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.
Yuri's footprints were the only ones in the wet, tidal sand as she hurried back up the beach to where she'd left her things. She shivered as the sylphs danced around her. Dressed only in denim shorts and a sports bra, she was soaked from her dip in the ocean, and Flynn hadn't exactly been a warm and easy burden. Biting her lower lip, Yuri looked back out over the waves. She hoped Flynn would be all right for a day. She hadn't missed the way the mermaid had seized up at the first touch of the water against her back. All else aside, it couldn't be easy to swim with those deep cuts. Yuri was surprised she'd survived the blood loss. Maybe mermaids were simply made of tougher stuff than humans, though.
A patch of sand near the untidy heap of fresh-cut herbs Yuri had dumped out was dark with spilled blood. She skirted it, eyeing the sandy, congealed clumps. So. Mermaids really did exist. It was one thing to hear about them, but quite another to actually meet one. She'd had such short, choppy hair. Yuri knew better than to believe that children's cartoons ought to be taken as any evidence of what mythical beings should look like, but still. She had always expected that mermaids would have long hair.
“More important things to worry about,” she murmured.
Yuri picked up her water bottle and drained the last few gulps. Once it was empty, she knelt before the glistening mermaid blood and carefully scooped some of it into the bottle. It was full of sand, and closer in viscosity to thick mud than anything else, but it would do for what she had in mind.
First, though, she needed to get home, get changed, and grab a couple more supplies. She cast a quick spell over herself, more a suggestion than anything. If anyone happened to see her on her way back home, they would see what they expected—a girl in a black t-shirt, rather than a sodden witch in a bra. Confident that her spell would mask her current state of undress, Yuri made her way alone through the familiar streets of her seaside city home.
It was just as well that she had cast her illusion. Despite the hour, there was still more traffic on the streets than usual. Tourist season was just beginning. Over the next few months, the population of the city would triple as hotels filled up and businesses took on extra staff to deal with the overflow. As always, there would be those who trickled into Yuri's home turf, the low-rent quarter of the city that boasted no attractions, that housed and fed those who lived and worked near the beach all their lives without seeing it as the sort of get away vacation spot that drew summer crowds. Most of the out-of-town crowd that found their way into this part of the city would simply be lost. There were always a few who might come in search of a local eatery off the beaten path. Every summer, customers came to the bakery where Yuri worked, going on about how they made it a tradition to come in every year during their vacation. Yuri never recognized them. She came in each morning and did her job. She bought groceries at a chain store. She went home to an unassuming apartment building. She cast her spells and then went to sleep in a bed without a view of the ocean. It was all very mundane and too much like any other city in the world for tourists to pay it much attention. They wanted the glitter, the neon, the painted seashells and airbrushed t-shirts and cheap souvenirs. The beach was supposed to be a silly, gaudy break from normal life, and tourists usually tried to avoid reminders of what they would be going home to.
Cars rushed past, speeding through the mostly empty roads. Their headlights banished the shadows that would otherwise have helped secure Yuri's illusion. She held her head up and walked as if nothing was amiss. Confidence was the key to getting people to see what wasn't there. The magic only made suggestions. Yuri's manner sold the illusion.
No one honked at her or cat-called. The few people walking the sidewalk—patrons leaving the bars, or workers getting off a late shift—paid her no mind...except for one man. Yuri knew him—in the loosest sense of the word—from around town, usually at a bar. He went by the name Raven, and as he passed her on the other side of the street, he took a long look, grinned, and lifted a hand clutching a beer bottle in greeting.
“Hey!” he called. “Saw ya outside th' bar earlier!”
“No you didn't.” She raised her voice just loud enough to be heard across the street and kept walking. Raven paced her on the other side.
“How come ya gave ol' Raven th' cold shoulder?”
“Wasn't me,” she insisted, louder this time. The smile on his face was making her uneasy. She had the feeling that her glamour wasn't fooling him. If so, there was nothing to do about it except hope he put it down to drunken confusion if he remembered later.
“Musta been yer doppelganger. Cheers!” He lifted his bottle to her, then stopped in his tracks to take a long drink.
“Must've been your pickled brain,” she muttered, hurrying along the sidewalk. She thought that she had left him behind, so when he spoke up suddenly from just behind her, she started and spun, reaching instinctively for the knife in her bag.
“You carry a knife with you?” He was staring blearily at her face, looking dreamy and content and harmlessly tipsy. Yuri tightened her grip on the hilt anyway as he continued. “Gotta protect yourself. Dangerous characters around, these days.”
