How many places were there in Albany that offered a cup of tea and a pleasant place to read? How many could there be? Nytep had spent the past couple of months investigating both online and on foot, and he’d been lucky enough to find his target in, of course, the last place he’d expected. But she must have patterns he could anticipate, other places where he might look for her. On this day, he was investigating small, local cafés, rather than chain coffee shops. It was around 2 pm, and he’d been to three places thus far. The fourth was on the small side compared to the others, a little place downtown called Organic Chemistry. A clever title, he thought, and even if July didn’t know the café already, he felt they should meet there at some point purely so that he could play off the name.
He was less expecting to see her in person at any of these places and more hoping to find somewhere it seemed like she might frequent. With each one he entered, he called to mind every fact he knew about her, all the observations he’d made thus far. Armed with that knowledge, he was prepared to analyze everything from the menu to the atmosphere to the patronage to ascertain exactly where he should be looking for her.
And then she ruined it by simply being there. All his deduction, all his careful reasoning, negated and proven utterly unnecessary by her mere presence. Irritating. How dare she make this easier for him? He couldn’t allow that offense to go unanswered—and, conveniently, he knew exactly how to punish her for it. He wandered casually across the room to where she was sitting with her nose (unsurprisingly) stuck in a thick book. Perhaps as a defense mechanism, she had chosen a table with only one chair, but he had no qualms about taking one from another table to sit across from her.
“We really should stop meeting like this,” he teased. If he’d surprised her, she didn’t show it.
“How is it you keep finding me? Do you have a sixth sense that seeks out the one person in town who doesn’t want to see you?”
“I can honestly say that this was an accident.” Partially. “May I ask what you’re reading today?” She raised her book so that he could read the cover. The Complete Works of H.P. Lovecraft. “Aha, how unexpected. Are you studying me, Miss Morgan? You know I’d be happy to answer whatever questions you might have.”
“I’m sure.” Her eyes stayed trained on the page. “And you’d present yourself as favorably as possible.”
“Naturally. I wouldn’t want to show you less than my best,” he said with a grin. “But is that so wrong?”
“If your worst is as bad as I’ve been led to believe, it doesn’t matter what else you have to offer.”
“Surely you don’t believe everything you read.” And if she thought those stories were anywhere near his ‘worst,’ that was further proof of how little she knew about him.
“Right, your account must be much more trustworthy. I prefer to err on the side of caution.”
“So I’ve noticed.” Lounging in his seat, he went on nonchalantly, “Unfortunately, Lovecraft’s work will only tell you so much. He didn’t know me very well.”
“Oh no? Didn’t he create you?” she asked. Nytep didn’t respond right away. When he did, the outrage in his voice was almost tangible.
“Excuse me?” he hissed, sitting up straight again.
“I’ve read my fair share of fiction, Mr. Black,” she explained. “That is generally how it works. An author generates an idea and gives it life through his or her writing. Or am I mistaken?” Still, she didn’t look up at him. Despite his desire to win her interest, his pride refused to let this go unchallenged.
“Where you’re mistaken,” he said coolly, “is to think that a concept as intricate as I am could be ‘generated’ by any human.” It wasn’t the first time he’d been presented with this idea, but it never failed to incense him regardless.
“Which concept is that? Deceit? Madness? Chaos?” she asked, listing each of the main elements Lovecraft had attributed to him. “Humanity has those more or less mastered.”
He let out a cold, abrupt laugh. “Mastered. How ridiculous. If that’s what you think of Chaos, you’re less perceptive than I gave you credit for.”
This time, she looked up, irked by the jab. “Is that so?”
“It may very well be. It’s disappointing to hear such a misguided view from someone who’s known more gods than most and should know not to discount our complexity,” he said, leaning forward to rest his elbow on the table and his chin in his hand. “Do you believe, then, that the Greeks were the ones to create Desavi? Because they were the first ones to record her?”
“Those records are historical accounts,” July pointed out, closing her book to fold her hands on top of it, “not commercial fiction.”
“There’s a very fine line between the two. So my records appeared later than hers. She’s factually been with this planet longer than I have. That doesn’t make her more ‘real’ than I am. If you were to ask her, which I’m sure you won’t, she would attest my significance herself.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure. When we talked about you before, she didn’t seem that concerned with your presence.”
Nytep’s eyes narrowed, and he smiled smugly. “Liar,” he said, relishing the confusion on her face. “Even if I didn’t already know she considers me a threat—and I do—I can recognize a lie when I hear it.”
“But with logic or magic?” July asked. “One is significantly less impressive than the other.”
“I’m confused; do you simply not want to believe that I’m a god? Would you find me easier to get along with if I weren’t?”
“I doubt it. You’d probably still be every bit as arrogant.”
“Oh, I don’t know. I like to think my arrogance stems at least partially from my godly perfection,” he mused, and she pursed her lips to avoid smiling.
“It’s a moot point. Besides, you’re implying that I want to get along with you.”
“Certainly you’ve made it clear that’s not the case,” he said, tilting his head to one side, “which is why we’re still talking.”
“What should I do instead? Get up and leave? Allow you to disrupt my life and keep me from going where I want? I don’t think so.”
“Maybe not, but you could ignore me,” he pointed out. “In theory. You’ve tried before, but it never seems to last for long. Why is that, I wonder?”
