Vex'ahlia first saw her when rain was falling. The route she had taken to leave the Underworld ended with a large rock that interrupted a vast and barren field near Zephra, a bustling village only an hour away. The woman was sitting in this field, rain falling gently and causing her unruly red hair to stick to her skin. Vex'ahlia quickly hid herself, not wanting to be seen by a mortal and not wanting to spend her precious time above talking to a mere minor god. This woman proved herself the latter.
Surrounding the woman, where once had been barren land, were now plants sprouting under her careful eye. She talked to them gently, encouraging them to grow and show their colors in whatever shade made them most happy.
Vex'ahlia was enraptured, time flying as she watched the woman filling a small portion with her creations. This would be the first time she saw the redhead, but not the last.
Vex'ahlia would learn that the woman was named Keyleth, a name that flew freely from the lips of the other gods that would visit. Percival, a major god in his own right, and his sister Cassandra were the only two who would regularly spend time with Keyleth in the fields. While they stayed, Keyleth would only stroke the flowers that bloomed in rich and vibrant colors. Vex'ahlia would later learn that her favorites were secretly the black petals that only bloomed in the moonlight.
She would also learn that Keyleth inspired a craving within herself for beauty, as well as a yearning for the companionship and touch of a lover.
In her world below, Vex'ahlia was watched helplessly by Pike as she tried to recreate the beauty above in her island of Elysium. Pike, a demigod who had befriended the lady of the Underworld while she was still alive, had sent countless requests for the island to be changed to accommodate the desires of its inhabitants. While Vex'ahlia never turned Pike away when she sought out her company, the island had not been her top priority. Nothing Vex'ahlia tried seemed to satisfy her, to be more than a pale mimicry of the beauty she craved. Concerned with the state of her friend, Pike did all she could to get to the catalyst of the change within her. Unable to get Vex'ahlia to open up, all she could do was encourage her to pursue whatever or whoever would lighten her mood so much and so consistently.
Pike would only later realize that her words were taken to heart, and what would happen as a result.
The previous chapter was sort of to set the mood and the world, so this is where we really get into it.
Vex'ahlia took a deep breath to calm herself. She stood outside the home of her equal, Lord of the Sky and Gatherer of Clouds, Scanlan Shorthalt. Once she stepped inside, she knew there would be no turning back.
Whatever is making you so happy, I'm glad you found it, Pike had told her. Do whatever you have to do to keep that. We all like seeing you with a smile on your face, you know.
She nodded once, firm in her decision, and raised a hand to knock, only for it to swing open before she could. Scanlan stood before her, short enough that she need to look down to meet his eyes, his usual jovial smile no where to be found.
"Vex," he said, standing aside for her to enter. "You don't normally show up unannounced like this, so it must be serious. Who do I need to strike down?"
"It's nothing like that, Scanlan," she told him, clasping her hands together to stifle the urge to fidget. "You just need to say yes so everything is nice and official."
"I'm flattered but you know I'm a married man!" he exclaimed, closing the door and holding a hand to his chest in mock affront.
"Don't I know it," she laughed, only a little nervous. "I would like to propose, but not to you dear."
"Well, that's a relief." He rolled his shoulders, the atmosphere lightening at the gesture. His smile returned, wide and full of mirth. "I'll support whoever you choose to court, but if this bites you in the ass, that's on you."
She rolled her eyes, mouth pulling into a half-smile at his attempts to put her at ease. The rest of her visit was spent catching up, scolding him for his most recent affairs that he shared with her, and telling of what punishments mortals would receive for only half of the stunts he pulled. Such visits were rare, but it only served to remind her that for all they clashed, she did care deeply for her friend.
For once Vex'ahlia was sitting in what she had come to think of as Keyleth's field without the intention of observing her. No, this time she was lying in wait for Keyleth's friends. She expected to have to come back, not daring to hope that they would both visit on her first try. Luck seemed to be on her side, perhaps due to a few strings being pulled by someone in her corner that was aware of what she had planned. Regardless, Percival and Cassandra arrived to spend time with Keyleth after only a few hours of lying in wait.
Vex'ahlia was used to Keyleth's voice rolling loud and exuberant across the field, Percy's quiet murmur, and Cassandra's calm and controlled tones as they engaged in conversation. Today was no different, Keyleth's voice acting as a balm to her nerves. Vex'ahlia could easily have overcome any of the three in single combat, as well as simultaneously, but that did not change how she felt anticipating what was to come. When they left the field, she was not going to stay to watch Keyleth but rather follow the siblings.
Logically, she knew that she could make a strong case as to why she should court Keyleth. Disregarding most, she was being respectful to even approach Percival and Cassandra. They were minor gods at best, neither with relationships more than friendship to Keyleth. Even seeking permission was only a formality, instead of approaching Keyleth herself or taking the time-old solution of stealing Keyleth away in the night.
