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Viv froze, torn.
On the one hand, she felt that Dandelion deserved honesty. That he had the right to know and make his own decisions. Dandelion had been nothing but honest with her—to be fair, as far as she knew, that was a trait of the fae. But he had cancelled his gig, he had walked them home, he had warded their homes, and had worried about them. He’d even given up some kind of favor so they could get information from Lithway—without which they’d probably still be floundering in the dark.
But Thys also had the right to control this information, to decide who knew and who didn’t. And she didn’t want Dandelion to know this.
“Vivian? Viv, are you in trouble? Hang on, I’ll come back to your place—”
Either way, she couldn’t hang out on the phone saying nothing. “No! No, it’s fine, sorry. We’re fine. I just needed to tell you, uh…”
Thys was no longer arguing, just looking at her. They looked calm, but that was just an illusion from their solid black eyes; Viv could tell that Thys was willing Viv not to say something, could feel it. She only wished she could tell if Thys was just genuinely worried that Dandelion would do something self-sacrificing, or they were using it as an excuse so they didn’t have to think about going back to something they hated in order to protect their people from whatever the lanternfish was planning.
“Viv?” Dandelion prompted.
Fine. She’d split the difference. She’d tell everything she could except what they’d theorized about what the lanternfish wanted. Dandelion didn’t know the things Lithway had told them, after all. It would be harder for him to jump to conclusions. And then, if Thys changed their mind, they could still let him in on this. “We really are fine,” she said. “We did run into the, uh, the perp though.”
He sucked in a breath. “What happened?”
“It did the thing with the power while I was showering and we got separated,” Vivian said. She reached out and took Thys’s hand. Thys hesitated on taking it back, clearly not sure whether or not Viv was going to tell Dandelion, but ended up twining their fingers with Viv’s. “It lured Thys out into the elevator and attacked, but this time we’re pretty sure thinks Thys is dead so we think, for now, they’re safe.”
Dandelion paused consideringly. “How did Thys fake their death?”
“By almost dying for real,” Viv said. “It was not deliberate. It was like last time but way worse because they didn’t actually escape, just… a tiny part of them wasn’t dead yet when the perp attacked. I managed to heal them.”
“I thought you couldn’t…?”
“Yeah I thought I couldn’t either!” Viv said, a little loudly. “Believe me, I’m trying to get that figured out right now too. Even if someone’s got witchy powers, you can’t just use them without spells, but somehow I did and then I did a spell from memory of having watched Isaac do it and healed them, I am freaking out here! But that’s not the point of this call.”
Dandelion let out a rough breath. “Okay. So you wanted to let me know to help fake Thys’s death so the perp doesn’t catch on?”
“Sort of. Maybe. It’s… the attacker is a kind of shapeshifter,” Viv said. “I ran into it in the lobby as it left. It looked like Thys and was pretending to be them. I fooled it, I think, so it doesn’t know I know that it isn’t the real Thys. I believe it’s—” Don’t say trying to take over their life, she reminded herself. “I think you just need to be careful if you run into Thys and they’re not with me right now.”
Dandelion said, in a voice like he was prepared to commit a murder or two, “I see.”
“It might come to eliminate loose ends so it can do whatever it’s planning to do with Thys’s form, but I don’t know that it knows you were working with us. It might, if it had been following us, but I feel like at least one of you two might have noticed, right?” She was babbling a little, trying to keep talking while figuring out what to say. It was important to get accurate information to Dandelion, but Thys had said not to theorize about the lanternfish taking advantage of their rank.
Abruptly, she recalled that Dandelion didn’t know that Thys was noble. He’d outright told her that. It sounded like he suspected they might be, but he’d said the two of them didn’t talk about that sort of thing. Which also meant, even if he thought they were a noble, he wouldn’t know if they’d left willingly or were exiled like he was.
So, giving him the basic information would still be fine as long as she kept her theorizing to herself. “The thing is, while pretending to be Thys, it said it was going home. I assume that’s true—it probably wanted me to tell people so nobody would wonder why Thys was suddenly gone. So although there’s some possibility it might be planning to take out witnesses first, I think it’s probably heading straight for the gate.”
