Elian had been out for the whole night. Bored, Mallory decided to scan through the books while he waited for Elian's return, but the man never came. It was roughly ten in the morning-twelve long hours have passed since Mallory last saw him. His aura was absent from every point in the house, and it wasn't even that large to begin with. Mallory contemplated, wondering if he was too harsh on the young-or not so young-deity last night. He swore that he finally managed to take control of his temper, but it was a trait he found hard to kill. He always found it as something deeply ingrained into him-a part of him he couldn't just take away. It was what fueled him. It was what gave him power. Still, he felt proud of himself for being able to curb it. Last night could've ended badly, and Mallory was infamous for his pettiness in his past life.
Mallory slipped a makeshift bookmark into the book's pages and put it down on the coffee table. He sauntered towards the front door, knitting his brows at the lack of a door hole. Hesitant, he placed his hand on the knob and the metal made a slight squeak at the touch. Upon wrapping his fingers around it, he felt a strange aura emanating from behind the door. It was like a miasma laced with the sickly-sweet scent of vanilla, orange blossoms, and citruses. Magnetic, yet foreboding. Mallory let go of the doorknob and clenched his hand into a fist, unwilling to brace himself for a possible fight in a house that wasn't even his, especially not when the owner wasn't even around.
"Elian? Es-tu á la maison?"
French? Mallory had known that some Lelrierans could speak the same languages they did back at home, although they called them 'old world tongues' while English was referred to as 'common'. However, most preferred to speak in the common tongue alongside their native tongues rather than the 'old world languages', with the exception of the deities. Still, it could just be an ordinary citizen-a friend of Elian's, perhaps. The god was amicable enough to have his circle of peers despite his sheepish nature, but no ordinary being had an aura this strong. None of them had auras in the first place. Mallory had only met a few of them, but as far as he knew, they were the only ones who had such distinctive and pervasive airs around them.
Mallory widened his eyes. While the gods of this land were different from his world, he still felt adamant about meeting them. Hell, he had balls when he announced to Elian that he'd make himself known to everyone last night. Could he really do that? An outsider who barely knew how this world worked? A complete alien? There could be one behind the door, but he wasn't ready. Not without Elian. They'd rip him to shreds if he fucked up the first impression.
Or would they?
The door creaked, and it took time before Mallory realized that the door was never locked. He snorted, wondering how it never occurred to them that they almost went to sleep without fearing someone might've just walked in. Not that they needed sleep anyway.
Mallory backed away and gulped. A velveteen shoe peered from the small space and soon the door was fully opened. A woman dressed in black from tip to toe emerged. Her obsidian locks cascaded freely over her black ensemble. She had a form-fitting knee-length dress that screamed class and elegance with its boat neck and three-quarter sleeves. But what caught his attention most was her eyes-they were a striking pitch black, round and prominent against her pale complexion. From the way her face was shaped, he was reminded of someone else. Someone who also had a slight babyface, with long lashes and low cheekbones.
"Oh," the lady exclaimed, "who might you be? Are you a friend of Elian's?"
"O-Oui, je suis son ami," Mallory stuttered. He cursed under his breath. It was such a dead giveaway. He hasn't spoken his mother tongue in such a long time, not even with Elian. The comfort he felt from knowing someone spoke it alongside himself was hard to give up, but now it stirred nothing but trouble.
The woman's lips curved into a circle before fading into a smile. "Tu parles bien la français," she chirped as she ventured to the living room. She took a seat on the lounge chair by the bookshelves and eyed Elian's collection of old world literature.
"Elian had always been a bookworm," she chuckled. "Some of the Ancients were able to rewrite the books they once read from memory and bound them for him to read. I guess our inability to forget things had its perks, too."
Mallory cocked his head. Ancients? Elian never mentioned them, or maybe he didn't have the opportunity to bring them up. Was she an Ancient as well? Did that mean she wouldn't be able to forget any fuck ups he might pull? Oh god, he thought. He never wanted Elian to be back home this bad in his whole life.
All of a sudden, they heard the doorknob click and everyone's heads turned to the door. Out came Elian with an armful of books and a calm look on his face. Mallory never felt so relieved. But as soon as the woman in black caught Elian's attention, his eyes and mouth were wide open in disbelief.
"Maman? Pourquoi es-tu ici? Je croyais que tu ne viendrais pas?"
Mom? Mallory ping-ponged his gaze between the two, dumbfounded. Elian dropped the pile of books on the coffee table and walked up to his mother. He pulled her into a hug, and she left a soft peck on his forehead.
"I thought I'd drop by, Eli," she beamed. "Valfreya's nearby with the rest of the reapers as well. They had to collect some souls, and maman wanted to take some corpses for the Deathcallers and Piscines, so I joined her."
"You mean well, maman, but you do realize that people tend to see you as a bad omen right?"
Mallory could only watch as the two conversed, lost in their little world while he understood nothing about what they just said. He ran his fingers through the waves of his hair and leaned against the wall. Elian and his mother talked about the dead, the corpses, souls, and stuff about Valfreya-whoever that was-and their supposed subordinates helping deities assess the deceased. It was all morbid, but he wasn't one to talk. He wasn't new to the sight of corpses and lost souls. The tormented, they were once called, were a commonplace from where he used to be.
"But you know, Eli, I thought that the scent of death came from the place Valfreya dispatched the reapers, yet I can still sense it from here."
Mallory shot his eyes towards Elian, the latter trying his best to avoid returning the gaze. Elian pursed his lips and flashed his mother a lopsided smile. However, her pitch-black eyes were stained into washed-out grey before he even had the chance to explain. She turned her head towards Mallory in a gradual motion, sending shivers down Mallory's spine.
