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



The cavern was hardly brighter in the early afternoon than it had been last night, but Yuri had come prepared. Storm lanterns pushed back the darkness with hard, white light. She'd set them on the rock before her, two off to either side from where she was sitting. The water gleamed with reflected light.

She upended her beach bag between the two sets of lanterns, hoping she hadn't forgotten anything. The untidy pile before her included several thick handfuls of fresh-cut beach grass and a tangle of white morning glories with flowers tightly furled, her combat knife, the silver butterfly knife wrapped up in newspaper, a whetstone, a Sharpie marker, an old t-shirt, a mirror, a folded sheaf of papers containing spells she'd copied out of the grimoire, five candles, a box of chalk, a Ziploc bag full of salt, a bottle of witch hazel, three jars off her spice shelf, a can of spray paint, and her dinner: a bottle of water and two bagged sandwiches which she had forgotten she'd packed. Muttering a curse, she dug them out from where they'd been half buried, accidentally knocking away the spray paint as she did. The can rolled to the water's edge, too far away for her to grab, though she lunged forward to try to catch it. It hit the water, slowed, and rolled on toward the lip of stone. Yuri was halfway up to chase after it when Flynn surfaced in the middle of the water. She was quicker than Yuri, and caught the can before it sank out of sight.

“Thanks.”

Stepping carefully over her pile of supplies, Yuri reached out to take the spray paint and set it aside. She had brought it with her to surround the people-friendly entrance to the cave with spells of misdirection and protection, but she'd discovered that such things were barely necessary. Even knowing that there was a way into the cavern from up on the cliff side—she'd climbed out that way, after all—it had still taken her far too long to find it again. She was certain that she had passed it at least three times while climbing up and down. When she eventually did find it again—having caught sight of it out of the corner of her eye and approached without looking directly at it—she was reminded of the sense of power that she'd gotten inside, and of Flynn's assurance that she would be safe there. It made more sense to her now why the cavern hadn't been discovered by local kids long ago. The place had its own magic. Worried that the taste of her magic on the wind would draw the doppelganger, she'd decided to add her own runes later. She had climbed down into the darkness, placing her trust in the power of the ocean.

“What is all of that?” Flynn asked.

She pulled herself further out of the water to get a better look at the untidy heap. Within the circle of harsh light, the piercing blue of her eyes was diminished, and her upper body was left washed out and pallid. Water trickled down her face and neck, running in rivulets from sodden locks of her short hair, so pale and fine at the ends that it appeared translucent where it clung to her skin. Her breasts were stark against the deep shadows that gathered beneath her. With her tail hidden beneath the water, she looked mostly human. Only the translucent webbing that fanned out behind her ears gave her away. As the silence stretched out, she looked up and their eyes met. Yuri realized all of a sudden that she'd been staring.

“Just some stuff I needed to get ready for tonight.” She sat down and began sorting through her supplies. “Did you find me a pearl?”

“Yes.” She reached out to hand it over, a tiny, lopsided lump that gleamed a creamy gray.

“That'll do.” She popped it into her mouth and nestled it beneath her tongue.

Flynn crinkled her nose. “I didn't know humans ate those.”

“I'm charging it,” Yuri said, speaking carefully to avoid dislodging the pearl. “While I'm casting and getting everything ready, this will pick up my intention. It'll help direct things once I get everything going. It's called a Pearl of Wisdom.”

Water sloshed as Flynn's tail broke the surface. It almost seemed to glow out in the shadows, particularly where the deep cobalt faded into teal along the sides. Silver streamers of water cascaded from her fins, and fine droplets streaked through the air like shooting stars as she waved it slowly back and forth. Yuri looked from Flynn's tail to her human face, beautiful and not in the least threatening, though Yuri could still remember the show of fangs the night they had first met. She wondered if Flynn had ever eaten a human.

“Would telling me your plan distract you?” Flynn asked.

“Not really.”

