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“I hope Dirthamen Evanuris takes a long walk off of a short dock!” Selene huffs.

“Ah, he’s not such a bad guy, Sel.” Says Adannar from beside her as they stride through the halls and towards the Great Hall.

“You don’t think anybody is ‘such a bad guy’ Addy,” Selene sighs dismissively “So that hardly counts for anything.”

“You aren’t normally so quick to dismiss people, either,” he points out. “What is it about this guy that bugs you so much?”

 

“Who’s bugging Selene?” Pipes in Serahlin as they join her and the rest of their group at one of the long wooden tables to eat lunch.

 

“Dirthamen Evanuris,” Selene mutters back before going into a poor impersonation of him “ ’Oh look at me, I have so much money and free time that I know every vague reference to everything ever and everyone else is always wrong because I know everything and blah blah blah.'”

 

Serahlin just gives a nod and a soft “Ah” while exchanging a look with Adannar. “I take it something in particular happened in class then?”

Selene throws her arms up in the air, frustration returning “He corrected the professor! 'Oh Professor Vitality I’m so sorry but did you know that according to Brother Genitivis writings in some obscure book that only exists in my personal collection, the dates you’re giving us are inaccurate’ like-like-UGH. What a pompous-STUCK UP, NUGHEADED-UGH!”

 

“Did he really say that?” Ana asks as she bites off the end of a piece of celery.

“No.” Adannar corrects.

“He may as well have!” Selene fumes as she stabs a fork into the salad that appears before her. “So sorry the rest of us peasants don’t have access to every book in existence!”

 

“I think you’re exaggerating,” Venavismi chimes in “He’s a pretty quiet, docile guy. I think you two would get along if you just got to know each other.”

 

Selene levels a glare, fork pointed directly at Vena, one carrot matchstick dangling off the end. “That’s traitor talk.”

 

“It’s not traitor talk,” Vena laughs. “He’s my roommate! And you’re my friend! One people, one love, etc etc.”

“No, it’s definitely traitor talk.” Ana says, scooching to sit besides Selene, who indicates towards the redhead with a 'See???’ motion.

 

“Banana’s just mad because I got the snitch before she did in the last match.”

“You cut me off!”

“From my perspective, you tried to cut me off.” Vena points out. “Selene, help me out here.”

 

“Oh no,” Selene says “I’m not a traitor.”

“You’re a Ravenclaw! I won the match for our house!”

Selene just shrugs and plunges the fork into her salad with a quiet muttered “It’s also that bourgeois nughumpers house, so you’re on your own.”

 

“He’s still leagues better than his brother,” Serahlin tuts. Her brother Tasallir nods in agreement beside her. “I hope he wanders into the forbidden forest and doesn’t come back.”

“He still giving you problems?”

“He’s giving everyone problems,” Serahlin nods. “I’m surprised Professor Melarue hasn’t expelled him yet.”

“I heard they tried,” Uthvir says. “Headmaster Haninan said this place was his best chance to 'improve’ though.”

“His potential improvement shouldn’t mean the rest of us have to suffer.” Ela pouts.

“I’m sure they’re doing the best they can,” Aelynthi points out. “If Falon'din crosses a major line, even Headmaster Haninan won’t be able to stop Nanae from doing what they have to to keep the rest of us safe.”

 

“They should just get rid of the whole family,” Selene mumbles. “Save us all a lot of headaches.”

“Doesn’t work that way,” Victory says, tapping her shoulder reassuringly “You’ll just have to put up with him a while longer.”

“Five more years,” she groans. “I’m not gonna make it.”

 

 

“Your measurements are inaccurate,” Comes a voice from behind Selene. She jumps, having thought she was alone in the Ravenclaw Common Room this late at night. Or early in the morning, depending on your perspective.

 

“My measurements are fine,” she insists. Dirthamen scrunches his eyebrows together, moving closer to her and picking up the parchment with her experiment written on it.

“You have too much mandrake root for this desired effect.”

“It’s fine.”

“Your antidote could kill the person you give it to. Is that your goal?”

 

Selene sighs, and snatches her parchment back from him. “Of course not.”

“Then I must re-advise; you are using too much mandrake root.”

“I’m really not.”

“Are you also using dragons breath? Selene, this potion is liable to-”

 

There is a small explosion then, an eruption of fire from her portable cauldron as a large draconian growl fills the common room. Dirthamens arm wraps around her shoulders, yanking her back and away from the worst of the flames.

 

The two of them cough, one of the windows flying open to let the smoke out of the room. Selene re-opens her eyes, blinking away the spots after the too bright flames nearly seared them out of her skull.

She sits up, pulling herself out of Dirthamens grip.

“Well,” She says, patting some of the ashes off of her cloak. “I will admit that there was, perhaps too much dragons breath in that particular attempt,”

Dirthamen nods, but Selene continues as though he hadn’t “But nottoo much mandrake root. So you were wrong, too.”

 

He frowns, at that.

“You nearly blew the two of us up.”

“I didn’t ask you to come down here.”

“If I had not, your face would be suffering severe burns.”

Or, I wouldn’t have lost my concentration, and would have noticed the excess dragons breath in time.”

“That seems unlikely-”

“But not impossible.”

 

Dirthamen sighs. Stands. Brushes some of the ash off of himself.

“I suppose that is technically true.”

 

A few other students start coming down the stairs to see the commotion, and Selene hurriedly packs up her things before they can ask her any questions.

Vena comes down the stairs too, noting the scorch marks and smoke still in the room, and makes note of Selenes absence from the room. He shakes his head, arms crossed over his chest as he looks at Dirthamen. “No luck, huh?”

“It appears not.”

 

 

The following years schedule brings with it several classes that Selene has to share with her self-appointed rival. She is not thrilled to find him in her Arithmancy class, Study of Ancient Runes, and Defense Against the Dark Arts.

She is even less thrilled when she is paired with him for Advanced Potions.

“Perhaps this way you will be less likely to set fire to the classroom,” He points out as they set up their station.

Selenes shoulders raise as she bites her tongue; she has to work with him for the rest of the year after all. Perhaps calling him a nughumper to his face isn’t the best way to kick off the year.

 

His brother glaring daggers at her from the table behind them isn’t helping things, either.

Selene does feel a pang of pity for Tasallir, who seems to be carrying the two of them throughout most of the assignments while Falon'din complains about smells and sticky substances on the floors potentially staining his boots.

 

But mostly she’s just ready to smack Falon'din when he grabs her arm after class.

“Hey, bitch,” he sneers. “Stay away from my brother.”

Selene raises an eyebrow. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“I mean, I know about you two. I hear about you both getting all cozy and shit in the common room, I saw you cuddling up during potions. Its gross, and you need to stop. He’s not gonna give you any money or whatever, so just leave him the hell alone.”

 

Selene frowns, and slowly pries his fingers off of her arm. “Listen,” she says. “I have never once, ever, sought out your brother. Apparently, someone on the school board seems to think its funny to throw us together at every turn, but rest assured, I’m not after any 'money or whatever’.”

“Then why’d you partner with him?”

“We were assigned partners you daft elf.”

Falon'din lets out a heavy breath through his nose and straightens.

“Fine. Whatever. Just remember, he’s my brother.” he sneers before walking away.

 

Selene just shakes her head and mumbles. “They were right; you areworse.”

 

 

The next day in the Common Room, Dirthamen has a dark bruise covering much of his left cheek.

 

Vena stays at Dirthamens side for breakfast, and he joins the group for most of the morning.

Most of them stick to awkward conversation, trying not to mention it, or the way his eyes never seem to leave the bowl of cereal in front of him.

 

Selene feels a sting of guilt. Of course she had thought he needed a slap, but not…not like this.

 

“What happened?” She finally blurts, staring straight at Dirthamen.

The rest of the table goes silent, as he slowly glances up at her, rather than into his bowl of what by now is just soggy wheat with sugar and milk.

 

“I upset my brother,” he admits. “More than usual.”

“This is a usual thing?”

“Normally he is more careful not to leave a mark. Yesterday he seemed to be…particularly incensed, however.”

 

Selene drums her nails on the table. “Have you told anyone about this?”

“Our father believes we should 'sort it out’ ourselves.”

“What about a teacher?” Aelynthi chimes in.

Dirthamen shakes his head. “It is a family matter.”

“The hell it is,” Selene says, standing abruptly. She holds out a hand for Dirthamen “Come on. Aelynthi, you come too.”

 

He nods, and the three of them make their way into Professor Melarues office, where Selene knocks thrice on the door before it swings open.

 

“Come in,” they call without looking up from their papers.

“Nanae,” Aelynthi responds, and that, at least, gets their attention. “We need you to do something.”

 

Selene nods, and carefully pulls Dirthamen forward towards the head of Slytherin house. “Falon'din did this.”

 

Melarue frowns at the large purple mark on the young boys cheek. “Your brother struck you, Dirthamen?”

 

He hesitates.

Selene squeezes his hand reassuringly in her own as he looks to her, and gives a small nod.

 

“…Yes.” he admits.

 

Melarue seems to become very still for a moment. As though running through a long line of possibilities in their head. “I will bring this up to Headmaster Haninan,” They assure him. “For now, please head to the infirmary. They will give you something there that will help.”

 

Dirthamen swallows and nods, but mostly seems thankful just to leave their office.

 

Selene follows him to make sure he actually goes to the infirmary, while Aelynthi heads back to the Great Hall and their friends.

 

One of the nurses ushers Dirthamen into a cot, and carefully applies some foul smelling salve to his cheek. He winces at first, but as the color starts to lighten and return to his usual skin tone, Selene can see some relief seeping into him.

 

“You do not have to stay.” Dirthamen informs her.

“I want to make sure you’re ok.” She shrugs.

“Why?”

“Why not?”

“You do not…” he pauses.

Selene waits.

He sighs before continuing “You do not like me.”

“Who told you that?”

“It is apparent.”

 

Selene raises a skeptical eyebrow.

“…Vena may have mentioned it once, when I asked if I could join you all for breakfast in the past.”

“Well…he’s not wrong.”

 

Dirthamen seems to sag a bit at that. “It is true, then.”

“You seem upset.”

“I thought…I had hoped, perhaps, that you and I could be friends.”

“Am I even up to your standards?” Selene scoffs.

Dirthamen blinks in confusion.

 

“Because you’re so…” She gestures vaguely “Like, rich? And you know everything? And you’ve got all these rare books memorized and stuff? I’m sure you have tons of people lined up to be your friends.”

“I do not,” he informs her. “My brother is more talented at creating bonds with people than I am.”

“Your brother is a jerk.” She says bluntly.

Dirthamen blinks again. “He is my friend.”

“No,” Selene says, leveling a finger at him. “Friends don’t hit friends unless it’s Quidditch. Like when Victory accidentally got Aelynthi in the face with the quaffle? They’re friends, but Victory still had to apologize. A lot.”

“My brother often hits people in Quidditch.”

“Well, yeah, he’s a Beater. Probably a good outlet for him, honestly. But you don’t play, so there’s no reason he should hit you.”

“But I had upset hi-”

Ever.” Selene emphasizes.

 

Slowly, Dirthamen nods.

 

She lets out a breath. “Ok. Alright, fine.”

Dirthamen tilts his head, eyebrows scrunching together as he waits for her to elaborate.

 

“We can be friends,” She says. “Most of our classes are together, anyways. We can walk together or whatever, and you can eat with us, and at the end of the day, you and I can go back to the dorms together. So that you aren’t alone with Falon'din again. Ok?”

“I do not wish to be a burden on you.”

“It’s fine,” Selene shrugs. “I just want to make sure you’re…safe. We’re friends now, right?”

Dirthamen nods again, his disposition becoming a bit cheerier at the title.

 

“Ok then,” Selene nods in return. “And just so you know, I kick the ass of anyone who hurts my friends. So if your brother tries to hurt you again, I’m gonna kick his ass.”

“I believe that is against school policy.”

“Then I’ll duel him or prank him or curse his broom or something! I just…” She traces her fingers carefully over Dirthamens cheek, now back to its normal size and color, but still buzzing lightly with the recent healing, and whispers “Family isn’t supposed to hurt you.”

 

He swallows, and nods again. Her hand lingers just slightly over his cheek before Selene clears her throat and stands. Offering her hand to him again, she helps him to stand, and they make their way to Study of Ancient Runes.

 

“Did you do the homework?” he asks, trying to ease some of the awkwardness between them.

“Yeah, but the one from page 238 tripped me up, I couldn’t find it in any of my reference books, I’ll have to ask Professor Kassaran about it.”

“It is from a harder to find collection,” He nods. “I have a copy in my room.”

 

Selene resists the urge to roll her eyes.

 

“You could borrow it, if you’d like.” he says.

She blinks, and looks over at him.

“Really?”

He nods. “That is the sort of thing friends do, yes?”

 

Selene swallows and nods. “Yeah. Thank you.”

Chapter Text

“Give me the child,” Falon'din recites. He is dressed in heavy cloths and draped in golden costume jewelry. Rubies drip from his ears to match the cloak billowing in the heavy wind behind him. He has landed the lead in the local theaters play, again. 

Dirthamen stands in, not in costume but just as a body for Falon'din to bounce his lines off of, and waits patiently for his brother to finish the monologue. The sky grows darker as storm clouds roll in to the park his brother seems to prefer dragging him to for rehearsal. “Through dangers untold,” Falon’din continues “and hardships un-numbered, I have fought my way here to the castle, beyond the Goblin City, to take back the child you have stolen. For my will is as strong as yours, and my kingdom is as great!”

He pauses, as thunder crackles in the air above their heads.

Dirthamen waits for his brother to continue.

But Falon'din averts his gaze to the ground, mumbling the last few lines back to himself.

“Fucking-shit, I can never remember the next line-” He growls, pulling out and perusing his script.

“ ‘You have no power over me’,” Dirthamen informs him.

 

Falon'dins gaze shoots up to meet his brothers eyes, like two piercing daggers in his rage. “I knew that!” he insists.

 

Dirthamen does not believe he did, in fact. But pointing that out will only infuriate him further.

 

The storm continues to rumble overhead, as Falon'din moves quickly to close the few feet between himself and Dirthamen. “You think I can not do things without you, is that it?” he snaps. “Or perhaps you are trying to steal my role for yourself! Everything always has to be about you, about little Dirthamen,” he sneers.

He swallows, as his brothers rage continues to rise. Dirthamen absolutely does not want his brothers role. He had not wanted to be in the performance at all, he has other things he would much rather be doing. But his brother had insisted Dirthamen join alongside him (although perhaps only so he would pay both of their dues, he realized after), and Dirthamen had managed the role of 'goblin number 3’. He had one spoken line, and only about five minutes on the stage.

He dreaded those five minutes, all the same.

“You would rather be with your stories than with me!” Falon'din continues, snapping Dirthamen out of his reverie. “You want a story? Fine!”

 

Falon'dins voice grows low as he speaks “Once upon a time, there was a beautiful young man whose parents always made him look after his younger brother. And the brother was a spoiled child, and he wanted everything for himself! And the young man, he was practically a slave.”

Thunder booms around them, lightning flashing off the jewelry and crown atop Falon'dins head.

“But what no one knew,” he continues “Is that the Queen of the Goblins had fallen in love with the young man, and she had given him certain…powers. So one evening, when the spoiled child had been particularly cruel to him, he called on the goblins for help.”

Falon'din hunches over, face only a breath away from Dirthamens as he hisses “Say your right words, the goblins said,  And we’ll take the baby to the goblin city, and you will be free!”

Another bolt of lightning flashes, extending the shadows of nearby trees and bushes eerily. The air around them begins to feel a bit brighter, a light tingling of magic rolling around them.

“But the young man knew, that the Queen of the Goblins would keephis brother, forever and ever and ever, and turn him into a goblin. And so the man suffered in silence, until one evening, when he was tired from a day of work, hurt by the harsh words of his father and mother, and he could no longer stand it!”

Lightning flashes again, closer to them than the last as the thunder echoes heavily in Dirthamens ears

 

“Brother, I do not think-”

“I wish, I wish! I could bear it no longer!” Falon'din yells, shoving Dirthamen away from him until he stumbles to the ground. His hands catch on a loose pile of rocks, circled around the two of them as a part of Falon'dins 'process’, in an effort to set the earlier scene, scraping away a thin layer of the skin of his palms. But Falon'din seems too caught up in his own story as he continues, screaming to the skies “Goblin queen, goblin queen, wherever you may be! Take this brother of mine far away from me!”

 

Lightning crackles again, rain finally falling from the sky as Falon'din raises a fist in the air, and Dirthamen readies himself for the impact.

A raven caws from a tree, loudly enough to startle Falon'din out of his rage.

Strange, he thinks. Most birds should have taken shelter from the storm long ago.

 

Falon'din stares at his fist and lets out a long breath through his nose before extending his hand to help his brother out of what has quickly become mud in the downpour of rain.

“You’re a fucking mess,” Falon'din grumbles as he helps pull him up. “Let’s get you home.”

 

Dirthamen nods in agreement, but the moment Falon'dins back is turned, several hands reach out of the shadows at his feet, grabbing and snatching at him, silencing his cries as he is pulled down, down, into the darkness.

 

Selene watches the brothers in a routine she has seen many, many, many times before. From afar, as these things usually begin, disguised as a white raven as she has for millennium after millennium.

Falon'din continues his tirade, and Selene indicates to her companions to get ready.

“Those are not even the right words,” Des drawls as he leaps to the ground, disguised as some semblance of  cat.

“The meaning behind them is clear.” Selene states.

Even though he has shifted into a shadow, she can feel his eyes rolling in his head. “Whatever you say…”

 

Selene watches as they move ever closer, and Falon'din pulls back a fist, preparing to strike Dirthamen.

She lets out a caw, louder than the thunder and with a subtle bit of enchantment beneath it to snap him out of his rage before he can put another bruise on his twins face.

It works, and she carefully flutters her wings at her sides to release the tension in her body.

Falon'din turns away, and her companions do their jobs.

Dirthamen is dragged through the shadows, spiritual tunnels she has spent untold centuries forming, and taken back to her city.

 

Falon'din is back in his house before he notices Dirthamen is no longer with him.

 

Selene waits outside the window as he cries out for him, spinning around the room and calling a phone that goes immediately to voicemail.

“Where the fuck are you?” he screams out.

 

Well.

That seems as good a time as any to make her entrance.

 

Selene lands on the windowsill, tap tap tapping until it clicks open. Falon'din yells, swatting at her as she flies around the room before finally resettling in front of his window. She shifts, back to her elven form, or the one she can most remember. Feathers fall away, shifting to clothing as her bones crack and grow, and she stares down at the man whose cruelty has spanned time itself.

He stares at her for a solid minute. In horror, shock, fear. Realization, and finally anger.

“You’re her, aren’t you?”

 

Selene remains silent, responding with only a tilt of her head.

 

“You’re the Goblin Queen,” he accuses.

 

A smile spreads across her face. She has had many names by now, and this has become the easiest to don.

 

“I want my brother back.” Falon'din commands.

“What’s said has been said.”

“I didn’t mean it-”

“Didn’t you?”

 

His shoulders raise, as his face twists into a scowl. “Where is he?”

“You know very well where he is.” Selene drawls.

“Bring him back! Bring him back right now!” he demands.

 

“Falon'din,” She tsks. “Go back to your life. Go back to your pleasures and your games. Forget about your brother.”

“I can’t.”

 

“I’ve brought you a gift,” She announces. She pulls the orb out from her cloak, crafted from shadows and moonbeams, and holds it up before him. His eyes glitter, greed rolling off of him as he feels the strong ancient magics rolling off of it in waves.

 

“What is it?”

 

“An orb. Nothing more. But if you turn it this way,” she says, rolling it up and over the back of her left hand, then back over the length of her right arm and back down into her grip. “And look into it, it will show you your dreams.”

 

Falon'din reaches out to snatch it from her, but she pulls it back and away from him. “This is no gift for an ordinary man, who has to take care of a child. Do you want it?”

He nods, hand outstretched and the promise of power gleaming in his eyes.

“Then forget your brother.” She tells him.

 

He hesitates, arm outstretched, and she wonders for a moment if this is it. If this will be the time he finally chooses Dirthamen over power, over his greed. If perhaps this version of him has grown to learn empathy after so long, has grown to truly love and care for people.

But then he takes the orb from her, costume jewelry turning to true gold and gems, polyester capes and clothing turning to velvet’s and silks as the power of the orb fills the room.

“You have made your choice,” She tells him. “Your brother is mine, now.”

 

Falon'din sneers, raising the orb high above his head as he readies a powerful spell “Not if I kill you before you can get to him.”

 

Selene sighs, and shakes her head. “One day, I truly hope you will learn.”

 

As she says it the, magic leaves him. Gold turns to plastic and lead as Melarue pulls their power back into themselves, shifting from an orb into a snake and digging their fangs deep into the palm of his hand.

 

Falon'din screams, falling to his knees in pain as Melarues poison seeps through his bloodstream. It will be a slow death, and it will last for several days at least. His vocal cords will be paralyzed first, keeping him from being able to tell the tale of The Goblin Queens terrible trick and the Snake that was never a snake.

Selene does not stick around to see how it is handled this time. This is one of Melarues gifts, and it is not Selenes place to judge how they use them.

 

And she has a new guest waiting for her at home, besides.

 

Dirthamen does not open his eyes when he first wakes. The magic is thick in the air, a nearly crushing weight on his chest.

And there are people whispering around him.

 

“…-well what would you have us do with him then?”

“Something finer than this! I can not believe you just put him on the floor like some kind of-”

“Listen, just because he thought he was your son for a little while-”

“He was my son, thank you very much-”

“You kidnapped him!”

“Oh, and she invited him over for tea and crumpets by carrier pigeon?”

“Is that a crack about my wings, because so help me I don’t care if you were my grandfather at least I am not fashioned after some creature who sleeps upside down in a cave-”

“Wait-”

“What-”

 

There is a shushing noise, and suddenly Dirthamen can feel less sunlight on his skin than he could a moment ago.

 

“He is awake.”

 

Well, Dirthamen supposes there is not much reason left to lying here, then. He opens his eyes, blinking away the bright light behind the two figures. One, the first one who spoke, has long dark hair with a streak of white going through one side. His legs look more like a birds than an elves, petering off into talons beneath tufts of pale feathers.

The other, darker skinned with large leathery wings that have been tattered, though whether by age or injury he can not tell.

He is sitting in what seems to be a large garden, surrounded by flowers that are humming and trees actively stretching their limbs in the rising sunlight.

 

“How are you feeling?” they ask in unison.

 

Dirthamen blinks. “I believe I may be hallucinating,” he says. “Have you seen my brother?”

 

The bird like one makes a disgusted face at that, while the bats twists into pity. “No,” he admits. “I would try not to think about him, if I were you.”

 

“Is he in trouble?”

 

“That’s up to him, really.” Mutters the bird.

“She does always try to give him a chance. Please, try not to hold it against her. Time has…hardened her.” says the other.

 

“I do not understand. To whom are you referring?”

 

The two share a look, and take a step back.

 

“My name is Felasel,” informs the bird with a slight nod of his head.

“And I am Marassal,” bows the bat. “We were looking after you while you were sleeping.”

“You are in the Goblin City,” Felasel says. “Under the rule of the Goblin Queen.”

 

Dirthamen nods, and tries to absorb this information that only raises more questions than answers. “I am Dirthamen.” he tells them.

 

“You always are.” sighs Marassal before Felasel promptly elbows him in the ribs.

 

Dirthamen blinks “What do you-”

 

“We need to get you to the castle,” Felasel says. “She’ll be waiting for you by now.”

 

A large pair of wings sprout from his back, grey and white feathers as Marassals own begin to beat and lift him off the ground.

 

“Wait,” Dirthamen calls. “How will I-”

 

“You will have to take the ground route. Through the labyrinth.” Felasel says.

Marassal lets out a loud sigh “Couldn’t we just-”

No.” Felasel interrupts.  “There are rules, and they are there for a reason. I am sorry, Dirthamen. You will need to make the journey on foot.”

 

And then the two are gone. Dirthamen is left alone in the gardens, to try to find his way through a maze he cannot find to get to a castle he does not know and meet the woman who has presumably harmed his brother.

He wonders briefly if he should hurry.

 

Selene sighs as she slumps back into her throne. It grumbles and shifts beneath her until she adjusts to make it more comfortable. Des leaps into her lap as soon as she does, purring loudly.

 

“Did you find him?” Asks Deceit from where they are perched on one side of the throne.

“Of course I did. I always do.”

“Are you sure it is him?” questions Fear from the other side of the throne.

“That is what the labyrinth is for. But Falon'din was with him, so it seems unlikely it could be anyone else.”

“And where is Falon'din now?”

 

Selene strokes beneath Des’s chin, carefully avoiding ruffling his fur.

“Melarue is dealing with him. As is their prerogative.”

 

Des rolls over, taking her hand between his paws as he looks up at her.

“Do you think he’ll agree to stay this time?”

“I don’t know,” she whispers. “But it will be the last time, no matter his choice.”

 

Deceit and Fear both turn to look at her at that, while Des shifts back into an elven like shape, horns splitting out of his skull as he braces himself with one arm on either side of her and the three spirits bicker around her.


“The last time? You can’t be serious-”

“-What if he says no again? If he wants to leave-”

“If he leaves you will go after him-”

“-as you always have, as you always must-”

“-or what will happen to us?”

 

Selene shakes her head. “Whatever decision he makes, whatever path he chooses, this will be the final time. I can’t continue having my heart broken century after century. There is too little of it left. I am tired, and stagnant. If he chooses to leave us, we have to respect that.”

 

“Perhaps if you presented him with all the information-” Des interjects.

 

“It should not matter,” Selene argues. She lets out a heavy sigh and presses a kiss to Des’s cheek. “I can not carry on loving a memory. It is faded, and long dead. I have saved as much as I could; it is time to let him go. He loved us once, long ago. Hearts can change. Heartsshould change. I will not force him to choose me forever just because he chose me once.”

 

Marassal and Felasel arrive in the throne room then, and Des’s arguments die on his lips.

 

“Where is he?” Selene asks.

“We sent him to the labyrinth,” Felasel informs her. “On foot.”

 

Selene nods in approval.

 

Marassal crosses his arms over his chest “This all seems extraneous you know. He will solve the labyrinth, as he always does, and he will choose the same path he always has. Except when we did it my way.”

“We are not kidnapping another baby,” Selene snaps. “Dirthamen needs to be old enough to understand what he is consenting to, if he is going to join us here. I thought I had made that clear to you already.”

 

Marassal sighs, shoulders and wings slumping. “…Yes, my Queen.”

 

Selene thanks them for their work, and dismisses them then.

She wonders if perhaps Dirthamen might choose differently this time, all the same.

Some small part of her even hopes.

 

Dirthamen walks around the tall glass walls for what feels like hours, and does not manage to find an entrance.

He wonders how he is supposed to solve a labyrinth with no entryway.

 

As he turns around the curve though, he spots a flash of orange beside the glass. A young elven girl with freckles on her skin, picking flowers and herbs from the ground while they argue and shove each other out of the way yelling “pick me pick me pick me!”, and each lets out a small cheer as it is plucked and placed in her basket.

 

“Excuse me.” he greets, as he makes his way over to her.

 

She stands and smiles widely at him, red hair glinting in the sunlight almost enough to distract from what he had thought was a mantle of bear fur, but is in fact fur of her own, with large paws where her feet should be. “Well, hello there!”

“Hello, I am Dirthamen-”

“Yes, of course you are! How have you been?”

 

He blinks. “I have been trying to find the opening to this labyrinth, but there don’t seem to be any around.”

“Of course there are openings,” She laughs. “You just aren’t seeing them. Would you like to come have some tea and meet my partners? We’d love to have you!”

So saying, the woman steps through the wall and disappears. Dirthamen cannot even see her through what he thought was transparent glass.

 

“Where did you go?” He calls out.

The woman appears again and gestures for him to follow her before disappearing through the wall once again.

 

Dirthamen hesitates, but steps through all the same; a hallucination is unlikely to hurt you after all, yes?

 

But he finds no resistance as he steps through the hidden opening. Cleverly disguised by the angle the wall was built at; he finds turning around he can indeed see objects through the glass, but the walls before him show nothing but clear glass.

An interesting trick. He should like to speak to the person who designed it, he thinks.

 

 

“This way, this way,” The woman calls again, stepping through yet another hidden opening. This one opens up into a house. A small cottage, filled with plants and herbs and pots and bottles both filled and empty littering all available counter space.

 

“Vena,” she calls, “Tasallir, we’ve got company!”

 

“We are not ready for company,” Tsks one man as he steps out from another door. His skin is patterned like marble, smooth and dark and lovely in contrast with his long pale hair.

 

“Aw, lighten up, Tas!” Says another man as he steps out, long dark hair over pale skin. He seems to be the most normal looking, until Dirthamen notices the array of knives and spikes protruding from the side of his stomach.

 

“Pardon me,” Dirthamen says stepping towards the man “Are you hurt?”

“Oh, this?” Vena says, pointing to the protrusions “These are because my jokes leave people in stitches.”

“No,” Tasallir argues “It is because you have been stabbed so many times it seemed more convenient to just make it your permanent state of being.”

Ana (he learns his name as the other two greet her) giggles in the corner, replanting the herbs and flowers he had seen her picking outside into pots and jars around the house.

 

The three move easily around the small cottage, clearly used to each others presence and habits as they move as gracefully as a long practiced dance to prepare a small tray of sandwiches and a pot of tea.

 

Ana pours some out for him into a purple mug. “You like two sugars, right?”

Dirthamen nods, brows furrowing. “How is it that you seem to know me?”

 

Ana freezes, Vena and Tasallir exchanging a nervous look with each other.

“It was just a lucky guess.” Tasallir intercepts.

“She also said 'of course you are’ when I told her my name. Have we met before?”

 

The three share an uneasy look as the air crackles with magic like it had back in the park.

 

“Enjoying your snack break?” Asks a new voice.

 

Dirthamen spins in his chair, and feels his heart skip a beat. Leaning against the door frame is a tall woman with long white hair. Her tallness is only exacerbated by how very tight her pants are and how difficult they make it to look away from her legs. Her shirt billows out from her shoulders like a cloud, and the light pouring in from behind her gives a stunning silhouette through the fabric. Her face is covered by what must be an ancient mask, paint crackling away from it in places, a large crack splitting up from the bottom right side.

 

Despite being unable to see her facial features, he has the distinct feeling she is not pleased by current events.

 

“Your highness-”Tasallir begins. She holds up a single finger to stop whatever he was about to say, and Dirthamen feels the weight of her eyes on him.

He had called her Highness.

Is this the Goblin Queen? The one who may have harmed his brother, and is likely responsible for his current whereabouts?

She seems less…monstrous, than he had expected.

 

“Do you know who I am?” She asks him.

He swallows.

“…The Goblin Queen?”

He sees the smile drop off of Anas face for the first time out of the corner of his eye.

The mood of the room feels a bit more solemn than it had a moment ago, as well. Has he misspoke?

 

“Yes,” She answers quietly, as she straightens her posture. “That is correct.”

She takes several strides, closing the space between them as her gloved hands cup his face. Far more gently than he had expected from someone of her status. Her thumbs rub against his cheeks, and she quietly sings, just loud enough for him to hear.

“There’s such a sad love, deep in your eyes.” She hums “A kind of pale jewel, open and closed within your eyes.” her thumbs trail up, until they are sitting just beneath his eye sockets, still gentle. Reverent, as she continues. “I’ll place the sky within your eyes.”

 

“Selene…” Ana whispers. It snaps something in her, her head shooting up to look at the other woman as her hands fall away from him.

 

“Is that your name? Selene?” Dirthamen asks.

 

Anas hands shoot up to cover her mouth, and Selene takes a step back.

“This tea party is over,” The Goblin Queen (Selene, it seems) announces. Her fingers snap, and Dirthamen is no longer in the cottage, but instead in another part of the labyrinth. The walls here are made of stone, moss growing thick over top.

Selene is standing a few feet away from him.

“You must find your way through the labyrinth,” She says “Or you will be trapped within its walls forever, and I will turn you into one of my goblins.”

 

“What happens when I solve it?” Dirthamen asks.

 

Selene is silent for a moment, fist clenched at her side tight enough that he can see her skin peeking through the edges of her gloves.

“That will be up to you.” She tells him before vanishing.

 

Dirthamen is left alone, in the labyrinth, with a burning number of questions in his lungs.

He wonders, perhaps, if she always burns so brightly.

 

Chapter Text

The new section of the labyrinth seems simpler to navigate. Dirthamen finds himself being turned around less, and the walls seem to behave more like he believes walls should. At one point, he manages to find a pile of soft blue stones and begins to leave arrows on the bricks in an effort to keep from being turned around.

