[Please read the Instructions before jumping in]
Lucien freezes, unable to stop his instinctive reaction to that voice, that presence: a heady cocktail of fear, lust, and awe that keeps him unable to answer right away. His nerves strain in every direction under the weight of standing so close to one of the Lords, and it feels as though his heart is going to rip itself out of his chest and offer itself up.
Lord Crow waits patiently, still largely in shadow, only those hard, human-looking hands in their gloves visible where they overlap on his cane. They seem relaxed, as if he’s gripping it loosely only. The head of the cane is silver, an orb clutched in a crow’s claw.
One breath, another, and Lucien begins to come back together. Humans are resilient, both in what they are able to survive and in what they are able to deny, and both work together now to form a barrier of incredulity. This isn’t happening.
But it is happening, and Lord Crow is waiting for a reply. Lucien pulls together a character who can act in his place right now: while the real Lucien trembles, this show-Lucien is calm, confident: flattered, polite, but not so overeager that he will embarrass himself. “I would love to, Lord Crow,” he says, and bows. “I’ve wanted to meet you for a long time.”
A laugh like an entire flock of crows taking off at once. “Haaaave you?” Lord Crow steps forward into the light and offers Lucien his arm. Lucien cannot look directly at him—even if he focuses his eyes in that direction, he can’t quite see what’s there. Lord Crow is shaped approximately like a man: legs, torso, arms. It isn’t that his head is not human, and it’s not that his head is a crow’s head. It’s simply that all that Lucien can really register is feathers, and beaks, and glittering eyes, and wings, all crowding for space in his perception.
Lucien lowers his gaze. “If I may have a moment—”
He is going to ask to just excuse himself briefly, to go back and tell his fellow actors that something’s come up, but Lord Crow’s posture changes slightly, impatient, and Lucien changes his mind at once. It would be the polite thing to do, but he can tell right now it’s one thing or the other, and if he goes back inside, Lord Crow will be gone.
Well, he knows where Shuni and Katarin are headed; if he survives the night, he can meet them there.
He draws the character around himself again. “—a moment to gather myself. I wasn’t expecting to encounter one of the exalted in an alley.” He tucks his hand into the proffered arm.
Another laugh at that, Lord Crow relaxing. “I’m an alley-dwelling sort of creature,” he rasps. “Let’s walk by the water, shall we?”
Lucien wonders what others will see, if they are able to see the two of them at all. “Of course,” he says, because there’s no other answer. This is what he’s wanted.
They step out of the alley and down the street to walk along the riverside. The moon glitters off it like a watchful eye, and Lord Crow’s arm crunches and rustles under Lucien’s grip. Lucien draws a breath. One of them needs to start a conversation. “So, what brings you by my alley this evening?”
“Curiosity,” Lord Crow says, but there’s an odd tone to that crackling voice, as much as Lucien can tell such things. “You caught my eye, but you knew that, didn’t you? I suppose you must have questions.”
“I do,” he says, although he doesn’t know why he’s expected to have questions at all. “I’ve long wondered about you—about who you are, not what, I mean. I know the Lords are beyond my understanding.”
“Who…? You know my portfolio, I’m sure.”
Lucien pushes forward. He can pretend calm, at least. “I’ve as much idea as anyone, but is that it? You don’t have your own likes or dislikes? Hobbies?”
“I like…” Lord Crow’s head tilts, Lucien is fairly sure. “I like play. I like the discovery of fresh corpses, and the taste of flesh, and fascinating trinkets, and people who shine. I love a challenge, a puzzle. I hate when things are too easy, and people are too eager. I cannot be tamed. Is that what you mean?”
It isn’t a portfolio, even if it’s not what most people would answer. “I think it’s a place to start,” Lucien says with a smile.
“And what about you?” Lord Crow asks. He… ducks? Swoops? …and picks up a pebble, sending it skipping across the river. “What do you like? What do you dislike? What are your hobbies?” And then, oddly, “And do you think that dreams have meaning?”
[Please leave suggestions for Lucien in the comments.]