Emilly picked her way through the subterranean levels, doing her best to press into the shadows. She knew that their changing land had attracted some measure of Drow, some of them honorable, most driven mad by the changes between their land and this one. She followed I-Yaksha, wondering at the temerity of the human who strode so blithely ahead, but then...he wasn't precisely human, now, was he?
The passage widened into a dark chamber, the edges fallen to shadow, only dim candlelight offering some measure of relief from the weight of night. She looked around, realizing even her eyes could not penetrate the shadows around them.
"Oh, my," she murmured. "And where are we now?"
I-Yaksha smiled, turning to face her. "Underground," he said simply. "I am unsure where it is. I found it in my wanders."
Emilly arched an eyebrow. "Interesting..."
He motioned to pillows, scattered over a thick-piled Kuba rug on the chamber's floor. "Please," he murmured. He extended a hand. "Sit with me?"
Still she looked around the chamber, before stepping forward. She shivered at the scent of blood on the air, not specifically his, but present enough to entice. "That is...going to be distracting..." she whispered, her brow furrowing. She watched I-Yaksha settle against the pillows, still holding out his hand.
"You said we had more to speak of, Miss Emilly?"
He sniffed at the air, his attention drawn to a corner that felt no different, to her senses, than any other, before his eyes returned to hers. She drew back slightly. He waited patiently. Finally, she sighed, stepping delicately onto the rug and leaning back against the support of a pillow, watching him.
"First was always this: you offered the King an...object...to banish Rosali from the kingdom?"
He blinked, seemingly surprised. "I did? No, I did no such thing." He leaned closer. "Who would tell you such a thing, Miss Emilly?"
She tilted her head to the side, breathing. "Ah. You are saying it's untrue?"
He sighed, looking away. "I have no objects to give."
She shrugged, a complicated lift and roll of one shoulder. "I did not say it was your...object." In all truth, she had been told it was Enigma who met with the King, Enigma who made the offer, but what she did not know was why, and why Enigma would pry away another of the Queen's Court. She was hoping the were's son had enough inherited memory from his demon to answer. But he shook his head.
"I have nothing, Miss Emilly." He sighed. "Nothing to call my own."
Her brow furrowed again. "You have yourself. At least, to a certain extent. You have a place among the Rom. You have the ideas you think, you have what you feel...These are not small things, Iya."
Several heartbeats passed while he considered her words. "Yes...that, at least, is correct..."
She tilted her head, a sheaf of blood-red hair falling from one delicately pointed ear. "But you are telling me...no, you made no bargains with the King. Yes? Or no?"
He shook his head rapidly. "I would not deal with the King at all. Miss Emilly...he is...not quite sane, if you ask me. Be careful with him."
She shrugged again. "I have not seen enough of him to form an opinion. But I know the new Queen of old, and...if he is King and consort to his lands because he is with her, and not from his own power...he may well not be the force of stability this place may need." She inhaled slowly, leaning forward. "But that brings us to the second point. Iya...are you in...love, with me?"
He leaned over, looking pained, before he shot from the rug, moving to the fire. "I...My...I..." He took a long breath while he stared into the flames. She rose more slowly, slipping behind him, trying to meet his eyes as he turned, and turned, and turned from her. He took a long, shuddering breath, then turned to face her. The pain on his face was raw, and staggering.
"Yes," he said softly. He dropped his eyes to the floor. She closed hers, shivering a moment.
"That does...complicate things," she nearly whispered. He looked up briefly before dropping his gaze once more.
"Have I...done something wrong?"
"Iya, no, do not think that. It is simply...my life is...complex. And not safe for those not Sídhe."
He swalloed, seeming to draw further into himself. It was her turn to stare into the dancing flames.
"I am a shapeshifter, in a world where very few understand flesh can shift. More than that, I'm a representative of a Court that seems despised, and deeper still, I'm an Unseelie who seems to be, or at least, according to my Queen, striving to practice Seelie ways. I am...something of a paradox." She summoned a brief tongue of witchfire, letting the small blue flame dance over her fingertips, before flicking it into the fire to flare and die.
"Toss in Lilit, that long ago gift, with her recent activation, and...it becomes quite the tangle. And then, there's Raven..."