He believes it is all going rather smoothly, until he sees a bird flipping one of the bricks he had only just marked.

Well.

That certainly seems like cheating.

 

When he points this out, accusing the raven of the crime he has just seen committed, it seems to only laugh at him.

“Deception is a part of the game.” It informs him cryptically, before it shifts into a shadow and slips away, disappearing through the cracks between the bricks.

That is one option that is unhelpful, then.

 

As he continues his travels, he feels eyes on him. No matter which path he attempts, no matter how he tries to extend his magic attempting to sense any other presence, he cannot find any indicators.

Finally feeling fatigued by his long trek, Dirthamen stops to rest. He watches the sky overhead, the way the clouds move in a different manner than he is used to. Birds still traverse the sky, alongside other creatures he can only guess at the names of.

 

He is not sure it is safe to sleep here, but his body refuses to move all the same. The flowers on the wall seem to creep down the bricks and stone, blooms turning round and white as his eyelids grow too heavy.

A pity.

He wonders what being a goblin will feel like, before he falls away to the dreaming.

 

Des watches from where he is curled up in Selenes lap as Deceit returns from the labyrinth.

 

“He found the blue stones, this time.” They report, landing on their perch atop the throne.

Selene gives a slight nod as she continues running her fingers through Des’s fur. “Good, then he is headed on the Northwest path. I don’t believe there is anyone on that route who could spoil things, the way Ana nearly did.”

 

“She was just excited to see her friend again,” Des feels inclined to point out. “There’s no need for punishment.”

“No, no, of course not.” Selene agrees. “I just worry about extraneous factors corrupting his judgment when he makes his choice.”

“I don’t think friends count as extraneous factors.” Des retorts. “You know you could always go and join them for tea sometime.”

“If I ever have the time to spare, it will be towards the top of my list.”

“What is the point of being Queen if you never have time to spare? It is not as though the world will fall apart if you-”

 

Selene and Fear both raise their eyebrows at him.

 

“Ok, perhaps that was a bad example,” Des admits. “I don’t understand though; why bring them all here if you are just going to avoid them anyways?”

“Because they are safe,” Selene sighs. “And that is more important than whether or not I can make it over for tea.”

“I am simply saying, perhaps you would feel less cold if you only-”

“So bring it up at the next city grievance meeting Des, I am not doing this again right now.” Selene snaps. She rubs one hand tenderly over her forehead; the headaches have gotten worse. She can barely wear the mask for an hour at a time now before the pain becomes unbearable, he’s noticed.

It is worth wondering if it was an influence on her decision to make this Dirthamens final run through the labyrinth. Longing influencing Devotion, finally pulling her to its side after she has been worn down from fighting against it for so long.

 

A dangerous possibility.

 

Des stretches out in her lap, back arching as he lets his claws out. He jumps down and shifts back into a more elven form, stretching his arms up over his head until his back pops.

“Well then, I will leave you to your plans.” he tells her.

“And where are you going?” Fear asks.

“Out for a walk.” Des grins, stepping through the dreaming before either of them can stop him.

 

Selene lets out a frustrated huff.

“He was less of a pain when we were spirits.”

Fear and Deceit both nod solemnly in agreement.

 

Something is…touching him.

It is not entirely unpleasant, but it is very unsettling. Not fingers, but more like…ropes, somehow?

It is enough to wake him, by any means.

 

Dirthamen opens one eye, and then the other and looks to see what it is that is moving across him.

Some of the moss from atop the walls has slithered down the walls it seems, the flowers turned to eyeballs now, peering up at him curiously as the soft plant snakes its way across his pants and chest.

“Pardon me,” he attempts. “Please move away from me.”

 

The moss does not seem inclined to listen, as another length of it begins to wrap around his arm.

Panic is beginning to set in, when a bright purple light erupts around him. The moss squeals and retreats back to the top of the wall, and Dirthamen looks up, half expecting (or perhaps hoping) to see a tall masked woman once again.

But the face looking back at him appears strangely similar to his own. Their own hair is also long and sleek and black, their jaw square and their ears tall. But their skin is tinted distinctly purple, their eyes a bright gold rather than his own grey-blue, and most distinctly, they have two pairs of horns protruding from their head and a long tail coming out from the base of their spine.

 

“Well well well,” They purr “Looks like I’ve stumbled across a little Sleeping Beauty, hm? You’re supposed to wait for me to kiss you, you know.”

Dirthamen blinks in confusion.

 

“No? Ok, well, that’s fine we’ll get there someday,” The person shrugs before they hold out a hand to help Dirthamen to his feet. “I’m Des, he/his please, and it’s your pleasure to meet me,” he winks.

 

Dirthamen nods, slowly. “Alright. Thank you for your help Des.” he says as the other man helps him to his feet. “Do you know how to get out of this labyrinth?”

“I do.”

“Will you show me?”

Des makes a slight hissing sound through his teeth. “I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“It’s against the rules.”

“What rules?”

“The rules of the labyrinth, of course. No outside help, that’d be cheating.”

“But flipping stones is not?”

 

Des laughs at that “That must have been Deceit. And no, it’s not. Shifting scenery is allowed, so long as it isn’t destructive.”

“Who made these rules?”

“The Goblin Queen enforces them.”

Dirthamen nods in acceptance, but then stops with a frown. “But who made them?”

A grin spreads across violet skin, white teeth stark and sharp “Well now. Isn’t that the question?”

 

Des still doesn’t bother to answer though, as he just gestures for Dirthamen to lead the way with a small bow.

Dirthamen continues to move what he hopes is forward, Des striking up conversation as they go.

 

“Do you enjoy your home life?” Des asks.

Dirthamen frowns. “It is…adequate.”

“But do you enjoy it? Do you miss it, being here? Miss your family?”

He thinks about his parents. His mother and father, who are often traveling. His sisters, neither of whom he has regularly spoken to in years. His brother, who was potentially harmed at the hands of the Goblin Queen.

And he finds that being here is certainly outside of his comfort zone. Things and creatures do not behave the way they should, and the logic of the world does not always match his own. But neither did the world he is from, and though he thinks he should miss his family, he can not seem to muster the proper emotions.

 

“I…” he attempts.

Des’s hand snatches the back of his collar, still coated with a thin layer of dried mud that flakes under his touch as he yanks Dirthamen back and away from the wall that has suddenly shot up in front of them.

 

Dirthamen swallows. “Thank you.”

“That shouldn’t have happened,” Des muses. “The labyrinth isn’t supposed to try to harm you…”

“What does that mean?”

“It means we’re being watched. And there was something on the other side of the wall she didn’t want you to find.”

 

Dirthamens brow crease “So if I stumble upon something she does not want me to see, she will reset the board?”

 

“She’s just a little spooked after you ran into Ana and the others,” Des sighs. “She’s conflicting with herself, and it’s reflecting here. She doesn’t mean you harm. She’s just lost sight of what she actually wants.”

“…what does she want?”

 

“What does anyone want?” giggles one voice from the new opening in the labyrinth.

“What could anyone want?” giggles another.

 

 

Dirthamen turns to look at the two people, standing side by side in front of a pair of doors.

“You’re not supposed to be here~” coos one, pointing a long claw like finger at Des.

“You’re breaking the ruuules~”says the other, wrapping their arms around the others waist.

Or, what Dirthamen thinks is a waist.

 

 

The two of them remind him quite a lot of a pair of koi fish his mother used to keep in the backyard at one of the houses. He is not even certain if there are legs beneath the gowns they are wearing, but their skin is certainly scaled in a similar pattern, and neither has hair, aside from a long pair of whiskers drooping from their face.

Des shrugs “I’m not telling him where to go. Only how to not die.”

 

“Is that allowed?” Asks the one on the left.

“I’m not sure,” says the one on the right “I don’t think he’s ever died here before.”

“Is this one stupid then?”

“They’re supposed to be clever.”

“So is this the wrong one then?”

“If it is, then his death shouldn’t matter much anyways right?”

 

Des sighs as the two continue bickering and Dirthamens head follows them like a particularly interesting tennis match.

He elbows Dirthamen lightly, and gestures towards the doors with his head.

 

“Which one do we take?” Dirthamen asks. The two koi-like people snap their attention back to him, and each take a step out of the doorways.

 

“One of these leads to the castle in the center of the labyrinth,” one says.

“And one leads to certain death!” says the other.

 

“Which one is which?” Dirthamen asks.

 

“He can’t tell you!” One shrieks, finger pointing accusingly at Des.

“And neither can we!” Laughs the other.

 

“Well why not?”

“It’s against the rules,” Des sighs, slipping into the form of a rather fluffy cat. He plops down on the ground, tail swishing curiously behind him. “You’ll have to figure this one out.”

 

Dirthamen stares for a moment at the elf that was not an elf, or perhaps they are a cat that is not a cat?

It is a poor decision to take things at face value here, it seems.

 

“I suppose I will ask some other way then,” Dirthamen says stepping towards them. Each of the pair hold up a single finger in front of them.

 

“You may only ask one of us,” They warn.

“One of us only lies,”

“And one of us tells the truth!”

Dirthamens brow furrows. “That is a conundrum.”

 

He stares at the two, trying to find any sort of difference between them. Searching for a change in their appearance or magical energies, but he can find nothing. It is as though they are the same person, speaking separately through two identical bodies.

But if one tells the truth and one only lies, and he can only ask one, it would be wise to go in with as much knowledge as he can discern.

Des sits down next to Dirthamens legs, and whispers out a soft “Be careful.”

 

Dirthamen considers the situation further. There is likely a question that he could ask, if he could find the proper words to ensure that he would not be tricked.

One lies, and one tells the truth. But if…

Oh, he thinks. That is the game.

 

He takes a step forward, and points at the both of them. “You are both liars.”

Des blinks up at him, and the fish people stare at each other, and then back to him.

“That’s rude,” they accuse.

“But accurate. If one of you only told lies, and one of you told the truth, only the one who speaks the truth could say that, or else it is a lie. Since the both of you spoke this statement, using your own logic, it can not be true. If the truth teller says that one of you is a liar, and the liar says one of you tells the truth, then the liar is telling the truth which would not be following the guidelines. If the truth teller says that one of you is lying, and the liar says that one of you is telling the truth, then the both of you are lying. Since you can not both be telling the truth, you must both be lying.”

 

“My head hurts.” mutters Des.

 

But both fish people clap, faces splitting to reveal unsettlingly large teeth protruding from their mouths as two large bright lures pop out of the tops of their heads.

“Very good, very good,” says one.

“This one isn’t stupid after all!” Cheers the other.

 

“This does still leave us with a problem,” Des points out. “Which door do we take?”

Dirthamen considers the problem.

“Which door leads to the castle?” he asks the one on the left.

She points to the door behind her.

“The one on the right, then.” Dirthamen decides.

Des hums and follows after, as Dirthamen swings open the door and steps forward.

 

And promptly plummets directly down a hole in the ground.

 

He screams, and hands reach out from the walls to slow his descent.

“What is this?” He asks as Des gracefully jumps down the hole from hand to hand.

“A relic,” Des sighs. “Another crack in the foundation it seems.”

Dirthamen swallows. “So I could die?”

“So it seems.”

 

“Up or down?” Rumble the walls.

Dirthamen looks to Des for advice, but he just shakes his head again, his fur ruffling with the motion. “I can’t tell you which path to take, I told you that.”

“…down, I suppose?” Dirthamen says.

 

“He said down!” Cackles the wall approximately half a second before the hands release him. Des lets out a loud howling screech as the hand he was waiting on vanishes and he falls just behind him. Down down down they fall, through cobwebs and dust and past an old iron crate before landing on a soft pile of what Dirthamen hopes is just dirt.

 

The clank of a grate closing above them can be heard, and Des lets out a heavy sigh as he shifts back into an elf and lights a few motes of purple light around them.

 

“I suppose that was the wrong decision,” Dirthamen laments.

“There are no wrong decisions,” Des assures him. “Only different paths to take.”

 

“You have a very different viewpoint than my mother and father.”

“Thank goodness for that.” Des scoffs.

“You do not even know my parents.”

“And you do not know me.”

 

Dirthamen frowns at that, mind drifting back to earlier thoughts.

“But you seem to know me.”

“I make it my business to know all the gorgeous people around here,” Des winks.

“But other people know me too.”

It is Des’s turn to frown now.

“You shouldn’t pull so hard on this particular string.”

“Why? Because I could end up locked away somewhere dark and dank and far away from everything I know?” Dirthamen points out. “I do not see how this situation could be worse.”

“That is because you do not know how much worse it gets.”

 

Dirthamen is silent for a moment. He thinks of the people he has met, their kindnesses towards him. The way the earth moves beneath his feet and how fresh the air is.

Perhaps it could be worse, then.

But he can not help his curiosities.

 

“Why does the Goblin Queen want me to solve the labyrinth?”

“How would I know?” Des mutters.

“You seem to understand her better than most.”

 

Des sighs. “We were close, once. Before all of this started. Before she had to take on the mantle to save those she could.”

Dirthamen looks at Des curiously, scooting closer and looking up at him expectantly.

Des lets out a groan. “She’s going to be very upset if she finds out I told you anything.”

“If I am involved, do I not have a right to know?”

“…Do you want to know?”

Dirthamen nods “Yes. Very much.”

 

“Well…”Des drawls mischievously “I suppose I am compelled to tell you then. It’s in my nature.”

 

Des sits down beside Dirthamen, and the motes move closer, forming a circle of light around the pair.
“Once upon a time,” Des explains. “There was a floating city. Several of them, in fact. And people lived in them, for many, many, manyyears. Things were not always good, but they were bearable, and pieces of happiness were not hard to find if you knew where to look. But when things were bad, they were awful. Most often, it was the downtrodden and lower class that bore the brunt of that awfulness. One day, they rose up against the tyrants, to take back their freedom. It was a long, bloody battle. The cities fell, and magic was all but entirely corrupted in the wake of it.”

 

“The Goblin Queen was a tyrant back then?”

 

“No. She was one of the rebels, in fact. The few rebels that survived the battle watched as the world fell down around them, and wept for all that they had lost. They had gained their long sought freedom, but each had paid their price for it. She, like so many of us, lost the person she loved most.”

 

“Were they a casualty?”

“No,” Des says. “He was one of the tyrants.”

Dirthamen swallows. “Did she…did she kill him?”

 

“She couldn’t,” he sighs. “She was supposed to, but when the moment came she could not. She warned him, instead. Tried to hide him away, until it might be safe for him to come out. Even though he was far from the worst of the family of tyrants, he still had the blood of thousands on his hands. Still had crimes to atone for. Eventually he was found, and punished for those crimes. She tried to save him, argued that he could be redeemed, but…”

 

Dirthamen nods, slowly.

 

“She saved what she could. Pieces of him that she found over time. The mask he always wore, she keeps with her. You saw it before, right?”

He recalls the image of the woman, mask cracked and peeling, and nods once again.

“There are pieces of him forged into it. Lingering magics and memories. All that she could save.” Des pauses “I think a piece of her broke that day, too.”

 

“What did she do to the people that killed him?”

“Most of them still live in the city, actually.”

“She did not kill them?”

“No. She understood why they had to do it. She mourned him, and still does when she is alone, but she does not place blame on them when she knew too well what he was doing. By the time he was executed, he had become worn down and was susceptible to corruption from the grief of losing his family. There was very little left to save, and it was kinder to kill him. Together, with the remaining band of rebels, she took the power of his that was left, and carved out this world, where she has remained ever since.”

 

“That sounds exceedingly lonely,” Dirthamen whispers, pulling his legs tighter to himself.

 

“She’s tried to ease that. She will step through worlds, when she can. Pull out those she and the others cared about before tragedy can befall them again. You remember Venavismi?”

Dirthamen recalls the elf in the cottage with the knives protruding from him and nods.

“He was about to die in a house fire when he was brought here to go through the labyrinth.”

“Did he go through?”

“Of course. All residents must finish the labyrinth before they are given their choice. That’s uh, that’s the prize at the end. You can choose to stay here as a goblin, or she will send you back to your home with no memory of this place or its people. Most people choose to stay, if not their first time, then one of the next. It’s a nice deal, I think.”

 

“Being trapped for eternity does not sound like such a prize.”

 

“Who’s trapped?” Des points out. “No one is being kept here against their will. They are free to come and go as they please. But this place will always be safe for them, and their immortality only remains while they are here. Elsewhere, we can be killed, or die of sickness or old age if we are gone long enough to merit such a thing. Here, the magics are strong enough that it is not an issue. It is not a prison she’s made; it’s a home. Just…a non-conventional one.”

 

“So…” Dirthamen tries to reason, attempting to sort the new influx of information. “The Goblin Queen wants me to solve the labyrinth to make me a part of her home?”

“Mm-hm.”

“Why me?”

Des groans, and stands. “Weren’t you paying attention?”

“I thought I had been.” Dirthamen frowns.

 

“You can lead a horse to water…” Des mutters before helping Dirthamen to his feet. “Well. You’re partially right, I suppose. Which is more right than you were before, so I’m taking it as a win. Time to go, any longer and she’ll wonder why we’ve stayed so long in the dark together, and there’s really no way I can talk myself out of her wrath then.”

 

Dirthamen nods, satisfied that he has been given some sort of information, at least. For a moment, he wonders why he was chosen rather than his brother, who is normally vastly more popular than himself.

Then he thinks of what it might be like to spend an eternity with him, and answers his own question.

 

 

Des and Dirthamen have been gone for too long, Selene worries.


There is no chance that he has kept his mouth shut unsupervised, which means she will need to either take memories from Dirthamen early, or find some way to discredit Des in his eyes.

Neither option sounds particularly attractive.

 

Still…She knows which oubliette they fell down.

Perhaps she should pay another visit.

 

Hesitantly, she dons the mask, trying to push its cold tendrils out of her mind as she shifts down and into the tunnels.

 

 

Dirthamen is impressed with how well Des seems to know the tunnels. It leaves him free to wonder and contemplate more on the information given to him.

How had she risen to become a queen from a rebel, he wonders. Why was she so determined to save these people in particular?

He is so immersed in his thoughts, he almost does not see the feather in front of his foot. It whirls up as his foot comes down, floating in small circles until it lands in the lap of a hooded figure in a dark cloak sitting at the edge of the tunnel.

 

“Uh-oh,” Des mutters.

 

“What have we here?” calls a familiar voice.

“Nothing,” Des responds.

 

There is a pause, as the person beneath the cloak freezes.

“Nothing?” they say as they stand.

Nothing?” they repeat, white strands of hair falling loose from beneath the hood.

Nothing?!” she emphasizes, discarding the hood entirely, the cloak billowing slightly behind her from her anger.

 

“Nothing important.” Des tries to assure her.

“Des, are you helping him?”

“What? Me? Pssshh. No, of course not! That would be against the rules.”

“It would, in fact be against the rules. Rules you are not immune to, Des.”

Des swallows. “I would never.”

“It’s true,” Dirthamen pipes up. “Des didn’t help me at all. We just…talked.”

Selene turns to focus on Des. “And what, precisely, did you talk about?”

 

Des stays quiet, holding two hands up in front of his chest.

 

“Right,” She says, letting out a breath and lifting her right hand. “Seems like you’ve made enough trouble-”

“No, wait!” Dirthamen says.

 

Selene turns to him, pausing in her casting.

 

“Please, I-Des is not breaking any rules. He is-he is my friend.”

Des’s face softens noticeably while Dirthamen speaks. “Please, I just do not want to do this alone. I would have died if he had not saved me.”

 

Selenes hand falls back down to her side, and she speaks softly “Nothing in this labyrinth should be able to kill you.”

“There are cracks in it,” Des tells her. “Something seems to be conflicted. Older things are peeking through.”

 

Her shoulders seem to fall slightly at that, and a piece of the masks top layer falls away, evaporating before it hits the floor.

 

“I see.” She says. “I will…find a way to deal with that, then. In the meantime, Des will be permitted to stay, to ensure you stay alive. However, if you help him,” Selene warns “I will take you back with me, and you will be punished. Do you understand, Des?”

Des nods “Loud and Clear.”

 

Selene turns to Dirthamen again. She seems stuck in place, caught between moments and possibilities of what to do next.

“Do you…like the labyrinth?” she asks him.

“Yes. Although it is very tiring.”

 

Selene nods, seemingly satisfied.

Through the crack in the mask, he thinks he can almost see her smiling.

 

“Well, that’s…yes. Good. It’s not supposed to be easy you know.” She takes a step towards him, and he swallows. She smells like forests and rain and nights when he used to sneak onto the rooftop to stare at the stars.

The light motes floating behind her head are creating a halo effect in her hair that is not helping him to calm down at all, either. It is very striking, and he wishes that he could see what she looked like beneath the mask.

He wishes that he were more comfortable with eye contact, that he could make it with her.

 

Her hands come out to touch his shirt, his collar, and she hums lightly.

“Your clothes are covered in mud,” she notes, hands moving into his hair and removing clumps of it from the back. He shivers lightly beneath her touch, fingers warm against his scalp and soothing as it trails through his hair. “Perhaps I should have let you bathe before all this…”

 

“You could let him bathe now,” Des teases.

 

She pulls her hands away and shakes her head. “He has already started. I can promise you a shower if you wish one when you arrive at the castle. In the meantime,” She unclasps the cloak from her shoulders, and lifts it onto his own. “This should help keep it from worsening.”

She smooths the material over his chest, carefully closing the white gold clasps that lay atop his collar bone. The material feels like silk over his skin, but it is weightless and airy.

 

“Thank you,” He tells her.


She looks up, realizing what she is doing, and he sees her now exposed throat bob.

“It is no trouble.”

 

She steps back again, clearing her throat as Des whispers something Dirthamen cannot make out in her ear.

She zaps him back into his feline form.

Des looks up at her, ears pressed back against his head. “You’re only upset because I’m right.”

 

She doesn’t dignify him with a response, and Dirthamen watches as she shifts into shadow and disappears once again.

 

The cloak around him is still warm, and smells the way she had.

He pulls it tighter to him, and continues the journey.

Chapter Text

He holds her tight to his chest, teeth gently resting around the pulse in her neck, reminding himself that she is there, she is alive, they are alive.

He gives a particularly hard thrust and relishes the gasp she lets out as her hand claws against the wall.

No more away missions, he thinks. He knows it’s a lie, knows there’s nothing he can do to actually keep her on the ship when they get a distress signal but Captain is supposed to count for something, surely.

 

She reaches back, one hand tangling in his hair and she turns her face towards his, crushing their lips together. It is not the way he knows they both prefer it, soft and slow and exploratory but they need this now. One of his hands drifts from her hip towards her stomach, gently tracing the new scar he finds there and she pulls back from the kiss with a quiet huff


“I am hardly the first crew member to get injured on a mission. You’re over-reacting.”

 

He responds with another rough thrust as his hand drifts lower, rubbing the small nub he finds in excruciatingly slow circles. “Perhaps,” he allows.

 

She shudders a bit, her legs sliding slightly against the floor and he pulls out, turning her so that she is facing him. In a single swift motion he lifts her, realigning and pushing himself back into her with a quiet groan. She sighs contentedly, her legs wrapping around his waist and her arms around his neck. He nuzzles at her neck, kissing the pulse point again and she tries to laugh off his concern but it comes out as more of a moan while her legs pull him closer

 

He can feel her tightening around him, and grips her tighter, moves with more confidence, more purpose, more-

 

There is a loud knock on the door.

 

He pauses then, with an apologetic glance to Selene. “What do you need?” he questions, trying his best not to move and give them away.

 

“Sorry to interrupt, Captain but we are being hailed by a passing Federation ship.”

 

Selene tightens around him and idly plays with his ears, and he frowns at her, giving a small thrust and taking no small amount of pleasure in watching her bite down on her lower lip to keep quiet.

 

“Tell the first officer to handle it,” Dirthamen orders.

 

“They tried, Captain, but it is your sisters ship and she demanded to speak with you rather than Officer Deceit. We tried hailing you, but communications to your cabin were blocked off,” Melanadahl implies from the other side of the door.

 

Selene giggles then as Dirthamen gives a reluctant sigh. “I will report to the bridge shortly. Thank you, Melanadahl.”

 

“Of course Captain. Oh, and Selene, Innovation asked me to tell you that if your wound reopens and puts you out of commission for your duties tomorrow, she will be exceedingly cross.”

“Yes, thank you Melanadahl, you are dismissed.” Dirthamen commands.

 

Dirthamen sighs and pulls himself out, carefully tucking himself away and righting his uniform. “Sometimes I think Deceit had the right idea when they mentioned pushing him out of an airlock.”

 

Selene laughs as she pulls her dress over her head “The crews morale would drop rather substantially if you did,”

 

“Perhaps, but I believe my my own would rise,” he grumbles.

 

Selene gives him a gentle kiss and he tries not to let it rouse him, but his hand drifts under the hem of her dress anyways. She smiles warmly at him while she fixes his hair “That’s what makes you a great Captain, Vhenan. You put the needs of your crew first.”

 

He sighs as she steps away from him, searching around his cabin for her discarded stockings.

“I will see you on the bridge?” he asks, while she bends over to check underneath his couch. She hums in affirmation.

 

Dirthamen makes a mental note to see if they can make an extended stop at the next way station for some more extensive private time.

Perhaps Melanadahl will even manage to miss the take off when we leave, he imagines pleasantly.

Chapter Text

“Selene get out of there, now!” Dirthamen orders over the comm-line from the bridge. He rushes up from the captains chair, watching her on-screen readings to ensure she hasn’t been caught, even as they hear the blasters firing in the background.

 

“I’m almost there, Captain. Get medical ready to receive 15, everyone should be ready for transport at the designated location in about-” she pauses in her speech as she ducks under a fallen support beam from the newly destroyed temple “I dunno, like 10 seconds?”

 

“As ever, your attention to details is truly astounding,” Melanadahl jokes even as he hastily loads the proper coordinates into the transporter.

 

Selene huffs as she carefully adjusts the small Aenarian child in her arms. Rushing towards the rest of  the survivors, she hands them off to their parents just in time for the transporter to beam everyone on board the Enterprise.

 

Selene sighs in relief at the familiar walls around them, and gives Melanadahl an adrenaline-filled grin. “And that’s why details are your job, Lt. Commander.”

 

Medical officers are quickly rushing in and out of the transporter room, escorting the Aenarians towards Medical Bay to ensure everyone is safe and healthy. Selene hangs back a bit, allowing the room to clear before she steps off of the transporter pad.

Deceit gives her a very unhappy look from where he lurks near the doors. “He’s going to be very unhappy you took that risk.”

 

“Well, he can tell me that himself if he feels so inclined,” she shrugs. It is not the first time they have had different viewpoints on what particulars are most important during a mission. It is the first time she’s directly disobeyed his orders in the field though. With the adrenaline wearing off, the feeling of dread begins to sink into her as she and Deceit walk back towards the Bridge.

Oh.

He might actually be mad.

 

The bridge doors open, and Deceit walks calmly towards the Ensign to check on any damage that may have occurred to the ship.

 

Selene freezes under the weight of Dirthamen’s stare.

 

“Lieutenant. Please report to your quarters and await further instructions. You are temporarily relieved of your responsibilities until the proper penalization’s can be determined.”

 

“I-” Selene begins, but as the temperature on board the bridge drops drastically, she swallows her tongue, instead “Yes, Captain.”

 

 

It is several hours before Dirthamen arrives to Selene’s quarters. She manages to shower and rinse the dirt and dried blood off of herself, and even changes into a loose button down shirt in place of her uniform, since it seems unlikely she will be re-stationed today.

 

When he finally enters, his mood doesn’t seem to have improved. She shuffles awkwardly around her room while he remains near her doorway, and hesitantly offers to make him a cup of tea.

He declines.

 

“Lieutenant-” he begins.

 

“It’s just us here, Dirthamen. Please, call me Selene,” she sighs.

 

Lieutenant Selene,” he continues, and she tries to contain the wince she gets when he uses that tone “You disobeyed a direct order in the field today. You put yourself needlessly at risk, and violated the Federations chain of command, as well a slew of regulations,”

 

“I did not violate any regulations, you’re exaggerating-”

 

“Regulation 476.9 states that all away teams must report to the bridge at least once every 24 hours; you were gone for 32. After the rest of the team beamed aboard and you remained to personally evacuate those we were not able to rescue-”

 

“Except that we clearly were, because they are now on board-” she argues, raising her volume to match his

 

“You violated the Unnumbered Protocol which states away teams must be composed of more than one crew member. You also beamed down without proper clearance from CMO Fear, because you still haven’t been cleared for duty after your last injury, or your last away mission, which is several pages worth of violations in itself. Do you really want me to continue?”

He is almost screaming by the end of it, by his standards.

 

Selene knows he’s right. She knows he’s doing his job, she knows he’s worried.

She is still angry.

 

“What do you want me to say, Captain?” she spits. “That I would rather follow a list of guidelines to the letter than ensure the survival of actual living beings? I would not. Not ever. If the choice is between following your orders and keeping someone else alive, well. I am sorry to disappoint you, but I will always choose to save a life. If you feel that merits punishment, I will gladly take it.”

 

Some of the tension falls out of him then; she knows he hates when she calls him Captain in private. She knows he hates his job, hates his responsibilities, hates the burden of command. It’s not a card she likes to play, or one she thinks she has ever played before in fact. She feels guilty for using it, but he called her Lieutenant first.

Dirthamen slumps into one of her chairs then, and runs a hand slowly down his face “That is treason, Selene.”

She carefully sits in the chair across from him, glad to have most of the tension seeping out of the room now “I promise there is no treasonous intent behind it. I’d follow you to the end of the universe, Dirthamen, gladly. But I earned my place on this star ship, through my skill and my knowledge. I need you to trust me, too.”

When he glances up at her, her chest stings. He looks exhausted. She’s been running around an alien moon for 32 hours rounding up refugees while he’s been sitting comfortably in his chair on the bridge, but somehow he looks like the one who needs to rest and-

Oh.

Oh, her poor Captain, she thinks.

“Is this the first time you left the bridge since the mission started?”

He doesn’t speak, but Selene knows by now that that is an answer in itself.

 

She stands and heads towards the comms in her rooms

“Lt. Commander Deceit?” she inquires.

“Yes, Lieutenant?” she receives.

“Please have a tray of food sent to my quarters for the Captain. Additionally, he will be needing several hours of rest before he is fit to resume his command. Please ensure he is not disturbed.”

“Understood.”

 

Dirthamen looks at her questionably, and she places a kiss on his forehead.

“Go take a shower. Food will be here soon, and then we can both get some sleep.”

 

“I am-”


“clearly exhausted.” she finishes. “The ship is not going to implode because you got some rest. Everyone is back on board, and the mission is completed. Go take a shower. The food will be here by the time you’re finished, alright?”

 

Dirthamen hesitates, but barely, before he takes her hand and places a soft kiss to the back of it.

“Thank you, Selene,” he says before standing.

 

She watches him go, and makes sure the bed is cleaned off before the food arrives.

 

Dirthamen is just toweling off his hair while she pours them each their drinks, and he looks like he’s ready to fall asleep at the table. It’s just as well, she’s feeling worn down herself. The meal passes in silence, and Selene takes his hand and leads him into the bed. She makes sure he is comfortable first, then wraps herself around him, pulling the covers up to his shoulder. He turns, and settles his head into her chest, and she just strokes his hair soothingly until they both fall into a deep sleep.

 

When she wakes up, the quarters are still dimly lit. The alarm hasn’t gone off. A quick check of the time reveals that it’s only been a couple of hours since they went to bed. She lets out a breath, and shifts a little, and tries to figure out what woke her up.

Dirthamen’s hand curls over her hip. The blankets rustle as he shuffles closer. She feels a warm puff of breath on her cheek, and then his lips brush against her.

“I am so glad you are alright,” he says, softly. With an ache that speaks of just how badly he had worried she wouldn’t be. She lets out a breath, and wishes she could promise him that she’ll always come back. She’s been on too many missions to be that naïve. Any number of things could turn her into a liar. A transporter accident. A diplomatic misstep. Standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s space; it’s dark and cold and unforgiving, but that’s why it matters that she doesn’t forget who she is.

What makes it worthwhile.

She shifts around, and gets her lips in the general vicinity of his. It takes some searching, in the dark. But there’s something to be said for tracing her mouth down the bridge of his nose, and over the curve of his cheek, before commandeering a proper kiss from him. Dirthamen’s hands slide over her, beneath the blankets. Brushing down her thighs and then up her back, in long, slow strokes that seem to reassure him that she’s real and whole.

His thumb moves a little too hard over one of her fresh bruises, and she breaks off their kiss to suck in a breath. Dirthamen pulls his hand back, and whispers for the lights to increase a bit.

“It’s nothing,” she’s already telling him, though. “Just a bruise. Fear’s hands are full with the refugees right now, a few bumps and scrapes aren’t going to make the priority list.” She pre-empts his concern.

