suspicious_popsicle: (Default)
Story: Blood and Beginnings
Chapter: 5/7
Series: Tales of Vesperia
Pairing: fem!Fluri
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 had had it. Ever since that night on the pier, she'd felt a buzzing wrongness beneath her skin, subtle at first, but impossible to ignore once she'd learned about the doppelganger. Like called to like, which meant that the creature had formed a connection to her by consuming her spell—a combination of her magic and her blood. It tugged at her, constantly, and it was getting really fucking annoying.

Slogging hurriedly back up the beach, she headed for her bag, always keeping an eye on the approaching doppelganger. It wasn't moving very quickly, probably because it didn't think it needed to. It could track her, after all, and it knew that she couldn't face it without huge risk.

“Cocky bastard,” Yuri muttered.

She took a quick mental inventory of everything in her bag: a dry tank top, bandages and a nearly empty jar of salve, combat knife, flip-flops, a bottle of water. Not exactly a useful arsenal against the fae creature stalking her. Snatching it up, she dumped the contents out over the sand. Immediately, she pulled on the tank top, wanting as much between her and the monster as possible, then pocketed the remains of the salve. She didn't know if doppelgangers could have two targets at once, but she wasn't about to risk it catching Estelle's scent. Her lighter had landed nearby. It glittered in the moonlight, catching her eye. She'd forgotten it was in there, but grabbed it gratefully, a plan forming in her mind. Not great odds it would work, but she wasn't about to turn tail and run without even putting up a fight. She slipped the lighter into her pocket, picked up the bag in one hand and her knife in the other.

Ready as she was going to be, she rolled her shoulders and shifted her footing, loosening up. Her initial anxiety was subsumed beneath the usual thrill before a fight, and anger at the thing's gall. It was close enough now that she could see how much it had already come to resemble her, at least in shape. The shapelessness that had suggested a clothed figure on the security camera had been toned into muscles that duplicated hers. Despite its naked body being entirely the dull color of shadow, it was almost like looking into a mirror. Yuri recognized her own curves on the form that approached her, saw the sway of her own hair, saw a cruel smile on lips that matched hers. Indignant fury blazed within her. This thing had come to kill her, to steal her skin and consume her blood and bones, to erase all traces of her and take her place to wreak who-knew-what havoc. Yuri curled her lip. No way was she going to lose to an imitation. Maybe she wasn't a full-fledged witch, but she still had some tricks up her sleeves.

The doppelganger reached the edge of the high tide line and started across the packed sand to her. It was only a few steps away, but Yuri didn't wait for it to finish coming to her. Gripping her weapons tight, she charged.

If she'd surprised it, it gave no sign. There was no change in its pace as it watched her hungrily, not until she was nearly within reach and it lunged for her. Yuri twisted away from its outstretched arms, but only just barely avoided being caught. It was faster than she'd thought.

Burning pain seared her arm below the shoulder. Yuri glanced down, attention snapping right back up to the doppelganger as she circled it. She'd seen blood oozing down her arm from a wound no bigger than her pinky, and realized the doppelganger must have grazed her with one of its fingers. Sure enough, as she watched, a matching strip of pale skin rose through its dark flesh in the exact spot of Yuri's injury. It smiled, turning to admire the tiny patch of skin in the moonlight. Clearly, it didn't consider Yuri as any sort of threat. That was going to be a huge mistake.

She circled around behind it and whipped her beach bag up and over its head, yanking it down hard by the handles, and skinning her knuckles against the doppelganger's sides in the process. As it started to turn, she lifted a foot and kicked it. The thick canvas of her bag protected her bare foot, and the doppelganger went down hard onto the sand. In a flash, Yuri plunged her knife into the center of its back.

It bucked, curling up around the knife with a flexibility that no human should possess. One of its hands shot out and grabbed her ankle, and Yuri nearly choked holding back her scream. She toppled over backwards, palms sinking into the sand as she tried to scoot away out of reach. The doppelganger refused to let go of her. Its arm stretched out, and Yuri remembered suddenly that its form wasn't fixed, wouldn't be fixed until it was contained within her skin.