The first thing she had to do was make a straw doll, and that was easy enough to manage while talking. If anything, outlining the plan aloud would probably make the pearl more effective. She picked up a thick hank of beach grass, set her knife on her knee, and got started.

“So, doppelgangers make themselves look like their victims, right? This one is pretty much a fake me. I'm thinking that if I can make a better fake me and beat it at its own game, then I've got a good chance to win.”

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

Hours passed. Yuri's magic circle drawn in chalk on the stone floor of the cave had been breached by the rising water of high tide. The five candles she had brought still stood around its edges in pools of their own wax, but they had burned down to nothing more than stubs. The air smelled faintly of smoke and spices: clove, cayenne and black pepper. The mirror Yuri had brought was edged with the spices, clinging to runes drawn in witch hazel. She had charged it in preparation for a spell to trap malevolent creatures.

The silver butterfly knife rested on the stone next to the mirror. Yuri had put an edge on it with the whetstone, going carefully to avoid damaging the blade. It wasn't quite sharp enough to satisfy her, but she hoped that it would be good enough to get the job done. She needed to be quick, after all. One stab, maybe two. If this turned into a drawn-out fight, the doppelganger would gain the upper hand. She hadn't thought that she would have time to properly set the knife with spells, so she had put her faith in something a bit more temporary. Sigils drawn in black Sharpie marker covered the blade.

Her third weapon lay nearby, just within reach and not quite finished. It was a large straw doll, wearing a lopsided dress made from the sleeve of one of Yuri's old t-shirts. Three drops of Yuri's blood were closed up in its chest, blotted onto a shred of fabric ripped from the same shirt. Its head was unformed, awaiting the pearl that still sat beneath Yuri's tongue.

It was quiet in the cavern aside from the gentle lapping of the waves. Yuri had cast all of her spells, and Flynn seemed to have run out of complaints about the plan and grown tired of repeating her objections. She had listened to Yuri, interrupting occasionally, then proceeded to tell her that the plan was foolish, risky, and left too much to chance. They'd argued about every step of it, and Yuri had honestly considered some of Flynn's concerns that hadn't occurred to her. She hadn't changed the plan, but she had thought about it more deeply and felt less likely to be taken by surprise. Flynn still wasn't happy, but it wasn't Flynn's life in danger. Eventually, she had realized that Yuri was determined and wouldn't be swayed, and she'd lapsed into a sullen silence, watching the rest of the preparations with a grim expression.

About to take the pearl out of her mouth, Yuri paused and looked at Flynn. Having sat so long in silence, head pillowed in her arms on the rock, her disapproval had lost some of its sharpness. She almost looked like she was pouting, and Yuri had to turn her face away to hide her smile.

“What?” Flynn asked suspiciously.

“Nothing. Just wondering if you had any more objections.”

“Would you listen to them?”

Yuri looked down at her and arched a brow. “I've listened to all of them.”

“I mean, would you give up on this foolishness and let your friends—who are in far less danger—help you.”

She grinned. “Nah.”

Flynn rolled her eyes. “Then I've got nothing more to say to you about it.” She looked suddenly speculative. “Although, I'm fairly certain the sylphs could take a message to your sorceress friend.”

Don't.” She glared at Flynn. She hadn't minded arguing, but that was going too far. “You've got no right—”

“You made me an ally in this fight. I might not be much help to you, but if I can save you from yourself—”

“I can handle this. Weren't you the one insisting that my magic's a lot stronger than I thought? You've been watching me get ready all afternoon. Pretty sure you'd have said something if I'd messed up somewhere.”

“My doubts concern the plan as a whole, not your individual spells. I know you're a powerful witch—”

“And I'm going to prove it to Rita and Estelle by dealing with the doppelganger on my own. I've got this.”

For a moment, Flynn simply stared at her, considering. Then she asked: “Will you swear it to me?”

A grin spread slowly across Yuri's face. She grabbed her combat knife and held it up so that her breath fogged the blade as she spoke.

