Inbetween: Chapter Twenty Seven

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As soon as Asa and Willow calmed down and started to explain what they had seen in the sky, Yuri knew what was going on. He knew of only one person in possession of such a ship and he doubted there were others like it in the world.

“It has to be Alenna,” he said with surety.

“Who’s Alenna?” Willow asked without missing a beat.

He tried to gather his thoughts so he could explain Alenna in the clearest way possible. “So you know Erramun? He’s got more land, money, and power than we can even imagine. Alenna is probably the closest thing to competition he has these days.”

“Okay. So a super rich lady with a big flying ship is visiting the city. Should we be worried?”

“It’s never a good sign when powerful people decide to pay attention to a small, out of the way place like this,” Asa chimed in.

Yuri nodded. “It was a problem with just Erramun here and whatever schemes he might have in mind. This could easily turn into a nightmare. Now we have to worry about Alenna irritating Erramun and starting a war.”

“Do you think it is likely to reach that point?” Asa asked as he started to replenish their water flasks using the new water shards he bought that day.

“With only Nyura there to mediate, I can’t imagine the situation won’t spiral out of control.”

Yuri knew he needed to be worried. This was a bad situation for Detreya. It could easily escalate into an all-out war. If Erramun and Alenna started fighting, there was a good chance the entire country would end up as collateral damage.

He needed a plan to prevent disaster from happening. One benefit of being stuck out here was that he had plenty of time to think through all possible avenues. He did not have the means to carry out any plan he might come up with, and as long as he stayed out here in isolation, he had no way to keep abreast of new developments that might alter any and all strategies he could come up with. Overall, it was impossible for him to make a difference as long as he was holed up in this cave.

Yuri knew he was out here for a reason. He understood he would be a target if he was known to be in the city. He did not want to live like that, and he did not want to put Asa or Willow at risk by association. If he stayed out here in hiding, at least they could travel freely without causing too much of a stir.

So far, Asa seemed to have no problem traveling back and forth, even though he was well known in the city. Willow was unknown to anyone in this world so she would never be at risk of being recognized. No one knew her so no one would ever think to associate her with him if they were not given any reason to do so.

The conversation lapsed into silence and Yuri knew he was closer to sulking than planning at this point. There was not much for him to do in this cave other than sulk. He needed to have something other than thinking to do and keeping a low profile did not offer him that opportunity.

The need to remain virtually invisible even while out here had them using more magic than would be typical while camping out in the desert. They wanted to avoid being seen so they stayed in the caves, they dared not light a fire and they tried not to spend too much time lingering at the mouth of the cave in case they would be seen. He was on even tighter restrictions than the others. Even looking outside was considered too big of a risk.

He reminded himself to be patient. He told himself he was doing a good job at being patient by not complaining to the others, but on the inside he was clawing at the walls, trying to find a way to hang onto some sense of normalcy while he was partitioned off from life.

Using magic meant there was a lot less work to put into surviving, but it cost a lot more to do it this way. In addition to his other worries, he had to wonder whether Asa would be able to sustain them with his savings for much longer. Yuri knew he could help in that regard if only it were possible for him to claim his own money. If that was possible, he would have no need to spend the money on such things. If he could get to his money, he would be safe and welcome in the palace and then he could make sure Asa and Willow wanted for nothing.

Thinking about such things did him no good, but his mind continued to drift back to it. He paced from one end of the cavern to the other. He spent so much time doing this during their first days staying in this place, that he felt certain his feet had memorized every bump and groove in the ground. If he kept it up much longer, he might end up wearing his own groove into the floor. He hoped that he would not be here long enough to see that happen, but at the rate he was going, and the lack of progress they were making toward finding a way for him to go home, he knew he should resign himself to being here for a while longer.

He knew he would be stuck here until something changed, but he could not shake the feeling that he needed to be the one to create that change. He could not go out there and do anything himself, which required him to rely on others. He knew he could count on Asa, but he hated to do it. He did everything he could to make sure Asa felt like his equal. That was not always so easy since his position as Durya’s heir put him in a place of privilege where Asa could not always follow him. Often, he pretended he did not have any extra privilege so they could act more like equals.

Now he was diminished to nothing. He had no privileges left. For all intents and purposes, he no longer existed in this world. