Series: Tales of Vesperia
Story warnings: language and some blood
A/N: Written as a prequel for the Seaside set, this story ended up being WAY longer than originally anticipated. XD
As with the others from this set, this is a gift fic for Flynntervention on tumblr. <3
Disclaimer: The characters in this story are from Tales of Vesperia and do not belong to me.
Consciousness brought pain. Flynn's back was on fire, and from that burning core of agony radiated an ache that reached up to her shoulders and neck and down into the muscles of her tail. She could have dealt with the pain if it weren't for the fact that she had somehow beached herself and was bereft of the safety and comfort of the sea. Groaning, she curled in on herself, feeling air against the side of her face, and sand against her chest and stomach. Moving made the pain worse, but it was the voice that woke real fear.
“Hey, careful. I've almost got you cleaned up.”
Flynn whipped her head around, lifting her heavy body—so useless out of the water!—up on her arms. The pain was incredible, and she barely managed to hold her head up as she bared her teeth in a snarl at the human woman who knelt in the sand next to her.
“Get back!” She dared a swipe, claws slicing harmlessly through the air. Dark spots danced in her vision, but the human didn't retreat. Flynn slashed at her again, flinging herself through the pain at the human's throat.
“You're gonna hurt yourself worse doing that.” She'd leaned back just enough to dodge, and didn't sound the least impressed by the pitiful threat Flynn represented in her sorry state.
“What happened?” Flynn demanded, bearing her fangs in a grimace. “What have you done to me?”
She couldn't remember how she had been beached or come by such injuries. The ocean called to her, and she glanced wildly, helplessly, away from the human to see the breakers coming in too far away for hope. There was no way she would be able to beat the human back to the ocean.
“Me? I didn't do anything to you!” She paused, and the offended lift to her voice was gone when she spoke again. “Okay, that's kinda true. I've been trying to clean out these gashes on your back for the last ten minutes, and if you'll shut up and hold still, I'll finish that up and give you something to help them heal.”
Flynn eyed her warily, still ready to strike if she moved closer. This wasn't what she had been raised to expect of humans. It wasn't what her few, accidental encounters with members of that species had prepared her for. She wasn't sure what to do. Common sense told her not to let her guard down and not to show weakness. Her arms, however, were beginning to shake from the effort of merely holding herself up. She wouldn't be able to manage much longer, much less drag herself back to the safety of the ocean. The pain in her back beat against her thoughts, making it hard to focus.
Wind stirred her hair. Flynn noticed for the first time the troop of sylphs that danced around them, chittering airily and unconcerned about the earthbound tableau. Flynn listened to them a moment, then looked afresh at the human kneeling before her.
“You're a witch.”
The woman wrinkled her nose, frowning at the laughing sylphs. “You shouldn't listen to gossip. It's only a hobby. Now, are you going to let me finish, or do I have to watch you crawl back into the water to bleed out?”
Flynn wasn't quite ready to trust, but her fading strength made the choice for her. Her elbows gave and she sank back down onto the sand. “It seems there is nothing much I could do to stop you,” she murmured wearily.
“You could always tell me to fuck off.” It only took her a moment to correctly interpret Flynn's look of incomprehension. “It means 'go away.' I'd figured if you knew the language, you'd get the slang. My mistake.”
“Would you truly leave me here should I ask it of you?”
The woman returned Flynn's measuring look, then shrugged. “I might help get you down to the water if you asked nice.”
She was a stranger and a human, but the sylphs were undisturbed by her presence. They'd said she was a witch. Did that mean she wasn't a threat the way other humans were? Or did it make her more dangerous, since she might be better versed in the lore?
“You said you had something to help the healing?” She tried not to flinch as the woman moved closer and began gently brushing sand from her back.
“Yeah. Lucky you, I just bartered for a fresh jar of it tonight. I was actually on my way home when I found you.”
“Not one of your own potions, then? Who made it?”
“A friend of mine. She keeps a garden where I get most of my herbs. She has a talent for healing, too. The stuff I got from her will be way better than anything I could whip up.”
“What's in it?”
