[Please read the instructions before jumping in!]
A strange picture was starting to form for Viv, one she almost didn’t dare look at too closely. Dandelion had mentioned ‘the spouse’, as if expecting that Viv had one. Lithway had just referred to Thys as her fairy lover. And Dandelion had previously explained that Thys’s kind of fae were often also known as leanan sidhe—something she recalled now were mythological ‘fairy sweethearts’, ones who would act as a muse to a human they decided to devote themselves to, nearly slave-like in their devotion, but who would lead to an early death for the human they chose to love.
It had to be a coincidence. A misunderstanding. It was on the tip of her tongue to argue, to explain, to… to have Thys deny it too, just so she could be sure.
But now wasn’t the time, she reminded herself, watching Lithway straighten and give them a beaming, friendly smile. Lithway wasn’t fae. Lithway also wasn’t a vampire, wasn’t a witch or a human or anything understood. Instead, Lithway was a mysterious monster of origin unknown, of a type feared by all others.
All anyone really knew about Lithway was that they enjoyed helping others, and that they didn’t like waiting.
So Viv wouldn’t let Lithway wait. Right now, she had to explain what was going on, quickly and with deference. Clearing up this misunderstanding could come later.
Even so, she couldn’t quite bring herself to look at Thys as she said, “It’s about the lanternfish.”
“Ahhh.” Lithway’s voice didn’t seem able to change from that soft, susurrating lilt, which was particularly strange given that they were an actor. Viv wondered if that changed onstage, or if Lithway simply put other things into the role that made you forget it. “What about it? You know what, come with me.”
Thys slipped their hand into Viv’s as the two of them followed Lithway into the backstage area. She tried not to get too nervous or sweaty; they’d held hands a dozen times already, it was fine.
The backstage space was tidy and quiet, and while it was clearly a frequently-used space, they were alone now. “Can I ask what about the lanternfish concerns you?” Lithway murmured, as their shadows rolled to a stop and they somehow ended up facing Viv and Thys without seeming to turn. “You don’t mean the play, do you? I don’t think someone like Dandelion would offer up favors to someone like me just so you could get tickets to a play.”
“We think the lanternfish might be hunting me,” Thys said bluntly. “Or something that matches its description. And, since you wrote a play about it, we wanted to know what you knew. Know what you thought. You do not usually write the plays you act in, do you?”
“Oh, sometimes,” Lithway said. They sank back into a seat that hadn’t previously been there, one which appeared to be made of the shadows which surrounded them, and steepled their fingers. “Tell me what you’ve been experiencing.”
Thys looked to Viv for this, and Viv, obligingly, launched into an explanation. She tried not to leave anything out—this wasn’t a case where playing their cards close to their chest would help. If it was a lanternfish, whatever that was, Lithway was the only one who seemed to know anything about it, and besides… Lithway didn’t seem the sort who it was safe to play games with.
So she explained the confusing attack that Thys had experienced with the lights luring them away. She explained the smell in the garbage room, the mysterious encounter with the janitor, Thys’s collapse at the Good Neighbours, and all the theories they’d formed that this thing might be hunting Thys specifically.
Lithway listened, their fingers still steepled, their face impassive. And, when Viv was done, they sighed. “I see. I do see.”
When it didn’t seem as if they were about to say more, Viv’s stomach knotted. “I was wondering about… about what inspired you to write the play. Was it folklore? Based on something you encountered? Do you think this thing sounds a lanternfish?” Be polite, she reminded herself nervously. “If it’s all right to ask,” she added.
“Well, the thing is, I’m not sure how all right it is,” Lithway said. They tapped those fingers to their lips, then seemed to decide, beaming abruptly at Viv and Thys. “Well, you two seem like a young, sweet pair, and I have to admit I’m taken by the drama of your story! Let me see what I can do, because, you see, if it came out that I was acting against this… lanternfish, sure, let’s call this a lanternfish for now. If it came out that I was acting out against the lanternfish, I could be in a great deal of trouble myself!”
What could exist that could get Lithway in trouble? Viv wondered.
Thys leaned forward, releasing Viv’s hand and clutching their hands to their chest, a physical plea. “So you do know something. You know enough to get yourself in trouble.”
“That I do, and I don’t plan to stick my neck out. Here’s the thing, if you let it get out that I’ve been telling you secrets, it won’t just be the lanternfish hunting you down, my darlings. I’ll join in, and I don’t think you’ll like that. And I can’t help you beyond information—or rather, I won’t. This is a case where I could be identified as the source if I put myself out there, and I’m too comfortable in my current life to do that for you.”
Viv sucked a breath—but Thys just nodded. “Yes,” they said. “If it’s enough to cause you trouble, I imagine you don’t want us going and throwing your name around lightly.”
“You understand completely!” Lithway said, putting a hand to their forehead and draping themselves backwards over their chair. “What a relief! I had been worried I could not adequately prepare you for the danger of what little I can justify saying. That said, if you learn anything yourself from your encounter with the lanternfish… well, I don’t care what you say about your own experiences, though others might.”
It was amazing someone could be so bombastic with such a soft voice. Somehow, it made Viv more nervous; she licked her lips, which felt dry. “So?”
“Here’s what I can tell you,” Lithway said. They sat up again, expression serious now, eyes a void of shadow in their already shadowy face. “I thought I sensed a stranger when it appeared in my territory, and I had prepared The Lanternfish’s Lure for a time like this. While I put myself at risk for it, I don’t want one of them hunting in my territory, and if I could prepare my audience adequately for the possibility that they might become prey… well, it is the least I could do.”