I-Yaksha nodded, looking back at the flicker and play of flames. "I know paradox and enigmas all too well, Miss Emilly. As well as Enigma himself." He swallowed, his eyes shimmering with unshed tears. "I said I would leave you be, if that be your wish...And I will honor that promise."
She stepped closer to him, carefully reaching out to touch his chest, her eyes fluttering closed at even that small a contact. She breathes softly, willing herself calm, before looking up again.
"I believe, you see, that's part of the problem...I do not precisely wish you to leave me along, and not just because I have managed, yet again, to addict myself to the one who lurks within." Her eyes raised, seeking out his. "But my Raven, you see...he has this unfortunate tendency to kill those who care for me. A worse tendency to torture first, those I care for in return."
"I do not fear this...I do not fear what he would only perhaps do, because there is a chance...a small one, mayhap, but a chance nonetheless."
She leaned in, daring to press her head against his chest, listening to his heartbeat. "What chance, Iya?"
He ran his hand through her hair, his breath slowing. "A chance that he will set you free," he whispered.
She shook her head slowly. "You made the wrong bargain," she whispered back. "If he sets Lilit free from claiming--Lilit, mind, specifically--he will still be bound to me. Sídhe do not claim consorts often for this reason. Once two Sídhe join forces, it can be very difficult to...detach."
She trembled then, her head rising, her hands slipping around his waist lightly. "And what chance...what good is freedom, for Lilit or I, with you dead?"
He closed his eyes, nodding. His expression was haunted.
"I do not...He said...he would consider..." He sighed. "You will at least be free of him, then, Miss Eimlly...unless you wish it not."
She sighed, a sound of frustration and not some little concern. "Raven is...was...It is difficult, Iya, you do not understand..."
"You love him still, then," he said flatly.
She looked up, shaking her head. "Impossible relationships...it has ever been my special gift. It always has been. When I first met my Raven, when he was new-called to the Court...I had no thought to love him."
"I do not understand, then...?"
She shrugged, attempting to explain. "Why would I? Sídhe-sided, of course, as I was, not fully born of the line...but Drow in his makeup, as well, and demonic blood from a far older place than this one. And back then...I was a fool," she said. There was bitter recrimination in her tone, but none for him. "I dismissed him, but flirted, as I did with nearly all of the Court, never thinking of it. We sparred in friendly and unfriendly ways as the Winter Court rose to prominence in the old land. But there was an evening, in the bathing pool, he..."
She closed her eyes, remembering. He shuddered in the circle of her arms.
"It was still something of flirtation, then. At that point. But I saw the beginnings of...what could be more." She looked up, tried to meet his eyes. "I fought against it, we both fought. He was...there wasn't a woman in the land he didn't try for. I did not, I do not mind that, specifically, but...that, as a basis for conjoining forces?"
She sighed. "And then he came to my tree, one night, hurt from some battle he'd fought, and...I let him in. To my home, to my heart, to...everything."
I-Yaksha gulped hard, the lump in his throat straining his words, when they came. "I...see," he said, casting his eyes to the stone hearth. She looked down, following his gaze, as her voice dropped.
"In some ways, that made it worse, you see. We fought, constantly...even now, we fight. He will not see me, I have to scream at him, carve sigils in the door of his dwelling just to get his attention, and..." She shook her head, turning towards the flames, wrapping her arms around herself. His voice, when it came from behind her, was as colorless as the shadows in the corners.
"I will keep my word to you. I will feed you as I must, as you need, Miss Emilly."
She turned to face him, her expression somber. "I-Yaksha...please understand..."
"I understand," he said softly. "You still love him."
She sighed in exasperation. "I love many, that is not the point. It never has been."
"He still holds you, and you do not wish that bond broken."
"If any break the bond between us, it will most like be him, by not dealing with me," she muttered, her voice dark and sharp. She looked up to see Iya wearing a mask of his own face, seemingly, no expression even in his eyes as he watched her.
"Do you need fed?" he asked softly.
She took another step back, frowning. "As a...a...duty?" She laughed, the sound empty of all humor. "No, truly, if it is not something you desire, further, then I will work on...eliminating the addiction now."
"Of course, Miss Emilly." Still so frozen, his face, his eyes. Her hand tightened into a fist as she swallowed, fighting against the impulse to strike him.