“I am going to win my battle against the doppelganger, this I swear by the blood in my veins.” Immediately, she sliced the tip of her right index finger and let three drops of blood fall to the stone between herself and Flynn. “And if I don't, if the doppelganger eats me up, may this blood oath be the bane of that bastard's existence for the rest of its miserable life.”

Flynn laughed as Yuri wrapped a corner of her shirt around the cut to staunch the bleeding. Light glinted off the sharp points of her teeth, and there was an almost predatory glee in her grin when her laughter faded. Her blue eyes glittered.

“I think that you may be stubborn enough—and perhaps petty enough—to overcome the weaknesses your friends feared and the holes in that idiocy you call a plan.” She cocked her head to one side. “You'll come back to tell me the tale?”

“Of course. I'll probably ask you to find a safe hiding place for the mirror, too. Wouldn't want anyone to ever accidentally release it, after all.”

“Were you never taught to beware asking favors of the fae?”

“Don't tell me I gotta worry about you eating me up, too.” Her stomach rumbled just then, and she glanced reflexively to where she had set her food aside earlier. “Speaking of which, it's about time I had something to eat. Let me get this wrapped up.”

Taking the pearl out from beneath her tongue, Yuri pulled the straw doll onto her lap. She fanned out the stalks of grass above the body with her thumb and tucked the pearl into the middle of the bundle, then gathered it all together and tied off the top with several strands of her hair. Finished, the doll was placed near the mirror and knife, and Yuri wiggled her tongue around in relief.

“Damn, I'm glad to have that out of my mouth. It better be worth it.”

She snatched up her bagged sandwiches, but uncapped her water and took a long drink before opening them. She was two bites into the first before she noticed that Flynn was watching her.

“You hungry?”

“I'm about to go hunting.” She was sniffing the air, staring curiously at Yuri's sandwich as she did.

Figuring that she sure as hell wasn't going to die having had nothing but a bottle of water and a single peanut butter sandwich as her last meal, Yuri offered the second bag to Flynn.

“Want one?”

She eyed it with interest. “What is it?”

“Peanut butter and honey with a bit of cinnamon. Here, try it. Just tear off a piece if you don't think you want the whole thing.”

Flynn took the bag and pulled it open, sniffing the sandwich. “It smells a little bit like you,” she murmured.

“Like me? Oh. From the bakery, probably. We use a lot of cinnamon. I wouldn't taste nearly as good, though. Just so you know.”

“I am not going to eat you,” Flynn said, rolling her eyes. She pulled out the sandwich and took a bite.

Watching Flynn's expression as that tiny, cautious taste led to her wolfing down the rest of the sandwich, Yuri had to bite back laughter. “Good?” she asked once she was sure her voice wouldn't betray her.

There was new respect in Flynn's eyes. “I think being a baker might be just as magical as being a witch.”

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

It was still light out by the time Yuri got home, if only just barely, and it seemed to her that since her wards were still set and hadn't been gobbled up, it was likely that the doppelganger wasn't lying in wait for her inside. She was still tense as the key rasped too loudly in the lock, and she scowled as she slipped inside, scrubbing her damp palms on her shirt. Yuri had never been afraid of a fight, but this was different. For a second, she actually wished that she had tried harder to master the meditation exercises her mentor had tried to teach her, but the moment passed quickly, and Yuri wasn't the type to waste time on regrets. In her room, she took the straw doll out of her bag and laid it on her bed. Although it had no eyes, she still felt as if it was staring at her. She eyed it uncertainly.

“That thing is going to eat you up,” Yuri muttered to the little doll stuffed full of bits of herself and her magic. The thought had come unbidden and she'd spoken it without meaning to. Wincing, she hoped she hadn't just jinxed her entire plan. “Do your best,” she said, tapping the top of its head where she had tied a lock of her own hair.

She laid the mirror on its stomach, recognizing another flaw in her plan. Having charged the mirror trap spell herself, the magic was vulnerable to the doppelganger. If the monster was quick enough, it could strip the power away before Yuri had time to catch it. One more reason it would have been nice to have Rita and Estelle on her side—either one of them could have charged the mirror so that Yuri could cast the spell and spring the trap, and neither of them were on the doppelganger's menu.