She ignored the pit in her stomach that formed when she remembered this, but it only grew as the time to get the siblings on their own came closer. As the sun began to sink below the horizon, which normally marked their departure, she crept around and hid in the treeline along the road to Zephra. Taking her cap off and tucking it in her belt, she made sure that all of her clothing was in place and her hair neatly contained by a braid before beginning to walk towards the trio.
Coming into their sight, she could see that Percival and Cassandra were seated with their backs to her, Keyleth alone facing her direction.
Here we go, she thought to herself before calling out to Keyleth, whose gaze had been caught with her own. She slowed her steps, send her best flirtatious look towards her.
“I hate to interrupt your time together, but I was hoping to speak to your friends here should you be willing to spare them for but a moment.”
Her steps faltered as her words came out sounding like a demand, as if there was no other option but to acquiesce. She had hoped to leave a better initial impression on her lover-to-be but beggars can’t be choosers and she had not always been the imposing and powerful god she was now.
The faintest of blushes could be seen rising to Keyleth’s cheeks, sunkissed and freckled as they were, as she glanced at her friends before responding.
"Oh, um, yes?" She looks at her friends again, who move to stand with arms crossed as they look at Vex'ahlia. She scrambles to get up herself, trying to imitate their stern faces and failing spectacularly, speaking all the while. "I mean, they can always say no to anything because it's really up to them. They make decisions all the time, for themselves especially but sometimes for me or Zephra or their own city and really there was only that one time, well all the times really, that it really sucked because of Percy and his lists but really we're all past that and agree, no more lists. So, um, yeah. Yes. Wait, no, what was the question?"
Vex'ahlia can't stop the way the corner of her mouth turns up as Keyleth rambles, her blush darkening. The nerves dancing in her stomach settle, more sure than ever that Keyleth is a woman worth courting, worth making Queen of the Underworld at her side.
"Don't worry Keyleth, we'll take care of this," Percy tells her, sending her a smile of his own.
“Go back to singing to your plants dear, we will be back to visit again tomorrow.” Cassandra adds, touching Keyleth lightly on the shoulder before gesturing for Vex’ahlia to walk with her. Percival falls in on her other side, Vex’ahlia effectively trapped between the two of them for all the good it would do.
She turns, seeing the confusion plainly written on Keyleth’s face. She raises her hand in farewell, saying, “Another day, perhaps we may speak again. Until then, I must say goodbye to yourself and your beautiful flowers.”
Vex’ahlia looks towards where she knows Keyleth’s favories grow, speaking once again before she walks away. “Particularly those that I know to gleam in the light of the night sky. I enjoy those most of all.”
She sees Keyleth look towards the flowers as well, a small smile growing on her face as she ducks her head shyly, before she is forced to turn her attention back to the siblings and the matter at hand.
Shit, she thinks to herself, knowing she’s too far gone to even think about turning back. Now I really do have to get them to say yes.
Will they say yes? Will they say no? Will it matter either way?
It felt like they had been walking for hours, though Vex’ahlia knew that wasn’t accurate. They couldn’t have walked more than ten minutes before Keyleth was a distant figure behind them, a fact made more prominent by her growing nerves. It felt as though there was a lead weight in her stomach, weighing her down and slowing her feet. The dread was eating at her, everything she had been reminding herself of fading into the background of her mind as her doubts and fears rose to drown them out.
You won’t be good enough, they whispered, coiling around her heart and squeezing. You never have been before, why would you be now? Why should you, a monster dwelling in the bowels of the earth tormenting lost and dead souls, be allowed near someone like her, let alone love or be loved by her? You’ll fail. They’ll say no. Scanlan already told them and they’re all having a joke at your expense.
Shut up, she thought.
Make us, they replied, her heart thumping loudly in her ears, feeling as though she might fall apart at any moment. Any moment now. You’ll stutter through the questions, forget everything you prepared, just for her to jump out from the trees and ridicule you.
Shut. Up. She thought again, digging her nails into her palms enough to draw blood, the pinpricks of pain distracting her enough to center herself.
"We know who you are," Cassandra said suddenly, breaking into Vex'ahlia's thoughts.
"As I know of you," she responded, her mouth dry. "Are you aware of why I asked to speak to you?"
"Asked?" Cassandra repeated quietly, raising an eyebrow.
"We can only guess, so if you would, explain." Percival spoke over her, his tone not leaving room to be a question.
"Keyleth has no relatives to speak of among us," she started.
Cassandra nodded and murmured quietly to Percival, "She's done her homework."
"So it seems," he responded, just as quietly, before gesturing for her to continue.
