Things were simpler when it was just the two of them.
Desire argues it was never just the two of them. They were formed of Mythal and Elgar'nan, after all. They have always been tied to their energies, destined for greater things, beyond the limitations of the dreaming.
Devotion had never felt ‘limited’ in the Dreaming, but her other half had yearned for a body for so long she could not deny him, when the opportunity presented itself.
Bones twisted and crackled, cages of muscle and sinew wrapped around her spirit as nerve endings lit up. Pain, aches, warmth and power.
A bright blaze of purple flames surrounding the pair of them, magic surging through the air, desperately seeking a release.
Elgar'nan is delighted with his children.
They are loved, and they are cared for, and they are a family. And for a while, things are not so bad.
And then there is war.
With the war comes Andruil, a crying screaming babe who is bathed in too much blood far too early as it stains her well past adolescence.
Then the empire is formed, a tentative peace for the people. She and her family watch over them, because they must. The people cannot wander without their Keepers, and the Keepers have fallen. To disease, to madness, to time.
It is her responsibility to care for her people. To devote herself to them, to keep them strong and well and safe.
Their names change, if only slightly. Desire becomes Des'din, who helps the fallen find peace in what they leave behind, and ensures fortune falls on those who have earned it. Devotion becomes Da'Selene, the Little Moon. Known for her loyalty to her family, for whom she has bled and killed and protected with her knowledge throughout her existence.
For whom she remains in her position, even now. Marks scrawled over the faces of those she seeks to protect.
“You’re drifting again, Lady Da'Selene” hums her closest advisor from beside her.
Selene blinks, back straightening in her throne as she is pulled back to the current matter at hand. June is looking to build yet another tower in Arlathan, and is hoping to barter for one of her more closely guarded enchanted marbles to use on the interior.
“What makes this tower so different from the abundance of them you have already successfully built without my marble?” Selene asks.
“Ah, well,” June grins, proudly spinning the model in the air in front of him. “None of the floors will be stationary, you see. A hundred floors, none of which stand still for any considerable amount of time. A giant puzzle, shifting to reflect the rays of the sun and moon in aesthetically pleasing ways. A place for the truly clever to convene and discuss the matters of the day.”
Or the year, she thinks idly. If the floors are shifting, it’s more likely people will be sent inside only to get lost for several times longer than they should be. Undoubtedly, June plans on keeping his own secrets in the harder to access levels. The gatekeeper of knowledge that he is.
“I think that is very clever of you,” Selene coos. “Designing a tower so large that is capable of moving people across it so efficiently without the use of the crossroads. Being able to shift entire floors to allow people access to what they need so quickly. And such a large tower could easily be used to house necessities and knowledge for multiple professions and councils within Arlathan. That seems like a wonderful use of my materials.”
Junes face pales slightly before he regains his usual vigor. “Of course! The floors are absolutely shifting to allow people…easier access to what it will house. Why else would they do something like that? It’d be ridiculous. Needlessly showy.”
“Wasteful, even.” Selene nods.
“Yes,” June agrees, looking longingly at his model before dismissing it with a wave of his hand. “I will go over the final designs with my people, and contact you again when I have a more exact idea of how much marble I will need.”
“We can discuss pricing then,” Selene smiles, standing to escort him out of her throne room. “I look forward to your return.”
The two of them shake hands, and Selene closes the door as June finally takes his leave. She lets out a heavy breath, head leaning against the frame while some of the tension eases out of her.
“You seem distracted today, Da'Selene,” her advisor remarks, leaning casually against her throne.
“Please don’t call me that,” She shoots back. “I am too old to be called 'little’ anything. Just Selene is fine.”
“It’s improper!” Gasps her red headed friend in an exaggerated manner, lounging entirely on the arm of the throne now.
“I can decide what is proper or not within my own lands,” Selene shoots back.
“So the next time your father visits and calls you Da'Selene, you’re going to correct him?”
Selene pauses, and considers. “Well…no. I don’t think he would take well to that at all.”
“That’s true,” interjects her other half as he strides into the room, golden ornaments gleaming across his bared chest. “Father still thinks you’re all his little girls. If his oldest daughter grows up, it means his other daughters will grow up one day. He’d be crushed”
“And it’s almost worth putting up with for the frustration it causes Andruil,” Selene grins, moving to give Des a hug. The jewelry is hard and cold as it presses against her cloak, but his body is warm and soft as he returns the embrace. “I’ve missed you.”
“Nothing is stopping you from coming by my lands you know,” Des tsks. “You don’t have to be a shut in here with all your dusty books and spells and weird…’things’. Look at your clothes! There’s not even an enchantment on this clasp-Are you wearing a sleeping dress underneath your cloak?!”
Selene shifts awkwardly. “I only had the one meeting today.”
“And she overslept,” Ana chimes in.
“Either I could wear nice clothes, or I could make my hair presentable,” Selene argues as Des’s jaw drops in shock “I thought the cloak would be less suspicious than a large hat.”
Des lets out a sigh, taking off a few of his necklaces and slipping them over Selenes head. “I am going to send over a few of my best tailors, and they are going to make a slew of gowns suitable for you.”
“I don’t need gowns-”
“You are a leader of the people. Your appearance matters, babe. Who’s going to listen to someone who sits on the throne in her pajamas?”
“So far, all of my subjects.” Selene points out.
Ana giggles from where she still sits.
Des shoots her a dirty look. “I suppose I should have known better than to leave my other half in the hands of a Bear.”
“It’s not like I’ve decked her out in furs,” Ana says. “And she wears her armor when it matters.”
“A little decadence! That’s all I’m asking for,” Des says as he waves exasperatingly at the (comparatively to his) plain walls of her throne room . “Honestly. Sylaise and I are the only ones in this family with any taste.”
“Says the god of the dead.”
“And fortune!” Des says, gesturing to his various golds and gems. He turns to face Selene “No one ever talks about the fortune bit when I’m not around, do they.”
“Not really, no,” Selene agrees, patting his shoulder. “Although for what it’s worth, I think you do a wonderful job making the effort to put that particular aspect of yourself on display.”
“Your tongue still flatters as easily as ever,” He grins. “Although, now that you’ve mentioned 'aspects’, I did come here to ask for a favor.”
Selene blinks. Des is usually more than capable of dealing with things on his own, and has rarely ever asked for a favor from someone other than Mythal or Elgar'nan.
“What do you need?”
It doesn’t take long to cross from Selenes castle into Des’s, their private paths to one another long since forged. Ana has stayed behind, to ensure order in case any other matters might come up in Selene’s absence.
“There was an…incident.” Des explains as they travel through his halls. Tall and golden, silken sashes of magenta hanging from the ceiling and over the various art works displayed throughout. “As you know, I tend to take a special shine to other twin souls in my territories. See if I can see a bit of 'us’ in them, you know.”
Selene nods; Des’s tastes aren’t unknown to her, and he often likes to see himself reflected in his closest attendants. He’s found it easier to achieve his own desires if they are shared in the people around him.
“Well, I’ve been working with one of them for a few centuries now, but his brother was late to attend his own duties today. It’s not the first time, his brother has a reputation for being strange and reclusive after all, but I was notified by one of my healers that this particular incident has had…'unique’ repercussions. I was going to take him to mother, but given your ongoing fight for spirit rights, I thought it would be best to let you try and figure out what, precisely, is going on first.”
Des pushes open the door to his infirmary, and Selene sees instantly who he must be talking about.
An elf, curled in on himself atop a cot, is attempting to push away healers with limbs he shouldn’t have. His magic is pulled in tightly to his core, Selene is barely able to get a read on him as she approaches. She dismisses the healers, moving instead to stand beside the elf. He has wings sprouting from his back, and several different energies can be seen swirling around him now that she is close.
“It’s ok,” She murmurs, recognizing strong notes of Fear. “No one here is going to hurt you.”
Two bright blue eyes blink up, head tilting from where it had been buried in his arms and chest a moment before. Tears are streaming out of them, the skin around the right side of his face is badly bruised and there is a line of dried blood sitting at the base of his nose.
It pulls at her heartstrings in a way she has not felt in a very long time.
“Who hurt him?” She asks Des quietly, using an old healing spell. Softer and more gradual than most, as she hopes to not overwhelm him.
“Falon'din,” Des sighs, scratching at the back of his head. “I’d heard they got into fights before but I thought it was like…the normal kind, you know? Like when we used to spar, or fight over the last piece of a pastry. Nothing like this.”
Selene nods. The elves knuckles are clean, no scratches or blood other than the claw marks on his arms; clearly a defensive wound.
“He didn’t fight back,” Selene murmurs.
“Not physically,” Des agrees.
“Not in any way that wasn’t self defense,” Selene says, familiar notes of devotion rising out of the man in front of her at the mention of his brother. “He loves his brother. Very much. He would never purposefully hurt him if there were another option.”
The man leans forward with a quiet sigh, towards the healing spell as it flows out of her, eyes closing shut as some of the notes of bliss pour into him. As the pain finally leaves, the energies around him begin to calm, and she can see the same issue her brother did.
“He’s merged,” She notes quietly.
She can feel Des nod behind her. “Not well. Certainly not legally.”
“There were extenuating circumstances.”
“Which is why I brought you, rather than mother.”
The bruise begins to lighten and vanish, along with his other lingering injuries. His wings remain, but otherwise his limbs return to a more acceptable number.
“Where is his brother?”
“In a cell, until we can determine what to do about the situation as a whole.” Des says.
Leave him there to rot, Selene thinks bitterly. She doesn’t understand how something like this is even possible. To hurt the other half of yourself so severely? She can’t even imagine. She would give anything for Des, has given up nearly everything to give him what he wanted. Even her family members that are not tied to her in such a way. Despite her frequent arguments with Andruil, she can’t imagine intentionally hurting her sister so cruelly.
Selene takes a deep breath to calm and center herself.
First things first; help the injured.
“Ok,” She tells the elf in front of her. “You’re all tangled up in each other right now. I’m going to try to help you. It’s likely going to feel very strange, but I need you to try and stay relaxed, alright?”
His eyes snap open, blue eyes tinged red with Fear beneath long dark locks of hair. Selene presses a warm hand to their cheek. “I promise to be careful. If you want me to stop, just say the word. Alright?”
The elf (Dirthamen, Des finally calls from over her shoulder) hesitates. Then nods, slowly.
He’s scared, she knows.
But it helps. Fears strings rise to the surface, allowing Selene to carefully untangle them from the other two. Bright red and gleaming, new and powerful, as she weaves them into themselves, carefully pulling away a deep green and steel blue as the spirit bursts into the room. Out of the corner of her eye, Selene sees feathers fluffing up into the air, but she can’t stop now or she risks losing them all. The green is next, shining in the light as it tries to shift itself to match the blues. Deceit, she realizes with a shake of her head; always making trouble. It is more difficult to ensure she has found all of it, carefully tugging on string by string and checking for markers of a change, but when a second spirit forms on the other side of Dirthamen, she feels confident she has managed it. The steel blue, the only one left frayed weaves itself back together, ends tethered to Fear and Deceit determinedly.
Not a bond to be undone, then.
Selene takes a step back when it is done, watching as the two ravens wander cautiously around Dirthamen, whose aura has now calmed considerably.
Unfortunately, there is another problem staring at them now.
Des has noticed too, leaning forward to whisper into Selenes ear. “Their power is great. Greater than mother is likely to permit.”
Selene frowns. Her other half is right, of course. Spirits this strong, especially those who have merged, risk corruption. Like the Keepers did. Mother will advise them to send Dirthamen to Uthenera, or use him to power some festival or monument, if she discovers what he has become.
It would be wrong to lie to mother.
She has loved them and cared for them and helped them to achieve their potential.
…But it would also be wrong to allow Dirthamen to face death for an incident that was not his fault.
“I might have something that could help,” Selene whispers back to Des.
“Dirthamen,” She says, kneeling down beside the cot. “I think after everything that’s happened, it would be best if you spent a bit of time away from Falon'din. You haven’t done anything wrong. But I know your body is under a lot of stress right now, and I want to make sure you get the rest you need.”
She pulls off one of the necklaces Des had given her earlier, casting a subtle but powerful enchantment over it. Not one her mother has seen through yet, and she hopes that pattern will continue to hold as she places it over Dirthamens head, watching as it settles over his own chest. “This token will help keep you safe. Please don’t take it off, under any means.”
Dirthamen fiddles slightly with the golden chain, blinking curiously up at Selene. She gives him a small smile back. “I’m going to take you back to my home for a little while. Until Des'din and I can come to an agreement about everything that is going on. Alright?”
He nods, swallowing as Fear and Deceit each perch on his shoulders. “…Alright,” he agrees quietly.
Selene thanks him, and moves farther away with Des, calling for Silence around them to keep their words hidden.
“You’re just taking him?” Des frowns. “That’s unlike you.”
“I’m worried about him,” Selene admits. “He needs help.”
“Help like necklaces? That was a courting gift from an admirer you know. I was hoping to get it back.”
“As though you don’t have whole chests filled with similar gifts,” Selene scoffs. “I added a small enchantment to it. To help keep him hidden from mother.”
Des’s eyebrows raise. “You’re going to hide him?”
“Just while he gets himself under control,” Selene says dismissively. “This situation isn’t his fault. He shouldn’t be punished for it.”
“Will appear average to anyone else.”
Des blinks, looking quickly over Selenes shoulder at Dirthamen and then back to her.
“Is that why so many of your spirits mysteriously cap out at 'acceptable’ levels?”
“Well, it’s not as though my feelings on spirit sacrifice are a secret-”
“The fact that you are forging spirits magical potencies is!”
“Then it is a good thing I can trust you,” Selene says solemnly.
“And he is, technically, your subject.” she points out.
“Great, so I get pulled down with you for allowing this to happen to my people if we’re caught.”
“So let me keep us from getting caught,” Selene says simply.
“…fine,” Des finally agrees. “But only because you seem to want this so much. And this is only temporary!”
“Thank you,” She says, pressing a kiss to her other halfs forehead. “I will be careful.”
“That’s not what I’m afraid of,” Des mutters as Silence drifts away from them.
Selene strides over to Dirthamen, and gestures for him to follow her back out. The trip back is longer, Des and Selene taking a more public path back to her lands, passing through Eluvians and into the crossroads. They finally emerge on the other side, sun beginning to set over the mountains on the far side of her territory.
Ana is grateful for their return, handing Selene several scrolls with questions from people in her workshops that handle matters she does not. Selene tucks them carefully back into her cloak, and briefly introduces Ana and Dirthamen to each other.
“He will need a room,” Selene instructs. “As well as food and clothing. Some place with a private bath would be preferable.”
Ana gives a polite bow, and Selene sends Dirthamen off with her to find someplace to allow him more rest. Selene is feeling rather drained herself; she has used more magic today than she had planned on, and separating spirits is always strenuous.
“A private bath, hm?” Des teases, nudging Selene lightly. “Have some special plans for him then?”
Selene blinks. “He was covered in blood earlier. I thought he’d like a bath where he wouldn’t be surrounded by strangers after the encounter with his brother. Do you think he’d be more comfortable in a public bath?”
“I think he’d be more comfortable sharing a bath with someone in particular,” Des hums.
“Well, you can send them over tomorrow then, provided they are not his brother.”
Des shakes his head. “I really did get all the sense between us you know.”
Selene looks at him quizzically, and he sighs.
“You gave him a gift- a gift you upgraded from what was already a courting gift I may add- and now you’re letting him live in your home with a private bath, and you’re willing to lie to mother to protect him. Do you really not see it?”
Selenes head tilts, trying to figure out what Des could possibly be talking about. “I…no?”
Des shakes his hand dismissively. “Fine. You should send him some books on poetry later. He quite likes reading from what I understand. Maybe spend some extra time with him to help him 'acclimate’ while you’re at it.”
“Oh,” Selene says, shoulders and head relaxing. “Ok. I will, thank you.”
“Ok,” Des grins, patting her shoulders twice. “I’m gonna go home now. Let me know how all that goes. I’ll come check in soon.”
Selene gives her other half a hug, and watches as he vanishes back into their path.
Surely there must be some in one of the libraries…
Dirthamen sleeps for three days.
The burden his recent change has placed on his body and spirit is a heavy one, so Selene tries not to disturb him. She sends for his things from her other half’s lands, and discovers more about him while he dreams. His preference for puzzles and dark colored clothes, his gifts for shifting and music. That he was nearly one of Des'dins personal musicians before his hands were shattered in an ‘accident’ that left him broken in more ways than one.
Any lingering guilt that his brother will remain locked up during their deliberations dries up at that particular discovery.
Most interestingly she thinks, is that none of this knowledge is given from other elves. Only discovered from items in his rooms, records kept by her other half’s healers, or the occasional spirit with whom he had traded in the past.
On the fourth day, Dirthamen wakes.
Ana sends word to Selene, who is caught up making preparations for her portion of the upcoming festival in Arlathan. She takes longer to finally greet him than she means to, but it gives him time to bathe and dress before she is knocking on his door.
“Good morning,” She greets “How are you feeling?”
He hesitates, and Selene watches the strings in him stir in his silence; deliberating his answer with the newer aspects of himself.
“Better,” he finally answers. “Thank you.”
“It was no trouble,” She smiles. “I do have a rather busy day ahead though, so I’m afraid I don’t have much time to remain in your rooms. Would you mind walking with me?”
Dirthamens stomach growls loudly as he opens his mouth, and Selene has to cover her mouth to keep from giggling.
“We can stop at the dining hall first.” She says as he nods in agreement.
Selene explains the current situation on their way. That he will be staying with her as a guest while they try to parse out the particulars of the incident and how best to move forward. That for now, he is considered an emissary for Des'din so that people will not ask pressing personal questions. It is not unusual for them to send their people to assist one another, especially this close to a large event.
Selene herself temporarily transferred one of her best jewelers to her other half in exchange; an embodied spirit of joy she had become fond of, and that has recently taken a shine to one of Des'dins stylists. She knows it’s likely he will request a permanent transfer if his courting attempts are well received, but Selene is reluctant to let him go entirely. He has become a good friend, and while she has toyed with finding an appropriate place in her own hierarchy for the stylist in order to keep him, she has little need for one outside of special occasions.
“I think she would be bored in my halls,” Selene explains. “They do not glitter like my other half’s, and I do not hold parties nearly so often.”
“That sounds very peaceful,” Dirthamen sighs. “Des'dins parties are often loud and raucous.” he hesitates, bowing his head and staring down at the floor “Not that I am unhappy with my Lord. I am very grateful for all that he has given us.”
Selene tilts her head, carefully analyzing the notes of fear in his aura. Fear of repercussions, of punishment, of attack.
“It is alright to criticize you know. For all that we are held as Gods, Des'din still has his faults. Goodness knows he could use less people to whisper compliments and pretty words into his ear, and more to remind him to look after his responsibilities outside of the bedroom.”
“Do you…dislike your brother, then?”
“He is not my brother,” Selene shrugs. “He is my other half. I do not dislike him by any means, I love him very dearly. But he falls to his nature too often, tempted by flesh and gold and power and turning a blind eye to the things that do not suit his preferences. You are not the first to fall through the cracks of his leadership, and I fear you will not be the last. I do hope it, though.”
Dirthamen nods slowly in consideration, fingers fiddling with the golden chain still around his neck as they finally enter the dining hall. Several elves bow their heads and give polite greetings, and several more eye Dirthamen curiously as he follows behind their leader. Selene seats herself at a scarcely populated table and gestures for Dirthamen to join her. A small group of serving elves appear soon after, placing small plates of various food types and a large pitcher of water along with three glasses onto the table before them.
“Normally there is a predetermined menu for the day,” Selene explains as she fills a plate with fruits and breads. “Although you can give the chefs requests ahead of time if you desire. A few of my people are particular about what they eat, but I find having a limit on general options cuts down on our food waste significantly. It also ensures everyone is meeting their nutritional needs.”
“You also have nutritional needs,” Ana chimes in as she scoops a small pile of egg onto Selenes plate and takes the seat on the other side of Dirthamen. “Which means eating more than just sweets and bread. Good to see you up and about. Feeling better?”
Selene makes a face at the eggs, but scoops some of it onto her bread and takes a bite anyways.
“Yes,” Dirthamen tells Ana “Thank you.”
“Oh, don’t think me,” Ana hums while pouring the three of them water “Our Lady Da'Selene over here did most of the work. She’s taken quite the interest in you. Did you find your lotions and hair products in the bath? She sent for your things specifically, so that you’d feel more comfortable.”
“I did notice them,” He says as he turns to face Selene “Thank you. It was not necessary to go to such lengths for me.”
Selene waves a hand dismissively, swallowing down a slice of apple. “It wasn’t any trouble. You’ve been through enough, I saw no reason to cause you more distress.”
Dirthamen nods again, finally filling his own plate and eating. He watches curiously as several people approach Selene at the table, asking questions or making small permissions requests. She does not shoo them away, or rush through their conversations. She gives each one her full attention, solving problems in between bites of food.
Ana seems to notice Dirthamens confusion at the situation, and nudges his arm gently with her own. “She doesn’t get to do this sort of thing when her family is around,” she explains quietly “And if they ever ask you, her schedule is always filled with appointments and proper paperwork and decorum. But having an open door policy is important to her. One of her pillars here is about sharing knowledge, and she’s learned that locking herself away impedes that.”
“So anyone can just walk up to her at anytime?”
“Typically,” Ana says. “Of course there are days she is too tired or busy, and she has been known to get wrapped up in her work and neglect other matters from time to time, which is when appointments really do need to be made. But if she’s in a public space and her family is not around…” she shrugs. “She’s devoted to her people.”
A few more elves come by before the food has been finished, and Ana reminds Selene that she has other responsibilities that need to be seen to today.
“Of course,” Selene says, standing from her seat and giving a soft apology to the elf she had been talking to. They exit the dining hall as a group, and Selene pulls her hood up over her head while asking Ana where their first stop is.
She leads the three of them into a rehearsal space, filled with a band and small assortment of singers arguing over pieces of paper.
Selene takes a deep breath before she enters, shoulders straightening as she steps into the room.
“What seems to be the problem?” She calls, voice echoing throughout the space. In unison, each of the singers look up at their leader. The conductor lets out a breath of relief as they leave them be and march over to Selene instead.
“This music is ancient, and not even the good kind-”
“It is practically a battle hymn, people will be-”
“Who in their right mind would dance to this-”
“I am not an opening act-!”
“Stop!” Selene declares, holding her hands up between herself and the approaching singers. “One at a time, left to right, go.”
“This music is horrendous, and will make us the laughingstock of the festival.” says the first.
“These lyrics are like a call to arms, this festival is meant to celebrate our victory, not incite a recreation of the battle.” continues the second.
“The beat is almost nonexistent,” Complains the third “No one will be able to dance to it acceptably.”
Selene looks to the fourth, who has their arms crossed over their chest. “I have been our headliner for the past five centuries,” They mumble, clearly embarrassed that their own issue is more personal than the others. “I refuse to perform first, and be an opening act.”
Selene nods, taking a copy of the sheet music from the second singer. “This is an older piece,” she agrees “But the composer is being honored as a part of Sylaise’s portion of the event. Since we are performing after her, we are directly following her theme, as a sign of unity. If you disagree with this particular composition, they have others we could select from, if no one objects to a change this late in the game.”
She glances over the heads of the singers and signals for the conductor to approach. “Would you and the band be opposed to a change of music? Perhaps her Symphony to the Skies would be more well received.”
The conductor nods readily. “Yes, that should be equitable so long as you can provide the music.”
Selene quickly calls a familiar Spirit of Melody through the dreaming, and sends them to retrieve the necessary scrolls for the small orchestra while she sorts out the matter of who will be singing when.
“If we are doing the symphony, it should be acceptably long enough that you can all perform together,” Selene explains. “I will leave it up to the conductor who gets to sing the solo sonata in the third movement, as they are more familiar with your talents and this department than I am.”
Melody returns not long after that with the music, and it seems as though everyone is more satisfied with this piece as they settle into their chairs to begin rehearsal.
“Do you dance?” Selene asks, turning to face Dirthamen.
“Not well,” He admits. “My brother is more talented at social arts than I am.”
“You think dancing is a social art?” Selene muses. “I’ve always found it to be rather more like a physically engaging puzzle.”
“The way you dance must be different from the forms I am familiar with, then.”
“If you grew in my other half’s lands, that is very possible. He has always treated it more like foreplay, all grinding and bodies pressed to bodies.” Selene smiles, and holds her hand out towards him as the music starts to play. “Would you like me to teach you how it is done here?”
