That Which Never Will Be by Lawenta
Characters: Corrin, Lylacra
Summary: Corrin hears rumours of a while ylvain skulking around the countryside, and having a strong suspicion who it might be, sets out to look for her.
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It reached Corrin’s ears as a complaint.
There was a story, apparently, at the very edges of what was currently the inhabited part of Carryn-yehl, of a ghastly white, limping ylvain. A horribly bad sign: very few people saw the monster king and his companion first hand and lived, but the word has gotten around.
Besides that, as the man who carried in the news pointed out, it was a nuisance: the thing kept stealing chickens and was far too clever for any of the traps laid for it. Nobody dared to hunt it too deep into the forest. For sure that was a good way to never return.
None of it was why the man came. No, it was worse than that.
The village lost a girl once, suicidally adventurous like two-year-olds tend to be. By the time her older sister remembered she’s supposed to watch after her, she vanished without a trace.
Folks put together a search party, pushed even deeper into the wilderness than when they hunted the ylvain, but without luck.
The father wanted to continue looking after dark. Nobody was willing to join him. (Naturally, the man huffed. It was a pity but children die all the time. Poking whatever hides in that forest could have wiped out the whole village.)
In the end, even the father came to his senses and returned home, to his other children he couldn’t afford to orphan. As a show of solidarity to the poor family, everybody let a candle or a lamp burn in their windows that night, even though they all knew how little hope there was.
The girl returned the following morning, hungry enough for two but otherwise perfectly fine, or so it seemed. A big talking ‘doggie‘ kept her warm at night, told her stories and then showed her the way home. She wanted it to come live with her, but it wouldn’t go near the houses.
Her parents took to keeping her in the house, else she took off towards the forest any chance she got.
“Nobody’s doing anything about it,“ the man said, both hands on a belt that was originally meant to hold a much larger gut. “But what if, my King, it was the ylvain who picked the Ititshi to do its bidding, and not the other way around? I think it ran out of Ititshis and now it’s trying to turn a human child.“
And Corrin could only stare, horrified, at a man who thought he was so clever, to reveal a two-year-old as a darklord in the making.
To the villagers‘ credit, the ylvain was even harder to track down than Rion had been.
She – because in Corrin’s mind it was too much of a coincidence to be anything or anyone else than her – knew the land better, was lighter on her feet, and although she didn’t know about him, specifically, she clearly expected to be hunted any day, anytime. Her fur was all over the place, but that seemed to be the only thing she could do nothing about: otherwise she avoided stepping onto soft ground as much as possible and even buried her waste; at least he couldn’t find any.
It wasn’t any physical trace that let him find her eventually, the day before he would have given up to resume his duties. It was the faint scent of vaguely familiar magic, pooling where she spent most of her time and disturbed like wisps of fog by his own when he stepped through in unicorn form.
He didn’t catch her unaware anyway. She let him come. She stood on the other side of a clearing, near a handy escape route through some bushes that was too low and narrow for him, and resolutely appeared to stand on all four legs, even though he knew the right hind one couldn’t hold her weight.
If he’d had any doubts about her identity until then, they would be gone now.
Her eyes were old and so very, very tired.
She was thin, too. He wondered if she could hunt at all, or survived solely on what she stole.
He shifted out of unicorn form, unarmed. It didn’t make her relax.
You care a whole lot for a few stolen chickens, she spoke in his head.
He breathed through a moment of familiar annoyance.
“It’s food. There isn’t much of it, still.“
He kept his tone as mild as he could make it, but she bared her teeth at him anyway. It felt more like mockery than a threat, though. He elected to ignore it.
“The girl you saved is alright. I managed to convince the village there’s nothing evil lingering on her.“
This time, she did growl.
You people and your hatred. Should I have eaten the child? Would that make them happier?
“Not her parents,“ he replied. “Or most of her other relatives.”
It’s something, I suppose.
Her leg was beginning to quiver. She refused to stop pretending she has full use of it.
He shook his head.
“You really raised each other, didn’t you? You and Rion.“
She lowered her head, narrowed her eyes at him.
He shook his head again, frustrated.