“I think I'm good, thanks.”
“Pawn shop on Mimosa and Vine has a real beaut'. Tell 'em Raven sent ya.”
“Look, old man—”
He backed off the moment she took a step toward him, lifting his hands palm out. “Just wanted ta tell ya. Pearl o' wisdom, freely given. Gotta watch out.”
He smiled at her and hiccuped and took a few, wavering steps backward before turning around and ambling off. This time, Yuri watched him for a few moments, making sure he wasn't going to try sneaking up behind her again. Even when she eventually resumed her walk home, she remained alert, wondering what other strangeness the night had in store for her, and hoping it would at least have the decency to wait until she'd had a chance to put a shirt on.
When she finally made it back to her apartment, Yuri closed the door firmly behind her with a sigh. She brought the bottle of mermaid blood into the kitchen and set it aside on the counter along with her knife. The bundles of herbs were dumped into a heap on her tiny dinette table. They were already starting to wilt and needed to be hung to dry, but Yuri had taken on a more important task to see to first.
Quickly, she hurried to her bedroom and changed into a pair of black jeans so old they'd faded to gray, and yesterday's t-shirt. It felt delightfully warm against her damp, chilled skin. Grabbing up a small knapsack, she kicked her sodden bra toward her laundry pile on her way out of the room.
The tiny hall closet held her collection of spray paint. She rummaged around until she found a can of glossy white that acted as its own primer. With a tight smile of satisfaction, she tossed the can and caught it and went to get the rest of her supplies. In the kitchen, she pulled out a hank of cord from a junk drawer, and cut a piece free with her knife. She tied one end around the neck of the bottle of blood. When she lifted it by the cord, it didn't quite swing true, but Yuri gauged it would serve its purpose well enough.
“Zipping around like idiots when one of your buddies is in the water,” she muttered. “Lucky you didn't run him over. Accidents like that attract all sorts of nasty things.”
Yuri tucked the spray paint, the bottle, and the knife into her bag along with a pouch of supplies from the junk drawer. For just a moment as she slipped it onto her back, she considered how strange the bag's contents were. No wallet, cash, phone, makeup, or tissues. Her kit contained several packets of salt from a fast food restaurant, some band-aids, and a lighter. The band-aids were almost normal, except for their size. Yuri had learned a little while back that if she was going to be slicing her palm during a spell, she needed something big enough to keep the wound contained afterward. The lighter housed a salamander. As for her combat knife, it was far nastier than any self-defense blade she'd ever seen, but, then, that wasn't its purpose. The spray paint was a little suspicious. The bottle would be entirely inexplicable to anyone unfamiliar with magic. She shifted the shoulder straps, frowning.
“I'm a baker, not a witch. I don't need to be getting dragged into other people's trouble.”
She went anyway.
There was only one marina where the boats might have come from, and Yuri biked across town to it. Given that half the people who rented space for their boats kept odd hours—late night parties or early fishing expeditions—the place never actually closed. Yuri locked up her bike near the entrance and fished out a few of the salt packets from her bag. Concealment spells and don't-see-me charms weren't among her favorite magics, but they did have their uses. Being noticed while she worked tonight was not in the plan. There wouldn't be a good way to explain it if she were to be caught red-handed, so she fell back on being sneaky. Salt was prized for its protective qualities, and that was what Yuri called on along with her own magic as she whispered a spell over the packets in her cupped hands. She channeled her energies into the salt, imbuing it with the power to turn aside the casual glance or to suggest that people see only what they expected to see. Her spell was intended to make herself unremarkable.
Once she had finished, Yuri tore open half of the packets and sprinkled their contents over her hair and shoulders. The fine, powdery grains clung to her, and she felt the spell settle upon her like an impossibly sheer cloak. Slipping the rest of the packets into a pocket, she strolled in as if she had every right to be there. Attitude was key. As long as she acted like she belonged, the spell would enhance that, making her presence seem so above question that she would practically be part of the scenery. In that odd stretch of time caught between night and day, the party crowd had mostly gone home but the predawn fishermen were only just beginning to trickle in. Still, there were just enough people tying up their boats or carrying in tackle boxes to have made her precaution worth it. No one gave her a second glance as they passed, and if questions were asked later, it was unlikely anyone would remember her.
There was a well-lit bulletin board near the entrance. Yuri paused in front of it, pretending to study the various announcements and fliers as she pulled the plastic bottle out of her bag. She let it dangle by the string until it hung still and steady, then she took a breath and focused on her question.