Dirthamen stares at the extended hand, as though waiting for it to turn into a trap of some kind. It pangs at Selenes chest, and her fingers curl just slightly at the disappointment but she assures him “It is alright to say no, if you do not want to.”
His mouth opens and closes as he wars with himself for several minutes. Still adjusting to his newest aspects, distrusting and cautious of the situation, and likely of her, she supposes. Selene lets her arm drop back down to her side, and offers him a warm smile in hopes of reassuring him.
“Perhaps another time then, if you are up to it.”
Ana pouts, and Selene shoots her a look as they finally leave the rehearsal space, Dirthamen trailing behind them. He seems more unsure now than he had before, and Selene wonders how she could rectify it.
Perhaps taking him with her through her day was the wrong choice. Has she overwhelmed him? It is a new situation, perhaps she overestimated how much he has recovered.
Something less strenuous might make him more comfortable then.
She veers sharply left, down the hallway towards the library for general access. She had thought he might be more interested in something more focused, but since she hasn’t managed to discern what focuses he would like, this will have to do for now.
Selene leads them through the heavy oak doors, and into the large space. Walls towering high, stacked with books and scrolls and histories and all available for whoever would care to look. It is not Selenes favorite of the libraries, but it is the broadest, and caters to the largest percentage of her people.
Hopefully there will be something here that he will enjoy more than the stress of her company.
“I’m afraid it will be safer if you remain here while I finish out my appointments for the day,” Selene says as she turns to Dirthamen. “Ana will keep an eye on you while I am gone, and assist you if you have need of it.”
“Yes.” Selene says pointedly. “The poetry is in aisle thirty two. I have a preference for Man'gelou and Po'len myself, but I’m sure there will be something to your taste either way.”
Ana nearly snorts into her hand while Dirthamen looks at Selene rather curiously, as though trying to understand what, precisely, her motive is.
“I will meet you back in the dining hall for dinner if my schedule permits,” She presses on. “Otherwise, I hope you have an enjoyable evening.”
Dirthamen thanks her once again, and Selene vanishes back out into the halls. Unsure of why she feels upset, of why her chest feels so tight since they left the rehearsal space.
“Lady Da'Selene,” Calls one of her sentries, nearly out of breath. “There you are.”
“Is everything alright Din'Durgen?” She asks, glad for the distraction.
“Er, maybe?” She responds. “Your mother is here. In your private garden.”
Selenes eyes widen.
Her mother has no visits scheduled until after the festival.
What could have brought her here now?
Has there been an incident?
“Thank you for letting me know,” Selene says, dashing off quickly through false walls and hidden staircases. It doesn’t take long for her to arrive at her private gardens, or to find her mother near the rose bushes.
“Mother,” She greets with a polite bow of her head. “I was not expecting you. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Da'Selene,” Mythal returns “Can I not just visit for the pleasure of seeing my own daughter?”
“Of course,” Selene smiles, tucking away her notes of unease.
Mythal motions for Selene to join her on the stone bench, and makes idle small talk for several minutes. Discussions of Des'din, and their siblings, and her father.
“How are your preparations for the festival coming along my dear?” She finally asks.
“They are moving along smoothly,” Selene assures her. “Everything should be ready, as expected.”
“Wonderful,” Mythal smiles, and Selene can feel the air shift subtly around them, a sign that her mother has gotten to the actual reason for her trip. “I had an interesting discussion with Andruil, though.”
Selene tilts her head slightly. “Oh?”
“Yes. We were discussing what a shame it is that her hunt is always so far out in the woods for the festival. Most of the people miss out on the sport of it, and it is always the same outcome when Andruil comes back with her prey. The event has become stale, I fear.”
Selene nods, but remains silent as Mythal continues. “We were thinking perhaps you could build her one of your labyrinths for the occasion. A temporary one of course, something to be removed after the festival. But it would give us a designated area for the hunt, and allow the people to truly see the skills your younger sister is so proud of.”
Selenes placating smile has turned into an unsubtle frown by the end of her mothers pitch. “That is not what the labyrinths are for. They are not a spectator sport, they are a trial. If I built one for Andruil, I do not think it would make her seem more appealing to the people. I daresay she may even hate me by the end of it.”
Mythal lets out a sigh. “I will be honest with you,” She says in a tone Selene knows by now means she is being hardly honest at all. “Your little sister has lost much of her appeal in the public eye. There are whispers of those who despise her for her harshness. She does not possess the softness of you or I, nor the obvious appeal of Sylaise or Des'din. You and I both know it is a lost cause to try and appeal to a heart she does not have, so we must work with what she does.”
“You think letting Andruil hunt where the people can see will make her…what? Endearing?”
“No,” Mythal tsks. “But dissent is building in her territory, and fear is a tactic she has always been gifted with. The people need a reminder that she is fierce and capable and terrible.”
“I will not build a labyrinth for my sister,” Selene insists. “I do not have the time to erect one in time for the festival, especially not one capable of holding Andruil. You ask too much of me, mother.”
“It does not need to be as elaborate as the ones you build in your own domain. I am more concerned that it should hold whatever beast Ghilan'nain creates as her prey than your sister. If Andruil is able to burst through your labyrinth victoriously in the end, all the better for our purposes.”
“Your purposes,” Selene argues. “If Andruil breaks through one of my labyrinths, it will appear to be a victory over me, not her prey.”
“My eldest daughter,” Mythal soothes “I would never pit my children against each other in such a way.”
“Then do not ask this of me.”
“Devotion,” Mythal snaps. “It is time to grow up. We all must make our sacrifices for the empire. Where is my daughter who would give anything for our cause? Who slayed dragons and birthed the Varterrals and whose name alone once held off an army of thousands?”
“The war is over, mother. There is no reason to fight anymore.”
“War is never over, child. You know that better than most.”
A heavy silence hangs between them. Tension, a silent battle of wills in their words unsaid.
Selene breaks first with a heavy sigh.
“Even if I wanted to go along with this,” She says “There is simply not enough time to build a labyrinth before the festival. I do not have an adequate power source sitting around, the ritual takes months of preparation-”
“Then use another power source.”
Selene feels her stomach drop out as she hisses. “I am not going to sacrifice someone for the sake of a fake and temporary labyrinth!”
“You will,” Mythal instructs, leaving no room for further complaints or arguments as she stands. “Andruil will remind the people that she is their Huntress, and you will remind them that your loyalty is to your family first. We all have our roles, child. I am trusting you to follow yours through.”
Selenes hands clench beneath the sleeves of her cloak as she watches her mother stride out of her garden. It is not until she feels her blood coursing past her knuckles that she finally digs her nails out of her palm.
It is a foolish plan. A show of power, a lie to the people. Her mothers gift of propaganda at work again.
She must find a way around it.
Another week passes.
Selene spends her mornings with Dirthamen and Ana in the dining halls, but her afternoons and nights in her office and workshop. Desperately searching for a way to avoid a needless sacrifice to her sisters hubris, in notes and journals and old secrets long buried.
One of her workers, Melanadahl, has a few theories that may pan out if she can push them through their paces well enough. They work closely together, dismissing options that are too time intensive or unstable for their purposes. Moving traps and spells in the labyrinths blueprints to distribute energies as evenly as they can manage without leaving any permanent damage to the land used.
“We could make this really spectacular,” Melanadahl muses “If we could just skip past the fuel problem and focus on our designs-”
“That is not an option,” Selene reminds him for the umpteenth time. “I do not care how impressive it could look, your job is to find a power source that is not spiritual energy, and that could be gathered and harnessed in time for the festival.”
“Of course, my Lady,” He relents, returning to his current project. “Have you tried asking that little ambassador of yours for ideas?”
Selene blinks, eyes narrowing beneath her hood. “What? No. And he’s not mine, he is one of Des'dins people.”
“Well you certainly seem to have taken a shine to him,” Melanadahl hums, spinning the orb within its barrier. “You’ve had breakfast together every day since he arrived.”
“Goodness, you’re right,” Selene says dryly “I’d completely forgotten that eating together was practically the same as having sex in the dining hall every morning. Should I just blow him instead of eating my apples, d'you think?”
“I’m just going to point out that you were the one who added a sexual component to this conversation.”
“You must be rubbing off on me.”
“I’d certainly like to,” He murmurs, attention returning to his work.
Selenes hands tap at her side contemplatively.
It’s not the worst proposition she’s ever had, and she has gained an edge of unused and frustrating energies these last few days she’d like to get rid of. Melanadahl is attractive by most standards, and Des'din had enjoyed his company during their brief tryst. Perhaps it has been a few years too long since her last sexual encounter, and the addition of Dirthamen and his particular personality and quirks has simply reminded her of some of this particular bodies needs.
Needs that could, theoretically, be met by most anyone.
“Perhaps,” Selene allows.
Melanadahl nearly drops the orb in shock, and she has to catch it before the barrier can shatter onto the floor.
She hands it back to him, fingers brushing against his own, but feels nothing but flesh against hers. There is no spark, no heat, no lingering energies interested in mingling. Nothing like the slight rush she feels when her eyes make contact with Dirthamens, or when their shoulders bump in the hall and her heartbeat speeds up.
A shame. This would have been infinitely less complicated, she thinks.
She leaves him to finish his work without her distraction, retreating to her rooms as the fatigue of the day catches up to her.
Sleep eludes her for longer than she cares for, mind racing with thoughts of how to alleviate the magic itching beneath her skin, the want her other half is known for racing through her bloodstream as she tries to focus on her breathing, on the steady beat of her heart, on anything other than the image of bright blue eyes and a lithe frame beneath her, calling out her name and writhing in pleasure, dark hair spread over pale sheets and a chest rising and falling with the strain of their rhythm as they drive each other to completion.
Part of her wonders if it might not be simpler to ask him directly if he would be interested in a sexual relationship with her during his stay.
But a larger part, the wiser part, knows that his answer would not matter. It is too soon, and he is still adjusting not only to the new nature of himself but to the ways of her territory. It would not be an honest yes unless he knows he can safely say no.
Assuming, of course, he said yes.
Wishful thinking on her part, perhaps.
She does not sleep well that night.
The morning does not fare any better.
Selene rolls out of bed long after the sun has already risen, still groggy and grumpy and wanting little more than to crawl back under her blankets and pretend that today does not exist. That there are not pressing projects and responsibilities and long lists of things that Ana will remind her she has to take care of.
Selenes back straightens as the time of day finally occurs to her; Ana never lets her sleep this late. Something must have distracted her, or kept her away.
Is she hurt?
Selene quickly changes into her robes for the day, quickly pulling her hair back behind her head with a tie and moving quickly through the halls in search of her friend.
She feels a rush of relief when she finally finds her in front of Dirthamens rooms, along with one of her sentries.
The rush disappears as quickly as it came, her eyes finally moving to Dirthamen himself, replaced by an uncomfortable, angry heat rising inside of her.
“Who gave you a black eye?” She demands, voice breaking through the discussion the three had been having.
Ana is the first to look at her as she charges toward Dirthamen, cradling his face carefully in her hands.
“He doesn’ know the attackers name, my Lady,” Sentry Din'Durgen informs her.
Selene turns to look at Ana expectantly; surely this is what kept her from waking her up, and by now she should have learned enough from whatever description he has given her to figure out who harmed him.
“Perhaps it would be better if we discussed this after you calmed down,” She finally says. “You seem a bit…tightly wound.”
“I’m fine,” Selene insists, turning back to Dirthamen, whose face she is still holding. Her thumb moves just above the skin, pouring healing magic into him rather more forcefully than she meant to. His face regains more color than it has since he began staying with her, and he practically stumbles away with the force of it.
“Who was it?” She demands, turning to face Ana again.
Ana glances over to Dirthamen before finally answering.
“Enastaren, I believe.”
Selene nods, and instructs Din'durgen to escort Melanadahls brother to her throne room.
“Selene,” Ana sighs as Din'durgen leaves them. “Don’t you think you should eat first? You don’t look as though you slept well-”
“I’m fine. I will go and deal with Enastaren. Please take Dirthamen to be looked over by the healers and ensure I didn’t miss anything.”
“Perhaps I should accompany you-”
“I gave you an order!” Selene snaps, anger bubbling inside of her. “Dirthamen is your charge, you are to look after him and ensure he does not come to harm. That should not be nearly so difficult a task as you seem to be making it out to be!”
She regrets the words as soon as they leave her lips.
It is not Ana’s fault that Dirthamen was harmed. It is not Dirthamens fault that people seem to continually cause him harm. But she is angry at the situation, at the fact that she can not seem to keep even a single person safe no matter her efforts, at her own failures as the protector of her people.
Selene turns and sweeps out of the hall, keeping her apology tucked beneath her tongue. If she lets it out, it will come tumbling with other words and secrets and emotions she has been keeping down for far too long. A final stone to bring her mountain crumbling down around her, beneath the strain of aiding her other half, of her mothers demands, of the needs of her people.
Not for the first time, she aches for the dreaming.
Enastaren is already waiting when she arrives, standing in the middle of the dark and expansive room with his hands bound in front of him.
Da'Selene takes her time as she strides towards her throne for judgment. It is not the first time Enastaren has been brought here, but as she feels her fire scratching beneath her skin she realizes it may be his last.
“So,” She finally says, crossing one leg over the other in a way the reminds her more of her other half than herself “Rumor has it, you took it upon yourself to injure our newest ambassador.”
Enastaren snorts. “You brought me here for a rumor?”
Her eyes narrow dangerously as she looks him over “Do you deny the charges, then?”
“I do not.”
“Then you are guilty.”
“He is far beneath my rank,” Enastaren explains with an air of ease that unsettles something deep in her stomach. “He is not one of yours, and I know he has had multiple encounters with his brother already that would make this one appear tame. I am not guilty of anything my rank does not entitle me to.”
Selene debates his words for a moment, flames licking inside of her like a spark ready to catch before she declares “Then I revoke it.”
Enastaren stares dumbly at her for a moment, before his eyes blink slowly and he shakes his head. “Wh-what?”
“I said I revoke your rank. It is a privilege, and one meant to be earned and upheld. I find you guilty of abusing those privileges, and officially revoke your rank. Please have your family inform me when you find someone willing to apprentice you again. In the meantime, I will send someone to go through your things and replace them with clothes and tools more appropriate for your new standing.”
“You can not do that-”
“You DARE tell me what I can and can not do in my own home?” Selene booms in a voice that reminds her of her father, the flame inside finally turned into a blaze. She rises from her throne, taking slow, meaningful steps towards Enastaren and leaving a trail of purple flames and ash beneath each footfall. “You have broken my laws, injured my guest, and admitted to it as though it is nothing! If perhaps there were some shred of remorse in you, some piece that could be nurtured and brought to light as a decent member of my society then perhaps I could hold out some shred of hope for you! But it feels as though every century I find you back in my throne room, taking out your own shortcomings on those you feel are ‘beneath you’, and each time you act as though this is some farce! Some game we are playing where I am only pretending to care and you can carry on with this behavior without repercussions! Well I am FED UP WITH GAMES, ENASTAREN! I AM PUTTING YOU BACK AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BARREL IN HOPES THAT YOU WILL LEARN SOME FORM OF EMPATHY!”
“NO!” She echoes, large pillars of deep purple flames erupting throughout the room in her anger “You will learn empathy, or I will pluck out your eyes myself and gift them to my other half in reparations for the harm you caused to his subject! That is my FINAL judgment!”
The sentries near the door take this as their cue to escort a trembling Enastaren back out of the throne room.
Selene still feels angry, even as the pillars recede with each deep breath. As the flames suck the warmth back out of the room, leaving her in a bracing cold, her fingertips and eyes the only source of light left now, curtains drawn from the automatic flame wards. She lets out another breath as she hears a small door creak open, but does not turn to look. There is only one other who could use that entrance.
Ana lets out a low whistle behind her. “Looks like this went about as well as I expected.” She stops when she finally sees Selene, tense and alight and alone. A small hand settles on her shoulder. “Is there anything I can do to help you, Selene?”
“I could use a battlefield to let my aggression out on,” She mutters.
Ana nods slowly. “That…is certainly one option. How about we take a different page from your fathers book though.”
Selene looks at Ana quizzically, but does not argue when her friend pulls her along through their hidden passageways, and up to a rarely used room. It is painted a pale blue, and is enchanted to look as though there are clouds passing peacefully over head. There is a soft breeze permanently encased in the walls, moving throughout the space. Selene lets out a breath, and her shoulders slump as several of her quieter and more affectionate followers flow into the room.
“I do not need soft,” she argues.
“You need rest, and relaxation. You are driving yourself mad over this festival.”
Selene shakes her head. “There is too much to do. I cannot-”
“You can’t look after your people if you don’t look after yourself.”
Selene frowns. “You talked to Des'din.”
“I sent for advice,” Ana shrugs. “He had a list of things to say to you in certain situations. And he also says you need to rest, at least for the day.”
“Where is Dirthamen?”
“With the healers,” Ana informs her, trying to casually force Selene down onto a large pile of pillows that have been assembled. “He’s fine, just worried about you. I will go get him as soon as you’re settled in here.”
Selene grumbles a bit more, but when Patience pulls down her hood and hair and begins carefully working a brush through the pale strands, she can feel most of her anger falling away from her in the steady, gentle rhythm.
She’s not sure how long she dozes off for, but when she wakes back up, Ana and Dirthamen are both in the room with her. Fear and Deceit are each nestled within the assortment of pillows, neither one in flight for once. She blinks, still groggy and worn down as she offers Dirthamen a warm smile. “How are you feeling?” She mumbles through a yawn.
“Better, now. Thank you,” He says, staring up at the clouds swirling along the ceiling with his knees pulled up to his chest.
“I’m sorry you were hurt,” She sighs, reaching to take one of his hands in hers instinctively. He hesitates, but when she only laces her fingers through his, his own stress starts to fall away. It takes him a few minutes to shift so that he is lying comfortably beside her, hands joined between them while they stare up at the ceiling.
“He won’t bother you again,” She promises quietly. “And I won’t let anyone else hurt you. I brought you here to keep you safe, and I’m…I’m so sorry I failed. I will not let it happen again.”
“It is not your fault,” he assures her. “I am susceptible to such things, because I deserve them. It is an inherent flaw.”
Selene frowns, head turning in the plush pillow just enough to look at him. “Who told you that?”
“My brother,” he admits quietly.
“Your brother is a liar,” She asserts. “You don’t deserve to be hurt. There is no flaw in you that deems it 'necessary’.”
“That is…kind of you to say.”
“The fact that you think that is kindness rather than common decency worries me.”
Silence passes between them, clouds moving at a slow and steady pace above them while the room is filled with peace and affection.
“Thank you, Ana.” Selene finally says.
The redhead blinks and looks up from where she had been getting her own hair braided. “For what?”
Selene breathes, hand tightening just slightly in Dirthamens as she lets her eyes slide closed. “This is better than a battlefield.”
There are renovations happening in Dirthamen’s chambers, she reminds herself.
Surely that is why he’s currently soaked, soapy, and sitting in her own (supposedly private) baths.
Not that she peeked!
She wouldn’t-didn’t- glance into the still water, sparsely covered in the bubbles of one of her preferred soaps. But he is still here, in her private baths, staring at her as though he is caught off guard as drastically as she is while arousal and shock tinged with a touch of fear begin to fill the room.
She supposes her own nakedness isn’t aiding the situation any.
But it is her rooms. Her bath, and there is nothing inappropriate about being nude in your own baths.
She can hear Des'din laughing at her in her mind, anyways.
“I didn’t realize you were in here,” She says, pulling her towel closer to herself for some semblance of coverage. “I’ll come back later.”
“It is your bath. I should be the one to leave,” Dirthamen argues. He moves to stand before realizing that the water is the only thing providing him his own bit of privacy, and ducks back beneath it. “If I could…bother you for a towel, perhaps?”
Selenes fingers tap against the cloth of her own for a minute, debating her options. There are still suds in the strands of his hair, and a bit of dirt on his nose; likely he hasn’t actually finished bathing, and if his own bath is being remodeled…
Well, she can’t have him wandering around half washed and covered in dirt, now could she? It would be impolite, could even be taken as rude and neglectful if word got back to Des'din about how she treated one of his subjects.
Avoiding any chance of this situation getting back to Des'din would be ideal.
“You can stay,” She decides. “So long as you don’t mind my company.”
Dirthamen swallows, sinking just slightly lower into the water as he nods in agreement.
She carefully places her towel down on the edge of the bath opposite him, before stepping into the water herself. It’s bordering on room temperature, and after confirming with Dirthamen she places her hand on a warming rune, raising the temperature until it is warm enough to release some of the tension in the muscles of her back. She lets out a low moan at the relief of it, leaning fully back against the stone of the wall.
“So…” She finally hums, breaking through the awkward tension of the room and shocking Dirthamen out of what seemed to be a nearly catatonic state “What made you decide to use my bath instead of the public one?”
“Ana told me-”
“Of course she did,” Selene sighs, knowing that is the explanation in itself. “I swear, that woman will be the death of me…”
“Isn’t she meant to be protecting you? Why keep someone who is trying to kill you so close?”
Selene blinks her eyes open, looking over at Dirthamen “It’s just an expression. Ana would never purposely cause me harm. She’s just…meddlesome, in certain things. Reminds me of Des'din that way.”
Dirthamen nods in acceptance, shifting into a slightly more relaxed pose. His leg knocks against her own and the two of them nearly shoot up in shock at the contact.
“I did not mean-”
“Sorry, I wasn’t-”
“-wouldn’t do that to you-”
They both stop speaking, easing off into a soft chuckle at their inability to smoothly navigate the situation.
Selene stretches her legs back out, and Dirthamen does the same. Alternated between each other and still touching, but less of a shock now that they’re expecting it.
“You’re very pretty,” Selene blurts, because of course she does.
Dirthamen swallows again, and she watches with interest as his adams apple bobs with the action.
“Thank you. You, as well.”
“Thank you,” Selene says quietly. Another few minutes pass in silence, before she finally asks him to pass over her hair products. He does, waiting and pretending not to be watching as she undoes the meticulous braids that had been necessary for her meeting with Sylaise. But she can see him out of the corner of her eye, watching her fingers carefully move through and over the patterns with interest.
“Would you like to help?” She asks.
“It’s just a question,” She assures him. “There’s no pressure to do anything you don’t want to.”
“I…yes. I would, thank you.”
Selene nods, turning so that her back is towards him as he carefully crosses the length of the tub to sit behind her. He gently pulls her braid back over her shoulder, his fingers brushing over her skin with each movement. Like stoking a fire, she worries as heat begins to settle inside her, growing with each touch.
She takes deep breaths, trying to think of anything other than the elf behind her, anything other than the glide of his fingertips over the skin of her shoulders. Anything other than what it might feel like if he chose to explore more of the expanse of her body, anything other than what she might feel if she were to scoot back even an inch in their current situation.
“Are you alright?” He asks quietly. In a way he means to be polite she’s sure, but all she can really focus on is the way his breath puffs against her ear and the shiver it sends through her.
“Fine,” She lies.
The weight of her braid falls away from her as his fingers trail over her scalp, releasing the last of the pattern. His hands still, hovering just over her shoulders.
“I am finished,” he whispers, and it shoots through her again.
“Thank you,” She returns, turning around to see him.
His hands are still just over her shoulders.
He is still dangerously close.
And he still has a bit of dirt on his nose.
Her own hand moves without thinking, drifting out of the water and over the bridge of his nose to wipe it away. Or she means to, anyways. But her finger gets distracted by the curve of his cheek, the cut of his jaw. Detours to cup the side of his neck, to pull him just slightly closer, to make her wonder just what his lips would feel like against hers.
His tongue darts out to lick his lips, and she is lost.
Her lips crush into his, fierce and hungry. He tastes like berries, the evenings dessert still light on his tongue as she twines her own against it. The heat of the water is still heavy in the air, the water on his skin allowing her hand to caress over it with ease, sliding over collarbones and shoulders and biceps as she groans. Too long, too long she has wanted this, wanted him. And he is here, with her and so so close and so so naked, and alone, and….
She pulls back.
“I’m sorry,” She murmurs. “I didn’t mean to…I don’t want you to think I’d force you into something like this, it was inappropriate and I…I’m sorry.”
He stops and considers things for a moment before his hands find a resting place. One cups the side of her face, tilting it to look him in the eyes
“Do you want to have sex with me?”
Selene swallows, and nods as best she can.
“I would also like to have sex with you. There is nothing to apologize for.”