Dirthamen looks a little rueful. Probably that she knew he would start insisting she go back to medical, if she wasn’t in 100% tip-top fully recovered shape.

But then his expression softens, and he reaches up to gently pull back the sheets. His hair is mussed from the pillow, and from having her fingers run through it. It makes him look irresistibly tousled, as he leans in closer, and subjects her to a moment’s scrutiny.

“I shall have to take over, then,” he decides, and before she can manage to summon up the mental image of him fishing out a dermal regenerator, he presses a kiss to the fading bruise on her ribs.

Oh, she thinks.

That kind of medical attention.

She moves a hand back towards his hair as his lips trail down to another bruise. This one on her hip. It’s a little bigger, so he treats it to a few kisses, before moving on to the scrapes on her knuckles, and the sore purple mark on her bicep. One of the children had clutched her too tight. There are little fingerprint marks across her skin there. Dirthamen regards them for a moment, before closing his eyes and kissing them all. He sweeps a hand across her thigh, and carefully unhooks her bra to check over her breasts – which are, thankfully, more or less unscathed.

She brushes her fingertips over the bruises under his eyes.

“I’m alright,” she reminds him.

He moves his lips over to her chest, and lays a kiss atop her heart. One of his hands slips between her thighs, and she eases her legs apart for him, gladly. It’s almost become a ritual, by now. Touch and taste and sex, reaffirming that they’re both alive and together again after so many near-brushes with disaster. Secretly, she’s glad that her captain isn’t the kind to break with regulations and shove his way onto away missions. She’s glad that no one has really brought it to his attention that he could.

She thinks she would find it a thousand times harder to be the one in the chair, while he was down on the surface.

He traces careful touches around her more tenderized skin as he pulls her panties off, and shucks away his own pants. Then his fingers slide towards her center with easy familiarity. Slow and comforting, just like his kisses. His mouth moves to one of her breasts, and she threads her fingers through his hair a little more firmly, now. Holding him close as he ventures gentle touches, and more kisses.

His free hand works its way underneath her, and then she slides across the sheets a little, as he pulls her underneath him. He withdraws his touch, and she bites her lip as he trails slick fingers over her hip.

Most of the time, when life-or-death situations haven’t been on the table, it’s different. But for some reason, when it’s like this, he gets more assertive than usual. And he almost always ends up inside of her.

Not that she’s complaining.

He moves up, framing her with his arms and staring down at her for a moment. With that supposedly-inscrutable gaze of his, that she’s come to find so much expressiveness in. His blue eyes focused and reverent enough to steal her breath, before he moves down and kisses her again. Working her lips open, until she surprises him in turn by slipping her tongue into his own mouth first. Stealing something of a lead, as she brings her arms up to curl around his shoulders, and works her legs around him, too.

“Dirthamen,” she says. An apology, for the Captains and Lieutenants of before.

“Selene,” he breathes, in kind.

Then he rocks up against her. Not quite sliding in; just slipping warm flesh against sensitive skin, as she tightens her hold on him, and he presses his nose behind her ear and inhales deeply. It feels good, though. Teasing and yet not teasing at all. Not nearly playful or scintillating enough for bedroom games. It’s just closeness. Enough to make all the heat settle in the bottom of her abdomen, and her skin starts to tingle straight through to her fingertips. They work their way into a strange, steady rhythm, that’s not quite enough for either of them. But it’s a good limbo. It drags out the closeness, and the sweet brushing of hands and lips, skin on skin.

When he finally sinks into her, it’s easy and wonderful. But it’s also surprising enough that a startled sound escapes her, to go with Dirthamen’s own soft, broken moan.



He pauses.

“Did that hurt?” he checks.



She responds by rolling her hips towards him, and trailing a hand encouragingly down his spine.

“No. Just surprised me.”



He lets out a breath, and then reaches down to help angle her a little better; wedging a pillow under her hips, before he moves in close again and she curls her hands around his face, and pulls him in for another kiss. He tastes tired. She can’t really describe it any other way. There’s a softness to him, mingled with the kind of spike that can only come from running on pure adrenaline fumes. It plays out in the uncommon raggedness of his thrusts, as he starts to move. Sliding in out of her with unpredictable frequency. Sometimes he just stops, and lays against her. As if catching his breath. A time or two she wonders if he’s coming – he usually stills for that – but then he starts up again, and usually it’s with more gusto.

Her own hips move, trying to settle the pace, even though it’s a sweet kind of agony to have it be so unpredictable. She keeps one hand on his cheek. Brushing her thumb up to the corner of his mouth, until he turns his face into her palm, and takes those penetrating blue eyes off of her in order to kiss it.

“I’m not going to break,” she reminds him.

He thrusts a little more firmly, and her breath hitches. The next few movements are more heated, as if he’s trying to reassure himself of that truth by testing it – just a little. She bites her lip and arches towards him as she finally tips over the edge, his name spilling from her lips again. He holds her through it, whispering back to her; things that she doesn’t quite hear over the swelling rush of her pleasure, but that are unmistakable in tone. Sweet and abiding.

A few aftershocks tremble through her, as Dirthamen slows his pace again, and just keeps rocking against her. She thinks he might be planning to keep them at this for the rest of the night. But he’s exhausted, so she’s not really surprised, either, when his pace turns ragged and his hips stutter, and he finally comes, too. Stilling in an unmistakable way, and nuzzling the side of her face. She trails a hand down to his lower back, as sated exhaustion takes her over, too.

Selene wakes in the morning just long enough to tell her alarms to Shut Up before Dirthamen starts readjusting in her arms.

Debating telling him to just go back to sleep for a few more hours, he glances up at her, and her heart skips a beat at the loving look in his eyes.

 

“Selene,” he says, and she hms quietly in response, running her fingers through his hair again.

“You are hereby temporarily suspended from your duties and banned from the bridge for a week, as reprimand for your infractions yesterday.”

 

Her hand stills and she looks down at him with a frown, but he has already fallen back asleep.

 

Well. Maybe a week off could be good for both of them.

Chapter Text

The final Aenarian finishes their medical inspection, as Chief Medical Officer Fear marks them as ‘cleared’ within the system. It has been a very long day. The children were the most difficult part, they think, until a particularly soft sweater-clad Selene had ushered them all out with promises of a story earlier in the day. They are exceedingly grateful for her ability to understand what they need without having to ask for it.

A trend she seems intent on continuing, they think, as she walks back in with two mugs of coffee in her hands.

Selene hands Fear the steaming cup with a broad smile on her face.

“You look like you haven’t slept in days.”

“That happens when we have a few hundred refugees on board in need of medical attention.”

She hops up onto one of the empty beds, legs swinging playfully over the edge.

“We should be at the drop off in about 5 hours. And I dare say you’re going to miss being busy when they’re gone.”

Fear scoffs “You keep me plenty busy on your own. The Captain told me about the bruises, by the way.”

She waves her hand dismissively “He was over reacting, I’m sure.”

“That hardly seems likely. The chances of you dying on that moon were above 85%. If you escaped with only bruises, your sheer dumb luck is a skill you should list on your resume.”

“I’ll be sure to add that when I am back in my quarters then,” she grins.

 

Fear gives her a particularly unimpressed look, before letting out a heavy sigh.

“Should you not be working? I believed Innovation was beginning the testing phase today.”

“She is! I’m not allowed to work this week though, so I’m going to miss the early experiments,” Selene pouts.

Fear nods in approval “Perhaps missing that will teach you not to throw yourself needlessly into danger, finally.”

“You sound like Dirthamen…” Selene grumbles.

“He is the Captain for a reason. You are supposed to call him as such when you are on duty, you know.”

 

Selene plucks at the sweater on her shoulder, and wiggles her bare toes towards Fear “Do I look like I’m on duty right now?”

“Is that why you have chosen to bother those of us who are working, instead?”

“You’re always working,” she sighs.

 

Deceit and Dirthamen should both be on the bridge right now, finalizing the drop off of the rescued Aenarians to their neighboring city. Ensuring they know precisely who they will be meeting with, and where they will be landing, as well as making sure their new home is ready and adequately prepared for the new population surge. Fear has no doubts that if she is not permitted to work, Selene must also not be permitted onto the bridge to help with such things.

It must be driving her mad.

Fear glances around at the empty sickbay. There are a few nurses on duty, enough to cover for their own absence, they suppose.

And they do feel rather tired.

 

“Very well,” they state, before standing and holding a hand out for Selene. She blinks, before eagerly taking it and hopping off of the bed.

She smiles at them, and though they know it is unwise, they offer her a tentative smile back. It is not as though the relationship is new, but each time they are together in such a capacity, it reminds them of how quickly such a thing could end. Ripped away from them by an airlock breach, or an infection, or any seemingly small injury that takes a bad turn.

 

Selene seems to have no such concerns, humming happily under her breath as they move hand in hand to Fears quarters. They wait for her to enter before following, and move directly to the shower while Selene arranges their usual set up on the floor.

 

When they emerge, cleaned and sanitized of any contaminants, Selene has removed her sweater, leaving only a thin cotton top and her leggings for clothing. She is stretching like a cat over the excessive pile of pillows she has arranged rather like a nest, a stack of blankets folded up beside her. Noticing their entrance, she smiles, holding her hand out for them to join her.

They do not waste any time, crawling in beside her and wrapping themselves over and around her. Safe. Secure. Selene.

She snags a blanket, tossing it over the two of them. Fear tucks her arm firmly under their own, hands meeting at the base of her stomach while they curl around her, legs entwined beneath the blankets.

 

Safe.

 

They rouse slightly as their doors slide open a few hours later, Deceit murmuring a quiet 'there you are’ under their breath before sliding in to Selene’s other side. She wakes just long enough to wrap her arms around them, Deceit sliding in to their usual spaces. The three of them are asleep again beneath the blankets within minutes.

 

Dirthamen comes through after another hour, according to Fears clock, shedding his shirt and crawling into the pile with them. Selene doesn’t bother opening her eyes this time, still tired and warm as she goes limp while everyone adjusts. Deceit grumbles about appendages falling asleep, and Fear takes a moment to flex their own fingers and assure themselves that they are getting adequate blood flow. Everything seems to be in order though, the ship now cleared of the additional passengers. Only crew members, and those they trust still on board. Their loved ones all within arms reach.

It is a very satisfying sleep, in the end.

Chapter Text

“You work well on a team,” Dirthamen notes, leaning against the door frame.

Selene pauses briefly in her motions of packing her newly cleaned clothes into her duffle bag, but otherwise doesn’t acknowledge him.

He allows the words to hang between them for a few more moments before adding;

“You don’t have to leave.”

 

Selene sighs, her shoulders slumping. “I really do.”

“Why?”

She pushes her glasses up the bridge of her nose as she turns to face him “Because of who I am. What I am.”

“A hero? A scientist?”

“A monster.”

“You are not a monster, Selene.”

She scoffs “Tell that to the Chantry.”

“Is that what you are afraid of?”

 

Selene frowns, and silently turns to continue her packing.

 

She can hear him sigh, hears his hair rustling as his hand runs through it. Feels his steps as he moves closer to her, and no, no, you need to stay away from me, she thinks in two voices as she clenches her eyes shut.

 

But when she opens them again, he is standing next to her. Patient. Waiting. Watching.

“When was the last time you had a home?” he asks, quietly.

“Wow, you really do play dirty,” she slips, wincing as she hears the words fall out of her mouth.

 

“I find it is often the quickest route to honesty. If you are concerned with your privacy, I assure you, there is plenty of space available,” Dirthamen gestures above them “I lost approximately seven floors in the battle, but we have plans to rebuild more. I was thinking one for each team member should be sufficient. You may customize yours however you please.”

 

Selene shakes her head. “That is…very generous. But no. The others wouldn’t be comfortable if I stayed. And neither would you.”

 

Dirthamen tilts his head “Why would our team mates not want you around? They seemed rather taken with you, from what I observed.”

“You must not have observed Serahlin or Adannar, then.” Selene scoffs.

“I did not see any signs from either of them that indicated they were anything less than pleased to have you fighting alongside us.”

“Serahlins whole M.O. Is that people can’t see any signs from her. Also, you missed the part where I chased her around the air carrier and nearly killed her and Adannar before I fell out of the sky.”

 

Dirthamen pauses for a few moments, then “I vaguely recall an apt flirtation that would be fitting with that particular set up, but I am not sure if it is appropriate in this context.”

A laugh escapes her, at that. “You’re ridiculous.”

 

He gives her a smile in response.

 

“Would you be more comfortable if I spoke with them and handed you their approvals in writing?” he attempts.

Selene can’t believe he really doesn’t get it.

“I can’t stay in one place for long, Dirthamen.”

“You had been in Tevinter for a year before Serahlin approached you,” he disputes.

 

“Hopping around, trading mediocre medical care for food and shelter and trying not to leave a trail,” she points out.

“I think it is fair to point out that that plan did not work, since youwere still found.”

“Yes, but not by the Chantry, who would see me killed simply for existing.”

 

“How would they even be able to prove what you are? There are laws against killing without indisputable proof, and my legal team could easily wind up enough red tape to keep you safe.”

“The front page of The Times this morning had a shot of all of us fighting, and in it I have horns, a tail, claws, I’m on fire, oh, and my purple tits are out.” she reminds him.

 

Dirthamen frowns.

“We could claim it was a costume. And technically, the jewelry that appears keeps you from showing any actual nipple.”

 

“I’m nothing but a liability to you, and the team,” Selene argues, running her hand down her face and setting her glasses askew before she fixes them.

“You are a brilliant scientist, and would make a wonderful asset and friend. And you are part of this team.”

“I am an abomination, Dirthamen. No one cares about my work anymore.”

 

He tsks, and waves it off as though the fact that she can, at any point, lose control and turn in a raging Demon capable of massive amounts of destruction, is akin to breaking a piece of lab equipment.“One accident does not undo a lifetime of exceptional work. Accidents happen. They are a part of the process.”

“I suppose that must be easy to believe when your own accidents only lead to breakthroughs in engineering and magic,” she snaps. She regrets the words as soon as they leave her mouth. It’s not fair to him for her to have said it, to have brought up The Incident that lead to the glowing lyrium reactor sitting in his chest.

At least Des is quiet, still tired from the exertion of the battle.

 

Dirthamen taps his chest twice, and she hears the quiet ting of his nail hitting metal through the fabric of his shirt.

“Would you like to see it?” he offers.

 

She blinks.

That is definitely not where she thought this was going.

 

Her eyes drift to the soft glow of blue under his finger.

Of course she wants to see it.

She nods, slowly.

 

He strips off his shirt in one easy, fluid motion, and she watches the muscles in his arms move like water, toned from time spent moving and manipulating heavy equipment and wearing that armor, no doubt. But her eyes snap instantly to his chest once the reactor is exposed.

She can hear it.

Not just the usual hum of machinery, but a song, echoing through the back of her head, stirring even Des’s interest from where he had been resting.

Her hand reaches out for it, and she starts humming along under her breath, a tune she’s never heard that is still somehow familiar. A pattern so complex it has never been uncovered, but so intuitive she can see what the next piece is going to be before it appears.

She stops just before her hand makes contact, freezing as she realizes she is about to touch him without permission.

She closes her eyes, and counts, a few basic multiplication tables until she feels calm again. Reopens her eyes, and notes the scarring. Webbed flesh spreading out from where the reactor sits.

 

“Does it hurt?” she wonders aloud.

“Sometimes,” he lies. She doesn’t need Des to tell her; just looking at it, she can tell it must be painful. A constant weight beneath his skin, and a physical reminder of the lowest point in his life.

 

“You can touch it if you would like,” he offers.

Selene smirks, but trails her finger carefully along the edge of it. It’s cooler than she expected it to be.

“I bet you say that to all the girls,” she jokes.

“Significantly less than the tabloids would have you believe,” he retorts.

 

Selene swallows as she traces her hand over the reactor. Feels the power beneath the casing, beating, moving, reaching for her. It’s truly a marvel, a perfect union of science and magic and their capabilities.

She moves to get a closer look, peering over the edge of her glasses as she inspects it where it rests in his body.

“It’s beautiful,” she whispers.

“Thank you. The original prototype was much less pleasing to look at, and the goo produced an unfortunate smell.”

Selene chuckles, bending until her eyes are only an inch away from the reactor. “Yeah, I bet the discharge was a mess. One of the flaws of meshing organic and non-organic compounds. What sort of output versus input readings do you get from it?”

“Impressive ones, though there is still room for improvement. Did you have a suggestion?”

“Have you tried using draconium for the casing? There was a team who was experimenting on its reactions with lyrium while I was still working, and the early tests seemed feasible.”

“It is not a stable enough chemical.”

“The lyrium?” Selene asks, glancing up.

“The draconium.”

“You could dilute it with gold, or a high-grade gold-alloy. It would increase your conductivity and give it something more stable to bond with. You could probably increase your output by at least 8% by making the switch, maybe even as much as 12% depending on what sort of wiring and glyph work you’re using.”

Dirthamen seems to ponder that for a moment before calling “Deceit, please begin running test simulations on all potential compounds that fall within Doctor Lavellans postulated theory.”

“Of course, sir.” a voice calls out from the walls.

 

Selene blinks and stands back up to her usual slight-hunch, clearing her throat and taking a step back as she realizes just how close she had been to his bared chest.

 

“Would you please come to lunch?” Dirthamen asks before Selene can come up with a reason to leave.

“The whole team is going for something called shawarma . You should be there.”

She lets out a heavy sigh, hand nervously pushing her glasses up her nose “Dirthamen, I-”

“Please.” He asks again, honest, and with a small note of desperation in his tone.

 

She shuffles awkwardly from foot to foot, wishing for the first time in a long while that Des was more conscious to make the decision for her.

 

“I can show you the labs, after we eat.” Dirthamen offers.

She gives him a wry grin “Using my weaknesses against me already, I see.”

“It does seem to be the most efficient way of getting you out of your shell.” he shoots back.

 

“One week.”

 

He blinks.


“I will stay for one week,” she repeats “As a trial. It can be an experiment. I’ll make lists for myself of what does and doesn’t work for me, or what I don’t think will work for you and whoever else chooses to stay. I’ll report my findings at the end of the week, and then decide whether to…repeat the experiment, or to leave. Is that agreeable?”

 

“On one condition,” he posits.

 

She tilts her head and gestures for him to continue.

 

“Experiments need a control. I believe the only way to ensure your findings are accurate, and not biased based on your own interpretations, is to share them with someone else. I would like to recommend myself.”

Selene raises an eyebrow 
“So before I leave, I have to tell you why I’ve decided to go, and you get to argue that I’m just making excuses.”

“I was attempting to frame it in a less crude manner, but yes. I believe your own lack of self-assurance could lead to believing problems exist where they do not, and I would not wish to lose you to such a mistake. I do not wish to lose you at all, in truth.”

 

“You…have a very odd way of flirting.” she laughs.

“Thank you.”

 

Thenvunin knocks on the empty door frame to announce himself, and pauses when he sees that Dirthamen is still shirtless.

“The team is heading out for lunch. I have come to retrieve the two of you, although I feel it is only fair to remind you they do require clothing for service in most establishments.” he comments with an arched eyebrow.

“Yes, thank you. We will meet you downstairs in a moment,” Dirthamen agrees with a slight nod.

 

Selene tosses Dirthamen his shirt, and follows him downstairs in the private elevator.

The shawarma is delicious.

Chapter Text

This is not how the story of Thenvunin’s life is supposed to go, he thinks.

In an ideal world… in an ideal world, he never would have been a sickly child to begin with. At least, not for his own preferences. He likes to think he still would have turned out more or less the same, in principle. That he could have just had an easier time of it. But he’s willing to concede that there are too many unknowns in that concept; that his childhood, his early life, that all of it led up to things too precious for him to part with. Playing silly games with Glory and Squish, going to carnivals and getting into fights. Signing up for the Super Soldier program. Rescuing Glory from HYDRA.

Maybe he never could have done that, if he hadn’t been who he was leading up to it. He thinks he’d give a lot, just to be sure he could be there, get there. Even if he had to blackmail Elgar’nan into flying across enemy lines a thousand times. Even if he had to walk into that Evanuris-built box and have his body practically remade a thousand more. It was all worth it, to get Glory away from that place.

But after that is when everything went wrong.

He remembers Glory, with shadows under their eyes. Still too thin, too pale, but alive. Pulling a drink to their lips. Hair shorn raggedly short, lips curling ruefully as they looked him up and down.

You’ve changed.

“Have I really?” Thenvunin had wondered. Filled with all the secret fears, that deep down his new skin was just as flimsy as his old. That he’d somehow put on a suit that made him look like a Proper Elven Soldier, and lost himself in it.

Yeah. You got taller.

He strikes the punching back again. Watches it split open, spilling sand across the floor of the gym. He’s panting, sweating, chest heaving as he sucks in a breath, and grabs a towel to clear some of the fog from his eyes. He remembers Glory, falling. Remembers Squish’s voice on the radio. Don’t do this, I can’t lose you too, I can’t…

Remembers the plane hitting the water.

He was supposed to die.

He thinks he really was the same man, the same Thenvunin, on the inside of being Captain Elvhenan, until they thawed him out. And now that’s all he’s got left is that title. That title, and an old woman who’s lived a whole life while he’s been sleeping, and a lot – a lot – of dead friends. War’s over, they tell him. The good guys won. The Nameless are gone, HYDRA disbanded. Elgar’nan and Mythal’s little start-up company is a massive corporate empire, now. But they’re gone. Haninan, Ireth, El’Samahl, and all the rest are, too. Dead from accidents. Illness. Age. Combat. The war didn’t really stop the moment Thenvunin put that plane into the water, although for him, everything did.

The door to the gym creaks at it opens. Careful footsteps padding towards him.

“They told me I would find you here,” Dirthamen Evanuris says.

Thenvunin glances towards the man, before reaching over to replace his punching bag. The resemblance to either of his parents is… indistinct. Too clumsy with the press for Mythal, too quiet and reserved for Elgar’nan. In a way, Thenvunin almost appreciates it. It makes it less surreal, to think about the child of his old acquaintances suddenly becoming his peer.

“And I am I allowed to ask who ‘they’ are, or is that classified?” he wonders, tightening his fistwraps, and sucking in a long breath.

“My sister’s people,” Dirthamen admits. “Sylaise. There was a break-in at one of her facilities. A Class Z weapon was stolen, and one of her top agents was kidnapped.”

“Shame,” Thenvunin allows. “Are you here with a mission, then? Trying to get me back out into the world?”

Dirthamen is quiet for a moment. Thenvunin takes the opening to resume beating his punching bag to a pulp.

“The weapon stolen was an object recovered with you,” he says, though, and that stops Thenvunin short.

There’s only one thing it could be, then. Anger rushes over him. His expression twists, and he lashes out at the bag. Sending it down with a single blow, this time. Chains rattling, sand spilling. The hook in the ceiling finally comes loose and tears its way out with a screech of warping metal, and the punching ball all but explodes against the floor.

Dirthamen doesn’t even flinch, as Thenvunin rounds on him.

“Is there anything you can tell us about the tesseract?” the billionaire asks.

“You told me it was destroyed,” he snaps.

“I lied,” Dirthamen admits, readily enough. “Or misled, at the least. It was highly classified information, and you only recently managed to pass your latest psychological evaluations. Burdening you with the expectation of keeping such secrets seemed… inadvisable.”

Thenvunin scowls.

“Do you know what strikes me as inadvisable?” he asks. “Pulling that thing out of the wreck in the first place. Did you ever consider that the world might be better off if you left it at the bottom of the ocean?”

Dirthamen sighs.

“Some people have said the same about you,” he points out.

Thenvunin stiffens, swallowing down the odd mixture of longing and resentment at that notion.

“They won’t get much argument from me,” he mutters.

One of Dirthamen’s eyebrows ticks up.

“Have you been experiencing suicidal thoughts lately?” he asks, with the same cool professionalism as his government mandated therapist. Thenvunin ignores the question, and opts to go and get his things. This probably is a mission, however much Evanuris wants to talk around it. He slides his duffel over his shoulder, and after a moment’s consideration, grabs one of the punching bags. The hook here might be done for, but he has one in his apartment, too, and he thinks he’ll need it.

“The situation here is grave,” Dirthamen concedes, as Thenvunin grabs his things. “You’re one of the few living people who actually has firsthand experience in dealing with this weapon.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Thenvunin tells him, letting out a long breath. “I don’t know anything about it. I have no idea how it works, or even if HYDRA knew what they were doing with it. At the end of the day, I’m just an elf from Arlathan who throws a mean punch.”

“I thought you were a man driven to do the right thing?” Dirthamen wonders.

Thenvunin stalls.

Maybe the world thinks of that in terms of Captain Elvhenan, punching the daylights out of his enemies, telling people to buy war bonds. But the nerve that strikes is always more one of dirty back alleys, and bruises on his cheek. Lungs straining, a heady mixture of rage and pride and frustration all burning in his veins. And Glory.

Glory, pulling some idiot off of him. Glory, taking the punches that Thenvunin inspired, doing a better job of being a ‘hero’ than he ever had.

Glory, falling from the train.

How many more people will the tesseract kill if Thenvunin just sits back?

Will it be more than if he doesn’t?

“I have a meeting,” he says.

“With Ms. Desire, at the care facility, tomorrow morning,” Dirthamen confirms. “A car will pick you up afterwards.”

Thenvunin nods in acknowledgement, and then makes his way from the gym.

~

Dirthamen’s waiting for him on the plane that’s meant to take him to some secret Evanuris facility, the next day. There are a few agents around as well, but what catches Thenvunin’s attention is the large, covered cage in the seating area of their little transport vehicle.

“Is there an animal in there?” he wonders.

And then he freezes at the sound of a frantic, familiar shriek.

…It can’t be.

“We managed to procure another one of your belongings,” Dirthamen tells him, as he moves towards the cage – which is now rattling furiously, as if its occupant is very intent on leaving. “I suppose it would be more accurate to say that we moved it from our facility in Antiva. The elvhen eagle has long been SHIELD’s primary mascot. A symbolic counterpoint to HYDRA’s dragon. Not many people realize it has always just been one bird across several generations.”

Thenvunin moves aside the tarp, and his heart cracks as he finds himself staring at a familiar face. A curved, predatory beak, and long talons, and muddied brown plumage. Nevertheless moving in elegant, sharp shapes, and framing a set of fiercely lit eyes.

Screecher shrieks at the sight of him, with a volume and intensity he’s rarely heard before, and Thenvunin without a doubt that this is his bird. His bird, who hasn’t seen him since he was still skinny and small. Since before he signed on for the Super Soldier program. Back when he’d had to take it out to the Arlathan National Park, and let it loose. Pets weren’t allowed in the program, and he’d trusted Screecher’s odds in the wild much better than the odds that his neighbours would actually look after his sometimes-troublesome bird.

He’s reaching for the cage latch. Dirthamen raises a hand, but he doesn’t even get it open in time before Screecher rips the bars apart and comes lurching out. Winging straight into Thenvunin’s chest, calling for him with that special call, and apparently recognizing him no matter how big or small he may be.

Thenvunin lets out a ragged breath, that turns into a broken laugh as his bird butts at him, and loud shrieks turn into soft baby peeps, as talons accidentally tear his belt up in a quest to find safe purchase on him. He scoops Screecher up carefully, vision blurring as his bird rests its head against his shoulder.

“Oh, gods,” he breathes. “How is this possible?”

“I take you did not realize the bird is an abomination?” Dirthamen asks.

An abomination?

Surely not.

No. Screecher’s mysterious breed is probably just… very long-lived. Maybe a little spirit-y, perhaps. But however irritable his bird might seem, he would never use the word ‘abomination’ to describe it. Menace, maybe. Possibly even scourge, on a bad day. Bossy, demanding, loud, assertive, territorial, greedy, and stubborn.

But perfect.

His perfect, perfect bird.

“I can’t believe you’re alive,” he whispers.

Screecher peeps, and starts grooming his hair.

The flight to the Evanuris secret base is mostly a blur, then. Dirthamen remains politely distracted with his tablet and headset, occasionally speaking into the latter as Thenvunin runs his fingers through familiar feathers, and suddenly feels like he’s twelve years old and just survived pneumonia, with his chest aching and his arms full of Screecher. Who won’t stop rearranging his hair, and fussing with his shirt collar, and then hops out of his arms and back towards the cage – only to return a moment later carrying a glossy little card.

It’s a Captain Elvhenan Collectors’ card.

Thenvunin stares down at it. And then blinks, as he’s  brought more and more, from what seems to be a secret stash inside of the travel cage.

“Over the years, the interns have given them to Screecher,” Dirthamen explains. “They’re a good way to win points.”

“Points?” Thenvunin wonders, before softly thanking Screecher for yet another card. They’re in surprisingly good condition, apart from some peck marks around the edges.

“Your bird is… not always agreeable towards strangers,” Dirthamen suggests.

Thenvunin is pretty sure his bird is the sweetest creature alive, right now, although intellectually he knows that’s fair. He looks at all the odd, different images of himself. In costume. In uniform. Riding a bike; holding his shield. Some of them are even reflective and shiny. Screecher presents these with the most obvious pride, puffing up a little bit as Thenvunin compliments the collection.

His eyes are still a little red when they finally reach what seems to be a massive ship. But it wouldn’t be implausible to blame that on the wind, as Screecher clings to his shoulder, and Dirthamen leads the both of them away from the landing zone and out onto the deck.

There’s a woman, standing there. Thenvunin vaguely recalls the e-mail he’d read last night, explaining more of the mission’s particulars.

“Doctor Selene Lavellan?” he guesses.

The woman looks like she’s spent a few too many nights sleeping on park benches. Or like she’s seen the bad end of a war, as she inclines her head, and tentatively offers her hand. Thenvunin shakes it. It certainly feels elven enough.

“I am. I guess you don’t need much introduction,” she offers.

“My reputation precedes me, I suppose,” Thenvunin allows. Screecher makes a warning sound, and Selene raises an eyebrow at the bird.

“I don’t know that it seems too inaccurate, if you seriously walk around with an elvhen eagle on your shoulder,” she says.

Thenvunin’s honestly not sure what to make of that. Back when he’d first found Screecher, no one would have deemed his bird an eagle of any kind – it was ‘some sort of weird, ugly songbird’, at best, whenever any bird experts chanced to see it. But he won’t refute the supposition. If it’s gotten Screecher to be valued and looked after all this time, well, then he’s not complaining. Squish probably had a thing or twelve to do with it. He’s not surprised she didn’t bring it up, though. All things considered.

“I’m not sure hosting me on a ship is the wisest idea,” Selene informs Dirthamen, as their ride in to the ‘base’ takes off.

“Duly noted,” Dirthamen replies. “Though you may be relieved to learn that this vessel is not actually a ship, in that case.”

Thenvunin blinks. Selene frowns.

“What?” she asks, as Dirthamen carefully takes her by the elbow, and pulls her a little further from the railings.

“Watch the edges,” he advises, before heading off.

“What do you suppose he meant by that?” Thenvunin wonders.

Before either of them can speculate further, though, the whirring of machinery fills the air. Along with the loud sloshing of an excessive amount of water. A glance down the side of the ship reveals what seem to be massive propulsion devices rising up from beneath the waves, moving into some kind of elevated position. It still takes him awhile to put together what’s happening, though, as things shift and strain, and Screecher makes soothing noises that indicate that his bird, at least, is familiar with this process.

It’s not until they’re in the air that he realizes.

This thing flies.

“Oh,” Selene says, looking deeply unsettled. “Oh, no. This is much worse than a ship.”

~

The man who stole the tesseract attacks a party in Orlais, in the Dales. He’s calling himself Fen’Harel, of all things – though the debriefing informs him that the elf might actually be, in some shape or form, the elven trickster god of legend.

He doesn’t seem to be much in his right mind, either way.

Thenvunin doesn’t approve of his approach to crowd control. Nor of his speeches, which seem oddly stilted and forced, as he waves around some kind of magic orb and opens rips in the Veil left and right. There’s something overall wrong with the whole scenario, but Thenvunin’s not sure if that’s just the surreal nature of having so many magical anomalies coalescing in what seems to be the same place.

He tries to do his best, though. To just go with the mission. Assuming the people of this time period probably have a better handle on how to deal with these things than he does. Follow orders. He was never actually very good at following orders, although it wasn’t for a lack of trying. They just always seemed to run counter to the actual intent of themselves so often.

Dirthamen swoops in, launching a precision strike against Fen’Harel while Thenvunin shields to crowd, both physically and magically, and deflects an unexpected shot from what seems to be the rogue Evanuris agent. The man knocks another arrow into his bow, and looks he’s contemplating shooting into the crowd when something changes his mind, and he withdraws again. Replaced by a sudden surge of spirits, breaching an unexpected tear in the veil.

