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Viv didn’t want to tell them, didn’t want them to be embarrassed by her own weakness. She wanted to push through, just manage somehow, but—
But she had to. They were all going to fight together, and she’d only endanger everyone if she didn’t admit the truth.
“I’m sorry,” she gasped, struggling against the pounding headache, the nausea, the sense of the dim light being too bright, the noises of the crowd too loud, the scents of the food too overwhelming. “I’ve never… managed to acclimatize to the Otherworld…”
Thys’s delicate hands caught Viv’s shoulders, pulling her down off Varsha’s back. Viv made an unhappy face in the general vicinity of the white blur that must be Thys’s face, embarrassed.
And then Thys was kissing her.
This kiss wasn’t soft or tender or tentative. It was a possessive kiss, hard, almost biting, that strange, slender tongue curling in Viv’s mouth. Viv let out a muffled eep into Thys’s mouth, but she couldn’t help but kiss back, not while Thys was practically claiming her with it.
“Are you mine? Will you be mine, Vivian Dormer?” Thys whispered against Vivian’s mouth.
“Y-yes? Yes?” Vivian yelped, breath coming fast.
And something… changed.
The throbbing in her head vanished—and though other parts were throbbing now instead, at least that wasn’t painful—and the background sights and sounds seemed dialed down to a reasonable range again, as if the volume on everything had been lowered. Even her hip and leg felt less painful, weirdly, and that had nothing to do with this place.
More to the point, the churning in Viv’s guts, the sense of her magic curdling, the shudders and chills wracking her as the energies of the Otherworld interacted with her own channels were… gone.
“What did you do?” Vivian gasped, patting herself down as if expecting to feel something there beyond her own usually-traitorous body, her face, her torso, her stomach. “What happened? I feel… fine?”
“Yes, you should feel fine now,” Thys said reassuringly, patting Viv’s arm.
Thys smiled at Viv. It was a soft, precious smile, strangely shy and sweet. “We can acclimatize a human being to the Otherworld quickly. Because, you know, we can get ownership over them under certain circumstances, and spirit them away immediately, yes? It’s much as how demons can improve a witch’s ability through contract, if the rules mean that we can lay claim to you, we can take you home. Your body will ignore its usual needs and fit our needs instead. I thought it would be especially easy to do with you because we already have a channel.”
“So it’s not permanent?”
“Oh, it should be permanent,” Thys said. “If you follow rules to be freed, of course, you will no longer be mine, and that tends to have effects. But you unblocked your own magic earlier tonight without my help, so your magic is flowing now, where it wasn’t before. My stealing you away will just, I think, help show it how to flow down the channels correctly. And that is all that acclimatization is. I think it would be more strange if your body reverted entirely, after learning how to acclimatize. But, if it does revert, you know ways to accommodate now, yes?”
Vivian took stock, examining herself. It was true; the claiming, she assumed, was an effect on her, but things felt… unblocked. “I wonder why they were like this in the first place? Blocked. I have to assume it’s part of why I never acclimatized.”
Thys shrugged. “Sometimes, that is just how bodies are. Or perhaps you were cursed when young by someone who did not want you to be great. Or perhaps you simply had other needs for acclimatization than most people. Or perhaps we are soulmates and you simply needed to soulbond with me so that I could aid you when you needed it! If we are soulmates, perhaps everything is now just right!”
In all fairness, Viv had never believed in soulmates. But Thys was practically sparkling at the thought, so Viv just just smiled. “Yeah, maybe.”
“I hate to interrupt your kisssssing in front of me,” Varsha said dryly, “but the Merry Gentry are over there.”
Viv pulled her gaze away from Thys’s face and looked around the bazaar. When she had come through before as part of moving to Branwin, it had been a blur of misery. Here, it looked… fun. Exciting. String lights and lanterns were wound up on strange, twisted trees, and booths made of a dark wood were set up all over the place. Monsters of all kinds browsed the wares at those booths, and she watched for a moment as a young headless boy was given a bit of unidentifiable fried meat on a stick; he nibbled on it, his head cradled in the nook of one arm, like a parent giving a baby a bottle.
