lighter wood, with old lace curtains and drawn by a pair of grey horses.
Damian climbs into the carriage first, and, in what I suppose is him making an attempt to act civil, turns to offer me his hand.
I do not take it.
No one makes conversation. It is impossible to, without Xavier, out peacemaker, to find an appropriate topic – he is steering the carriage. The only attempt at an exchange that is made ends in Alexander raising his voice, then moving to sit next to me rather than next to Damian.
Eventually, we come to a stone structure. It is large, with two floors and a large spread, but in no way approaches the size of Rebecca’s manor.
Xavier asks Alexander to put the carriage away, and leads Damian and myself inside. I notice that there is a warm orange glow in the windows; he must have left the lamps running.
The corridor is long, and decorated with all sorts of ornaments. The majority are pieces of pottery, statues. Delicate bits and pieces that seem out of place amongst the rich, dark colours of the rugs, the dark grain of the floor and walls.
“Welcome,” Xavier says. “The drawing room is to your left. I’m afraid you’ll have to entertain yourselves while I find something edible.”
“Is there anything I might help you with?” I ask. I don’t want to be left alone with Damian. I’ll yell at him, or burst into tears, or both. He’s the least person I want to be around.
“No,” Xavier says, making my stomach drop. “Thank you for the offer, Tristesse.”
He enters the room to our right, which looks like a kitchen, so I see no other choice but to go into the drawing room.
A wall of books is the first thing I see. They are red, green, black, teals...all sorts of hues. Some are new, some are old, and all of them provide a distraction. I walk over to the shelves in awe, and pull out a particularly thick book. With my back to Damian, I begin to read, only to find I cannot interpret any of the text.
It was Damian who taught me how to read. When I met him I couldn’t even recognize my own name, if it was written. He spent many afternoons schooling me, extending my vocabulary, improving my non-existent penmanship. How he was able to be so patient, I’ll never know.
This script isn’t the printing I am used to; it is handwritten, small yet ornate. It isn’t only the style of the script, though. The language isn’t one I understand, not even one I can try to put a name to.
If I wasn’t so angry at Damian, I’d ask him to read it to me. He can speak at least half a dozen languages.
But whether I want him to help me decode this book or not, he comes over to assist me. It is as if he has read my mind.
“Having trouble?” he asks in a perfectly polite tone. Still, it irritates me.
“I am fine, Damian,” I say, turning from him so he can’t see the book.
“No, let me,” he says. He takes the book from my hands, and mouths the words on the page. So he is able to read it.
“I said I didn’t require your assistance!” I say in a heated voice.
“Et lux in tenebris, die ac nocte, ius et iniuriam,” Damian says, ignoring me.
“Pardon?” I say.
“It’s badly written Latin. Nonsensical,” he says. I snatch the book back from him, and place it back on the shelf. A noise of protest rises from Damian’s throat.
“Tristesse!” he complains.
“Alexander is taking some time with putting the carriage away. Perhaps you should aid him,” I say, searching for another book. Damian fails to respond, and we slip into an uneasy silence. He is unsure of how to behave around me. He must be angry, fearful, and...lost. Is that why he wanted me to know nothing of the Nephilim? He could lose me, his closest friend, to the Nephilim. I think of how I would act, should I be in his position.
I would keep everything from him.
This doesn’t make me any less angry. Instead, I keep fuming.
“Here,” Xavier says, setting down a tray on the low table surrounded by couches in the corner. “Come and sit.”
He tends to the wood in the fireplace, trying to get a flame going. I sit on a chair shoved right up against the wall, and decide what I’d like to eat off the plate. There are small cakes, cookies, even tiny sandwiches cut into triangles. My appetite, impossibly enough, has decided to make an appearance, so I take a piece of everything.
Alexander has come back from the stables. He sits in the seat next to mine, and takes a biscuit.
None of us know quite what to say. We just eat, racking our brains for something, anything to end the silence.
“I take it I will not be sleeping in my apartment, tonight?” I state rather than ask.
“I am afraid not, Tristesse,” Xavier says. “It would be safest for you to stay with us tonight. Then in the morning, you may choose what course of action you will take.”
I can feel Damian’s cold stare, telling me that when I wake up, I am to leave and forget all of this. He wants me safe.
“You are welcome to stay, too, Damian” Xavier says.
Damian nods his thanks. I didn’t think he was going to leave. He’ll stay with me until he is certain that I have decided to go back to conning people, oblivious to the beasts that slink about London. Can I do that, though? From the sounds of it, the Nephilim are desperate. Alexander has done next to nothing to convince me to aid him, but still...
“I’ll show you to your room, if you wish,” Xavier says. I am not particularly tired, but I nod anyways. In fact, the thought of sleep scares me. What if the woman with the ember eyes comes? What if I should dream up other sorts of creatures?
Still, I think I need to be alone. To take everything in. To decide what I will do. To try and forgive Damian.