It takes half the night to clean them up, but Dirthamen manages to apprehend Fen’Harel, and in the end there’s only one casualty of the evening – the man whom the rogue ‘god’ had been targeting in the first place. Looking for something, hoping to gain something.

The plane ride back to the helicarrier is… tense.

Honestly, Thenvunin would rather spend the evening with his bird. With Squish. Looking at photos, maybe trying to figure out the internet again. Fen’Harel is quiet, at least. All shackled up, and the only thing he will say is that he doesn’t have the tesseract with him. They confiscate his orb, but he ignores both Thenvunin and Dirthamen’s questions about it, and about his motivations.

“Your brother came here, not long ago,” Dirthamen says, at length. Still clad in his suit, unwilling to drop his guard around their prisoner. Thenvunin isn’t much willing to let his own down, for that matter. “There was a skirmish near Seheron. Reports list you as an instigating factor.”

“The man who had a brother is gone,” Fen’Harel claims. “When one takes on the mantle of the Dread Wolf, whoever they were before dies. But… it does seem to be taking a while for that to sink in. On his end, anyway.”

A crack of lightning splits the sky.

Fen’Harel chuckles.

“Company’s coming,” he warns.

Thenvunin barely has time to stand, then. Before something rips off the back hatch of the plane. The air screams in, and Dirthamen’s suit blares an alarm before his helmet seals over his head. Thenvunin raises his arm, tries to react, but his only impression is of a blur of red and then their prisoner is gone. His stomach lurches, but a quick check reveals that the weapons they secured from him, at least, are still in the cockpit. Dirthamen takes off out of the open hatch, and Thenvunin spares a moment to instruct the pilot to keep heading for the helicarrier, before jumping out after him.

The wind whistles past his ears.

The long, dark spears of trees reach up towards him, and it takes an effort to ignore the part of his brain that’s screaming that this drop will kill him. And then to ignore the part of his brain that feels only relief at the prospect. He angles his fall, trying to focus on the idea that he’s almost flying. Like a bird. And then he strikes the ground like a stone, and feels as though he’s left his stomach behind in the indentation he leaves, as he heads towards the sounds of mechanized and magical weapons firing.

He rushes into the clearing to find Dirthamen fighting some hammer-wielding stranger. Fit and oddly dressed, with a red cape billowing out behind him.

“Alright, stop, wait,” Thenvunin interjects. Raising his shield, letting the brightly coloured surface serve almost like the flag it’s meant to be. “Who is this? Who are you?”

“This is the Mighty Adannar,” Dirthamen supplies. “One of Fen’Harel’s associates. His brother.”

Adannar? Like, the mythical figure? Again?

…Since when are Adannar and Fen’Harel brothers, though…?

Thenvunin shakes his head, and supposes the mythology lesson can wait.

“Yes, I am his brother,” Adannar confirms. Though he lowers the hammer somewhat from its threatening position. “I apologize for disrupting your craft. But he is my brother, and I must bring him home. There are matters at play that are far beyond your ability to appreciate, or comprehend.”

Dirthamen straightens.

“I doubt that,” he offers. “Your brother has taken on some sort of cultural mantle of betrayal. Based on reports, it seems to be related to his feelings of inferiority within your family structure. He has stolen a weapon of your people’s design, which has nevertheless been abandoned and seized by a multinational organization on our world, and in the process has committed no small amount of crimes, up to and including mass murder.”

Adannar raises a hand.

“I understand your grievance,” he says. “My people will offer what compensation can be offered for lives lost, and… Fen’Harel will not escape making some atonement for his crimes. But the weapon he reclaimed is not yours to keep, and neither is he. Thedas falls under the sovereign protection of my father’s rule, and is ultimately subject to the authority of his crown. I will take my brother home to face judgement,” Adannar insists.

“Thedas does not recognize the rule of your crown, and any treaties our ancestors have signed have expired in subsequent centuries without official contact or renewal from any of your family’s representatives,” Dirthamen insists. “Fen’Harel’s crimes were committed on our soil, and will be judged by our laws. We must interrogate him further to discover his aims and intercept his plans for the tesseract, regardless.”

Adannar pauses, as Thenvunin tries not to look like he’s still puzzling through what in the world they’re actually talking about.

“The tesseract was not with him?” Adannar checks.

“He had a weapon, but it was not that,” Dirthamen confirms.

This merits a long sigh, it seems. Thenvunin braces himself, unsure if they have another fight on their hands. But after a minute, the newcomer slings his hammer back into his belt, and nods in understanding.

“Alright,” he says. “I will help you discover my brother’s plot. But then I am taking him home.”

“We can discuss that prospect further,” Dirthamen allows.

“Assuming Fen’Harel hasn’t escaped on his own,” Thenvunin points out, and on that note the three of them exchange concerned glances, and then make their way to where Adannar apparently left his brother with some haste.

Fen’Harel hasn’t scampered off into the woods yet, though.

Maybe he didn’t like his chances of making it in a pair of warded handcuffs, through unfamiliar terrain, in the dead of night.

But Thenvunin’s feeling of unease only seems to grow.

~

He is relieved, however, to get back to the helicarrier.

Screecher greets him with enthusiastic shrieks, just as soon as he’s finished helping to escort Fen’Harel to the massive, elaborate holding cell on the lower level. Thenvunin goes to the mess hall, and manages to find, to his delight, that there are some blueberries available. He has to make beseeching eyes at the cook on duty to get them, but it’s well worth the delight of settling down at a table and offering them to Screecher, who makes happy chirrups and peeps and worries their beak across his fingers in between treats.

The activity draws something of an audience. During a lull from the night’s activities, as everyone seems to be debating where to go from here, and getting something to eat or drink or nap on in the meanwhile.

Thenvunin still isn’t sure of where he belongs in the conversations about what actions to take. Some people treat him like an authority, but he knows it’s almost a ceremonial position now. He doesn’t understand enough about new weapons, new strategies. New politics. The world has changed and he’s still racing to fill in the blanks, but it seems everyone expects an iconic hero to already know the answers.

“I did not know elvhen eagles liked blueberries,” an unfamiliar voice observes.

Thenvunin turns, and sees a dark-haired woman observing them curiously. An agent, he thinks. Her picture was in his debriefing. Agent… agent… Sera-something? The one with the spider for a codename. Black Widow.

“Screecher loves them,” he confirms.

Screecher affirms this statement by trying to sneak a beakful directly from the carton, feathers ruffling as Thenvunin tsk’s and moves it further away, and nudges a single one forward instead.

“Don’t eat them all at once. You’ll choke,” he chides.

Footsteps tap across the floor, and the woman glances at him for permission before settling into one of the chairs beside him.

“It’s cute,” she declares. Screecher gives her an assessing look, and then seems to determine she’s not a threat, and goes back to nudging Thenvunin’s fingers. He chuckles, and strokes a hand gently across Screecher’s headfeathers before handing him another blueberry.

The Black Widow shifts in her seat.

“Evanuris told me you saw Tasallir,” she says.

Tasallir. Tasa… oh. The agent who was kidnapped. And brainwashed, it seems. He nods in confirmation, though the woman’s expression doesn’t give much away.

“I’m going to be interrogating Fen’Harel,” she admits. “Tasallir is my friend. I would appreciate it if you could tell me what his condition was. It will help, in case Fen’Harel tries to use that against me.”

Thenvunin frowns, but nods in understanding.

“I didn’t see much,” he admits. “He was shooting at me. His eyes looked strange. Over-saturated, almost. But apart from that, he seemed alright. Uninjured. Well-equipped. Whatever’s been done to him seems to have altered his perceptions, but not slowed them down or impeded them much.” He remembers the calculating look on the agent’s face, as he took aim. “He was very well-dressed, too,” he adds, for good measure.

That earns just the briefest quirk of a smile.

“Good. If he wasn’t he’d probably be near death,” the Black Widow tells him.

Thenvunin tries to see if he can recall anything else that might be relevant. But he can’t think of anything, as Screecher cleans him out of blueberries, and then Selene walks past. Hunching her shoulders, carrying a few energy bars and a juice box. Her gaze skitters over to Thenvunin’s bird, again, before she almost moves straight off.

“Hey, Doc. Come and sit with us,” Black Widow suggests.

Selene glances between them, smiling ruefully and then shaking her head.

“You don’t want me to sit with you,” she declares, confidently.

Widow snorts.

“Which is precisely why I asked, obviously. I’m sure the captain doesn’t object. Captain?”

“Not at all,” Thenvunin allows.

Selene nods at Screecher.

“And what about Agent Eagle there? They seem pretty pleased to have your undivided attention,” she quips, clutching her energy bars a little tighter.

“Agent Screecher is prickly, but you just need to get past that to find a true friend,” Thenvunin explains, with perhaps a little bit too much fondness. Fluffing some of Screecher’s tummy feathers, and earning a charming peep that is apparently just all around irresistible. Selene’s lips quirk as she relents, and slides into the chair at the opposite side of the table. Screecher turns at the crackle of the opening energy bars, but then opts to start getting blueberry juice on Thenvunin’s hair instead.

Selene is snickering about it by the time someone comes and tells Widow it’s time for her interrogation.

And then there are debates, on what to do about Fen’Harel, and the orb, and what he might be planning.

No one is expecting the Fade rift that opens up in the engine room, though.

~

Dirthamen takes charge, in the end. Looking like a man who hates to do it, but knows he’s the only person equipped to, right then.

“Serahlin, get Doctor Lavellan someplace secure. We know Fen’Harel is going to target her. Thenvunin, how much do you know about engines?” he asks.

“They generally use electricity?” Thenvunin supplies.

“Alright… I will take care of the engines myself,” Dirthamen decides. “Adannar-“

“I will see to my brother,” Adannar declares, immediately, worry written onto his features. He rushes from the room before another word can be spoken, then. Dirthamen sighs, and gestures after him.

“Go make sure Fen’Harel doesn’t escape,” he instructs Thenvunin, who nods in confirmation, and then follows. The carrier is a chaotic mess of activity, and he hasn’t had much time to memorize the floor plan. But he knows the way to the holding cell. Knows it’s secure enough that someone would have to let Fen’Harel out in order for him to escape, and with Adannar’s sympathies, it doesn’t take a genius to see who his likeliest patsy will be.

Another explosion rocks the ship, and Thenvunin halts as he hears alarmed shrieking.

Screecher barrels down the corridor, crashing against him as the ship rocks.

A rush of alarm passes through him. This place is too dangerous, and he has no time to go and secure Screecher into his sleeping cage, and most likely the agent who’d been assigned to watch his bird for him anyway had already tried that, and even then if the ship sinks being locked in a cage will actually be the opposite of a good thing.

“Go to the deck,” he tells Screecher. “Go up, Screecher. I’ll come find you.”

He remembers – settling Screecher into the park. Laced blueberries, and his sleeping bird. Securing them high enough that predators couldn’t reach.

I’ll come back for you.

Screecher shrieks in protest, but after a few minutes, does fly off.

Thenvunin renews his hasty trek through the carrier. Pausing a few more times to fend off confused spirits, before he finally reaches the holding cells. There’s another lurch. Alarms blaring. Someone shouting over the intercom about a giant purple demon rampaging through the carrier’s innards, but he can’t deal with that, right now, he doesn’t even know where it’s happening. And then he gets to the holding cell room and somehow Adannar is in the cell and Fen’Harel is out of it.

“Hold it right there,” Thenvunin instructs, and sends his shield flying off to smash against the control panel Fen’Harel is reaching for.

The figure looks at him with narrowed eyes.

“Pale shadow,” he says, as Adannar tries to break through the reinforced walls of the holding cell he’s in. He strides forward, the orb tucked under his arm. How did he get it back…? No, there’s not time to think about that right now. That’s for later. Thenvunin catches his rebounding shield, and settles into an anticipatory stance. Readying a spell, braced to either block or dodge whatever Fen’Harel plans to throw at him.

Adannar shouts something he can’t make out through the barriers of the prison.

And then Fen’Harel snaps, and floor gives way beneath the holding cell.

Thenvunin is sucked sideways, as more alarms blare, slamming shield-first against the railing with enough force to really feel it. Fen’Harel sighs, as if disappointed with a poor showing from a slow student, and Adannar drops – holding cell and all – through the open sky below. Wind whipping into the chamber, magic crackling as the supposed-god summons up a green magical spear.

“It is nothing personal,” Fen’Harel informs him. “Captain.”

Thenvunin’s not sure he can get his shield around in time. He scrambles, reaching, trying to regain his balance, to cast, to move.

A familiar cry breaks through the air.

Fen’Harel blinks, and barely has time to turn towards the source before Screecher comes soaring in through the opening beside them. Massive wings beating furiously, talons poised, attack cry resonating as it claws at Fen’Harel’s arm. Buying just enough time for Thenvunin to right himself, to throw his shield, knocking the spear sideways but then Fen’Harel closes a fist around his bird’s neck.

“NO!”

The gesture is dismissive. Almost negligent. A flicked wrist, and flash of magic. Screecher’s head turns at the wrong angle and Thenvunin screams, he knows he does. Just like when Glory fell. He rushes forward, incoherent and desperate and Fen’Harel must not be expecting it, because Thenvunin smashes into him with enough unbridled force to knock him clear over the railing. Reaching for his bird, as Fen’Harel follows his brother down into the void.

He clutches Screecher close, and narrowly avoids falling down after him in turn.

“Screecher,” he tries, looking at the loose bundle of feathers in his arms. Too loose. Too still. His vision blurs, and his chest burns, and he almost, almost lets go. Falls down, because he knows. Because he saw. He clings to Screecher, and he clings to the railing, and watches as the ocean gets closer and closer, and wonders if the fates brought him back just so they could kill him the same way twice.

Just so they could make him suffer a bit more before he did.

But gradually, he becomes aware of things slowing. Stilling. Of voices over the communications system, and arms helping him back up over the railing. He keeps his bird close. Calls for a healer, but the eyes around him are pitying, and when they finally pull Screecher from him his hands are shaking.

Oh, no.

No.

Thenvunin knows that so much more has gone wrong. That so much more is at stake.

But he cannot help it. There are still blueberry stains in his hair. There are shiny Captain Elvhenan cards in his pockets. A single feather caught in the edge of his glove.

His falls to his knees, and breaks.


~

“Fen’Harel is trying to summon a demon army to overrun the world,” Dirthamen tells him.

Thenvunin listens, sitting in the stillness of the empty meeting room where he’s retreated. Turning Captain Elvhenan cards over and over in his hands. Remembering long evening spent working extra late, scraping together enough money to buy a little, teeny-tiny carton of blueberries, from one of the ladies who’s sister lived on a farm where they let people come and pick their own. He remembers one time when he and Glory and Squish all got together and road out, with Screecher complaining about the travel cage the whole way. But then they got there, and they paid the flat ‘pick-your-own’ rate for themselves and for Screecher, too, and he thought he’d never seen a bird so happy.

Or a farmer so relieved to see the back of them. Even if Screecher had killed a few rats, too.

Thenvunin stares at the scorched wall beside him. Wonders if it’s unfair that this feels just the same as when Glory fell.

“If we don’t stop him, the magisters are threatening to blow Arlathan off of the map,” Dirthamen continues.

“So stop him,” Thenvunin suggests.

“I intend to. But an entire demon army is a bit more than I can handle on my own,” Dirthamen confesses. “Doctor Lavellan’s location is unknown. We managed to track the containment cell that Adannar was in, but we haven’t found him. Agents are still compromised, the helicarrier’s weapons are destroyed. Fen’Harel has the orb, and the tesseract, and we only have the barest notion of where he’s planning to go.”

Thenvunin is silent.

“My brother-in-law’s tower seems the likeliest target,” Dirthamen continues. “There are a great number of employees there. As well as my own family. People who need protecting.”

The Captain Elvhenan cards shine in the overhead lights.

“If you won’t do it for your principles, if you won’t do it to stop an evil… maybe you will do it to avenge a fallen friend?”

Thenvunin’s fingers still.

“My best friend died on a mission to capture a man,” he says. “A very evil man. I am led to believe that this man was offered a deal. The information he had, the knowledge he had, in exchange for leniency. The man we are chasing now is supposedly a god. A prince. The brother of another of your erstwhile allies,” he says. Then he turns, and looks Dirthamen in the eye. “If you ask me to do this for vengeance, you have to promise me that won’t happen again.”

Dirthamen hesitates.

But then nods in agreement.

“Help us,”  he says.

Thenvunin slides the cards back into his pocket.

~

A few weeks later, Arlathan is still recovering from the damage done by the invasion.

Adannar takes his brother back home with him, to face ‘justice’ in their parents’ court. In light of ‘tense political situation’, it was deemed the most acceptable course of action. Thenvunin watches as Fen’Harel is escorted towards the site of a strange eluvian. Watches his impassive face, and Adannar’s resigned expression.

“As I understand it, their laws are quite harsh,” Dirthamen tells him.

Thenvunin’s face feels like it’s set in stone.

Dirthamen Evanuris is a liar.

He doesn’t intend to forget that.

Chapter Text

Selene’s mother passes when she is nine years old. She and her father make the trip together to bury her, with nothing but silence and grief passing between them.

On the journey back, Selene runs away.

Unwilling to spend the rest of her life locked away beneath her fathers care, she grabs her bag in the dead of night and takes off through the forest. The first morning, she finds nothing but trees. The second, a river. On the third, she finds an unfamiliar mountain range, with a single path curling around the stone.

Curious, and with nowhere else to go, she climbs.

She climbs, higher and higher, until the air begins to thin. As she ascends, she summons a small pocket of air, cycling it through hands cupped before her mouth to keep from passing out.

Surely this trail must lead somewhere.

But as the clouds move closer, she sees no end in sight. No signs of campsites, no caverns for shelter. Nothing.

 

The sun begins to set, and Selene realizes that she will likely freeze to death, now.

Scared, and hoping for the best, she constructs a small shelter out of what she has in her pack; spare clothes, a blanket, and a few rations of food. Selene layers the extra clothes over the ones she is already wearing as best she can, and then wraps herself in the blanket, summoning a small ball of fire to try to keep warm.

It works, for a little while. But as Selene grows drowsy, tired from her trip and the constant spell casting, she wonders if she will die here after all. If someone will stumble across the body of a small elven girl and even think twice, or if she will become food for whatever animals dare to make the trek before anyone can find her.

She wonders if her father even bothered looking, when he woke in the morning.

 

Her eyes begin to close, and she hears footsteps as she settles with her back against the mountain. Is someone there? She should probably check. But she is so tired, and her eyes are so heavy…

A foot nudges at her thigh. “Are you alive?” asks a husky voice.

Selene just grunts in response.

“Come with me. You are late, and I am cold.”

Blinking one eye open, Selene struggles to stand. With a soft huff, the (VERY) tall elven woman bends down and unwraps the blanket from around Selene, slinging it carefully over her arm and holding her hand out.

Selene hesitates, glancing from the hand to the woman before taking her offer. As she grabs hold, warmth carries from the woman into her.

A spell.

Another mage, then?

It’s nice, whatever it is, Selene thinks.

 

They continue up the mountain, climbing higher yet, and Selene is sure her legs are going to give out from under her at this rate. Until at last, the taller woman places her hand on top of what Selene is pretty sure is a pile of rocks.

“Here we are,” she announces.

Selene blinks.

“Those are rocks.” She announces.

“Are they?” The woman asks, as she steps through them.

 

Selene hesitates again, until her head sticks back through, white hair and burnt skin glaring at her “Well? Hurry up, you are keeping the other one waiting.”

“Sorry!” Selene answers reflexively, not really sure who is waiting, or why she would be expected here of all places. She hadn’t even known she was coming, after all. Hands gripped tight at her sides, Selene closes her eyes and steps through the rocks, and on the other side she finds-

Sun.

Sunlight, and birds, and colors, and people.

Mages.

Elves, humans, qunari, all sorts of mages. Practicing, out in the open. Laughing, and smiling, and learning from teachers.

Teachers who are also smiling.

 

“Keep up please,” The (still taller than almost everyone else) elf orders.

Selene apologizes again, trying to keep pace with the woman in front of her as she leads her through a large pair of ornamental doors and down a long corridor, and then yet another set of doors.

 

“I found her on the mountain.”

“Thank you, Sylmae,” Says another, softer voice. Lighter, bubblier.

It reminds Selene of her mother, and she feels a tightness grow in her chest.

 

“It is good to see you two both made it,” The woman smiles, warm, arms covered by long, silken sleeves.

Selene blinks as someone sits down next to her. A human girl who looks to be her own age, with darker skin and freckles. She smiles and waves at Selene, who slowly and uncertainly waves back.

 

“Excuse me,” Selene pipes up, raising her hand fully “Where am I, precisely?”

“This is the Anderfels Sanctum,” Sylmae answers bluntly.

The other woman nods.

 

“…right,” Selene responds “And that means…what, exactly?”

 

“It’s a place to study magic!” The girl next to her chirps happily. “Someplace safe.”

 

“That’s right, Olwyn,” The dark haired woman smiles. “There are several sanctums throughout Thedas, meant to keep various magical entities in balance, and to protect items that are too dangerous for the public to know about. Here, we teach the forgotten magics, and how to control them, and yourself. It has been quite some time since we had a new class. I’m excited to have two talented girls as young as the pair of you. I’m sure we’ll all be great friends!”

 

“You are their teacher, Nimronyn,” Sylmae notes “Perhaps play time is best left until later.”

“Of course, Vhenan,” Nimronyn agrees. “Of course.”

 

Selene glances between the two as silence settles over the room. After a few more moments, she begins to shift awkwardly on her feet, and it seems to snap Nimronyn out of whatever daydream she was having.

 

“How about some breakfast, you two?” She offers, hands clapping before her as she already begins her trek out the door.

“Sounds great!” Olwyn nods, eagerly following her out into the hallway. Selene waits, head still full of questions and attempts at explanations and old warnings about not trusting strangers. But Sylmae nudges her out the door behind them, when she notices Selene isn’t moving on her own.

 

“This will become home, in time.”

 

Selene looks up at her contemplatively, walking slower than she knows they want her to. She tilts her head and finally asks “Are there books here?”

Sylmaes face cracks into a small grin as she looks down at Selene “Oh, little one. You have no idea.”

 

Well.

It certainly can’t be all bad then, Selene supposes.

Chapter Text

It had been ten years since Dirthamen’s twin brother had vanished.

Ten years since the world had declared Falon'din dead and gone, destroyed in an instant by an unknown magic.

Thirteen years since Dirthamen had turned his back on the people that raised him. Publicly denounced them and the way they used magic, refusing to assist his brother in his plans. Well, their mothers plans really. Twisted and shifted to fit Falon'dins particular brand of cruelty, and terrifyingly effective when implemented.

Thirteen years since Dirthamen had become a father. Since he and Selene had married and settled down in their cottage. Small and cramped, a victim of their financial distresses. But it was their home, and his old family could not find them here (An unlikely scenario with the lot of them locked away in Azkaban, but not one he would put past them all the same).

 

Six years since he had managed to gain a career working for the ministry of magic. Not publicly, of course. The wizarding world would call for his immediate resignation if word got out that the twin of the Dark Lord Falon'din were working in the Department of Mysteries. But they had had little choice but to hire him, after several years of failed attempts to decipher the artifacts found in his old family home.

Dirthamen had never been very talented at curses, he knew. But wards and protection spells; those he was rather clever with.

More clever than his mother, it had turned out.

 

He had felt guilt, leaving Selene alone at home to watch the twins when they were born, bringing their total child count so far to four. But she had assured him she could handle it, that she and their children would be fine, and she would still continue her work in the arithmancy field; just a bit slower than she had been.

It had worked out well so far; Selene was able to put out about one book every two years, and it always pulled in a tidy sum to take care of leaking roofs and school supplies and even to mange to leave a few galleons in their Gringotts account at the end of the month.

 

And then a month ago, his dreams had turned sour.

His brothers face and voice back to plague him, calling him a traitor and a coward and screaming all too familiar threats towards him and his family.

Dirthamen knew Falon'din had not died ten years ago. He had not felt the pull or the ache that should have accompanied it. But the world had seemed so relieved, a day of parties and merriment and celebration when he had disappeared. Dirthamen did not wish to ruin that happiness for everyone.

 

Now though, with two of his children preparing to go back to school and the voice of his brother still ringing in his ears each morning, it was difficult to feel at ease.

 

“Ana and Pride stole the car,” Selene sighs over breakfast, sliding a plate of eggs down in front of him and each of the twins; too young for such hi-jinks, so far.

“Which one?” Dirthamen asked. In truth, they were not supposed to have any cars. But Melanadahl in the Misuse of Magical Artifacts department was often interested both Dirthamen and Selenes input on the more curious cases that passed by; a lingering habit from their own days in school, he supposes.

“The one you rigged to fly,” Selene says, shooting him her familiar ‘that thing you knew you weren’t supposed to do but did anyway while I looked the other way and now the children have found it’ look. “Likely they went to pick up Uthvir from their home. They haven’t received replies to even a single letter all summer.”

 

Dirthamen nods in understanding. It is often difficult to get messages out when your family disapproves of sending them. It is a problem familiar to him from his own childhood, when Falon'din would frequently try to poison or harm Dirthamens own owl, or those his friends sent to him until they decided the risk was not worth being his friend.

 

There is a loud crashing noise from the front yard that pulls him out of his memories, Selenes head snapping towards the front door. She strides towards it, head high, swinging the door open and huffing down at their oldest children.

“Pride, Ana, you two are in so much trouble! Do you have any idea how worried I’ve been? What if you’d been injured, or spotted?!” She cries. Selenes face softens as she places a gentle hand on Uthvirs head and gives them one of her warmest smiles “Hello Uthvir dear, it’s good to see you. I’ll have the pancakes finished in just a minute, why don’t you go have a seat at the table?”

 

Uthvir nods slowly, looking briefly at Ana and Pride before sitting down at the table farthest from Dirthamen’s own seat. He is aware of their discomfort around him, and cannot blame them; his brother had attacked them when they were only an infant, after all. It is a wise survival instinct to avoid him, he supposes, although he would never purposely cause them harm.

 

Selene continues berating Ana and Pride for borrowing the car, even as she makes them plates of eggs and pancakes, with blueberries and bananas on top of Ana’s and whipped cream with chocolate chips for Pride. Uthvirs own stack is twice the size of theirs (And Dirthamen is not surprised; Selene has mentioned her concerns over how thin they are beneath the multiple layers and robes they wear to conceal it, and often gives them larger portions than is wholly necessary, often taking a smaller piece for herself) and she lays out several bowls with extra toppings on the table for them to choose from, placing several strawberries on top of her own to show that it is alright to do so. She finally stops lecturing Ana and Pride, carefully placing a single pancake on each of the twins plates before taking her own seat at the table.

 

It is a good meal, Ana and Prides moods quickly improving from Selenes speech to share the events of the summer with Uthvir; quidditch rankings and major news stories, as well as a classmate of theirs that has apparently 'bounced back’ from a rather poorly thought out transfiguration prank during their last year.

 

They are all standing to bring their dishes to the kitchen when a stream of owls comes in through the windows, dropping off letters for Ana, Pride, and Uthvir in a dark green ink; class and supply lists for the upcoming year.

“Well, at least they know you’re here with us Uthvir,” Selene smiles, handing them their letter. “I suppose we should make a trip to Diagon Alley today, if you’re alright with it.”


Uthvir, caught off guard with pancake still in their mouth, simply nods in agreement after a failed attempt to swallow.

 

“Mom,” Pride calls “Do you still have any copies of your second Arithmancy book?”

“Of course,” She nods, whisking the empty plates through the water running in their sink with her wand. “Why do you ask?”

“It’s one of my textbooks.”

“Mine too!” Ana pipes up.

 

Selene blinks, dishes freezing in midair “Really?” she calls as she dashes back to the table. “That’s wonderful! One less book we have to buy, and it means a sales boost from the others in your class purchasing it, too. Goodness, we might finally be able to get that new bed-One moment, they’re up in the attic.”

 

She disappears up the stairs, as Darevas giggles and flings a spoonful of scrambled eggs into Prides hair. Pride groans, moving towards the mirror to pick the flecks of egg out of his braids while Selene reappears at the base of the stairs, three hardbound copies of her second book on Arithmancy in hand.

“Now I wasn’t sure if you needed one as well Uthvir,” She admits, handing one to each of her children “But if you aren’t taking it already and decide to next year, this’ll give you a leg up on it. Arithmancy is fascinating really, one of the most interesting classes offered at Hogwarts-”

 

“Uh…Mom?” Ana squeaks, holding up her copy of the book and pointing to a scribble in the bottom right hand corner of the page. It appears to be someone in the middle of a rather lewd act, and-ah, yes. Someone has made a flip book in the corners of her book.

It is not difficult to discern precisely who the culprit was.

Selene’s face turns a rather interesting shade of red as she marches back up the stairs, screaming “Des!

 

Dirthamen carefully takes Prides book from him, even as he is trying to discern the exact nature of the act by turning it to different angles, and sets it down beside him. It appears to have been done recently, so it should be simple to remove with a basic cleaning charm.

 

It is not the first time their ghost has pulled pranks like these, although they usually do not make such blatantly sexual pranks where the children can see them. Dirthamen supposes Des did not expect her to give the books to Ana and Pride or Uthvir; a mistake he can hear her yelling at him for even from here.

 

Des’s ghost floats down to the table, a bored look on his face as he reclines in Selenes seat “Really, she’s overreacting,” he tsks. “It’s not like the pictures are moving on their own, and it’s soft-core at most.”

 

“It is still inappropriate,” Dirthamen chides. “Please do not put any sort of pornography where the children might see it.”

“Oh fine,” Des sighs. “I’ll just keep it all in your bedroom then.”

 

Pride makes a grossed out face, his tongue protruding from his mouth as Dirthamen corrects their resident ghost “That is unnecessary. Selene and I do not require pornography, we are quite skilled at coming up with our own scenarios and interactions.”

Dad!” Pride cries indignantly as Ana turns a red deep enough to match her hair and covers her ears.

“What?” Dirthamen asks.

“Don’t-Don’t talk about that in front of us, please. We just ate!”

“Would it be more appropriate to discuss after our food has settled then?”

“No!”

“You are getting older Pride. We should probably discuss these things soon, before you go off to school this year. If you are uncomfortable talking to me about your sexual growth, your mother is also avail-”

Please stop talking,” Pride groans, pulling his ponytail of braids and beads down to cover his face and yanking Uthvir out of their chair and up the stairs to his room, nearly pushing Selene out of his way to get there.

 

Dirthamen looks curiously to Ana, his eldest. “Did I do something wrong?”

“Not really,” Ana assures him. “He’s just embarrassed because he has a crush.”

Dirthamen blinks, looking up the stairs where his son had disappeared and then back to his daughter. “On Uthvir?”

Ana laughs. “No. I mean, maybe? Pretty sure it’s this girl on the Quidditch team he can’t stop staring at though.”

 

“Pride has a crush?” Selene asks as she re-enters the room just as Des vanishes from it.

“Don’t tell him you know,” Ana says “Or else he’ll get all weird and defensive about it.”

Selene frowns, but nods in understanding. “Alright. If they become a thing though, I trust you to write home about it.”

Ana nods in agreement, giving each of the twins a kiss on their pancake crumb covered heads before going up the stairs to join Pride and Uthvir.

 

 

Selene lets out a tired sigh before practically collapsing into the seat beside Dirthamen. He takes her hand in his, rubbing his thumb over the back of it soothingly. She gives him a tired smile before looking out the front windows at the damaged car on their front lawn.

 

“I swear, I don’t know where those two get their troublesome streak from…” she mumbles.

Dirthamen raises an eyebrow accusingly. “Oh? I seem to recall you being quite the prankster in your own school days. One of the reasons Des followed you home, I imagine.”

“And I’ve regretted it every day since,” She teases back, loudly enough that the eavesdropping spirit can hear.

 

Dirthamen shakes his head fondly. “I also remember you also used to sneak Victory into Hogsmeade, when he was having difficulty getting his permission slip signed. Or that time you helped Melanadahl pass his flight class, with those enchanted glasses you made-”

“Well it’s cruel to punish children for things that aren’t their fault,” Selene points out.

“Precisely,” Dirthamen says. “And it is hardly our childrens fault that they inherited such a strong sense of right and wrong from their mother that they feel the need to act on it to help their friends.”

 

Selene scoots her chair closer, until she can lean her head on his shoulder “You’re very good at turning my parenting flaws into strengths you know.”

“That is one of many things I am here for.”

“Mm-hm,” Selene murmurs. “I suppose it’s also not the childrens fault that their father felt the need to enchant a car to fly and conveniently left the keys out all night, either.”

“I was hoping you would not have noticed that,” Dirthamen admits.