“Ah, you’re right, over there,” Thys said, and pointed to indicate them before waving to Dandelion and his crew.
Gone were the usual glam rock looks. The band members were dressed in everything from a flowing white gown to a tunic to a thong speedo, and Dandelion…
Dandelion was dressed like a nobleman. His hair shone around his face, reflecting the lights, giving him an uncannily halo’d look. He wore a velvet tunic in dark green with gold trim and black leggings, with calf boots that sat to his thighs.
The three of them hurried over to the band. “You have never been more conspicuous, m’lord,” Thys said, more dubiously than sarcastic.
“I know it,” Dandelion said, with a grin. “But nobody will ever mistake me for anything but one of the daoine sidhe. I should be fine as long as I don’t cross the border, so don’t worry about me. You’re at more risk right now, frankly, aren’t you?”
Thys shrugged. They looked more uncanny too, Viv noted, than they had been on earth, in ways that she couldn’t quite put words to. Fingers and limbs a little too long, movements a little too graceful. “I suppose I have accepted that. But I did not dress up.”
“You didn’t. Varsha, good to see you, as always.” He leaned in and kissed both her cheeks, then took Viv’s hands and did the same to her. “You too, Vivian. I haven’t introduced you to my band yet, have I?”
Viv shook her head. “Sorry, no. I’m Vivian, but call me Viv, hi—” She held out a hand to whichever bandmate wanted to take it first.
Perhaps predictably, that was the satyr, half-man, half-goat. He wore a leather tunic that came to his thighs and, she was pretty sure, nothing beneath. He took the offered hand, kissed it, then grinned. “Adrien, ma’am. Glad to be of service, let me know if I can help with anything else.” He gave her a lusty wink.
“She is married,” Thys put in, a little loudly.
“Aw, well, nobody’s perfect.”
Viv laughed a little awkwardly and reclaimed her hand. “We’re just glad to have your help, seriously. And you?” She offered it to the woman in white this time.
“Caoimhe,” the woman said, with a smile. She bowed; the dress at her back was loose where her back was hollow. “An elverpigen, also known as ‘women in white’. Thys and I sometimes have movie nights; you’re welcome to join, you know.”
“I am absolutely going to take you up on that,” Viv said fervently. “But is it weird that I can’t even imagine what life is going to be like tomorrow?”
“Perhaps it’s too early to judge. And…” Caoimhe sighed. “Let me introduce you to—”
The nixie was the one who was wearing just a speedo; Viv figured she should have expected as much, as water spirits infamously spurned clothes whenever they could. He was a beautiful young man with wild eyes, long hair like a horse’s mane cascading down his back, and a blueish-green cast to his skin. “My most recent registered name is Son, That Ain’t Right.”
Viv kind of froze mid-handshake. Weird enough that the guy was practically naked, but— “Sorry, what?”
“I race, so I pretty much go by whatever my rider calls me. Race horse names are wild.” The nixie with the unbelievable name laughed. “What, you don’t think we’d give out our actual names, do you?”
“We call him Star,” Caoimhe said.
“Well, it’s lovely to meet you all,” Viv said wryly. “I heard you were looking for news of the shapeshifter?”
Dandelion nodded. “Between all of us, we got enough brief sightings to form a picture. It looks like ‘Thys’ is headed right for the fae border rather than skipping between realms; they stopped and asked for directions. If we want to lay chase, we might be able to catch up since we probably know this land better than they do, but since we’re following behind we might not catch up until close to the fae border unless something holds them up.”
“Or not until past it, if something holds us up,” Thys pointed out.
“True. Now, if we want to skip through a bordering land, we might be able to angle over and cut them off before they’re too close to fae lands. However, the best realm to do that would be, well.”
He gestured to a passing demon.
“Hell?” Viv squeaked.
“Abyssal territory, at any rate, yes. Abyssal lands run close to the fae, of course, since we’re neutral to them.” Dandelion sighed. “I’m sure either option will be fine. Thoughts?”
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