A few short knocks on the door and a soft woman's voice called through it, beckoning his name. Nero came to it without question nor bellow, as Domini slept quietly nearby in their bed. The hour was late, and the moon peered through curtain-less glass windows at them as he answered the door.
"The Master wishes to see you." She said softly, looking up to meet the tall hybrid's glassy, somewhat ashen stare. He nodded and stepped out, closing the door quietly behind him and heading down through the halls towards the man's small, cave-like room. Ornate chandeliers boasted little light at this hour of the night, but he had no trouble finding his way. The girl was gone as soon as she came, one of many servants tasked with maintaining the house. At the door, he knocked twice before simply letting himself in.
Immediately his eyes landed upon the tall figure stationed before the fireplace, black furred with silver markings, hair the purest of periwinkle hues, lengthy, tufted tail. At once, he approached Nero and looked up at him, resting a hand on the bruisers bare bicep.
"It is good to see you, Uncle." Kazimir said. He was every bit the spitting image of his father, but with all the fierceness and wit of his mother, reflected in those mirror like eyes. Then, Kazimir passed him, leaving up the stairs to take his exit.
"The fuck took you so long?" Called a somewhat deeper, far more familiar voice from nearby. Nero twisted and a smile found its way onto his face. He set his eyes upon the man, now elder, his face lined with age- he would call it the proof of experience and expertise. His hair, once vibrant, was now a solid silver and dotted through with patches of fading white. Just as Fae'iqa had said long before, age suited him well, as he hardly looked any worse for wear, save for the obvious differences. He laid in his bed, covered with a sheet, as he had for the better part of a month now. Beside him, the bed was empty, where Fae once laid, had she not passed but three months prior.
"Arse." Nero rebuked back at the man, throwing up a friendly smile towards him. By comparison, Nero hadn't aged a day, but this was old news, news he'd had trouble accepting, and even now, he could not think of it without losing his composure. "Girl said ya sent for me. Ya got somethin' ta say or didya just want another look at my pretty mug?" he asked, think fingers groping over the side of one thick mutton chop. Then, he reached for one of the few chairs that had been placed there for visitors. He sat down into one, which creaked with complaint, leaning forward some so as to give Chaffen his full attention.
The Assassin smiled at him, shaking his head, brows lofting just slightly, "If only that were all." He mused, tilting his head at Nero, but his smile faded and grew somewhat somber. There was a pause here as he considered what he must say, and how he had to say it.
"I think there is much I must say, and I do not know how much time I have left to say it, Brother." He started, eyes meeting Nero's gaze pointedly; he could see the man was in a dire depression, but such could not be helped... Fae's passing had reminded Chaffen, they couldn't live forever, none of them could, and he had spent plenty of time on this earth... And being without her was a greater weakness to his soul than he could have ever anticipated. They had done as they promised- raise a family, grow old together, despite that Fae always insisted she would never be 'old'. He had achieved what he had truly wanted, a home, a family, a wife, love, trust, friends... a normal life. Now? Fate was calling him home, and he knew it, they all did, it was obvious. Nero of course only nodded, waiting for Chaffen to continue, his thick hands folding together to keep them from trembling.
"When I am gone, the magic of this place will not hold. This house will no longer be safe, it will crumble and fail, I am sure of it. I have much I must ask of you, Nero. My children have taken the relics to be stored, looked after, and they will guard them so long as they live, and their children after them. They hold with them the fate, the healing of the Kethese world that they have been ... gifted, more or less. That is their responsibility. To see that the darkness that created me cannot ever settle there. For you, I have something else- another task that I would require..." He paused, gauging the man, but when no reply came, he took it as a sign to continue.
"Your children have moved, and I am sure you will as well." To which Nero nodded; it was already decided, where they would go, how, and what they would take with them.
"This place may crumble, but I wish for there to be... No evidence. There is a darkness in these halls, in this stone, there are stories that some still could find, if they looked. You must make it so that they cannot."