Flynn had to clench her teeth as she felt fingers carefully probing her wounds, checking to be sure all debris had been cleared from them. Craning her neck, she could just barely look back and see the gashes low on her back. They were angry red and oozing blood over her skin and onto the sand where it clumped and sparkled in the moonlight. She could see a short trail of it leading part of the way back toward the water.
“I dunno. Plants, water, good vibes. I didn't ask her for the recipe.”
“You said being a witch was only a hobby.” It took an effort to remain focused on the conversation and keep it going. She heard a soft laugh, and caught a tiny smile lifting the woman's lips.
“It is. My real job is at a bakery.”
“Bakery.” Flynn rolled the unfamiliar word on her tongue. She wanted badly to fall asleep, but didn't think the pain would let her. As the witch spoke, Flynn's mind wandered, trying to remember what had happened, how she had been wounded and then let herself become stranded as the tide went out. The incomprehensible babble of the witch's explanation washed over her.
“It's a place to bake breads and pastries—sweet things like cakes, pies, muffins, cookies. We do savory rolls and things, too, but mostly people come in for our desserts. I guess you wouldn't have anything like that under the water. Too bad. You're missing out.”
Flynn had very nearly made peace with the pain. She hung apart from her body, divorced from the sensations that attacked her with every movement. When the woman tapped her shoulder, Flynn barely noticed. It wasn't until a glass jar full of a thick, dark salve was thrust in front of her face that she pulled herself out of the comfort of her stupor.
“Since you don't trust me, I thought you might like to take a whiff of this before I put any on you.”
“This is the healing salve your friend made?” She breathed in. The scent was wondrous, like nothing she'd ever smelled before, and she took another deep breath. It was warm and sharp and clean. She nodded once, then pillowed her head on her arms. “Go ahead.”
The woman shifted, situating herself a little closer. She dipped two fingers into the jar, coating them in the salve and then reaching for Flynn's back. The first touch was unpleasantly cold, followed by a sharp sting that made Flynn hiss. She saw that the witch had gone still, but in the next moment, the pain was already beginning to recede.
“I did not expect it to be so cold,” Flynn said. “Please continue. I will not attack you.”
It hurt her pride a little to see the human amused by that, but there was no denying that she was in a sorry state. Whole and healthy, she gauged that she might have been a match for this land-dweller on the beach, but weakened as she was, her life was in the witch's hands. Suppressing the urge to flinch away or hiss as the salve spread and stung her anew, Flynn studied the human who had come upon her.
The moonlight leached colors away, making the witch seem as if she had been formed out of the beach. Her skin was as pale as the sand. Her hair was long and loose, as dark as the night-black ocean except for where moonlight shone white as the breakers against it. Her eyes were gray as stones, but bright and intent. She was slender and long-limbed. Like all other humans, she covered herself with cloth: a black piece draped over her chest and stomach, and a small, blue garment of rougher material over the area where her stiff legs sprouted from her body. Flynn had once asked a crab what it was like to be stuck with legs. It had sounded like a dreadful existence.
Although it was obvious that Flynn was staring at her, the witch ignored the scrutiny as she worked. She was quick with the salve, and thorough judging by the spread of the stinging sensation. Little by little, the pain faded. It didn't go away, of course, but it became easier to bear. By the time the witch sat back, the jar was mostly empty.
“All right. Now for the tricky part.”
“What do you mean?” Flynn stirred, moving carefully, experimentally, to see what it cost her.
“Think about it. I got you treated, but what's going to happen when you hit the water? All that nice, healing goop is going to dissolve away, and you'll be right back to where you started.”
“My kind heal quickly.”
“Quickly enough to fix all this damage? You look like you got run over by a speedboat.”
A memory of noise and chaos rose to the forefront of Flynn's mind. There had been boats—two of them—and a human who had fallen into the water. She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to remember.
“I think that might be what happened,” Flynn said. There had been a pair of the small, fast boats, both full of rowdy humans. They had been throwing things into the water; round, metal containers that leaked the remnants of their foul-smelling contents.
“I wouldn't have thought you'd be slow enough to get hurt like that.”
“I'm not,” she snapped. One of the humans had stood on the edge of the boat. He'd fallen overboard during a sharp turn. Somehow, he must have hit his head. He hadn't been moving to save himself. They'd been polluting the water, but Flynn hadn't been willing to simply watch one of them die for that crime. “I had one of them. He made it difficult to swim.”