What was it that trivia night had said? “I heard,” Viv said slowly, “that it’s shadowfolk folklore.”
“That’s how I’ve described it, yes,” Lithway said. “The play itself is a certain amount of misdirection while still putting important information in, so here are the bits you should consider relevant.” They held up a finger. “One: the lanternfish will pick a prey for a reason. They are intelligent, as smart as you or me. Well, especially me, I can’t speak for you. So if they have picked you as a target, they have a reason for it. Two—” Another finger. “They are not bound to stick just to their prey. They can do what they want for whatever convenient reason. However, keep in mind that it’s being done with a goal. Three—” A third finger. “Their abilities primarily lie around light and shadow and, thus, illusion. Unfortunately, vision is a primary sense where it relates to both humans and most monsters; even if they have other senses, sight usually tricks them into disbelieving the rest of it. That said, if you have friends whose powers include other senses, such as scent, they may pick up more than sight alone would claim. But I would not suggest bringing in vampires. Light can be deadly to them, after all.”
It had been an option—but, yeah, in that case, maybe one worth benching. It was a shame, kind of; Viv had always been curious about the whole vampire society thing.
“Four—” Another finger. “They can shapeshift, to some extent. Not always, not into everything, but when they hunt, they can mimic prey they have successfully captured before. If you are worried about your janitor, it’s worth being worried, but he is likely long gone. Fifth, they can know things about people on whom they have fed, so trying the good old ‘tell me something only you know’ trick has limited success. Sixth—”
That was, Viv realized, too many fingers for one hand.
“—their power over light is significantly weaker than their power over darkness. It only exists because they have power over darkness! As such, they are weaker in the light, but not eliminated by it. They can build sections of apparent safety and rely on instinct to send you there, then take it away. Which matches what you’ve described… and I would suggest that Thysania is especially vulnerable to this lure. After all, moths are drawn to the flame.”
Thys leaned against Viv, running a hand over her hair. Viv almost choked on nothing at all. “Oh no,” Thys said. “You’re right.”
“And finally,” Lithway said, leaning forward in their seat, “they are very, very hard to kill. I cannot and will not give specifics, but you would need to lure them into a place with no shadows they can see to cut off their exit, first of all, and it would involve… a great deal of focused power, I’d think. However, as I noted, they surely have a reason for choosing you as a prey. If it’s something you can make useless to them, or otherwise deny to them their goals, they will probably leave you alone.”
“If left alive, won’t they… seek out other prey?” Viv asked tentatively. “So we’d just be making someone else suffer?”
“Well, that depends what they want from this,” Lithway said, and spread their hands with a bright smile. “Nobody needs to predate each other, but certainly plenty of us do, don’t we?”
“It’s a start,” Thys said. They considered, then bowed deeply, spreading their wings in a curtsy.
Viv hurried into her own bow—without wearing anything she could curtsy with, it felt weird to do so. “Thank you,” she said. “We really appreciate it, especially knowing that, er, that you’re in… some kind of awkward position here.”
“Oh, I’m frequently in awkward positions,” Lithway said airily. “But I’m happy to help, so long as it doesn’t cause trouble for me. Do you need someone to help you find the way out?”
“No, I think we’ve got it,” Viv said. “Again, thank you. It’s obviously super freaky.”
“Super freaky,” Thys echoed, and caught Viv’s hand once more.
“Super freaky!” Lithway said, with audible sympathy. They smiled at Viv beatifically. “Well, I’ll be happy to hear how this turns out. If I have helped thwart this terrible creature, I would love to know it.”
Viv managed a weak smile back. “Hopefully we’ll be able to let you know,” she said.
Lithway rose and bowed to them, then gestured them away; not wanting to overstay their welcome, the two of them left.
Thys’s hand was still tight in Viv’s, tight enough that Viv wasn’t sure they’d let go even if she tried. “Well,” Viv said, instead of commenting on that, “I think that was useful. It sounds like to have a chance we’re either going to have to ambush this thing in some kind of area we can flood with light or… well. Or find a way to convince it to leave you alone.”
“I suppose so,” Thys said. “I know the plan was to go to the skate park to try to find that Yasmin now, but I’m not sure if you think that will still be useful with everything we’ve learned so far? Or if we should be focusing on trying something else now.”
“I’m not sure either,” Viv admitted. “I was considering contacting the Twilight Council, see if we can get someone to help us to, I guess, corner the lanternfish for this posse we may or may not get. Or even get a consult on what that might take. That might be some more, like, direct assistance than just heading to the skate park, right?”
“I’d really be fine with either option,” Thys said, and gave Viv a small smile. “As long as we’re together.”
Viv’s heart jumped into her throat again and she tried to swallow around it. She shouldn’t be thinking about this. Things had gone so badly with Reese before, and the things he’d pointed out had been true. She was too needy. Too clingy. She needed to learn how to tolerate herself better before she could even try to love someone else.
She was jumping to conclusions, she assured herself. She shouldn’t address this. Shouldn’t call attention to this. Shouldn’t ask Thys what the situation was between them, why it was like that, if it was some fairy thing or if it was real or—anything. Doing so could ruin everything, and right now they needed to both just focus on this very real threat.
It would be a bad idea.
But she was so afraid, and didn’t know which answer she was more afraid of.
[Please suggest an action in the Comments.
Have your comments in by 4 pm PST Oct 16]