"I ask again, dear girl," he murmured, his voice gentle, lightly accented in a way she couldn't exactly place, "why are you crying?"
It took several minutes for Ila to get her body to cooperate with her brain. Her mouth opened and shut, her entire being trembled, her hands clenched without her sayso.
"W-Who a-are you?" Her voice sounded so small, and soft, and thin to her own ears. She wondered if he'd even heard her, for she'd barely heard herself.
The man paused in his steps, then straightened, and she realized with a start that he'd been hunched the entire time. His head nearly brushed the ceiling at his full height. His nose twitched, and a kind smile crinkled his features. Something about him rung a bell, but Ila couldn't think enough to place how. She could only perceive that he came closer, and that she couldn't move to get away.
His cane clicked on the floor, in lockstep with the tap of his shoes. "Someone who has known you for a very, very long time, Ila."
His voice, even so quiet, enveloped her mind. It took her several seconds to process what he'd said beneath the weight of it smothering her.
Then she scooted back and stuttered, "H-how d-do you -"
He held up an elegant hand with the hooked head of the cane draped over it, and the question died on her tongue, the fog in her brain settling and stealing her voice. He stepped closer, his mirror polish shoes creaking on concrete as he knelt in front of her, his cane set in the crook of his arm. Even at such a reduced height, she had to crane her head to see his face, partway obscured by shadows.
Her eyes flicked from his, to his mouth, and back again. How he held himself, the way he watched her. It spoke of a familiarity that ran far deeper than she could fathom, and she wondered if this was a very vivid dream. His eyes were dark fire, his expression full of familiar longing - the way she'd always wished someone would look at her.
"Darling girl," he hummed, his long fingers reached up and pushed a stray bit of white hair out of her eyes, caressed the edge of her cheek, and tilted her chin up, "You gave me your name. After all -"
His lips curled in a sudden, broad grin, teeth catching the light. Ila could swear that she caught a glimpse of something not entirely human in the old man's face.
"You summoned me."