Dira - part 11

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It was not unusual for Kai to be silent, but lately he had been practically mute. Eirwenn watched him as he turned a fragment of a mirror between his fingers, idly spinning it to reflect the faint sunshine that glimmered against the ice. "Tell me what is troubling you, love." She said softly, and he frowned. "The mortal, Ysaye's girl." He admitted, flipping the mirror once more. "There is something wrong with her. Something so obvious I should have realized it at once. Yet somehow I can't put my finger on it."
"It has been all the time." Kai muttered. "Ysaye must have sensed it too, but like me he hasn't figured it out."
Eirwenn considered this for a moment, trying to recall the girl who had walked into the room arm in arm with her cousin. There had been something. A detail, not really noticed, but there nonetheless. "Well, he certainly must see something or he would not have bothered with teaching her our ways."
"Oh, I'm certain he sees plenty." Kai said dryly. "It is what he might not have seen that worries me."
Eirwenn bit on her lip, something tugging at the edge of her memory. Something she had not seen. But she must have, or she wouldn't think she hadn't. Details, it all came down to details. "They came in alone." She mumbled. "There were silver buckles on their coats. Grey fur coats. They walked arm in arm." She paused, working to recreate the memory. "They paused just inside of the arch, in the light of the chandelier. She was trying not to gawk, he was smiling. They were standing very close, their shadows seemed one shape." She cut herself short.
"The other shadow." They spoke the words in unison.
"Behind the ice." Kai looked stricken. "There was movement far behind it. Something hidden very, very deep. A presence."

"My Lord! My Lady!" Hrywa looked as if he had just sprinted through the entire castle. "Her Majesty the Snowqueen and her Consort have unexpectedly arrived, and demand an audience with you. It seems most urgent." He gasped. "They seemed... Concerned, Sir."
Ysaye's eyes widened, as if the thought of Eirwenn being concerned was deeply alarming. "Thank you Hrywa. I'll seek them out right away. Dira. Help Hrywa to a glass of water. I'll call for both of you later, if needed." He ordered, already halfway through the door as he talked.
Dira sheated her sword, pulling off her helmet and hurried over to a small tray balanced on the top of the wall that stretched around the garden. "Here!" She said, offering Hrywa a glass. "Drink."
He gulped the water down, his breathing now more even. "Thank you, darling." He said, watching her dusty appearance. "How are your lessons going?"
"Terribly." She said darkly. "I half suspect Ysaye only keeps them up because he won't admit I'm not turning out to be the weapon he had hoped."
"He claims you are making progress."
"He also claims humans are amazing creatures."
"Aren't you?" Hrywa mused, and when Dira didn't answer he merely smiled.
"I like fencing because it gives me something to do. I don't intend to become very good at it."
"Of course."
"Then why does Ysaye behave as if I'm training for the olympics?"
"The what?"
"Training to compete against the best."
"He rarely does anything without dedication."
Dira stopped to watch Hrywa a little more carefully, and he quirked a brow at her. "What?"
"You are being devious. That's not a good sign." She stated, and he looked away.
"I'm worried." He said after a long pause. "Because Eirwenn isn't one to scare easily, and she looked disturbed. I am also worried because my King is one of the strongest Rockwater has seen in some time, and lately he has seemed weary and prone to linger within his own thoughts."
"I assumed that was merely because of the cold." Dira admitted, and Hrywa smiled wryly. "Oh, if he was merely being whiny I would have told him to feed himself to the spider a long time ago." He said lightly. "Believe me."