Too late for regrets. Much, much too late. The doppelganger had gotten too close and too powerful. Yuri was staking everything on this plan.

“I'm a witch,” she muttered to herself as she stalked out of her room and down the hall. “I know what I'm doing. I have plenty of magic, and I know how to use it.”

In the kitchen, she grabbed a canister of salt out of the cupboard and set about casting wards. She laid them down in quick lines before the door, along the windowsills, across the threshold into her bedroom, and in front of that window as well. In between each one, she repeated her mantra to herself.

“I'm a witch. I know what I'm doing. And I am not to be fucked with.”

She used the last of the salt to draw a protective circle around the doll. Then, with one final nervous look around, she dusted off her hands, fetched the silver knife, and hid in the closet, quietly thankful that nothing had been waiting in the shadows to devour her. It would have been entirely too embarrassing if the doppelganger had outplayed her that way.

Then, unwarded and betting her life on her enemy's greed and her own raw power in conjunction with spells she'd never had need to test, she waited.

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

Yuri started up out of her daze with a sharp intake of breath. One of her wards had just vanished, snuffled out like a candle flame. She held her breath, straining to pick out any sound from the silence outside the closet where she hid in the dark.

I'm the thing the monsters fear, she thought fleetingly, and had to clap a hand over her mouth to stifle a laugh born of absurdity and a sudden stab of fear as she heard the soft creak of the front door opening.

Yuri swallowed back the fear, ignoring the throb in her ankle and carefully trying to shift. One of her legs had gone to sleep, and it tingled painfully. A thread of panic tightened around her heart, but she forced it back. She needed to be calm for this next part to work. A calm, clear mind was essential.

The ward she'd drawn just inside the door vanished. Yuri shut her eyes tight and concentrated, feeling for the straw doll. It lay surrounded by her magic, imbued with her essence by the spells she'd cast, by her blood and hair and saliva, by the scrap of her old t-shirt it wore, and by the Pearl of Wisdom she'd set within it. She strained for the bond between it and herself, heart pounding in her throat as she heard the chilling whispers of footsteps approaching from down the hall.

Can't touch it, can't fight it...! I work in a fucking bakery, how did it even find me?

She had to push those thoughts away, had to push away even the indignant anger they brought with them which should have given her strength. She needed to be clear-headed, needed to focus.

The ward outside her bedroom door disappeared. Desperate, out of time, Yuri flung her sense of self at the doll, poured it down the conduit as if channeling magic to cast a spell. The connection took shape, rattling her to her core, and she barely managed to avoid crying out or spilling out of the closet. It took all her concentration to hold still, to keep her breathing silent. Her heart thudded painfully in her chest, and she felt as if she couldn't get enough air. Her vision was doubled, the crack of light spilling into the dark closet overlaying a view of the ceiling above her bed.

Yuri nearly broke the delicate hold of the magic with a rush of triumph. Dizzy, fiercely proud that she had managed the spell, she didn't hear the bedroom door open. It was only when a shadow momentarily blocked off the light that she shook off the distraction. Her vision was still confused, blurring and shifting as she tried to focus from both perspectives at once. Leaning forward, she could just make out the doppelganger advancing toward her bed, intent on the doll resting there. There was enough of herself stuffed into it, and enough spells surrounding it that the doppelganger ought to mistake it for her. If it didn't...if it noticed that something was wrong and sniffed out her hiding place....

Yuri tightened her grip around the hilt of the knife.

Fighting down the instinct to charge, to throw herself at her enemy and beat it into submission as if it was some common thief, she gave up her limited view of the doppelganger from the closet, and focused instead on the doll. She'd mentally gone over her plan time and again while holding the pearl beneath her tongue and crafting the doll. It knew what she needed from it, in as much as it could know anything. The rest was up to her magic.