She grabbed her lighter, shouted a command linked to the spell she'd scratched all the way around it, and snapped it open, flinging the small amount of lighter fluid over the doppelganger. Exposed to the air, the salamander that had been living inside flared up, setting the doppelganger alight. It yanked its hand back and writhed, crawling across the sand in a useless attempt to escape as the salamander scurried all over it to spread the flames.

“Yeah! How do you like that, you bastard!”

Yuri scrambled to her feet, hunching over to reach down, although her fingers hovered uselessly over her bleeding ankle. Grains of sand that had gotten into the wound burned like tiny brands. Even with all the blood, she could still pick out the shapes of palm and fingers. Definitely not a wound she wanted anyone else treating. Too many questions.

A glint of silver on the sand was her knife. It had fallen free amid the doppelganger's contortions. Yuri circled the creature warily to retrieve it, wiping off the blade carefully on her shirt even though nothing had stuck to it. She was ready to use it again in case fire didn't do the trick. Although her beach bag was burning merrily, the doppelganger didn't seem nearly as bothered by the flames as Yuri had hoped. Knife at the ready, she watched it roll easily to its feet. A handprint of skin looped one of its ankles. It reached up, knuckles dusted with starkly pale patches of skin, and brushed the bag off as it it was nothing. That awful grin stretched wider in its mockery of Yuri's face, and it laughed, a quiet, hollow sound.

Reflexively, Yuri took a step back as a wave rushed in to tickle her heels. The fire hadn't fazed it. The knife wound might as well have been a rip in clothing for all the attention the doppelganger paid it. She'd used up her tricks, and her spells all took preparation. The anticipation that had filled her so easily earlier was now giving way to the buried fear.

“Yuri!” Flynn called. “Come this way!”

She risked a quick glance back. Flynn was decently far out, deep enough that she wasn't having any trouble swimming. She lifted an arm to beckon Yuri closer, but the ocean was no place for a human to hide. Yuri shook her head and racked her brain furiously for ideas. The knife was useless. She had only the shirt on her back and her cutoff shorts to shield herself with, and that was obviously not going to be enough. She didn't know how to fight monsters like this, and that uncertainty shook her confidence and left her wavering, unable to work out a plan of attack. Backed into a proverbial corner with only fury and fear to back her up, she snarled, resolved not to go down without a fight.

“Hope you choke on my bones,” she growled.

“What are you waiting for?” This time Flynn sounded much closer, though Yuri didn't chance tearing her eyes away from the advancing doppelganger. “The ocean will protect you!”

She turned her head just enough to call back over her shoulder. “Even if I could charge that much moving, diluted salt with a protection spell, this thing will just chug my magic down like an energy drink!”

“You don't need a spell! The ocean will protect its own. Come!”

“Not really sure that's going to work for me.” She took another involuntary step back and had to grit her teeth against the pain as seawater washed over her flayed ankle. It burned like she was holding a hot pan to it, and tears stung her eyes.

“Yuri, please!”

Her leg was going to give. She couldn't stand and fight with an injury like that. That realization made up Yuri's mind. She turned and ran, sloshing through the water. She was up to her waist when she reached Flynn, and two strides after that, she dove forward and started to swim. Flynn circled her anxiously, keeping watch on the doppelganger while Yuri merely focused on putting distance between them. The saltwater abraded her injuries. Every kick made her foot feel as if it would fall off at the ankle. Her knuckles and shoulder were on fire.

“It's not following us.”

Gritting her teeth, Yuri ignored Flynn and kept going. She could feel the doppelganger under her skin. It was still too close.

Without warning, Flynn surfaced right in front of her, too close to avoid a collision. Her skin was cool and slick and soft as she wrapped her arms around Yuri, stirring the water with her tail to keep them afloat. She was lucky she hadn't gotten slashed by accident, and Yuri growled as she jammed the knife pommel-first into the back pocket of her jeans.

“You can stop now.” Flynn spoke quietly, as if Yuri was a child in need of reassurance. “It isn't coming any closer. Look.”

Still treading water, Yuri looked back over her shoulder. Just as Flynn had said, the doppelganger wasn't trying to follow. It stood just beyond the reach of the waves, watching.