"I have...never...loved before, Miss Emilly...not truly," he whispered. His eyes watched the fire again. She breathed, struggling to calm, knowing her anger would not help things. She reached out, silently lifting one of his hands, looking at it, turning it over in her grasp. She closed her eyes, thinking, then lifted his hand, pressing the knuckles softly against her lips.
"Iya," she said softly. "It is not that I do not care. I do...care. You are caught in a difficult position, and still you try to reach out. I laud that, how can I not?"
He pulled his hand back, naked pain on his face while her heart clenched. He pressed his palms to the spikes protruding from his belt while she shivered in sympathy.
"I must still honor my offer to your Raven. I will not prove my word false."
She threw her hands in the air, stalking slightly away from the fire. "Fine! Do not hear me!" She shook her head, muttering. "Why is this new, no one listens when I speak..."
"I try and listen, Miss Emilly."
She glared at him before turning, dropping all glamour she possessed, revealing herself to him for perhaps the first time. Larger eyes, no longer purple, now the traditional Sídhe triad iris: in her case, the black of storm, the silver-grey of cloud, the red of heart's blood. Her skin became almost luminescently pale, and delicate antlers rose from her blood-red hair. Her fingers elongated, her dimensions subtly shifted, until she stood slightly taller, and not bearing quite so many curves.
"I am Sídhe. Fae of the fallen land. Do you have any idea what that means?"
He turned, his teeth gritting, before his eyes widened at her appearance. "I have not one clue, but...it does not matter what you are. It's not your form I cherish, not any of your forms. And nothing bound to you...not Lilit, not your Raven, nothing of that matters to me. Do you not understand that?"
"Here this, mortal. I am Sídhe, immortal blood runs in my veins. And I have lived far from the Courts and Arcadia, but still, I know their ways, the whole of my life has proven this. So when I tell you I am Sídhe, I expect you to hear and understand what that means. It means passion is my domain. It means lust, desire, deception, all these things are mine to call upon. Savage anger, fury, cold revenge...these things, too. But...love?" She shook her head. "Love is not traded on among the Unseelie. Love is...difficult. Love makes us weak, to an extent, especially since most do not understand it, cannot, and even those who do, they find their thoughts run closer to obsession than acceptance."
She sighed at his blank expression. "I care, Iya, and you are throwing that aside because I cannot say three words I'd rather take another dozen iron-tipped arrows again than say. Do you think it was so easy to...love my Raven? Think on it--love Raven. Fractious, impossible, jealous as an idle hobby, prone to fits of rage and stronger fits of...But he was one of my own! Do you think even that was easy??"
I-Yaksha spat upon the ground. Something shifted in the dark behind her and she grew a touch uneasy.
"You think because I am mortal I do not understand love is...'difficult'? I show you more respect than I have shown the one to whom I owe a life boon, and you ignore that to lecture me on emotions you declaim as paltry. Take your Raven and your Sídhe to the Di Yu. Forever I will remember this and hold it tight to me."
She looked at him for a long moment. Her voice turned edged, sharp enough to cut; with a single thought, her voice would have wounded, had she wished it.
"You have not heard me."
He scoffed. "I heard you well enough."
Slowly, her head shook, one precise motion to the right, one to the left. He tossed his head pridefully, his shoulders stiffening.
"Well then, you may think of me as all others do...A fool to this land."
Another still, precise, turn of her head. "Have I once said you are a fool? I said you did not hear me."
"I heard you. You will not say words that have no meaning for you," he spat.
"No," she said, still quiet. "I will not say words I am not absolutely sure I feel, because they are a binding. I will not say words that would bind me, when I may still be bound to another. I will not say words that will bind me, only to see you die afterwards."
He laughed, a touch of sadness and despair in the sound. "You too think I will die."
"Do not mistake me. You may well be stronger than you look, even without Enigma to help. But Raven is strong, and vicious, and at this point...somewhat crazed. And believe me, the moment he hears that I may lo..." She stepped back, looking away, inhaling.
"He will try for you," she said flatly. "And he may well succeed." She watched his eyes narrow, watching her, and tasted bitterness on her tongue. "Yes," she murmured, "I am interested in preserving my own skin. Yes, I would rather not have to battle another addiction to your demon within. So yes, I would keep you close for that, but you would look upon me and see that as the only reason I would have to keep you near."
