suspicious_popsicle: (Default)
Story: Blood and Beginnings
Chapter: 6/7
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.



In the end, Yuri agreed to let Flynn bring her back out of the cavern the same way they had come in. Not to spare her ankle—she'd insisted on climbing the rough, uneven walls until she found a gap in the rock big enough for her to use as an entrance and exit—but because she wanted to lessen the chance of the doppelganger finding that place. Her sense of the creature left her feeling out of place in her own skin. She knew it was still out there, but it might have been right on the other side of the rock or clear across town for all she could tell. Being in the cavern dulled her awareness of it, which was a relief. If she really was safe from it in there, if it couldn't find her, then she didn't want to give up that bit of sanctuary. She was going to need it for the plan that had started to form.

On the way back to her apartment, she kept an eye out for Raven. He wasn't at any of his usual haunts along that route, and Yuri wasn't up to searching for him. She was cold and wet, her ankle throbbed, her hands ached, and she was worn out from the long day and her loss against the doppelganger. All she wanted was to trade out her soaked shorts and icy bikini top for a soft sleep shirt and her warm bed so that she could get some rest. With a skin-stealing monster stalking her, however, it didn't seem likely that she would be able to sleep peacefully.

Her wards were still in place when she got home. She didn't believe that they would actually turn the doppelganger away or keep it out, seeing as it could devour her magic, but at least their presence meant that it hadn't been to the apartment.

Sparky had made it back. She found him curled up asleep in her abalone shell, surrounded by ashes. The apartment reeked of burnt sage. She moved the shell from her kitchen counter to her nightstand and asked him to wake her up if anything tried to get into the apartment.

Weary as she was, she changed the bandages around her ankle and arm, and wrapped up her knuckles. Luckily, she had a small supply of her own healing salve, far less effective and aromatically pleasing than Estelle's, but readily available. She was going to be a while healing and would almost certainly have scars. The thought brought a frown to her face, but it was better to be alive and scarred than dead. Briefly, she wondered if the doppelganger would have caught onto her if she hadn't cursed that boat. There was nothing to be done about it, however, and she didn't trouble herself with what ifs.

As she got ready for bed, she hoped that she would be able to feel the loss of the wards in her sleep should the doppelganger try for her again that night. She made sure her knife was within reach, dropped onto the mattress and pulled up her covers, and was asleep within minutes.

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

The alarm went off too early, screeching at her to wake up hours before she was ready to rejoin the world. Yuri untangled an arm from her blanket cocoon and groped blindly over her nightstand.

“Shut up...” she mumbled. “Shut up.”

Finally, her fingers found the button and silenced the beeping. She sank into the warm mass of pillows and blankets, greedy for another minute, even a few more seconds of sleep. Time ticked by without the alarm's harassing rhythm. It pushed sleep further and further away even as Yuri stubbornly refused to open her eyes. Eventually, knowing that she had to get to work since witching sure as hell wasn't paying the bills, she heaved a sigh and threw back the covers. Still, she lay a moment, staring up into the gloom.

Her skin prickled with awareness of the doppelganger as it lurked somewhere out in her city. Her lip curled.

“Enjoy it while you can, you bastard.”

She swung her legs off the side of the bed and paused to consider. If it wasn't for the fact that it was way too early to see if Rita or Estelle had been able to come up with any information, she would have called in sick. It was too late to try and track down Raven leaving a bar at closing time, and too early to pay a visit to the pawn shop he'd mentioned. As frustrating as it was, for the moment, there was nothing she could do except go to work.

“Just gotta pretend everything's normal while I'm being stalked by a monster that wants to flay me alive,” she muttered.

A hot shower went a long way toward waking her up and improving her mood. By the time she'd re-wrapped her injuries and gotten dressed, she was actually looking forward to work, where at least she could make herself useful.

She prepared a new lighter for Sparky to take up residence in. Maybe he couldn't damage the doppelganger, but he might at least be able to distract it. The lighter went into one of her pockets along with some packets of salt, and her wallet went into the other. Her knife went into a sheath she'd long ago covered in don't-see-me spells, and she slipped it onto her belt.

As she was leaving her room she paused, having caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror hanging on the back of her door. She looked...normal. Tired, perhaps not someone to be crossed with that knife at her side, but normal. She touched her pocket where a salamander slept within a cheap, plastic lighter. She looked at the spells drawn in scuffed Sharpie marker on her sheath, at the bandages on her knuckles that covered up wounds from a doppelganger. She thought about a glimpse of red blood in a black and white video, remembered the feeling of sharp teeth biting down on her index finger, water all around, a promise made in blood, incandescent blue eyes, finned ears flared to either side of a human face. She thought about the way Flynn had said her name that night, the way it had resonated within her as more than just a sound. She thought about the way she hadn't felt quite one thing or the other since then.