"She came after me to save her sister."
"She came after you." Eirwenn pointed out. "Through a gate she should not have been able to see, let alone enter."
"Family. The blood calls." Ysaye said, but he didn't seem too certain of his own words. "It has happened that way before."
"Then explain how she seems to accept it." Eirwenn said pointedly. "You were the one who told me Dira didn't believe in magic. That you were under the impression that prior to you abducting her sister she had denied the existence of such things rather fiercely."
"According to her sister's memories that seemed to be the case." He shook his head. "I also believe I spoke to you with my concerns that she would pass through rage and into denial, at some point, dismissing me as insanity or dream or some such nonsense."
"You did." Eirwenn sighed. "And I, like you, failed to apreciate the obvious in such a statement."
Ysaye's eyes narrowed. "And you are here, now, because you have eventually figured it out." He deduced. "And whatever it is it is even worse than having to prove my existence at an inopportune moment."
"Well? Out with it then."
"Dira has not tried to deny this being real because she has known all along that it is." Eirwenn said carefully. "She has seen through the veil at some other time, stumbled upon it by chance, as her talent would have it."
It was fairly obvious from the expression on Ysaye's face that he could guess at what would follow, but Eirwenn put it into words anyway, driving her point home: "And whatever she saw on the other side, it scared her so badly she dejected the very idea of it. She has stowed the memory away, telling herself it never happened because it does not - can not - exist." She sighed. "You appearing to snatch her sister away would have her reacting instinctively, passing through the impossible gate to save Rose. Accepting as she did, though not necessarily conciously aware of it in the heat of the moment, that this is all real."
"Whatever she has seen, it must be bad." Ysaye muttered. "She does not scare easily."
"Yes." Eirwenn ran a hand across her face. "And it seems to be searching for her."
"Behind you, when you visited me, there was a shadow. So subtle, so cleverly hidden, so very, very far away we did not notice it until we recreated the moment yesterday."

Ysaye felt himself go numb. It all made perfect sense once you figured it out. Of course Dira had seen something like this before; she had accepted all of it far too easily. And leave it to her to also have attracted the attention of some Far Away entity which might very possibly be stronger than him. Which was searching for her.
"We'll need to figure out what we're up against." He said, his voice giving away just how dead tired he suddenly felt. "Somehow."
They both nodded in agreement, but none seemed to have any suggestions as to how he should proceed. "She's not going to like me asking her." He added. "If indeed she has run from it all along."
"She may not be aware she is running." Kai said slowly. "It depends on when this happened. Humans have an amazing capacity for forgetting what we don't want to think about."

Jennifer heard the doors to the elevator open, and hurriedly alt-tabbed away from the latest celebrity gossip. Weird; none seemed to be expecting any visitors. There was an opening at Jacob's, but he had just called to tell her he'd be off to lunch with some client or other. Not looking up immediately she listened to the sounds, guessing at who it might be. Two sets of footsteps, so light they were barely audible against the carpet. Their walk was determined, though. Quick, but not hurried. Someone in management, she guessed. There was a faint ringle of jewelry, bangles clinking against eachother. Definitely a visitor, then; Green and Miller rarely used jewelry at all to work. Raising her eyes to greet the ladies just as they would reach her desk, Jennifer's jaw went slack.
"Hello!" The two men in front of her smiled politely. "We would like a word with Rose Miller, is she available?"
"I'll... ah. I'll ask if she has a minute, mr...?"
"King." The taller one said. "And Winter."

"Rose?" Jennifer popped her head in through the door. "Do you have a moment? There is a Mr. King and Winter here to see you." She said, and Rose quirked a brow. "Who?"
"A King and Winter. Two fellas, came walking in looking queer as ever and asking for you." Jennifer replied, her voice inexplicably dropping to a conspiratory whisper.
Rose had an uncomfortable premonition. "King?" She repeated. "Tall man, looking rather... vain, but somehow intimidating?"
"Yes, precisely!" Jennifer exclaimed, and Rose felt herself go cold. "I see. Uhm... give me a minute, Jennifer, then send them in."