It is not the sort of seduction people write poetry for, but it is potent enough.
Selene kisses him again, easing her lips against his as he moves back against her. Her legs slide over either side of him, until she his seated in his lap, his cock hard and pressed between their stomachs.
He groans at the pressure of it, hands sliding considerably lower on her body, and it is wonderful.
His fingers trail over her skin, leaving warm lines across the expanse of her back, her arms, her hips.
They have to take a moment to adjust their position so that his back is against the stone of the tub for support. Selene takes advantage of the movement to give him a few slow and solid strokes, reveling in his response. The way he arches into her touch, the moans that slip past his lips, the tightening of his own grip on her hip. Notes of desire, longing, and arousal fill the air. It’s intoxicating, and Selene did not realize how much she missed it. Missed this, missed having this sort of closeness with another person.
Missed having someone she could trust with it.
She pulls her hand away, leaving him twitching against her thigh beneath the water as she explores the available pieces of him with her mouth. She spends a not inconsiderable amount of time on his ears, leaves a very unsubtle marking on his neck, and explores his mouth anew before she feels like she is finally reaching her own breaking point.
She readjusts once more, one leg on either side of him as they align with each other. She moves slowly down the length of him, barely prepped but aroused enough that it is a comfortable stretch beneath the water. When she finally manages the full length she has to pause and remind herself to breathe.
It is not a bad idea, given Dirthamens own state.
She peppers his face with gentle kisses, whispering soothing words of affirmation while she grinds, just slowly against him. Easy and gentle, rekindling the heat in the pit of her. Before long, he seems to remember both parties are meant to move, and begins moving his own hips in kind, hands moving carefully down her sides. Slowly, reverently, as though in awe of her.
She is not normally one for worship, but she can not bring herself to deny him anything right now.
His own movements stoke her growing climax, and she begins to move more roughly against him. Dirthamen picks up on the cue, hands gripping her hips tightly as he begins to thrust into her at a faster pace. It grows, a soft slow crescendo into a frenzy of flesh on flesh, auras swirling together as their mouths crash into each other again. Selene murmurs promises and words of love into his mouth, secrets of devotion never uttered to another before.
They come together, linked and dragging each other tumbling over the edge until they are panting and pressed against one another, spent and sated and finally, finally feeling something other than an awkward sense of pressure between them.
It is terribly freeing, and the relief of it sends Selene into giggle fits.
Dirthamen looks destroyed by her laughs.
“Did I do something wrong?”
“No, no,” She assures him, face cupped in her hands as she kisses him over and over between words. “You were wonderful.”
“Are you…supposed to laugh?”
“I’m happy, Dirthamen,” she promises. “ And it has been a very long time since I was.”
“Oh,” he notes with relief, placing a kiss of his own to her face. “I am happy, as well.”
Selene hums in appreciation, savoring the afterglow for several more moments before finally pulling her face back from his.
“I do need one favor,” She says.
“Hm?” He asks, still soft and hazy and warm from the affection.
“Don’t tell Des'din about this.”
Dirthamen does not intend to take any liberties, at first.
That Lady Da’Selene has decided to grace him with her sexual favours is a pleasant turn of events. But Dirthamen is still aware of his status, and what is – or is not – likely to be permissible. He has no doubt that he is meant to maintain a submissive role, and that only polite instigations of physical contact should be offered. If he should even attempt to instigate anything at all. Making overtures would probably be presumptuous of him, and he does not think he would do it very well either. So, for their first few trysts, he follows Selene’s lead.
And of course, on the topic of public acknowledgement, he is obedient. Lady Da’Selene does not wish her other half to know of their activities. Dirthamen, accordingly, tells no one, for worry of it somehow getting back to his Lord. He understands the need for secrecy. Falon’Din never took it well whenever Dirthamen paid much mind to someone else. Selene is kind, and likely does not wish for his Lord to kill him, and Dirthamen is glad for her consideration.
He supposes it is slightly traitorous of him, however. It may yet mean his end.
But after the first few interludes, Lady Da’Selene does not instigate any further acts of intimacy. She becomes more withdrawn again, and seems to find his presence displeasing in some way. Dirthamen is uncertain of the reasoning. But his appearance does frequently change, and so perhaps that is the problem? Perhaps she finds short hair unflattering, or perhaps she is not as compelled by a face with too many eyes, or perhaps she has a distaste for his thinner frames. Dirthamen attempts to recollect how he had looked in the bath. But he is not certain. His memories are more concerned with how Selene had looked.
She had been very beautiful when she laughed, afterwards. Even moreso when she had assured him that it was happy laughter, and not mockery or dissatisfaction.
But he thinks he likes best the look she wore when her lips parted, and she trembled in his arms, as her whole body seemed to flush and the air burst in fresh waves of pleasure. Release, it was sometimes called. Dirthamen now understands why, and the fervency with which some of Des’din’s people pursue it. Though, he thinks he might enjoy Selene’s more than his own. His own was… unnerving, somewhat. Not while it was happening, but afterwards, when his stomach had fallen and he had suddenly worried if it was all wrong. His skin had tingled, and when he had been alone again, his worries had grown larger and larger.
When the pleasure is building between them, Dirthamen does not think of dire things. It is only after it has all been released that he begins to feel heavy again.
With Selene no longer instigating such activities, however, Dirthamen is uncertain of how to proceed. She tells him that she is not rejecting him, which is very good, and that he is welcome to seek her out at any time. Which is also very commendable. Dirthamen endeavours to parse the meaning of the shift in her behaviour, however. He changes his appearance several times, and while she compliments him fairly often, it does not seem to resolve things. They converse on several issues, and the conversations are very stimulating. They even bathe together a few times, and Selene accepts his offer of a massage, when she is tense. But even though he thinks he can detect the distinct notes of her arousal in the air, she does not pursue the opening any further than that.
He considers what Falon’Din had told him, on numerous occasions.
You do not understand people. People dislike you, Dirthamen, and being disliked in this world is a good way to get yourself killed.
Falon’Din had been disliked also. But he had known how to avoid too deep a dislike. He had sought favour with Lord Des’din, and when he had failed to get it, he had at least managed to curry the regard of one of Des’din’s advisors. Athimel. Falon’Din had called him a sycophant and an ungainly idiot, and many other foul things, but never to his face. To his face, Falon’Din had always been complimentary, but assertive. Athimel had outranked him; but Falon’Din had always seemed to take charge of their interactions somehow anyway.
“It is what he wants,” his brother explains. “You would know that, if you could understand people. Weaklings need to be dominated. But they can only be dominated by the strong. Lord Des’din is not actually strong. He is only pretending, and so, people like Athimel yearn to bend before a real leader. Someone with inborn authority.”
Falon’Din was very certain that his authority was inborn. But he had not been able to stand up to Lord Des’din, in the end. Dirthamen thinks… perhaps he had misunderstood the nature of Lord Des’din’s strength. And Lady Da’Selene’s, as well. Falon’Din was not perfect, after all. He made many mistakes.
Dirthamen may be more foolish still, especially when it comes to people. But he thinks… he wonders if there is not some truth and some falsehood, to what his brother believed. Dirthamen does not think he yearns to be dominated. But life is very confusing, and the situations which Lady Da’Selene must deal with seem easily overwhelming. He thinks, in her place, that he would appreciate not having to decide everything all of the time.
He is already considering the matter, when Lord Des’din comes to visit.
It is not an official visit. There are not heralds and there is no progression, and official accommodations are not made. To Dirthamen’s knowledge, his Lord’s arrival is not even announced. He simply turns up in Da’Selene’s bath chamber, while Dirthamen is heading there with Fear and Deceit, to clean themselves up after a mistake in one of the research rooms covered an entire corridor in glinting ash clouds.
Dirthamen pauses. His arms full of his Aspects, his hair and skin covered in glitter, and stares at the unexpected sight of his Lord in Selene’s bathing pool.
Lord Des’din raises an eyebrow at him, and then grins.
“Well, well,” he says. “I was not expecting you to happen upon me. Come here often?”
Dirthamen hesitates a moment.
“My bathing chamber is undergoing renovations,” he explains. “Lady Da’Selene is generous enough to permit me the use of hers.”
Lord Des’din chuckles.
“I’ll bet she is,” he replies, looking him up and down. He pats at the water, then. A spell fizzles from his fingertips, and makes it change colour.
“Well, come on, then,” he says. “Far be it for me to deny you a bath. You look like you could use one.”
Fear hesitates. Deceit musters them both after a moment, though. While it might have been rude to impose upon Lord Des’din’s bath, it would be traitorous to deny his direct command, and that is clearly the greater transgression. Dirthamen lets his aspects move over towards the waterfall shower, which is easier for them to clean themselves at. He almost wishes he was in bird form, too, as he disrobes, and then climbs into the opposite side of the bathing pool.
Lord Des’din watches him, as he does.
“That is awfully far away,” his lord notes. “Why don’t you come closer?”
Dirthamen hesitates. There is a note to the invitation, which carries through the implications in the air. Not as subtle as Selene’s own approach, but he thinks it is a request for more closeness than simply scooting nearer along the pool’s internal bench.
Disobeying is treasonous. But…
“If I may, I would prefer to stay here,” he ventures.
Lord Des’din regards him for a moment.
And then grins.
“Then you may,” he decides, before leaning back against the side of the pool. “So it seems you can decline your Lord.”
“I mean no offense,” Dirthamen replies, and wonders if he has badly misjudged the situation. Lord Des’din waves his apology off, however.
“And you gave none,” he insists. “In fact, I am relieved. My sources tell me that you and my other half have become closer, of late. Selene frets on the subject of taking advantage. It can make her dreadfully dull, sometimes, but it is ultimately a virtue. She prefers that her partners be only genuinely interested. If you can turn me down – however politely – then I doubt she has much to worry about, when it comes to taking advantage of you.”
Dirthamen considers this new information. Lord Des’din does not seem inclined to kill him right now, at least.
“Lady Da’Selene’s treatment of me has been to my liking,” he confirms.
“I’ll bet,” Lord Des’din quips.
He still does not seem inclined to kill Dirthamen.
“Are you going to have me executed?” Dirthamen checks. He wonders who Lord Des’din’s ‘sources’ might be.
His Lord blinks, and then frowns, and then wrinkles his nose. Then he sighs, and runs a hand down his face. And then he shrugs one shoulder, and shakes his head, as if he is having a brief internal conversation with himself. Dirthamen supposes he is weighing the merits of killing him. But nothing in his countenance seems particularly enraged or jealous. The chief sentiment is one of sorrow, and then, to his surprise, a vague tinge of guilt.
“When I was much, much younger, I was jealous of Selene’s attention,” he finally says. “But that was not a good trait, and I learned to be wiser. In no small part because she kicked me until I did.”
It is Dirthamen’s turn to blink, at that.
“Should I have kicked Falon’Din more?” he cannot help but wonder.
Lord Des’din’s demeanour does darken some, then.
“Perhaps,” he says, tightly.
Dirthamen decides not to mention Falon’Din again, and resists the urge to ask after his brother. After a moment, Lord Des’din sighs, and then gestures to banish the unpleasantness that his escaped him and into the air. He flicks it away, and when he regards Dirthamen, his mood seems to have improved once again.
“So,” he says. “You have an opportunity here, Dirthamen. I have known Selene for all of her life. I know all of what she likes and dislikes – well, almost all. She can be secretive, in her way. Is there anything you wish to know? I will answer any question, so long as it helps and doesn’t endanger her, of course.”
That is… an interesting offer, Dirthamen supposes. His Lord wishes to help him please Selene. That makes sense. Sometimes people had approached him for insights on how to win favour with Falon’Din. Dirthamen had never been a very good help, and sometimes his answers had made his brother angry, when he learned of them. But Lord Des’din is very good with people, so he will likely not make the same mistakes.
“I think I have displeased her,” he finally admits. “But I am not certain how.”
“Ah,” Lord Des’din replies. “Then you probably have not displeased her. Selene is not very good at quietly seething, or being passive aggressive. She prefers to just be aggressive, whenever possible. So what has made you think that she is displeased?”
Dirthamen hesitates a little. Wondering if he his betraying some secrets. But he does not think that he is, and so, after a moment, he begins to explain the shift in their interactions. Lord Des’din proves to be a good listener, and makes such insightful comments that after a while, Dirthamen even finds himself mentioning his confusion over elven interactions, and his tentative speculation that perhaps Lady Da’Selene would appreciate it if he was more… active? But his concern, too, that he would be overstepping.
Lord Des’din listens to it all very well, and then when Dirthamen is finished, he starts laughing.
That seems to be a common reaction. He cannot help but think somewhat of Selene. Des’din’s laugh is louder, but it has the same edge of unexpected relief to it. And when Dirthamen ventures to ask if he is pleased, he gets a nod of reassurance.
“Oh, sweet thing,” Lord Des’din replies, once he has finished laughing. “You have figured it out, more or less. It is only your self-doubt that is impeding you. Selene does indeed like to be looked after now and again – who doesn’t? But I doubt she has grown bored with you on any level. More likely, she just wants to know for certain that you want her,and has decided to herself that she is not going to have sex with you until you instigate it yourself.”
“…Ah,” Dirthamen replies. That would fit, in fact. Particularly with Selene’s own frequent inquiries after his comfort, and Des’din’s assertions on her preoccupations with consent. Falon’Din had always phrased consent as if it were a technicality which one had to work or trick their way around most of the time. But Dirthamen thinks he prefers Lady Da’Selene’s preoccupation and concern. Doing things to people when they are not truly comfortable with it seems unnecessary and unpleasant.
“So I should… instigate?” he surmises.
Lord Des’din chuckles.
“If you really want to seal the deal, I would say just pick her up and carry her off. Make her day,” he replies.
Dirthamen nods, thoughtfully.
“Thank you,” he replies. That is very useful information.
“Don’t mention it,” his Lord replies.
Another secret to be kept, in that case. Dirthamen nods, because he is ultimately still a servant of Lord Des’din. He finishes getting cleaned up, then, and declines another invitation from his Lord to come closer, and then exits the bath to dry off, and to help his aspects finish cleaning up as well. Then he excuses himself, but when he seeks out Selene again, she is still in the meeting discussing the failure which led to the glittery clouds. So Dirthamen busies himself by helping the continued clean-up efforts. But the time evening arrives, Lord Des’din seems to have left with no further fanfare. Returning to Selene’s chambers in the evening reveals them to be empty; and when he steps back out, it is to cross paths with her in the hall, heading back towards them herself.
Which is how Dirthamen finds himself taking liberty with her.
It occurs to him, only after he has picked her up, that this could well get him killed. That perhaps Lord Des’din’s plan was just that, and the man was simply being very cunning in his approach to retaliating against Dirthamen. But Selene does no strike him, nor stiffen in outrage, nor demand that he put her down at once.
Instead, her cheeks suffuse with colour, and the air around her heats up. And the words she had been planning to say to him seem to die upon her tongue.
Dirthamen has her. So, it seems only a matter of course to turn and carry her back to her chambers. He thinks he likes the way her hand curls in his collar, and her lips part slightly, even though no words seem to escape her. Her skirts go askew, and so he also has a very interesting view of her legs, as they stretch out from over the side of his left arm. He turns, carefully, to avoid crashing them against the door frame, as he carries her inside.
“May I have intercourse with you?” he inquires.
Selene makes a sound like steam escaping from a kettle, for a half second. Then she claps a hand over her mouth, and blinks, and nods. The air suffuses with a heady note of arousal.
The problem, it seems, has been solved.
Once upon a time, Desire was the center of everything.
Things were better then.
Then, when cravings were spontaneous and fleeting. Powerful and immediate and easily seized. When Devotion was doting and supportive and followed wherever he went. When they could fly with absolute unheeded freedom, their wings were full and glittering beneath stars and suns and light breaking through leaves. When they were still them.
Before Justice, and Vengeance.
Before the bloodbaths.
Bodies are new, a new sense of adventure, a new world to explore, something to want and to need and to keep. And Justice wants it for them so very badly, that Desire wants it too.
Devotion follows, as she does. As she must.
His Devotion, who wants for nothing but him.
He loves her, and she loves him, as she does. As she must.
Justice and Vengeance become Mother and Father and Moon and Sun and many other titles that Desire tucks away into his much more tightly wound mind.
He thinks that he would like more titles, too.
He earns them in battles, in training, in smooth words that flow like wine from his mouth in ways that make Devotion uneasy. In bed sheets and campgrounds, he learns about different bodies and different mouths and different sorts of desires than the ones he feels from his family. Desires that light him up and make him feel the sort of warmth he felt before his cage of bones and flesh.
But Desire is not one to be easily trapped; he takes his cage and adapts.
He seizes it, this flesh that is wrapped too tightly around him and learns touch. His own, first. He learns how to make the pain disappear, vanishing beneath needs and wants that feel like home, familiar and warm. How to raise them higher, discovers his limits and how much he enjoys pushing past them, barreling off cliffs with falling that feels like flying and leaves him breathless and panting with the memory of it.
He tries to tell Devotion of his great discovery.
She is skeptical, and unwilling to try for herself.
He is not sure how to handle that. She has never doubted him before, has always followed faithfully. They have always, always, trusted each other before all else. She is his Devotion, his, and the thought that she is being pulled in directions he does not see leaves him distraught. He lashes out, fire and anger and betrayal that she is leaving him behind, that she does not want him, that she is denying that piece of herself.
But he is wrong.
She reaches through the flames, surging bright and warm and forgiving as she holds him close. He is burning, burning, burning, and she is holding him so close he wonders for a moment if she will pull him back into her. If they might undo this life and try again, somewhere else, somewhere that won’t try so hard to tear them apart. Horns split from his head with a scream, piercing through her shoulders as he explodes and comes undone with his conflicts. She waits, and holds him. Does not push for more, does not rush him to decide, and pushes away mother when she tries to step in.
The blood sits on her shoulder for a week while he finds himself again.
He has never been wrong before, and the apology is slow from his tongue. Not as freely given as flirtations and compliments and wit, but earned in patience and met with forgiveness.
He is given his name, and then Andruil comes.
He is half convinced Mother only bore a child because of Selene’s refusal to let her interfere in their bond, but he knows better than to say as much. Father is loud and blazing and leaves destruction in his wake, but Mother is cruel and calculating and will slit a throat with one hand while cradling a head in the other. A mother’s love is unwavering, but it is a thin line to walk to stay in her graces, and he does it well.
Selene moves into his bed to make room for Andruil, and for a while things are good again. She is his, and there is battle and blood and war to keep them busy in daylight. Treaties forged with clans in darkened shadows with bated breaths and sticky endings, for those that can still be saved. Whose keepers are not already mad or traitors. Who still have hope, and can bring it to the empire.
He would very much like an empire.
“I just want the war to be over,” his other half whispers against the pillow. “I want the rivers to run clear again, I want to run barefoot through a forest without checking for traps first, I want to fly through the skies without scouting for arrows. I want Andruil to know a world that isn’t bathed in blood.”
“Whatever you desire,” he vows into her hair.
But ending the war takes longer than they’d like. Mother and Father declare them victorious, but something still feels hollow. There are camps without keepers and prisons being filled and neither he nor Selene understand how someone can be a prisoner of war when there is no war left to fight.
“You will understand when you are older,” Mother tells them, before ushering them into their thrones.
They are not together, though. The empire is vast and it will take all of them to rule it. Mother even births another sister, a young thing with a familiar taste for beauty, to assist with the burden.
It is lonely, at first. His bed is cold and his face is bare and different from those around him. A marker that he is not one of the people.
Father tells him he is because he is better. That it’s a mark of elevation to have a bared face. His people bring him gifts and sacrifices and satisfy every desire he places before them, and so Des'din finds no reason to argue. It is almost like having his world filled with Devotions, catering to him and placing his needs first.
It is a different kind of satisfaction, but he finds he likes it all the same.
They are less skeptical of his discovery of touch than Da'Selene had been, and he finds he enjoys indulging them almost as much as they enjoy being indulged. A give and take that fills some of the voids inside himself, the ache from being apart from his other half so often now.
And then she finds her bear.
That blasted, red haired star speckled twig of a woman that seizes her attentions so vividly.
“You should turn her in,” Des'din tsks, looking over the gangly dirt and fur covered elf.
“She’s done nothing wrong,” Da'Selene argues. “Why would I?”
“She stabbed you.”
“So she’s good with a knife,” she muses “And she snuck through my protections without being caught. I could use that.”
“She could have killed you. Killed me. Turn her in, throw her in a prison, or kill her. Those are your options.”
But she’s not listening to him anymore. She’s gotten that far off look in her eyes, developing a plan and not telling him any piece of it.
It is infuriating.
So he tries to kill the girl, instead.
It backfires in a big way.
Selene is furious with him, and he is furious with her. He could not tell her why, not even if he wanted to in this form. Long and stretched and familiar as they screech towards the sky, tumbling down mountains and screaming flames at one another. It’s confusing. She is his, she is his but she is fighting for something else, for someone else, someone who doesn’t even matter. They are better, they are more than some spotted elf and their bond means more than some blood on a marbled floor.
He had offered to replace the floor, even.
He doesn’t understand.
He’s not sure she does either.
But when they are both worn down, exhausted and unable to hold the dragons form any longer, lying in the ashes of a grassy hill, she tries to explain.
She has changed.
She loves him, will always love him. Could not stop loving him, even if she wanted to.
But she is not Devotion anymore. She is not his.
She has people to look after, now. Their sisters, their people, the spirits still endangered. She can’t give him all of herself, anymore.
It is a painful thing to hear, but the words feel like they are stitching up pieces of himself. Pulling himself together for the first time since he fell apart.
Not a half of anything, but a whole person. Standing and supporting himself, without anyone to follow.
It is terrifying, and he shudders beneath the weight of it.
She reaches out and laces her fingers through his.
“I will never leave you,” She vows, words weaved through their bond as he feels them settle within himself. “But I have to have the freedom to live for myself.”
He turns to look at her, her face still peppered with scales, pupils long and thin in overly round eyes. She is still Devotion, for all that she may try to shed it, just as he is still Desire. He still wants, still craves, still hungers for satisfaction. He knows it is unlikely she will ever live for herself, really. There is a better chance she will stretch herself thin to breaking in her attempts to please and protect.
He has been selfish.
His apology forms in spots on his face, freckles scattered over his nose and cheeks. Like those on the bear she seems to keen to protect.
Selene smiles and lays a kiss on each as a sign of her acceptance of it.
Perhaps it is time for one, after all.
Da'Selene’s Arlathan holdings are her least favorite place to stay. She understands the necessity of them, and the ‘necessity’ of it is precisely what is reflected in the decor. The walls are dark and bare, tall thin windows lining them and allowing for adequate light throughout the day, veilfire torches spaced precisely along the length of the hallways to allow for lighting at night.
There are no statues or portraits, save for those required to show her respects to visiting family members. Des'din complains often of the cold permeating from spirits of silence, contemplation, and occasional sloth that have settled into nooks and crannies of the building.
Selene has repeatedly given her permissions to add any spare pieces he thinks would be appropriate to her holdings, but Des'din, for all his hoards and impending threats of limited storage space, is loathe to give any up.
It is not, often, a problem. Selene spends as little time in Arlathan as she can manage, given her fathers Peacekeepers and mothers spies prominence in the area. Her freedoms are limited compared to those in her own territories, and the longer she remains, the tighter the leash around her throat tends to feel.
But it is not so bad, waking up with the warmth of her lover in bed beside her, head settled in the crook of her neck with his wings curled up around her.
It is the first day of the festival, though they have been here nearly a week already making preparations for the event and ensuring the labyrinth will be up to the task of holding Andruil for her hunt. It has been an arduous process, full of mishaps and queries and double edged words. Much of yesterday had been spent avoiding June, who is still hounding her for building materials for his latest project. She supposes he was attempting to get her to make a rushed agreement in the middle of the chaos, but Des'din had intervened with a request for an additional wing to his own holdings.
She will have to thank him for the diversion when they inevitably meet sometime today.
She will have to meet with all of her family today, she dreads.
It is the first time she will be publicly showing off Dirthamen and Sairal, and Fear has been all but tranquilized due to their own trepidation about the event. A regretful measure, but after panic had nearly suffocated the three when Selene first informed them of the situation, a necessary one.
Settling Dirthamen down and assuring him of his safety had still taken up a significant portion of time, which she hopes her event coordinators were able to make up for.
“You are up early,” Dirthamen murmurs into her neck, body shifting slightly as he wakes. Selene presses a gentle kiss to his forehead and pulls him tighter to her in silent apology for waking him with her fretting.