The doppelganger's unpleasant laugh raised the hairs on her arms as she began chanting the spell. Her lips moved, but no sound issued forth. The power funneled through the conduit to the doll, and called to the answering magic she'd charged the mirror with.

I know you're awake. Its voice was furtive movements in the shadows, the rustle of grass when there was no wind. What are you casting? It won't save you. Yum. Yum. Yum. I'll eat it all up.

This next step was the hard part, the weakest part of her plan because she wasn't at all certain it would work. She had to set her knife down on her thigh, ignoring instincts that screamed at her not to let go of her weapon. There was nothing for it, however. She needed her hands free.

The doll was an extension of Yuri, alive with her will and her magic. She felt its limbs as her limbs, felt it as a vessel for the pulse of her life. As the doppelganger leaned over it with a hungry leer, Yuri fixed the sense of connection in her mind, and raised the doll's arms. She felt the rough straw ends catch against the sides of the mirror, standing in for her own hands.

What's this? An appetizer?

Yuri spoke aloud now, the words calling upon her earlier preparations and upon the sense of her own magic welling within her: “By the salt and the flame that protect and purify, by the strength of the enduring ocean, by my own will and might, I bind thee by ancient contract: with clove I compel thee, with bindweed I restrain thee, with witch hazel I bind thee, with this mirror I confine thee. Trouble this plane no more.”

She felt the spell weaving itself around the doppelganger, the magic of the components of the spell bolstering and protecting her own power to keep the doppelganger from sucking it greedily down. It had realized that something was wrong, and was cursing and threatening her as it struggled against the binding, without quite being able to break free.

You think this can stop me? I'll devour this spell soon enough. Maybe it will take me some time, but you won't be able to hold me. You can't even complete the binding. I'll break free. I'll eat your tasty little spell right up, lick the residue from my fingers. And then I'll eat you.

The doppelganger's words flowed past her, barely registering. Yuri kept repeating the spell of binding, calling up more and more power, wrapping the doppelganger ever tighter even as it absorbed her magic out of the tangle around it. She could feel the drain. Her eyes ached fiercely, and, even with them shut tight, she still saw from the doll's perspective: the blank ceiling of her room, the doppelganger writhing as it struggled against the binding.

I'm going to take my time eating you!

Its voice was tight with anger when it spoke. Only her concentration on the spell kept dread from running like ice water down Yuri's spine and pooling heavily in her stomach.

I'm going to make it last, make sure you hurt! I'm going to eat you slowly. Bit. By. Bit. Just to teach you one. Last. Lesson.

Darkness entered her vision as a hand of solid shadow reached out for her. Pain flared across Yuri's cheek, and her words rose into a shout, syllables breaking apart over the sharp ache that wrenched her full attention away from the spell. She was tied too tightly to the doll! It could still get to her!

Why don't you stop struggling? We both know how this is going to end. Lay back and accept it, and I promise to gobble you up quickly. Won't that be better?

Its fingers traveled deceptively lightly over the doll's face, up to its forehead. Agony bloomed wherever it touched, and Yuri clenched her fists so hard to hold onto the spell that her fingernails dug into her palms. The doppelganger was nearly bound tightly enough to the mirror, but it had been right when it said that she wouldn't be able to finish the job so easily.

What's this I'm uncovering? Thought you could trick me with this poppet? Does it hurt when I strip her illusion away? Something so crude shouldn't have such a lovely form.

The pain traveled lower as the doppelganger wrapped a hand around the doll's neck. Yuri let out a choked scream, thoughts scattering. Her hands flew to her throat, fists still clenched, terrified that she would feel blood spilling out of a raw wound. Distantly she felt the doll's arms move, knocking the mirror into the doppelganger's hand. It hissed and drew hastily back, trailing the shadow substance of its flesh like smoke. The spell was working. She gathered her thoughts and kept going, satisfied for the moment by the sense of whole, if painfully tender, skin beneath her fingers.

Hiding in the closet? Tut, tut. That's where the monsters belong.