“Hmmm? Lured a snack off the boat and got a bit more trouble than you bargained for?”
“Of course not!” She glared at the witch. “I was trying to help him.” Mermaids rarely hunted sailors anymore. Humans had become too numerous and far too clever to take that risk.
“All right. So, I'm guessing this guy was hurt. He wouldn't need your help, otherwise, right?”
“Exactly. I was trying to give him back, but they kept circling and swerving. One of them came around and struck me. I....” She took a moment, trying to remember what had happened after the impact and the sudden pain that had stunned her. “I...took him to the pier. There was a place for him to climb up. He had his hand on it when I left.”
Putting distance between herself and the humans had been the only thought in her mind. She'd swam as far away as she'd been able to manage, too disorientated to realize that she hadn't put enough distance between herself and the coast. The tide must have washed her up. It had been a stroke of luck that the human to find her had been sympathetic.
“Sounds like you've had a pretty bad night.” She slapped her hands against her legs. “All right. Here's what we're gonna do. There is nothing I can slap on your back that's gonna keep the seawater out for long. I can manage something that'll have to be changed in about a day, max. Honestly, you probably need stitches, but there's no way I'm attempting that. The question is, can you make it back to someone who can help you, or do I need to meet you here again tomorrow night?”
“I shouldn't even be talking to you,” Flynn admitted quietly.
“All right, don't talk. I'll bandage you up and that'll be the end of it.”
As she finished speaking, she lifted her arms and pulled off her black garment, revealing a smaller one meant for swimming in beneath. Humans were terribly silly about certain things. She folded the garment in half and laid it over the gashes, patting gently all around the edges as Flynn winced. Then, rather than leave the wound covered, she lifted the cloth away.
“Sorry,” she said to Flynn's astonished stare. “For this to work I needed some of your blood on my shirt.”
Without further explanation, she spat on the tips of two fingers from her left hand and began tracing letters over the bloodied cloth as she muttered under her breath. Several times, she had to stop and spit on her fingers again, but, eventually, she had cast her spell all the way around the edges.
“I mixed and matched some healing and binding for that. It should stick, since it's your body calling to your blood. It might even help you mend a bit faster. No promises there. I've never been great at healing.”
“You've helped with the pain a great deal already. I appreciate what you've done for me.”
“Don't sweat it.”
She turned away, reaching for a bag that had been sitting behind her, and then upending its contents out over the sand. Numerous bundles of herbs spilled out along with a water bottle and a wickedly gleaming knife. It was the knife that caught Flynn's attention, and she felt a moment of panic as the human picked it up.
“Give me just a minute and I'll have some bandages to be sure my shirt stays in place.”
To Flynn's relief and private shame, the woman took the knife to her bag, slicing around and around it until the entire thing was cut into one long, uneven length of cloth. As her hands flew through their work, Flynn noticed the odd, dark markings on her right palm. She pointed, distracting the woman.
“What is that? On your hand there.”
“Hmm?” She glanced down as if she'd forgotten the marks were there, then held out her palm on display for Flynn. “It's a tattoo.”
Inked in black and pale gray on her palm was an image of the full moon. Flynn stared, amazed by the detail of the image. “You hold the moon in your hand,” she breathed.
The witch shrugged. “It makes some things easier.” Done with that discussion, she returned to her task. It wasn't until she finished and set her knife aside that she looked at Flynn once more.
“Can you raise up onto your arms again? I'll try to be quick, but I'd rather not have you rolling around on the sand.”
Could she manage it? She hadn't forgotten the weakness in her arms, the way they had trembled and given out. The injury had badly weakened her. Suddenly, Flynn wasn't sure she would even be able to make it home until she'd had some time to recover. Humiliated by her weakness, she nodded and lifted her body free of the sand, determined to manage at least that much.
