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A Familiar Presence

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Tranquil though the isles of Elpis appeared to the naked eye, one could never forget the primary function for which the facility had been constructed. Its beauteous flora and fauna not a means to emulate paradise but rather intended for research, extensive testing, and endless hours of work. Emet-Selch had certainly not forgotten about this, and yet he felt no less frustrated when amidst his meeting with Hermes, the overseer was called away once more to deal with an urgent matter.

“My dear friend,” said Hythlodaeus when he observed Emet-Selch’s dispirited countenance. Slumped back in his seat and staring into nothingness, his brows furrowed. “Ever so eager to see your business concluded. One would almost think you resent the task you were charged with.”

“And I would almost think that you are rather enjoying all of this too much,” Emet-Selch scoffed. “I merely need Hermes to accept this invitation so that we can return to Amaurot where other matters of import await me.”

“Oh, I doubt that we’ll be returning so soon, even should Hermes accept the position of Fandaniel…” Hythlodaeus considered as he abandoned his seat in favor of taking a glimpse outside. “Unless, of course, you have cast your curiosities concerning our new friend aside?”

There, the rather unusual familiar with a soul the shade of Azem’s, walked and chatted most fervently with everyone she came across. The occasional glance over her shoulder cast back toward the main building before the creature Meteion would seek her attention time and time again.

“As if it matters,” argued Emet-Selch. Arms folded before him in a rather defensive manner, even as he turned his head slightly in the direction where Hythlodaeus stood. “That thing wishes to keep its secrets, so be it. No doubt that it's another of Azem’s clever tricks sent here to play us for fools and I won’t fall for it.”

At this, Hythlodaeus had to laugh. “Come now, you can see almost as clearly as I do. She is not from around here, and more than a mere concept or familiar. It is almost as if…”

“Yes, go on?”

“Haven’t you noticed anything peculiar about her? The obvious aside.”

Emet-Selch rose at last to join his friend’s side. His gaze cast beyond the window where the Azem-familiar yet explored the gardens of Anagnorisis, most visibly elated and astonished by the sight of a simple, dour-looking and grey bird.

He sighed and threw his hands up in a shrug. “Where would you like me to begin?”

“Consider the way she looks at us, and you most especially,” Hythlodaeus pointed out and no sooner had he said it than the Azem-familiar once more glanced in their direction.

An unbidden smile graced her face the mere second she caught them staring, and she raised one hand to wave. A glint in her eyes that spoke of something most pure, an emotion that ran deep to the very core of her being but more than that, it was the way the color of her soul shone ever more radiant in response to their presence that left Hythlodaeus so intrigued.

“Yes, it has a—”

“She.”

“As you wish,” Emet-Selch relented, if only because he hated to be interrupted and would not encourage Hythlodaeus to do so again. “She has a habit of staring, and I have already warned her about that. Not that she listened, of course.”

“It isn’t the staring itself that has piqued my curiosity. It’s the sentiments that lurk in her eyes when she does it. As if she knows you in a way that a mere stranger could never.”

“Nonsense. Mayhaps she has never met a member of the Convocation before, aside from the troublemaker who thought it wise to create her in the first place.”

“Do you really think so?” Unconvinced, Hythlodaeus retreated from the window and made his way outside for some fresh air.

Leaving Emet-Selch with no choice but to either follow him or abandon the conversation altogether, and the latter was a thing he simply could not do. “I have chosen not to think much on the subject at all but since you’re so keen, why don’t you share with me your theories?”

“I have none so concrete as to share them, but…”

The Azem-familiar had returned her attention to the ornery bird, knelt down before the animal while she gestured wildly in conversation. As if talking to a friend one hadn’t seen in far too long. Speaking of things that Hythlodaeus wished he could overhear, though he smiled at the scene and from the corner of his eye, spotted a similar reaction on Emet-Selch’s face.

That was, until their new friend did something that startled both men and drained all color from Emet-Selch’s face. Her arm lazily stretched out to the heavens before she snapped her fingers in a manner most elegant and above all, intimately reminiscent of Emet-Selch’s very own trademark signature.

What?!” Emet-Selch spat out in anger but before he had a chance to descend the steps into the garden and confront the Azem-familiar, Hythlodaeus ushered him back inside the main building.

“My dear friend, don’t,” he urged. A flat palm placed upon Emet-Selch’s chest as his fingers brushed through locks of silken white hair in a soothing manner.

“You saw what she—what that thing did!”

“Yes, I saw, and it only further proves my suspicion that she knows us far better than she lets on.”

Emet-Selch bristled, the mollifying caress of Hythlodaeus serving only to dull the edge of his fury rather than extinguishing it entirely. “But how could that be? We have never met before—I would remember if I had—and if you are so convinced that Azem did not create it then speak of your theory or allow me to demand answers from that creature itself.”

“She won’t tell us, and not for a lack of want. You saw the look in her eyes when asked about her origins. Nay, whoever she is, wherever she came from, it is clear that she isn’t at liberty to say.”

“That’s preposterous. Especially if it indeed knows us, in which case it should know that we can be trusted,” Emet-Selch argued still.

Oh how he hated to be kept in the dark. To be presented with things that he considered impossible and spurious, things that didn’t fit into his world view. A creature that was neither a concept or a familiar, nor a part of the civilization of his world and yet it had a soul. A soul that bordered on identical to that of the woman he loved, with similar quirks to boot.

It defied all reason, all that he knew to be possible, and left him vexed beyond measure.

“I suspect,” said Hythlodaeus as he weighed his thoughts and words carefully, “that she is not from our present time. I cannot explain how one would have accomplished such a feat, to travel in time, but it is the only explanation I can think of.”

Once more Emet-Selch made ready to protest, precisely as Hythlodaeus knew he would, and so he cupped his friend’s face in one hand. A thumb used to caress the pale, soft cheek that rested warm in his palm. “I won’t ask you to believe as I do or to trust her, I only ask that you trust in me and my judgment. Give her the benefit of the doubt and let this situation run its course.”

Cursed. It was a constant battle to deny Hythlodaeus and one he often lost, especially when the man doted on him so fiercely. Stared at him with genuine adoration and a silent plea, and he hadn’t yet given Emet-Selch true cause to regret his surrender.

“Very well, I will give it—her—a chance. For the time being at least but if she makes so much as one wrong move then on your head be it.”

The violet of Hythlodaeus’ eyes brightened, so clearly pleased was he, as he leaned in to bestow his love and gratitude upon Emet-Selch. A kiss most ardent between the two but tragically cut short when behind them, the door opened once more upon Hermes’ return.

“I apologize for the delay,” he said. “Please, let us continue our conversation before Meteion and your friend return.”

Yes, our friend, then… It bothered Emet-Selch no small amount that he could sense her presence outside, distracting him from their meeting, faint though it was. Just as he first had upon arriving, the brush of a familiar soul that had reached out to tease the edges of his own—he’d felt it before ever seeing her standing by those twin doors. Eyes like precious gemstones that had watched him in awe and bewilderment.

Hythlodaeus likely had the right of it—this being, an enigma, knew them, but the big question that remained was how. A mystery thrust into their laps, and one that Emet-Selch vowed to unravel before his departure back to Amaurot with no thought spared for the consequences he’d be inviting.