The onyx blood of the ghoul glittered like black diamonds in the dawn light, my phantom blade piercing its three hearts in one thrust.
Slain, it's rotted corpus burst open, crimson innards erupting in a plume of red. For a moment, the ghoul was a beautiful thing: one scarlet hibiscus in full bloom, dripping with oily nectar. God must've decided the ghoul would make a fine piece of origami for his cabinet of horrors, so the whole thing folded itself into nothing. Gone, gone, gone.
My job was done.
My partner-in-crime gave a loud applause, the jolly sound only making me more irascible. "Very clean kill, if I say so myself."
"Right. I take it that, coming from the Mechanic himself, it must be a compliment worthy of grovelling?" He grinned, flashing me the signature canine-baring smile that took down so many women. Though impervious to his charms, I couldn't help but notice how fresh he looked today.
"Tsk, tsk, tsk. Dawn, must you be such a grouch?"
"Tihomir," I paused for a breath, pushing my blood-coloured locks out of my face. "I know our little society operates on nicknames, but could you not call me that?" He guffawed, and leaped down from the willow's branch to stand beside me.
"My poor, poor, Dawn. With temperament like that and a mane to match, how could I not? Do not worry; it fits you very well."
"Are you colourblind?" I lifted several strands of my sweat-drenched hair. In this state, they resembled trampled stalks of beet greens that had been stripped of their leaves, only redder. I knew exactly what he meant by implying they resembled the sky at sunrise, but there was a flaw to his simile "Or are you just dense? How many times have I told you that the word 'pastel' only applies to mild, powdery colours? This mess is everything but that!" Only mischief crinkled his eyes, and he gave me a mock bow.
"Forgive me for not being so knowledgeable in artistic lingo, but I must disgress." I sighed, sick of his playful attitude, and sat down on the grass. Out of nowhere, Tiho produced a picnic basket full of gourmet foods, all wrapped up with great care. Everything was top-grade English produce: sourdough bread with Stilton spread, breakfast scones and wildberry jam, golden pancakes, even a serving of eggs benedict. "You brought my favourite." I breathed, my mouth watering.
His fosters were ridiculously rich and liked to coddle him, so Tiho never had to cook, or scrounge up change to buy a bowl of wonton noodles like me. Sometime ago he had discovered I liked my eggs poached, so occasionally the guy convinced his personal chef to sneak in some extra for me. I often considered myself to be a spoiled brat now that I've tasted Tiho's food: every time I tasted my own cooking, I could not help but cringe a little. I slowly inched towards the basket, but Tiho batted my eager hands out of the way. "Not until you listen to me first." He purred, pleased at the leverage he had over my grumbling stomach. I recoiled, clutching my middle.
"Fine." I begrudgingly muttered, and he handed me the parcel of food. Holding it to my nose, I was intoxicated by the symphony of warm poached eggs, toasted English muffins, peppery cured meat and creamy Hollandaise sauce.
"You look like a drug addict with her poison." Tihomir joked. I eyeballed him, and he feigned innocence. "Anyways, here's why I like to call you 'Dawn'."
"Not because I love mornings, I assume?"
"No, I'm not that cruel." He began stuffing the scones with jam. "Today marks 150 years of our partnership." Tihomir gulped, and he averted my curious gaze. Yet it could not hide the melancholy in his eyes. I began to guess where this was going. "It's just... when you came into my life, something dawned in me. You heard've how I like... before." Oh, everyone knew what he was like 'before'. Before he was subjugated by the Watchers and forced to join their ranks. A mere few months after his creator died.
Tihomir fiddled with the butter knife, clearly nervous. It was rather uncharacteristic him to be this disturbed. But again, no one really talked openly about their origins. Not in my world. " Anyways," He continued. "Dawn, with that firey determination of your's, you were the thing that made me realise moving on without him was worth it. I was worth my existence. I'd named you after the epiphany you induced, but never called you 'Dawn' in real life. Until recently, it wasn't clear why." He looked at me, and it took my breath away. I'd known him for almost all his life, but not once did I ever see his emotions laid bare like this. He sucked in a shuddering breath. "I never really thanked you for saving my life. Not once, but countless times. So... thank you. For everything." I finally choked on a slice of cured meat, which should never have happened, for it was coated in creamy Hollandaise and runny egg yolks.
"Whoa, whoa, whoa. How did we end up here?" I said through my mouthful of heaven. "Tiho, you know I don't need your thanks. Still," Gulping down the rest of the eggs benedict, I wiped my mouth on an embroidered napkin Tiho offered me. Always the gentleman. " I respect your reason for calling me that, but... I still prefer my real name."
"You mean the one you took to hide your True Name?"
"What else? You don't even know my True Name." Tiho snickered. All the vulnerability I just saw had evaporated. His elegant brows drew together as I narrowed my eyes.
"Something's bothering you enough to confess this to me." He winced at my withering tone, and I hesitated, reprimanding myself for being so harsh to someone who'd clearly just poured his heart out. Adjusting my approach, I tried again, gentler this time. "Tiho, what's wrong?" Something caught my eye; I looked up just as Tiho's shoulders relaxed.
He set down his paper plate. "Command just notified me this morning." He paused; with my eyes still on a suspiciously large bird circling around the sky, I cocked my head to the right, our signal for 'I'm listening'. Reassured, Tiho continued. "We're getting a new recruit tonight."
"And what does this have to do with you thanking me for doing my job, all of a sudden?"
"I was scared you might be too busy with the newbie, and thought-"
"Oh, Tiho, I'd never forget about you." Taking my eyes off of the strange bird, I smiled. His eyes widened, and I could see myself reflected in them; unruly scarlet hair, freckled complexion, all gangly limbs and awkward angles. I did not expect to see my eyes, usually green and grim as the shadows of a haunted forest, so.. gentle. Lord, I was getting soft. Sure, my creator had intended for me to be kind, but countless seasons without her had changed me. My job did not require kindness. You had to use malevolence to battle malevolence; kindness did not fit into the equation. That was all there is. But sometimes... it was needed. Light cannot exist without darkness, and vice versa; without the other, how could one know which is which? "Again, you don't have to thank me for doing my job. " I took his hand in mine, running my thumb over the raised veins. A hush had fallen over him; true to his name, Tiho had gone quiet. The poor boy yanked his hand away, and stood up. Confused, I turned to look at him.
At that moment, an object crashed through the trees that lined the banks of the island I was on. Thankfully, it was still in ethereal form, so no real damage was done. But I recognized it as the 'bird' I'd scrutinized earlier. Turns out I was right to be suspicious. It was not a bird that had crashed down; it was a thing. Tiho got up, and our little picnic vanished. He darted towards the crash site, and I took off after him. In the centre of ruffled circle of grass was the thing. At least no miasma surrounded it; it meant the creature was benevolent, and probably a bit incapacitated. It took human form, albeit the lower body of a bird. Tiho swore, and I slapped my forehead in exasperation, for the thing was no ordinary creature.
A small circle of light floated behind its head, like the halo of Alokiteshvara, and other Asiatic gods. The thing was a Minor Deity.
And it wore the uniform of a Watcher. A newly recruited Watcher.
Tihomir = tea-oh-meer
Tiho = 'Theo', but with a sharper 't' sound