“I always notice,” Selene says with a sigh. “I wonder if Uthvir would be open to us adopting them. I know they’re a bit older already, and we’d only technically have them for a a few years, but even a few less years with those awful people might do them a whole lot of good…”

“If you wish to discuss it with them, I would not stop you,” Dirthamen assures her with a kiss on top of her hair.

 

“Mm,” Selene hums. “I’ll have to think about it. Maybe send out a few owls with inquiries about how I would even go about it. In the meantime,” she says as she straightens. “We should get ready. We’ll need to stop by Gringotts before we can  pick up the school supplies, and Pride’s grown out of his robes again so he’ll need to be refitted. I was thinking Ana is old enough to care for a pet now, and she’s been hinting at wanting a toad, so I’d like to see if we could manage to get her an early birthday present if you’re alright with it.”

“I am sure we could make it work,” Dirthamen agrees, standing to push his chair in. “I will clean the twins while you get the others ready.”

“Taking the easy job I see,” Selene jokes, staring at Darevas and Felasel and their egg and pancake coated faces and fingers.

 

He simply nods as Selene goes to tell the others to get ready, donning her own cloak and bringing his own down, along with the floo powder.

 

Dirthamen swallows, watching as each of his children goes through the fireplace one by one.

Perhaps this time, if he is very careful and thinks only of positive things, he will not see his brothers face in every dark corner of Diagon Alley. Will not hear him whisper in his ear with each cold burst of wind. 
And perhaps, if he is very lucky, the scar on his back will not even ache every time the bell tolls.

Chapter Text

“Good morning, Angel,” Dirthamen says, as he walks into the shop belonging to his avowed rival in the great cosmic battle between good and evil.

Selene looks up from where she is stocking several shelves.

“This,” Melanadahl opines, from his place sprawled behind the counter. “Is why everyone thinks the two of you are fucking.”

Dirthamen blinks, and takes a moment to reassess the situation. His brows furrow. What is Des referring to this time, he wonders? He checks the door frame, and then also his own appearance. His outfit is suitably demonic, he thinks, or at least it matches with what the humans have been dressing demons in on the last television show he saw. Tight pants, leather jacket, and a t-shirt with a band name scrawled across the front. A band which would cause panic at their venues is probably of questionable intent. His hair is tied back, and the new sunglasses he had acquired permit his eyes to occasionally shine unnervingly through the dark lenses.

Selene places a book onto the nearby shelf with slightly more force than seems necessary, and gives her celestial work assessment critic a displeased look.

“We’ve been over this,” she says, clearing her throat. “Angels are supposed to be above caring about the minor misconceptions of the mortal populace. Dirthamen is my avowed enemy for all of time who must be thwarted at any cost.”

Dirthamen nods in agreement.

“Are we still going to lunch?” he checks.

“Of course, just give me five minutes to change sweaters, I got dust all over this one,” Selene replies, battling demonstrably at the cozy cableknit which she is wearing. A cloud of book-smelling grey dust rises up, likely a result of her working in the ‘back room’.

Ostensibly, the back room contains used books which are for sale.

Dirthamen has never seen Selene actually sell any of those books, however. Nor even mention its existence to a customer. And the sign on the door reads ‘Employees Only’.

Melanadahl makes a note in a pearly white book, which smells faintly of divinity.

“Having lunch with demon again,” he mutters to himself.

“Oh, don’t tell them that, that’s not accurate,” Selene insists. “We just call it lunch in case any mortals overhear, honestly, this is an important aspect of my divine efforts to overturn the influence of his demonic powers. He tries to coerce me to the dark side, and I take advantage of the opening to undo some of the malicious havoc he’s wrought upon the world.”

Dirthamen nods, again, because that is true. He feeds the ducks at their favourite park bread, which is bad for their digestive system. Selene has to heal them in order to prevent them from having health problems.

But he remains silent. Melanadahl did not actually write that down anyway, the words he can see on the notepad from here read ‘engaged with the forces of darkness’, so Dirthamen suspects that he is only teasing. An unusual habit for an angel, but then, Melanadahl is an unusual angel.

“Sure you do,” Melanadahl says.

Selene smiles serenely at him.

“How would you like to take another turn at doing inventory with me tonight?” she wonders.

“Oh, look at the time, I really should get back to… things. Of. Heavenly importance,” Melanadahl decides, and with a faint sound of wings, vanishes from behind the bookstore counter.

Selene nods to herself, and then waves her hand and replaces her current sweater for another one, which is pleasantly cream-coloured, and much less dusty. She grabs the ‘closed for lunch’ sign from behind the counter, along with her keys, and takes Dirthamen’s arm as they leave the shop.

“I think the end of the world is coming,” Dirthamen admits, once the door has been locked behind them.

Selene sighs.

“Again? What a nuisance,” she mutters. “We’ll have to see to that. Did you want to get coffees before we head to the park?”

Dirthamen nods.

“Yes, I would like to,” he agrees.They will have much to discuss.

Chapter Text

 

Apprenticeships are not easy to come by, these days.

Selene sighs over another letter of rejection from the guild. The third one of four - and given how long the fourth has been taking to respond, she suspects that they might not even bother to acknowledge her missive. The wording on this one is curt, too, not even bothering with the usual niceties of explaining that there are no openings or encouraging her to apply again when she has more experience, or a patron. Just a simple ‘we have rejected your request to be considered for the apprenticeship program’.

That would be the Guild of Alchemists. Not her first choice, but the one she’d had the strongest background for. She turns the letter over to look at the seal, before finally dropping it despondently into the trash.

Mirena glances over from her place at the sewing station. The new machine is whisper-quiet, and only glows very faintly from the lyrium insertions in it. It is fast and efficient, but requires a mage to operate. Hence, Selene landing this job, at least. Mirena has The Talent, too, but the whole point of an assistant is to assist, and only a very conceited seamstress would take on an employee who couldn’t operate her machinery.

“Was the a guild letter?” she asks, not unkindly.

Selene straightens her shoulder, and turns back towards the flower-shaped flourishes she is supposed to be hand-stitching.

“Just a rejected application. It’s fine,” she insists. And even if it weren’t, she’s hardly going to go crying on her employer’s shoulder. Mirena tsk’s, though, and gets up from her seat. She moves over the waste bin, and plucks Selene’s rejection letter up out of it.

“Alchemists Guild, hm?” she murmurs, before tsk’ing again. “Rude pack of chauvinists. What other places have you been applying to?”

Selene sighs.

“Arithmancer’s Guild, and the Runists, and the Architect’s Guild,” she admits.

“Architects…? Oh, magical design?” Mirena surmises. Selene nods, and watches her employer drop her rejection letter back into the bin. The consoling pat to her shoulder is well-meant, at least. She appreciates the gesture, though right now she thinks she’d rather not talk about it. The sting is still sharp, and it’s made her keenly aware of just how badly she needs this job, too. If she can’t afford to stay in the city then she and Des will have to go elsewhere.

And ‘elsewhere’ might end up being ‘back home’.

“Have you considered the seamstresses guild?” Mirena suggests. “You have some good experience now, and I could always upgrade you to an apprenticeship. You do very solid work.”

Selene tries not to sigh. It would seem profoundly ungrateful, and she isn’t. The offer is, in fact, very generous - she knows Mirena doesn’t often take on apprentices. And it’s a far better prospect than any of the others she’s gotten so far.

But… she didn’t come to the city to sew hats. She and Des came to live out their dreams. And seamstresses do not gain access to the Grand Archives, and they are not appointed to Royal Research Programs, and they do not get grants to investigate magical or scientific theories, or funds to attend conferences and symposiums in other cities. There would be worse ways to get by than making hats all day. And she would never claim that it’s not still an improvement over mixing salves in her father’s workshop, falling asleep most nights with her stomach gnawing from hunger, and her hands cracked from over-exposure to too many potent distillations.

It’s just not what she actually wants, either.

“That’s very generous of you,” she says, though, because she does need this job, and also because it is.

Mirena inclines her head, but mercifully lets the matter drop.

“Take some time to consider it,” she suggests. “How is your friend’s search going? Any better?”

Selene must shake her head at that. Des might have taken the less conventional road to finding an apprenticeship of his own, but it hasn’t availed him much. The consort’s guild rejected him - to Selene’s relief - and while it had seemed like he might be able to secure a position with some of the city performers, they had ultimately rejected him. A scam, Selene thought, in hindsight. They had taken his ‘application fee’ with no intention of ever officially registering him as an apprentice actor. Having The Talent, at least, let him get his own job in a meat packing plant.

Which has given him no dearth of puns to work into his flirtations.

But it also isn’t what he wants to be doing. Overall, though, she thinks Des has been better at making the most of things anyway.

“How is Thenvunin doing?” she asks, changing the subject towards the one topic which Mirena can always be relied upon to gush about. Her son. It works, even though she suspects her employer knows full well that she is being distracted. Selene is treated to a proud mother’s speech about her son’s recent promotion in the Royal Guard, which quickly devolves into Mirena griping about his current suitor’s unworthiness, and then into complaints about her estranged husband and his mistress. Selene makes sympathetic sounds at the appropriate intervals, even though she heard most of this all yesterday, and finishes stitching up the silk flowers for the next round of designs. The front shop is already closed, and so she needs only help Mirena tidy up a few things, then, before she can head home.

The streets are quiet, but there’s a certain tension in the air. Selene knows what it is, though. Tomorrow there’s some kind of city-wide festival is going on. Arlathan has so many that Selene can scarcely keep track of them all, it seems, but at least most of them also come with rest days. She’s not surprised when she gets home to find Des already laying out some of his nicer clothes for the morning, but she is surprised when he scoops her into a hug and swings her around in welcome.

“Selene! Things are finally looking up!” he tells her.

She hesitates, her stomach sinking as she thinks that someone must have told him that she got a reply from the Alchemists Guild, and must have also assumed that it was goodnews.

“I didn’t get the apprenticeship, Des,” she admits.

He blinks at her, and then waves a hand dismissively.

“Oh, those idiots don’t know what they’re about,” he insists. “But that’s nothing. Venavismi told me that they hardly ever accept anyone who doesn’t have a high-ranking patron or come from a noble bloodline, especially if they aren’t a man. No, I’m talking about the festival tomorrow! Do you know who’s going to be there?”

Selene blinks, simultaneously mollified and annoyed.

Des has this knack with people.

“Who?” she asks, giving up and letting out a long sigh.

“The Wizard’s Guild!” Des informs her, eyes bright.

She blinks.

“That… doesn’t sound like a real thing, Des,” she can’t help but point out. There are a lot of guilds registered with the city, and Selene had looked into them all when they arrived. Before they’d gotten here, the concept of city politics had been virtually unknown to either of them. But it certainly wasn’t now. There were mages and wizards and magical people of all descriptions, of course, but guilds were about trades. Wizards didn’t have trades. Why would they have a guild?

“No, but it is a real thing!” Des insists, though. “They’re not a city registered guild, they’re more like one of the nobility’s inner societies. Most of them serve with other guilds, too, or else they’re Royal Attendants . Some are on the Royal Advisory Council. But getting a member of the Wizard’s Guild for a patron is like a golden ticket to any magical field you want to apply to. And they can patronize anyone they want.”

“And they probably do patronize a lot of people,” Selene cannot help but mutter, cynically.

Des snorts.

“Well, you might appreciate it once I seduce one of them,” he declares. “They’re going to be watching tomorrow’s parade, and guess who secured a position as one of the dancers?”

She blinks, at that.

“Are you getting paid for it?” she wonders.

“Paid in opportunities to seduce high-ranking wizards,” Des informs her. He waggles his eyebrows.

So no actual money, then.

Selene is internally debating the pros and cons of this development. Not that she actually thinks Des will be able to seduce some high-ranking wizard, but if he spends most of the festival dancing along with the parade, then he’s probably going to end up tired and sore and stressed out by the end of it - rather than happy and relaxed after a day of actually resting and enjoying the celebrations. On the other hand, it’s not as if she’s ever been able to stop Des from doing what he wants, and if it keeps his gaze from wandering towards the back alleys and street corners where people can be found selling tiny blue vials of diluted lyrium…

She’s about to reply in overall favour of the plan, when there’s a knock at their door.

It brings them both up short. The festival is set to happen on the first of the new month.

“It’s end of the month,” Selene realizes. The rent on their room is due. She lifts up her skirts and pulls her coin purse free of her inner pockets, while Des goes and retrieves the little enchanted satchel from beneath their mattress. It bites his fingers a few times, before he remembers the charms to soothe it. Selene goes to answer the door, and sure enough, their landlord is waiting on the other side.

Elandaris Theol is not an ugly elf, technically speaking. But he makes Selene uncomfortable, and there’s something about him that puts her mind of general ugliness,all the same. He’s more slightly built than Des, though, and shorter than Selene, and he lacks The Talent. His family’s fortune comes from their trade routes. So while she’s never liked him, she’s never really considered him all that threatening, either. It’s mostly a chore to endure the way his gaze lingers on her for a moment, before slipping past her to stare at Des, where he’s still bent over and discreetly counting coins.

“Good evening,” Selene says, pointedly dragging Elandaris’ attention back to her.

“Good evening, Miss Lavellan,” Elandaris replies, folding his hands in front of himself. “I fear I have the unwelcome duty of collecting fees, this evening. A business call, not pleasure.”

“That’s fine,” Selene assures him. She turns towards Des, but mercifully he’s already heading over, his half of the rent counted and in hand. She takes it from him to offer it to Elandaris, along with a polite - if somewhat hollow - smile. “We hope you have a pleasant evening, Mister Theol.”

“I fear it may be dampened by some bad news,” Elandaris admits, only after he has pocketed their rent. “This will be your last month as my tenants. I have a notice of eviction, effective in a few days’ time. The property has been sold. Trying economic times, you understand. I do apologize for the short notice…”

Selene feels herself freeze in place for a moment, as Des snatches the eviction papers from Elandaris’ grasp.

“Short notice?!” Des snaps. “You want us out of here in days? You’re supposed to give us at least a month!”

Elandaris adopts a falsely innocent expression.

“I sent a letter weeks ago,” he claims. “I am sure you must have received it-”

“Oh you lying-”

“Des!” Selene interjects, hurriedly. She’s furious, too, but her better sense prevails in the nick of time. If Elandaris calls the city guard, the odds of it going in their favour are very low. The landlord’s from a moneyed family, and has surely paid off the guards on the patrol route through this neighbourhood. He owns several buildings here, after all. If things go badly enough they could end up tossed out onto the street now, without even a few days’ grace, and it’s already late.

Though Elandaris’ smug look makes it very, very difficult not to punch him clean in the mouth.

“If that’s all?” she asks, instead.

Elandaris inclines his head, and treats Des to another lingering look.

“I do hate to cause distress,” he claims. “If you both find yourselves without options, I might be able to help you locate other accommodations. The house on Lovely Road has a few vacancies, if need be.”

Lovely Road.

That’s a brothel. And not a reputable one.

“I’m sure we’ll be fine,” Selene grits out, and before she can lose her last thread of patience, she slams the door in Elandaris’ face.

There’s a moment of furious silence, before she hears the footfalls of the man moving off.

“Scrawny prick,” Des spits. And then, upon consideration, he actually spits directly onto the floor of their room. Selene gives him a look.

“We still have to live her for the next little while, don’t spit on our floor,” she reminds him.

“You should have let me hit him,” Des protests.

“And what, get thrown out tonight?” she counters.

He concedes the point by not really disagreeing with it, as Selene takes the evictions papers from him, and slumps into the room’s lone chair. She reads it over carefully, but the truth is, the lease she and Des agreed to was always fairly tenuous. They couldn’t afford anything better. And it’s their word against Elandaris’ that he gave them full notice, and even if they wished to contest it, they don’t have a lot of means to do so. Selene’s not entirely sure where she would begin. She supposes she could ask Mirena for help, but she’s done that so many times already…

They’ll just have to find someplace else to stay, probably. And on such short notice, without it being expensive it’s going to be very difficult.

She’s turning over their options when she looks up, and sees Des back at planning his outfit for tomorrow’s parade.

“You can’t go now,” she points out. “We need to spend tomorrow finding a new place to stay.”

“Which will be a lot easier to do if I’ve enthralled a powerful and influential wizard,” Des counters. “They usually have big houses.”

“Des, be serious,” Selene demands. “You’re not going to enthrall a rich and powerful wizard.”

“Yes I am.”

“No you’re not.”

“Ye of little faith. Don’t you think I’m seductive enough?”

Selene bites back her first response to that. It’s not that Des isn’t gorgeous - there’s a reason Elandaris tended to stare, and it’s not a mystery. But there are a lot of beautiful elves in Arlathan. However charming he may be, Selene is not at all convinced that he could win the heart of a wealthy patron over the course of a single parade. If he had thatmuch charisma, the Consorts Guild would have taken him regardless of his breeding.

But she really just… doesn’t want to get into it now. Nothing is going right for them. She can hear her father’s voice, ringing her ears, condemning her as a traitor and promising she’ll only find misery in Arlathan. She can still feel the weight of her wedding dress, constricting her like a snake. Des’ sweaty hand clutched tight in her own, and Haleir still doubled-over from chair Des had beaten him with. Her thoughts hot and her skin hot, and everything breaking, until Des’ voice had cracked through while he packed her into his wagon, along with a few scant pieces of luggage.

It’ll be alright. We’ll go. We’ll follow our dreams.

She looks around at their little room. They’ve managed to accumulate a lot more, despite their bumpy road in Arlathan. Des has some very nice clothes, and Selene has one dress that’s worthy of festivals and celebrations. She has books, and some trinkets. And a few hats, awarded to her by Mirena whenever there was a surplus of materials, and she felt ‘inspired’ to make something for Selene. A writing desk, even. Things too heavy to take with them if they have no place to carry them to. Des had traded his wagon when they first arrived, so they wouldn’t even have that to sleep in.

Des looks at her face, and then sighs, and settles down onto the arm of the chair beside her.

“Look,” he says. “The parade is in the morning. Just… let me try my plan. I do have one, you know. And if it doesn’t work, then I’ll spend the entire afternoon finding us something better…”

She swallows.

“We’re back to square one, aren’t we?” she asks. No apprenticeships, no home, and if they aren’t careful, no belongings, either. Though at least they’ll still have jobs.

“No we’re not,” Des says, firmly. “We’ve come a long ways, and we’re going to go further. I’m going to get us exactly where we need to be. Look…”

He reaches for the satchel on his belt. Selene blinks, because that’s ordinarily where he keeps his perfumes and ‘intimate oils’ and other little bottles of things that wouldn’t really be appropriate to this situation. But then he pulls out something altogether different. A vial, pink and shining. The contents liquid, but fragmented in a way that makes them look almost like carved quartz, too.

She’s never seen such a thing before in person, but she recognizes it. Reflexively, her hand comes up and covers Des’, as if to hide the intensely illegal substance from some unlikely spy.

“Des,” she hisses. “That’s-”

“I know what it is,” he tells her, and puts it away nearly as quickly as he’d produced. “It’s our big break.”

“Where did you even get love potion?!” Selene demands, in her lowest, most hissing whisper. She wouldn’t have thought her heart could sink anymore, but somehow it manages. Anyone who has ever worked with potions, even just a little, knows about love potions. Namely, that they are very, very illegal, and for very, very good reasons.

“One of the Consort Applicants had it. I picked it from their pocket,” he admits. “I was going to destroy it, but… I thought it might come in handy some day.”

“If anyone caught you with that, you would be hanged,” Selene frets.

Des sighs, and then shrugs.

“If any guard caught me with it, I would just give it to him. It’s worth a pretty penny in the right circles, and Arlathan guards are mostly corrupt anyway,” he points out, as if this is somehow a reasonable plan. “But they wouldn’t.”

“Des, you live with someone who just petitioned the Alchemists Guild for an apprenticeship. If someone caught you with that they’d think I made it!” she points out.

 

That, at least, seems to sink in. He pauses, and his expression drops. But Selene is catching up with the conversation a bit more, now. Des has a love potion. Des is talking about winning over a wizard. Des intends to use a love potion on an actual person, on a wizard.

All the blood rushes out of her face.

“You can’t possibly mean to use it?” she hisses at him.

“No!” Des protests. Then he hesitates. “Not to actually… I mean, I’m not going to actually have sex with someone. It’s infatuation in a bottle. All I need to do is win over one of the wizards, put a few droplets into his drink, and then he’ll be gone on me. These noble types develop weird obsessions all the time. Then I can just string him along until he gives us enough favours, and let the potion wear off. It’ll just seem like he got over the infatuation. He’ll move on, we’ll already have enough legs up to get off the ground, and no harm, no foul.”

Selene stares at Des for a good, long minute, before finally just dropping her face into her hands.

“Des,” she says.

“Don’t tell me it’s a terrible plan. It’s not.”

“It is!”

“How?”

“Because!” she snaps, flailing an arm out. “You could get caught! It’s unethical! The wizard could try and rape you! He could figure it out! And when the potion wore off he could decide that it was all such a scandal that he’d rather just get rid of you than risk you embarrassing him!”

“Well that’s just why I have to pick the right mark,” he insists. “Listen-”

Whatever he planned to say next, though, Selene interrupts him by reaching for the satchel. Des bats her hands away, and she struggles enough that they both get knocked out of the chair. Hands fumbling and limbs crashing awkwardly as they hit the floor. Selene struggles to get into the bag and Des struggles to keep her out of it, and soon enough the two of them are hissing at one another like they’re thirteen and Selene’s trying to pry hallucinogenic mushrooms out of his hands before he can lick them.

“Stop it!” Des tells her.

“Just let me destroy it, Des, for pity’s sake!”

“No, I need it!”

Selene’s fingers successfully fumble around the satchel, until to find it spelled shut. She tries to smash the whole bag against the floor, but it’s cushioned, too. A curse escapes her, and Des grapples her away again, and manages to get her into a strong enough hold that she gives up. Cursing again, and smacking a hand against his chest instead.

“Don’t do it,” she pleads.

Des lets out a long breath.

“Okay,” he says. And for a moment, she’s hopeful. “Okay, how about this? I’ll try it without the potion, first, and then if it doesn’t work…”

“Des!”

Selene.”

They trail off, stymied by one another’s stubbornness. Des isn’t budging, but Selene can’t move from her own position, either. Figuratively, anyway. Literally she can, and she does, shoving back and sitting up, and letting out a few long, aggravated breaths. Her dress is tangled around her legs and her hair is askew, and she’s pretty sure she’s bruised an elbow.

“This is the worst plan you’ve ever had,” she assures him.

He sighs, and sits up, too.

“I just… I just want to give us a little boost,” he argues. “The system isn’t fair, it’s all full of schemers and liars, and the people at the top are responsible for the worst of it. We’ve been playing by the rules since we got here, but the rules are made for people like those wizards, not us. They just keep us where we are, where we’re easy to take advantage of. So what if we take an unfair advantage? How many of them do you think those wizards have had by now?”

She runs a hand down her face.

“I’m not worried about the wizards, Des, I’m worried about you.”

They sit in silence for several more minutes. Selene glares at the satchel. After a few minutes, though, Des starts to scoot his way closer. And when he successfully gets in range without her shoving him away or reaching for the satchel again, he inches and arm around her, and gets his head onto her shoulder. After she lets out another sigh, and curls her fingers in his shirt, he sags against her in turn. The floor is hard beneath them, and their familiar room suddenly seems alien and uncertain.

“I’ll be careful,” he promises. “I really will. It’s all for naught if I get caught.”

He pronounces the last line in a familiar sing-song. Selene supposes it says a lot about them, that they practically have that as a theme song.

“I am strongly opposed to this plan,” she reiterates.

“…Well it’s a good thing you told me, or else I’d never have guessed.”

She pinches Des in retaliation for the sarcasm, and he snorts, but then offers her a more serious look.

“It won’t go wrong,” he swears.

Selene really, really hopes that she will not look back on this moment as being darkly ironic in any way.

Chapter Text

Des is going to make this plan work.

He has a fancy outfit, an unquestionably flawless make-up game, and a pocket full of love potion. And lube. And now he has some desperation just to season the pot and make things especially interesting, so surely, in the grand scheme of things, that can only add to his luck. Everyone knows that in stories, it’s always when you’re in legitimatetrouble that the best opportunities present themselves.

He still makes a point of getting up well before Selene wakes, though. Slipping out of the door with his best clothes on his back, and one hand habitually patching the little satchel at his belt. At least until he catches himself doing it, and forces himself to stop.

He makes his way to where the final elements for the parade are being set up. Serahlin seems surprised to see him so early, but she lets him help with getting some of the staffs that the procession is supposed to carry handed out. Des gets first pick of his own, too, and he selects the shiniest one from the bunch. Their segment of the parade is supposed to be eclectic - hence him wearing his own finery, and not a uniform. Symbols of the city or something-something, he sort of stops paying attention once it gets ramble-y. The head Parade Organizer, Tasallir, doesn’t seem to like it, but apparently he’s been out-voted. He makes Des redo his make-up, though, especially his eyeliner. A little surprising in that it apparently needs to be louder, but then again, they’re meant to be seen by a crowd.

At around mid-morning, Venavismi approaches him. Dressed in his City Guard regalia, but with a lot more tassels and things in honour of the celebration.

“Selene was looking for you,” the man says. “I didn’t realize you were in the parade, or I would have told her where to find you.”

“Secrecy avails me again,” Des replies. “Where was she?”

Vena offers him a puzzled look.

“Down by the docks, where they’re setting up the lower district parade,” he admits.

Good. She probably won’t be able to make it back across the city before the procession starts, then. Des keeps to the thick of the crowds anyway, just in case, and kills some time by complimenting everyone else’s outfits and flirting a little, until they finally get the signal to move into their assigned places. Luckily, it’s not a complicated routine, so even the complete amateurs among them manage with little fuss. The procession starts with a rising sound of music, and the banner holders at the front raising their standards, bearing the sigils of various guilds.

Des lets the adrenal build up, but he doesn’t really have to start dancing until they hit the main street.

It’s a cheerful procession. Loud - very loud, especially from where he’s standing - and colourful. Around them, windows are thrown open, and street corners are filled. Vendors taking advantage of the crowds are selling snacks and trinkets, and onlookers throw confetti and offer cheers as the special effects pre-made by the Wizards begin to go off. Light displays and illusions, magical bubbles and balloons. Des is a little bit dazzled by it himself, truth be told. Emerald snakes twist and weave overhead, before the serpents explode into ribbons and dust. Sparkling horses of silver light spring up around the dancers, and weave deftly between their movements - even when some of them move out of placement, the horses adjust as easily as the magic they’re made from. Bubbles release magical chimes and clouds of odd perfume, and bounce around, vanishing off into the crowd to elicit delighted shrieks from the children.

At first it’s a somewhat disconcerting chaos, and then it’s a very fun chaos, and by the time they’ve reached the Wizards’ Pavilion, Des is starting to feel like he’s on the wildest trip of his life. For some reason, his feet aren’t tiring, and his energy just seems to be building up more and more. At one point the floats actually begin to float. And all the dancers in his procession are suddenly partnered off with phantoms that look like their exact opposites, that begin to lead them through the next steps of the segment. Des finds himself staring at a finger with black where the whites of its eyes should be, and hair pale as his own is dark, and can admits to being a little bit intrigued. The touch of its hands is very tingly, too, like catching the static off of a balloon. It even sparks, here and there.

The procession finally reaches its end at the Wizards’ Pavilion, though. Which has been set up in the city’s central market square. The wizards themselves are arrayed atop several temporary balconies. High above the procession, as they finally drop to their knees before them. Des can hardly make out anything about the figures at all. Their balconies are covered in banners of various colours, and he gets the impression of eyes boring into him. They are wizards, so, he supposed that even from up there, they can see things however well as they like.

He does his level best to look attractively dishevelled and breathless, rather than just sweaty and exhausted. Not that he is nearly as exhausted as he would expect to be, when he thinks about how much dancing he’s just done down how many streets. The noonday sun has come and gone, and the air around them is practically crackling with residual magic. His skin has gotten covered in neon glitter at some point, and he honestly can’t even remember that happening.

After a few seconds of politely staring at the ground, he can’t resist the urge to look back up at the balconies again. The sun’s in his eyes, though, and so all he manages to see is a figure moving out to stand on a floating dais, before he has to look down again.

“Wonderful!” the figure proclaims, in smooth tones that carry throughout the pavilion. “Simply wonderful! We of the Wizards’ Guild are pleased to share the delights of magic with the City of Arlathan. It grieves us that we cannot invite all of you up for further celebrations, but alas, the Wizards’ Ball can only hold so many bodies. As ever, though, each of the Grand Wizards have selected a few charming representatives to be honoured with the gift of an invitation. If you have been chosen, simply check your pockets, and should you find yourself graced, then bring you invitation up to the Council Chamber Doors. But to all of you, invited or not, well done! You are surely the pride of Arlathan!”

Des swallows, suddenly uncertain. Invitation only? That… hurts his odds more than he’d realized. The floating blowhard on the dais retreats back towards the balconies, and gradually, the other procession members around start getting to their feet. Des follows suit, and watches as a few people move to start checking their pockets.

Can the wizards tell what people have in their pockets…?

Probably not, he thinks. It’s probably just, like, a spell to put something in their pockets, not poke around and see what’s there. There are a lot of people in the parade and around it, after all, and rifling through everyone’s stuff seems like it would be a weird way to waste time. Or to rob someone, but then, Des thinks word would get around if participating in this kind of thing tended to cost everyone all the coin on them.

He checks his own pockets, starting with the ones in his jacket, and then moving on to his pants. He’s wondering whether or not it would be wise to check the sealed pouch, with its vial of love potion, when his hand comes to one of his back pockets and he stills. Feeling a card he definitely doesn’t remember having there when he had checked his clothes over last night.

If Selene just left him a note reminding him not to be an idiot, he’s going to be sorely disappointed.

Just as Des is about check, though, someone lets out a cry of triumph and holds up… something. An invitation, he guesses. They’re immediately mobbed, the crowd around them pressing closer, demanding to see. Some of the guards start pressing their way in through the throngs, too, clearly expecting a certain amount of chaos. Des is all for starting some trouble, but discretion might be the wiser course. Just for now. He pulls back through the crowd a little, heading towards the buildings encircling the square, and waits until he’s pretty sure that no one is paying him any particular attention. And then he slides the card from his back pocket, and into his palm. And he looks at it as discreetly as he can.

You have been cordially invited to-

Des can’t help it. He lets out a whoop of triumph, and pumps a fist into the air. And almost at once the people around him turn towards him, and in the span of a few seconds, he’s being badgered with requests to see the invitation, and offers to buy it from him, and hands reaching with a fervour that even he doesn’t entirely appreciate. He back off only to find himself surrounded, and someone even goes as far as to grab his wrist before a booming voice intercedes.

“Alright, alright!” Guard Captain Victory says. “Back off, people, now. There’s no point in stealing invitations, the wizards know who they gave them to.”

A few voices protest the implication that they had robbery on their minds. The reaching hand is removed, though, and Des lets out a breath of relief. A strange thing to feel, over gaining the attention of the guard. Victory puts an arm around his shoulders, and he reclaims enough of his usual verve to offer him a wink.

“My hero,” he says, with some batted eyelashes for good measure.

The Guard Captain huffs.

“I am a married man, sir,” he says. “And you have trouble written all over you. If you would take some advice, you might consider going home, and leaving the wizards to themselves.”

“And what would be the fun in that?” Des wonders. Though he cannot escape the oddest impression that he is being warned of something, somehow.

After a moment, though, he brushes it off. The Guard Captain doesn’t so much as look at the pouch containing his illicit goods, and after a few minutes they are join by several other members of the guard. Obviously escorting equally indiscreet invitees towards the high tower at the end of the square, where the wizards’ celebration is apparently being held. Des notes that it’s a fairly diverse range of people, though most are from the parade, and all are very attractive. He takes a moment to look more clearly at his invite. The card shimmers, in the light, and seems to glow as they come closer to the doorway. And it has his name written on it - though only the name he’s used in the city, and not his clanname, or the given name he had there.

Whether the wizards don’t know such, or Des doesn’t have much right to them anymore, is a little harder to say. Perhaps the wizards are actually tactful?

He supposes he will find out.

A woman at the door with a magnificent axe and a truly impressive disposition directs him to put his invitation through a slot in the door. Des does, and the door shimmers. Turning into a soft blue waterfall of magic, that he is directed, by way of a gesturing, to walk through.

He holds his breath while he does. Possibly not strictly necessary, but he doesn’t really think twice about it, either.

And then he blinks, and the waterfall gives way to something like looks more like an elaborate ballroom than the interior of Arlathn’s Civics Building. Which is, if memory serves, what the tower generally is when there aren’t any wizards using it. Turning back, Des finds open air behind him, that leads towards an archway and several balconies. No door. A few more guests appear in nearby alcoves, and he moves aside as some shimmering starts near to him; just in time to avoid colliding with another new arrival.