Pendulums were a simple magic. They didn't even require a spell—just concentration and a steady hand. While a plastic bottle containing sandy dollops of mermaid blood wasn't anywhere near the norm for such things, it was perfect for Yuri's purpose. Like called to like. She barely had to think about a boat with Flynn's blood on the propeller blades before the bottle suddenly lurched at the end of the string, pulling gently toward one end of the pier as it started to swing.
Yuri grinned a hunter's grin and let the pendulum's faint tug lead her toward her prey. She wanted to race past the piers, but haste would hide the pendulum's movement and draw attention to her. She forced herself to walk slowly, purposefully. With the pendulum hanging at her side and guiding her, she looked as if she knew exactly where she was going. No one gave her a second glance as they tidied their boats or stumbled toward the parking lot and home.
The hush of the hour made the marina seem eerie. Light came almost exclusively from the blue-white halogen street lights lined up along the main walk and arrayed along the piers that jutted out into the water. It was harsh, fading quickly into shadow between sharply illuminated slices of a world that waited silently for daylight. There were no birds awake to fill the air with their calls. No engines ran, though a handful of boats still had lights on aboard. Yuri had seen fewer than half a dozen people, and had yet to hear a human voice. The wind made barely a sound as it toyed with her hair. The only noise came from the waves as they curled over one another. They rocked the boats, slapping against the sides with a sound that was liquid and sharp at the same time. Yuri let the sound fill her up. She could practically feel the ocean surging against her heart. The connection made her feel stronger, more sure of herself. She drew a deep breath of salt air.
Despite the breeze blowing in off the sea, the air at the marina was not nearly as pure as it was on the beach near the end of town. She could smell the algae that grew on the wood of the pier, and a pungent, fishy odor. There was a sour whiff of beer and old garbage from the bins at the end of every pier, and the barest hint of gasoline. The sea winds scoured the marina, but they couldn't scrub it completely free of those other smells. This was just one more section of the city that had made its mark on the coast.
The pendulum tapped her thigh as the direction of its swing changed. Immediately, Yuri altered her course, heading out along the pier that the pendulum had indicated. Her footsteps thudded hollowly against the wood, sounding much louder than they had against the concrete walkway. She kept on going, head up and eyes forward, alert for others without appearing to look for them. To either side of her, speedboats were docked along the pier, tied up and bobbing gently on the waves. Yuri never would have been able to guess which one was responsible for Flynn's injuries, but the pendulum led her right to one on the very end. Even from up on the pier, the boat reeked of beer. A few empty cans littered the bottom, and Yuri couldn't help but wonder if the rest had been tossed into the ocean. She grinned as she invited herself aboard, but the expression was not friendly in the least. Whoever owned this boat was about to pay a steep price for harming a mermaid off of her coast.
Yuri made her way to the back of the boat and squatted in front of the motor. It wasn't easy to balance on the balls of her feet in the rocking boat, but there was no way she was going to kneel in the stinking mix of brine and beer that no one had bothered to mop up. The easy part was done. Now came the messy bit.
Trading out the pendulum for her combat knife, Yuri considered the shining, wickedly sharp blade for a moment, then pressed the pad of her left index finger against the point.
“On behalf of innocent blood spilled, I invoke my right to exact a price. By my own sacrifice do I call upon the strength to cast my spell. By my own will do I command it done.”
Blood welled swiftly as she pulled the blade away, and she leaned forward to press her finger against the side of the boat. Murmuring a spell, she smeared bloody runes around the motor. Fed by her blood, the magic would take on her will and reduce the flashy speedboat to little more than a floating deck chair. Yuri's spell was one of stillness, calm, and quiet, and because she had cast it on the boat itself, the owner wouldn't simply be able to purchase a new motor and be free of the spell. The new one would still be subject to the power of a spell etched in blood. No motor set into this boat would ever run.
“You'd better behave yourself after this,” Yuri murmured, studying her handiwork as it dried. “If you hurt someone again and I have to come find you instead of your boat, I'm not going to be so creative about serving up your just desserts.”
Yuri didn't wait too long for the blood to dry. She pulled out the spray paint and gave it a good shake. The rattling of the ball bearing inside the can sounded far too loud, and she couldn't help glancing back over her shoulder as she set to work concealing her spell. The dark smears of blood disappeared beneath a coat of white paint. It wouldn't be an exact match for the boat's original color, but that was what the rest of the salt was for. As soon as she was done with the paint, Yuri capped the can and shoved it back into her bag. She pulled out the charged salt packets and emptied all of them into her palm, then sprinkled the sand over the tacky paint. For a couple of days, the spell would be strong enough to make just about anyone overlook the slight difference in shade and shine of the paint around the motor. By the time the salt lost its effectiveness, the real spell would be well set in and nearly impossible to undo—assuming it would ever be noticed.