“I am just excited to see you in the gown I had made,” She says, only half-lying.
He shifts again, pulling his wings back into himself and scooting up the bed to lie eye-to-eye with her.
“You made me a gown?”
“Well, I had it made. I didn’t personally make it, but I had a hand in the design and material choice. I think it will suit you wonderfully,” she strokes a hand gently down the bare skin of his back “There is a dark feathered cloak attachment, so if your wings make a sudden appearance in all the excitement, you may claim they are a part of your outfit, and small gold detailing will keep your necklace from looking out of place.”
“That sounds very practical.”
Selene frowns slightly. “You’re right. It’s not a very romantic gift is it? I’m…not great, at courting gifts. I only gave Ana the one when we were together, and she never uses it. Is there something in particular you would like? Anything it is within my power to give is yours. You need only ask.”
Dirthamens eyes dart low, leg bending slightly beneath the sheets as he asks. “I would like to see my brother again.”
“Anything but that,” Selene groans. “He hurt you, Dirthamen. You understand that, yes?”
“Yes,” he agrees. “But I do not want him to feel as though he has been abandoned. I know he would not approve of our relationship, but I…have been a poor brother, and I would like to make amends.”
“You have been a far better brother than any I have ever known,” Selene asserts. “And you do not owe him a damn thing. If it were up to me he would rot in his cell for what he has done to you, left to die of the isolation he tried to force upon you and….”She trails off at the nervous look in Dirthamens eyes and lets out a soft sigh, linking her fingers through his. “Your brother is under Des'dins laws, not my own. If you want to see Falon'din, you will have to ask my other half. I am sorry. I can not grant you rights to visit him.”
“Would you help me convince Des'din to allow it?”
Selene scrunches up her face. “I…will try not to speak out against it?”
Selene feels her stomach drop out as her lovers face falls in disappointment, and tries feebly to explain herself; that it is unsafe, that it could undo so much of what he has built for himself and accomplished here, that if Falon'din tries to strike out at him again, there is a real chance either Selene or Des'din will punish him on the spot impulsively, but none of her reasons seems to land as guilt pervades her and Dirthamens mood continues to sink.
Which of course is when Ana knocks on the door to Selenes chambers.
“Time to start getting ready!” She announces, swinging the thick quartz doors open. “Big day today you…two….” She pauses, glancing between the two and reading the clearly not-so-lovey-dovey emotions filling the room.
“Right…” She nods, slowly backing out of the room again. “You two work this out, and I’ll meet you downstairs.”
Selene bites down on her bottom lip, half hoping Ana might have been able to get her out of this, turning back to Dirthamen as the doors seal shut once more.
“I…I didn’t mean to upset you,” She finally says. “I’m sorry. It’s not-I just can’t give you that, and I can not, in good conscience, permit it.”
“He is my brother.”
“Who caused you so much pain you simultaneously split and re-merged into three separate aspects of yourself!”
“Why does your family mean more than mine?” he snaps. His hand immediately shoots up to cover his mouth, and he pushes himself several spaces back and away from her in terror, as though expecting her to kill him on the spot. As though she might strike out at him in rage and pride.
As though she could ever, ever be capable of hurting him that way.
It burns through her chest like a newly forged sword, plunged and twisting through her heart. That he would still think her capable of doing something like that to him. That he still views her like…
Like the rest of her family.
Like the others, that would use and toss away their bed partners or servants, who have done terrible, horrific things to people that may or may not have deserved it. Who believe it is their right to do such, that they are above common decency.
Who believe they are truly gods.
The burn vanishes, leaving her feeling cold and empty at the truth of this. At what she had thought was a relationship, a real relationship and a true connection between them.
She was a fool.
She was a fool to think this could be different; could be anything other than sex and conversations, that their difference in status was not so great that he would always fear her. That she could…could just quiet Fear down and think that would solve any issue at all.
She was a fool.
Swallowing her words (any words, she can’t trust herself, if he can’t trust her how could she possibly), she stands from the bed and begins silently getting dressed for the festival. She silently pulls his gown from her closet, carefully laying it out on the bed for him before turning around and putting on her own.
“What did you give to Ana?” Dirthamen finally asks, so soft she nearly misses it.
“…Armor” Selene admits, her back still to him. “I had armor crafted for her, made from my own scales. I don’t know that she has ever worn it but…perhaps it was just for my own peace of mind. Something to keep her protected, if she needed it. Whether she chose to leave, or to stay. Things make easier gifts. Des'din…Desire has always liked ’things’. Things do not disappoint the way that people can, he claims. So perhaps it seemed more prudent to stick to things. Safer.”
She twirls her finger, listening as the line of clasps up the side of her gown click together.
“I am sorry I could not give you what you asked of me. I am more sorry I could not make you feel safe to be near me. I will ensure Fear is roused for the festival, and meet you downstairs.”
She steps out without another word, doors closing behind her. She doesn’t trust herself to turn around, doesn’t trust that she wouldn’t cry or scream or beg for his understanding. The pain sits in her chest as her hair is pinned and arranged, as her various attendants and valets lay jewelry over her shoulders and legs and fret over make up, dusting starlight over her eyelids and cheek bones until she is ready to meet even the strictest requirements of her families appearance.
Ana looks at her curiously when she enters the lower levels alone, inquiring about Dirthamens whereabouts.
“He will be down shortly,” Selene assumes. “Please make sure Fear is woken, and keep an eye on the three of them. I am going ahead to meet with Des'din and his contingent.”
“Did something happen?”
“Nothing I shouldn’t have seen coming,” Selene evades, beginning her stride before Ana can continue her line of questioning.
Perhaps if she can only keep moving, Selene hopes, she might even be able to outrun the sting settling inside of her.
Des'din welcomes Selenes presence, eagerly linking his arm through hers as he parades through the town (taking the longest possible route, she notes), on the way to his own section of the festivities.
“Where is your harem?” he jokes. “Did you wear the poor dears out last night?”
Selene bites down on her bottom lip and stares out ahead of them silently in response. Des'dins demeanor changes as he realizes he must have hit a sour note and quietly plies her for more information.
“I do not want to talk about it,” Selene whispers, pain beginning to bloom again at the memory of Dirthamen moving away from her in fear in her bed.
Her other half makes a soft humming noise in affirmation, continuing their walk up to his balcony. He scoots over in the throne he had carved to sit in for the events, and pats for Selene to join him, dismissing most of his envoy for an illusion of privacy.
“What happened?” Des inquires.
“I…” Selene starts, ending her own sentence as a small group arrives to sit around her own balcony beside Des'dins. Ana has arrived, along with Din'durgen, Melanadahl, Sairal, Dirthamen, and the rest of her usual escorts for these events.
Des'din lets out a low whistle at the sight of Dirthamen in the gown Selene had crafted for him. He is stunning, black clothes cascading down from a high collar, draped in a way that accentuates his height and vanishes towards the bottom of him into a swirling mass of darkness. His hair has been left long, nearly touching the floor today, and decorated with golden beads throughout, making an illusion not unlike stars peeking out through an inky black sky.
He is breath taking, and she wishes she could reach out and kiss him and pull him close and remind him of her love for him in front of the whole city.
But she does not wish to make him any more afraid than he is already. If he does not trust her not to hurt him, then he does not trust her. She can’t force the situation, can’t demand his trust and his love and his heart. All she can do, the best thing she can do right now, she decides, is give him space. If her presence causes him tension and worry, then in order to ensure he is comfortable, as she promised him, she will simply…keep her distance.
It is for the best.
The first day of the festival passes her in a dull haze.
She plays her part in the opening ceremonies, and chats with Sylaise, grateful for once for her youngest sisters talent and taste for dominating conversations. Then there is food and drink, and Selene pointedly tries to avoid looking at Dirthamen for too long as she consumes glass after glass and is dragged across the dance floor by her other half, who is at least trying his best to console her over the break up.
Is it a break up?
Has she broken up with Dirthamen then?
Da'Selene is unsure, but it certainly feels that way. It certainly feels as though she will never get to hold him again, will never be able to laugh beside him or ask him a question without wondering if he is wondering that she might be about to strike or kill him. That certainly doesn’t seem like the sort of thing you should have to fear from your partner, she thinks.
The sun disappears while she is spinning with Des and contemplating if perhaps all of the people she loves might secretly fear her, and how terrifying and isolating that thought is.
Ana checks in at some point, and Selene mumbles out something about spending the night in her other half’s holdings, following Des'din to their elaborate mansion, decorated in glistening gold accents and flames in every color burning along the normally white walls and turning the rooms into a veritable celebration of color and life as his people cheer and sing and press against one another in ways that only make her miss Dirthamen more.
When she wakes, she is wrapped around her other half and her head feels as though she is trying to burst out of her body through it.
Her gown is half undone, hair spilled out from its pins and Des'dins hands are pressed against her back while he snores into the pile of pillows surrounding them.
Selene groans, pulling her arm out from beneath him as it tingles in a very unpleasant sort of way, and quickly rushes through one of her other half’s eluvians, through the crossroads, and back into her own holdings.
The few guards scattered around the entrance give her disheveled appearance a strange look, but no one bothers to ask what might have happened.
Probably too scared to, she realizes bitterly.
She passes Sairal in the halls on her way to change into her outfit for todays events. They call out for her, but she moves more quickly, sealing and locking her chamber doors behind her with a heavy breath; she is already running behind and feeling unwell. No need to add to that with a reminder of her argument with Dirthamen the day before.
Todays outfit is slightly plainer than the first days, only basic enchantments on it as she grabs it and runs back to the room so that her hair and makeup can be reapplied. Her people at least seem delighted at the chance to do this two days in a row, braiding the bulk of her hair up towards the base of her skull with a few tasteful curls hanging out of the otherwise precise pattern.
It isn’t until she is seated in her own balcony that she realizes she forgot to bathe, and is still carrying the distinct smell of Des'dins parties.
Wonderful, she thinks sarcastically as Dirthamen seats himself beside her, Ana and Sairal on her other side, and Melanadahl on the other side of him.
Dirthamen fidgets awkwardly, in an outfit more similar in cut to his usual robes but still wearing the feathered cloak from the day before over top of it. His hair is shorter and his waist is thinner, but his hips are a bit wider than usual, she notes.
“Did you spend the night at Des'dins?” He finally asks, and she watches the notes of realization light up around him as he places the smell on her.
“I did,” She admits, feeling guilty for a reason she can’t quite place. “It has been a long time since I spent a night with my other half. It was a good sleep.”
Dirthamen nods with a thick swallow, and does not ask anymore of her for the day.
Once her fathers people complete the final performance of the night, she excuses herself back to her rooms and baths without another word, quickly submerging her whole body beneath the warm water, filling it with more of her favored scents than usual as she lets them soak into herself.
She feels strange.
She spent the night with her other half, something that has always, in the past, helped her find her balance again. Always allowed her to center herself and re-evaluate her priorities. But instead she feels…adrift. As though she has made the wrong move in a game she doesn’t see or understand, and has left her stranded and alone somewhere that she does not know. She feels more disconnected from her body than she has in some time, and wishes that she could simply drift away from it for a while. Could simplify herself and her relationships down to core concepts again.
But someone is knocking on her doors, and as always, her duties must come first.
She is up late helping her architects make final adjustments to the labyrinth, and begins her day already wishing she could crawl back into her bed.
It is not helped by her mothers messenger handing her a letter just to remind her of the afternoons events, and her part in them. Selene does not know if she can take much more of these events; discovering that the people around her could simply be lying, could all be harboring an innate fear of her because of a position she never asked for, and now to make a display of her labyrinth for the sake of showing off her sisters abilities in front of a crowd…
At least she will not have to kill anyone to do it, she consoles herself.
Still, she is nervous, looking over where the labyrinth has been set up from her floating balcony. Ghilan'nain is speaking with one of the workers Selene has designated to coordinate with her, as Ghilan'nain is supplying the creature Andruil is to track and hunt through the maze.
A cage is opened, and a small creature wanders out, hidden beneath a cloak as it radiates nerves and terror.
The poor thing, Selene thinks.
She does not have time to dwell on her thoughts, as Andruil finally steps out. A loud cheer can be heard coming from her side of the viewing area, and the rest of the people that have gathered to watch the events join in as soon as they realize what is happening. Her sister waves to the crowd, signaling for them to cheer even louder as she waves her spear up above her head, the newly polished and sharpened tip gleaming in the light of the sun.
Andruil steps into the labyrinth, and the cloak falls away from her prey.
Selene takes a sharp inhale of breath as she recognizes the older elf. Artifice; one of the generals she had fought beside in the wars so long ago. Back when they were still fighting to form the empire, to save the people from mad keepers. This person is a hero, has personally saved Da'Selene and Des'dins lives on the battlefield back when they were still Devotion and Desire.
“No.” She declares, standing straight up.
Ana reaches forward, hand wrapped around Selenes wrist just enough to make her hesitate. But there is no time to hesitate; Artifice is slow, and Andruil is already making her way past the simpler traps to try and catch them.
“If things go downhill,” Selene instructs. “Take Dirthamen with you.”
Ana hesitates for only a second, before nodding solemnly and stepping back.
Selene lets her own wings flutter out behind her, diving straight down towards her labyrinth from her floating balcony and landing directly in front of her sister.
“Andruil,” She says. “This is wrong.”
Her sister is thrown off by her presence enough that Artifice is able to get out the huntresses line of sight. Andruil gives a disapproving tsk, and tries to push Selene out of the way.
Selene does not budge.
Becoming more and more irritated by the moment, Andruil tries to push past once more, but Selene flares her wings out in full spread, taking up the full space available to them.
“Move.” Andruil commands.
“This isn’t your show, dear sister,” Andruil warns. “The hunt is my domain, and you are the interloper here.”
“I am not going to let you slaughter a friend in one of my own labyrinths,” Selene explains. “And I will do whatever is necessary to keep that from happening.”
Andruil takes a step back, staring her elder sister down for a moment before using her spear to jump the wall beside them, disappearing deeper into the maze.
Selene takes off.
Not after Andruil, but for Artifice. It will be simpler to get Artifice out of the labyrinth, than to keep Andruil away from them inside it.
It doesn’t take long to find them at least, and Selene quickly flies them up and out of the labyrinth, placing them in her own balcony and staring back down at Andruil, who is still wandering her walls in search of a prey that is no longer a part of her game.
Mother is glowering at her from across the designated space, but Selene merely gives her a defiant stare back.
She is drawing her line in the sand, and she will not budge.
Before long, Andruil falls into one of many traps within the labyrinth. One specifically designed to slow her down, and Selene feels another familiar pang of guilt as she watches Andruil struggle against the growing vines dragging her down.
It is a bad idea.
Selene soars back down to the labyrinth and offers a hand to her sister.
“The more you struggle, the more it will grow,” Selene tells her. “Let me help you.”
“What did you do with my prey?” Andruil asks, staring at the outstretched hand.
“I freed them,” Selene admits. “This was a rigged hunt, Andruil. There was no honor in it.”
“If you have stolen my prey, dear sister,” Andruil growls. “Then you will replace it.”
The huntress shoots out of the vine, spear aimed directly at Selenes throat. She has to twist back painfully to avoid the strike, turning back to an upright position on the other side of her sister.
“I don’t want to fight you,” Selene attempts.
“Then this will be an easy victory!” Roars Andruil, who barrels towards Selene once more, eyes gleaming with an unfamiliar red tint. She manages to graze Selenes shoulder this time, before she can spin out of the way.
Selene stares at her sister carefully, seeing unfamiliar threads of power woven into her. Whatever it is feels…unnatural, and seems to be increasing Andruils usual power several times over.
For the first time in a long time, Selene is concerned she could actually die in a fight.
Her instincts kick in, and when Andruil switches to the bow and looses an arrow towards her, Selene catches it in one hand and begins her shift; it has been centuries since she has taken this form, but it is her best chance at pacifying Andruil.
Her range of vision decreases, but what she can make out is sharper, brighter and more vivid, and she can pick up each detail in her surroundings. Her clothes burst off of her as her body stretches, long and cylindrical and covered in white scales. Horns curl out of her skull and her wings become more articulated; less like her bird form, and more appropriate for the size of the dragon shape she’s taken on.
Andruil is momentarily stunned, and Selene takes advantage of the moment to breathe out a long stream of purple flames from her mouth, filling the hall she had been standing in only a moment ago. The vines that had been holding Andruil turn to ash, while the woman perches on top of the wall, the exposed skin on her neck smelling distinctly burnt.
“Fine,” Andruil snarls. “I can kill you just as well as a beast.”
Selene lets out an ear splitting cry, and goes racing up the wall and towards the huntress before she can shoot another arrow towards her. Andruil goes tumbling off her perch, rolling as she hits the ground and letting out a curse as Selene follows along after.
She stumbles through the tight corners; unused to this form and less graceful than she once was, her legs and claws trying to find purchase in the soft stone used to build the maze. Like trying to run on ice without proper protections. She wonders, briefly, why she hasn’t taken this form in so long. If she had more practice with it…
Andruil makes a wrong turn, hitting a looping mechanism and coming out the other end towards the snarling white dragon, who lets out another roar of flames towards the huntress.
The huntress…yes, that’s what’s happening. She is hunting the huntress, that’s her prey, that is her target. That is how she will win this battle, and the war.
Kill the red one, and win the war.
She snarls and snaps, following through the twists and turns and finally manages to snag the red ones ankle. She pulls, as roughly as she can, ignoring the scream of pain as the bone snaps in her jaws with the force of it. The leg is in her mouth now, to just over the knee, and so she bites. Remove the legs, make it hard to run, get an easier, cleaner kill. The red one screams in pain again, calls a name, calls…her name?
Does she have a name?
Oh, what has she done.
In the span of a moment, she remembers herself. That she is Selene, and this is her sister. Her sister who she helped raise, who she used to play with and dance with and sing to. Who used to stay up late at the camp fire and ask for story after story, and beg to fly around on her back when mother and father weren’t looking.
I’m so sorry.
In the span of the next moment, Selenes whole world goes dark, as an arrow is thrust into each of her eyes. She lets out a howling screech of pain, and hears an identical one coming from Des'dins floating balcony. Andruil scrambles back and out of Selenes jaw, and she thinks she hears her begin to ready another arrow but another voice rings out. One who has always had the authority to stop their spats.
“That is ENOUGH.”
And that is all it takes. The labyrinth is disassembled in minutes, as Selene shrinks back down to her elven form. Her eyes are still gone, only empty sockets now as she feels a cloak laid over top of her. Someone picks her up and carries her off, and that is all she can tell before her pain and exhaustion overtakes her.
By the time she wakes again, the festival has ended.
Des'din is sitting beside her, in the healing cot of her holdings. She can’t see him, but she can feel him. Can feel the rings on his fingers and his presence, just the same.
“You’re awake,” he mutters. “You selfish prick.”
“You should be.”
“I wasn’t thinking.”
“A trait we can’t both have, or we really will end up dead.”
“Are you alright?”
“No, not really. My other half decided to try and get herself killed over a traitor and didn’t even warn me first.”
“No, that was Artifice-”
“I know who it was,” Des'din snaps uncharacteristically. “Why do you think they were in that labyrinth to begin with? Artifice was found to be a major player in the rebellion that’s been growing in Andruils lands. Using their connections to harbor people meant to be executed or sacrificed, moving people in the camps out and towards nameless lands-”
“Always knew I liked them,” Selene murmurs.
“Well then I have some shit news for you, because father had them killed the moment your little fight with Andruil ended! You didn’t accomplish anything other than convincing mother you’ll do whatever you can to piss her off!”
Selene is silent for several moments.
“How is Dirthamen?”
Des'din lets out a sigh. “He’s fine, if you choose to ignore the fact that he’s been twisting himself into knots worrying about you.”
Selene nods slightly, though she’s less sure of her success with the motion without being able to actually see anything around her.
“…She hasn’t woken up yet. She’s gone into shock from the loss of her leg. They’re making her new ones to choose from once she finally does wake up, but something in her system is interfering with traditional healing methods. It took a lot of blood magic just to stabilize her.”
“There was something off about her…”
“I don’t care!” Des'din proclaims, and she can feel him drop her hand, so she assumes he has thrown his own up into the air despite her inability to actually see the motion. “I don’t care if Andruil had walked into that maze and said 'gee I think I’m gonna slaughter a thousand of the people today, just for kicks’! You don’t throw yourself in front of her and have a sudden death match when your death will not affect only you! I was right there! If you had died with me that close- you’d have taken me with you!”
“I’m sorry.” She repeats.
Des'din lets out a loud dramatic huff and takes her hand back into his own. “Good! Be sorry for a little while! You deserve it!”
Selene giggles. She doesn’t mean to; its a very serious concern and Des'din is very genuinely mad at her, but it’s so similar to a childs temper tantrum that she just can’t help it.
The air in the room relaxes a little when she does, at least.
Until Ghilan'nain comes storming into the room.
“If you ever try to kill my wife again,” she snarls, tossing some sort of object at Selenes face “I will take apart everyone and everything you love piece by piece, until the whole empire is more familiar with their insides, than their outsides!”
From the sound of stomping moving farther away from her room, Selene assumes Ghilan'nain has taken her leave after only those few words. She reaches curiously for the item that was thrown at her, and feels cold as she recognizes the texture; Dirthamen’s chain. The one meant to keep his power hidden, so that none of the others will see him as a threat.
“Get me a reconstructor,” Selene orders. “I need a new pair of eyes, and I need you to go find Dirthamen, right now.”
“You just woke up, you’re not ready-”
“It doesn’t matter,” She says, pushing the chain into Des'dins hand. “Go find him, before someone else does.”
“Fine, I’ll find Dirthamen, but you need to let your body adjust before you add a new set of eyes. You know that.”
“Andruil and I both screwed up with the fight,” Selene explains. “Mother is going to determine who the winner is, and whose side she is going to take, based on who recovers first. That has to be me, or Dirthamen will be killed.”
Des'din lets out a frustrated puff of air, but a few moments later and he is gone. Another minute, and a reconstructor comes in with a selection of replacements for her to choose from.
It is never a pleasant process, to have a piece of yourself stolen so suddenly.
But it is less painful to replace an eye, she thinks, than a heart.
It was a rushed procedure.
She should be recovering, should be giving her form time to adapt, time to adjust to the shock and the wounds and the recent additions in the aftermath of her battle with Andruil.
But the remnants of Dirthamens necklace jingle against her staff with each step, reminding her of where she needs to be. It is not a good look to be resting so much of her weight against the wooden pole as she moves, to keep her eyes low and hidden beneath the edge of her hood because the light is searing against their newly reattached nerves and her body is still remembering how to be an elf and not a dragon but in the meantime her scaleless skin feels vulnerable and exposed and on high alert for potential threats.
How ironic then, that her mothers presence would not register until she speaks.
“Well well,” Mythal speaks from beside her “So the rumors are true; you really have forced yourself into consciousness, my dear daughter.”
“Mother,” Selene greets with a bow of her head as she tamps down on any surprise that may have escaped her. “What brings you to my estate?”
“I came as soon as I heard the news. I wanted to see for myself if you had truly recovered before Andruil.”
Selene hesitates, heart hammering in her chest as she asks “…And have you?”
“'Recovered’ might be a stretch of the truth,” Mythal admits “But that is after all, your purview. Andruil is still unconscious in her bed, and if that is the story you would like spread, I would not dispute it.”
Relief rushes out of Selene as she ushers her mother into a private room, normally used for negotiations but a quick burst of magic to reignite the privacy wards makes it sufficient for a conversation with her mother, even if the rush of it forces her to lean more of her weight onto the staff in her hands.
“I am sorry for making such a scene,” Selene begins, because she knows her mother and what she is actually looking for here. “It was not my intention to make the family look weak.”
“Of course not; only Andruil was your target.”
Selenes lip twitches in amusement beneath her hood, and she bites back the retort on her tongue.
“Do you wish for me to make an apology to Andruil?”
“Are you asking me to?” Selene repeats.
Mythal clicks her tongue lightly. “No. But you did not trust me, and for that you owe me reparations.”
“And here I was thinking we were already even on that front.”
The golden goddess lets out a long breath and settles into one of the corner chairs.
“You are upset about Artifice.”
“I am upset I was not even informed of Artifice. How long have they been in holding? Surely there was a turnaround between their capture and their punishment. Did they have a trial? A hearing? Or were they captured and immediately found guilty because Andruil felt they would be easy prey?”