The were's son shook his head. "He need not try for me. He has already discussed the bargain. All Raven need do is state his answer...My death, or my servitude. What you do then, it is...up to you."
Her eyes flashed silver for a moment as she stared at him. "I begin to think you were right the first time. Enigma moves to your will in this. Why, Iya?"
"It no longer matters," he whispered. She stepped forward, grip more harsh than she intended as she spun him to face her.
"It matters, Iya."
He shook his head. "I will help you break free of his blood...I will leave you alone, and not bother you more. But I will never forget you, Miss Emilly.
She stared at him, eyes flickering to silver again briefly, before returning to black, grey and red. "Oh, for a blade an an hour at the sacred stones," she muttered. "So, you have made your decision, then. Based entirely, I might add, on the wrong conclusion. More power to your plans, then." She hissed softly. "May your life be long indeed..."
He sighed. "I will always love you, Miss Emilly. You and only you. But if I am unable to understand just this, how can I understand anything else about you?"
She wanted to run. She wanted to lash out. She wanted to know what shifted in the darkness behind her, the thing she could neither feel nor sense. But she forced her breathing to slow, her body to calm, her small fists to unclench.
"I will make you a bargain," she said. Her voice was low, a thread of something dark moving through the still cavern air. "Should you wish to understand...call upon me. I will do what I can to aid you." She lifted her hand, slashing through the air between them with a sharp, dismissive gesture. "But do not ever assume you know what I think, what I feel...unless you are very sure you are right."
He threw his hands in the air. "What you think? You cannot just speak your mind?" His voice turned bitter. "You sound like him, talking in riddles and circles until I just agree to what he wills."
She stood and watched him, a shudder moving through her as a maddened thought occurred. She nodded once, speaking softly. "Help you understand?" She nodded once more. "Very well." She moved forward, close enough to touch, close enough for him to feel the warmth of her skin close to his. "Kiss me."
He watched her for a long moment, blinking, before he leaned down, his lips pressed so gently to hers. She lifted her arms, slipping them over his shoulders, and as her claws extended from her fingers, she pricked the nape of his neck. He flinched, and as he flinched, she stripped all shielding from her mind, all barriers, and invited him in.
Sensations: The rising heat of her, her desire, muted after argument, but he had felt such before. It was less a scent now, or a feeling, as much as it was the carrier wave moving into his thoughts, wrapping around his essence. Her shields fell, and he saw her, unbarriered, flaws and strengths, foibles and courage alike. He saw her and his mind flooded with her emotions, strong, riptide-quick, overwhelming. Her rage and pain, her confusion and joy, her fear for the land and for him. And love. He saw love there, too, for all she'd hide it with concealing words. And love not just for the Raven, but for him, for he saw his name on her heart now, her image held close in this private space.
I-Yaksha gasped, his hands trembling as he pulled her closer, his eyes falling to meet hers as he drew his lips away. She was shaking in his arms, her shields still down, so open, so vulnerable. She bit her lip, watching him, knowing he could flay her at this distance with a single wrong word.
"I understand now," he whispered, one hand lifting to stroke her hair. She trembled, her eyes closing, pressing her head against his chest.
He pulled her closer, breathing with her, shaking his head. "Words are not what I need to hear...I never needed to hear them. I just needed to understand."
She nearly sobbed against his chest, but finally managed a nod, shaking. She wrapped her arms around his waist and just held him as her shields slowly restored themselves.
He laid his chin upon her head. "Do not cry, Emilly. I do understand, but my word has been given. I must hold my word to them both, or be forsworn."
She nodded slowly. "I know. And...one way or another, things need to resolve with my Raven. Even I am not given the way that that will happen."
He tipped her chin up as he smiled. "It will, Emilly. It will," he murmured. She reached up once more, touching his face, her fingers tracing his lips.
"I...must return to my domicile," he murmured. "Will you be well until the morrow?"
She nodded. "I will, do not fret."
He smiled half-heartedly. "It is what I do. And...the blood...?"
"Do not worry overmuch, then. At some point, I will...need, but now, now it can wait."
"I do not wish you to need, Emilly. I wish you to enjoy," he whispered. She smiled.
"I would like that."
"Be well, lovely Emilly."
"And you, until next we meet."
He left the circle of her arms, walking away into the shadows, and she watched until she could no longer detect his footfalls in the distance.
She never saw him again.