Dandelion was silent for a moment, the faint, unnaturally slow rhythm of his breath all Viv heard. “That’s odd,” he said finally. “I suppose it decided it needed to be a fae of some sort, and not one of the fae host.” Not those common fae that people saw around everywhere, he meant. “Why do you think it would do that…?”
“I don’t know,” she said, which was true—she only had theories. “We’re gonna discuss it and figure out what to do. In the meantime, you absolutely should not go to the gate to try to intercept it or anything! Thys is safe while it thinks they’re dead, so the absolute best action to take right now is to not clue it in to the fact that it failed a second time. And not put any loose ends like you in its way!”
Another brief silence, and then a reluctant chuckle. “That’s fair enough. All right. Thank you for letting me know, Viv, I appreciate it.”
Viv drew a deep breath. This seemed to be working. “Now. While Thys might be safe for now, I’m not sure letting it do whatever it’s planning is a good thing, you know? We talked before about maybe getting a posse together, and if you’re willing to try to think up anyone who might be interested in getting in on whatever we do… It’s no longer a question of Thys being hunted so much as us maybe doing the hunting. Unless we decide to just let it go, of course.”
“Of course,” Dandelion said. “I’ve already talked to my band, and they want to help. If you’re able to cast spells now—and I have no idea why that might have changed—you might want to look up some attack magic.”
“I don’t really like maleficia—” Viv began.
“Sure. Most people don’t like guns, either. But, you know, that’s what hunters use.”
Viv made a face. “True. Okay, I don’t want to wake you up if I call later, but we have a lot of talking to do still over here ’cause I called you as soon as Thys was safe. What times should I avoid calling?”
“It’s fine. I don’t sleep much.”
“I mean it,” he said. “Call me whenever. Give Thys my love, Viv. Tell them to rest.”
Viv supposed he thought Thys was still low energy, as they had been after the first attack. She didn’t bother to correct him. “Thanks. Talk to you soon.”
“Well?” Thys asked, when Viv hung up.
“I don’t think he figured anything out,” Viv said. She lifted Thys’s hand and kissed the knuckles. “Is that okay? Did I do fine?”
Thys seemed to consider, then also kissed Viv‘s knuckles. “Yes. You did what I asked. You want to gather a posse? Although I’m safe now?”
“I understand how you feel,” she said. “I think we should explore the possibility. We can talk to Varsha—”
“Who is working now.”
“Well, last night she was off fairly early. We can do it in an hour or two. It’d be ideal if we stopped the lanternfish from getting to the gate, but…”
Thys’s eyelids lowered partially; it looked as if their gaze was downcast. “We would have to leave now, if so, not wait an hour or two to gather companions. If you wish to do that, we can explore that option, but I don’t know if we are prepared to take it on. Otherwise, although distance between realms of the Otherworld is more abstracted than it is in physical reality, moving from the entry point of Branwin Valley to the entry point for the fae realms is not immediate. And moving from the entry point from the fae realms to my fae realm is not immediate. And, if necessary to let it get that far, it getting instated as ‘me’ and having the time to do anything with that power would certainly not be immediate. So. We have time and can arrange an attack at any of those points, if we do not wish to just… let it go, as you said. Which… I admit I’m drawn to. But you are right that, if its goal was to do something with my face and identity, then it is… risky, in its own way.”
“So I have time to learn an attack spell or two,” Viv said. “Find a book and study it.” She smiled weakly. “Dandelion suggested I do that. I don’t… understand how I can do these things. I’ve never been able to do these things. Did you… do something?”
Thys considered, then leaned on Viv abruptly, pillowing their head on Viv’s shoulder. “Not deliberately,” they said. “However, there was a connection between us. I thought it was one-way, sending your energy to me alone, but if it was not… perhaps some of my glamour has been mingling in your magical channels, and that might have altered how it… behaves in your body. Do you have any indications that might have been the case?”
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