“What evidence might you have presented to prove the innocence of someone discovered with no less than five camp escapees on unmarked trails in the dead of night?”
“They saved my life during the war you know.”
“So did Andruil, yet you seem to feel no life debt towards her.”
“That is…”Selene hesitates, trying to find a suitable reason “…different.”
“Of course,” Mythal says. “She is your sister, and a leader of the people; she should be held to a different standard.”
“And so she is. But she is a leader of the people, not one who is subject to its laws. As are you, which is why you are capable of achieving your goals, if only you would focus on them.”
Selene blinks beneath her hood, slowly taking the seat across from her mother. “And what would you know of my goals?”
“Only that you have a surplus of them, and a very short list of any actual achievements.”
“It is because you lack focus,” Mythal continues as though Selene had not spoken. “You have your fathers fury and your other halfs greed and my sense of morality, and that is a dangerous and likely overwhelming combination to handle. You wish for change, but refuse to focus on any cause long enough to actually implement it.”
Selenes nails tap, tap, tap against the handle of her staff, as she carefully raises her eyes to meet her mothers. There is a cost to this; her mother does not give advice without a cause of her own, and while she may be pleased that Selene has appeared to recover first, there is a motive to it that she can not seem to discern just yet.
“What sort of reparations have you come in search of, mother?” Selene finally asks.
Mythal smiles in a way that does not reach her eyes, as her hands cross delicately in her lap. “I am glad you are still wise enough to ask. That will make this a much smoother transition.”
Selene finally tracks Des'din and Dirthamen down to one of her private gardens. One which Dirthamen and Ana have exclusive permission to enter, that smells largely of lavender and herbs Ana has been cultivating herself. Her lovers wings are out in full form, feathers shedding and replacing themselves at a steady pace while Deceit and Fear wait, perched in a nearby tree while Dirthamen and Des'din try and fail to keep extra limbs from piercing through his robes.
“Having a rough time of it?” She jokes, still wobbling on her staff as she approaches them. Dirthamens wings perk straight up and she resists the urge to smile at the relief that pours out of him at the sound of her voice.
“Finally,” Des'din tsks. “What, did you get lost? Your procedure ended over an hour ago.”
“I ran into mother.” Selene admits, fingers ruffling through Deceits feathers as they land on the top of her staff.
Des'din winces, and makes a pitying noise in response.
“Are you alright?” Dirthamen asks, standing now, just out of reach of Da'Selene.
“That is a complicated question; but I will survive, yes.”
“You rushed the procedure,” Des'din clarifies.
“That is part of it, yes.”
“Why?” Dirthamen questions.
“Because I worried you would be killed if I didn’t,” Selene admits with a shrug. “And also because if I remained on bed rest, I risked Andruil being viewed as the victor of our battle, and I simply could not permit that.”
“What did mother want?” Des'din asks as Dirthamen struggles with the implications of Da'Selenes answer.
“To re-educate me.”
Des'din blinks, taking a slight step back. “I-I’m sorry?”
“I’m going to be returning to Mothers lands instead of my own from Arlathan. She wishes for me to remain at her side until I’ve managed to…refocus myself to a single cause.”
“She wants to keep an eye on you. She thinks you’re dangerous, you know.”
“I shouldn’t have shifted,” Selene sighs. “It was reckless, and even if I had won it would have sent the empire into chaos. We don’t have a precedent for the loss of a leader.”
“This is how precedents are made, right?”
“I know. But I don’t want to be known as someone who slaughtered her own sister. And besides that…”
“ ‘besides that’?”
Selene bites down on her lip, shoulders tensing as she admits. “Mother is right.”
Des'din stumbles backward, making an overly dramatic show of his shock while Selene waits patiently for him to finish, draping himself over the stone bench with Dirthamens cloak wrapped around his shoulders. “Have I gone mad?”
“Or I have,” Selene jokes. “But I…realized I wouldn’t have killed Andruil, in the labyrinth. I had the opportunity, and I chose not to.”
“Is that so terrible?” Dirthamen chimes in.
“It means she was right,” Selene answers. “It means I have gone soft, and if I would not kill someone who has committed the heinous acts that she has, is that the same as excusing them? With the knowledge and the secrets that I possess, to have that opportunity and not take it…People suffer at her hand. And I have allowed that. An opportunity to reassess myself and my values and to find a real, solid cause to fight for would not be amiss.”
“A few months, maybe a year.”
Des lets out a low whistle. “She’s that pissed?”
“Well, she doesn’t trust me anymore, so it’s either this or she’s going to start hinting me towards Uthenera.” Selene tilts her head to look back towards Dirthamen, wincing slightly at the sun peeking through the opening. “I’m going to leave Ana in charge, with Sairal covering her usual duties if that’s alright. You’ll still be able to reach me if anything happens.”
Dirthamen blinks, wings drooping slightly. “I am not going with you?”
“No. Ghilan'nain does not make idle threats, and I don’t want to make you more of a target. I’ll be taking Din'Durgen and Melanadahl; they’re both well received in my mothers lands and capable of deterring any lingering rumors towards other venues. You may use my rooms in my absence; in fact I would prefer it. They’re more heavily warded, and will guarantee your safety and ability to relax in the evenings.”
“…May I still send gifts?” He asks, head tilting slightly.
Selene hesitates, eyebrows furrowing in confusion before she nods. “I…yes? I suppose so, if the desire strikes you.”
“Ok,” He nods determinedly. “Thank you.”
“I’ll have something crafted for you to replace the necklace as well,” She informs him, delicately repairing the chain as she places it back over his neck. “Do you have any requests?”
“May I have time to consider the matter?”
“Of course,” She smiles, hand drifting lightly across his cheek. She is going to miss him; has already missed him, just those few nights from the festival. Such a long time away feels…daunting. Like something is pulling at her to stay, or to bring him, despite the dangers.
Des'din moves from his space on the bench and it snaps her out of her reveries, hand returning to her staff as she announces that she needs to go make proper preparations.
This is going to be a very long few months.
When she first finds the baby, she is at a loss.
It is very much unheard of to find babes abandoned in the wood. Especially ones as young, and quiet, and remarkable as this.
She does not behave quite like the children she has met before; she does not pull at clothing or jewelry, or even the strands of hair peeking out from beneath Selenes hood. There is no screaming or crying, only fear and curiosity and loss pouring out of a body far too small to hold it.
It is harder to see the strings, since the events of the festival so long ago. Selene can not read people as easily as she once could, but even so…Even so, this child is alone and scared and clearly reeling from a trauma she is too small to have experienced.
It only makes sense then, to tear off her hood and wrap the baby before she can freeze with the setting sun. A simple matter to warm her hands and arms as she holds her, rocking the small body back and forth with a soft song until she is calm and close enough to sleep that she can be carried back without drawing too much attention.
A hope, perhaps, that was always in vain.
Ana’s eyes go wide, when she re-enters her halls, a swaddled baby asleep in her arms. Selene does not fight it when Ana immediately dismisses the other attendants and ushers her into the room, only whispers at her not to wake the baby with her worry.
“Is this what your retreat was for?” Ana whispers once they are alone in Selenes chambers. “Why wouldn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t intend it,” Selene explains. “I went on my retreat because it was necessary. I found the baby on my journey back.”
“You ‘found’ the baby?”
Ana gives her the look she always gives her when she thinks she is lying.
“It’s the truth.” Selene reiterates.
“So Dirthamen’s not the father then?” Ana asks skeptically.
“I suppose its possible, biologically. I don’t think he’d procreate with someone who would abandon their child in the woods though. And he never asked for permissions, so if he had, there would certainly be compli-”
“That is not what I meant, and you know it.”
Selene lets out a breath.
“We are not…..” She shifts her arms before remembering the baby lying in them and immediately abandons the gesture she had been about to make. “We’re not a 'we’.”
“That’s a lie.”
“Could we focus, perhaps, on the baby instead of my inactive romantic life?”
“Mm…”Ana relents, eyes drifting back down to the sleeping infant. “Do you know whose she is?”
“Mine,” Selene answers plainly.
Bright green eyes look up at her incredulously from their freckled home. “You’re sure?”
Selene nods. Even if she did not birth the child…she has become attached. Too attached to give her to another, who might simply leave her again in the woods.
No, with her is surely the safest place she can offer.
Selene sends Ana off to fetch Des'din, who will likely be upset if any other member of their family learns of the newest addition before he does.
In the meantime, Selene sends for food and drink from the kitchens. Soft, easy to swallow foods and an assortment of milks and juices.
…Perhaps she should look into proper childcare procedures soon.
Selene is trying to dress the baby in one of her old cowls and losing a debate about putting food into small mouths rather than a tiny scrunched up fist, when Des'din slams open the doors to her bedchamber.
“IT’S TRUE!” He squeals as soon as he spots them. Before Selene can register her other half’s presence, he has snatched up the baby, and is swinging her in a wide circle over his head. “Oh, you are just the sweetest, cutest, most precious thing, aren’t you?! Yes you are, yes you are!”
“She is not a pet,” Selene sighs, “Please be careful.”
“Of course I’ll be careful with my daughter,” He scoffs, moving smoothly into a rather impressive one armed carry while he waves dismissively with the other. He grins back down at the baby “Look, she’s got my eyes!”
“No, she doesn’t.”
“Well, she’s got the same gleam. Family resemblance and all that.”
Selene raises an eyebrow at Des, but otherwise lets his comment slide as she holds out her arms. “Please give me back my daughter.”
“You’ve had her all day, she deserves to spend time with her father.”
“You’re not her father,” Selene frowns.
Des lets out a hurt gasp, one hand moving to cover the babies ears. “Excuse me? We are each others other halves, Selene! If you are her mother, then of course I’m her father! Who else could it be?”
“She…well, she doesn’t have one yet-”
“Good, I volunteer for the position. Any other takers? No? Lovely,” He carefully raises the baby, who looks rather lost and swept up in the sudden commotion, up to his eye level and rubs his nose gently against hers. “Hello Da'Des, I’m your father. Can you say 'Papae’? 'Papae’?”
“Her name is not Da'Des, and you are not her father,” Selene gripes as she pulls the baby back into her own arms. It is strangely reassuring to have her back, as something inside her settles down that she hadn’t even realized had become anxious.
Perhaps she should have taken longer on her retreat after all.
Des'din pouts, arms crossing over his chest like a petulant child. “She’s Dirthamens then? Because he’s still technically mine, so if you two went and had a baby-”
“She is not Dirthamen’s, why does everyone keep asking-” Selene takes a deep breath before her temper can get out and potentially scare a baby that right now needs more than anything, someone to keep her safe. “Dirthamen and I did not procreate. We had a single night together, and occasionally he agrees to accompany me to social events. That’s all.”
“And also you’re in love with him.”
Selene lets out a long groan “I’m not-he’s not-…look, it’s complicated and it’s just…he’s safer-happier, really, without having to deal with the problems a relationship with me would entail.”
“You can’t lie to me about your bonds you know?” Des tsks with a disappointed look in his eye. “And you can’t just will this away by going to hide in the woods or a cave or whatever section of the dreaming you’ve been hiding in these last few months. I may not know the details of whatever happened between you two, but you fucked up.”
“Language,” Selene insists, turning the baby away from Des. “And I didn’t-”
“You did,” Des asserts. “Whatever else may have happened, you two formed a bond and the instant you realized it, you got scared and abandoned him. Where do you think the first place he went to look for you was? With me. So yeah, you fudged the heck up, Selene.”
Selene opens her mouth to argue, but stops before she speaks. There are two dark eyes looking up at her expectantly while she sucks on her knuckles, currently gripped around the edge of a golden coin.
“I think you’re missing a piece of your outfit, Des,” She says instead, carefully plying the object away from tiny fingers.
He blinks down at the shining coin, patting himself down until he finds the empty space.
“Oh good, she’s clever and sneaky,” He hums, hooking it back onto the appropriate chain. “You two will get along wonderfully.”
Kel learns a lot of things about ancient elves, as she struggles to come to grips with the reality of being a baby living in ancient times. A baby who has been adopted by Da’Selene, and also it would seem by Des’din, and by Dirthamen. Dirthamen who is real, and who would probably fascinate a great many clan Firsts and Keepers if they got a chance to see all of this. If they weren’t all gone, anyway.
One thing that Kel learns for certain about ancient elves, though, is that they lose their minds around babies.
Case in point - Kel is currently lying on the floor of her decidedly fancy nursery, on the softest blanket she has ever touched in living memory, working determinedly at the task of getting her stupid baby body to actually move. So far, she has succeeded in rolling over, and lifting up her own head. Which feels unspeakably heavy, and which she cannot keep up for very long.
Des’din, Lord Eternal of Death and Desire, the Great Seducer, Shadow of the Moon and Tamer of the Tides, is lying on the carpet across from her.
With rapt interest, as if Kel is somehow doing something fascinating by internally swearing and externally babbling, and trying to shove her way into some kind of mobility. She knows how crawling is supposed to work, after all. She’s at least got that much of a headstart on an actual baby. But her muscle development apparently just isn’t there. Des’din watches, wearing his glittering eyeshadow, seemingly unconcerned about messing up his fancy hairstyle - there are pins that look like starlight in there. And he keeps watching as Kel heaves a tremendous sigh, and finally gives up.
Only at that point does Des’din sit up himself, and frown at her a little bit.
“I cannot tell what you want,” he says.
Kel blinks at him.
“Buh?” she manages to reply.
Des’din hums, and then hefts her up. He is a very tactile sort of person, Kel has learned. Which fits. It caused some problems earlier on, given that he’s also a very magical sort of person, and there was a learning curve issue with how much magic was too much magic, even if it was just in his clothing. But once he and Selene and Dirthamen had managed to sort out what was ‘upsetting’ her, Des’din had toned it down, and now she finds she doesn’t mind it so much when he just randomly scoops her up and demands cuddles.
“I mean, obviously I know you want to move,” Des carries on, as she slumps her head against his chest. “But most babies want to move because they want to get to something. A toy or a person or a place. Where are you trying to go, Little Des Junior? Why do you want to move so badly, when you do not want your destination?”
Kel lets loose a somewhat grumpier noise than usual. That’s another problem with ancient gods, she decides. They are nosy. Not that she can really blame them, when they think she’s a baby. But still. She’s been trying to work on not spilling her emotions out everywhere, too, though that quest seems even more fruitless than her mobility issues. And besides which, she thinks she’s gleaned enough to know that someone like Des’din would probably still be able to tell ‘things’ about her, even if she wasn’t always projecting her feelings into the air.
The question reminds her of her current frustrations, which, of course, spill outwards amidst her grumbling.
Des’din pats her back.
“I know it is frustrating,” he soothes. “But if I knew what you were trying to get to, then I could get it for you, and then you would not feel so badly. Only I cannot tell. Am I losing my touch?”
Not another existential crisis. Dirthamen had one last week, although that had mostly just manifested as him getting all quiet and soul-searchy. But Kel seems to provoke a lot of worry. Probably because she’s… well. Uncommonly grief-stricken and traumatized for a baby.
There isn’t much helping that, though. And thinking about it just serves to remind her of it, and then the next thing she knows her mood is plummeting, and Des’din is fussing and then trying to distract her, pulling out toys and starting in on some sing-song story, until he finally gives up and settles for cuddling her some more while she just sort of flops morosely against him.
Why, of course, is still a pressing question for her. Why she is here. What Solas was trying to accomplish. Did he intend to send himself back in time as a baby? To be raised by Selene and Des and Dirthamen? She can hardly imagine him stomaching this, though. Being so inept at everything. Being left to deal with all the internal dilemmas and memories and guilt, with no immediate way to take action against any of it. But if this wasn’t his plan, then what was it?
And what chances are passing by, as she is forced to waste time on being incapacitated like this?
Eventually, Des gets frustrated enough with his inability to pinpoint her desires - and Kel can’t blame him for struggling, when she doesn’t even know what she wants anymore, either - and gets up, and takes her to Dirthamen. Selene is in meetings, by the sounds of the talk around her. Des is probably supposed to be there, too, but he has a habit of sending representatives and coming to steal her from the nursery if he thinks the meetings aren’t important enough.
Dirthamen readily takes her from Des’din’s grasp, and shifts the cloak he is wearing around himself so that it blocks some of the light. Kel’s not sure how he does it, but he has this way of drowning out the world, and making her thoughts slow down. Easing things, until all she has to do is focus on her breathing, and her own heartbeats, and even her thoughts cannot quite seem to reach her as keenly.
She settles down.
“Good baby,” Dirthamen says. Patting her back.
“Do not look at me like that,” Des complains. Whining a little, even. Kel wonders what look Dirthamen has on; she can’t currently see anything. “I was just watching her in the nursery. Nothing happened, I swear it. She just had a mood.”
“I would not accuse you of anything,” Dirthamen replies, in his calm and even voice. “I am well aware of how these things happen. Guilt is likely unmerited, and I was not attempting to assign blame with my stare.”
“Well, maybe you should assign a little blame,” he counters. “What kind of person cannot figure out his own child?”
“Elgar’nan does not seem to understand you at all times,” Dirthamen points out.
Des makes a sound like a deflating balloon.
“Please do not say I am that bad at it,” he pleads. “Even Elgar’nan understands babies.And so do I! Usually. With usual babies. Obviously Kel is a special baby, being our baby, so exceptional circumstances are to be expected. But still. One would think that would mean more understanding, not less. Especially considering that she likes me best!”
Kel would roll her eyes, but she can’t, currently. So instead she settles for drooling onto Dirthamen a little bit, and unthinkingly stuffing one of her fists up to her mouth.
It’s not that she wants to cause this kind of alarm. Des’din and Da’Selene were, on balance, not as bad as some of the other evanuris. But the other evanuris set a very low bar, and it puts her mostly in mind of Solas’ esteem for Mythal. All of it being judged on a sloping scale of awfulness, to be honest. Even Solas himself had fit into that design. And on the one hand, it might be easy to think that these versions of the Creators are closer to what they should be. Closer to right. But… Elvhenan is still a terrible place, and Kel thinks that would be a mistake, too.
Still. She cannot help her growing attachment to these people, either. Nor the undeniable spark of hope. That maybe the reason why Solas sent her here, and sent her now, is because… because there is something here that can stop things.
Maybe even several someones. Maybe not just Kel, alone.
She squirms and worries and finds the darkness less calming, and misses some of the conversation between Dirthamen and Des, until Dirthamen determines that the cover of his cloak is no longer helping. Then he slides her up to his shoulder instead, and pats her back some more, while Des gestures dramatically towards her.
“See?” he declares. “What are we doing wrong?”
“I do not know,” Dirthamen replies. “Perhaps it is me?”
“It is not you,” Des dismisses, immediately.
Dirthamen opts not to argue the point.
“Then it is probably whatever happened to her before we found her,” he reasons. “Babies are very sensitive. Kel is especially so.”
“But that part of her life is over. How long does it take for babies to forget things?” Des presses, and Kel manages to move around enough to attempt a stern look at him. If he suggests finding a way to wipe her memories again, she is going to have to burst into tears again, and really nobody likes that. Although Selene had made it pretty clear that she was not at all in favour of using mind-altering magic on a baby. Her argument mostly seemed to be that it might damage her cognitive functions somehow, and not that Kel should be allowed to keep her traumatic memories.
But they can’t take them. However much it hurts. Kel is the only one who still remembers.
It’s all she can do, until she finds a way to do more again.
“I do not know,” Dirthamen says, and then looks down at her. Locking gazes with her, as he shifts his hold on her somewhat. “Are you going to forget things soon?” he asks.
Kel huffs, and then dutifully pats his chest twice for no.
“She says she will not forget,” he informs Des.
“Well ask her why not!” Des whines.
“We can only manage ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions, currently,” Dirthamen reminds him.
He sighs, dramatically. Then he seems to decide that he’s had enough of letting Dirthamen hold her, and reaches over to take her back. Kel doesn’t fuss, so Dirthamen permits it. Des holds her so that they two of them can look at one another, face-to-face, for a moment. Before he sighs again, and kisses her nose, and then tucks her under his chin.
“Once she can speak, she will be able to tell you what she wants herself,” Dirthamen says, consolingly.
Des is quiet for a moment. Kel can somewhat gather that he’s considering the matter.
“Well, then, we will just have to work on speaking first,” he decides, determinedly. And then seems set on getting back onto that topic, as he shifts her to one arm, and then starts patting his chest.
“Des,” he declares. “Say ‘Des’? Dessie? Des’din? Desire?”
“Da,” Kel manages, in an effort to be sporting. Her mouth is about as reluctant to cooperate with her brain as her body is, truth be told.
Des is nothing if not enthusiastic over her efforts, though.
“Good job!” he gushes. “How close you are, my little chickadee! Let’s try again. Des.Ddddeeeessss.”
“Daaaaaz,” Kel imitates, inaccurately. Her tongue doesn’t quite like to make the right shape for an e-before-ess type sound, yet. Or anything excessively complicated, really. Dirthamen is currently also ‘Da’, despite his efforts to veer her more towards ‘Pa’, and Selene is ‘Za’ or ‘Za-la-na’, which is entirely wrong and Kel is well aware that it’s miles off and much harder to attempt than ‘mama’, but there are a lot of confusing and complicated factors going on here.
“Progress!” Des’din decides. “I think it merits a candy reward!”
Kel pats at him, and doesn’t object. Ancient elven candies are, admittedly, really good.Weird and sometimes unsettling, in a ‘that looks too good’ kind of a way, but so far that hasn’t overcome her baby-impulse to shove it all straight into her mouth, either. The only bad experience so far had featured a sour candy that a confused attendant hadn’t realized would taste way too strong on a baby’s tongue, and even that hadn’t really been awful. Just mildly unpleasant.
Des carts her off to Selene’s chambers, which are adjacent to the nursery, and retrieves the candy bowl from a cabinet in the parlour. First he lets Kel pick one, which she does by way of baby-reflex, mostly; grabbing a juicy-looking orb near to her hand, and barely resisting the urge to stuff it in her mouth before the wrapper is off. Des rescues her quickly, though, and gets it free of its filmy casing, and smiles as she stuffs it awkwardly into her face. Then he takes a few more like it from the bowl, before he puts it away again.
He settles with her onto the carpet. Putting her down near one of the tables, and then sitting a few steps across from her.
“Do you want another candy, Kel?” he asks.
Her mouth still feels sticky-sweet from the last one. But… she kind of does, she supposes. On a few levels, anyway. She lies on the floor, and blinks at Des, as he holds the wrapped treat up - just out of her reach.
“Say ‘candy’?” he suggests.
“Uhhhh…” Kel replies, and tries to focus. “Caaa-daaa?”
“Oh, good job!” Des enthuses again, and when she manages to repeat a few attempts, gives her the candy. Then he holds up another one; and this time, tries to encourage her to move closer in order to get at it.
It takes her a while to figure out what he’s doing.
Can’t tell what the baby wants?
Well, why not simplify things by giving the baby something specific to want - and something which is easy to provide. It doesn’t escape her notice that some of the tension in Des’ shoulders seems to relax whenever he is able to provide her with a candy.
She feels vaguely guilty about the whole thing, then. Whatever might come, it’s not, at the moment, actually Des’ fault that he can’t possibly tell what she wants. He’s not a bad parent, so far as she can tell. And his alignments with desire seem to also have the backwards effect of making him even more uncomfortable with her frustration and sense of denial than she is.
So she finds herself kind of appreciating the gesture, too. Candy is simple. It is, in the grand scheme of things, fairly harmless. And she can admit… it’s nice to feel like she can actually accomplish something, when she manages to make an approximate sound, or roll her way closer across the carpet, and succeed. It may only be the most petty and meagre of successes, but Des celebrates them eagerly. Until her face and hands are sticky, and her tongue is tingling with the telltale sign of too many sweets.
Far too many sweets.
…It’s possible, she muses, the some of the good feelings are also the result of a sugar rush.
It’s as she’s drawing this conclusion that Selene apparently gets out of her meeting. The woman comes into the parlour, and takes in the sight of the empty candy wrappers, and of Kel - who is currently kicking at the air, for reasons even she isn’t quite clear on - and then rounds on Des.
“Please,” she says, solemnly. “Des’din. Half of my soul. Please tell me you did not give Kel a dozen candies.”
“You should have seen it,” Des says, rather than answering the question. “We made so much progress! She wanted the candies, and I gave her the tasks, and she did them, and she got them! It was marvelous. She hasn’t been frustrated for more than a moment before we started!”