Satisfied, Yuri smiled and dusted her hands off. She'd forgotten about the cut on her finger and grimaced as she accidentally rubbed salt into the wound. Time to get home and cleaned up. She would have time for almost three hours of sleep before she was expected in at work.
As she stood up, Yuri felt someone call her name. There was no command, but she could feel the power her name held as a tingling surge throughout her body. She swayed on her feet, lost for a moment in the feel of being named by someone aware of the power of such things. She felt as if she rang clear as a crystal bell, as if the core of her surfaced for one moment, and everything that was 'Yuri Lowell' fit together as one perfect whole, no longer divided or conflicted. The moment faded in the blink of an eye, but the loss of that peace staggered her. Yuri hadn't known it could ever feel so right to be herself.
There was only one person she could think of who either could or would have grabbed her attention like that. Gritting her teeth, Yuri scanned the water until she spotted Flynn glaring at her from the shadow of the neighboring boat. It had been a mistake to give the mermaid her real name. She wondered if she would have a chance to fix it.
“Hey there, Sunshine.” She set her lips into a smile and moved to stand where she could see better. Flynn was mostly hidden by the dark, lapping water. Only her face and the hand she braced against the side of the boat were clearly visible. Her body and tail were pale shadows of movement beneath the surface. “You look like hell. Weren't you supposed to be resting?”
“You took my blood,” Flynn accused.
“How did—?” The chittering laughter of sylphs as they darted through Yuri's hair answered the question before she'd even finished asking it. “Ah. I only borrowed some to find the boat that hit you. It won't happen again.” She grinned fiercely, inviting Flynn to share the triumph of revenge, but the mermaid's face was set with cold anger.
“Return my blood.”
She hadn't used Yuri's name to command her. Interesting. Trying to play fair, or did she not know how to use true names in spells? It was a pretty rare magic, after all.
“Sure thing.” Yuri offered the plastic bottle without hesitation. She would have disposed of the blood herself somehow, but there was no sense not letting Flynn take care of it.
“What did you use it for?” Flynn demanded. She hadn't reached out to take the bottle.
“I told you, I needed to find the boat. This was the quickest way.” She leaned over the side, bracing her hand on the rail as she stretched out her other arm and gave the bottle a little shake, urging Flynn to come take it.
“You asked me to trust you. You said you wanted to help.”
Flynn was getting louder. She'd come forward out of the shadow of the boat, but still wasn't close enough to take the bottle. Yuri was about ready to toss it into the ocean and let the mermaid fetch it from the waves. With a quick glance back over her shoulder to see if anyone had heard, Yuri leaned further over the side of the boat.
“I am trying to help you.” She kept her voice down, wondering if the sound on the edge of her hearing was footsteps or the sound of the boat against the dock. “Take the bottle. I only used it as a pendulum, I swear. I'll tell you more about it when I come to patch you up again tomorrow night, but right now I'm going home.”
“What?” Flynn's question caught her off guard. She was certain now that she could hear footsteps coming down the pier, and she tried to think herself innocuous.
Just chatting with a friend who decided to go for a swim, she thought. Nothing to see here.
Flynn must have heard the steps, too. She came within reach, staring up at Yuri with eyes of an eerily luminescent blue, even in shadow. She spoke quickly and quietly, barely loud enough to be heard over the lapping waves.
“Swear that you will return tomorrow to help me.”
Practically overlapping Flynn's demand, a familiar voice called out from the pier.
“Who's down there?”
Of all the people to run into...! Yuri cursed her luck, wondering if there was any way to hide in the boat's sparse shadows. Before she even had a chance to consider the thought, Flynn's chill hand closed firmly over her wrist. She heard the hissed demand to swear once more at the same time Leblanc spotted her. As he shouted her name, Flynn pulled her over the side.
The ocean closed over Yuri with shocking suddenness. She banged the heel of her palm on the side of the boat and caught an ankle on the rail on the way over, but the pain became part and parcel of the enveloping cold and wet, the adrenaline rush of a headlong tumble, the sudden buoyancy and disorientation as she struggled to right herself. She came to the surface, thrashing and gasping for air as Flynn tried to capture her other wrist.
