It was a nice, cold evening-perfect for a warm cup of coffee and lazy lounging with a book in hand. Such was Elian's idea of the most splendid way to spend the weekend, but on most days, ideas remain ideas. He picks up a book from a stack and eyes the label on its spine before pushing it in the shelf. He goes on and on, pacing back and forth the long rows of shelving until he was at his last book. But just as he was about to stuff it somewhere in the shelves, another stack of books came down on the cart with a thump. Elian let out an audible sigh-a forward display of his displeasure-and tried hard not to glare at the person before him.
"We've got more books out of the shelves than in," the young man whispered. He took some books from the stack and read their labels, presorting them before leaving some back on the cart for Elian to arrange. The latter's frown soon faded into half a smile and proceeded to take the remaining books away.
"You're getting the hang of this already, Mallory. I'm impressed."
"Well, what can I say?" Mallory smirked. "Told ya I'd make a great assistant."
Mallory turned on his heel and walked towards the circulation counter, but the sight of his horns gradually popping out from his head invoked a strong urge from Elian. He dropped the books back on the cart-careful not to ruin the precious bounded literature-and dashed to Mallory's side. He grabs the lad's face by the chin with a firm grip and mouths an incantation, much to Mallory's surprise. Soon, the horns were no longer in sight, and Elian let out a sigh of relief.
"I didn't know the glamour would wear out this fast," Elian muttered. "Maybe I should just infuse it into a charm and make you wear it. Bound it to your soul or something."
Mallory raised a brow. "Bound it to my soul?
"It's not as bad as it sounds, trust me."
"You can't keep on hiding me like this, you know."
A pang of guilt struck Elian and he felt his stomach drop at the thought of his people finding out that he let a being from another world-a world he too molded with his own hands-into theirs. Elian knew he had enough authority so that others who dared question his actions were easily silenced but taking someone from a world they never knew existed and letting them walk their lands? It was hard to stomach. While a select few of the primal gods knew about Mallory's existence, not all of them approve his presence. The irony lied in Elian's position in the divine hierarchy-he was powerful enough to rid anyone and anything of their existence, and yet he succumbed to the opinions of others.
"I know, but give me more time. Not everyone's happy to know about your presence."
"Then so be it. You brought me here, and I will make my presence known whether your people like or not."
Elian swallowed a lump and looked at Mallory straight in the eye. The lad's eyes were as blue as the sky's, contrasting with the dark and empty blacks of his own. Mallory exuded confidence, something Elian knew he always lacked and coveted. He had more resolve in a single sentence than what Elian can come up within a year. Still, he had an air of impulse and naivety around him. For someone who had lived for centuries, Elian still saw him as a kid.
The two went their separate ways in the confines of the great library, scaling ladders and shelving books like there's no end. A few hours passed and it was about quarter to nine when they finally closed up, much to their dismay. Elian locked up the place with magic, and the once-invisible runes etched around the tall arches of the front door glowed with a faint blue hue. The doors came together and eventually closed with a loud thud before the runes returned to their invisible state. Mallory had seen this a couple of times before-the first during his fourth day in Lelriera-but witnessing such a mystical force that existed in a viler form from his original world never fails to fascinate him. He'd seen a local manipulate water from the sea like it was nothing, but from the world he came from? Curses, charms, and invocations were where it's at. Lelriera felt so different from the place he once called home, but for Mallory, it was better than being left alone.
Elian had considered teleporting directly to his home, but Mallory insisted on taking the long route to admire the view. The desert city of Shuria-right at the heart of the wealthy Pyrodraconian Empire-was more massive than he thought. Eight long hours of driving still left you within the confines of the metropolis. It was daunting yet exhilarating even for Mallory, who had been a city boy who trotted the streets of Paris since his childhood. But for Elian? He knew Shuria like the back of his hand. He knew Hvanhyll, Falragda, Erkhar, and Khaivir. He knew all of Lelriera. After all, he made it himself. It's a feat no one else can possibly beat-not even the other gods-yet it isn't something he can freely brag about either. It was something he had to do, and no one is ever praised for doing something they should. Not even gods.
Just as Elian was about to hail a cab, the bright signage of a nearby shop caught his eye. He paced towards it and pushed the quaint establishment's glass door open. The indoor lights were bright, nearly blinding Elian after walking in dimly-lit streets with nothing but streetlights and headlamps this late at night. In fact, he was shocked to know that a bookstore was still open at this time of day, or night, for that matter. Still, he was in awe. Books, periodicals, and some stationery littered shelves and racks alike. However, they weren't just ordinary books. They weren't in Lelrieran. They were a mishmash of various genres of literature, ranging from novels to poetry, biographies, cookbooks, and-
"The occult," a voice called out from behind. Elian nearly smacked them in the head until he turned around and saw a familiar head of silver, pallor flesh, and bright blue eyes.
"By the gods, don't do that!" Elian hissed.
Mallory grinned and crossed his arms over his chest. "Can you even say that? I mean, isn't that blasphemy? Using the, um, deities names in vain? Is that how it works here?"
Elian choked and bit down a chuckle. For once he felt he was right-Mallory was naive in one way or another. Still, he found it endearing.
"No, silly," he snorted. "It's a little different here, but you'll manage."
Elian went back into the book rack and traced the spines with his fingertips, feeling around until he saw the book Mallory had gallantly called out earlier. He slid it out and blew some of the dust away before cracking it open. Mallory peered from above Elian's shoulders and scrunched his brows. The book was in an indecipherable language of sorts. It seemed vaguely Latin, yet it wasn't. Mallory would know. Centuries worth of immortality meant a penchant for being constantly bored, and what more than burying and busying himself with just about anything? Languages were included, but no matter how many tongues he had learned and gained, none of them could possibly comprehend this book.