“Des’din,” Selene snaps. “That is too much sugar! She is going to be bouncing off the walls and then she is going to crash, and feel awful. Did you even read the book I gave you about infant diets?!”
“Of course I did,” Des replies. “I didn’t give her enough to hurt her. And, I think you are failing to appreciate the importance of this - she wanted something, and she got it. How is that not vital to her health, too? There is a tiny spirit trapped inside her tiny body, and after all this, it must be starving!”
Selene runs a hand down her face.
“That is all well and good, Des, but did you have to pick candy?” she counters.
Des just shrugs.
“She likes it,” he reasons.
“Ya,” Kel admits, not wanting the situation to cause any more dilemmas than it already has. After all, she played her own part in this fiasco.
Selene’s worry eases, just a little, as she looks at her. And then she reaches down, and picks her up. Taking stock of the smears of sugar and colouring sticking to her fingers. Kel feels a little jittery and weirdly energetic, and better than usual in a way that’s making her almost giddy. So her normal reservations fail her, and soon as she’s in range, she reaches out to grab one of the crescent moon earrings dangling from Selene’s head.
Selene, who doesn’t expect her to move so quickly - usually Kel offers more warning time - doesn’t catch her in time, and ends up wincing as Kel yanks the earring down. Not as hard as she might have, because she recollects herself before that point, but enough to earn an ‘ow’ from Selene, and an amused snort from Des.
“Those are nice earrings,” he says, in a tone of agreement.
“Thank you. I would prefer to keep them in my ears, though,” Selene wryly replies, as she closes a hand over Kel’s, and gets her to let go.
Kel mumbles something vaguely apologetic, and gets a kiss for her troubles.
“You are a sticky mess,” Selene informs her.
She will concede that.
“Caaa-deee,” she dutifully explains. It earns her a smile, and despite her - reasonable - concerns, Selene seems… happy, about this. Kel supposes that for all his odd behaviours, Des might not be entirely wrong, either. She’s been kept safe and cared for here, has felt affection and attachment and been comforted, but finding any kind of satisfaction, any sense of accomplishment… well, it’s probably a testament to how little she’s managed, that even such small, silly things have eased some of the tension inside her.
“Candy. Well… let’s just not make a habit of it,” Selene decides. “And get you cleaned up!”
“Bath time!” Des exclaims, happily.
“Not for you. You need to go and manage your followers; they are having dramatics,” Selene informs him.
Des attempts to wave this off.
“They always are,” he insists.
“Oh, fine. Go and have adorable family bonding time without me. Leave me to wither, alone-”
“Des there are fifty people in your retinue,” Selene dryly reminds him. “Go take a bath with some of them, if you want.”
The man pouts.
“But they don’t have our baby with them,” he protests.
“You sound like Father.”
“Ugh, no, what does everyone keep telling me that?”
“There may be an obvious reason…”
“How cruel,” Des complains, folding his arms as Selene begins to carry Kel towards the bathing chamber. She settles Kel onto her shoulder, which gives her a good look at Des, in all his sparkly, disappointed glory. The man isn’t quite muttering about how much he hates having any kind of responsibility, but he’s definitely giving off the vibe of it anyway.
Mustering up some sympathy, Kel wriggles a hand at him in a solid approximation of a farewell wave.
“Bye Dee!” she manages.
He beams at her, and dutifully returns the wave.
“Bye bye, baby!” he replies; at least a little bit mollified.
Ancient elves. Really.
Who knew they were so ridiculous?
Selene can not always put aside time for one-on-one bonding with Kelethvhenas.
So when she can, she tries to make it count.
Today’s excursion is a walk through one of her favorite hedge-mazes. Flowers bloom on most every wall in a wide array of colors, and the spirits that inhabit it are normally content to keep to themselves and the local animals. Most of the foliage has been grown naturally, with only a few enchantments placed throughout to ensure longevity, and even those have been dimmed down once note was taken of Kels sensitivities.
Selene carefully pulls a freesia from the wall for her daughter to play with, keeping a watchful eye to ensure they do not end up in her mouth. For all that she does not normally tug on hair or jewels, she does seem to have a fondness for sticking strange things suddenly into her mouth, even if she is not always pleased with the results.
As they turn a corner, Selene smiles at Kels babbling; nothing she’s managed yet has been words, exactly, but with a little help from her father she’s gotten quite adept at communicating in other, nonverbal, ways.
“Left or right, little one?” Selene asks the baby in her arms, who seems to glance both ways before patting at her right shoulder.
She takes the trail to their right -the one that leads to the fountain, if she recalls correctly- and stops just in front of the bubbling statue.
Dirthamen is there, nearly as shocked to see her, as she is to see him.
“I thought you were working on the field energy distribution team today,” She blurts out as she reigns in her surprise, grip on her daughter tightening just slightly.
“There was…an incident,” He explains, blinking first at her, and then at their daughter. “I did not realize you were bringing her here. I apologize for interrupting.”
Selene swallows, heart thumping in her chest while it aches for him.
It misses him, she misses him. For all that they have agreed to embark on parenthood together, they have not spent time alone since she returned from her retreat. If he is in her bed, it is with Kelethvhenas tucked between them. She has heard rumors of him possibly retreating back to Des'dins land in lieu of her recent actions; and she can not even blame him for it.
If the situation had been reversed…
She thinks she would have left long ago.
He bows deeply before silently taking his leave.
Selene lets out the breath she hadn’t realized she was holding.
“Baaaba?” Kel babbles, hand tapping twice on Selenes arm.
“Sorry,” She says with a smile. “I…made a poor choice before I found you. Dirthamen has been suffering from it rather extensively, and it’s entirely my fault. It’s nothing for you to worry about, little one.”
If she says it out loud enough, maybe she’ll even believe it herself.
If Dirthamen does leave…if he does leave, that will put two of her parents in Des'dins lands. What little time she has for her now will become even sparser, with her so far away. Surely they will wish for her to spend more time with them, and Selene will be…
Selene will be her mother, she supposes. Off making plans and building legacies her children never asked for instead of spending their childhood alongside them.
She pulls Kel tighter to her chest, and allows herself a moment of weakness.
Her breaths are rapidly becoming more shallow, and Selene takes a seat on one of the stone benches alongside the fountain, carefully pulling the freesias away from her daughters mouth.
“It’s never an easy choice you know,” She says despite knowing her daughter is unlikely to understand; not that she would really want her to. “Taking a life. It is not a power I use frequently, and never one I use without thought. But his brother was…he was not a good person. And yes, there are many within the empire that are also not good people and I would agree they do not all deserve a death sentence. Using such broad definitions for people has never ended well, in truth. But Des'din and I have spent many years keeping an eye on Falon'din, hoping that he might find remorse or guilt, or…or some sign of regretfor his actions. When he attacked the guards…” She sighs, shaking her head and placing a light boop on the small round nose on her daughters face. “There was no other option. He had to be killed. I knew if I told Dirthamen he would argue the decision; would try to get us to permit him another chance, to let him see his brother again, and I can’t…I wouldn’t let that happen.”
The water in the fountain changes from light blue to a pale purple tint as the wind changes direction around them, a small spirit of intrigue darting after one of the garden cats over the hedge across from them.
“Perhaps I did rob him of his choice,” She admits. “But he could not be near when it happened. I needed it to be quick and clean. For all that he deserved to suffer, I could not risk his twin soul trying to cling to life through their bond. Or worse, using it to drag Dirthamen down alongside him. But it wasn’t…” Selenes face twists as she looks down at her daughter. “Ana says it was cruel, to trick him. I told Des'din not to promise him anything for the visit; only to check in on how the things he had left behind were doing! But my other half is so quick to please…He should not have told Dirthamen he could see his brother. He knew he would not be in the cell. I do not know what he hoped to accomplish with such a farce. If anything, that should be his burden to bear, not mine. His bed that is empty, and him that wakes alone each morning to the cold and open air.”
Kels head tilts slightly, hand patting gently at Selenes chin as she feels something wet drip down her cheek. “…But I was the one who ran away. Who could not face him, who…who left him. He likely hates me now. I do not blame him, but I do not want him to leave, either. I do not want him to take you with him, to my other half, and leave me here alone. I know we are a strange family, I know it only becomes stranger the farther out you go, but it is ours. …Perhaps I am being selfish, telling you this. You are only a child; you probably don’t understand any of this anyways. Nor should you.”
Selene lets out a breath, and straightens her back and shoulders, regaining her composure. “I am sure they would still take wonderful care of you. And I know we did not meet so long ago, but I’m afraid I already love you as my own. My apologies, for the grief that is likely to cause you in life.”
Her daughter makes more babbling noises, and pats at her chest in an affirming way that Selene chooses to take as an acceptance of the hand she has been dealt.
“Well, my little one,” She says, standing to continue their walk through the hedge-maze. “Which story would you like me to tell you today?”
Kel is nine before Selene agrees to let her learn how to fight.
She is given only a shield.
“Mamae,” She groans for the umpteenth time. “I would like a sword.”
“When you have learned how to defend, then you will be allowed to learn how to attack,” Selene lectures, handing the large piece of enchanted metal to her daughter as she shows her how to correctly adhere it to her arm. “But a sword will only endanger you if you become confused or overwhelmed by magic on the field. Build up some endurance, learn how to move in a fight and how to withstand a hit first. When you have proved that you can survive a battlefield, then we will teach you how to win on one.”
“Papae gets a sword,” Kel points out, gesturing with the hand not currently being strapped up by her mother.
“Papae is much older than you are, and is likely one of the most difficult elves to kill in all the empire. If he accidentally injures himself, with it, he is much more likely to survive the damage than you are,” Selene says, knowing full well that Dirthamen has never so much as held a sword properly in his life.
“I do not wish to fight our daughter,” Dirthamen declares, still uneasy at Selenes insistence that he should not be the only member of their family who cannot defend himself easily in close quarter combat.
“Don’t worry,” Selene assures him, gesturing for the two she had recruited to help to step out and join them. “You won’t be.”
Din'durgen finds a space in front of Dirthamen, her long rapier glistening in the sunlight, handle ornate and inlaid with turquoise stones that make his short sword look like a childs toy in comparison.
Ana steps out, wearing (for the first time, she notes with interest) the armor Selene had made for her so many centuries ago. White scales gleam against her skin, pristine and practically molded to every inch of her figure.
“Did you really think that would be necessary against my daughter?” Selene asks quietly. Not underestimating her is one thing, but this seems like the sort of flattery Ana’s never had a taste for.
“I thought it might save my life from her parents actually. In case her shield ends up in the wrong place, and I accidentally strike her in some manner.”
Selene tilts her head in a ‘yes, thats fair’ sort of way and steps back from the field, taking a stand outside of the rings between Des'din and her newest attendant, Venavismi.
“Are you sure this is safe?” Des'din asks, uncharacteristically nervous beside her. “Wouldn’t it be more responsible to let a spirit take them through the motions first?”
“Kel has always been very intuitive,” Selene reminds him, purposely leaving out the fact that she has a spirit of fortification watching from behind the treeline, just in case.
“And Dirthamen…?” Des'din notes, watching as the short sword clatters against the ground while Din'Durgen tries to show him the proper starting stance.
Selene waves dismissively. “Once he finds the pattern of it, he’ll be fine. He is a very fast learner.”
“And a very nervous swordsman,” Des mutters beneath his breath while Dirthamen tries to pick up the sword with a tendril instead of a hand.
“…it’s a good bonding activity,” Selene asserts, for both their sake.
She counts down once both pairs are posed to start, and watches with nervous butterflies as the battles begin.
It doesn’t take long for her to wish she had given Dirthamen a shield as well.
She had thought that perhaps it would be too many things to keep track of at once, two weapons plus his movements, as well as his opponent in the heat of a battle. But as his cloak is torn to shreds by Din'durgens speed, she has her share of doubts about her choices.
Kel at least is doing well. Ana is giving encouraging tips with each missed block, always stopping her blade before it makes contact with the child or her armor. Her evasion needs work, but much of that can be attributed to her small size, Selene thinks. Shorter legs make it much harder to cover large swaths of ground.
Din'Durgen seems to be more a fan of the 'tough love’ method. Tapping her blade against each loose piece of Dirthamen, tendrils shrinking beneath cold metal and against any limb that it outside of the small box of movement she is permitting him. Focusing more on what he is doing wrong, than on what he should be doing instead.
Selene frowns and calls a pause to the fights after a few hours of this. She sends Kel with Des'din for food and water, and Ana with Venavismi for the same. Dismisses Din'durgen for the afternoon and kneels in front of Dirthamen, who has nearly turtled entirely into the remnants of his cloak.
“I do not think I am suited for combat,” He says quietly.
“No,” She admits. “But you are capable of it. Din'durgen was a poor choice of teacher for you, and I apologize. Come on, stand up.”
Dirthamen slowly rises back to his usual height, and Selene unties the cloak from his shoulders.
“This isn’t armor,” She tells him, tossing it aside. “I’ll have one made for you with defensive properties if you’d like.”
“Thank you,” He says with a nod, and Selene tries not to stare too much at the bare skin of his chest.
She swallows, and refocuses.
“There’s a pattern to every fight,” She explains. “Just keep the sword at your side for now. Every opponent is going to move differently. Din'durgen is quick; she overwhelms her opponents and the battlefield with a series of quick jabs and fancy footwork. She is very talented; but her steps are easy to predict with a little work.” She gestures to the prints in the loose dirt beneath them. Despite how quickly and effortlessly she circled him during their battle, there are only about five foot prints in her size on the field.
Selene moves slowly through the motions Din'durgen had used, her own feet occupying each of the prints as she steps through, watching as the repeated pattern finally clicks in Dirthamens mind.
“Oh,” He breathes, turning to follow her as she circles him in the same manner his previous opponent had, but at a slower speed.
“Many of my people move in a similar pattern,” Selene admits. “There are only so many people we have that can teach, and so many of my soldiers have the same basic groundwork in their style. Many of my families fighters have a similar issue within their troops. Often times, the champions are so successful because they have memorized and learned to counter each style, or perhaps even made their own twists on it. I am not worried about teaching you to beat a champion. I don’t plan on putting you in a public arena. I simply want to avoid you being cornered alone somewhere and endangered, unable to defend yourself.”
Dirthamen nods in understanding, and Selene nods back. She summons a blade of light to her hand, and switches into one of her old starting stances.
“Time to pick up your sword, Vhenan.”
She watches his throat bob as he swallows and lifts his sword again. She reminds him to spread his legs a bit (trying and failing to keep it from being an innuendo), and steps towards him. Counting in her head as she goes.
Step one, turn two, lift three, step four, down five.
A purple mark appears on his shoulder where her light makes contact with it, and she spins away in haste.
“That’s my point, darling,” She teases.
“I do not wish to hurt you,” He says. “My sword is metal, not magic.”
Selenes head tilts while she raises an eyebrow. “Alright. For each blow you land, I’ll promise you a full night of foreplay before your next release. If you do not manage to hit me, I get to make you come tonight. If you hit me once, you come tomorrow. And so on, and so forth. How does that sound?”
She watches as arousal flares in his aura, before he settles back into his starting stance.
Legs adequately apart.
“Wonderful,” She grins, stepping back into her own.
She starts them off again.
Step one, turn two, lift three, step four, down five.
Her sword strikes his leg this time, though he nearly gets her side on the spin back.
“Two for me,” She declares, pushing forward.
Step one, turn two, lift three, step four-
He moves into her space this time, lift simultaneous with his step, and she slashes her light across his exposed stomach as he does before dropping and slipping through the opening in his legs, coming back up and making a second mark on his back between his shoulder blades.
“That’s four,” She hums. “It’s going to be a quick night for you it seems.”
He spins around to face her, more in shock at her sudden appearance behind him than any real attempt to attack, but the sword limp at his side slashes at the bottom of her skirts and she tilts her head considerably.
“I’ll give you a half point for that,” She concedes, flaring up a personal barrier to avoid any actual bloodshed.
“What does a half point count for?” He asks, half teasing and half genuinely curious as she steps back from him.
“You don’t come tonight, but I get to carry you out of the workshop in a very unsubtle way in the middle of your workday tomorrow,” She grins, enjoying the blush as it spreads down his neck and chest.
He moves towards her again to close the space between them, and Selene starts back into her pattern, adjusting.
Side-step one, turn two, lift three-
His neck elongates as he presses a kiss to the bottom of her jaw, throwing off her concentration. His sword taps her side while she’s distracted, and he pulls back with a smug look.
“One and a half for me,” he declares.
She grins and shakes her head in fondness, face still warm from the contact.
“You said you were not expecting me to participate in arena battles,” He points out.
Selene lets out a loud laugh and shrugs her shoulders.
“Well,” She sighs dramatically “If we are permitting for dirty moves…”
They have long lost count by the time she has him pressed into the benches. Nearly all of his exposed skin is purple, marked by her magic, and the sun is almost set, taking their light along with it. He is panting beneath her, exhausted from both the sparring and her physical affections, and nearly painfully aroused. Selene is not in a much better state; he had not managed to land many other hits with his sword, but it hadn’t taken long for him to decide he’d rather pull her towards him with tentacles and extra limbs, which snuck beneath clothes and defenses alike.
“We should really move back to our rooms,” She mumbles, fingers trailing down his sides while he trembles at the contact. “Have a bath. Maybe some food…”
“That…would probably be wise,” He manages through pants, his grips on her thighs tightening just enough to make her gasp.
She places one last, loving kiss to the tip of his nose before attempting to stand again, his limbs falling away from her as she does. He follows behind her, gliding in a dreamy sort of haze with his hand in hers as she leads him through more private routes back to their bed.
Their bath is quick, and full of tender touches. Both exhausted, but eager. When they finally make it into the comfort of their bed, it is all Selene can do to keep her eyes open, her muscles aching with relief at the plush mattress beneath them.
“Will you be telling me how long I should expect to wait…?” Dirthamen mumbles into the top of her head, his erection still straining beneath the sheets despite the fatigue showing in the rest of him.
“Mm,” Selene mumbles back, chest pressed against his arm while she pulls one of his legs between her own. “Maybe later…”
Kel waits until Selene and Dirthamen are sleeping before making her way out of the bed as carefully and quietly as she can manage. Moving slowly, being sure not to jostle the mattress or shift the blankets too much. Her arms and legs are very small, and still fartoo clumsy. But she’s reached the point where at least she can move around, now. After three years of warring with her tiny baby body, she has achieved enough coordination to get mobile. With a degree to stability.
Which means she needs to get started on figuring out why Solas even sent her here to begin with.
It’s not that she really has any intention of seriously escaping, at this point. Her new parents are very dedicated, and even if it’s still a bit surreal at times to think of herself being raised by two gods and one demigod - and even more surreal, in its way, to be raised by beings she once saw as warped and distorted foes - she… likes these people.
Plus, she’s still basically a toddler, so her odds of striking out on her own are pretty slim. Even if she could trust herself to actually make her own way, when she can’t even arm herself, ancient elves notice babies.
But. Da’Selene has a library, and that library might just have some of the answers which Kel needs. Some hint or clue or… something.
It’s all she has to go off of, anyway. There has to be something. That’s the thought which helps her most when the grief threatens to grow too large, and despair has all three of her parents fretting and worrying and wondering what’s wrong.
She toddles her way, quiet as she can, over to the bedroom doors. When she had first arrived they used to glow faintly, with a silvery-soft sort of nightlight. But after her parents had figured out that an abundance of magic tended to overwhelm her, they had stopped. Kel picks up the chair by the bedroom desk, and focuses on moving carefully and not letting the legs clatter against the floor as she carries it over to the doors.
She feels an inordinate amount of triumph when she manages to climb onto the cushion, and reach the door handles.
Well… she supposes she should have been expecting that. She’s considering the windows, as she tries the handle again. But then she hears the sound of a sigh, and blankets shifting. And she barely manages to get down off of the chair before Selene is there. Hair loose, nightgown slightly askew, and expression concerned. She reaches down and plucks Kel up from the floor.
“What are you doing, Keleth?” she murmurs.
One of Kel’s hands reflexively comes up to her mouth. A nervous habit she’s developed, and can’t quite seem to kick. Selene closes one of her own hands over it, and kisses her head. Mumbling vague, reassuring things, as Kel lets out a sigh and admits defeat.
“Hmm?” Selene prompts her.
“Go’n out,” Kel admits.
“Ah, I see,” he mother says, as if it should make perfect sense for a three-year-old to try and break out of her bedroom in the dead of night. Maybe it does. Kel never had very much experience with children herself, in the end. More with babies, and then older teens, but most toddlers were someone else’s business. Even in the clan, she was rarely given the job of minding them.
“But it is time for sleeping, not exploring,” Selene rebukes her, gently.
“Okay, go bed Mama. Kel go ‘splore,” she tries, on the slim chance it might fly.
“Hmm, no,” she says, snuggling her a little closer, and carrying her back to bed. “It is time for babies to be in bed, especially.”
They cross the room back towards the bed. Dirthamen is sitting up. He murmurs something she doesn’t quite catch, but that sounds like a question, as she rests her head against Selene’s shoulder, and Selene rubs her back. Moving that chair was maybe… possibly a bit more effort than she realized. Selene hums in agreement with whatever Dirthamen asked, and then gets Kel settled back into the bed between them. Dirthamen reaches up to smooth a hand over her forehead. Selene sags back onto her own pillows, and then starts drowsily singing her way through a lullaby.
Kel’s pretty well doomed at that point.
She admits defeat for the night, as her eyes slide shut.
Next night, maybe. Maybe next night.
Most of the time, when the evanuris are in council meetings, Kel ends up spending the day with Dirthamen. Usually doing some quiet activity, exploring a hedge maze or being read to, or swimming in one of the private bathing pools. Something along those lines. Kel doesn’t mind those days too much. Dirthamen has a lingering sorrowfulness, like Selene. A lot of conflicted feelings, that sometimes leak out of him when there’s no one else to see.
But it’s something Kel can understand. Even if she still doesn’t know all the particulars. Dirthamen doesn’t require her to pretend to be a happy baby, in that he doesn’t kick up too much of a fuss if she just happens to be sad, too. Sometimes it helps, to just wander strange places with him, and know that whatever emotions she might project aren’t going to be terribly distinguishable from his own.
Today, though, Selene had gotten her dressed in a nice little powder blue gown, and murmured apologies, explaining that Kel was going to have to come along.
“I need a favour,” Selene asks, when they are in the hall. Kel looks up at her, and she smiles and leans down. “Do you think you would mind playing with Grandpa today? Babae upset him by mistake and he has been very unhappy, but he always cheers up when he sees you.”
Oh. That would explain it. She thought she heard some things about Des displeasing Elgar’nan, something to do with Sylaise, too, if she caught that right. Selene must be pretty desperate if she’s trying to leverage Kel; normally she tries to keep her well away from internal evanuris politics. Or ‘family drama’, as it were.
Kel raises a hand and nods solemnly, already formulating a plan of action. Selene thanks her and kisses her head, and scoops her back up to go meet with her attendants. Ana smiles her crinkly-eyed smile at her, the one she always seems to get, as they make their way into the meeting hall.
Sure enough, Elgar’nan is already shouting at Des’din.
Even knowing that the man has a tremendous soft spot for children, Kel can’t help feeling frightened of him when he’s in the midst of his tirades. They aren’t impressive, and ultimately she thinks she wouldn’t be nearly as put-off if she was full-sized and had a sword in her hands. Fighting the man would be a daunting challenge, to be sure, but at least she would know her own skill, too. Here, though, she’s small and still mostly helpless.
One of her hands tightens reflexively in Selene’s collar. Selene pats her back, and stalls at the entryway. Her brow furrows, and her lips thin, before she reaches over and hands Kel to Ana.
“I changed my mind,” she decides. “Take her to Dirthamen, would you, Ana? Venavismi can watch my flank in the meanwhile.”
Kel strengthens her grip on Selene’s collar, and refuses to be handed over, though. That’s Des that Elgar’nan is shouting at. And even if he mostly looks bored about it, past the reflexive rush of fear, she can see the tension at the corner of his eyes, too. And again she knows - if Selene got this far with her ‘distract the angry man with the baby’ plan, then it must be necessary.
When Selene tries to get her to let go and go to Ana, she makes a sound of protest.
Elgar’nan stops shouting.
“Little one!” he exclaims, instead.
The moment for escape has passed, then, as the man immediately makes his way over. The change in his manner is abrupt. Kel’s fear slips into a quiet, back-of-the-mind place, as Elgar’nan successfully pulls her from Selene’s arms, and kisses her cheeks, and laughingly enthuses over her presence and ‘how big she’s gotten’ since the last time he saw her. Which then sets him to lightly scolding Selene for not bringing her more often, before he pretty much absconds with her back to the meeting table.