Yuri's eyes flew open. Peering through the crack, she saw that the doppelganger had turned its head at an unnatural angle on its neck to stare at her hiding place. It was jerking, trying to wiggle free enough to turn and come for her, but the spell held it fast. She was as safe as she was going to get. Still keeping up the repetitions of the incantation, Yuri grabbed the butterfly knife from where she had laid it on her thigh, and stood. Pins and needles pricked her legs, and the double vision of maintaining the link to the doll gave her a moment of vertigo, but she remained upright as she staggered out of the closet, focus split between her chanting and her foe.

“By the salt and the flame that protect and purify, by the strength of the enduring ocean, by my own will and might, I bind thee by ancient contract.”

Offering yourself up, morsel?

The doppelganger thrashed against the binding, but couldn't pull further away from the bed where the mirror still held its reflection. There was a hint of something new in its voice. A smile drew Yuri's lips drew a bit wider as she chanted. The doppelganger was beginning to feel fear.

“With clove I compel thee, with bindweed I restrain thee, with witch hazel I bind thee, with this mirror I confine thee.”

Oh, yes, do come closer.

It licked its tar black lips with a tongue that was too long, but the bluff didn't scare Yuri off. There had never been a question of needing to get up close and personal to finish this job, and she'd been itching to face the monster on her own terms since the night it had come after her on the beach. She raised the knife as the chant fell ceaselessly from her lips.

“Trouble this plane no more!” The knife flashed down, sinking into the doppelganger's flesh as if it was soft, putrid meat. “By the salt and the flame—”

Yuri screamed as the doppelganger's leg whipped back like a snake and coiled around her calf. She felt the burning pain of the skin being flayed from her body wherever it touched her, and nearly fell to the floor. Determination held her upright, and she drove the knife in deeper, forcing the spell out through gritted teeth.

“By the salt and the flame that protect and purify. By the strength of the enduring ocean. By my own will and might. I bind thee by ancient contract. With clove I compel thee. With bindweed I restrain thee. With witch hazel I bind thee. With this mirror I confine thee. With silver I adjure thee! Trouble this plane no more!”

The doppelganger whipped itself into a frenzy, shrieking piercingly enough to shatter glass. Its substance roiled beneath its skin: limbs, joints, and features bubbling and melting sickeningly. Wisps of darkness rose off it and were drawn into the mirror, slowly at first, then quicker and quicker. Yuri chanted the spell between pained gasps of breath, driving the doppelganger forward by the knife in its back, barely aware amid all her other aches of the pain where she had pushed her forearm against it. Bit by bit, it was drawn into the mirror, fighting like a wild thing all the way. Sweat dripped into Yuri's aching eyes and stung her wounds. Blood ran down her leg, sinking into the carpet. She lost her footing, toppled forward. The impending horror of colliding with the doppelganger was an icy knife in her heart and she gasped reflexively.

Even as she put out her free hand to stop herself, however, the last of the doppelganger collapsed and was drawn into the mirror. Yuri fell, slumping against the edge of her bed before sinking to the floor. She breathed in huge, desperate gulps of air, staring sightlessly as her heart hammered in her chest, and the awareness that she had won slowly filtered in through the pain radiating from her face and neck, arm and leg.

Needing to see proof of her victory, Yuri twisted, biting off a whimper of pain as she forced herself to stretch. She groped along the top of the bed until her fingers brushed the straw doll, then grasped for the mirror and dragged it to her. She stared into it, amazed to see an amorphous mass of darkness railing against the glass.

“I did it.” She let her arm fall to the side, and laughed shakily.

The room stank of blood and carrion, crushed flowers, beach grass and spices. Yuri sneezed, then moaned out a swear at the echoes of pain it sent racing through her body. She knew that she needed to pick herself up, see to her leg and arm, stop the bleeding and get herself disinfected and bandaged, see how bad the damage was to her face and neck. She felt like she'd been hogtied and kicked half to death. One of her eyes was swelling shut, and the other burned every time she blinked. She felt lightheaded, drained, and realized with a sense of giddy relief that she didn't have the energy to pick herself up.