"Good morning, darling!" Ysaye greeted as he and Kai were walking into her office. "We were passing by, and thought we'd catch up." He added casually, dropping into a chair and waiting for Jennifer to leave before saying anything else. Rose managed a smile. "How quaint. It's been a long time."
"It has." Ysaye met her eye, his smile gone. "And right now I need your help."
"The girl is back at her desk." Kai said softly, dropping his mirror back into his pocket. "I think we may speak freely."
Ysaye nodded. "Rose, this is Kai." He offered, making an introductionary gesture. "The one with the Snowqueen." He added, as Rose apparently seemed to make some connection to the name.
"We are here because-"
"How is Dira? Is she alright?" Rose interrupted, and Ysaye nodded.
"She is well. She is currently busy with training a cat and learning etiquette and fencing. She loves the cat and despises the other two, but-
"Are you wearing jeans?" Rose couldn't help herself.
"I am. Dira once suggested I ought to... dress for the occasion, should I visit your world." Ysaye seemed impatient. "Listen, Rose, I will gladly answer your questions, but right now I have questions I need answered." He said, his voice surprisingly honest.
"What questions?"
"Regarding Dira." He replied, and Rose visibly stilled. "I once went through your memories, Rose. I sought out Dira in particular, and from what I could find she does not believe in fairytales like the rest of your family."
"She doesn't. Always rolled her eyes and sighed. Sometimes even turned it into a fullblown fight." Rose watched him carefully. "Why?" She demanded, and Kai cleared his voice. "If I may, Miss Miller?" He asked, waiting for her to nod before continuing. "Wouldn't you have expected someone like your sister, who so clearly have voiced her opinion, to show some denial when faced with something like what happened to the two of you?"
Rose opened her mouth, but had no answer. "When rushing to save you, that was her sole focus, but later?" Kai pressed. "Shouldn't she have refused to believe in what was going on around her? Claimed we were a dream, a myth, that none of it could be happening?"
Rose glanced from Kai to Ysaye, who met her eyee. "She hasn't." He said softly. "Not once."
Rose frowned. "Well, this is Dira we are talking about, she is pragmatical..."
"Hardly anyone is that pragmatical." Kai snorted. "Nay. Your sister takes all this in stride because she has known all along that it is the truth. She has seen something, somewhere, and it scared her so badly she has denied it ever since. The problem is we don't know what it was, and we are having a hard time figuring out how to ask her about it."
"Well, I certainly don't know!" Rose said, exhasperated. "She's never told me anything to even hint at something like that."
"She probably wouldn't." Ysaye said. "But perhaps you can think of something she hasn't told you? Something she has never wanted to discuss at all?"
"Well, no. There was magic, of course. Never liked any of that. She would put on her headset while my parents told me bedtime stories, ignoring us." Rose frowned. "The only thing she has inexplicably come to hate is her nickname."
"Poppy." Ysaye repeated. "Yes, she did not like that."
"But the name originated from my grandma, and Dira loved her dearly. She just... sometime -she might have been six or seven years old - she decided she was not Poppy, and insisted everyone call her by Dira. She has been very clear on that."
"Interesting." Kai murmured. "I wonder what spurred this change."
"Names have power." Ysaye said slowly. "And even if she didn't know that, she would be running. Your name is the first thing you change if you want to escape."
"Escape WHAT?!" Rose's voice was sharp and frightened. "Dira never had any trouble she couldn't handle. She's tough, she's smart, she's... She's Dira."
Kai sighed. "Listen to me, Rose. I am Kai, I am still mostly human, but I've seen a thing or two. What I've seen has changed me. When Gerda brought me back I was so tired, so afraid, so utterly thankful for being rescued that I tried to forget all that had happened. For the longest time I was able to pretend I had never heard of a queen or her world of snow. I lived with my family, I raised my kids and I forgot. Unlike the others, though, I could never look properly into a mirror or a piece of glass without thinking there was something looking back at me. I knew, despite my efforts to fool myself into thinking I did not, that there were greater mysteries beyond this world. I knew there was a queen of snow. I knew I was no longer the Kai I had been." He held her eye. "And when I see Dira I see that very same stubbornness, the refusal to admit even to herself that she is on the run. It doesn't matter that she is smart, sooner or later it will catch up with her."
"But why Dira?"
"She has a talent for it." Ysaye stated. "She has probably stumbled into it by chance or carelessness, but she has so far managed to escape whatever it was unscathed." He shook his head. "I can't help her if I don't know what I'm up against."
Rose pondered this for a moment. "I think..." She began, searching for the right words, "That if she wasn't in danger you wouldn't come here to see me. And if she is in danger, then you'd better make sure she knows." She turned her eyes to face Ysaye. "And you damn well better be keeping her safe!"
Ysaye jerked his head in what might be agreement, refusal or a laugh. "I will do whatever in my power to keep Dira safe, Rose. Even if I hadn't wanted to, our contract would make sure of that." He said at last.