"How?" Nero asked suddenly, not particularly enthused about where this conversation seemed to be going. "How do you expect me ta do that?" He asked again.
"You have ever been a skilled engineer, demolitionist, despite how I have constantly chided you otherwise... Destroy the first floor and the rest will collapse, set a fire to the Ebonwood, leave nothing alive, destroy the path and the elevator. Make it so that no one who did not already know where it was could ever find it. Not even by wing. Bomb it if you have to. You must do this for me, Nero. You must let this place, this scar of who I was, what damage I wrought on this world to disappear and be gone forever. You must let the world forget about me."
Nero hated these words. Destroy his home of god knew how many decades? Or had it been centuries? These words filled his eyes with rage and tears, brows furrowing- he thought to interject, a hand becoming a fist. "I won't-" He started to say, but Chaffen, being the manipulative man he always was, raised one thin, boney hand to stop him.
"Would you deny me my dying wish, Nero?" This seemed to quiet the behemoth in a second and he looked down, hands tightening and the tears fell from his gaze, but he stifled them back with a hard gulp, wiping them hastily away. He shook his head finally.
"I'll do it." He said, then pausing, it occurred to him that there was one question that none of them had truly wanted to discuss, but it had come up upon Fae's passing once before. "And your body?" He asked.
Chaffen tilted his head some, eyes dropping some as he considered it. "As I have said before... When I am gone, set the evergreen to my flesh, then bury me beside her on the spire. "
"But if tha spire collapses-" Nero started, but he was cut off.
"If it collapses, it will not matter, we will remain buried and none shall find us. No one will know any better."
"An' ya believe the evergreen will too, do ya? 'ide all the evidence?" Nero asked.
Chaffen nodded, "Yes. In time, not even bone will remain." He spoke with a certainty that in a way pained Nero, to know that not even one piece of the pair that had been his friends, his family for eons would linger.
Nero felt his composure crumbling and lifted a massive hand to his eyes, covering them briefly. Chaffen, seeing this, offered a weak, but soft smile.
"Do not weep for me, Nero. As they say... I am going to a better place."
"Like hell." Nero protested, "We all know 'ow tha's happening. Ya gonna go an' be wit' her. 'Ow do you know she's even gonna be there? 'Ow do you even know it'll work? 'Ow do you even know Fate'll keep 'er side of tha bargain?" he asked, shaking his head.
Normally, Chaffen would have offered up a scientific reasoning, a response to soothe the man's nerves with cold hard fact, but now, he reached out to touch the man's forearm, loosely sitting on the edge of the bed.
Nero offered no words, meeting the man's gaze solemnly, glassy and blurred, loosely shaking his head, wishing there was another way. A way that he could have had them both back, to keep them as he had been kept. Alas, he knew this chapter in his life was ending, and he was to move on, to change, that he and Domini would move on with their family and live on. That was what Fate had seen for him.
"Nero." Chaffen finally said, loosely gripping the man's wrist, "You must remember who you have become. You have changed. You are not the monster you were when we met all those years ago. You've come beyond that, you've grown, shifted, become a man. You must not let this undo all of that. Remember your standards, the training and guidelines I have given you. Hold true to your morals. Do not let the animal control you. Where I go, I go to be happy. I go because I must. My time here is done, and she waits for me. More, there is a job I must do, and I cannot do it here. I will ever be watching over you.
There is nothing I can offer you to truly express how I have felt, and all that you have done for me... But, perhaps, there is something I can do to help you. When I am gone, my coffers are to be split, half to my children, the other half to you and your family, as they have become family to me as well. It should last you long enough to find a good home, a good job... Whatever you might need until you can get on your feet."
To this, Nero shuddered down into tears, hand shifting so that one of them clasped about the man's once stronger, dagger worn palm. "Ya don't have ta do tha'." He said softly through his staggered breaths.