And why should it bother? Yuri wondered. It wasn't as if she could stay in the ocean forever. Even if she waited for it to leave, it could still track her down whenever it wanted. She glared at the waiting figure, sure it was mocking her. There had to be a way that she could fight it.

“You aren't thinking about going back?”

She didn't look at Flynn, didn't answer her question.

“Yuri! You must be better prepared!” Flynn's tail lashed beneath the water, shaking both of them. “Come with me. I can take you someplace safe where you can make a plan. I'll help you.”

“I didn't ask for your help!” Yuri snarled, finally turning away from the watching doppelganger to face Flynn. “I told you to get away from here!”

Flynn stubbornly met her glare. “I did not ask for your help, either. Yet here we are, and I am alive because you did not simply leave me to my fate. Your pride is misplaced. This isn't a battle you can fight alone.”

“Aren't you being kind of a know-it-all for someone who hadn't even heard of doppelgangers until tonight?”

“What has fighting it alone earned you?” Flynn argued. “The creature is now stronger while you are injured. Come with me,” she urged again. “Take some time to think about what you're doing. If you want to change the outcome, you must change the way you fight.”

“I could pick up a pair of boxing gloves.” The joke went right over Flynn's head, and Yuri heaved a sigh. “All right, all right. We'll try it your way.” Taking one more look back at the waiting doppelganger, she muttered: “Not like I have much choice.”

Immediately, Flynn let her go and glided away through the waves. She had to stop every couple of minutes to be sure that Yuri didn't fall too far behind. Though Yuri was a good swimmer, keeping up with Flynn in her element would have been impossible if the mermaid had wanted to lose her. If, for some reason, Yuri needed to get away from Flynn while in the water....

The stories she'd always heard about mermaids came back to her, and Yuri couldn't help wondering if she'd trusted too easily this time. Usually, her instincts about people were good, but did that really count against creatures known for seducing their prey?

She tried to banish such thoughts. Although they hadn't known each other very long, if Flynn had been a threat, Yuri would have felt it in her bones by then. Instead, she was calming, feeling safer and more level-headed as she followed Flynn out to sea. The doubts she had about the mermaid were as substantial as cobwebs, and she brushed them aside. Besides, Flynn had admitted a debt. That was serious business to any fae. She couldn't believe Flynn would mislead her after that.

When Flynn finally stopped, they were far enough away that Yuri could no longer make out the doppelganger, though she had a nagging feeling that it was still trying to watch for her. She'd never swam so far from shore before, and craned her neck while treading water, trying to get a good look around. The sensation of being lifted with each wave gave her a tiny inkling of the ocean's power, but she felt cradled rather than threatened. Even so, her ankle was beginning to ache horribly. It needed treatment soon, but that wasn't going to happen until she could get back to land.

“What now?” she asked. The taste of salt water sat heavy on her tongue no matter how often she spat. It coated her throat and chilled her from the inside. She felt as if she'd swallowed half a bellyful.

“Now that it can't see which direction we're going, we need to travel along the coast just a short way.”

“Where are we going, exactly?”

“There's a cavern. I've been resting there during the day. I can get you in, and you'll be safe there while you plan....”

Sensing that she wasn't expected to like whatever unspoken 'but' lurked at the end of that sentence, Yuri waited a moment to see if Flynn would finish. Her own impatience got the better of her, however.

“So what's the problem with this hideout?”

“The entrance is underwater.” Out in the ocean, with only the clouded moon and sprinkling of stars for light, Flynn's blue eyes were shadowy and dark. “You'll have to trust me.”

“Is that it?” Yuri grinned, doubts sunk deep enough that not a flicker showed on the surface. “Pretty sure if you wished me ill I'd already be screwed, way out here and all.”

The uncertainty in Flynn's expression remained a moment longer before the corners of her lips twitched upwards in a cautious smile. “Follow me,” she said.

They swam parallel to the coast, heading toward the rocky cliffs that marked the end of the city in that direction. Yuri's ankle throbbed constantly, radiating pain up her leg. She needed to see to it as soon as possible. The blood loss alone was going to be an issue if she left it much longer.