The words were barely intelligible, and she only just had time for another desperate breath before being yanked back beneath the water. Flynn had gotten hold of her by both wrists. Pain jolted suddenly down Yuri's finger, the same one she'd sliced to write the runes with. Then, all of a sudden, she was free. She kicked to the surface, choking and cursing at the same time as she felt blindly for the boat. For the second time, a hand wrapped around her wrist. This time, the grip was warm and pulling her up out of the ocean. Spitting mouthfuls of saltwater, Yuri clambered back onto the rocking boat with Leblanc's help.
Get lured off a boat and almost drowned by a mermaid. Well fucking done, Yuri.
Leblanc had a commanding voice, but even hearing her full name from him wasn't nearly as potent as what Yuri had felt when Flynn had spoken only her given name. She glared up through sodden locks of her hair at the detective—the off duty detective, as his shorts, t-shirt, and bucket hat proclaimed him—and tried to regain, if not dignity, at least a sense of nonchalance.
“Hey, Leblanc. Should've figured you for the early-riser type. Out here to make sure all the fishes stay in school?”
“I thought I caught a whiff of spray paint on the breeze, so I came looking for a potential troublemaker. Can't say I'm surprised by what I found.”
That was the problem in a nutshell. When something went wrong, Leblanc expected to find her at the center of the trouble. It made it damn near impossible to fool him with a don't-see-me charm. Magic like that simply didn't work when people knew exactly what they were looking for. Yuri tried to push her hair out of the way, and coughed to cover the rattle of the spray paint can in her bag.
“I didn't do anything. I was just out for a walk, and I happened to drop my water bottle. I was trying to grab it when you came bellowing along.”
He glared down at her, not buying it for a second. “You expect me to believe you went to the trouble of climbing down into a boat that I know for a fact doesn't belong to you, just to get a water bottle out of the ocean.”
Yuri opened her eyes wide and put on her most innocent expression, mostly because she knew it pissed him off. “Littering is a crime, officer.”
Leblanc glowered. It was hard to see his expression between the poor lighting and the shadow cast by his hat, but Yuri knew he was glowering. It was what he did.
“Where's the bottle?”
“Must've floated away. You actually gonna charge me?” she asked incredulously.
“I don't see it.”
“Yeah? Well, I didn't see what bit me.” Yuri held up her hand, displaying for him the finger Flynn had bitten. Blood flowed freely from more than a dozen small puncture wounds, obscuring the cut she'd made herself. “Can I go now?”
“You want to know what I think?” If he heard her muttered 'No' he ignored it and carried on talking. “I think whoever owns this boat pissed you off, so you came out here with a can of spray paint to tag it, then fell over the side while you were at it. What's the matter, Lowell? The owner have too pretty a face for your direct approach?”
“Ha ha. Take a look around, Officer Wisecracks. I didn't tag shit.”
It was a bluff. He'd be looking for something obvious, so there was a chance the concealment spell she'd cast with the salt would work. She crossed her arms over her chest, trying to look annoyed rather than cold, and waited for him to scan the inside of the boat and lean carefully over the rail to check the sides. When it was clear that he wasn't going to find what he was looking for, Yuri gave him her sweetest smile.
“You're not going to catch anything, fishing like that.”
“Don't act smart with me. I know you were up to something. You haven't got any legitimate business here.” They glared at each other for a moment, then Leblanc pointed to the pier. “Off the boat. I'll escort you off the premises.”
Yuri turned her back on him and disembarked with all the dignity she could muster while freezing cold and still dripping seawater. “I can see myself out, thanks.”
Leblanc walked her back to her bike, anyway. He actually stood by and watched her ride off, as if she might sneak back in the moment his back was turned and steal a boat or something. Anger simmered beneath Yuri's skin, warming her before the exercise of peddling could. He hadn't had any proof, not even any evidence! All he'd had was the conviction that Yuri was up to no good. Never mind that he'd technically been right, the point was that he'd just automatically assumed she was guilty!
“Bastard,” Yuri muttered. So she'd spray painted a few protective runes and glyphs around the neighborhood. And, sure, he'd caught her on the scene at the mini golf place that got trashed, but only because she'd just finished banishing the fachan who'd caused all the damage in the first place! And then there'd been that time she had been tracking down a banshee—that had been hard to explain. Still, it didn't make her a criminal! She worked in a bakery, for crying out loud!
“I'm a baker.” She peddled faster, flying along the street, and trying to tell herself that she was hurrying home to bed rather than running from the magic she'd inherited. The fleeting sensation that had gripped her when Flynn had called to her chased her all the way back, only barely unable to catch up and envelop her.