That can’t hold his attention for long, though. Because the ballroom beyond, amid the sparkling lights and floating glass orbs, and what seem to be actual butterflies, is a splendid display.

Figures in elaborate masks and finery move between astonishing art displays, and tables piled high with feast foods, as haunting music plays. As fancy as the parade had been, this party is obviously more lavish by far. Ice sculptures carved in the shape of griffons and dragons, lions and halla, actually move atop their pedestals. Striking poses, and turning shining heads towards nearby guests. Snow falls from the ceiling - or at least, Des thinks it’s snow, until he gathers some onto his fingers and finds that it’s a soft sort of glitter instead. It sticks to his skin for a moment, before vanishing away. Beyond the balconies, the world seems to have slipped into night. And in the center of the room, gilded pools are filled with some kind of magical water. It rises up, every few moments, and projects images that seem to be depicting celebrations and parades and other displays from other places.

Des is nearly overwhelmed.

Nearly.

He has not made much of a move towards the throngs of wizards, though, when a figure comes up beside him, and threads their arm through his own.

Des blinks, and double-takes at the unexpected presumption. The person who has approached him is absolutely gorgeous, though. Golden skin, and long blonde hair, and stirring blue eyes that are framed by a golden mask. A matching colllar adorns his neck, and he is draped in soft, shining fabric that seems designed to draw the eye. At Des’ curious look, he smiles.

“Welcome,” he says. “My Master has chosen you as one of his guests.”

“Master?” Des asks, raising an eyebrow. “You are an apprentice, Mister…?”

“Grandeur,” the man replies. “Mister Grandeur, though just Grandeur will do. And I am a servant of his Impeccable Lordship, whose attention you have managed to gain. You must forgive wizards a few conceits. Lord Falon’Din prefers to be addressed as ‘Master’. Considering the forces at his command, one can hardly claim it inappropriate of him.”

“Hm,” Des replies, given to the sudden, strange impression that he should start running.

But a few red flags won’t deter him yet. This Falon’Din might have invited him, but the party is full of wizards, and it’s doubtful the man will take enough interest to chain Des at his side. This is probably all formalities, he decides, as Grandeur gently but firmly starts to lead him towards a particular corner of the magnificent chamber. Where, Des notes, there are a fair few others who might pass as the man’s siblings and cousins. If Des had ever known actual siblings and cousins to style themselves all in the same general way, and wear odd, matching collars.

More and more red flags.

They pass several dancing statues, and then come to a halt at the feet of a small dais. Gilded skulls line the base, and a beautiful man sits upon what is very nearly a throne, as a few servants attend to him.

Des can admit, there is no denying the wizard’s looks are a match for any of the lovely servants arrayed around him. Though where they trend towards slightness and delicacy, he has obviously chosen to emphasis power and intimidation in his self-presentation. His clothing is all black, and his mask has the look of an owl’s skull. Blond hair tumbles down towards the floor, shimmering like the magical waterfall which Des had walked through. And his eyes are the very brightest of blues.

Never let it be said that Des can’t read a room. He retrieves his arm from Grandeur in order to drop the most servile bow he can manage, while the wizard stares down at him with enough intensity to bore a hole through his head. The man stands, and is at the base of his little throne before Des has even managed to straighten back up.

A black-nailed hand closes around his chin, and lifts his face. Des freezes, and for a second is sure that he has been frozen, too. Nothing in him moves, and nothing in him breathes, as cold blue eyes scrutinize him. Turning him over in a way that makes him feel like a horse up for sale.

He doesn’t like the implications, there.

“You do look like him,” Falon’Din murmurs, after a moment.

“…Uhm,” Des manages, as his chin is released. He clears his throat, and remembers himself. Right. Party. Wizards. Playing them for chumps - he feels less bad about that, really, looking around. Though Selene’s point about the potential dangers feels more prescient than it had in the quiet of their little rented room.

“Thank you for your invitation, my lord,” he says, and ducks another bow.

Falon’Din stares at him.

“I resemble someone…?” Des ventures, into the awkward silence.

Falon’Din keeps staring, and lift a finger to his mouth. Folding his arms. He is very, very tall, Des notes, and there is something in his countenance - especially up close - that is terrifying. On one of those deep, primal levels. Like being stuck in a room with a hungry tiger.

After a moment, the wizard lowers his hand.

“You look like my brother,” he says. “Dirthamen. He died, not long ago. I have been searching for someone to help ease my grief.”

Oh.

Brother, hm?

Maybe Des could work with that, he thinks, for a hot second. Until Falon’Din looks at him again. And then he feels like he would rather be anywhere else on the planet, than standing right in front of this man. This wizard.

Are they all like this? How many of the pretty people in the crowds are servants, like Grandeur? Are the wizards all collected in the discreet corners and behind various archways, sitting on their thrones, making strange requests and looming threateningly?

And Des ordinarily likes them tall…

“You have my sincerest condolences, what an awful loss,” he says.

“It was,” Falon’Din agrees. “Killing him was the worst day of my life.”

“Ah. You killed him. That must have been… difficult,” Des ventures.

Holy shit. This man is completely out to lunch.

“It was,” he says, heading back up towards his throne. “Few people appreciate that. It was what was needed, at the time. But the time has come and gone, and now I must live with the grief and the wound his absence has created in my life. No one else has ever understood me the way he did. I have sacrificed all that was most precious to me, to reach the heights that I am destined for. But it is so burdensome to be without him, sometimes.”

Des takes several unconscious steps back, before he nearly bumps into a few, distinctly more-armoured-looking Golden People who are now standing behind him.

…Worrying.

Falon’Din gestures towards said armoured Golden People.

“Congratulations,” he says. “You are worthy of the honour of my attentions. Guards, escort him to my private rooms.”

Des swallows.

“That is remarkably flattering, and I won’t say I’m not interested, but I was hoping to spend see some more of thub plaaaa…”

He trails off as his tongue suddenly seems as though it’s trying to tie itself into knots rather than form words. Two guards behind him take firm hold of his arms, and begin to steer him towards a pair of doors near to Falon’Din’s throne. Despite some sincere efforts, Des finds that he is entirely unable to move his limbs the way he wants to. His feet lift slightly off of the ground, and he is set to hovering, his arms remaining limp and caught in the grasp of his escorts.

A pair of gilded double-doors open, and Des hadn’t thought that there were any more red flags left to go up. But there are an awful lot of cages and skulls and… a blood fountain, he’s pretty sure, for a bedroom. Plus a wall full of weapons.

He swallows as the doors close behind them, and the guards cart him over a corner of the room that had been mostly hidden by a partition.

Yet another golden, collared figure is waiting there. She gives Des a pitying look, as the guards deposit him into a chair in front of a floor-length mirror, and a table filled with obvious make-up supplies and hair kits. He manages to swallow, as the latest Golden Person sighs, and then gestures at the guards.

Who move off, by the sound of their footfalls.

“Poor thing,” she says to him, in a tone he likes not at all.

It reminds him of the way some of the clan had spoken to Selene, when they thought no one else could hear it. When they getting her ready for her wedding. Most had celebrated, and congratulated her, and talked about what a great catch Haleir was. But a few had shot her looks like that. Like they guessed what she was in store for, like they wanted to say something, but were biting back the sorts of comments that might ‘make trouble’.

Des was never really inclined to that, himself. He was always getting into trouble anyway, why hold back when it actually might matter?

Once again, he finds an unfamiliar elf taking his face in hand. This time more gently, though, and the bright eyes that look at him are softer in their countenance. More elven, he thinks. Less like a block of ice someone has chipped out into the shape of a person.

“What did he…” he manages to get out, though it seems to steal all of his breath to do so.

“Listen,” the woman says, quietly. She shoots a glance up towards the way they came in by, and then looks back down at him again. “Here’s you what you do. Stay quiet. If he prompts you, agree with him. Keep your tone flat and do not take off the mask I give you. Do what he wants you to, and you might make it through the night long enough to sneak out come morning. Do not fall asleep. Wait until he does, then head for the hall. The guards will not stop you, but you must be quick. Find Melarue, or someone who knows them. Look for snakes and scale patterned clothes, and a dark-haired elf with peacock-coloured eyes.”

Des blinks.

Hot.

But also terrifying.

The woman pats his cheek, then, and nods, before she gives him her own look of scrutiny. And then she picks a brush up from the table, and begins to paint his face. Subtly, he notes, as he can only sit and watch it happen through the mirror. Or at least he thinks it is subtle. But after a while the brush strokes begin to tingle, and his features being to shift in ways that seem too dramatic for contouring. Particularly given that this doesn’t seem to be contouring him at all. A low, slow drag of the brush, and Des finds his cheekbones shifting, and his nose altering shape. Another, across his eyes, changes those too. Shape and colour both. He swallows as his face goes slightly numb, and the reflection he sees in the mirror becomes… off. Different. Like a different person, still similar enough that a person could mistake them in the dark, but definitely not Des.

Rather, he looks distinctly more like the imposing wizard outside.

By the end of it, he wouldn’t think it was his own reflection, except that he’s still wearing his same clothes.

That doesn’t last long, though. When she’s done painting his face into someone else’s, the helpful golden elf bids the guards come back, and assist her in manhandling Des into a different outfit. Black. Tight-fitted, at first, with a structured top and a thick belt and heavy tights. But then a heavy, richly embroidered robe is layered over that, with a hood that settles over his head and a plain white mask that seems to defeat the whole purpose of the face painting by covering it all up. They take all of his clothing and purses and pouches away, but in a quick move while the make-up artist is talking to the guards about where to put him, he snatches the pouch back out of his clothing pile and stuffs it into his sleeve.

Then they drag him over to a seating section in the horrifying bedroom, and settle him into one of the chairs.

A few not-golden servants show up, before long. Carrying trays of refreshments and food that looks comparable to the delicacies that were arranged in the main hall. Despite the tantalizing scents that reach him, though, Des finds he has no appetite.

Well, he can’t imagine why. It’s not like his stomach is twisting itself into knots or anything.

Alright, he tells himself. You’re dressed up as the crazy wizard’s brother. So. At least the odds of him raping you are pretty low, right?

 

…Right?

Des considers the various layers of the madness that seem to have been worked into this situation, and reluctantly admits to himself that he probably can’t make any safe assumptions. Just went he is beginning to wonder how the succulent skewers of meat are staying hot without drying out, he notices that some feeling is beginning to get back into his limbs.

But while he is discreetly considering his odds of making it to a window, the chamber doors bang open.

Falon’Din strides in.

“Leave us,” he demands.

The servants all hurry out, with a speed that Des can’t really hold against them, but is definitely going to envy. He shifts himself in his seat a bit, and flexes his fingers, and the wizard makes his way over to the seat opposite of his own. He slumps into it, flinging one leg over the armrest, and grabbing up an entire bundle of grapes in one hand. Des swallows as the man starts eating with only slightly more grace than a starved dog.

“Father came to this party, again,” Falon’Din says. “The man no longer holds the title of ‘wizard’, and Mother swears she did not invite him. But she probably did. She’s weak to his authority, of course. He invited another gaggle of children up from some city near the border. You should have seen Sylaise’s face when she realized she would have to take down her erotic displays. That almost made up for it.”

Des swallows.

Okay. Alright. He can deal with being whined at for an evening. This isn’t so bad, and he’s not foolish enough to discard the advice he was given. Say nothing unless prompted, and then just agree. That seems like the sort of thing this man would prefer.

“Of course then we had snot-nosed brats sticking their hands into everything, with Father laughing about it all and refusing to curtail them. I nearly toppled an ice sculpture onto one of them. I would have, if it was worth the trouble. But that wretched snake, Melarue, kept watching me, with their ragtag entourage.” He scowls, and finishes off his grapes.

“One day,” he says. “I am going to get my hands on that pretty little son of theirs. Alen, or whatever his name is. The one with the eyes. I am going to enjoy breaking him in. Maybe I’ll even do it in front of that oafish husband of his. The one Father favours so much. ‘Like the son I always wanted!’ Bah. The son he always wanted is some cursed child stuck in eternal youth, perpetually hanging off his every word and begging for toys.”

Des fights back a grimace. And then remembers he’s wearing a mask, and doesn’t bother.

Falon’Din spits a mouthful of grape seeds onto the floor. He lifts one perfectly manicured hand, and picks at his teeth, before tearing into the meat.

“And there is still no word on where my Glory has been stolen to. If I find out Melarue had a single thing to do with that, I’m going to kill them the slowest way possible.”

“The slowest way possible would just be letting them live a long and full life,” Des quips, before he remembers that this is probably the worst thing he could say.

Falon’Din looks at him, and he immediately regrets opening his mouth. He reaches for the glass in front of him, before it occurs to him that he’s probably not supposed to eat, and definitely not supposed to take off his full-face mask. He tries to transition the gesture into filling Falon’Din’s goblet for him instead.

After a moment, the wizard smiles.

It is not a nice expression.

“Do you know what I am going to do to you?” he asks.

Des doesn’t think he should just say ‘yes’, in this case. After a moment of internal debate, aborting all possible quips and a solid ninety percent of his usual personality in the name of survival, he manages a minute shake of his head.

Falon’Din picks up his goblet.

“First, I am going to talk to you,” he says. “Because I miss talking with my brother. And then I am going to beat you senseless. Because you are not my brother. And then, furthermore, because you are not my brother, I am going to drag you into my bed and fuck you to death. And you are not going to enjoy it. But I will.”

Falon’Din puts his goblet back down.

Des stares at him, with his unnerving smile, and his utter self-assurance, and discovers that his legs can’t move.

“Is that how you killed your brother?” he wonders, because apparently he is every inch as foolish as Selene ever accused him of being.

Falon’Din draws in a breath, and then before Des can blink, rears back his left arm and punches him in the head. Hard enough to make him see stars, and hard enough that he hears his nose crack beneath the mask. He lets out a cry of pain before he can stop himself. Veering sideways in his chair, but not managing to escape it, as pain spreads across his skull.

Falon’Din takes another drink from his goblet, and eats some more meat.

After a minute, he points at Des with the skewer.

“You know what is funny? You are not necessarily out of character,” he says. “My brother always asked inappropriate questions, and made unsuitable observations. He thought he was terrible at making friends. The truth is, I scared away anyone who looked at him twice. He was mine, you see, and I have never been much for sharing.”

Des swallows, and presses a hand gingerly to his face, as he straightens back up in the chair. Something warm trickles down towards his neck.

Blood, probably.

“Really, it might help the illusion, except your voice sounds nothing like his,” Falon’Din carries on. He looks coldly at Des, then. “So I think I have heard enough of it. You just sit there, and let me do the talking.”

Des is going to die.

The wizard launches into more petty rambling and complaints, while Des sits there, and processes just how badly this has all gone. He’s going to die, because a crazy wizard thought he looked a bit like his dead brother. And Selene… Selene is going to be alone, in the city. With nowhere to live and no one to look out for her. Will she even know what happened to him? Probably not. She might think he just left, that he got his lucky break and abandoned her.

If Falon’Din intends to kill him, then he won’t make it until morning, like that make-up person advised. If that was even really ever a thing he had a shot at. And Falon’Din now seems pretty keen on killing him.

Des stares at the table.

At the… wine, on the table.

Really, now, he thinks, he just needs to buy time.

As Falon’Din lounges across his chair, staring up at the ceiling and complaining about his sisters, Des reaches into his sleeve and pulls out the pouch he’d secreted away there. He watches the wizard, and focuses on keeping his movements subtle and indistinct, as he slowly opens the pouch. The vial he needs feels warm. He closes his palm around it, to disguise the glow.

Getting his goblet discreetly off the table is trickier. He manages it while Falon’Din wrathfully gesticulates about the injustice of even having younger sisters, though, and dumps the contents of the vial inside of it.

Then he summons up his reserves of devil-may-care in order to switch the spiked goblet with Falon’Din’s own, the first moment it empties, and fill it for him again.

The wizard glances askance at him, once the goblet is full.

Des hesitates.

For a moment he is absolutely certain that he’s been caught. His heart lodges into his throat, and he tries not to think about how he’s probably going to die. That’s not a fun thought. Not a good place to be. He should focus on something else, while he’s being gruesomely murdered. Like hugs, or puppies, or the look on Selene’s face when he does something really funny even though she doesn’t quite want to admit that it’s funny but it absolutely is.

“Your mask is crooked,” Falon’Din tells him, as he picks up the goblet. “Dirthamen never let it be crooked.”

Des reaches up, and winces as he rearranges it, despite his almost-definitely-broken nose.

Falon’Din drinks.

He holds his breath.

“…So as I was saying,” the man continues. “Andruil keeps drinking out of the fucking thing, to mock me, without even realizing that cannibalism is not the power move she seems to think…”

Dammit.

Dammit, damn, dammit. It’s not working. The potion was a fake, or it doesn’t work on wizards, or this particular wizard is such a soulless demon that there’s nothing for the stupid fucking potion to work with in the first place. Des tries to take deep breaths, but he doesn’t seem to be capable of it. His pulls in increasingly shallow ones, as he tries to get his legs to move. His heart beating faster and faster.

He’s going to die.

Shit, shit, shit.

He’s going to die even sooner than this asshole expects because he can’t fucking breathe.

He lifts a hand to the mask, as his head swims, and his fingers scramble for a moment at the smooth bottom seam of it. Where does it come off? He doesn’t know, he didn’t even put it on. He takes in a few more hasty, panicked breaths, before spots begin to dance in front of his vision. The room tilts.

The next thing he knows, he’s drawing in a gasping breath.

Falon’Din is leaning over him. Waterfall hair coiling over Des, as his eyes bore into him, and the mask clatters to the floor next to him. There’s something on Des’ chest. A hand, he realizes. Glowing faintly, with some kind of magic that makes his lungs tingle, as he draws in deep gulps of air.

The wizard frowns at him. Like he is a bug, and the man can’t figure out why he hasn’t squished him yet.

“I’m not through with you,” he decides.

“…Right,” Des allows.

Is this a reprieve, he wonders, or did he just trade a quick death for something a lot more painful?

After a moment, Falon’Din reaches down, and actually helps him up. Des is not an expert, but based on what he’s seen, that seems… atypical? And the man looks slightly perplexed by his own actions, too. His nose wrinkles for a moment, and he does some more staring. Before he reaches over, and takes Des’ chin in his hand again. And then he gestures with the other. Something sharp and painful sparks across his face.

His nose cracks, and resets. And his skin tingles. Falon’Din lets him go, and thrusts a cloth napkin at him.

“Clean yourself up,” he instructs.

Des discreetly spits on the napkin, and then scrubs as the blood he can feel on his face. His legs tingle with a horrifying amount of pins and needles, but when he finally sits back down again, he finds that he can move them. Falon’Din stares at him, and stares at him, and Des decides to stare back.

How do you tell if a love potion is working?

He should have asked Selene that. She probably would have told him, before she realized that she shouldn’t.

Probably… testing it, he thinks? That’s either going to be incredibly stupid or the only thing left, really, and on balance, Des would rather die sooner than live in inexorable tension. He glances at the table, and then back at Falon’Din.

“May I talk?” he wonders.

Falon’Din sucks at his teeth, and leans back in his chair.

“You may,” he decides. “If you mind your tone.”

Right.

He’s going to have to play this well from now on. Pour on the charm. This wizard might be the exact wrong kind of wizard for it, but Des has lied through his teeth before. And seduced people he probably shouldn’t have. This is familiar territory, even if it’s really, really not.

He smiles.

Falon’Din wrinkles his nose again.

“Your sisters, I must say, seem unworthy of any bloodline that could produce someone of your calibre,” Des ventures, as sycophantically as possible.

Falon’Din stares a moment more, before nodding in agreement.

“Most of my family is unworthy of me,” he agrees. “Though they still vastly outrank the likes of you.”

“Of course,” Des agrees. “I’m a nobody, just fortunate enough to be graced with your regard.”

At that, Falon’Din smirks.

“You learn,” he notes.

“My lord commends my observational skills. I am touched.”

“But I wonder if those observational skills have perceived my greatness, or merely realized that your entire survival hinges upon my good graces?” Falon’Din wonders.

Des presses a hand to his chest.

“My lord has already consigned me to death,” he says. “What would I gain by feigning admiration? But you must know, until tonight I had never met a great man before. I am just a simple country elf, surrounding by dazzling things. It takes time for the inexperienced to recognize quality.”

“It does indeed,” Falon’Din agrees. He glances at his goblet. Des’ nerves spike as his expression turns shrewd, and he taps his fingers against the table. “But I don’t believe you. You have stumbled upon a truth incidentally. You have seen no signs of my greatness; how could you perceive it?”

Des swallows.

“I have been listening to you talk all evening, my lord, and it seems-”

Falon’Din stands up.

“Enough,” he says. “You will see it. Won’t you? If I show you. You will see me for what I am. I can tell. I did not notice it past the resemblance to my brother before, but you have that spark. It is what draws me to people. I will show you what you need to see, to make you understand whose company you are in.”

…That sounds… bad.

But slightly more promising than being fucked to death.

Des gets up, as Falon’Din clearly means for him to. Wobbling a little on legs that still feel half made out of jelly. The wizard leans in towards him, looking him over. And then he secures a heavy arm, like an iron band, around Des’ waist. Sniffing at his hair for a moment, before yanking him over to the bedchamber’s blood fountain.

He drops Des onto some nearby cushions, and Des resists the urge to wrinkle his nose at the strong scent of iron in the air.

Falon’Din gestures to the fountain.

“Do you know what this is?” he asks.

“Blood?” Des ventures.

Power,” Falon’Din corrects. “Power drawn from death. The ultimate power; the only power that matters, in the end. Death defeats all, save those who defeat death.”

Des tries not to make a face at the utter tackiness of that line, as Falon’Din steps up towards the rim of the fountain. And then he watches, increasingly unnerved, as the man gestures at the blood. Which begins to warp and distort itself. Forming odd shapes, and flashing with internal magic. Like a small series of storms, igniting within it until the scent in the air begins to change. And the blood itself does, too, shifting from red to gold, to gleaming white. Forming into a a concentrated orb, at the top of the fountain. The ball remains no bigger than a fist, but more and more blood seems to pour into it. Until the fountain goes quiet; stained and empty, but for a single light that is bright enough that Des finds he can’t stare directly at it. Like a miniature sun.

“Look,” Falon’Din says, though. And in the name of survival, he does his best, as the orb levitates over to hover about the wizard’s hands. Falon’Din’s own ice blue eyes seem to have no trouble in staring directly at it.

“All things come from stars,” the wizard claims.

Des likes stars, but that seems pretty unlikely.

“And in their essence, they can be returned to them,” Falon’Din nevertheless carries on. “To the power that forges the firmament of the universe itself. Do you see? I am not a wizard. Not truly. I am a god.”

He’s a man who made a bunch of blood into a ball of light.

But now’s probably not the time for brutal honesty. Des sucks in a breath, and puts on his very best look of awe and wonderment. He thinks of multiple orgasms and edible body paint and that spicy mead that Ess serves in her tavern every other week, and other good and noble and amazing things, as he stares not-quite-at the big ball of light in the fucked up wizard’s hands.

“You really are,” he whispers in awe.

Falon’Din smirks triumphantly.

And then he motions some kind of violent twisting around the orb of light, and breaks it apart. Scattering shards throughout the room, that actually do look sort of pretty, Des supposes, as they suspend themselves midair. Flickering like lanterns, and drifting slowly - very, very slowly - towards the floor.

Falon’Din walks over to him, and looms over him.

“What is your name?” he asks.

Des hesitates. But his name was on the invitation. So this might be a trick, he reasons.

“Des,” he answers, simply.

“Des,” Falon’Din hums. He leans down, and closes a hand over his throat. Des freezes. But the man doesn’t squeeze, at least. Simply looking at him and breathing on him, and holding him tight enough to deter him from moving. Des would be close enough to stab him, if he had anything pointy enough. But would that work? The man keeps going on about defeating death, after all, and he’s in what looks to be several layers of heavy clothing. Probably enchanted.

Heck, given the way he stared at that light, his eyeballs are probably enchanted.

“I think you might live another night,” Falon’Din decides.

That’d be the love potion, then, Des is pretty sure.

He lets out a careful breath.

“Thank you,” he says.

Falon’Din leans in. Des closes his eyes and does his best not to flinch, as the man presses his lips to his. And then sticks his tongue in his mouth, and waggles it around in a way that he’d honestly laugh about, under different circumstances. As it is, Des only feels nauseous, with a taste of blood at the back of his throat when Falon’Din finally pulls back. And lets go of his throat.

“I need to look into some things,” the wizard declares. “And you are not trusted, yet. Get into one of the cages.”

Des lets out a shaky breath, and looks towards the cages in the room. He pulls himself to his feet. Honestly, creepy as the things are, he thinks this is a better deal than the bed right now. But… how’s he supposed to get out to find Melarue?

He glances back, once, as he passes the bars.

Falon’Din watches him, and when he keeps on watching, Des goes so far as to close the cage door. Maybe if he does it himself, it won’t get locked? But when he does, the wizard nods in approval, and produces a key from his pocket. He scoops up a few of the cushions from near the blood fountain, too, and shoves them between the bars. Then he locks the cage door, and treats Des to another long, contemplative look-over.

“Is there anyone you love?” the wizard asks.

Des stills, and his heart sinks into his stomach.

Selene.

“No,” he says, with all the confidence he can muster. “No one.”

Falon’Din tilts stares at him through the bars.

And then smirks.

“We’ll see,” he decides.

Des feels the ice in his veins at the man turns, then, and heads back out of the bedchamber. Shouting for his servants, and some people by name. He presses at the bars, as soon as he’s gone, and tests the door, and even tries to see if he can fit through some of the wider parts. But there’s some kind of tingling barrier between the bars, and putting his hand through them for more than a few seconds starts to burn and then burn, until he’s forced to snatch the limb back. Nothing moves, not so much as a wiggle, as he tests every bar. The lock has no give. The door doesn’t waver; sealed shut as if it’s just another row of bars.

Eventually, he gives up. Settling into the middle of the cage, and slumping down towards the floor.

Selene.

Oh, no.

Chapter Text

Selene has a choice.

She can either spend all day trying to find Des and stop him from doing something stupid and illegal, or, she can spend all day trying to find them a new place to live and making sure they don’t lose everything when Elandaris kicks them out onto the street.

Life experience has taught her which approach is probably going to bear more fruit. Des can, in theory, look after himself, and in a pinch… he usually doesn’t make the worst possible decisions. Always. Mainly.

So Choice Number Two it is.

Although Selene doesn’t completely discard the first problem, either. She wakes up in the morning to find Des gone, along with his nicest clothes, and the sun still coming up. Dressing, she hurries to one of the places she knows the parade preparations are going on. But Des isn’t there. She even asks a few of the city’s guards - mostly because they know how the streets are being organized - but no one has seen him. And the parade is starting in different places all over the city, with the various branches of the procession converging on different streets, before they all make their way to the same final destination.

Selene decides her best bet is to just wait until the parade is done, and then go and try to find Des in the main square afterwards. And in the meantime…

In the meantime, she has to find them a place to live.

Because there is no chance whatsoever that Des’ absolutely insane plan is going to magically solve all of their problems. That isn’t how life works.

So, she goes back to their room, and gathers up everything that she can reasonably fit into a large bag, and that they couldn’t stand to lose. She takes it to the hat shop, and stows it in the back room. She already feels tired. Most places are closed for the parade, either by choice or simply because too much of the street is blocked off for them to do otherwise. The hat shop is no exception, and she doesn’t know where Mirena has gotten to. But at least the festivities mean that there are a lot of people on the streets, and making inquiries eventually leads her to some who might have rooms for rent.

It takes a lot of walking, though.

Selene feels like she must have crossed the whole of the city twice over before midday, and while she does track down a few people, nobody wants to ‘talk business’ on a holiday. To make matters worse, all the festivities mean that a lot of shorcuts and easy routes are walled off with bright banners and cheery stalls selling over-priced trinkets.

It means that even though Selene had thought herself quite used to the city, she gets turned around and lost on some odd street more than once.

And all the cheer and the celebrating and the bright, blinding displays popping up between buildings just seem to mock her misfortune. Wizards. They are all hypocrites. All just concerned with themselves and their own power, like the people in charge of the city. Her feet hurt and her calves ache, and she stumbles down a dark alleyway that she doesn’t even know the direction of, trying to find her way back onto the main road so she can go and track some some other well-to-do landlord who will probably just chortle and tell her to ‘leave that sort of thing for tomorrow’, again…

Her hip bangs against a garbage pail. The sound seems to echo down the long alleyway. It brings her up short, as she hears a certain oddness to it. It doesn’t carry right. Instead the soft clatter of metal against brick seems to chime upwards. Getting lost in the eaves of the nearby buildings. Selene’s eyes trail upward, too. Drawn in by the deep shadows lining the edges of the alleyway.

Should it be so dark?

It’s midday, after all. The sun is high. The slight stiffness of the skin at the top of her cheekbones attests to it. But the shadows around the buildings seem thick and deep and dark. Almost mesmerizing. She stares up, and up, until she notices a blackness rising from her own shadow in the corner of her eye. Something that makes all the hairs on the back of her neck stand at attention.

She starts moving again.

Swiftly. Forgetting her sore feet as she heads for the end of the alleyway. The clattering sound comes again, and she tries to tell herself that it must only be a cat, as the shadows thicken behind her and she feels eyes on the back of her neck. Don’t look back, don’t look back, don’t look, don’t look…

Everyone knows, in a city like Arlathan, ‘don’t look’ is the best favour you can do yourself.

But her heart is speeding up, and her steps feel like they are slowing down. No matter how hard she tries to speed them up. Her footwraps slip open, and her breaths come shorter. The end of the alley seems further and further away…

Until a raven caws. And then, like a snap of her fingers, she’s there. Stumbling out onto yet another side street, nearly losing her footing until she feels an arm link with her own. She nearly yanks herself away, until she looks, and sees a figure who is not made of shadow. A tall man in smart suit, with a colourful pink cloak around his shoulders, and a face that looks like it might have been carved from porcelain…

Or, no.

Not a face, but a mask. The skin around it is a different shade, and the pink and yellow patterns that frame the features are paint, not make-up.

“Steady,” the stranger says, in a soft voice. “Keep moving. It has not lost sight of you yet.”

Selene swallows, and lets him tug her down the street. The feel of eyes still pressing against her back.

“What is it?” she asks. The stranger keeps his gaze straight ahead, and so she does the same. Is he a wizard, she wonders? But no, surely no member of the guild would be wandering around random street corners, rescuing peasants from… things.

Or even if they were, they would probably decline to touch said peasants.

“It is a bad dream,” the stranger says, speeding up. Her tired legs struggle to keep pace. “Sometimes they follow me. My apologies for the inconvenience; but we should upwards to avoid it. They do not like the open air.”

“The open-?”

Selene has barely gotten the question out before the stranger shifts his grip on her, and closes an arm around her waist, and then leaps…

Her breath stutters for an entirely different reason. Eyes widening as they are both launched into the air. Higher than any normal jump could account for, or even, in her mind, any abnormal jump. A few shadows lash at their ankles, but they do not reach further the floating banners and balloons. Once-distant decorations that Selene now finds close enough to touch.

She grips the stranger more tightly. The ground shrinks beneath them.

“It is alright,” he says. Something dark seems to flutter beneath his bright pink cloak, to her alarm. But when she looks, instead of shadows, she just sees feathers.

“What are we…? How do we get down safely?” she wonders.

The man moves, walking as if the air is just some other roadway that he might take a stroll across. Close as they are, his cheek is nearly press to her cheek, as he squeezes one of her hands reassuringly.

“As simply as we got up,” he tells her. “Relax. It is the magic holding you up, not my arms.”

He coaxes her into moving a little. And Selene blinks, as her mind catches up with her. And she finds that, in fact, she can feel the levitation spell around them. Like the faint hum of a distant beehive. Though it feels almost the same way that a cloud looks. The stranger shifts his grip, as her own eases some. He takes her by the hands, resuming a more courteous and polite set of gestures, while Selene mimics his movements.

And walks on air.

A relieved breath escapes her. And then a laugh, that manages to almost be delighted.

“I… I suppose you are a wizard,” she says.

The stranger’s head tilts. It’s hard to tell, through the mask, but she thinks she might have said the wrong thing.

He only sighs, though.

“Not officially,” he tells her. “Truth be told, I should not be here.”

Selene blinks.

“You are not a member of the guild?” she guesses, and cannot keep the sympathy from her voice.

“No,” he confirms.

A long breath escapes her. The wind curls around their ankles, and a few bright balloons meander cheerfully past them.

“It’s alright. I’m not in any guilds either,” she says. “It’s all corrupt anyway.”

“It is,” the stranger agrees.