"It is already written- now have you ever known me to negotiate? No." Chaffen insisted, trying to lighten the mood with some soft humor; he so hated seeing the strong man break down like this, as everyone did. Nero only nodded, managing to stop the bitter sobs that threatened to consume him.
"And tha den?" He asked.
"Already to be sold. The divides should cover all of the closing fees for my company. All of those profits are going to be split into the coffers. Fédora is taking my ship and Kazimir is taking the airship. Our animals are going with them also. Now be a good man and hand me a whiskey there." He said, nodding at his minibar nearby. The behemoth dutifully complied.
For hours they drank and talked, reminiscing, laughing, joking and poking fun at how the way the world had turned out, the way things might turn out to be.
At the end of the night, as Nero was heading back up the stairs to his room, Chaffen called to him.
" You have ever been my greatest and closest friend, Nero. Perhaps it took me too long to realize that-but no man is perfect. Thank you, for everything."
There was level of gratitude that could parallel that which was conveyed in these few words, such sincerity that it brought a joyful smile to the hybrid's cheeks.
"Dun mention it."
A week later, Nero stood alone at the peak of the spire, looking down at the engraving on Fae'iqa's tombstone.
Here she lies in unending beauty and peace, Rani Anechka Markeyevna, cherished Wife and Mother. Mistress of Stealth.
The tree that had sprouted was small yet, but beautiful, with curling branches and the most brilliant of sanguine red leaves, a Blood Maple, one of the rarest trees in existence.
Beside her, a new mound laid fresh and new. Flowers surrounded it, his and hers both, black roses and white calla lily's; their favorites, mementos of all the magnificent times they'd had together, their wedding, birthdays and celebrations, anniversaries, births and passionate affairs.
Here he lies in unending fulfillment, reverence and rest, Chaffen Markevich, beloved Husband and Father. Master of Shadow, Adonis, God of Death.
Nero stared at it for many more long moments, Domini standing from afar, watching quietly as the Man said his farewells. Nero had written a letter, which he set down in its envelope atop the man's grave, swallowing down his sadness, glancing back at the Blood Maple. Eventually, one similar to it would grow from his as well, just beside hers, entwined forever.
He turned away at last and moved off, an arm coming around Domini's lower back.
"Is everything prepared?" Domini asked the man, looking up at him as they made their way back down and out of the lair, a slowed process, the place barren of all supplies and goods, all sold, and their possessions had been tied up and shipped out to their new place, leaving them with just a few small supplies to carry with them. Nero held in one pocket a detonator that would crumble the halls of this place as soon as they were free.
"It is." he said, withdrawing the item from his coat and looking down at it.
"What did it say?" Domini asked, looking at Nero curiously.
You always believed in me more than I believed in myself. You saw potential in me where I saw none. You pushed me to a standard I would otherwise never have been capable. I owe to you much. My life, my family, skill and memory.
I would like to say you have made me a better man, that I have become true and loyal. In most circumstances I think, that would be true.
When you asked for me to destroy this place, so that the world would be forever blind,
When you said to me that it was important no one ever know,
and that you should be forgotten,
I told you I would do it.
I'm sorry brother.
Nero then abruptly gripped the detonator so tightly that it crushed in his grasp, splintering and cracking.
Domini, eyes wide and concerned stammered, "W-What are you doing?!"
He turned, getting one last look at the castle, quiet falling over the still mountain, the wind whistling over its jagged peaks. He knew that in time, it would crumble as Chaffen said, that time would take the mountain and it would cave in, but this was a monument, a testament to standing against the gods, against fate, against all odds. A monument in support of miracles. He felt, it should remain for as long as possible.
"The world aint gonna forget 'im, them. I dun give a fuck if it was 'is dyin' wish. It aint gonna happen. It aint gonna be me. The world needs this scar, ta remember why we live. Ta remember wot's important. Ta remember that we can all change. That we dun gotta be the monsters we're born as."