Luckily, they didn't have too far to go. Within a few minutes, they paused once more. Before them, rather than the lights of the city, rose dark cliff walls, sloping too steeply to climb, but at enough of an angle to discourage anyone from cliff diving. The top of the cliffs boasted a beautiful view out over the ocean, but the area was far enough off the beaten path that tourists rarely found it, and the locals weren't keen on cluing in outsiders.

Yuri's sense of the doppelganger had faded. It was still out there, but she was fairly certain that it hadn't followed them. She mentioned as much to Flynn, who wasn't surprised.

“I believe that the ocean may have helped hide your presence. Be sure to thank it.” She squinted at the shore and frowned. “Give me a few moments longer. I want to be sure we're as close to the entrance as possible before I take you under.” She flashed Yuri an apologetic smile. “I'm not used to trying to find my way from above the waves.”

“Just don't take too long.” She was starting to feel faintly lightheaded.

“I won't,” she said, but she wavered as she started to go, shooting Yuri a look of concern before finally diving. Her tail flowed behind her, scales shining just below the surface of the water before the end lifted free, fins flinging up spray and quickly disappearing. Left alone treading water, Yuri tried not to think too much about the knife-edged chill spreading through her body.

In no time at all, Flynn surfaced only a little ways off. Lifting an arm out of the water, she waved Yuri over. Her expression was grim.

“Your wound needs attention.”

“It's on my to do list,” she said shortly. “Any chance of getting me to dry land?”

“Yes. The entrance to the cavern is below us. Hold on to me, and I'll bring you through. I should warn you before we start, however: I am still recovering, and not as fast as I ought to be. I've also never tried to swim very far while holding a human.”

“Consider me warned.” A thought occurred to her. “This cave isn't something that we have to cross over into Faerie to get to, is it?”

“Not at all.”

“Good.” She nodded. “All right. Ready when you are.”

Flynn moved in close, wrapping one arm around Yuri's back. Freshly reminded that Flynn was completely naked, Yuri wondered if the mermaid was as absurdly aware of how their breasts were pressed together as she was. Then again, it probably didn't hold the same significance. Besides, this was really not the time to be thinking about things like that. If it wasn't for the fact that Flynn was rubbing right up against her—

“Wrap your arms around my neck. You'll have to try not to wrap your legs around me, since I'm worried it might restrict my movements. I'll dive as soon as you've taken a deep breath. If anything goes wrong before we get into the tunnel, pat my back and I'll swim back up. Once we're in the tunnel, however, I'm not going to be able to turn around. You'll have to hold on. Understand?”

“Sure.”

She was nervous all of a sudden, unable to convince her heart that it didn't need to beat so fast. Her muscles felt tense, and she was jittery with shivers. Still, she couldn't return directly to shore with the doppelganger waiting, and she needed a safe place to see to her ankle. Nothing for it but to trust Flynn. She took the deepest breath she could to fill her lungs and then, with barely a pause to be sure, Flynn pulled her under.

Even knowing it was coming, Yuri was still shocked by how quickly the water closed over her, and she nearly gasped. She thought she felt Flynn hesitate, and she clung a bit tighter, clenching her fists and mentally urging her to go and get it over with. Flynn still had one arm wrapped around her, and Yuri didn't know if it was for reassurance or to keep her still, but she hoped fervently that it wasn't slowing the mermaid down. They dove deeper and deeper, and the water streamed past, trying to tear Yuri away and up, trying to drag the breath from her lungs. Feeling all too keenly the pressure building around and inside her, she clenched her mouth and eyes shut and tried to concentrate on calming the hurried beating of her heart before it consumed too much of her oxygen.

-----------------------

Yuri's body was warm against hers, tense and clinging almost too tightly. Flynn kept one arm firmly around her, trying to project reassurance. Beneath the surface, there was little she could do to convince Yuri that her trust hadn't been misplaced except to bring her safely to their destination.