I saved the life of a mermaid. How does baking cakes even compare to that?

They'd look to me for help the way they did to Granny. I don't have the kind of power that she did.

Raising her right hand, she stared at the reflection of the moon on her palm. A shortcut, easy enough to pass off as nothing more than an interesting tattoo. It didn't make her a witch.

She didn't need anyone depending on her. It had been luck that saved Flynn, not skill.

But if I can defeat this doppelganger, what else would I be able to do? The potential excited a part of her that had long been buried and only recently begun to resurface.

Yuri shook her head, lowering her eyes from the mirror. “This is stupid,” she said quietly, flinging the door open before her reflection caught her again. She hurried out of her apartment, into the predawn darkness, eager to get to work and focus on something simple.

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

The flickering blue and white lights of two police cars lit the street in flashes. Yuri stopped in her tracks the moment she saw them, wondering what was going on. When she realized that the center of attention for the milling uniforms was, in fact, the bakery, she broke into a run. A block away, a familiar figure stepped out of the front door, and Yuri nearly stumbled. Leblanc moved out of the way of the officers going in and out, then halted, staring down the street in her direction.

A few people had gathered around the cars, held at bay by only a couple of watchful officers. It was too early still for much of a crowd to have formed, but commotions like this demanded attention. Yuri tried to slip past the perimeter, but one of the cops darted in to block her way.

“Sorry, miss, but—”

“Let her through.” Leblanc's order cut him off mid-sentence, and Yuri hurried past. She strode up to Leblanc and crossed her arms.

“What's going on?”

“It seems there was a break-in. We're not sure yet if anything was taken—place is in too much of a shambles to tell.”

Yuri leaned around him to get a better look, but Leblanc grabbed her arm and turned her away from the bakery.

“Hey!” Scowling, she yanked her arm out of his grip. She'd caught a brief glimpse of the owner standing well off to the side next to an officer as she looked on helplessly.

“I let you through the cordon because I have a couple questions for you, not so you could go prowling around while the techs are at work.”

“Who's prowling? I think I have a right to know how bad the break-in was.”

“Later,” he said, pulling a notebook out of his pocket and flipping through a few pages. “I followed up with the boy who owns that boat I caught you on the other night.” He ignored Yuri's prolonged groan without so much as a glance away from his notes. “They didn't see any girl in the water.”

“Well, obviously.”

“Moreover, they didn't see any other boats in the area that might have accounted for her swimming all the way out there.”

“They couldn't have been that far—”

Nobody swims in the vicinity of the marina.”

Poke, poke, poke. If he poked any more holes into Yuri's paper-thin story, it wasn't going to be able to hold water.

“Look, what are you getting at? I told you all I know. She said she'd been swimming, that those guys had been too drunk to see her, and that they'd hit her with the boat when she was trying to help the one that fell overboard. Didn't he tell you she saved him?”

“That one couldn't remember much of anything. Didn't know how he'd gotten back to the pier—hell, he barely remembered that he'd gone into the water. Tell me another story, Lowell.”

She ran a hand through her hair and growled. “I don't have another story for you. That's what happened. Why are you even badgering me about this? Isn't there a real crime you could be solving, like, oh, say, the break in at the bakery I work at?”

Leblanc gave her a flat stare. Then: “You know what we found all over the scene?”

“Well, since you didn't let me go take a look, I'm gonna have to say: no, haven't a clue.”

“Gouges.” He watched her as he spoke, looking for any reaction. “Gashes. Slashes. Looked an awful like what happened to that boat.”

“All right. So?” Yuri kept calm, but it took an effort. She'd known that the doppelganger would be closing in on her, but this was something far more public than she had expected. Was it pissed off because she'd eluded it down at the beach? Or was it just playing around? How much worse would it get if it replaced her?

“So,” Leblanc said, in a tone that implied he was talking to a particularly slow child, “that means there might be a connection here, and right now, the only connection I can see is you.”

“Good luck with that theory. You're my alibi for the time that the boat was messed up.”

“You're trying my patience. I'm looking at you as the target, not as a suspect. I want to know who followed you down to the marina and vandalized the boat you were on, and who would tear up your workplace like this.”

“When you find out, do me a favor and let me know.” She started to turn away, but Leblanc grabbed her by the shoulder and held her in place.