"Eli, mon ange, did you dabble in necromancy"
Elian parted his lips to speak, but only silence left his lips. He looked away. He felt no guilt-necromancy wasn't an ignoble art. It was respectable, particularly for the Deathcallers who acted like mediums between the living and the dead. But the Deathcallers and the gods of death alike knew all the souls who left and went between the surface and the underworld, and not a stray soul left their radar. Mallory was clearly not one of them.
His mother eyed Mallory with heavy scrutiny. She walked up to him, taking her time as she studied him from head to toe. She inched closer and closer until they were less than a foot apart. Soon, she raised an arm and reached out for the empty space above Mallory's head. Elian sucked in his lips. Mallory felt his heart raging from beneath his ribs. Elian's mother balled her hand into a fist as if she wanted to grab something.
Mallory never felt this much fear in years.
His horns materialized in her grip, smoothly slipping through her palm. His irises glowed gold and his sclera dyed black. Claws emerged from his fingertips and a tail shot out from his back. Legs were now akin to a wolf's and his once-pallid complexion now a darker shade. He sealed his lips tight, fearing that she'd see his set of sharpened ivories. He could almost hear his heart beating deep in his chest. He could even hear Elian's and his mom's. But the loudest was from his, and the way Elian's mother looked at him with her silver eyes didn't help much either.
• • •
"Regarde moi dans les yeux."
Elian's mother sat across her son and the transformed Mallory. She crossed her legs and rested her palms on the leatherette armrests. The bright smile she put on earlier was now a thin line, and Elian felt hesitant to meet her eyes. They were no longer the eerie grey they witnessed earlier and had since returned to their gloomy hue. Still, Mallory and Elian remained frozen in their seats. Both were too paralyzed with fear to try.
But for once, Elian was the braver half.
"Ir achar," Elian whispered. I'm sorry.
His mother remained unfazed for a moment-stone cold with disappointment-but what little frustration she had with her grown son flew out the window as she heard those words leave his lips. Memories of her son's short-lived childhood flooded her thoughts. Elian had always been a curious child. He had his share of trouble and often learned things the hard way, and this situation was no exception. Besides, Mallory seemed rather harmless regardless of his current appearance. Perhaps he was more bark than bite, she thought, but the stench of death emanating from him still warranted suspicion. Demons weren't an issue in Lelriera and never was, but something felt about Mallory felt off. He felt... Otherworldly.
"Chin up, Elian," she said, her voice teeming with authority. "Mind explaining to me what's going on here?"
Elian took a brief look at Mallory before turning his head back to his mother. "Maman, this is Mallory. He's... He's from one of the other universes I've made."
"And clearly, he's not human."
"No, he's not," Elian shook his head, crestfallen. "But he used to be one."
Mallory chewed on his lip. Elian wasn't wrong-he was once human, yes, but demon blood also coursed through his veins since the day he was conceived. For twenty years, he was blissfully unaware of the chaos and tragedies he had to go through until he was left alone with no one else to trust. Twenty short years. Soon, he died, and so did what was left of his humanity. He was fully-demon by the time he met Elian, and now he's pretty much undead. Still a demon, though. It didn't matter whether he had his glamour on or not-the appetite for flesh and souls and the wrenching air of death around him were dead giveaways.
"And why, my son, did you think it was a good idea to bring a demon into our world?"
Elian lowered his head for a moment. He soon raised it again with crossed brows. "Don't judge him, maman. I could see things you couldn't."
For a moment there, Elian thought he had to teleport away-somewhere the other gods or mortals would be able to find him. Not even Mallory, and especially not his own mother. Half of him wanted to believe it wasn't his intention to say that. He could always blame it on a slip of tongue, but the other half wanted him to think that was what he wanted to mean. And he stuck with that.
Fortunately for Elian, all he got was a sigh.
His mother rose from the leatherette lounge chair and made her way towards Mallory. She placed a palm on his forehead and Mallory felt a vague jolt of electricity surge through his body. The discomfort was brief, but that was all she needed to do to see if Mallory was worth her trust, much more the other deities and mortals that roamed their world. She nodded slowly, assessing that he was indeed not a threat, and returned to her seat.
"You passed judgment, didn't you, maman?" Elian groaned.
"He's dead, Eli."
Elian shot her a look.
"Well, undead for that matter," she chuckled. "I, too, can see things others couldn't like you do, but I can only do so with the dead. And you," she smiled as she glanced at Mallory from the corner of her eye, "are undead."
Elian and his mother chatted-and argued-for a while as Mallory's human guise slowly returned after being forcefully brought down. He seemed a little more human than before, and he never felt so thankful for being a half-demon. Half-demons only had two forms-their human guises and one that looked halfway between human and demon. Only pure demons had monstrous forms as they were born that way, and their human disguises were acquired at a later age, particularly once they were summoned by a human for whatever purpose.
Just as Mallory was about to leave the mother and son duo alone for a quick morning stroll, Elian shot up from his seat with his eyes and mouth wide open.
"I forgot to introduce you two!" he exclaimed. His mother let out a subdued giggle while Mallory rolled his eyes with a sarcastic smirk plastered over his lips.
"Mallory, this is my mother, Lilith Valdis. She's the goddess of death and, well, she just passed judgment on you earlier so she knows your entire life story now, plus a bunch of stuff she shouldn't know about."
Lilith flashed Mallory a gentle smile and the latter's mouth gaped at the thought of his memories being pried-the fuckups, the heartbreaks, and all the embarrassment. He felt that his privacy was invaded from a single touch, but he knew that it would've happened to him at some point, and most probably by a different being if it weren't for Elian.
"And maman?" Elian sighed. "I guess I just shouldn't bother anymore."