The entrance to the largest of the submerged tunnels that fed the cavern was deep, down near the seabed, and the passage was long and cramped. It was pitch dark inside, but Flynn didn't need the light to see. Her eyes were accustomed to low light to begin with, she had her sense of the currents, and her familiarity with this particular tunnel to rely on. Usually, she made her way through as much by using the rocks to pull herself along as by the shallow flicks of her tail the space allowed. Having Yuri made it much more difficult to navigate. She was wary of lashing her tail too sharply and driving her against the rocks and sharp-lipped mussels, and having only one hand free meant that she couldn't pull herself along as swiftly. She could feel Yuri growing ever more tense, and tried her best to hurry. How much time had passed since they had gone under? Humans couldn't hold their breath for long. Yuri was a sea witch, but would that be any help to her now? Was she reaching her limit?

Anemones tickled Flynn's fingers as the wall suddenly fell away. They had reached the section of the tunnel where it grew wider just before emptying out into the pool sheltered within the rock. She gave Yuri an encouraging squeeze—Almost there!—and felt bubbles tickle her chin and slide up her cheeks. Her heart leapt, and she swung her tail in the widening space, propelling them up through the water as Yuri's breath escaped her. The surface was above them, just there! She could feel the pressure of the water easing, could feel the subtle shift in the currents as they lapped against the stone lip of the cavern. Yuri's face was pressed hard against the top of her chest. Another moment or two, just another moment. Flynn reached up, fingers straining for the surface of the water, and Yuri seized in her hold. Fingers clawed her back. Yuri struggled and kicked and nearly broke free, but Flynn held on. They surfaced together, Flynn wide-eyed in the gloom as she swam for the edge of the pool, Yuri coughing and retching between desperate gasps for air.

The cavern they had reached was a bubble in the rock of the cliff that cupped one edge of the human city by the beach. It was mostly closed off save for a few gaps high in the rock which allowed in just enough moonlight to texture the darkness. The seawater, freshened through a series of small cracks and tunnels leading to the open ocean, lapped gently at a lip of stone that sloped almost imperceptibly into the water before dropping sharply off. Flynn dragged Yuri to that edge and helped as she heaved herself out of the water, still racked with coughs. Yuri sprawled half-collapsed on the rock, shaking as she tried to catch her breath and expel the last of the water from her lungs.

Feeling acutely helpless, Flynn hovered in the water at her side. She'd known that humans were delicate, but she hadn't expected someone as strong as Yuri to experience such a violent reaction after being underwater for only a breath too long. She shivered to think what might have happened if she had been any slower. Had Yuri offered her trust knowing full well this might happen?

When Yuri's coughing had mostly died down, Flynn pulled herself up onto the rock to get a better look at her. She had to slick Yuri's hair back off her face in order to meet her eyes.

“I'm sorry.”

Yuri waved a shaking hand and smiled faintly. “Made it, didn't we?” Another fit of coughing forced her to turn her head away. This time, Flynn was close enough to reach out and pull her hair back over her shoulder and out of the way. She rested a hand on Yuri's shoulder, wishing that she knew how to help.

“Did you know it would be like this if I wasn't quick enough?”

“Never seen...a human breathe in a lungful of water before?” She made a weak sound that Flynn didn't recognize at first as a laugh.

“In the past, I always kept well away from humans.”

She snorted and tried to sit up, though she remained hunched over and her breath continued to come rough and hard. “It'll be fine. Sounds worse than it was. Just...gimmie a moment.”

Closing her eyes, she rested two fingers over her chest and began murmuring the words of a spell. Flynn watched as she traced symbols over her chest. Yuri's voice grew tight and thick as she continued until the end of the spell was broken up by choking, gurgling sounds. Alarmed, Flynn reached out to her, but Yuri turned away abruptly and began coughing again, spitting out more water as she did. When she turned back, wiping her mouth, her breath was already less ragged than it had been.

“Needed to be sure I got it all out.” She smiled briefly, then started to look around, squinting into the darkness. “Where are we? I can't see anything.”

“It's a safe place. This is the cavern where I've been spending my days resting. The sea rules here. You should be protected from the doppelganger for a time. I think.”

“You think?” Yuri glanced her way briefly, an amused quirk to her lips. “Better than having that thing staring at me, I guess.” She shivered and crossed her arms over her chest. “Bit cold in here.”

Flynn recalled how warm Yuri's skin had felt against her own. “I cannot help with that,” she said quietly.