“Not so fast. When I showed you that security feed, you recognized the person in the video. I couldn't make out any detail, but you knew it was someone who looked like you. You got an evil twin we should be looking for?”

“And how the hell would I know even if I did?”

Leblanc had seen her file. He knew she was an orphan. She glared at him, not so much offended by the reference to the blank that was her family, as simply wanting to put him on the defensive and end his prying. Unluckily for her, Leblanc either knew it wasn't that delicate a subject for her or simply didn't care.

“Know anyone who might have a grudge against you?”

“No.”

“Any enemies? People you've pissed off? Only recently—I don't have time for the full list.”

“You're a regular fucking riot. And no, no enemies, no one I've pissed off badly enough for this.” She opened her eyes wide and gasped with feigned incredulity. “Maybe it's a poltergeist!”

Nonplussed, Leblanc merely stared at her for a moment, then sighed and shook his head. “I don't believe in that crap,” he said. “I don't believe in coincidences, either.” He shoved his notebook back into his pocket, and pulled out a business card in its stead which he passed to Yuri. “Here. Contrary to what you seem to believe, it's my job to protect you, just like I would any other citizen. Call me when you're ready to talk. For now, go wait with the owner. I'm sure she'll want you to help clean up once we're done.”

Dismissed, she fled. The business card got stuffed into a pocket of her jeans, fated to be forgotten and destroyed in the wash. No loss, there. Leblanc wouldn't be any help against the doppelganger. Hard to fight something you don't believe in.

Yuri looked down at her tattooed palm. She believed in magic. Of course she did. She used it every day. It was only that she didn't believe she was meant to be a witch, and what difference would that make so long as she could cast spells?

Would it really make a difference if she started to believe otherwise?

The police didn't pull up stakes and leave for another hour, during which time two more of Yuri's coworkers arrived amid the controlled chaos. It was obvious that the bakery wouldn't be open for business that day—aside from the shock of the break-in and the unknown state of the kitchen, the front door had been smashed, and the display window was crisscrossed with scratches and creaked alarmingly in the slightest breeze.

Yuri waited impatiently with the girls, attention jumping between shadows in case the doppelganger hadn't gone far. Her nerves were on edge with the expectation of an attack, but nothing happened, and nothing continued to happen for a frustratingly long time. The insurance adjuster arrived on the scene shortly before the police left, and Yuri and the other two girls were asked to wait outside while he toured the building with the manager to get photographs of the damage. Impatient to be doing something—anything—Yuri paced and muttered under her breath. The only reason she stayed was to be sure that the doppelganger hadn't left her a more direct message...and because the pawn shop Raven had mentioned wouldn't be open yet, anyway. The sun rose, light flooding the city like the thin waves that stretched for the tideline, turning the shadows a watery, washed-out gray. Yuri tapped her foot and paced as anger threw off sparks inside her chest like a spitting torch. Finally, they were allowed in to begin picking up the pieces.

The front of the bakery had been mostly left alone—which made sense when Yuri thought about it. Since she was usually in charge of baking rather than cleaning, and was rarely on counter duty, there wouldn't be traces of her lingering on the few tables and chairs. Even the front counter and display case looked untouched at first glance, until they came around to the back. The sliding doors of the display case had been wrenched off their tracks, and the handles mangled. The register had been dumped on the floor. The buttons of the keypad lay scattered around it. They looked as if something had chewed on them.

As the owner led them past the office, Yuri caught a glimpse inside and saw nothing obviously amiss. Again, it wasn't a room she ever had cause to be in. The kitchen, however....

Yuri froze in the doorway with the other girls, the shock hitting her like a punch to the gut. The kitchen looked like a hurricane had swept through. The door to the walk-in fridge hung crookedly on its hinges, sporting deep claw marks that warped the metal. Sacks and canisters of supplies had been torn open, spilled, and tracked around the room. Cabinet doors had been ripped free, and several were missing their handles. Oven mitts, aprons, and hand towels had been shredded. Pots and sheet pans lay everywhere; dented, twisted, sometimes ripped half apart. Measuring cups and knives had been crumpled and bent and tossed aside. The shattered fragments of glass bowls sparkled amid the wreckage.

Fury seethed white-hot beneath Yuri's skin. This had been an attack on her space, something vicious and personal. She curled her hands into fists, nails digging into her palms, as she bit her tongue, swallowing anger like bile. There was nothing she could do for the moment aside from pitch in to help clean up. She set about the work grimly, thoughts never far from her plan to destroy the doppelganger.