Their steps carry them over to one of the nearby balconies, then. Migrating back downwards. Selene looks for signs of odd shadows. But the building the stranger stops them at is a cheerfully bright and seemingly-undisturbed restaurant. Empty for the day, tables pushed aside, but stairs still open to the main street below. Her feet stutter a little. And then she finds her rhythm, and simply steps onto the balcony as if walking down from a cart. They stranger manages to balance himself on the very narrow railing. Still light as a feather.

He lets go of her hands.

Selene regards him for a moment. Not certain what to say. She finds herself charmed and curious at once, despite everything. Drawn in by the glimpse of his eyes behind the porcelain mask.

Then the man bows.

“The shadows should not trouble you any more,” he says.

“Thank you,” Selene replies.

“It was no trouble. I wish you luck, Miss…?”

She opens her mouth to reply - and to ask his name in return. But then there is a sudden bang from the main square. The sounds of fireworks going off. The both of them turn to look, jumping a little in fright. The wizard’s feet slip from the railing. He topples backwards. Before Selene can feel more than reflexive alarm, though, the man’s form shifts. His pink cape flutters down. The rest of him seems to become wrapped up in the form of a single black raven. It lets out a startled caw, and then flies away.

“Wait!” Selene calls after it.

But the bird is already soaring through the air. She leans forward, gripping the railing herself with hands that still tingle from the barest trace of magic. And watches as the bright pink cloak flutters down to the street level, and lands on the sidewalk. Trailed by a single black feather.

After a moment more of searching the sky, Selene makes her way down from the balcony.

She hesitates.

But it would probably be discourteous to leave the stranger’s things to get trod on or stolen. It seems to be a fine cloak, if gaudy. Expensive material and good stitching. If nothing else, Mirena might know who made it; and that person might recall who they sold it to, and be able to return it to him. So Selene scoops up the cloak, and folds it over her arm.

She has less clear reason to pluck up the feather, too. But she does anyway. It is pristine, and if nothing else, would make for a fine quill. Or a decoration for a hat. She tucks it into her bag, and with one last look at the sky, makes her way towards the crowds again.

Her feet still hurt. But for some inexplicable reason, her spirits feel lighter.

What a strange person. With magic like that, so effortless and interesting, what self-respecting guild could even fathom turning him down? Surely only one with standards that have nothing to do with skills. Selene already knew it, but… there is something oddly heartening in knowing that it’s not just her. Clearly the system is very, very broken.

She lets the thought embolden her as she tries to track down yet another landlord. But this one has no rooms available, and again, not much interest in talking business. By the time she is making her way to the main square, her spirits are flagging again. And the crowds are thick, and chaotic. The revelries loud, the directions hard to find. Most of the main square is blocked off anyway. Selene can see no sign of Des. There even seem to be some fights breaking out. Something to do with invitations to private wizard parties, and it swiftly occurs to her that if there is that much trouble going around, then the odds of her getting in to rescue Des are painfully low.

Still. She tries, making her way through the crowds, calling for him and looking for any signs of his friends, or people who might know him and point her in the right direction. There are towers over the square, buildings that seem to have sprung up overnight. And most people are preoccupied with their own purposes.

As time passes, Selene knows she’s going to have to give up. Des is probably going to spend the night partying and scheming, and if he gets into trouble, he’s just going to have to find his own way out of it. She told him not to go through with it. She reminds herself of this, vigorously, as she finally gives up.

It’s pure luck that has her bumping into Thenvunin. Mirena’s son. The man is dressed up to the nines, and looks affronted at having been knocked into. At least until he sees who she is.

“Oh,” he says. “Selene. Are you alright? You look out-of-sorts.”

“I’m having a rough day,” she admits.

“Well, that won’t do. It’s a festival,” he replies. “People are supposed to be celebrating. I’m even going to one of the exclusive parties, you know. I mean, I don’t have an invitation, but I’m certain that’s just an oversight. It probably got lost in all this kerfuffle and chaos. Things are most disorganized this year, I shall have to lodge quite a few complaints about how it has all been handled.”

Selene blinks.

“You’re going to one of the parties?” she asks. “Could you take me with you?”

“Certainly not!” Thenvunin refuses, straightening his shoulders. “It is invitation only, and only the wizards may invite guests.”

She deflates.

It must be very apparent, because the man’s countenance eases towards some awkward pity. He reaches out and taps her shoulder, briefly, in what she suspects was meant to be a consoling pat.

“Don’t look so down. There are still plenty of festivities around, I am certain you will find some chance at a pleasant evening,” he assures her.

“It’s not that,” she says. “I think Des got into one of these parties, and I need to speak with him. We’ve been evicted, and I’ve spent all day trying to find us a new place, but I haven’t and we’re running out of time, and I’m not as charming as he is, I’m not as good at talking people into things…”

She might be cracking, just a little bit, she thinks, as her voice runs away with her and the corners of her eyes sting, and Thenvunin’s awkward pity turns to mild social alarm. He glances around, and ventures another pat at her shoulders.

“Oh, well…” he says. Then he clears his throat. “Well, why don’t you go to Mother’s shop? You can spend the night there at least, and if I see Des I will tell him to go and find you. Mother will hardly mind, I’m sure she would want to help you. She thinks very highly of you, you know. And I know some people around the city. If you would like, I can help you tomorrow.”

That’s very kind of him, she knows. Even as some part of her twists bitterly at tomorrow.Tomorrow, tomorrow. Everyone wants to help later, but today is still a problem. And Selene doesn’t want to prevail upon Mirena.

But…

It may indeed by the only thing left to do.

With a long sigh, she pulls herself back together, and thanks Thenvunin. He nods, and pats her once more. But he also takes his leave of her with some obvious haste. Eager to be away from someone else who’s life is going a bit to pieces, she thinks. She can’t really blame him, as she re-settles the bag on her shoulder, and then nearly drops the cloak she is carrying. The fine fabric likes to slip and slide. And after another moment of fumbling with it, she just lets out a frustrated sound, and throws it over her shoulders.

At least it can stay put there. And as she moves through the crowds again, people seem to smile and laugh and wave at her more. Apparently encouraged by the look of the fine, festive cloak. Although it almost seems as if they are not seeing Selene at all, as even a few people she knows look right past her, and only call out strange, jovial greetings.

The power of fashion, she supposes.

She pushes her way back out of the crowds, and heads for the road that will lead her back to the hat shop.

It takes many detours and a long while to get there, though. The streets grow quieter, but the shadows do not turn peculiar again, at least. The sky goes dark. Street lamps come on, casting amber light across Arlathan’s cobblestones. Some of the balloons in the sky begin to fall. Some of the banners, too. They leave stray ribbons of brightly-coloured trash across the streets, and atop some of the lamps. Selene even finds herself reaching up to knock a few loose, lest they become fire hazards.

The last thing she needs is a district fire burning down the only refuge she can still turn to.

The hat shop.

When she gets in sight of it again, she lets out a long and weary sigh. A breath that tastes like defeat.

Maybe she should just accept Mirena’s offer. That would be the sensible thing to do. Take on her apprenticeship and work her way up, get somewhere reasonable and comfortable. Free of dreams, but full of stability. The best she can probably hope for at this point. It’s not as if it’s a bad shop, not as if Mirena is a bad employer. She could do worse.

Her steps are slow and heavy as she makes her way up to the front door.

She doesn’t even notice that the light is on until she gets the door open, though. Her thoughts tired and scattered, and then only confused as she sees the figure standing in the middle of the shop floor.

It isn’t Mirena. And it isn’t Thenvunin, either, although for a moment the long blond hair and broad build has her reflexively thinking it might be. Everything else about the man is all wrong, though. He is taller than Thenvunin. And his hair is long and straight, and falls all the way towards the ground; though it seems to curl and coil before actually touching the floor itself. He is darkly dressed, and darkly countenanced, too.

He makes the hair on the back of her neck stand up, just like the shadows in the alleyway had done. His stare is icy blue, and very, very cold.

“Ah,” he says, gesturing with a hand. Selene finds herself yanked through the open doorway. The door itself bangs shut behind her, as her heart lurches with fright. “And here I was thinking it might take time to find you. Selene, I believe?”

She hesitates to answer, freezing up as every instinct in her shouts threat.

The man’s expression goes a little harder.

“Are you Selene?” he asks her, again. She’s not sure if his magic is holding her in place, or if she’s simply gone rigid of her own accord. As she used to do with Haleir.

“If you want to live, you had better answer me. If not, I will simply kill you, and anyone else who comes to this place,” he declares.

Mirena.

Selene swallows, and finds her voice.

“I’m Selene,” she admits.

The stranger smiles. It doesn’t reach his eyes.

“There now, that wasn’t so hard, was it?” he says, in a tone of utter disdain. He snaps his fingers, and then Selene is sure it’s magic. It feels like icy knives stabbing into her as she goes rigid. Held in place, as the strange man circles around her. A few tiny blue sparks flare in his wake. She knows what that means. He has drawn a lot of magic close to hand. More than would just be accounted for by the binding spell he’s using. He planning to cast… and Selene has no idea what, or why. Or who he even is, for all that she is certain down to her bones that he is bad.

His gaze falls to the cloak on her shoulders, and he halts. Tilting his head. His eyes narrow. He reaches out, and traces a finger over the embroidery on the edges.

“Where did you get this?” he demands.

Where…?

Selene just stares back, tongue stuck in her throat.

The man glares. And then he sneers. And then he rips the cloak from her shoulders with enough force that she would have staggered, if she could have. As it stands she just feels the ties sting against her skin, as they snap at the gesture.

He made it, didn’t he?” the man exclaims. “Des. I knew it, I knew he was different. He isn’t just like my brother, he is my brother. Or part of him. Come back again, come back and drawn to me again. He probably meant to come right to me, but then you waylaid him. Didn’t you? Pretty think with your long legs and your nice rack. I bet you kept him all sorts of distracted.”

Selene’s heart sinks in dread.

Des?

This man knows Des? And he’s… what? Des doesn’t have a brother. Does he? Granted, he was an orphan, so she supposed it’s possible… but as she looks at the stranger’s furious, icy gaze, she detects a slight clouding to it. It could just be emotion.

Or it could be that a love potion has worked in a distinctly twisted sort of way.

“Where’s Des?” she tries.

“Where he belongs, now,” the man insists. He drapes the cloak over his own arm. He thinks Des gave it to her? But he didn’t. Though she doesn’t suppose reasoning on that front is going to do much good. No, she’s seen men like this before. Never as powerful, of course, but disagreeing with him is probably the last thing she should do while she’s in his clutches.

He brushes a hand over her hair. And then, to her shock and revulsion, reaches down and sharply smacks her backside.

“Well,” he says, as he circles back around to the front of her. “I was going to kill you. You see, I am Lord Wizard Falon’Din, the Master of Death and the greatest of all spellcasters. And I do not share my loved ones. But now that seems too simple for me. If I kill you know, he’ll probably mope about it. He’ll be preoccupied with it. I want you gone, but… there is a better point to be made.”

Selene tries her damndest to move, then. Even as she is rigid and frozen by magic and by fear, her every instinct is screaming at her to try. Only increasing as Falon’Din’s hands move, and his gaze narrows, and the blues wisps of magic coalesce at his fingertips.

“For all but its master, death in inevitable,” he says. “It withers and steals. Whatever charms you have, time will take them. And if my brother ever sees you again, he certainly won’t be distracted by them.”

The curse glows malevolently.

Selene’s struggles are for naught, as the eerie blue light fills up the shop, and then slams into her. Knocking the breath from her lungs. Sinking in her skin, and making all the day’s weariness, all the exhaustion, amplify tremendously. The icy magic releases her, only for her to fall to her knees.

Against the wooden shop floor, she sees her hands. She sees the skin of them wrinkle. Watches odd spots appear, feels the tired ache flood through them, as the eerie light fades. And Falon’Din laughs, in the way a man laughs when he has just played a clever ‘joke’ that no one else finds amusing. His boots thunder across the shop floor, and he walks dismissively past her. Snapping his fingers to open the door, while Selene tries to move further from him. Her fear curling slowly towards anger, as she thinks of doing - doing something.

He has Des.

He has Des.

But she can only wheeze, while the man casts one last disdainful look back at her.

“Death is a little closer now,” he says. “But technically, I have not killed you. You should thank me, you know. I am not usually this merciful.”

Selene just wheezes again. And then he laughs once more, and heads out onto the street.

For several long minutes, then, she lies on the shop floor. Desperately trying to catch her breath, desperately trying to do any number of things. Like moving, or going after this ‘Falon’Din’, or keeping herself from doing that, too. Desperately trying to find a position which doesn’t make all of her joints feel as though they are on fire. None of it proves successful.

Gradually, though, the pain begins to lessen. Her panic abates enough for her to push herself up. Using her unfamiliar, weathered hands. She searches for injuries, but apart from the full-body ache, can find none. Her clothes are unmarked. He bag is lying in a heap on the floor. She gets slowly to her feet.

She does not even intend to look in the mirror. There are enough in the hat shop that it just happens as a matter of course, when she stands up and looks almost anywhere. So she hasn’t even braced for it, when she sees her reflection..

Wrinkled skin, and more spots, her face does not look like her own as she takes in the sight of it. For one horrible moment she expects it all to keep going. For her flesh to rot clean off of her, for her body to turn skeletal, and then fall into dust.

But it doesn’t.

Selene isn’t sure how long she stares at the old woman in the mirror for. Long enough that when she finally gasps it feels more like she had forgotten to breathe, like she is struggling for air, than like a shocked exclamation. She presses a hand to her chest then, though. And she gasps a few more times, before finally stumbling closer to the mirror.

What had that madman said?

Death is a little closer now.

She looks like she’s aged hundreds of years in a minute. However long the day might have felt, she knows the obvious cause. The wizard’s curse. The wizard who stole Des, and who has now stolen years off of her life, too, it seems. The reflection in the mirror is still nearly incomprehensible, but Selene is not so distracted that the sound of someone at the door fails to get a reaction from her.

He’s back! she thinks, terrified. He changed his mind and now he’s going to kill her. Terrified, she grabs up her pack, and hurries to hide behind one of the hat displays.

Oh yes, good job Selene, he’ll never find us here, part of her thinks, grimly, as the front door opens again.

“Mirena?” an unfamiliar voice calls.

Selene hesitates.

He could be disguising his voice, of course. But… why would he? It’s not as if he needs to trick her. He can just blatantly stroll in and… and blow her up, or something. If he wanted to anyway.

Steeling herself, Selene slowly stands up from behind the hat display.

The person in the door is not Falon’Din, but the sight of them screams wizard so loudly that Selene nearly feels again anyway. A beautiful elf, this one with dark hair, dressed in a gleaming emerald gown, with slit pupils in their eyes and glowing gemstones hanging from their jewellery. Cheekbones sharp enough to shame Selene’s own, which is saying something, and a V-neck collar that goes straight to their navel.

“Oh, help,” Selene mutters, numb in her terror. No more wizards, please, she doesn’t think she can take it.

The new one’s gaze falls onto her, and widens.

“Oh no,” they say, making their way over. “Are you Selene?”

Does she have to answer that?

It doesn’t seem to go over very well.

But… if this is another wizard, and they look worried… perhaps this is the only chance she had.

“I am,” she says. “I am. He, he did this. He cast a curse, I don’t even know what kind, but it… I’m not old. I’m not old, I…”

“Shh, hush,” the strange wizard soothes, making their way towards her. “I know. I’m so sorry. I was going to try and warn you, but it seems I was too late.”

“He has Des,” Selene blurts. Part of her knows she’s not being the most coherent, but at this point, it’s all she can manage to hold it together. Her skin still feels cold. Her hands ache as she closes them over the wizard’s sleeves, but they just shift their grip and take her hands in turn. Their features may be sharp but the pity in their eyes seems kind. Even if Selene is sick of pity.

If pity will fix things, though…

“I know,” is what this new wizard says, though. “That was Falon’Din. He is a very powerful sorcerer, and a despicable man. He has developed a sudden fascination with your friend. That’s why he came here, he wanted to make certain that Des would have no earthly reason to leave him.”

No.

Oh, no.

How is she going to help him out of this mess? She’s in one herself, now, too. Oh, she should have tried harder to talk him out of his stupid scheme! She let him go, let herself hope even just a little that things would actually work out, and now what’s come of it? They’re somehow in ever worse trouble than before, trouble so bad that she can scarcely comprehend it, and the only person who seems to even know what’s happening is a total stranger she just met a minute ago.

“Who are you?” she asks. “Can you help?”

The newest wizard draws in a long breath, and lets it out again.

“My name is Melarue. And I can help, bot as much as I would like,” they admit, looking her over. “There are only a few ways to reverse a curse like this, and none of them are in my power. I might know of someone who can manage it, though.”

“What about Des?” Selene asks. “What is he going to do to him?”

“Nothing good,” Melarue admits, to her dismay. “I will not lie. Your friend’s prospects are probably more bleak than yours. I can help you find the person who might be able to undo this curse, or I can try and get your friend away from Falon’Din. But I cannot do both at once.”

Selene shakes her head.

“Well then, you have to help Des,” she decides.

It’s not a difficult choice to make, really. She feels only a little regret for it, in amid all the roiling terror that’s trying to turn her stomach upside-down.

Melarue seems a bit surprised, though. The wizard gives her a long, searching look. No longer assessing the curse on her, she thinks, but beyond that, their expression is inscrutable. But then they nod, and let go of her hands.

Selene hadn’t noticed. But while they had held them, the pain had been gone.

“As you like. I can do something for you before I go,” they say, looking her up and down again. “I cannot reverse the curse, but I can lessen some of the cruelty. Your body has aged but your spirit still knows better. I can let it help you, a little. It should keep you from feeling too frail, or hurting too much.”

“Oh,” is the only response Selene can think to make.

Melarue gives her a warning, though, before they begin to cast. Their magic is green. And it feels like nature. Like flowering vines and spring rain and like deep roots, burrowing below the earth. When it comes into contact with Selene, it soothes rather than burning. She staggers anyway, reflexively startled by the wash of it. At least until it passes, and the light goes dim. And then she does feel better. Steadier on her feet, and less achining in her joints. Her breaths come easily for the first time since the attack, and her heartbeat seems to change, too. She hadn’t noticed it was wrong before. But now it feels right again.

After a moment, Melarue nods.

Then they reach into a pocket of their skirts, and produce a small page of parchment. With an elegant gesture, they pass it to Selene.

The material feels surprisingly sturdy, as she takes it automatically.

“In the wilds beyond the city, there is a powerful wizard who was once close to Falon’Din. Their magics are similar. If anyone can reverse Falon’Din’s spell, apart from the man himself, it will be this person,” they explain. “But his home is ever-moving. You will need that map to find him.”

Selene hesitates.

“Why would he help me?” she wonders. “If he is friends with Falon’Din?”

Melarue sighs.

“He may not,” they admit. “I can offer no guarantee. But he is a remorseful person, and often tries to undo Falon’Din’s misdeeds.”

She looks down at the parchment.

It seems like so very little to be going off of. But… if Des is with that man…

“How far is it?” she wonders.

Melarue shakes their head.

“It would be impossible to say,” they admit. “If I were you, I would rest tonight, and then leave in the morning. I have to go back, now. The longer I am gone for, the more noticeable it will be. It would be best for all of us if Falon’Din did not realize we had spoken. He does not know that I have taken an interest in his behaviour, so he will not think you stand half a chance of undoing his curse. Nor will he expect me to go out of my way to help your friend.”

Selene tightens her grip on the map, then, and gives the wizard a baffled look.

“Why are you helping us?” she wonders.

Melarue smiles a smile that Selene would not describe as ‘generous’ or ‘kind’.

“I hate Falon’Din, and his kin, more than words can say,” they assert. “And I will do anything to ensure he is ruined.”

Well.

…Alright then.

“Thank you,” she nevertheless replies.

Melarue inclines their head, and she tries not to feel too abandoned as they head for the door.

“Make sure you rest,” they advise again. “You’re not as young as you used to be.”

The bell above the shop door chimes as the third wizard of the day leaves Selene’s company. She stares after it for a long while, and then stares another while at the unopened map in her hands. Before finally looking at her reflection again. Heart sinking once more, as she is left alone in the dark of Mirena’s hat shop.

With only the featureless model heads to see, Selene slumps back down to the floor, and begins to cry.

Chapter Text

A long time ago, in a kingdom far away, lived a king and his fair queen.

Since the day of their marriage, the king and queen had attempted to produce a child. An heir, to secure their rule, and to pass their kingdom onto. After many years, their wish was finally granted, and a daughter was born.

The princess was named ‘Sulvuna’, which means ‘life’. For her life was bound to the kingdom, and the kingdom, in turn, bound to the life of its new princess. A great holiday was proclaimed throughout the kingdom, so that all of high or low estate may come to pay tribute to the infant royal, and celebrate her birth.

Our story begins on that fateful day…

 

~

 

An open invitation to all denizens of the kingdom, to come and pay tribute to the new princess, would have been a bold move indeed. So Melarue was not entirely surprised that, despite the wording of King Elrogathe’s proclamation, the court only opened itself to petitioners who had received royal invitations to attend.

While the poor were encouraged to celebrate in the streets, the elite and nobility were given leave to make appearances in the palace proper.

Melarue was, however, surprised to receive such an invitation. Written on an elegant scroll and tied with velvet string, stamped with the royal seal. That King Elrogathe had no love lost for the fairies of his realm was no secret.

But there was a certain kernel of wisdom to the act, too. Appeasement, perhaps.

It could be a trap, of course, but Elrogathe was neither clever nor bold enough for such a thing, in Melarue’s estimations. Nor was his queen. More likely, the king’s less taciturn and prejudiced advisors had made the decision, and talked him into it. Fairies were known for being fickle; but also, bet to court in favour than in rejection where the fate of newborns might be concerned.

So to court and celebration, Melarue went. Dressed in a green scale gown, with their wife, Kassaran, and daughter Ashokara in tow. They kept their wings out, and summoned a great murmur of interest as they proceeded through the court. Ashokara was fairly skipping with excitement; barely older than thirteen, the young fairy had never been given a chance to bestow a blessing upon an infant before, and she was eager at the prospect. The night before had been long, as she stayed up contemplating the matter. Worried that her gift might go awry, and consulting with Melarue and Kassaran by turns to try and deduce the best magic to bestow.

It was risky, of course, bringing a young and inexperienced fairy to such a regal christening. But Melarue did not doubt that Ash would bestow a worthy gift. Their daughter had a knack for such things. Even if the gift displeased the king or queen, it would almost certainly suit the child, and of the royals in attendance the infant princess was the only person whom the fairies had been given no cause to resent.

The castle hall was full to bursting with delegates and courtiers. The palace doors were thrown wide - symbolically, of course; the guards remained at their stations - and the pillars of the main hall were festooned with pink ribbons. The royal families of several neighbouring kingdoms had come, too, to pay their respects; and to vie for the lucrative opportunity to arrange a marriage to what was likely to be the sole heir of the kingdom.

Wishing for their sons to be kings. Of course, if the rumours were to be believed, little Sulvuna had already been betrothed to Prince Haleir, of that rocky mortal realm to the northeast. The way the ginger-haired prince was making faces into her cradle, it seemed he himself had heard the rumours, at least.

Mortal petitioners gave mortal gifts. Melarue lingered with their family, politely waiting their turn in the long line of offerings. Their hands were empty, but with their wings out, none seem to question that. Instead, they were given many sideways looks, and uncertain glances. Whispering, some excited, some foreboding, followed in their wake. Ash moved closer to her mother, and Melarue reached over to place a reassuring hand on her shoulder, before glancing back at Kassaran.

They shared a look of understanding.

“Why don’t you go second?” Kass suggested to their daughter. “I will go first, and then Nanae can give the last gift. People always expect a little flare of drama at the end.”

Ashokara nodded, pretending that the throngs of attention hadn’t made her nervous.

She had relaxed somewhat again, though, by the time it was their turn to ascend the dais, where the queen and the princess were waiting. Princess Sulvuna was crying; clearly hungry, but her mother made no move to feed her yet. Too concerned, for the moment, with appearances. Kassaran fought down her expression of annoyance, before making her way over to the cradle. Then she settled a hand inside, and summoned just a tiny bit of magic. Gentle enough that Melarue doubted any of the mortal present even recognized it.

Sulvuna stopped crying, and blinked wide green eyes up at the fairy queen.

Kassaran smiled back.

“My gift to you, little princess, is the joy of knowledge,” Kassaran declared. As the words passed her lips, they wove magic in the air between them. Not a binding contract, but a bestowment; a gift, as proclaimed. The blessing gleamed a faint blue, shimmering like flower petals as it fell into the cradle. Sulvuna reached tiny hands out to try and catch them, while the hall went silent in interest.

Kassaran’s smile widened, caught in her fondness for little ones.

“You will always know the satisfaction of discovering an answer, and the delight of exploring a question. Books will be as sanctuaries to you. Wisdom will be your province. No maze will thwart you; and your knowledge will serve you well.”

As the gift concluded, Kassaran pressed a gentle fingertip to the babe’s nose. She summoned a giggle, and a happy flail of small limbs, before stepping back.

Ashokara was next. Their daughter glanced uncertainly at Melarue only once, before Kass gently prodded her forward, with an encouraging smile.

“Go on,” she said.

Sulvuna was still calmed by the fairy magic in the air. Ashokara approached the cradle, and like her mother, her expression eased towards a smile at the sight of the happy, apple-cheeked baby. With her soft brown skin and wisps of white hair, she was, Melarue would concede, very sweet to behold.

Unlike her mother, Ashokara’s fairy magic was not quite fully matured yet. So she pulled a carved wand from the folds of her pocket, and used it to help keep her magic stable, as she focused on her words.

“My gift to you, little princess, is the gift of fire,” Ashokara proclaimed.

A murmur of surprise passed through the crowd. King Elrogathe stood from his throne, and Melarue’s sharp eyes found him. Warning in their own countenance, even as Ashokara carried on - too intently focused on her task, now, to notice anything else.

“Even in the coldest winters, you will always be warm. No fire shall harm you. Even dragon’s breath will not sear your skin, and the fires will answer your call, to come when you are in need of protection.”

Ashokara’s words fell like soft sparks. The queen gasped, and reached towards the cradle. But when Sulvuna’s hands touched the lights, she only giggled in delight again. Closing her fingers around little flares that tickled her palms and stuck harmlessly in the wisps of her hair.

Ashokara kissed the tips of her fingers, and then pressed them softly to the baby’s cheek, before stepping back.

King Elrogathe opened his mouth, expression caught in stony displeasure.

“What is-” he began.

But before he could finish the question, a gust of mighty wind tore into the royal hall. Stronger than any stray breeze should have been. Melarue tasted the magic on it, and pulled their daughter reflexively behind them as the pink banners were whipped around the pillars, and the hairstyles of the mortal delegations were sent into disarray. On the top dais, the queen had to grasp the princess’ cradle to keep it from being blown backwards.

With a flash of white moonlight, a figure appeared in the central chamber of the room.

She was fair and lovely, with white wings at her back, and Melarue knew her at once.

Their blood went cold with hatred.

“Mythal,” they snapped.

The noble of their rival court barely glanced in their direction. Her gown flowed around her like a blue waterfall; her hair done in ripples to match. To look at the two of them, one might easily mistake Mythal for the benevolent, ‘good’ fairy. Light where Melarue was dark, rosy-cheeked where they were pale, sporting beautiful golden eyes, lacking the accompaniment of fearsome, horned fairy folk.

And such a supposition would be a costly mistake.

Though Melarue could already see some of the court making it, as Mythal’s glamour settled, and they gazed upon her in astonishment.

Mythal, in turn, fixed the mortal queen with a look that made the frail woman pale.

“My, my, my,” she said. The words seemed to echo throughout the chamber, as a few loose banners fluttered to the ground.

The fairy’s heels clicked as she made her way towards the dais. She spread her arms.

“What have we here? A beautiful celebration, for a brand new baby princess!”

King Elrogathe strode towards Mythal.

“You are not welcome here!” he snapped.

Melarue could have hit him for his sheer stupidity, as the gathered nobility looked aghast, and Mythal raised a delicate hand to her breast.

“Not welcome?” she replied. “Whyever not? Considering the guest list has no exclusion of my folk…” her gaze moved pointedly towards Melarue, at that. They narrowed their eyes in return. The castle was neither of their territory; and therefore, according to their treaty, not ground upon which either of them could challenge each other.

Mythal’s eyebrow ticked up just a little. A hint of amusement. But most of her aura was on of barely-concealed anger.

The outrage of being slighted.

She turned back towards Elrogathe.

“Could it be that… I am not wanted?” she asked.

“You are not,” Elrogathe replied, sternly.

Kassaran inhaled sharply, and Melarue nearly closed their eyes as their stomach sank.

If Elrogathe - the fool - had apologized, and attributed the lack of invitation to a misunderstanding, then he could have salvaged this situation. Likely Mythal would have simply postured, denied the princess a gift, and then sought retribution through some other avenue.

But by insulting her…

That poor little baby.

The court remained mesmerized, somewhat frozen in place, as Mythal ascended the dais. Elrogathe’s own steps slowed, while the fairy shook her head.

“Not wanted?” she said. “After all the favours I have done for the folk of this kingdom… Not wanted, after all the mercies I have shown, and gifts I have given… Not wanted?”

Queen Dhaveira looked frozen solid, as Mythal leaned over the cradle. Reaching out, she ran a finger down the babe’s cheek.

“How tragic,” she bemoaned. “For it seems this child is doomed to suffer a tragic fate. A most tragic fate. She will live her childhood in happiness, at least. A beautiful girl, so lovely a singing a voice, so striking a face. But on the eve of her twenty-fifth birthday, she will prick her finger on the broken glass of an eluvian, and die.”

Mythal’s words fell like ash into the cradle.

Sulvuna broke out into breathless cries.

“Mythal!” Melarue called, and while they could not challenge, they could exude enough magic to break the glamour on the court. The guards finally shook off their stupor and sprang to action. Mythal turned, and locked eyes with them for a moment. The hint of victory in her gaze made Melarue’s blood boil.

Swords were drawn. Arrows flew.

But they hit nothing, as Mythal lifted her arms and clapped, and vanished with another gust of stormy wind, and flash of moonlight. Chased by the sounds of the princess’s cries, and the outraged and confused murmur of the court. For Mythal had phrased her curse as a warning, and the glamour still held many minds; or even the simple reality of her beauty, did.

The queen fell to her knees beside the princess’s cradle, and wept, as the king stood in furious impotence. A sudden silence fell in the wake of Mythal’s departure. It was broken only by the sounds of the princess and the queen crying.

With a deep sigh, Melarue approached the cradle.

“I do not have the power to undo what Mythal’s magic has wrought,” they admitted.

The queen looked up at them, as the king sighed.

“Twenty-five is still old enough to produce an heir of her own,” he said.

Melarue gave him a look that could have pealed paint; and for once, it seemed to cow him. Their own magic crackled around their aura, as they drew themselves up, and then turned their attention to the little princess. Reaching into the cradle, they gently lifted the baby out, and settled her into their arms. A familiar weight, and one they had missed since Ashokara grew too big to be so easily cradled. With a soft hum, they settled the baby again. Using their free hand to brush away the black motes clinging to her cheeks.

“My gift to you, little princess, is the gift of hope,” they said. It took much more magic to offer than the other gifts. More, in total, than most mortal children would ever be bestowed. “It shall be as Mythal declared, that your childhood will be happy, your days prosperous. But when the curse of your twenty-fifth birthday comes, you will not perish. Only fall into a deep sleep, to wake with true love’s kiss.”

They magic glowed as they bestowed the gift, and leaned down to seal it with a kiss to the tiny brow.

Behind them they heard their wife breathe a breath of some small relief.

But when they handed the princess back to her mother, the queen looked unsettled by the magic clinging to her daughter’s skin. The king’s frown remained severe, and in the tension that followed, the sound of his heavy footsteps seemed as loud as the baby’s tearful cries had been.

Melarue gave serious consideration to taking their own family and leaving in a whirl of magic, before the king could reach them.

But when he came to a stop, something in his expression had them stalling, a moment. He looked to his still-gleaming child, and his frown deepened. The magic on her was potent enough that even mortals could not deny it.

He turned back to face Melarue.

“We should speak,” he decided.

They considered the matter, before graciously inclining their head.

“As you wish.”

 

~

 

A long time ago, in a kingdom far away, lived a king and his fair queen.

For many years, the king and queen had attempted to produce a child. An heir, to secure their rule, and to pass their kingdom onto.

But by the reckoning of King Elrogathe, there was more to a suitable heir than the mere existence of a child. On the day of his daughter’s introduction to the kingdom, four spells were placed upon her. Two gifts, once curse, and a counterspell to cross it. The babe named Sulvuna was alight with the magic of fairies; was a burden, cursed, and doomed to die.