July sighed heavily, but there was no sign of the guarded discomfort she’d displayed on their first meeting. “Because you keep talking regardless of whether I answer, and I’m hoping that I’ll eventually say the right thing to make you stop.”
“Again, I don’t believe you, and while I may not be the best person to ask for the truth, I do have a theory.” Knowing she wouldn’t ask him to elaborate, he did so unprompted. “My thought is that you find our exchanges entertaining. As much as my presence may annoy you, it also presents an interesting challenge. Am I right?”
“I don’t think there’s any point in arguing with you,” she said with a shrug. “You’ll draw your own conclusions regardless. Is all of this true?” She held up her book to indicate ‘all of this.’ Though he was tempted to tease her over her deflection, he much preferred inquiry to irritation.
“Most of it isn’t. Lovecraft’s stories about mortals interacting with the Old Ones are certainly just stories. Luckily for you, I’m the only one of us with any interest in Earth.”
“Luckily,” July agreed with a roll of her eyes.
“That said,” he went on, ignoring her interjection, “most of his other information about us came directly from yours truly, so it’s about as reliable as I am.”
“So, not very?” There was a half-smile playing about her lips as she teased him. If nothing else, she must be enjoying that aspect of the conversation.
“Well, you tell me,” he countered, gesturing to her book. “Do I seem the way he’s described me?”
“He’s described you as a liar, one who might present himself in any number of ways,” July pointed out, “which matches the description of you that Valen gave me.”
Again, he waved a hand to dismiss her point. “Desavi’s description is biased because she’s terrified of disorder. Lovecraft’s is biased for a much more human reason. You may not know much about him as a person, but he was hardly objective in his observations.” That was putting it mildly. The man was a well-known racist and anti-Semite, and his work reflected that.
July must have known this too, as she frowned and reasoned, “You’re saying he portrayed you the way he did because of your looks?” She was now more closely observing his features, so he tilted his head to give her his best angle. Not that he had any bad ones.
Everything about him—the obsidian shine of his long hair, the sharp angles of his cheekbones, his hawkish nose and upturned eyes—very eloquently said, ‘Ancient Egyptian Royalty.’ That was a conscious design choice on his part, one of many things he’d kept from his first home on Earth. And judging by the way July was, indeed, studying him, she found it as visually interesting as intended.
“Not entirely because of that. He knew what I am. Rather like you do, in fact—though it didn’t keep him from wanting to learn about me.”
“I didn’t think immortals dealt with that kind of discrimination,” she said distractedly.
“We don’t,” he answered slowly, “in general. It may be more accurate to say that gods don’t. Our natures tend to affect how we’re viewed before our physical features.” After several seconds of awaiting an answer, watching her brow furrow in concentration, he began to wonder if bringing up the subject had been a mistake.
“Is it possible Lovecraft might’ve been a Seer?” she asked finally.
Nytep went blank-faced for a moment. “I…suppose it is. I hadn’t considered it. He certainly never said so. Would that have made him immune to my influence?”
“Even if not immune, it could’ve made him more resilient,” she agreed. “That’s how I understand it, at least.”
Leaning forward against the table, he snapped his fingers as he realized: “That’s why you can resist me!”
July nodded. “Coming into my abilities later in life gave me more time to build my willpower. And having dealt with it for years now, I’ve built up some resistance to magical influence. He could’ve been in a similar situation without knowing the word for it.”
“That. Is. Fascinating,” Nytep muttered thoughtfully. “And you’re suggesting that could’ve lessened my effect on him enough for my physical appearance to sway his judgment?”
Again, she nodded. “It’s something I notice”—her eyes flickered down him and back up—“so I think it’s plausible.”
“Hm. Hmmm.” For a few seconds, he was lost in thought, more concerned with understanding than with charming her. “How is it I’ve never come across this subject before?”
“Maybe you don’t pay close enough attention to the humans you toy with.”
“Unlikely. I’m phenomenally observant,” he said, shaking his head. “It must be a rare circumstance. But the idea that your experience is one I haven’t— Where are you going?”
In the middle of their chat, July was gathering her things and getting to her feet. “I have somewhere to be. As entertaining as you might think you are, I can’t sit here talking to you all day.”
“But we were finally having a civil conversation,” he said, getting up to follow her out onto the sidewalk, though not as enthusiastically as usual. Had he done something wrong? She’d seemed so interested in discussing this point with him—and he was actually learning something. “What did I do to drive you off this time?”
“You didn’t do anything.” She shook her head, keeping her pace even enough that he could easily follow. “I really do have plans that can’t wait. But maybe…”
“Maybe?” he prompted, stepping in perhaps a bit closer than necessary. When she turned sharply to face him and held up a hand to halt him in his tracks, he stopped short. Her fingers brushed his chest for a split-second before he stepped back, eagerly awaiting her answer.
“Okay. I’ll make you a deal,” she said, emphasizing the phrase. “Let me go now and don’t follow me. Don’t pursue me any further this afternoon.”
“I hope there’s more to this proposal,” he said sadly. But July was smiling.
“There is. Do that, and I’ll give you a proper conversation,” she said. His eyebrows raised while she went on, “I mean an hour or two set aside specifically for us to talk. An opportunity, at least. What do you think?”
Nytep gave her an easy smile and slipped both hands into his pockets. “I think you drive a hard bargain, Summer. But one I’m inclined to accept, happily. Just tell me when and where.”