“That's okay. Could do with a nap,” she mumbled.

Some small part of her knew that she shouldn't fall asleep, but that wasn't enough to hold off the effects of using so much magic and sustaining so many injuries. Before Yuri could rally herself to fight against it, she had passed out in a heap right there on the floor.

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

It had been two days since Yuri had left to fight the doppelganger, and Flynn hadn't seen her since. Thanks to the sylphs, she knew that Yuri had been victorious, that her healer and sorceress friends had found her shortly after the battle. She knew that, although Yuri was hurt, she was healing and would be fine. Still, anxiety twisted uncomfortably in her gut. She would feel better once she had seen Yuri for herself, confirmed with her own eyes that her friend was all right.

Not too long ago, she never would have thought it possible to form any sort of meaningful bond with a human. Now, her friendship with Yuri left an anxious warmth in her chest whenever Flynn thought of her.

Flynn was out hunting in deeper waters when a faint surge of welcome rolled through her like a current. Her attention was dragged immediately toward the coast where she knew without a doubt that Yuri had just stepped into the water. The ocean welcomed her back, singing its gentle song of strength and healing. Immediately, Flynn left off her hunting and shot through the water. She was nearly back at full strength, although her muscles still pulled tight with every movement. Even so, it was a miracle she was doing so well when only a few nights ago, she had been resigned to death. She owed Yuri her life, and the debt wasn't at all the unpalatable thing it had been when she had first acknowledged it.

The moon was waning. Only a thin crescent and a sprinkling of stars were out to light the shore, but Flynn still picked out Yuri easily where she stood in the shallows. Flynn swam nearer than she comfortably could, noting the hesitancy in the way Yuri walked. Her smooth gait faltered, and pale cloth bound half of one leg and part of her arm. As Yuri came out to meet her, Flynn shouted in dismay. Half of Yuri's face was swollen and discolored. The damage extended down to her neck and the top of her chest as well.

“Hey,” Yuri said, raising one hand in greeting. She was standing nearly waist deep in the ocean, and even the gentlest of swells made her sway unsteadily. “Sorry I haven't been out to look at those cuts of yours.”

Flynn shook her head. “It's you I'm concerned about. Should you be out here? You look horrible!”

“Gee, thanks,” she said with a wry smile. “Looks worse than it is. Having the doll kept it from actually eating my face. The rest'll be scarred, but it'll heal up.”

“Still....”

“Listen, I didn't just come out here to wow you with my pretty face. I've got that favor to ask.” She reached beneath the water, and pulled a small mirror tied with a black silk ribbon from her clothes. “Can you hide this? Someplace deep down where no one will find it. We can call it even after that, and you'll be free to go.”

“No!” Flynn surged forward, but just as quickly allowed herself to sink back into the water. “That isn't nearly enough to repay the debt I owe you. I wouldn't think to be so stingy as to accept a trade like that.”

Yuri gave her a strange, searching look, lips quirking into a faint, crooked smile. “You sure? I'm offering you an out, here.”

“You're insulting me, is what you're doing. Give me that.” She snatched the mirror from Yuri's hand and swam a short distance off before looking back over her shoulder. “Go home and rest. Come see me once you've healed. You promised to tell me the story yourself.”

Yuri laughed, and the sound of it filled Flynn with warmth. “So, if you're going to be sticking around, would you mind helping me gather ingredients every now and again?”

“I'm not here to run errands for you! And you should know better than to rack up favors owed to the fae!”

“No favors,” Yuri called back. “Just asking you to help out a friend.”

It startled her more than it probably should have to hear Yuri voice that thought, and pleased her in equal measure. Taking one last look, she waved with the hand holding the mirror, then dove beneath the surface and sped away. She knew that it wasn't likely Yuri would rest up properly, but she couldn't help smiling to think that they would probably be seeing each other again tomorrow night. Her smile only grew as she wondered what sorts of treasures she might be able to bring back just to see Yuri's face light up.



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