Kel tries to give Selene a reassuring wave over her the man’s shoulder.
Selene looks conflicted.
“There you are!” Des says, though, smiling a smile that’s very near to relief. Elgar’nan certainly seems less forceful in his displeasure as his only son pats her head, then, and joins him in cooing over her. At which point Mythal enters the hall, and Selene’s expression smooths over into calm mask, that alludes to nothing except cool control over the situation.
Kel gives her another gesture, and then settles into the task of distracting Elgar’nan for most of the meeting.
It isn’t hard. Any time he raises his voice too much, she doesn’t have to work to feign discomfort with it. And if he seems to be digging in his heels, then all Kel has to do is try and talk to him or ask him a question, and he’ll immediately become preoccupied with answering her or even just figuring out what she might have said. Sometimes he’s completely off-base. Des, who is on her other side and who is fluent in her unique brand of mangled baby-Elvhen, offers clarifications, which seem to mollify some of Elgar’nan’s resentment towards him.
The meeting goes for a few hours, though, and eventually Kel starts getting sleepy. She tries to doze off on Elgar’nan’s shoulder, but after a while she just finds herself feeling too uncomfortable to manage it. But too tired to focus on anything else, either. It makes her fussy, has her sighing and inadvertently grumbling, until Des’din takes her. He’s doing a lot of talking, though, so after a few minutes, he passes her to Selene instead.
Selene is almost too warm, but she settles Kel easily in her lap, and slides the cloak from her shoulders over Kel to block the meeting hall lights. A whisper, and the material cools, too. Kel lets out a relieved sigh, as everything goes dark and safe and soothing. Her skin still itches from the ambient atmosphere of the hall, but she doesn’t feel squirmy and on the verge of upset anymore. Selene brushes a finger across her cheek. On her other side, Mythal leans over.
“Very clever, bringing her along,” her ‘grandmother’ says, approvingly.
Kel can’t see Selene’s face. Though she suspects that if she could, it would still be politely blank. Her shoulders, however, tense up at the compliment for some reason. And this close to her skin, Kel can feel some negative emotion nearly slip past her guard. Not enough to recognize it - especially not with her pretty limited skill at that - but enough to feel a bit of it too. It tastes like feeling she had got the first time she used one of the Orlesian court’s own tricks against them.
“it was just a scheduling issue,” Selene replies, quietly.
Kel pats at her in comfort, and gets a soothing hand down her own back in turn. The meeting runs for another hour or so, she thinks. She naps a little, and loses track of some of it. At one point Elgar’nan asks to hold her again, but Selene finally hands her off to Ana, and sends her back home instead.
She attends no more council meetings, after that.
Kel is… she is not afraid of the dark, no.
She used to be, when she was actually small. It was surprisingly rare to have it come up as an issue, though. Most of Clan Lavellan’s roaming grounds took advantage of the moon and stars, and the Keeper often set up lights to deter animals from the camp. When she got older, of course, retreating from darkened caverns or passageways was often a matter of pragmatism. No light to see by would be no light to navigate with, after all. It was only once she joined the Inquisition that she frequently found herself surrounded by the cavernous dark. And grown elves did not shy away from shadows. There were enough substantial things to fear in the world.
Even in this strange life, it’s the light that plagues her more often than the dark. Light and noise and the sheer, overwhelming abundance of it. Sometimes, even with the precautions her parents have taken, she still feels like she can scarcely look at anything. Like her eyes skip over details, and her mind skitters around the edges of some things. It’s the worst in Arlathan. There are works of art and statuary that sometimes make her nauseous, with a feeling like she’s just spun around very fast while trying to read a book.
Sometimes her skin itches. Her teeth. And her bones, too. Sometimes she looks up at the sky, and just… gives up. Closes her eyes, or hides her face in some nearby shoulder, and finds refuge in the dark.
But the darkness in the big library makes her feel very small. Very young. It reminds her of the clawing fear that used to creep up her chest, whenever she was alone in an aravel and the moon was hidden, and the Keeper’s warding lights went out. Of the dark she faced in the depths below the Deep Roads, with the unshakeable feeling that something was watching her from the other side.
She’s not supposed to be here.
She’s supposed to be on her soft play mat, with her square baby book that’s fully of colourful pictures and lyrical voices, and her toys. Keeping herself occupied while Des helps some spirits with something. But the opportunity to go explore was too much to pass up, especially in the library. She’d waited until Des was distracted, with ribbons of light around his arms and a spirit saying something to him in an echoing voice, and then she’d gotten up, and headed off the play mat. Making her way through the stacks, and up the spiral staircase, to the top of part of the library. Where no one ever took her. She found a lot of barriers around the first landing, but discovered she could get over one by climbing onto a nearby desk, and then using the wall and sliding a bit to land on her backside across from it. And then she had headed towards the waiting shelves. Picking up books that were low enough for her to reach, just… trying to find something that seemed promising.
A lot of the words were still beyond her vocabulary, though. Most of the books seemed to have something to do with spirit binding, and breaking, and things like that. She’d kept going, leaving the books on the floor - gently, but, it was a lot of effort to slide them back into place. She knew she would get caught eventually, anyway. More barriers blocked off more sections. Kel managed to climb over two more, before she felt herself to getting too tired to keep it. She had made her way to the end of the last hall she could find, looking for bookshelves…
And found the dark.
It’s behind a barrier, too. Kel can see the gleam of it, at the end of the corridor. It looks almost like a mine shaft. A very deep, deep mine shaft. But as she sits and stares at it, catching her breath, the dark seems to grow. Like it’s crawling up towards her. Inch by inch. Putting her hair on end.
It feels as though the library lights are dimming, too.
Part of Kel thinks she should go and another, more perturbing part wants to walk right up to the barrier and put her hands against it, and a final piece is soundly annoyed that she’s even bothered at all. So she ends up staying put, tracking the progress of the rising shadows by the way it eats up the tile pattern of the walls behind the barrier. Just to make sure she’s not imagining it.
She knows for certain she isn’t when it’s almost at floor level.
That’s when she hears the footsteps, though.
She’s expecting Des, so she’s a little surprised when she looks over and sees a frantic Selene, racing down the hall towards her.
“Mama!” she greets, reflexively. Raising a hand and curling her fingers.
The shriek from behind her startles her nearly out of her skin, though. She whips around in time to see the barrier at the far side of the room shudder, as all the tiles behind it turn pitch black. Kel’s heart leaps into her throat and her fright escapes her, and as it spills into the air it almost seems to get siphoned towards the barrier. Like something sucking at it, trying to get to it. Before she can find a better reaction, though, a rope of magic closes around her and pulls her bodily back through the hall. A cry escapes her. It takes her a moment to recognize Selene’s magic, and by then the woman is pulling her into her arms, and well away from the barrier and the shadows.
“Kelethvhenas!” she gasps. “I have you, I have you, it’s alright, I have you.”
The barrier shudders. Kel feels off-balance enough, between the two rounds of being startled, that she can’t fight back the urge to burst into tears. Selene shushes her as she hastily carries her away from the hallway. And then down different corridors from the ones she came in by, until they’re back on the library’s main floor. Then Selene pushes her back just to check her over.
“Are you hurt?” she asks. “What were you doing? How did you get in there?!”
Kel shakes her head. Selene pats at her insistently, though, checking for damage, before she pulls her in for another hug.
On some level, while Kel is the one startled enough to cry, Selene seems far more rattled.
“Kel ‘sploring,” she murmurs, in answer to the question.
Selene squeezes her tightly, and lets out a few ragged breaths.
“DES!” she shouts, then.
Des’din shows up in a hurry, looking nearly as rattled as his other half. His expression falls in relief at the sight of her. Even though she’s pretty sure Selene is giving him a look that could peal paint, he remains all relief as he hurries over, and puts his arms around both of them.
“You found her,” he breathes. “I swear, it was only a minute-”
“Des, she was on the second floor, in the…” Selene begins, but then stops. Kel waits, curious to know exactly what had happened. It hadn’t been that dangerous, had it? The thing was behind a barrier. But then again, the threshold for ‘acceptable child peril’ seems to be very different than what she’s accustomed to, here.
After a moment, Selene just takes a breath, while Des hesitates.
“We will talk about that later,” Selene murmurs, before dropping another kiss onto Kel’s head.
“But there are barriers all over the second floor,” Des replies, in a tone that says he’s already guessed what Selene is implying. “Someone would have had to deliberately carry her past them…”
Kel’s stomach flips. Oh, no. If they find someone to blame then… no. She’s not going to be the reason for some alibi-less library assistant to end up being immolated by Elgar’nan for the crime of ‘maybe vaguely endangering a baby kind of’. Before Des and Selene can follow that train of thought much further, Kel starts squirming.
“Kel did it! Kel show you!” she insists.
She’s tired, but she’s pretty sure she can manage this.
“Show us what, sweetheart?”
“Show the climb!” she insists.
And when Selene finally lets her go, she knows she’s about to make any future ‘exploring’ exponentially more difficult. But… maybe she shouldn’t be going about this the same way anyhow. The fear and the accusatory tone in Selene’s voice when she called for Des, the unknown nature of the risks she might have come across… the utter lack of fruitful discoveries…
Yeah, this might have been a bad idea.
Kel pushes one of the iibrary chairs up to a desk by the doorway, though, and determinedly demonstrates her barrier-thwarting technique of climbing over a gate-height length of space, and the intrepidly bounding down the other side.
When she jumps, Des gasps.
When she lands, she turns to find them both looking a little wide-eyed.
For one awkward moment, Kel struggles to find a reassuring action. Her feet smart a little bit, but one thing she’s found is that her muscles have a lot more elasticity at this age. Even with all the growing and the incredible limitations of her height - she’s pretty quick, and pretty durable.
In the name of reassurance, she lifts both arms, and smiles.
“Ta-da!” she exclaims.
It works on Des. He snaps back into ‘doting parent who is amazed with everything the baby does’ mode and hurries over, laughing and exclaiming over her cleverness as he scoops her up, and peppers her with kisses.
Selene looks impressed, too, but more quietly. And with a lingering worry and sense of unease about her.
Kel hesitates again, even as Des snuggles her.
Maybe that was too clever for a toddler. Too noticeably too clever. All the odd things she’s done, and none of her parents so far have actually seemed to think them really ‘odd’. But maybe she’s finally crossed a line. She swallows. But when Selene comes over to them, her reaction to Kel seems as fond and maternal as ever. Gently but firmly, she tugs her out of Des’ arms, and then gives her twin soul a grave look.
“The barriers are only knee high?” she asks.
Des lets out a long breath.
“I did not realize either,” he admits. “One of the archivists set them up. They were full height in the requirements list, they must have decided it was excessive…”
“If Elgar’nan finds out-”
“No one else even knows it happened,” Des insists, lifting his hands in a placating fashion. He glances meaningfully at Kel. Selene subsides, as Kel looks between the two of them.
Alright. So, yeah. Definitely no more doing this.
“Sorry,” she offers, as a hand migrates up towards her mouth. “Sorry. No more ‘sploring?”
“No more exploring,” Selene breathes, squeezing her tight again. “Not without one of us, anyway. It’s not safe to go into blocked off places, Kel. The barriers are not there for no reason, they are there to keep things safe.”
She nods in understanding.
And she never does find out what was in the dark.
Da'Selene remains with her mother for nearly six months.
Longer than she had hoped, but less than she had feared for.
The first day is the worst. Her eyes still ache, sensitive to light and to movement and are more or less useless to her with the overwhelming grandeur of her mothers territory. She finds herself leaning more and more on her staff as she walks, hood heavy and draped to cover most of her face as she walks through the decorated halls. Din'durgen and Melanadahl are with her, though part of her wishes she had brought Ana along instead. Someone she could trust to carry her in a smaller form on their shoulder to help conserve her energy.
But Din'durgen knows how to communicate with her mothers guards for protection and privacy (as much as Mythal is likely to permit, anyways) and Melanadahl is very talented and charismatic enough to ensure their holdings will be well tended to, and to keep every stray elf with a curious streak from trying to peek inside. Both of them have been to her mothers territories before, and have already established connections within her cities.
Selene would really rather sleep for a few more days, if her opinion mattered here.
It might have, normally.
But her mother has plans; as she always does.
There are introductions that seem to go for hours, Da'Selene wondering if her mother plans on introducing her to every elf that bears her markings, or if this is simply part of her punishment.
A little of column A, a little of column B, really.
Tarensa, one of her mothers favored attendants, is assigned to keep an eye on her. She is very serious about the matter, and Selene has to meld into a large shadow and practically cling to the coattails of an overly excited Spirit of Curiosity while the woman is distracted by some incorrect pillow arrangement to escape. She exchanges the knowledge of one of her favored recipes for a path to one of her mothers workshops, partially reforming in a dark corner and feeling more exhausted for the excursion.
She settles comfortably in the darkness, barely wisps as the door to the research room slams open, revealing Tarensa, accompanied by a rather bored looking Melanadahl.
“You said she would be here,” the attendant grits out.
Melanadahl gives her an unapologetic shrug in return. “This is the kind of place she’d usually go. Do you have a library, maybe?”
Tarensa lets out a small, frustrated groan as she closes the door and Selene resists the urge to feel too smug about her successful evasion.
She should probably avoid the library for a few hours though.
Enjoying the familiar sounds of metal and magic being molded around her, Selene allows herself to further reform, using a quiet glamour spell to ensure no one might accidentally find her. Eyes closing, irritated and heavy already, she lets her mind drift.
She misses her home. Misses her people, and her halls, and her bed. Misses Des'dins constant intrusions, Anas ability to make sure everything that needs to get done is being taken care of.
She hopes he is not too taxed, with her appointing Sairal to Ana’s usual duties. She had excused Dirthamen from his own in an attempt to keep from spreading him too thin. Perhaps also in hopes that he might spend the time in her rooms, safe and away from the hands of Ghilan'nain, who is growing more and more restless with each day Andruil remains unconscious.
A sudden rise in the tensions and volume of the room stir her from her reverie, as she lets one eye slowly open.
There is a large, smooth white stone in the middle of one of the tables.
It buzzes with a dull magic; naturally occurring, carved over time into its very being by the movement of dreams and thoughts and streams of consciousness crashing over it again and again like relentless waves for centuries, it seems. She would be impressed if anyone else in the room could even sense it, though.
It sounds as though they are arguing over what to use it for.
Selene could think of a few uses she might have for it.
She steps fully out of the shadows, dropping her glamour as she pulls the hood of her cloak back over her head and approaches the stone.
A few of the workers gasp, and drop to their knees, heads bowed deeply.
Selene frowns, stepping past them to inspect the stone as she gestures for them to stand once again.
“Where is this from?” She asks, walking in a slow circle around it, still balancing her steps with the weight of her staff. Her eyes are still blurry, and while she cannot make out small details in the stone, it still intrigues her.
“It was found in the dreaming, Lady Da'Selene” one of the workers manages “We only recently managed to summon it into the waking.”
She hums in acknowledgment. “For what purpose?”
A few of the researchers exchange nervous glances, nerves still alight from her presence.
“Just to see if you could…?” She tries, before the door slams open once more.
Tarensa is on the other side, looking composed as could be but with a definite note of frustration buried beneath her veneer.
Damn. She should have checked for messengers first.
“Lady Da'Selene,” Tarensa says in a measured tone. “Our Lady Mythal has been worried about you.”
“I’m surprised you told my mother I’d escaped you,” She admits. “That seems like an unwise choice.”
“It was not my own. Captain Din'Durgen thought she should be made aware.”
Ah, that figures, she thinks. Anything to make herself look more capable than Mythals protections. Not that it seems to have deterred anyone much.
“I suppose I should see what she requires then. I will follow your lead, for the time being,” Da'Selene declares, taking one last glance at the rock as she heads out the door.
It is a surprisingly long walk from the workshop to her mothers throne room; though it is possible it might only seem that way under the weight of Selenes fatigue.
Tarensa is dismissed once Da'Selene has fully entered, leaving the two leaders alone in the expansive hall.
It would be easier to stand tall if she were not so tired, but even now, she requires her staff to remain standing at all.
“Well well,” Her mother tuts. “I had thought you would permit my people some time before you caused them such stress and grief. But I have heard you slinking through my shadows and spying on my workshop. It has barely been a day, dear daughter. Surely you are not so far gone as to disobey me so openly in my own home so quickly.”
“I meant no disrespect,” Selene assures her with a deferential tilt of her head. “I am sure Tarensa is a fine attendant for you. But I am too old for a babysitter; you wanted me here, and here I am. I have promised no more, and no less. I have not broken my vow; I have remained in your lands, in your palace. I made the introductions you asked of me, and I came to you when summoned. Surely you understand I have no intentions of looking like a dog on a leash. That would only reflect poorly on our family, wouldn’t you agree?”
“How interesting that you would show an interest in our family now. Do you even know how Andruil is doing? Or are you too weary from your impatience to even collect the knowledge you were meant to bear?”
Selene lets out a sigh. She hasn’t checked in on Andruil, and the spirits she would normally draw on to spy on such things are back in her own territories, and out of reach to her here. She is so weary, and so tired of these games. She just wants to rest.
But her mother knows this already, so there is little point in making an excuse.
“If you want me to carry on my duties, you should send me back to my home, where I am capable of doing just that. We both know you did not intend for me to rule in my absence. Am I here for you to guilt me into obedience? To punish me for my hubris? Or for your own, perhaps, from when I told you I did not want to build a labyrinth for Andruil-”
“Do not dare-”
“You wanted me to show subservience to her!” Selene rages, fury finally overtaking her fatigue. “Because I do not draw power from bloodshed! Because I do not hunger for the power that you do, that she does, that Des'din does! I do not want to rule the world, mother, I want to live in it!”
Her breaths are deep as she steps forward, her staff clattering loudly to the ground as she feels the fire igniting under her skin, scales scattering over shoulders. “You miscalculated, mother! You thought I would pander to your image, submit to your demands for the facade of peace you try so hard to maintain-and I might have! I might have helped you to boost up Andruil, because she is my sister. She is my sister, and I love her dearly because of that, but I do not love what you have tried to make of her! I do not love the pieces she has forced into herself for the sake of her power and your appearances! You would damn the empire if it meant you could cradle the ashes and play the part of the doting mother to a dying people! But I have lived with you as my mother for millenia, and I know the truth of you! Justice, is a shadow to you now. Justice, is a hollow meaning when you are the one who makes the laws! You, who twists circumstance and thought to suit her needs and damn the people below you who suffer the consequences!”
Her flames have engulfed her now, scales coating every inch of her skin as her vision narrows, pupils turned to slits, her mind a blind fury as she moves closer to her mother, tail heavy as it flicks against the stone floor, leaving smashed tiles and ash marks in her wake.
“You miscalculated, mother,” she snarls as Mythals eyes narrow, her grip tightening on the arm of her throne. “I am not the soft, quiet moon who basks in your glow and sleeps in your shadow; I am the raging of the tide, the smoke in your lungs, the well of knowledge for our people and I do not take that lightly. Perhaps I am my fathers fury and my other halves greed, as you claim. But I am also the one who taught Andruil how to hunt great beasts and tear dragons from the heavens they once ruled, who showed Sylaise how to burn away her enemies and grow wheat with their ashes. Do not underestimate knowledge; it is the slumbering dragon, and I will not sit idly by while you play some piss poor game of chess with the world any longer!”
By the end of it, her words are a roar; practically senseless as her anger erupts all at once from her, igniting the banners that bear her mothers symbols, flames razing over the barrier Mythal must quickly create to avoid any burns while Selene screams and releases her rage without control.
Rage at how little she has done to stop her mother from getting so far as she had, to keep Andruil from needing assistance in the first place, for putting Dirthamen in danger, for every mistake she has ever made, every regret. For not doing more for the people, her people. For the world as a whole. For the dragons and keepers she killed while she followed so blindly, for the innocents she snuffed out, for the people still held in camps at this very moment.
For the life she might have lived, otherwise.
She’s not sure at which point her screams turned to sobs. How long she spent before her head found its way to her mothers knee, or at what point her flames finally dissipated. Only that by the time her mind is clear again she feels empty; like a shell with a spirit forced into it, her mothers fingers running slowly through her hair. Her weariness back with a vengeance, unable to even open her eyes as her body slumps against her mothers leg, and the side of her throne.
“Why did you do this to me?” She finally whispers, body still wracking with sobs.
“Because you are destined for greatness, dear daughter,” she responds, as though it were always obvious. As though it was inevitable that they would join together some day, that Selene would be necessary in some way to Mythals plans, and neither of them had a choice in the greater scheme. “And I would not see that wasted.”
Her cries quiet, tears drying on her mothers dress as though she were a child again. Some part of her says this is wrong; to seek comfort from this woman in any way. This monster, who staged the destruction of one way of life to make way for another she felt suited her more. Who coerced her into a body and a place of power, to do things and make choices she never would have without her influence.
But the ache in her muscles as her scales vanish, the feelings of safety and love that wash over her while long golden nails trail through her curls, and the weight that has fallen away from her in the aftermath of her outburst and the loss of adrenaline only remind her of her own softness. That despite the atrocities, Mythal is still her mother. She still loves her, and there is little she might do to change that.
No matter how desperately she wishes it were otherwise.
She falls asleep beside her mother, and does not wake for another three days.
Her education begins anew after that.
She sits silently beside her mother during meetings, listening and watching and still feeling distinctly detached from her form.
Selene keeps waiting for Mythal to punish her directly for her outburst, but no blow ever lands.
There are many long conversations over tea and cakes, in private balconies and flowering gardens. Tarensa is nearly always at her side, and Selene is too detached from the situation to bother trying to escape again. She plays the part of obliging daughter for nearly a month before she passes the workshop again.
Doors open, white stone still sitting atop a table.
Untouched and still buzzing.
“Mother,” She says during what has become their traditional evening tea. “I would like to ask you for something.”
“Oh?” Mythal says, with an appropriate amount of hesitation. “And what might that be?”
“There is a stone in your main workshop, taken from the dreaming. I would like to have it.”
A single eyebrow goes up, framed by the crown her mother still wears even in their privacy. “What use would you have for such a stone?”
“A personal one,” She admits. “I would like to use it to craft a gift.”
The tea cup makes a light, but intentional, tink as Mythal places it on the table between them. “For the elf you brought to the festival?”
“I thought Ghilan'nain had killed him,” She says as though commenting on the weather.
“The elf is technically one of Des'dins,” Selene evades. “I also plan to craft something for myself from it. To help me with my recovery.”
Her mother seems to mull it over.
“I will agree to let you have the stone, under a few conditions.”
Something like dread settle in her bones, still feeling as though she is floating a few inches away from her body as Selene motions for her to elaborate.
“I think it is a good idea for you to find someone to settle down with at your age,” Mythal admits. “You are more focused with someone to care for. It is in your nature, after all. But I have arranged for a few party like events while you are here; nothing extravagant, and only my own people will be attending. While you are at each of them, I would like for you to see if there might be someone else more suited to rule beside you than one of your other half’s playthings.”
The quip is almost enough to pull her back to full attention, but she still feels just…a bit left of herself as she slips “He is not…”
Mythals second eyebrow raises, and Selene closes her mouth and nods.
“I will keep an open mind.”
There is a party nearly every night for the following month. Selene had not even known her mother had so many people high ranking enough to attend such events. There are quite a few repeated guests, and only one incident where she actively banned an elf who thought to make too many presumptions of her (Some barely-high-enough man named Elandaris, who ends up sent to the far reaches of the territory for the foreseeable future in punishment).
Word seems to escape that her mother would like her to find a partner at these events, and Sairal even mentions it in their next letter. Not directly enough to raise alarm by the people almost certainly reading through them before delivery, but enough that she can tell they are concerned she might actually be choosing to take it seriously.
She sends back assurances that she is not abandoning any of her current courting partners, and hints at potentially returning with an official gift for them, as well.
Their gift is nearly done, in truth.
She had made her own mask first; the natural magic in the stone making a wonderful natural barrier to the lights and colors that had been causing her distress since the events of the festival. Hers is only a half; to cover her eyes and forehead, and decorated with accents of gold and deep purple, but his own will be a full mask, and left plain. If he would like to add adornments to it when she is finished, she would not mind, but thinks he might prefer something to allow him a modicum of anonymity.