Dira could guess that Eirwenn was still somewhere in the castle from the way some of the servants were wearing thick furs as they went about their duties. Ysaye and Kai was nowhere to be seen though, and Hrywa hadn't known anything but the fact the two of them had left while "looking peculiar and strangely dressed." Which was, in Dira's mind, pretty much the king's standard look.
But like Hrywa she too found herself pacing restlessly outside the portalroom, waiting for the two to come back. She would have tried to speak with Eirwenn, but she was afraid seeking her out on her own would only result in freezing to death at first sight, and so she waited for Kai and Ysaye.
A servant stopped by to offer them a cup of tea, leaving them with the teapot, muttering something about how everything was getting rather chilly and they were likely to want more than just the one cup. Dira sipped it testily, thankful for it's comfort; the temperature in the castle had dropped, even if it wasn't truly cold yet. Sweetkiss had crawled from her wrist to her hair, seeking warmth and tickling infernally on it's way.
"Does Eirwenn often visit?" She asked casually, and Hrywa shook his head. "No."
"But it happens?"
"Only occasionally, and hardly ever just for a friendly chat." He sighed. "Being the SnowQueen comes with a few... setbacks."
Dira hunched herself a little against the creeping cold. "I see."
"I don't know why she's here, Dira." Hrywa smiled bleakly. "And yes, I'm worried."
"Am I that obvious?"
"Anything else and you would have merely asked." He said lightly, and Dira managed a halfsmile. "Touché." She admitted. "But it's obvious that you are worried over something."
"I am worried over many things," Hrywa glanced towards the mirror. "None of which I'll discuss here."
Dira followed his gaze towards the mirror, realizing that this was probably the easiest room to spy on in the entire castle. "Then perhaps you would feel better discussing them in the kitchen?" She suggested, arching a brow. "I'm told they sometimes have some mighty fine wine there."
It took Hrywa a second to catch up with her, but then he let out a loud, barking laugh. "You'll be the death of me, Oak!" He grumbled, winking at her and turning his back to the mirror. "That sounds like a splendid idea. Shall we?" He grinned, offering his arm as Dira grinned back.
As they left the room there was a light shadow passing behind the mirror, but none of them noticed.


Eirwenn looked up from her mirror the moment Kai and Ysaye stepped into the room, her figure taut with anxiousness. "Well?"
"Her sister didn't know. From what little we were able to gather it must have happened while Dira was still very young, six or seven years old, maybe." Ysaye slumped into a chair, looking deep in thought. "It could be anything."
"Well." Eirwenn ran a hand through her hair. "At least we are aware of it."
"The girl is in the kitchen getting drunk with her servants and your councellor." She added as an afterthought. "She seems to have realized something is amiss. You'll have a hard time dodging questions." She smiled, her eyes pausing at Kai for a moment. "Humans." She said softly, her voice as warm as the SnowQueen could manage, and Kai met her eye. Ysaye shrugged.
"I would like to speak with her." Kai said abruptly. "I think perhaps I will have better luck in this matter than any of you."
Ysaye looked surprised, but he did not argue. "Well, someone has to." He admitted slowly. "I won't tell you not to."
With that settled they found there was little else to say, and Ysaye bid the two a good night shortly after. As he closed the door behind him he paused for a moment, toying with the idea of joining whatever was going on in the kitchen, but thought better of it and headed towards his own chambers.

Even Oak looked a little less glamorous the morning after, as he greeted her with a late breakfast a few minutes after she had forced herself to leave bed and face her studies in fae etiquette. "Good Morning, MyLady." He lied, not bothering to pull the curtains fully back from the windows, squinting a little at the sunlight filtering through them. "I trust you've slept soundly?"
"Like a rock." She replied, sharing in his distaste for light and mornings. He nodded carefully, expertly hiding a yawn. "His majesty has asked to see you later today. With Her Majesty the SnowQueen and her Consort." He added.
"Good. I'll have the sitting room made... ready." He said, and Dira had a vague memory of doing some interior decoration that very morning, along with her maids. "Good idea." She managed, with a - given the circumstances - straight face.
"I thought so, yes." Oak agreed. He turned as he was about to leave. "I believe you are getting better at Courtspeak, MyLady." He offered with a smile, and Dira made a short laugh. "Thanks."

