The Baron got out of bed that morning with the vague feeling that something was not quite right with the world.
It wasn’t a sensation he could define, exactly, and at first he chalked it up to a need to pee. The telltale burning wasn’t there, though, and after sleepily consulting his powers, he decided it was simply ‘a feeling’. He hated ‘feelings’, because they were vague, generally unhelpful, and, sometimes, dead wrong. Nevertheless, the sensation had woken him up, and that was irritating enough on its own.
Grunting under the weight of his body - he’d spent far too long in his human form to easily change back into a lithe, sinewy Non, and these days he seldom ever tried - he stepped gingerly out of bed. His joints popped and groaned as his feet slapped the floor of his two-room cabin, and he shivered, pulling his blanket around his shoulders. It took several long minutes of useless fumbling to locate his glasses, as they’d somehow wound up on the floor, and they couldn’t quite dispel the glaze on his eyes.
I’m too old for this, he thought, sneezing. I need a stone house again. This place isn’t near warm enough. Perhaps Hector could be persuaded to help me build a chimney…
Shuffling out of his tiny bedroom, The Baron made for the kitchen. It was small, like everything in the house, no more than a quarter of his living room. Using a spark of Non magic he kindled a fire beneath a battered kettle, and a few minutes later the water inside burbled loudly. While he waited The Baron munched on an old biscuit, bartered off of a trader a few weeks prior, and a fistful of greens. He watched the sun slowly rise through the trees outside his home, wincing as the rays pierced his crude front window and illuminated his glasses.
Maybe Iko was wise to move to the desert. The Baron sighed through his chewing, stopping only to curse as crumbs tumbled out of his mouth and onto his blanket. I’m sure it’s cold at night, but the weather is constant. Here… here it’s always something different. Though I doubt I could persuade everyone to walk across the world and relocate in one of the harshest climates known to Non-kind. I would be a lunatic.
Nor was the small village of Non that The Baron had established a particularly inhospitable place. As far as settlements went, it was quite comfortable: two dozen cottages, a mill, a soon-to-be smith, a carpenter, and several small vegetable patches for growing food. Having spent many years alone on the road, The Baron knew just how unfriendly the open land could be, and he reminded himself not to take the little pleasures for granted.
Like biscuits, he thought, taking another bite. The kettle whistled behind him. And tea, for that matter. Musn’t forget tea. Oh, I wish I had some company to share it, though… I doubt anyone’s awake at this time, but…
Within ten minutes of finishing his tea, despite the creak in his bones and the nagging sensation of unease, The Baron had strapped on a pair of warm boots, donned his purple cloak, and left his home. He wrapped a scarf securely around his mouth, the clicking of his exposed jaws a blow to his vanity that he still didn’t want to share with the world too often. The world seemed to appreciate his sense of propriety.
That stupid brat. He ruined my so-so looks. The Baron gazed down the row of cottages, hoping to spot the other villagers but seeing no one. I should have kept him for my personal whipping boy, rather than handing him over to Emmett. At least that way I’d have someone to make me tea.
The Baron strode politely from one cabin to the next, peering casually through front windows and checking the porches for signs of life. Drying leaves crunched under his boots, and he hoped the sound might ‘accidentally’ rouse the villagers. His hopes were dashed in the end, however, and when he reached the final ramshackle cottage and found no one in the adjoining vegetable patch, he gave up on willing company. The rest of the village would not be awake for a few more hours.
Oh well. The Baron sighed. Guess I’d better go with unwilling. I need a status report anyway.
Bundling up more tightly against the slight - but brisk - breeze whipping between the houses, The Baron closed his eyes and raised his hands. His gloved fingers worked the air, twisting and turning in unnatural rhythms, and soon a pair of writhing lumps had risen on his back, matching the tuneless tune spun in his mind. He searched for the strings, the invisible, connective tissues of the world that only he could find -
- and, grasping at an impossibly-thin strand that one of his rear arms abruptly located, he suddenly knew where his guardian was located. He tugged gently, and she got the message.
Letting his hands drop, The Baron walked back towards his cabin. He knew he should get an early start - chop some wood, perhaps, or tend to the winterweed shoots that had only begun to pop out of the soil the previous day - but the relative warmth of his cottage proved much more attractive. The hint of a threat that had woken him yet lingered, as well, and The Baron always paid attention to his intuition. It had kept him alive for over a thousand years, even if it was, occasionally, wrong.
He didn’t make it halfway to his house before a lithe, well-muscled young woman vaulted silently over one of the houses and landed beside him. A splash of orange and gold autumnal glory flew up into The Baron’s face, and he spluttered, brushing the leaves away.
The young woman straightened, flipping her head so her long, rough braid fell to her back again. She planted her gauntleted arms on her hips and watched him recover, not offering to help him clean the leaves from his cloak. He didn’t expect as much, either - if not for the part of himself lingering inside her, The Baron suspected she would have gutted him a long time ago.
“Pffft… stop doing that…” The Baron slapped away one last leaf, glaring at his sudden companion. “I told you to stop doing that, Eve.”
Her brilliant green eyes narrowed, the only outward sign of her half-Non heritage, Eve shrugged. “I will engulf your future in darkness.”