They spent a few hours cleaning; Yuri and the manager and the one girl who wasn't too upset by the break-in to stay. By they time they reached a point where there was nothing left to be done, they were still far shy of the length of Yuri's usual shift. However, with the broken things cleared away and an inventory taken of all that would need to be replaced, the only tasks left were professional repairs and restocking...neither of which were things Yuri would be much help with.

As she was preparing to leave, the owner poked her head out of the office where she'd spent the last hour on the phone trying to schedule repairs.

“Yuri. Your friend Estellise called about twenty minutes ago. She asked you to stop by after you had finished here. I'm sorry I didn't let you know sooner, dear. It slipped my mind.” Shrugging tiredly, she shook her head and gestured at the wreckage of her business.

Yuri couldn't blame her for being forgetful. She waved her thanks, wondering if Estelle or Rita had found something useful, or if they only wanted to take another shot at convincing her to hide.

She left the bakery feeling antsy and useless, but until she finished her preparations, there was no way she could take on the doppelganger. Eager as she was to hunt it down and be done with it, Yuri wasn't stupid enough to act on that impulse. Not after the fight on the beach. Best to focus on what she could be doing, which meant a visit to the pawn shop Raven had mentioned, and maybe a little time spent trying to track down the old man. She'd gotten too many hints from their odd conversation to think that he was ignorant of what was happening.

First stop, pawn shop, Yuri decided. Maybe there really would be something to what Raven had said, after all.

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

The pawn shop was on the edge of a rough part of town, an area Yuri had been more familiar with years ago, back when she'd only just started earning a reputation among the cops. Back then, her run-ins with local law enforcement hadn't involved magic or monsters. It was a bit ironic that, now that she'd grown up and developed a little restraint, her spare time efforts to protect the city from the uncanny actually landed her in more trouble than she'd ever gotten into over the mundane stuff.

It felt strange to be so close to her old haunts now that so much in her life had changed. She had a place of her own—small, but nice—a decent job, and, until a couple of days ago, she'd thought that she knew who she was. Now, the identity she'd worked so hard to craft for herself was in question. Was she just a baker, someone normal who belonged? Or was she a witch masquerading as a regular citizen while standing in a twilight world of curses and fae creatures where different rules applied?

She tried to put the questions out of her mind. They had been demanding far too much of her attention lately, and she didn't have answers yet. Deep down, she was a little afraid that she might not like the answers when they came to her. Unable to banish her worries, she ignored them as best she could as she entered the pawn shop.

Inside, the shop smelled of age—of metal and mildew, old paper and the grubby scent of money. It was brightly lit, exposed fluorescent strip lights gleaming against the smudged glass and ancient, pitted brass finish of the display cases. The floor was white linoleum, scuffed and worn from years of traffic. Prints, paintings, flags, and display cases of buttons and trinkets covered the walls. Shelves held books and knickknacks. An elephant's foot umbrella stand contained a selection of reproduction sabers and katanas. Other swords—either better made or with actual historical value—lay unsheathed safely behind glass. Jewelry, watches, and coins glittered against black velvet in the cases. A skull carved from tiger's eye grinned at Yuri from its place beside one that looked disturbingly real. She leaned over to peer more closely into that case, thinking that it couldn't actually be bone. There were laws against that.... Then again, there had been plenty of rumors years ago that the owner of this place didn't ask many questions regarding the items brought to him.

Stalking through the aisles, she scanned the contents of the cases until she found one bearing a collection of knives of all sorts. Pocket knives with enameled handles, bright butterfly knives, throwing knives with an oil slick sheen, hunting knives not so different from her own, bone-handled knives, decorative knives with delicate etchings on the grips, even a pearl-handled letter opener. None of them caught her eye, though she hovered over the jumble for several minutes, examining them through the glass. Finally, her patience ran out, and she looked up at the old man behind the nearby register.

“Hey, are these all the knives you have? A guy named Raven told me to come look for one here.”

The old man nodded. “I know the one. I don't keep it in with the others.”

Motioning her over, he pointed to a display case mounted on the wall behind him. There was a butterfly knife off to one side, pale as the moon compared to the darker steel of the blades Yuri had been looking at a moment ago. Tarnish was creeping over it, burnishing the edges and taking root in the recesses of the grip. The blade was dull, and the whole thing so plain as to be almost unremarkable, but Yuri knew immediately that it was the one Raven had meant for her to see.

“Custom job. Solid silver. Pretty enough display piece, I suppose. Don't expect a discount for it being near useless.”

“I can think of a couple uses for it.” Properly enchanted, silver made an excellent weapon against any number of creatures of the night. Squinting to get a look at the price tag, Yuri let out a low whistle. It might have been handy, but there was no way she would be able to afford it.