Ysaye and Eirwenn did not stay for very long, although long enough for Dira to notice how they kept getting caught at studying her when they thought she wasn't looking. Eventually Eirwenn excused herself, claiming she was clearly causing Dira to grow cold, and Ysaye immediately offered to see her back to her suite. To Dira's surprise and curiosity Kai didn't seem inclined to leave with them. As she made the necessary polite remarks and goodbyes he sat patiently by the window, drinking tea and watching the fireplace.
When Dira turned to watch him, the question hanging in the cold air between them he shrugged. "I need to speak with you in private." He said, gesturing for her to retake her seat by the fire. "Regarding a matter of some importance."
She wasn't sure what to make of that, and decided that he probably didn't really expect an answer. Sitting herself down with her back against the roaring fire she watched him, waiting for him to continue at his own leizure.
Kai was silent for a long time, his eyes wandering across the room. "In a place like this there are only three kinds of humans, Dira." He said slowly. "The first kind is the human that fails, and meets a horrible death or even worse."
She shuddered as she remembered the corpse at the bottom of the pit. There were worse? But she did not interrupt him.
"The second is the human who manages to get back home, but finds himself forever changed by the experience. This human might live a somewhat peaceful and uneventful life, though, so long as he or she never stares too long at shadows or shiny surfaces." He smiled bleakly. "The third kind are those humans who slay the Jabberwocky or pull the sword out of the stone or whatever needs to be done. If you are unlucky enough to be that sort of human you'll find you're better off getting the hell out of here as soon as possible. Or teaming up with someone strong enough to protect you."
Dira couldn't help but glancetowards the door, thinking of Eirwenn. Was the reason Kai stayed with her that she was strong enough to protect him? But according to the story he had managed to get home. He had escaped, hadn't he?
"I couldn't help but staring at shadows and reflections." Kai said softly. "No matter how hard I tried. And though I had changed, my world had stayed the same. I no longer fit in, and I was no longer safe. I returned to the Queen."
"Where else could I go?" Kai met her eye. "I do not have your talent; I doubt I could carve out a piece of anyone else's world and make it my own. I needed help, and I knew only one who might provide it." A small, boyish smile krept into his eyes and tugged at the corner of his lips. "That, and I have to admit I enjoy her company."
Dira looked carefully at him, and Kai let her, his face giving nothing away but the fact he knew she was considering his words, putting two and two together.
"Why are you telling me this?"
"It certainly isn't because I need another mortal to confide in." Kai said soberly, his wry smile causing her to blush a little. She hadn't considered that option, perhaps because Kai seemed so... not human, anymore.
"I think, perhaps, I am trying to warn you in advance." He said after a pause. "You already knew what I have told you; you have felt it yourself. You are facing the question. Which sort of human are you?" He met her eye. "And we have reason to believe this is not the first time you are encountering it."
Her tongue suddenly felt too big for her mouth, her spit sticky and thick, her troath clogged. She worked to get rid of the feeling, but her mouth seemed set upon staying dry, no matter how she chewed and sucked at the inside of her cheek.
Kai watched her, nodding soberly to himself. "Yes. You've been running a long time, Dira." He said. "But there is no chance of going back to your old life now. There never was. Even if you hadn't gotten all mixed up in the business of Ysaye, whatever you have allready seen is out there. It is searching for you. You don't have the luxury of going home and think this all adream anymore. You never had. You will have to choose if you'll end up like some unwary traveller in some ditch, or if you'll slay the Jabberwocky."
Dira heard him, but she did not answer, too busy with the feeling of her mouth and the sudden terror looking out at her from the giant hole in the wall his words had blasted in her minds carefully fortified stronghold. She had erected several walls around the memory, making sure it was unable to escape, telling herself that behind those walls, inside that dungeon there was nothing. She had spent years forcing it into oblivion, and now it stared back at her, the bricks that held it disintegrating as she stared back.
"I don't remember." She whispered. "I don't remember what I saw. I just remember beeing seen. The look in it's eyes was... old. I've never seen it anywhere else until... He has that same look." She rambled, shock rushing to claim the space previously occupied by denial. "Not exactly the same. I think not. Maybe. I was too young to fully understand all of it, it is very old and very far." She frowned, her voice trailing off. Then she snapped her head back, meeting Kai's eyes with all her fear and confusion. "It is searching for me?!" She asked wildly, and Kai nodded.
"It has not found you yet."