It’s a slow process, and she doesn’t have as much time to devote to it as she would like with the parties going so late. But she tries to put aside at least a few minutes each night to mold the shape of it. To recall the curve of his cheeks, the cut of his jaw, the shape of his lips.
It helps her sleep, in its own, odd way.
With it as the only vent she has for her usual talents, Selene becomes more restless, however. She is kept from her mothers libraries, and distracted with meetings and escorts, and not even permitted back into the workshop. Either she is at her mothers side, or Tarensa is at hers, at all times.
She will blame that, she thinks, when after another two months she escapes again.
With a large portion of her strength back, it is simpler to shift into the shadows when Tarensas back is turned. To explore the hallways unnoticed, and search for someplace that might at least permit her some slice of freedom.
There is sunlight streaming through a hidden window, and Selene quickly makes her way to the other side.
Not artificial, but true sunlight hits her skin, and she sighs in relief. Shifts into one of her less noticeable forms as she comes out of the shadows; a white raven today, to match the garden and its own collection of unusual feathered friends.
Don’t mind me, she thinks as she flies to the top of one of the trees, wings spread out to absorb the warmth of the sun above her head. I’m just a normal bird like you, nothing unusual here…
She has nearly fallen to sleep, settled atop the leaves when some…something makes an angry squawking noise.
She glances down at the ground, and sees an absolutely raggedabomination. Something corrupted from….love, she thinks? It’s difficult to tell with her sights still adjusting. It seems to be quite content as a bird though, and, well. It’s not as though she’s ever been one to tattle on a spirit who wasn’t hurting anyone.
She makes a shooing motion with a wing and resettles, ready to brush it off and go back to sleep before it suddenly pounces beside her on the branch, and makes another loud, angry SQUAWK at her. It’s beak clacks in warning, and Selene clacks her own right back.
Don’t you go getting all territorial on me you big bully, she thinks at it. I’m not hurting anything.
It starts squawking again, louder as it moves closer and begins jumping and flapping its wings to try to knock her off the branch. She hears a distinct cracking sound, and lets go, floating an inch above where the branch had been, and watching in slight smugness while the wood breaks beneath the weight and actions of the abomination, falling with a comedic smack as it hits the ground.
Serves you right.
The noise seems to startle a nearby elf into finally stepping in the garden though, and Selene moves closer to the trunk in an attempt to hide from their immediate view.
“Screecher,” The blonde elf calls, “What are you making such a fus-Oh goodness!”
He runs up to the abomination as though it might be a regular bird, and Selene watches with interest while he frets and fusses over injuries that aren’t there, and Screecher seems to poke through his pockets in search of something.
A few blueberries make an appearance while the elf pats at the creatures head and it eagerly eats it out of his hand before nuzzling its sharp beak and overlarge head against the mans chin.
At least she knows what it’s doing here now.
The creature turns to look at her and lets out another loud and angry noise, and the elves eyes follow this time.
“What are you so worked up over…” The man muses, and Selene thinks the voice sounds familiar.
One of her mothers other attendants, she recalls.
“I believe it’s my fault,” she admits, hopping towards the edge of her branch and back into the sunlight. “You are Thenvunin, yes?”
The man blinks before dropping into a deep and polite bow. “Lady Da'Selene! I apologize for-I did not realize you were out here. I apologize if my bird frightened or attacked you in any way. He did not mean any offense.”
Does he really think it is just a bird?
“No offense was taken,” She assures him. “Is this your garden then?”
“Er…yes, Lady Da'Selene.”
“It is very lovely,” She commends.
He does not seem to be very certain what to do with her compliment, so he bows again and gives her a polite thank you.
“Tarensa is looking for you,” He mentions, as though she might not be aware of it.
But, there may be a better solution here.
“Yes. Please inform her that you will be taking over as my escort for the rest of the evening.”
His eyebrows nearly disappear into his hairline. “I…”
“You are the same ranking as she is, yes? I’m sure my mother would not mind a small switch.”
“It is only that I had…other duties to attend, my lady.”
“Then give them to Tarensa,” Selene orders, still a bit cranky and in want of a nap.
“Yes, my lady,” Thenvunin says with yet another deep bow.
Selene sighs and fluffs her wings before settling again.
Screecher lets out another shriek at her before he carries the broken branch over to a pile of other assorted branches in the back corner of the garden.
A nest, maybe…?
Well, she’s never known a bird to shy away from bribery.
She casts a small spell, summoning wood from the ground to make a large pile of sturdy sticks with some polished rocks interspersed for decoration. Screechers eyes go wide (as wide as they might be able to manage within the limits of its skull, anyways), and it pecks at the pile tentatively. Carefully pulls away a branch and turns back, as though expecting it to be a trap and vanish, or collapse of course. But when the sticks remain sticks, Screecher looks back at her apprehensively, and lets out a softer caw that sounds almost like approval.
Selene takes that as permission to stay and finally manages to get in her nap.
It is another week later, and Thenvunin is walking her back to her rooms after yet another long, socially active party. He is wearing a gown of deep purple with golden accents that makes her feel homesick, his neckline plunging deeply enough to remind her of Des'Din, even.
“You still have not found someone you think will be a suitable partner?” He asks as they make their way through the halls.
“No,” She says, without mentioning that she also has no intentions of doing so.
“I see,” He says, swallowing as though nervous about something as they approach her rooms. “I, er…I hope you find my gown pleasing.”
“It’s very nice?” She admits, a bit blindsided by the statement. He’s never asked her for fashion advice before, and if he had this certainly isn’t the outfit she’d like to give an opinion on, given some of the other looks she’s seen him sporting.
He swallows again, face flushing slightly.
“I do not normally wear outfits that are so revealing. I was told that, given your other half, you had a preference for them.”
Her eyes narrow slightly in confusion.
“Not…really? Wear whatever makes you comfortable, Thenvunin.”
“I will keep that in mind, in the future. I would like to humbly request you not tear this gown though; my mother made it, and it is very dear to me.”
Selenes head tilts curiously.
“Thenvunin…why would I tear your gown?”
His face flushes a deeper red as he stumbles over his words. “Tarensa had said…she mentioned that you preferred your escorts to help you in…certain areas….”
Realization dawns on Selene as she watches Thenvunins eyes bore a hole into the wall beside her head.
“I never had sex with Tarensa,” Selene explains slowly. “Or any of my mothers people, to my knowledge. I think, perhaps, she has been playing some sort of trick on you.”
Thenvunins eyes widen, hands bunching the material at his chest closer together, in some vain attempt to cover himself after his blunder.
“You…are not going to ravage me?”
“I wasn’t planning on it, no,” She admits. “You’re very attractive, but I’m actually already interested in someone else in particular. Who is not you. I could let my other half know you are looking for ravaging though, if you’d like, maybe….?”
“No!” He says all at once, looking like he might ignite from embarrassment at any moment. “No, I am not-not looking to be ravished, like some, some, improper person!”
“I had only thought that you were going to ravish me, because that is what I was told you do!”
“Not that I think you are some sort of improper person of course, Lady Da'Selene! I’m sure you are a very kind and giving lover who gives the proper attentions and-”
“You should probably stop talking before you say something you’ll regret, Thenvunin.”
“Yes. Of Course,” He agrees, face buried in the hand not at his chest and still a very vibrant shade of red.
“Good night, Thenvunin,” she says to dismiss him.
“Good night, Lady Da'Selene,” He murmurs with his deepest bow yet before he disappears down the hall.
Andruil wakes up four months into her stay.
Selene debates going to see her, to apologize, or make amends.
But it seems unwise, in the long run. And besides that, she feels as though her sister could stand to be the one apologizing, for once in her life.
So instead she permits mother to send her elsewhere for distractions while she checks on Andruil, and spends much of her time in Thenvunins garden, making more sticks for Screecher or blooming a bush of blueberries, since she is still not technically permitted in the workshop or library, or to be alone in her rooms.
Even the meetings are separated, Selene realizes when her father suddenly ‘stops by to visit her’. It is good to see him again, even with everything that is going on. He is in a surprisingly good mood, and even congratulates her for her victory over Andruil.
Selene takes advantage to ask after Des'din, but Elgar'nan waves her off with a dismissive “He is up to his same vulgar acts as always,” before taking her on his own tour of her mothers grounds.
As though she has not already been a captive for four months.
It is nice though, to see him recall the days of wooing her mother. It reminds her that they were not always monsters.
Perhaps, if she is very careful, she might even find a way to restore them to that state.
He discusses his approval that she is looking for a partner, and she feels her chest tighten with the familiar ache of missing Dirthamen. She feels guilty, lying to him about potentially choosing one of her mothers people, but it quickly abates when he starts listing his own opinions about who would be best suited for parenthood.
Not a bridge she is planning on crossing anytime soon, if ever.
It is another two months of sitting at her mothers side and learning to perfect an impassive face, of learning to withhold her emotions and finding a cause to focus on before she is finally declared 'fit’ to go back to her own home. To take back her mantle and rule her territories in person once more, rather than through letters and messengers.
She nearly weeps, when she walks back into her home.
But she has learned restraint, through the manipulations of her mother. She waits until she is back in her rooms, Dirthamen at her side and awkwardly trying not to ask about the parties before she pulls him into her embrace. Before she falls back onto the bed with him in her arms, whispering apologies for their fight and for leaving him here and for endangering him and for every little thing that comes to her mind.
He’s more than a little overcome by the rush of emotions that flood out of her, but he returns her affections all the same. Understandably curious about her mask, and she presses her lips carefully against his while he speaks; not quite a kiss, but close enough to settle something inside of her back into place. She sits back up and pulls out the mask from her bag, then hands it over to him.
He blinks, fingers tracing over the features.
“What is this…?”
“It’s for you,” She hums, still wrapped around him as she looks over his shoulder while he inspects her gift. “It has naturally occurring magics from the dreaming in it, to help you with control over your form. You can wear it, or not wear it, as you please. Over time it should bond with you, so you’ll be able to manipulate it if you’d like, or need. I’ve also enchanted it as I did your necklace, to keep your full potential hidden from my families eyes. Do you like it?”
He swallows, placing it down carefully on the mattress. For a moment, Selene worries he’s displeased with it somehow, until he turns in her arms and crushes his lips back against hers, forcing her back flat against the bed.
“It is perfect,” He praises, lips soft against the side of her neck while his hands roam down the sides of her gown. “I have missed you.”
She grins, letting her fingers tangle in his hair while he slowly kisses his way down her body. “I missed you too, vhenan.”
Selene has been under quite a lot of stress lately.
Dirthamen knows this, as does much of the castle. It is not a secret that she has been struggling to mend ties with members of her family whom she alienated during the festival. That she has been tense and trying to return to a sense of normalcy in her home ever since she returned from her mothers territory.
He would like to help.
That is where the trouble started.
They had fought, before the festival. She seemed to forgive him for his outburst upon her return, but it still hasn’t been quite the same between them. Almost as though she has tried to force herself to move on, to take him back the way they had been before, but something is holding her back. He can only assume he has done something wrong, without realizing.
That will not do. But he is unsure of how to aptly apologize.
It is a dangerous thing, to ask Des'din for advice. It does not escape Dirthamen that his markings have not changed; that his lord has not changed, despite his seemingly permanent transfer, and that his life and privilege still thrive at the whims of the horned god.
Des'din has noticed the tension of his other half as well though.
“She’s doing that…thing, again” Des'din says, making a waving motion with his hand. “It happens. She’s not good with stress. She holds onto everything until it crushes her. Then she breaks apart, takes a deep breath, forces herself back together, and starts the process all over again. It’s a terrible habit of hers.”
“How do I help?” Dirthamen asks, a little more pointedly this time.
Des'din raises an eyebrow, mouth curling into a grin. “You need to give her another outlet, of course.”
Dirthamen blinks in confusion.
“Oh, dear thing,” Des'din sighs, propping his head up on the back of his hand. “Distract her from her work; pull her away from her worries, and let her have some time where she remembers that the world is not going to fall apart because Andruil is off pouting in the woods.”
“Oh,” Dirthamen nods slowly. “How should I do that?”
The grin curls back onto Des'dins face, as he pats at the space on the stone bench beside him.
“Come listen to my tale, little blackbird,” He coos “And I’ll share with you the weaknesses of my other half.”
It has been a very long day.
A shame it is only noon, Selene thinks.
She pushes open the heavy wooden doors of her office, letting out a soft sigh at the pile of papers stacked high upon it. Ana is inside, browsing through a scroll detailing the recent movement of Elgar'nans peacekeepers near their border. She blinks when Selene enters.
Glances down at the desk.
Glances back to Selene.
“I’m just gonna….” The red head says, pointing to the entryway Selene had just used and exiting the room before finishing her declaration.
Selene doesn’t bother chasing after her; whatever Ana is dealing with, Selene trusts her to handle it.
Selene lets out a breath, tugging off her cloak and tossing it haphazardly onto one of the chairs as she uncoils the braids that are in fashion in Sylaise’s lands, and which somehow had been requested for her morning trip to check on the progress of June’s latest project.
It is far better than she had expected, at least. For all his faults, he really has learned an impressively efficient way to use his resources, even with a minimal amount of spiritual sacrifice. Still not none, but at least 40% less than the original plans had called for.
Progress, however slow, is still progress.
It is with this mindset that she takes to her seat, leaning forward to begin her slog through the days paperwork.
A small, black tendril begins to wind its way up her calf, and she nearly lights it on fire before she realizes who is controlling it.
“Dirthamen?” She asks, glancing down to find him kneeling beneath her desk. “What are you doing down th-”
The doors of the room are flung open and she nearly jumps out of her skin as she watches Captain Din'Durgen barge into her office, a crumpled piece of parchment raised high above her head. Without even thinking about it, Selene scoots her chair further in, in an effort to hide Dirthamen from view.
“Is something wrong?” Selene asks the woman, who finally remembers herself and stops a few feet away from the desk, standing at a soldiers attention.
“There has been a mix up,” Din'Durgen asserts, before hastily adding “My lady.”
“Alright. What sort of mix-UP?!” Selene squeaks out the last word as the tendril moves further up her leg, brushing against her core just lightly enough to let her know where it is.
Din'Durgen clears her throat “Ah, it seems as though all of our spiritually enhanced weaponry has been seized by your blacksmiths?”
It takes a few moments for the words to register to Selene, whose mind seems to be much more interested in the fact that Dirthamen has started trailing his mouth and hands up the length of her legs.
“Uh,” She finally manages, forcing herself to focus. “Yes. I’m having the shards re-purposed.”
“For what?” Din'Durgen demands.
“To regrow in the dreaming,” Selene admits, trying to hide a shiver as Dirthamens hand traces the shape of her calf lightly enough that she can feel goosebumps prickling her skin.
“And how are we to defend ourselves?”
“With your-” Selene shakes her head, trying again to pull her focus to the meeting with her guard captain, and away from her lover who has apparently decided he would like to be exceedingly mischievous today “With your training, and your skills.”
“So we are to die on the battlefield with only the words on our tongues and the stories in our hearts?” Din'Durgen says wryly. “My lady, I know your purview is secrets, but please-what am I to tell my people?”
“I-” Selene starts before getting pulled into a moan, Dirthamens mouth biting gently on the soft skin of her inner thigh. She tries in vain to cover it with a cough. “My research team is looking into a new material for your weapons. One that has more naturally enchanted properties. I discovered it while I was staying with the Lady Mythal. If we can harness it correctly, it should be able to lead us into a whole new era of energy that doesn’t require spiritual sacrifice at all.”
“And in the meantime?”
“In the meantime,” Selene says, voice rising slightly in pitch as she stands abruptly to keep Dirthamen from delving his tongue inside of her “I expect you to do your job the way I ask of you. You may take your leave now.”
Din'Durgens face twists slightly, ready to make another argument before Selene pushes out an air of impatience, and points directly to the doors. “You are dismissed, Captain.”
The turquoise haired woman drops to a bow, and makes a hasty retreat.
Selene follows closely behind, locking and warding the doors behind her before turning and staring at the desk.
“What do you think you’re doing?” she says aloud.
Dirthamens head peaks just over the edge of her desk as he says plainly “I am trying to give you an outlet.”
“An outlet for what?”
His head tilts slightly. “Interesting. I…did not ask that question.”
Selene drags her hand down her face. “Des put you up to this.”
“Not…precisely. He only mentioned that I should make my attempt somewhere that you often find stressful. Since the council chambers would be inappropriate given their shared nature, your office seemed like the more reasonable choice.”
“And he told you to do…what? Surprise me with oral?”
Dirthamens mouth opens.
He hums slightly in consideration before fully crawling out from beneath her desk.
“I would like to try something,” He finally decides. “If you would permit me.”
Selene feels her heartstrings tug, but stares over him at the piles of papers still on her desk. “I have so much to get done…”
“None of it is time sensitive,” He assures her. “I have already checked.”
“You read through my official paperwork?”
“You told me I was permitted to read ‘anything I could get my hands on’.” He points out.
Selene sighs and shakes her head fondly. “I did. I did say that.”
“May I make my attempt?” He tries again.
Selene slips her fingers into the loops of his robes, pulling him slightly towards her. “I suppose so,” she allows.
The tops of his cheeks turn a soft pink at the gesture, but he clears his throat and takes a step back.
“If you would have a seat, I think this would perhaps be easier.”
Selene raises a skeptical eyebrow. Chair sex in here? Really? Not quite the amount of support they usually need. The back of her chair is high perhaps, but several feet away from the wall. It’s not meant to withstand a surplus of weight or movement, not like the ones he enjoys being tied to in the bedroom. One good thrust and they’ll both go flying backwards.
Still. She can always catch him, if need be. If something goes wrong, she’ll simply handle it.
She always does.
Without further arguments, she seats herself back in her chair, scooting it farther from her desk to avoid any temptation to multitask. Time sensitive or not, she still has responsibilities after all.
But she sits up straight, one leg crossed over the other expectantly, ready for whatever Dirthamen might have in mind.
He kneels down in front of her, and her first instinct is to tell him to stand, that it’s ridiculous for him to act like this. He knows better than most she’s no actual Goddess.
But his hand grazes over her knee and gently, so gently, uncrosses her legs.
“Just relax,” He says quietly, glancing up to make momentary eye contact, his bared hands still resting gently on her knees.
Such a small thing, really. The focus, the contact, the care for her in his words.
Her heart skips a beat all the same, words caught in her throat as she nods in compliance.
He places a soft kiss to the top of one knee in thanks, eyes drifting closed and hands drifting lower, thumbs rubbing small circles into the backs of her calves. Affection is not unusual behavior for Dirthamen; quite the opposite, really. But this is…this is something different.
The way he explores the length of her legs, the attention and compliments he gives, the way he seems to savor every moment of this time…
She can feel herself heating up at the realization, even as he continues to take his time with her legs and thighs. While he presses just firmly enough on the tender flesh of her inner thighs to make small divots with his fingers, praising her softness, telling her how much he enjoys her, how much she means to him.
It is just words, really. Words coupled with affectionate touches, with genuine affection and love and devotion pouring out of him.
It takes her breath away. Ignites her in ways she hadn’t expected, relaxes muscles she forgot were capable of such a thing. His hands pull away the ribbon that had been keeping her robes together and slide against her sides, reverent and unabashed while his mouth presses against the soft pouch of skin from where she is now slouching. Every inch of her is alight, straining and expectant, every touch like a new spark of magic from him. He goes slowly, so slowly it’s almost maddening, but the anticipation is such a wonderful burn, his mouth and praise the balm she craves while he takes his time inspecting and exploring every piece of her.
Selene isn’t sure precisely when the scales appeared on her spine, or when her tail decided to make an appearance until Dirthamen is paying attention to those pieces of her the same as he has the rest. She is on her knees with her back facing him, head raised towards her ceiling and breaths coming in shallow bursts when he runs his tongue over her scales and sends a shiver that makes her keen, tail dragging against the cold stone of the floor beneath them.
“Dirthamen,” She finally begs, head swimming in her hypersensitive state, his hands and mouth and ardor flooding her senses, thoughts falling away as he makes a small bite on the crook of her neck, flooding her in an entirely different way.
Any other time she would worry about the mess she must have made of her office chair, but now…now, all she can think of is him, is the way he makes her feel, the relief of his presence, the love swelling within her, ready to overflow and the blazing heat in the pit of her stomach.
He seems to notice that she is approaching her limit, whispering more praise in her ear, telling her how well she is doing, how much he loves her, how grateful he is to have been gifted her trust while he lifts her out of her chair, splaying her open on top of her desk instead.
A familiar, brightly colored container is pulled out of one of his pockets before the robe is discarded entirely. He coats one finger in it, slipping it inside of her with ease-
And she comes around it.
Embarrassingly early, some corner of her mind thinks.
His own surprise flares briefly around him before he reins it in and continues his ministrations, slipping a second finger in with ease and laving more affection over her sides and chest, a few tendrils sliding up her calves once again, pulling her legs open a bit wider.
She hums as she feels them, thoroughly relaxed, and considers the inspiration.
Subtly, as much as she can hide it, she glances to where the discarded container lays and carefully moves her tail closer to it. Pulling in on the curls of hair that usually cover the end and softening the rough edges of her scales, she rolls the extra appendage around in the lubrication before nudging it carefully against her lovers rear entrance.
Dirthamens eyes go slightly wide as he notices her actions, and she raises her eyebrows up in challenge.
“Fair’s fair,” She coos, gently brushing her own hands over his cock.
He shivers, and she thinks he might be about to argue so she slides her mouth over his before he can. Encases him in her arms and flips their positions, until he is the one splayed open on her desk and she is the one with two feet on the ground, devouring and drowning in the taste of him.
“Is this alright?” She checks, pulling away just enough to speak, his breath still warm against her lips.
“Yes,” He breathes, and she hums in thanks as she delves her tongue back into the warm wet of his mouth, the tip of her tail pressing gently into him in unison.
Selene can’t remember the last time she felt so relaxed. The last time she was in so little hurry to be somewhere or do something. How nice it is just to enjoy her lover, her heart, to feel the way he moves beneath her.
It would be better, she thinks, if he were not trying so hard to restrain himself.
“Let go Vhenan,” She purrs against his neck.
“My form…” He manages, skin still flushed and his cock dripping precum onto his stomach.
“I’ve got you,” She assures him.
He hesitates a moment before letting out a soft breath.
The air in the room changes notably as he does.
Six large black wings unfurl from his back, skin turning to a beautiful dark expanse littered with stars and eyes. His legs lose some of their solidity, most of his body past the knees turning into tendrils that match his skin, and the room fills with power and magic, long restrained by his chain and mask and his own growing capabilities. She has to loose some of her own to cover it, to hide that this surplus of power is his, so that anyone passing in the halls will only sense herpower, her own magic flaring out into the wards. Her own pair of wings unfurl, and she feels her pupils shift as she does, still in control but vulnerable as her peripheral vision nearly vanishes.
That’s alright, she thinks as his tendrils curl around her. Her waist, her hips, her legs, her arms; she trusts him.
Trusts him entirely, as he lifts her over his still straining cock and she lowers herself down onto it, sliding her tail slowly in and out of him in tandem with the rise and fall of her hips. His wings flare and his breaths become as shallow as her own, her own hands exploring as much of the expanse of him as she can reach, stars bursting and gleaming under the pads of her fingers. Feathers fall down around them; hers, his, theirs.
Details become blurry while they lose themselves in each other, energies and words mixing and blurring and the feeling of being touched all over simultaneously too much and not enough. Moans and groans and flesh on flesh, keening and orgasms and not even the certainty of who between them is having them, only a shared desire to keep going, to savor this, to make the most of being together again.
It is….very dark by the time they have stopped.
Selenes tail has receded and her scales have mostly vanished and Dirthamens form more closely resembles his usual one now, as they are spent and exhausted, hair damp and clinging and Selene is unsure if the insides of her thighs will ever be dry again after she glances down at the sloppy mixture of their fluids still dripping out of her.
It’s a good feeling, though.
With the little energy still in her, she rolls over to Dirthamen, the two of them on a tapestry they seemed to have yanked off of her walls to lay on the floor instead, and presses an affectionate kiss to his forehead.
“Thank you,” She manages.
He smiles, eyes only half opened and his chest still rising and falling a bit too violently while he attempts to regain his breath. “Anytime.”
“Probably we shouldn’t make a habit of completely destroying a room every time we have sex,”
“There are worse habits to have,” He notes, a mischievous gleam in his eye.
Selene shakes her head in fondness before burying it in the crook of his neck, curling her body up around his.
It is good to be back.