"Is that Lelrieran? It looks nothing like any of the languages from my world," the silver-haired lad murmured as he turned away.
"No, but there goes my last hope."
"I was hoping that you could help translate it for me."
Elian brushed off the remaining dust settling on the hardcover and took out his wallet. Mallory watched him pay for the strange piece of literature at the counter, wide-eyed with his hands buried deep in his pockets. He fought the urge to stop and chastise him for getting something he doesn't even remotely understand, but who was he to do that? They've only known each other for two months, and he had already concluded that Elian was an enigma from the very start. Though, he might as well ask him to look for dictionaries at the very least.
• • •
The ride home was silent. Elian was occupied with the book, flipping through its yellowed pages like he understood a thing while Mallory watched from the side. There was nothing but the sound of the whirring engine and Elian's incessant page-flipping. It wasn't long until they reached Elian's home-a quaint two-story house with a touch of modernity in its architecture, despite its age. Elian pushed the key into the knob and twisted it open. He switched on the lights, took out his coat and left it on the coatrack, and immediately sat down on one of the sofas by the fireplace.
Mallory followed suit and sat beside Elian, who was still glued to the book. He too tried to make out the text, but it looked nothing but gibberish. It was written in the Latin alphabet, yes, but reading it felt like someone smashed the keys on a keyboard and called it a book.
"Say, Elian," Mallory asked in a desperate way to end the silence. "What made you so, uh, cold the day we met?"
Elian froze in place and glanced at him from the corners of his eyes. He closed the book and placed it on his lap as he crossed his legs.
"I... I wasn't in the right mind. I'm sorry about that."
"Took you long enough to apologize," Mallory smirked.
Mallory snorted. "Geez, I was kidding. I asked for it anyway."
Elian looked down at the book sitting on his lap with downcast eyes. He brushed over the canvas and traced the embossed title with his fingers. "No, really, I'm sorry we had to meet like that. Grief doesn't do me well."
"Were you there by chance? I mean, it's dumb 'cause I'm only you asking this now and not like, way back when I first got he-"
"I was there for a better, or should I say worse, reason. But yes, I just saw you by chance."
Mallory gave a slow nod, unsure if Elian's lying or just half-assing the truth. He crossed his arms and stared at the extensive amount of books sitting on a shelf by the television. Some were in Lelrieran, while others were a mix of English and other languages he found familiar. Some were even books he read at some point in his life but were forgotten in the passage of time.
"But you knew who I was."
He felt eyes on him. Dark ones, but not the soulless pair he last saw back at his homeworld.
"Yes, but I intended no harm. I killed you like you asked, but..."
"But you still took me here. To your world."
Elian let out a sigh. The thin fabric of his sweater scrunched up as he leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. A sinking feeling welled in his stomach. With his head low, he took a brief peek at Mallory, who was still staring at the shelving from across the room. He fished around his brain to find a continuation for his words, but nothing came up. It was just that. Nothing. There was nothing to tell Mallory, not because he had something to hide, but there truly was no real reason why he did that on that very day. Just then, Mallory stood up and walked towards the shelves, still waiting for the rest of Elian's sentence.
"Mallory, you might not believe me but... Honestly, I'm not sure why I took you here. It was an impulse."
"Mhmm." Mallory shrugged.
The mood turned sour, or at least that was what Elian had assumed. However, Mallory looked the same-calm and unaffected by his words as he took out a book from the large collection. Crime and Punishment. The Metamorphosis. The Stranger. He scrunched up his brows and wondered if Elian was into these types of literature or just about read anything that caught his fancy. Later, Elian stood up and walked to his side, his fists balled in an effort to get himself together.
"Maybe it's because... No, I saw something in you. I felt it. I can sense those things, somehow. I... I wanted to give you another chance at life."
Mallory flipped through the pages of a Camus' The Stranger. It was in its original French incarnation, and the sight of his mother tongue in a foreign world comforted him, but the warmth in his heart contrasted with the words about to leave his mouth in a spur of silent frustration.
"Even if you knew what I was? What if I was never thankful for that? What if I straight up tried to kill you when we got here?" He asked, not sparing a breath between his questions. "Who are you to tell those kinds of things?"
Elian let out a soft sigh and clenched his fists tighter. He didn't like where this conversation was heading.
"I knew you wouldn't try."
"Because you're a god?"
Elian furrowed his brows. What does this have to do with being a god, he asked himself. But then he recalled that Mallory was not of this world. He may have made the world Mallory once lived in, but he was never there to watch over it. A mistake, he called it, just like the two others he made prior. They had their own gods-nothing like the deities that live among the mortals of Lelriera. They were separate from their people. They knew everything. They were otherworldly and in some way, detached.
But in Lelriera, gods were mere personifications of nature, concepts, and ideologies. They lived among their people in mortal forms and were well-loved. They learned things as mortals did, and lived as mortals did. They were also venerated and respected in their divine forms.
Yet Elian stood out from them like a sore thumb. His parents were mortal-turned-divine. He was omniscient. He made everything in this world and all who walk it, including other worlds. The fate of everything that lived in the universes he made was at his mercy, but he was no that kind of god. He never took a life. He was not one to judge. He never once thought of granting anyone salvation nor reprobation.
Not until he met Mallory.
"I'd say it's because my parents raised me to be human and gain empathy, but maybe you're right."
And with that, he vanished from the room. The house no longer had the aura Mallory had always sensed whenever Elian was at home. He put the book back to the shelf and scoffed to himself.
"Maybe you really are more forgiving than the god I once knew."