“Didn't expect you to. I guess if the doppelganger can't find me, that means Sparky won't be able to, either.” She heaved a sigh which immediately set off a brief coughing fit. “Damn. And no way to tell how long it'll take my stalker to back off. Maybe this wasn't such a good idea.”

“Give it some time! You're hardly in any shape to face the creature.”

“Heh. Got me there.”

She shifted, wincing as she stretched her injured leg out before her. The wound above her foot was still oozing blood. The smell of it had Flynn leaning closer and closer until she caught herself and recoiled. Unnerved, wondering if that was a hint of what had drawn others of her kind to lure sailors into the sea, she slipped back into the water to put some distance between herself and Yuri. From there she watched as Yuri cautiously probed the edge of the wound with her fingertips, wincing and hissing whenever she accidentally prodded the raw, bloodied area.

“Shit. Guess I'm gonna be down another shirt.”

“We didn't bring anything to bind your wounds,” Flynn said, realization dawning.

“I'll take care of it.” She picked herself up, gingerly testing her weight on her injured foot. “All right...how are we going to do this?” she muttered.

“Do what?”

“I need to dry off. I'm freezing, for one, and I can't use this—” She tugged at her shirt. “—for bandages if it's soaking wet.”

“You have a spell for that?”

“Nope. But maybe I can improvise.”

Improvise?” Flynn echoed, appalled. “That sounds a bit reckless.”

“Nah. I do it all the time. You just have to, you know, feel things out.”

Flynn had her doubts, but she watched as Yuri lifted the hand that held the moon.

“See, I've got a stand in for the moon right here, and I know how to summon spirits. If I just change the focus a bit....”

She spat on the moon in her palm and wrote something there with a fingertip. Slowly, she extended her arm and held her hand palm up. She pursed her lips and began to whistle, a low, wavering tune, a trickle of notes. The sound rushed into Flynn's ears, filling them as if she'd dived beneath the surface. Rubbing her ears did nothing to alleviate the sensation, and she gave up as she saw the spell taking effect.

Water began streaming from Yuri's hair and clothes, in droplets first, then rivulets that glinted faintly silver in what little light they could catch. It ran along her outstretched arm, rolled across her cheekbones, sprang into the air from the tip of her nose, her lips, her chin. It gathered together in her palm, spinning into a ball that wavered and bubbled, constantly in danger of spilling over, but never quite losing its spell-guided form. She dried from the top down, drawing the seawater away from herself by the spell written on the moon in her palm and activated by her whistling.

Abruptly, Yuri fell silent. The moment her whistling stopped, the spell ended and the water, by then a whirling ball larger than her fist, fell to splatter against the stone and run down to join the gentle waves. Yuri held out her arms and studied herself, ran her hands down her shirt and through her hair, and smiled once she was satisfied with her results.

“There. Not substantially warmer, but I'm not freezing anymore. And now I can patch myself up.”

After carefully sitting back down again, she striped off her shirt. She pulled her knife free, and began cutting her clothing into strips. Only once that was done and she had a pile of makeshift bandages laid out before her did she pull out the small jar of salve. When she uncapped the jar, the now-familiar spicy scent wafted out into the cavern.

“Good,” Yuri said quietly. “Wasn't sure if this was waterproof.”

She dipped her fingers in and smoothed salve across her knuckles and the oozing wound high on her arm. Most of what was left went onto her ankle, and Flynn winced in sympathy as she watched Yuri's face. Aside from the sound of her breath, however, Yuri was silent as she worked, making no noise to hint at the pain of her injuries. Safe and away from the fight, she had to be feeling them more keenly, but she didn't allow herself to let on. Flynn watched her work, feeling increasingly helpless.

She had half expected Yuri to use the thin, stretchy material that covered her breasts to bind the cloth over her wounds, but Yuri didn't even appear to consider it. Flynn concluded that humans had odd customs indeed, if hiding their bodies was more important than having extra materials to tend their injuries. The bandages Yuri had cut were dwindling swiftly as she wrapped her ankle. At that rate, there would be little left for her arm, not to mention her bloodied knuckles. She wondered if Yuri meant to leave them exposed.