The woman took a moment to hurriedly brush the sand from Flynn's stomach, then she was wrapping her makeshift bandages around Flynn's body. Her hands were there-and-gone tickles, but her arms were warm where they pressed up against Flynn's as they passed the length of fabric from hand to hand, over and under. The warmth of her body was a bright lure, tempting, and Flynn clenched her teeth against the sudden urge to bite. She needed to eat, and soon. She butted her head up against the woman's chest, and thought she could almost feel her heartbeat resonating between them. Her human smell was strange, but not unpleasant. It was a mixture of scents: some like the salve, some sweet, some floral, some musky. Flynn breathed deeply and shifted, trying to hold herself up on shaking arms.
“Hey.” The witch tapped her elbow. “You're in the way like this. Lean on me so I can get a bit closer.”
She ducked lower, allowing Flynn to drape herself gratefully over her shoulders. Her words rang with untruth, an excuse made up to keep Flynn from collapsing, perhaps, but it was an excuse Flynn was glad enough to take. She felt bad for adding her weight to the woman's shoulders and blocking her view of her task, but she heard no word of complaint over the added burden. As she was jostled and bandaged, she held as still as she could, one cheek pressed against soft, black hair. Her hands rested against the bared skin of the woman's back. It was soft beneath her fingertips, and she could feel every twitch of muscle. Drawing her fingers in, one of her nails left an accidental scratch over the unmarred skin. Very faintly, the smell of human blood reached her nose. She felt a sudden pang of hunger at the scent.
“What should I call you?” Flynn asked, trying to distract herself from thoughts of how easy it would be to feed and gain the strength needed to heal. “If I were to come back tomorrow night, what name should I call you by?”
Though Flynn had no magic to be used with the knowledge of one's true name, recognizing that Yuri had given hers came as a shock. She felt suddenly rude for having asked, and, flustered with hunger, pain, and embarrassment, offered her own name in return.
“Nice to meet you, Flynn.”
A brief thrill shot from the tip of her tail all the way up her back to hear Yuri speak her name. She shivered, and then Yuri was pulling away—slowly, arms beneath Flynn's to keep her from collapsing to the sand.
“All set,” Yuri said, smiling at her. “Need a hand down to the water?”
“Yes.” Remembering Yuri's words from earlier, Flynn added: “Please.”
“No problem.” Her smile went from confident to bemused. “Except I'm not sure what would be the best way to do this.”
She made a couple of false starts as Flynn watched her try to work out what would put the least extra strain on the injury. Finally, she sat back on her heels, lips curled to one side in an expression of dissatisfaction.
“I'm gonna have to carry you over one shoulder.”
“That doesn't sound like it would be comfortable for either of us.”
“Well, it's that or I drag your tail down the beach. I can't pick you up without putting pressure on your back, and you can't piggyback without strangling me because I won't be able to get a purchase on your tail to hold you up.”
Yuri knelt low and indicated her shoulder. “Climb on.”
It was an awkward, lurching way of getting back to the water; both the part where Yuri hefted Flynn's weight and got to her feet, and her stumbling progress across the sand. She grunted and huffed the two times that a misstep nearly toppled them, but she managed.
“Damn, you're heavy,” she grumbled as she finally set foot in the waves.
“It's because I'm all of a thing, while you have those legs flopping around separately.”
“Yeah, sure,” Yuri said. Her chest was heaving, rising and falling rapidly against Flynn's tail.
“You can let me down. Even at just this depth, I'll have an easier time moving.”
“I'll take you out to where you can swim.” She staggered as a wave rose to wet her knees. “I started this, and I'll finish it.”
“...You are a very odd witch,” Flynn said eventually.
“Baker,” Yuri corrected.
“You heal mermaids and carry the moon with you wherever you go. I hardly think you can continue to identify yourself simply as one who prepares food.”
“Not just any food: pastries and cakes. Maybe I'll bring you a taste of one tomorrow night.”
Flynn overlooked the fact that Yuri assumed they would be meeting again. She had already made up her mind to return. She was sore and weary, well-aware that she would not be able to make it home in her condition. Luckily, she knew of a cavern nearby where she could rest throughout the coming day. Although she wasn't ready to reveal her hiding place to Yuri, Flynn felt she could trust her enough to take another look at the wound tomorrow night. Unlike most humans Flynn had had a chance to observe, Yuri seemed to be a decent sort. Once again, Flynn felt that she'd been extremely lucky to be found by this particular human.