As had become his habit over the past century, Nathanos Varg stood by one of the large windows of his high rise apartment and stared down at a city that never slept. The city had come to grow on him, even though it had not been his home for very long. Some things never changed, no matter where or when, cities inevitably had a darker side. Something that had changed, however, was human nocturnal habits. Nathanos could remember sleeping the same way he remembered history, as distant and almost intangible facts. At times, Nathanos forgot just how old he really was. Over forty thousand years’ worth of memories amalgamated into simple statements. Every evening he would gaze as he did now, at the countless city-lights and think, Ah, yes, that happened to me once, didn’t it?
The nocturnal skyline with its neon and electric gold had replaced the stars. Nathanos sighed, he missed being able to stare into the infinite depth of the milky way. Humans fascinated him, in their frantic search for the mysteries and the enigmatic truth of life they had bereaved themselves of the very thing they sought. Where they had once seen ancestors and spirits, they now saw burning balls of gas. But only in picture books or on monitors. Once again, he sighed. He had been doing a lot of that lately. Pulling back the sleeve of his shirt, he looked down at his watch.
Light pollution was not the only thing on his mind, far from it. Recently, relatively speaking, the air had become much more agreeable. This did not in the slightest change his need for the appropriate air-filtering equipment. Nathanos chuckled. My need for clean air, huh? he mused. In some ways it did not matter, but that line of thinking quickly led to despair. If he trivialised air, soon everything became trivial. Shaking his head, he concluded he had suffered plenty and saw no point in adding further pain to an already too long list.
Suddenly his apartment darkened. Swirling black mist rose out of the floor two arms-lengths behind him. “You are late,” he announced as the mist coalesced into the shape of a women.
“What is a minute or two to you, old friend?” the woman laughed as her form solidified.
In the window’s reflection he could see that she wore a solid colour knitted dress. It was a red, form-fitting thing that flattered her body shape. He also noted that she had gotten her hair done, as well as her nails, most likely the very moment before she arrived. Nathanos commented on neither.
“Much longer than you’d expect. I like your shoes,” he replied instead. “Are they new?”
She joined him by the window. “They are indeed! I thought you might like them.”
For a moment she dropped her guard, Nathanos tended to have that effect on others. Nine silvery tails briefly flashed into ethereal existence before vanishing again. “How are things back home?” he asked.
She took a deep breath and smiled. “I am transferring to Hong Kong next week.”
Nathanos grunted in response. “Can I get you anything? I’m afraid water is off the menu, though.”
“Since you offered! What name do you go by these days, by the way?” she added as an afterthought.
Grabbing a glass he went over to the kitchen and turned the tap. “Nathanos. You?”
Once the glass was full of water, he turned the tap again and walked back to the window. By the time he handed over the glass the content had transformed from water into mead. A slightly jaded smile pulled at his lips. “My favourite brew for my favourite fox.”
Taking a sip, she asked, “How do you do that?”
“Not by choice,” was all the explanation Nathanos would offer.
“So,” Nathanos ventured eventually. “Have you spoken to her yet?”
Xiùlán pouted. “Death is a hard woman to track down.”
Nathanos sighed. “Unfortunate.”
“What is this about anyway?” Xiùlán demanded. “You are the oldest creature I know, hell, you might even be the oldest of us all.”
Nathanos laughed. “Me? What could I possibly have done? Actually,” he paused. “Do you know how I came to be this way?”
Xiùlán crossed her arms. “No, I don’t believe you ever told me.”
“Humans have many stories concerning mead, the Nordics have some of my favourite ones, but the truth is much more mundane. I invented it. Well, I suppose discovered it is more appropriate. I cannot recall the reason, but I put honey in water and must have forgotten about it. When I finally remembered, it had fermented. I am the first person to ever drink mead, and for reasons I do not know, every liquid I touch become it.”
Xiùlán arched an eyebrow. “Is that so bad?”
Nathanos gave his head a subtle shake. “I cannot remember the taste of water. There is a plethora of human ingenuity I have been denied. Beer, sake, bai jiu, souju, whiskey, wine, the list goes on. But no, it is not so bad. Others have it far worse than I.”
Sudden laughter escaped Xiùlán’s mouth. “To spend eternity drunk, who would have thought!”
Nathanos waved a hand dismissively. “The alcohol does not affect me, it hasn’t since the first time I drank it.”
A moment of silence passed between them. “If there is nothing else, I must be going,” Xiùlán declared.
“I shan’t keep you,” Nathanos sighed.
“Thank you for the drink,” Xiùlán teased and vanished in the same manner she arrived.
Left to solitude, Nathanos went over to his refrigerator and took out a small container. He extracted a handful of blackberries from it, which he then he put into a glass of water. He considered the infusion of berries a small victory over his affliction. Bringing over his glass, he put it on a small coffee table in front of his couch. Taking a seat, he pulled up his legs on the chaise portion of it. Resting his head on the couch’s back, he took a swig of his drink.
Closing his eyes, he considered the sum of his life. The many names he had carried, the profound joy and sorrow he still felt, but most of all the persistent yearning that never seized to haunt him.
“When I reminisce,” he addressed no one in particular. “More than anything, I remember the songs. When I reminisce, I marvel at the immortality of such things. They sang, and continued to sing, passing ever-changing words from one generation to the next.”
Nathanos took another sip, then put his glass down. “It has been sung in every language, in countless words. How is it that they keep singing the thoughts I cannot give voice?”
Dismissing his own thoughts with a scoff and a brief chuckle, Nathanos opened his eyes and looked out at the city skyline. A tune found its way into his mind, and even though he kept his mouth closed and refused to speak… it escaped through his throat, a secret demanding to be hummed.