“Let me wrap your arm for you.” The request was out before Flynn even realized she'd spoken.

Yuri met her eyes, lips pressed tightly together. She nodded once, shortly, then bent her head over her ankle again to finish tying off the bandage. Once she had finished, she lay back against the stone and closed her eyes, exhaling a long breath.

“Are you all right?”

“Peachy,” she mumbled. “Can you reach, or should I move closer?”

“Stay still.”

Flynn dragged herself out of the water once again until she lay within reach. She was quick to begin wrapping the wound, not wanting to look at it for long. There wasn't much cloth left to work with, but she managed two turns around Yuri's arm before she had to tie it off. It was better than nothing. Yuri's knuckles were completely unprotected. When Flynn took her back through the tunnel, the salve would be instantly washed away. Thinking about that, she realized all of a sudden that Yuri's arm and ankle wouldn't fare much better.

“You forgot to spell the bandages against water seeping in.”

Yuri laughed softly. “Oh, hell.” She sighed, and her head rolled against the stone as she looked around at the roof of the cavern. “Maybe there's a way to climb out. Light's getting in somehow.”

“I'm not sure you ought to be climbing.”

“Yeah, well I didn't think that you oughtta be swimming so soon after I found you, but we gotta do what we gotta do, right?” Having said that, she made no move to get up, only added quietly: “First thing I've gotta do is figure out how to beat that monster.”

“Could you not banish it back to Faerie?”

“I was trained as a witch, not an exorcist. I can't banish anything. Gotta either trap it somehow or trick it or kill it, and you saw how well that worked out earlier.” Yuri lapsed into silence.

The stone was uncomfortable beneath Flynn's stomach and hips, and beginning to hurt her elbows, but she pulled herself closer to Yuri anyway, lured by the pleasant warmth of her body. She stopped just shy of touching, and rested her chin in her hands, studying Yuri's face. Yuri knew how close she was, but there was no wariness in her. She hadn't even opened her eyes. It was a much smaller show of trust after she had allowed Flynn to bring her into the cavern, but it was proof that trust did remain between them. Flynn smiled to herself, feeling a bit silly that she should be so pleased when she herself had only just decided that a friendship with Yuri was desirable. There was just something about her that Flynn found intriguing.

“How do I fight something that I can't touch?” Yuri mumbled to herself. “Even Rita and Estelle couldn't tell me anything. Who am I supposed to ask about doppelgangers?” She fell silent again for a few moments, then suddenly opened her eyes and sat up. “Wait. How did he know it was a doppelganger?”

“Who?”

“Raven.” Frowning, Yuri turned to face her. “I ran into him the other night—the night I first met you—on my way home. He said he'd seen me earlier, but when I told him it couldn't have been me, he said it must have been my doppelganger.”

“He encountered the creature?”

“I don't.... Maybe. But that was before I made it out to the marina. The doppelganger didn't look like me yet. So how did he know it would be after me?”

“Perhaps he didn't see it after all. Is it possible he confused you with another human?” Flynn asked the question doubtfully, feeling that it would be difficult to mistake Yuri for someone else.

“Maybe.” Yuri leaned forward, staring off unseeing into the shadows and toying idly with a lock of her hair. “Maybe,” she repeated softly. “But that's one hell of a coincidence.”

“It might be worth speaking with him again. What kind of person is he?”

“He's...a drunk. I've never seen him far from a bar, and half the time he's got a bottle in his hand. He wandered into town one year with the tourists and just never left.” She shrugged, and sat straighter, pushing her hair back over her shoulder. “It's probably like you said: he just happened to see someone who looked a bit like me. Just a simple mistake.”

Much as Yuri tried to sound it, Flynn didn't think she was actually convinced. Yuri might be trying to rationalize, but, in the end, Flynn was certain that she would trust her instincts.

“Will you be able to find him before the doppelganger finds you again?”

“Here's hoping.” She didn't question the assumption that she would seek Raven out. “Hey. I think I know what I want for that favor you owe me.”

“You do?” Already? Flynn's heart sank. She had hoped for that particular connection between them to last a little bit longer.

“Yeah. Think you can find me a pearl before tomorrow night?”


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