Dira didn't step out of her rooms for two days. She wouldn't let anyone in, either, causing much fuss and concern among her maids. Even Oak and Hrywa looked worried, shooting quick glances at their king if he passed them. Eirwenn and Kai waited for a day more, but eventually headed back home, leaving Ysaye to sort out his human on his own.
When the fourth day passed he realized she was not going to snap out of it on her own, and reluctantly forced himself to go knock on her door. "Dira."
There was not an answer, but he thought he might have heard a shrill wail. "Dira, there is nothing good coming from hiding in your room."
Still no answer. "I am not going away until you've talked with me, and I am not really bound by obstacles like doors unless I feel like being polite." He said calmly. "Please, open up." He added as an afterthought.
A few seconds passed, and then he heard the key being turned, and the door was opened just enough to let him through, before securely shut again. She looked awful, he decided. Bleak and haggard and clearly without too much sleep for the past few days. She glanced at him, but hurried to turn her eyes away, skittering across the floor to sit down in the middle of her couch, a blanket draped around her like some sort of absurd woollen fort. He noticed that every single mirror was positioned so that it reflected another, a trick that would make it hard for anything or anyone to find anything but a headache should they look through them.
"When did you last sleep?" He asked, and she shrugged. "I don't know."
"The others are worried about you." He gave her a critical look. "I am worried about you."
"Whatever is after you it has not found you." Ysaye decided there was no reason to be roundabout. "It may never find you."
"Yes." Her voice was nothing but a squeak, a thin, terrified noise that made it clear she did not believe him.
"Kai told me you can't remember it." Ysaye crouched in front of her, slowly starting to worry if his prized mortal had been irreperably damaged. She shook her head, refusing to look at him. Not knowing what to do he let out a frustrated sigh, rubbing his eyes to force away the awkward helplessness he was starting to feel.
"How old are you?"
The question startled him. "I'm very old." He said after a moments consideration. "Why?"
Dira risked meeting his eye. There was a new waryness in hers, he noticed, her gaze was guarded in a way it had not been before. "You look like it. The feeling when you look at things is the same." She struggled to explain, but he kept silent. "Whisker looks like a cat. She looks at things in the same way other cats do. When you meet her eye a cat stares back at you." She frowned, chewing on her lip. "Looking into your eyes you feel... your eyes have a very similar way of ... seeing... as those of the thing I can't remember. Sometimes when I look at you, it feels as if it stares back at me."
"I think," Ysaye said ruefully, "That that is merely how it feels when meeting the eye of someone very old." He offered a smile, trying to make her relax, tempting her out of her new shell with an offer of comraderie. "Very few are able to hold my gaze the way you do, Dira. Most turn their eyes to the floor long before they have a chance to glimpse what might be looking back at them."
She risked another glance at him, and he willed himself to appear entirely harmless, suddenly feeling uncomfortably aware that while she may not be able to read his memories the way he could read hers, she was capable of reading more of his thoughts than most others. It made him feel vulnerable, and he felt a brief pang of guilt towards Rose Miller.
"I'm frightened." Dira admitted, huddled underneath her blanket. "I wish I could just close my eyes and go home." She shook her head woefully. "But it's just like Kai said, isn't it? I can't get out of here, and even if I could I can't escape the other Big Bad. So I should team up with someone stronger than me. Except he is also a Big Bad, and I'm not certain he's the better one." She suddenly looked him straight in the eye, a keen, hard stare. "I have not forgotten what happened to the one who tried to beat you before me." She warned, and Ysaye nodded.
"Then what do you want, Dira?" He asked, wondering how he could reclaim the fragile trust she had seemed to put in him before. The trust that he would, at the very least, hold true to his word.
"Tell me who and what you are." She demanded. "Tell me the truth."
"The.." He seemed genuinely baffled. "But WHY?!" He asked, as if she had just requested he paint his castle orange.
"It would make a lot of things easier."
"I am absolutely certain it would not." He argued softly. "But why the truth? I could spin you stories, wonderful, wild stories to keep you entertained-"
"The truth."
He looked up at her, his expression softening, his voice almost hinting at helplessness. "I don't think I know the truth anymore." He admitted.
Whoop! Another chapter of Dira, this time with a little character development hopefully coming together. ;)
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wsablek's avatar
Still, lurking. Still loving your prose, and checking on the comic semi-often. I hope you are doing okay.