“I’m not your enemy, Lylacra. Whatever is good in him is to your credit.“
No, she snarled. There was good in him the whole time, ever since I knew him. He was raised by his parents until you people murdered them. So was I.
“So was I before Rion murdered mine in turn,“ he replied soberly. “This doesn’t make sense. It’s stopped. Let’s not start again.“
Slowly, her hackles went down. She even let her leg relax in the end.
So why did you hunt me?
Why indeed. There were so many replies he could give her, wanted to give her. One answer he didn’t want to give, which was the only truly kind one – but it wasn’t kind just to her, and that was the problem. He’s spent all the kindness towards Rion he could find in him before his “execution“. Now the thought turned his stomach.
“Why did you stay with him when you couldn’t stop him?“
She studied him, weary.
I didn’t have anyone else. And he was still him, underneath it all.
She didn’t sound as if she cared whether he understood what she meant. He didn’t blame her. He wouldn’t be able to explain the terrifying plunge Relonia took with the pendant to anybody else, either, though at least she got out of it on her own. She was the reason to both forgive and condemn Rion: forgive for how hard the influence was to resist, and condemn for showing it was possible after all.
He suddenly wondered if Lylacra would even recognize the polite new Rion. If he would even find time for her now. As much as his pain over her death had been real, she wasn’t the only friendly creature in the world to him anymore. He had Relonia and a whole court of sycophants and allies, quite a few of whom would undoubtedly find the ylvain weird.
She snorted and straightened her hind leg again.
You think too hard. If you have more to ask, ask. If you have something you came here to do, try.
“Would you like to come with me?“
She narrowed her eyes and pricked her ears at him.
“You’d never starve again. If you stay here, people will eventually hunt you down, or hurt that child for trying to befriend you. And I know you tried to stop him. I don’t want you to suffer.“
She bared her teeth.
And how much did you have to break his mind for him to tell you anything about me?
He flinched. Wanted to explain himself, then found out he couldn’t. “It was an accident” was close enough to the truth, but it wouldn’t fly. And certainly it wouldn’t matter to her.
I remember you. I know why you came to fight him. I don’t blame you. But don’t think you can play nice with me using knowledge you tore out of him for no reason. You won’t tame me.
He clenched his jaw and blinked a few times. It was tempting to just leave. She wasn’t stupid enough to stay near the same village, though he suspected she’d just move to the next one.
She’d die, eventually.
He couldn’t help but care, even though he knew he shouldn’t. Even though she got tangled in that whole horrible mess, she’d made her choices as much as anybody.
He briefly considered sending her over the mountains, but she’d never cross them alive. He didn’t want that. He didn’t want a single life on his conscience that he could spare. At the end of the day, it was as simple as that. He couldn’t forgive Rion, but he couldn’t take it out on Lylacra, either.
He huffed, exasperated.
“Fine. Don’t take it as kindness, then. We’re trying to build something like a working relationship with the Ititshi over the mountains in Kayalana. The king there is helping us rebuild. He has a lot to pay for here in Sirn. But if he ever learns I found you and didn’t help you, I think he’ll stop. Because he’s Rion.“
She froze. Then she hunched down, looking as if she wanted to pounce on him.
He showed her his palms, gentled his voice, and reminded himself very firmly that two people keeping Rion in check would be better than one.
“If you remember me, you may remember my friend Relonia. She took the pendant from Rion and found out firsthand how hard it is to resist. So she refused to kill him and let him go in secret. The next thing we know, he made himself King over the mountains. Not the same way as here, fortunately. The people there took him as a long-lost heir and he helped them overthrow their own tyrant.“
He wondered how much she even understood. Though she probably knew what a king is, all things considered.
“He has a good life. His people like him, Relonia married him. They have a baby daughter. I can’t promise you anything. He’s not alone anymore. But I’m sure he’ll want to see you at the very least, and make sure you don’t go hungry. I can get you to him safely. Or tell him to come to you, though I’d rather it was a few more years before he shows up on this side of the mountains again.“
She sat down, her crippled leg askew.
“I don’t know how to make you trust me. But you can’t survive like this anyway and you can’t cross the mountains on your own. Isn’t it worth the risk?“
She lowered her head. A concession of a game well played more than hope, he suspected.
I’ll go with you.
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