She coughed lightly, clearing her throat more as a nervous gesture than out of any real necessity. "I know that she considers you two her friends and cares deeply about both you and your opinions. As such, I thought it only right I approach you after receiving permission from the King on the Mountain-"
At this, Percival and Cassandra stop walking, Percival interrupting her and meeting Cassandra's eyes, "If she's been to see Scanlan and had to request permission, we're both smart enough to know why she's here."
Vex'ahlia said nothing in regards to being spoken about as though she was not present, though it rubbed her the wrong way, instead stopping and turning to face the duo. Her mouth closed, words dying on the tip of her tongue.
"Of course we are," Cassandra bit out, a muscle twitching with how hard she was clenching her jaw. "We're also smart enough to both know the answer, aren't we?"
Oh no, Vex'ahlia thought, her stomach dropping and a coldness starting to seep into her bones. They're going to say no and there's nothing I can do about it. I haven't even finished my speech, I haven't even asked!
Percival dipped his head slightly, frowning, before turning to Vex'ahlia and running his hand along his chin as he spoke. "My lady, would you be willing to wait for an answer? We have much to discuss."
"Of course," she replied immediately, relief running through her veins. That wasn't a no. "This is not something that should be hastily decided."
"Thank you." There was visible tension that left his body, almost as though he had expected anger or violence from her, which sent a jolt of hurt to her heart. "How should we be expected to contact you with our answer?"
Vex'ahlia hesitated, debating on whether she should admit to such a close entrance to her realm, before deciding to bite the bullet. "The large stone, the one in Keyleth's field. It's an entrance that leads directly to my palace, you could walk right up to the doors without seeing a single soul."
Fuck, she thought, wincing almost imperceptibly. That was the wrong word to say, don't mention what you do to the souls down there.
Releasing the breath she didn't even realize she had held when the siblings showed no hint of reacting to her slip, she continued. "You can either come yourselves or send a messenger, I'll make it so you are given an immediate audience."
"And if we would not wish to travel to your Underworld?" Cassandra asked, hostility barely veiled by civility.
"That is well within your rights to decide." Vex'ahlia informed her calmly, barely maintaining the facade of being collected emotionally right now. "You may either send a messenger with the details of where to meet you above and when, or we can arrange a set date to reconvene now."
"That is not necessary," Percival said quickly, flashing his sister a look the meaning of which Vex'ahlia could not glean. "One of us will either bring you our answer or a messenger will be sent. Thank you, my lady."
"Of course." She dipped her head, beginning to back up and pull her cap from her belt. She did not miss the glare Cassandra sent her brother and the brief flicker of emotion that crossed his face before it was gone. When she saw him prepare to speak again, she paused, cap in hand and above her head about to be put on.
"I apologize, my lady, but may we make one last request of you?"
She pursed her lips, not comfortable with what he might be about to ask her, but not willing to lose her chance to court Keyleth for simply being too rude to her friends. "You may, though I may not be able to fulfill it."
Clearly that was either not the expected answer or the wrong answer, Cassandra now openly scowling behind her brother at Vex'ahlia.
"We only ask that you not go near Keyleth or her fields until you receive our answer."
At this, Vex'ahlia did not even try to hide how displeased she was with this request, though she still maintained her civility as she answered. "Due to pressing matters below, I do not have the time to travel to another entrance. I will have to return through her fields after we finish speaking here, but you have my word that I will go so far as to not surface at all until you have made your decision."
Cassandra and Percival both were not completely pleased with that answer, but it was the best she could do. She had already spent too long above as it was and could practically feel the line of souls that were waiting to be judged by her personally growing with every second she was not below.
"I would say you could escort me to the entrance, but we all know that would only leave more questions in Keyleth's mind," she added. That seemed to do the trick, the siblings letting her leave without another word. The trip back to the fields was a bittersweet one for Vex'ahlia, her hopes not fully dashed. She was eager to see Keyleth once more, but dreaded having to travel below without knowing when the next time she'll be able to see Keyleth is.
Approaching the field, she could see that Keyleth had fallen asleep amongst her plants. Her heart twinged seeing her lying with her favorites, the ones Vex'ahlia had also claimed to love. Keyleth must have been encouraging more to grow while she had been gone, a vastly different amount sprouting and sporting small petals than there had been when she left. She knelt, cap still keeping her invisible, and pulled from a pouch at her side a long and thick cloak, perfect for keeping out dew and cold night air. She draped it over Keyleth's sleeping form, soft black contrasting against her skin though the red trim and designs adorning the exterior matched the color of her hair perfectly. She could see the beginnings of a flower crown clasped in Keyleth's hands, flowers with baby blue petals woven together.
Well, what difference will another hour make? She thought to herself, sliding the crown from her hands and settling herself on the ground. She could see flowers with vibrant green petals, perfect for weaving, within reach. By the time an hour had passed, she had a messily completed flower crown in her hands. Regretting that she really did need to leave, she laid the finished piece beside Keyleth and left quietly, trying not to wake her.