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Try not to worry about this thing between yourself and Thys, Viv reminded herself desperately. This was nice right now, inasmuch as having someone with her who was being hunted down was able to be ‘nice’. She shouldn’t sweat the small stuff like…whatever the strange implications were of Thys perhaps being a ‘fairy lover’ to her.
She wasn’t able to convince herself. They needed to talk.
“I think,” Viv said slowly, “that step one is going to be figuring out what they want you for. Step two is finding someone with scent-based powers, and step three is finding a place that we can flood with light. Right? So we can either corner them to fight or negotiate.”
“I suppose so,” Thys agreed. For once, they seemed nervous, and it occurred to Viv that maybe Thys should be more nervous than they’d seemed so far—after all, Thys was the one being hunted down here. But ever since they’d recovered, they’d sort of been treating this as a fun adventure.
Then again, they were one of the fair folk. Maybe this just felt different to someone with such a long lifespan. And even Viv had to admit that there were things she, too, was enjoying in this.
Viv drew a deep breath and exhaled heavily. “So. We can get into step one in a moment but unless you already know why it’s doing this, trying to prep for a confrontation is something we can do regardless of motive, so we can kind of skip it for now.”
“Does that truly make it step one?”
“Let’s focus here,” Viv said, bringing her hands together in a brief clap. “Scent. We know there are local lycanthrope hideouts. I think it’s pretty strongly implied that maybe the werecats gather in the skate park—Yasmin might even be one, come to think of it, though I don’t know if we can be sure without asking.”
“The skate park,” Thys said, amazed. “Do cats like skateboards?”
“Dubious, but it’s a known fact a lot of cats hang out there, and we were already told that werecats called our neighbourhood home. And Yasmin told me that the dog park has gathered what she considers a bad crowd, which is probably weredogs. I think we’re more likely to have an in with werecats rather than dogs anyway, unless you’ve got some contacts with them.”
Thys tilted their head. “…And why is that?”
“…I like cats,” Viv answered weakly. “And I understand cats. I don’t really get dogs, you know?”
Thys nodded blankly. “Okay.”
She tried not to feel embarrassed. “Anyway! That’s—that’s an option. I don’t know what we could offer them—but I mean, Yasmin seemed nice.” Hot, too. And cool. Maybe she shouldn’t be thinking that with Thys here, though. No, she reminded herself, focus. “That said, I don’t know if we can rely on the kindness of strangers. Do you know any lycanthropes?”
“I don’t… I keep to myself, mostly,” Thys said. “I don’t know many people outside of the pub scene. Some of them might be lycanthropes but… I wouldn’t know. I could also ask if any of my fans are? But then we, ah. We are relying, again, on the kindness of total strangers. As you said, that’s untrustworthy. Especially if I am being hunted.” They swayed back and forth on their feet, sticking their hands in their pockets.
“Okay, well,” Viv said, “we could still try the skate park, then.”
“Yes,” Thys said. “I think, if we plan on relying on scent, we can do that, but we might want to be cautious with that. We can’t rely on our own sense of scent. And bringing others in may put them at risk.”
Viv’s blood chilled. She hadn’t thought of that. Whatever was hunting Thys now could hunt a kindly stranger just as easily—or a friend. If someone were so actively involved that the lanternfish took notice, and that person got …taken over? Copied? Swapped out while they were still relying on them, they might end up not just losing a friend but feeding information to the enemy.
“So we can do that, but perhaps, we should make contacts cautiously, make sure they are not openly involved until we need them,” Thys finished. “That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t go and explore our options. We may still need those contacts. Just, well, we need to be aware.”
“We do,” Viv said, trying to unknot the clenching anxiety in her chest. “…I do think were-cats might be a good angle, and I’m not against us going to the skate park and making initial contacts, seeing if we can get help when the time comes, but… you’re right we should consider other options too. My divination isn’t strong, but maybe I can… use dowsing or something to figure out if someone is who I think they are. Who they’re presenting as.”
“Perhaps this is strange, coming from me, who has become so reliant on you,” Thys said, “but sometimes we’re safest by ourselves.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Viv said. She had to be careful not to get too paranoid or isolated either—presumably this creature could only pretend to be one person at a time; there might be an angle in that which they could make use of. “I understand your fears, but let’s not worry just yet about that, since there’s no sign it’s happening, and we can be careful not to bring in people who would get caught unawares. Light, then. Do you know a place? Or, we could ask Dandelion…”
Thys pulled a hand out of their pocket and put it on Viv’s arm, squeezing gently. “I don’t think that there is any place that can be flooded completely, to remove all shadows, without a lot of preparation or without involving magic,” they said. “Dandelion might have some idea, like… a music video set or something, where you can get lighting at all angles and from below as well. But most places that can be flooded will have some shadows. Football stadiums or whatnot, they’ll be lit from above, and have plenty of places with shadow.”
“Music video set might be an option, come to think of it,” Viv said. “I don’t know how we’d lure an enemy into one when they can just wait forever until we come out, though. I think… that’d come back to negotiation. Anyway, it might be easier to just get hold of a witch who can actually just… abruptly lighten the area. Or a fae who can do likewise with glamour. Less suspicious.”
“You’re right,” Thys said. They glanced at the sidewalk behind the two of them, where the afternoon shadows were starting to lengthen. “I don’t even know if the lanternfish is following us or not. Either way, it will begin to get dark in a couple hours.”
Viv felt a faint chill at the thought, which she was very sure wasn’t actually a non-sequitur. “Yeah,” she said. “I don’t know. Anyway, we’re back to step one.”
“A circular route to the first step,” Thys said playfully.
Viv wanted to respond in kind, but didn’t let herself. “We need to talk.”
Thys blinked. Slowly, their smile faded. “Do we?”
“We need to know why you might be wanted. Why you specifically were targeted, after you started making public appearances. If we can figure out what they want, we can figure out whether we have any way to negotiate, or if there’s no chance but to attack.” Viv took a deep breath. “But right now, I know pretty much nothing about you.”
Thys seemed to grow smaller, somehow. They wrapped their wings around themselves, as if the drizzling cold was finally getting to them, and hunched into their form, both hands in their pockets again. “Ah. It’s come to this.”
“I mean… it’s great that you’re some kind of…” Manic pixie dream pixie, Viv managed to keep herself from saying. “You’re like a dream. Strange, mysterious, intriguing, beautiful… sweet.”
Thys’s cheeks colored. “Oh.”
“But you’ve implied you have some kind of situation back home, and despite that, you’re here in Branwin. You’ve referred to refusing to take command and lead an army. You’ve mentioned having no escape if you returned, despite that. This creature isn’t fae, or I think Lithway would have said, but if you’re specifically being targeted, it has to be something about you, what you can do, the people you know, something.” She drew a breath. “So, please. Tell me.”
“I don’t want to,” Thys muttered.
“I want you to,” Viv countered. Something in her, something so recently injured, was aching, feeling like it was going to split. “We have… something between us, right? Communication is important. I need to know what… what I’ve got myself into.”
“Something between us?” Thys repeated incredulously. They straightened, their dark eyes seeming to widen almost too far, taking up too much of their face. “Something? Am I not yours? Did you not give yourself to me so that I may give myself to you? Am I not your betrothed?”
The world swam for a minute. Focus, Viv thought, in a faint panic. Focus! She couldn’t. This was too much confirmation, and she was afraid. “Betrothed?”
“Am I not?!” Thys seemed somewhere between despair and anger now. “Fine. Ask what you wish. I cannot lie. But I do not want to talk about it, so what I answer will depend on the specific questions you ask me.”
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