And so, a bargain was struck between the king and the kindly representatives of the Fair Folk.

To keep their daughter safe, the king and queen sent her to live in the court of the fairies opposed to her enemy. There to live in secret and disguise until her eighteenth birthday, when she would be brought back to the royal court, to marry and produce a more suitable heir before the curse struck and she was lost to eternal sleep.

The fairies took all memory of the princess’s life, from all save her parents, and the other fairies of the world. They secreted the babe off into the wild lands of magic, naming her their ward, and calling her ‘Selene’.

For it was their hope that the moonlit magic in her veins would one day fall to her own power…

 

~

 

Selene pressed her ear more firmly to the crack in the library floor, and held her breath as she listened intently.

Mama and Nanae’s voices were a soft murmur from the bedroom below. But Selene had found, years ago, that if she held her breath and kept very still, she could sometimes overhear conversations from this vantage point. And no one ever really questioned her being in the library, or doing odd things. She was somewhat renowned for both, as a matter of fact.

Time had grown Selene into a striking young woman. Hair pale as moonlight, eyes like peridot gems, a long and striking form that was only just at the tail end of a gangly and clumsy youth. She heard the murmur of voices rising, and focused.

“Can you actually hear them?” Ana asked, from her place on the study table.

Ana was one of Selene’s friends. She had many friends, in fact; all throughout the court. But Ana was one of the longest, and had been her playmate ever since they were toddlers. The smaller fairy was only the height of Selene’s hand, with gossamer wings and a cheery face; flowers were braided through her red hair, and her skin was peppered with freckles. She looked very much like the orchids that grew throughout the courtly planters, and led up to the court’s throne room.

Selene scrunched her nose, and waved a hand to let her friend know to be quiet so she could listen.

But all she could catch, before the sound of voices died down, were a few stray words. Her name, and ‘birthday’, and ‘eighteen’. Something about a bargain?

With a sigh, Selene gave up, and sat back on her heels.

“Well?” Ana wondered.

“I think they were talking about my birthday,” she admitted, with a shrug. “But I didn’t get any details.”

“Still no idea what they got you?” Ana asked. She dropped her chin into her hand.

Selene shook her head.

“Well, it’s probably something good,” he friend consoled. “Eighteen is an important age! Mortals come into their majority then, you know.”

“Do they?” Selene asked, with a blink. She remembered as soon as she had said it, though. Mortals reached ‘adulthood’ at eighteen. Fairies didn’t consider anyone grown until they were twenty-five, and then, no one was really grown until they had at least one century under their belt.

They do,” Ana confirmed, hopping over to come and flutter by Selene. “Which means that your parents are probably going to do something special. They got you from the mortal world, after all. So you are sort of becoming an adult, aren’t you?”

Selene scoffed at the very idea. Her parents were never in an hurry to see her grow up - that was abundantly clear. And while she may have come from the mortal world, originally, she had grown up in the fairy courts. Surrounded by magic, and infused with it, too. She could summon fire at will, she danced in the moonlight, she talked to animals. According to Mama, she had so much magic that her parents had been worried about keeping her among mortals anyway. That was why they sent her away.

But…

“Maybe they did get me something special, at least,” she allowed. Because that would be like them, to never turn down a chance to go all out.

Oh!

“Do you think they’ll throw a ball?” she wondered.

Ana shrugged.

“Could be?” she agreed. Her face split into a wide grin. “You’d like very fine in one of those shiny silver gowns that all the high ladies have been wearing.”

Selene grinned back.

“Probably,” she agreed. “And if there’s a ball then there will be folk from all around! Maybe even dwarves and spirits, if they make it really fancy, and send out lots of invitations.”

“You could ask Ashokara,” Ana suggested. “She would probably know if there was a party being planned.”

Selene considered it for a moment, and then got up with a shrug.

“Worth a shot,” she agreed. Her sister was past twenty-five, though, and taking to her newfound responsibilities as a princess with some severity. Being thirteen years older than Selene, there was a certain wealth of distance between them as sisters. But they had always been close, too, and Ash was notoriously bad at resisting pleading eyes - or obnoxious whining. Many a stolen cookie could attest to it.

The two friends made their way down the winding library staircase, and then down out into the sunny courtyard. Some of the gnomes tending the flower pots paused to wave at them, and they waved back. Ana fluttered on her wings, and Selene skipped over one of the low-backed benches, and only just avoided putting her slipper through a stray flower pot. They stopped to ask some of the guard if they had seen Ashokara, and were directed down to the dining hall.

Selene’s older sister was examining some paperwork. Treaties, it looked like. She had a plate of cold pie and wine that she was munching on, but she looked up as they came in.

“What are you two imps doing here?” she asked, before looking back down.

“Looking for you, of course!” Selene replied, before turning a chair on the opposite side of the table around, and settling into it. Ana landed on the table, and tromped her way over to the paperwork. But Ash scooped it up before she could snoop, and rolled the scrolls back together.

“Don’t you have lessons?” Ash asked, suspiciously.

“Not today. My governess left to get married, remember? And Mama said I wouldn’t have to get a new one until after my birthday, as long as I kept up my studies.”

This was not a difficult promise for Selene to keep, as many avenues of information tended to fascinate her. Once she was introduced to a subject, she usually liked to investigate it until she was somewhat satisfied with her understanding of it. And then, if she really liked it, she would carry on further and further. She was still learning most forms of mathematics and magic, and dancing, and combat too.

“Do you think the Regent and Queen are going to throw Selene a birthday party?” Ana wondered, as she hopped up onto Ash’s shoulder.

Selene’s older sister gave the little fairy a glance. Then she looked at Selene, with an odd expression in her eyes.

With a sigh, she prodded Ana back towards the table.

“You’re turning eighteen,” Ashokara said.

“Mmhmm?” Selene confirmed, with a grin. “Ana says that’s when mortals reach their majority.”

“It’s probably not going to be an ordinary sort of birthday for you,” Ash admitted. The words themselves might have been exciting; but her tone made Selene’s curiosity falter a little. She sounded… worried?

“Well… when you turned twenty-five, Mama and Nanae threw a big party…” she ventured.

Ash hesitated.

“Yes, but sometimes-”

The conversation was interrupted, then, as the door to the dining hall opened again. Selene looked over, mostly expecting to see one of the servants. Probably coming to ask if anyone was hungry, since they were all clustered around the dining table. She blinked in surprise at the sight of her mother, instead.

Queen Kassaran did not ordinarily comport herself with many courtly airs. But she was more regal than many fair folk of bluer blood. Tall, with elegant horns, and a soft cloud of hair. She had married Ruling Regent Melarue - Nanae - for love, but that was not so uncommon among fairies as it was among mortals. Her eyes were always kind, even when her countenance went hard.

As her gaze landed on her daughters, it softened even more. Though Selene thought she could detect an odd note of unhappiness to her as well.

It made her nervous.

“Selene,” her mother said. “There you are. Your nanae and I need to speak with you.”

Selene glanced towards Ana, who looked just as surprised at the sudden summons as she was. Then she glanced at Ash, who gave her an encouraging smile. With an internal shrug, she pushed back from the table, and tried to calm the inexplicably nervous voice inside of herself as she made her way over to her mother.

“What about?” she asked.

Mama tucked her hand into her arm, and with a wave to Ash and Ana, led her from the dining room.

“Something private,” she said. Reaching up, she brushed Selene’s cheek with her fingers, and then tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “We’ll go to the main hall.”

The two of them drifted into uncommon silence, then, as Selene wondered what might be going on, and her mother failed to entirely disguise her unhappiness. It was an atmosphere that prompted Selene to think of every possible thing she might have done to get into trouble. The eavesdropping occurred to her first, but there were some other things, too. Like sneaking out of her tower room to go stargazing a few nights ago, or sneaking a few sips of berry wine from the kitchens when she wasn’t supposed to have it - it was still too strong for her, and it had given her an incredible headache and made everything turn pink and blue on and off for three days.

Or maybe it was that book she had ‘borrowed’ from the library… six months ago…

By the time they got to the main hall, Selene was convinced it could be anything or everything.

Nanae smiled at them when they came in, though. Regent Melarue was a being of incredible beauty. Dark-haired and slender, graceful with nearly every gesture. Their lips were red as blood, and their nails were long and sharp. The gown they were wearing spilled down to the floor like a river of black ink.

They moved quickly and silently in almost all ways; something that had been the bane of Selene’s existence as a young, mischief-filled child who wanted to get away with everything. The number of times she had been on the verge of adventure onto to feel Nanae’s hands close around her and lift her off of the vine-covered wall, or out of the magical chest of drawers, or away from the glittering hearthfire, were innumerable.

Selene just felt some modicum of relief, though, when Nanae came and put their arms around her and Mama this time.

The High Regent led the both of them to the more private counsel chamber off of the main hall. Mama settled Selene into one of the comfortable chairs and took the one beside her, and shared a glance with Nanae. Whilst Nanae moved to sit against their massive old stone desk.

There was a moment of contemplative silence.

Selene glanced between her parents.

“…Alright, what did I do?” she finally asked.

Nanae’s lips twitched. Mama reached over and patted her hair.

“Probably a few things,” she said, ruefully. “But that’s not why we are here. This is about…”

She glanced towards Nanae, who motioned their ‘I will do it’ motion. Then they looked very solemnly at Selene.

“This is about your birthday,” Nanae said. “You are going to be eighteen soon.”

Selene nodded, tentatively.

“Ashokara said… it would be different this time…?” she ventured.

Again, her parents exchanged a glance. But not for so long. Nanae let out a sigh, and Mama settled a hand over top of Selene’s own, and offered a reassuring squeeze.

“Your sister was right,” Nanae declared. “Eighteen is the age of maturity in the mortal world. Well, some of it. When you were a baby… when your mother and I first took you from the mortal world, we made a bargain. You should know the full nature of that bargain, now. You must know the truth if you are going to protect yourself, and understand what may happen.”

“That sounds… ominous?” Selene ventured, uncertainly. She had never really considered that there was more to know about her past. It wasn’t uncommon for fairies to take unwanted babies from the mortal realm. Mama had always told her that she and Nanae took her in because they ‘fell in love with her little face’. Some fairies also stole children, of course, but the thought of her parents doing that was unconscionable.

Mama squeezed her hand, but when Selene looked at her, she smiled.

“It is a little,” Nanae admitted.

Selene drew in a deep breath.

“Alright,” she said. “So tell me what’s going on, then.”

Nanae looked her in the eye.

And did.

The story unfolded gently, a stream of revelations that nevertheless left Selene feeling stunned. That she was a princess was something she had already known; but that she had been a princess in the mortal world, too, was a mild surprise. Not really disconcerting, though. The names King Elrogathe and Queen Dhaveira meant very little to her, in the end, beyond a certain innate curiosity towards the folk who had sired her. Towards a life she could have lived. The mortal queen, her parents explained, had perished while she was still young. The thought made her sad, but only distantly. Like hearing a tragic tale.

The curse was… worse.

But it was the concept of her betrothal, of going back to the mortal realm and being forced to marry a man she had never met, to have a child she would be expected to hand over to some kingdom full of people she didn’t know…

No,” she said, rising from her seat in a rush of panic. “I won’t do it!”

Both of her parents raised their hands in soothing placation, and stood up too.

“And you won’t,” Nanae said, which brought Selene up short.

“But you… you said you agreed…?”

“I agreed to bring you back on your eighteenth birthday,” Nanae said, firmly. “That was the wording precisely. Elrogathe’s arrogance let him assume that the rest would follow as a matter of course. But it will not; you are our daughter now. Not his.”

Selene’s fingers fidgeted with her sleeves. Relief warred with morbid fascination.

“He… he really made a bargain that naive?” she wondered. She almost couldn’t believe it; who would let such loose wording pass?

“Oh, he really did,” Mama assured her. When she moved an arm towards her, Selene accepted the invitation, and sagged into her arms. She rested her head on her mother’s shoulder, and let herself be comforted from her rush of fright.

Nanae moved around to the other side of their desk, and pulled out a slim green box.

“It means we will have to venture out into the mortal world on your birthday, however,” they explain. “The king has organized a celebration, to draw your betrothed to the kingdom. When we took you, all memory of your existence fell away from the minds of most mortals. When we bring you back, however, it will return. That poses a risk. Mythal will know you are still alive, and outside of our own lands, protection will be difficult.”

Selene straightened up a little, and managed a perplexed shrug.

“But she already cursed me. All she has to do is wait until I’m twenty-five,” she pointed out.

Nanae glanced up at her.

“I meddled with that curse,” they reminded her. “It is breakable, now. Mythal will have figured that out. She may decide that it is not longer sufficient.”

Mama patted her shoulder.

“Either way, it is better to be safe,” she said. “We will have to push back your proper birthday celebration, in order to take you to the mortal world on the day itself. But… on the bright side, you may meet many new people.”

“Interesting people, even,” Nanae agreed. “Probably not that disgraceful betrothed of yours, I have heard nothing good about him,but all kinds may turn out for Elrogathe’s party. It never hurts to mingle.”

Selene blinked at the odd turn of the conversation.

“Huh?” she asked.

“Technically, you are still the heir to an entire mortal kingdom,” Nanae explained. “You may do with that what you will, unless Elrogathe disinherits you. Which he might - though that will leave the kingdom to fall to his… nephew, I think?”

They shrugged, and then brought the green box over to Selene.

“You will have to wear this,” they explained. “To get the magic in it to acclimatize to you, and to this palace. At the stroke of midnight, on your eighteenth birthday, it will teleport you back here at once. It is our failsafe, should anyone in the mortal realm try and trap or waylay you.”

Selene opened the box to find that it contained a necklace. A beautiful, fine chain that led into an elaborate neck piece of many swooping ravens, each with sapphires for their eyes. She picked it up, delighted at its beauty even beyond knowing its utility. It was lighter than it looked, and despite the complex shape, when she put it on, no part of it rested uncomfortably against her skin.

“That is big magic, Nanae,” Selene observed.

Her mama turned her face towards her, and kissed her forehead.

“You’re our daughter. We would go to the ends of the earth and back for you,” she said.

Something inside of Selene, that had been tense and hard since the story was laid out for her, eased its hold on her then. The mortal world and King Elrogathe and Prince Haleir did not seem so frightening with such knowledge. Nor did the notion of the curse, that was still set to strike in another seven years’ time.

Selene was loved. Breaking curses were never so difficult, under such circumstances.

Chapter Text

Selene starts off as a wizard, because she’s done her studies and she’s very meticulous about them Thank You Very Much. She loves her Magic Missiles and Fire Bolt. Feather Fall has saved her life on more than one occasion because somehow enemies keep trying to pull/push her squishy, glass-cannon self off the edge of the cliffs/stairs/whatever is available she uses to get her height advantage, and Mage Armor is just the smart choice to have when con is your dump stat.

Then they stumble across The Library

And Selene, ever curious and needing to know how everything works, absolutely cannot resist the chance to look through it.

She spends hours pouring over the contents; scrolls and books and dust covered tomes litter the shelves, and her party eventually leaves her be to go spend time in the bar because they want something else to do rather than read the spine of each individual book. Time seems to move differently in the library though, and what seems to her like weeks passes by before she even begins to feel fatigued.

Tucked into a hidden passage behind one of the third floor bookcases, is a chest. It is very old, and radiates magic (no detect magic spell required), and is covered in runes from a language even she can’t manage to translate. Her fingers trace over the symbols idly, her curious mind wandering towards the kinds of things that could be hidden inside.

Next to the chest, is a book. It is old, and worn, and the lock on its seal looks like several people have come and gone with attempts to open it; though she gets the distinct feeling that none have succeeded.

Still. She tries, yanking and casting any spell she can think of that might be able to get through whatever sort of protective magic is binding it together. Nothing works, and her fatigue is starting to set in now, her felt weeks without sleep start to fall upon her quickly and without remorse. She slumps against the chest, book in hand, and falls asleep, despite her attempts to retain consciousness.

She dreams of blue eyes that are larger than cathedrals, birds soaring through skies blacker than night and littered with stars in every color she’s ever encountered, and even a few she hasn’t. She dreams of long, thick tendrils, wrapped around worlds and drowning in oceans of magic that she has never even heard whispers of in all her studies. One hand reaches out, fingers warm and bright as they melt away barriers she hadn’t even realized were there. One eye blinks, then two, then four, focused now on her, and just when she manages to feel something move, something soft and pliant beneath her touch-

She wakes. 

Alone in the library, book still clutched in her hands and her back to the chest.

She sighs, and looks down at the book; still fuzzy and tired from being yanked from sleep so quickly, and whispers a single word.

Please?

The books lock clicks open, loud and echoing through the expansive halls of the building.

She carefully opens it, ready to read through its contents, to discover what secrets lie inside, hidden for so long and now ready to be known to her; only to find that there are no pages inside.

Only a key.

It doesn’t take her long to realize this must be the key to the chest she had been using for back support, and she bites down on her lip as she turns around and eagerly opens it. The key, made of a deep, dark stone is smooth in her hands as it turns in the lock with another click, this one somehow even louder than the one on the book.

She lifts the lid of the treasure chest-

And wakes up the following day, in the Inn.

“Stop moping,” Des groans, hands behind his head as he scratches at the sides of his horns. “It was just a bunch of books; they’re in everytown.”

Selene kicks at the dirt on the road in front of them as she takes her next step anyways. “I didn’t even get to see what it was,” she laments. “What kind of powers might’ve been inside…I need a new staff you know, what if it was a really good staff?”

“Then we’ll steal a branch off a tree and make you a new staff later,” Des jokes. “Let it go.”

Selene grumbles, but relents. 

Whatever was in the library, it’s far behind her now.

She first realizes something is wrong when she tries to cast mage armor during an ambush, and nothing happens.

She takes a goblin arrow to the arm, and begins to bleed.

She tries a magic missile, and nothing happens. No fire bolts, no nothing. Her magic seems to have abandoned her, and as an orc barbarian begins to charge her, she panics and fears for her life, pulling and pulling at her magic and finding her well of knowledge to be empty.

Her instincts kick in as the orc steps within ten feet of her, and she sticks her hand in front of her as a beam of crackling energy, strangely familiar in its power strikes out at the oncoming orc and knocks them back another fifteen feet; dead where they fall.

The whole party stops, covered in various pieces of the rest of the ambush group, and stares at her.

“Where did you learn to do that?!” Des exclaims with far too much glee in his voice.

Selene does not have an answer, as she stares at her hands, still crackling with magic that is familiar but not hers, and struggles to find one anyways.

She wakes up the next morning in camp to find her arms wrapped around another body. At first, she assumes it is Des, who had grown cold in the night as he usually claims and climbed in beside her because “mages need to stick together” (Despite her arguments that his horns keep tearing holes in her pillows and that their types of magic are vastly different because she learned hers and he just ‘waves his hands and hopes for the best’).

But there are no horns on this form, and more than two arm like appendages are wrapped around her. It is not radiating heat the way that Des does, and there are no golden trinkets catching the light of the sun through the holes in the sides of her tent.

She blinks, and it blinks back.

First one, then two, then four, and then six.

She screams, scrambling out of her tent as her hands search for a staff that had been splintered weeks ago. A mass of deep, dark colored tendrils follows her out of her tent in a form that is almostbirdlike if perhaps birds had been born of the depths of the ocean rather than the expanse of the sky. 

Her party members leap out of their own tents, weapons pointed at the creature (who seems unperturbed by the threat) as it lets out a yawn rather like a young kitten and crawls into a stunned Selenes lap, tendrils curling around her waist and almost immediately settling back into a low rumbling purr as it falls back asleep.

“Not to judge your choice of familiars or anything…”Des teases. “But you couldn’t have chosen something more…traditional?”

“This is not my familiar!” Selene declares in a hushed whisper. “I’m not sure what it is.”

The creature stirs slightly in her lap, eyes shifting around its form to land one on each member of her party, and finally on her.

“I am her patron,” It announces. “And I am trying to sleep.”

Selene cautiously settles a hand over-top of what she assumes is the creatures head, and tries to inform it (as politely as she can manage) that she does not have a patron.

“You traced out the runes and broke the seal on my gate. It dragged me much closer to this plane, and permitted us to form a pact. You made this deal much more complicated than I expected it to be by leaving the town though,” he grumbles. “When your friends took you to the inn, it was still within reach, but when you left….tracking you down forced me to take a solid form, and now I am very tired and would like to sleep.”

“I didn’t-I never made a pact.”

“You did,” the creatures yawns again. “But we can go over the details again once I have slept, if you would like.”

“Can I….undo it?”

“No.”

Selene nods her head, because she’s not going to be the one to argue with a multi-dimensional about being possibly permanently tethered to it. Its eyes close in quick succession, the rounded top of its form nuzzling briefly against her stomach before it falls back to what she assumes must be sleeping.

 

Des snickers.
“How’re you going to explain this one to your spire back home?”

Selene glares at her old tiefling friend, and prestidigitates a large slop of mud onto his sleeping robes in retaliation before letting out a sigh.

She really has no idea.

Chapter Text

Dirthamen notices many things, in this new plane.

He notices the different ways that magic moves, the ways that so many different races of people have learned to coexist (mostly), the ways that interactions between people can influence their environment. The way laughter and teasing is not always cruel and at an expense, the way bread and rations can be torn and shared, the way that a good evening of rest in an inn with friends can relax most tensions.

He notices Selene.

Often.

 

That is…normal, he supposes. She is the one tethering him to this plane now, after all. He has not been a patron to very many, despite his age, and he is meant to keep a certain amount of his focus on her as a result of their pact.

 

He had not been expecting her, when she appeared to him. It has been many centuries since anyone solved his puzzles, and he had thought himself long forgotten by the mortals. Had very nearly forgotten them, in turn.

And then suddenly, there she was. Minuscule on the scale he had grown accustomed to, but warm and glowing, nearly overflowing with her own magics as she reached out for him. Asking him for so many things, nearly greedy in her desires.

But harmless.

The most common thing people ask for, is power. To grow magic where they had none, to steal his labyrinths to trap their enemies, to use him to raze whole civilizations and rewrite histories. And he has done it, of course, for anyone that had solved his puzzles. They had earned it.

 

Selene did not wish for power, though. And that had been enough to pique his interests.

Past pacts had begged for power, vengeance, and blood; she asked for knowledge, for freedom, for control of her abilities.

For love.

He was unsure of his ability to fulfill her last wish. But she agreed, even without words. In a split second that spanned eons, the terms of their deal had been determined. He would accompany her throughout her journeys, help her learn what she wished to discover, to funnel her powers not through books and written words, but through a filter of his own design that would allow her the control over her flames that she craved so desperately.

He has noticed many things, since then.

 

Most worryingly, he has noticed how fragile her mortal form is.

 

Often times, she will wander off with other members of her party, leaving him behind to keep an eye on their campsite. He does not mind; it permits him time to obtain the rest his form still requires. Bandits and wandering wildlife do not draw enough of his magics from him to put a substantial damper on his recovery, and so he has not made a fuss at what she has asked of him.

Except that she often returns wounded.

Scraped or bloody, covered in ash or with crossbow bolts sticking out of parts of her that are soft and should not be struck with such things.

When she returns unconscious and slung over the back of her friend Des, he decides that something must be done.

 

“You are not coming into town,” She argues even while her fingers stroke over the sensitive ridges around his eyes.

“You let me go into the last one,” he retorts.

“And did you notice we had to leave when you starting turning back into a blob in front of the crowns guard?”

He had noticed.

“You require protection,” He tries instead.

“I’ll be fine,” She assures him, fingers finding the space under one of his chins that has a habit of making him purr rather loudly, as he is doing now.

He does not believe her. She has a rather poor habit of lying when she believes the truth might inconvenience those around her.

 

Actually…

That might work.

He allows the matter to rest for the evening, as they relax into her bedroll and the cool balm of the night sky settles around them.

 

 

The next morning, he summons two aspects of himself into this plane. In smaller forms, easier to solidify and fill with power that could be used to aid Selene in dire situations.

Deceit, to help them remain hidden, and Fear, to help them remain safe.

 

It is quite a good idea, he thinks proudly as they spend much of the day relaying the events of Selene back to him. Selene will not have to worry about him frightening the mortals, and he will not have to worry about her mortality bringing their agreement to an abrupt end.

 

…It does not go quite as he plans, on the second day.

Around early afternoon, Deceit decides they do not wish to keep their distance any longer.

They land on Selenes shoulder and begin preening her hair, and she nearly screams in fear before they explain the situation.

She is not pleased by their attempt to spy on her.

…But she does not push Deceit away, either.

 

Dirthamen watches with interest as throughout the day, Selene offers Deceit food and water and affectionate scritches while she is focused on other tasks. In fact, she adapts so quickly that even Fear introduces themselves to her, and ends up perching atop her new staff for much of the day.

When people ask her about their presence, she lies and claims they are her familiars. Another part of her deception to claim she is still a wizard, he supposes. But not so far off from the truth, either.

 

It is strange to view her spending so much time with these pieces of himself. To be beside her, and not. Something in him stirs at the emotions it is riling in him. Things he has not felt in quite some time, if ever. Affection, yes. He has already realized that he enjoys being affectionate with Selene and earning her affections in turn. A sense of protectiveness, a desire to keep her safe; also not a new feeling. It is only sensible that he would want to keep her alive, while she is connected to him in such a way. Perhaps…perhaps it is jealousy? It would not be very sensible; after all she is currently laughing and splitting her baked good with a piece of himself, and it is not sensible to be jealous of yourself.

But…

Perhaps he is less fond of being left to watch the campsite as he had previously thought. Perhaps he would like to be the one tucking Selenes stray curls behind her ear, or splitting a sweet tasting pastry while her eyes crinkle with laughter.

Hm.

Perhaps…he has noticed things without taking full stock of them.

 

Dirthamen does not bring the matter up with Selene that night. Instead he sneaks into Des’s tent, while Deceit and Fear each rest curled up against her. The tiefling man is still awake, reading some sort of book whose cover is decorated with two half naked orcs on the cover by the light of his fingertips.

 

Des grins when he spots Dirthamen.

“Well well. Come looking for something new?” He teases.

“No,” Dirthamen admits. “I am having…troubles, with Selene. You and she seem to be fairly close. I had hoped you could assist me.”

“Am I going to have to change my magic type to do it?”

“No.”

“Shame,” Des shrugs, closing the cover of the book before sitting up straight, legs criss crossed in front of him. Long painted fingers close over where his ankles cross as he leans in towards Dirthamen. “What can I do for you?”

 

“I do not think Selene approves of my form. I wish to become more pleasing to her.”

“What sort of ‘pleasing’ are you looking for?”

Dirthamens heads tilt in consideration.

“You know,” Des continues “Do you want to be soft and easy to cuddle? Do you want to spend more time with her like your birds? Or are you looking for the best kind of pleasing?”

“There is a best kind?”

“The sexual kind of course,” Des nods, tail swishing behind him.

Dirthamen considers his options.

He does quite like cuddling with Selene, but his current form already permits that, so whatever he is looking for, it is something else. A bird might be more comfortable, and allow him the freedom to openly spend days with her as he wishes. But there is something…something….

“I wish to spend more time with her,” Dirthamen admits aloud, slowly choosing his words. “But I do not wish to be seen as a creature that is so different from her. I have been having many emotional reactions to her lately, and I wish to understand them.”

 

Des’s eyebrows raise up, his golden piercings with them. “Holy shit,” He whispers. “You really do wanna be her sugar daddy.”

Dirthamen blinks. “What does that mean?”

“You should try being an elf,” Des says instead of directly answering. “…or a tiefling. I’ve seen the way she eyes my tail and horns when she thinks I’m not looking. Actually, she might be into you now and just not realize it, all things considered. Although you could stand to be a little prettier if you ask me. Which you are, so…”

“And you think this would allow me to obtain the sort of relationship with her I am seeking?” Dirthamen verifies.

“It’s certainly not going to hurt,” Des shrugs.

 

Dirthamen nods to himself, decided and determined with a clear goal in mind.

It will take some doing; but it will be worth it, in the end.

Chapter Text

It’s been a very long day. Their party had nearly been caught by the local guard three times, a group of bandits had tried to rob them in an alley, and there had been a displacer beast hiding in the sewers that had nearly gotten the better of Selene.

Tired and bloodied, she opens the flap of her tent and summons a line of light motes in hopes of finding her spare set of robes. Which she does.  Being worn by what appears to be an elven man.

She blinks.

He blinks.

“Welcome back,” He waves to her, as though this were an everyday occurrence.

It takes her a moment to realize that it is.


“Dirthamen,” She breathes out with an air of realization as she lets the flap of the tent fall closed behind her.

“You are injured,” He says as his eyebrows scrunch together and he runs his thumb over her still bleeding cheek where one of the beasts tails had struck her. She feels the gentle cold of his magic seep into the cut and seal it closed, while her eyes drift curiously over his new body.

 

“That’s my robe,” She notes.

“That’s my magic,” He retorts, nodding towards her light motes.

“I used to have my own you know, before you stole it,” She jokes. “Worked really hard for it, too.”

“I did not steal it. I have simply applied a few filters to it, while we are adjusting.”

Selene hums slightly in reply, too tired to try to ask him to undo their pact again. His eyes dart briefly to hers before going back to her injuries as he pulls his hand away from her face.

“Do you like my new form?” he asks, with a note of nervousness to his voice.

“It’ll certainly make it easier for you to travel with us,” She nods. “Not that I disliked the amorphous form, but elves are much less likely to cause mass panic. I might even be able to smuggle you into my hometown when we go back to it now.”

“That is…” He frowns briefly before sealing closed another gash on her stomach. “…very practical.”

 

Selene blinks slowly, watching her eldritch patron pout at some sort of cue she seems to have missed.

Is there something particular about this form, she wonders?

Long sleek black hair that curls at the ends past his hips, a warmer skin tone than her own, two steel blue eyes, long pointed ears, a square jaw…

“It’s very…”she hesitates, hoping this is the right approach to take. “Pretty.”

 

His ears perk up slightly as he glances up at her in surprise.

“That is a good thing, yes?”

“I think so,” She nods. “ Do you like it?”

“Yes,” He grins (and that ,she thinks, suits him most of all) “I tried to replicate some of the qualities you seemed to enjoy on the rest of your party members, but I am still not at full power and was unable to get all of the details. I attempted the freckles of Des and Ana earlier, but they were…incorrect. I hope you are still pleased with my face.”

 

Realization dawns on Selene.

Oh.

“You want to know if I think you’re attractive?”

Dirthamen nods.

Oh.

 

“Is that allowed?” She asks. There’s probably not an official rulebook or anything on patron/warlock etiquette, but…Hm. She hadn’t really considered it while his form was shifting so often. How would it have even worked? And how long has he been considering it, that he apparently spent all of today trying to make himself look like an elf?

“I do not know why it would not be,” He answers.

Selene hesitates. What if its a trick? Though it seems unlikely, given what she’s learned of him so far. He had spent much of their last week on the road curled up and sleeping inside of her pack, poking his head and tendrils out only for food consumption or occasional bouts of curiosity and a round of questions about local traditions Selene usually couldn’t answer. In fact, much of his past behavior seems to point towards a desire for affection and contact, looking back on it.

Her eyes land on the belt of her robes, improperly tied around his waist.

Out of habit of helping the younger apprentices in the spire for so many years, Selene reaches out and undoes it. She pulls it taut around the slight curve of the bottom of his rib cage, and begins to tie it correctly. As she does, his face begins to darken and two more eyes pop up. All four wide and focused on her as his mouth falls open slightly on a sharp intake of breath.

She finishes tying the belt and pats it, glancing back to look at him with a smile, only to be greeted by the blushing face of her patron, who seems distracted by her sudden attentions and closeness.

…it is a very nice face.

But she is also very tired.

 

She places her lips to his forehead and compliments him again, then turns to lay out her bedroll.

 

She carefully removes the damaged and blood stained outer layers of her armor, placing them aside for later cleaning and stretches out on the roll in her shift. Her shoulder makes a slight popping sound, and when she opens her eyes again, Dirthamen is staring down at her uncertainly.

 

She pats the open space beside her.

“It’s alright,” She assures him. “It’s not really that different from before, right? Though I’d appreciate it if you didn’t try to climb up on my chest in this form. It’s probably quite a bit heavier, and might make breathing difficult for me.”

 

He smiles again and she ignores the fluttering in her chest as he curls up beside her, two long arms wrapping around her midsection as he settles his head in the crook of her neck. He lets out a soft sigh and she swallows, her own arm wrapping around him in return.

Ok. Maybe she didn’t think this through. Parts of her definitely think this is different than before.

Still. It’s nice to have him here, and the cool of him in her arms is a welcome contrast to the thick heat of the summer air around them. She lets out a breath, allowing some of her lingering tensions to go with it, and closes her eyes.

This probably isn’t a typical patron/warlock relationship, she thinks.

But hey; it’s theirs.