“Thanks, but no thanks. Bit out of my price range.” She started to leave, but was brought up short by his next words.

“He's got some credit with me. Said I could put it toward the cost of the knife if you came in to buy it.”

Slowly, Yuri turned back around. Not only had Raven sent her to the shop, but he'd told the old man to look for her, and he'd offered to cover part of the cost? That was way more than just a bit of drunken rambling.

“Why would he do that?”

“Told me you're helping him out with a distant relative come to town. Said he wasn't gonna be much help, but that this would be payment for taking care of them.”

A shiver ran down Yuri's spine. Either Raven was actually insane or....

“What else did he say?” She bit off the words through clenched teeth. “Exactly.”

“Nothing. And it ain't my job to play messenger boy. You want the knife or not?”

Did she? Yuri knew enough about making bargains with the fae to be wary, and this was clearly a bargain. The only thing that had come to town recently that she'd been dealing with was the doppelganger, and if Raven was making allusions to being related to it....

How did you find out if a person was a doppelganger? Was it even possible once a creature had taken over a life?

She tried to think back, to remember when Raven had first come to town, if he'd ever done anything suspicious. Aside from being a lush and a bit of a weirdo, he'd never done any harm that she was aware of. Then again, maybe whatever was wearing that body had already done its share of evil and was merely lying low. For the first time she wondered what his real name was. Would it really be his, or would it belong to a person whose life had been stolen by a doppelganger?

The knife gleamed in its case, awaiting her decision. That it was silver seemed strange to her. Iron was the enemy of the fae. Silver could be used to bind them to a promise, but it wouldn't have been her first choice. Then again, silver was supposed to be effective against the undead. Certainly doppelgangers had a strong connection with death.

“How much would I owe you for it?”

The figure he named was half the asking price, but still steep. She could manage it, but only just barely, and it would take most of her savings.

It was her best lead so far for defeating the doppelganger. The bargain worried her, as did Raven's suddenly dubious background, but the wording was vague and he had chosen to use a middleman. Yuri hoped that would allow her enough loopholes should anything go wrong.

If she survived her fight against the doppelganger, she would look into figuring out what Raven was and if he posed a danger. He had tried to warn her, however, and her gut urged her to accept his help in the form of the knife.

She pulled her wallet out of her pocket. “Guess you've got a deal,” she said.

On her way home from the pawn shop, Yuri pulled out her phone and called Rita to see if she'd learned anything. It wasn't a long conversation. As soon as Rita realized that she wasn't going to be able to convince Yuri to hide away and stay safe, she hung up. Yuri gave it a few minutes and, sure enough, Estelle called her back. She didn't like the idea of Yuri facing the creature, but she also wasn't temperamental enough to withhold information in the hopes of weakening Yuri's resolve.

It turned out that they hadn't found out very much. The only consistent detail between accounts was that doppelgangers tended to lay low during the day. Until they had stolen a form, they were creatures of shadow, and daylight was not kind to them. Estelle did add that she thought it might be possible to trap the doppelganger in a mirror. She couldn't guarantee that the suggestion would work—it had come up in only one tale of an encounter with a doppelganger—but it was all she had to offer. She made Yuri promise to be careful, and Yuri gave her word, meaning that she would be as careful as she normally was. They said their good byes, and Yuri continued on her way home, reviewing her options for the fight, even though they hadn't changed significantly since the night before.

She had a silver knife—soft, dull, and potentially useless—which she'd bought at too high a price on a gut instinct. She had the option of using a mirror trap, a spell she knew she could manage to cast, but one which might not be effective. She had more raw power than talent, good instincts for improvisation, and a damn strong incentive not to lose. Plus, if Flynn had managed to find her a pearl, she might even have a way to distract the doppelganger and get the jump on it.

All things considered, she'd walked into situations with less to back her up. Granted, she'd never faced anything quite so serious, but Yuri would be damned before going down without a fight.

The sun was well risen and warming the city, which meant that she had some time in which to prepare. There were a few supplies she needed to pick up from her apartment, and others that she would have to purchase in town. Depending on how long it took Flynn to venture back to shore, she might have a long wait before everything was ready. The very thought made her antsy, even though she knew that she ought to spend part of her day getting a better feel for the cavern Flynn had shown her. There had been power in that place, borne in by the tides and stored within that hollow in the rock. Just being there had left her feeling refreshed despite her injuries. She thought that she ought to be able to tap into the power there to give her spells an extra boost. Such a thing was possible, although she had no idea how to go about doing it. The grimoire on her bookshelf might have the answer. If not, well...she would improvise.


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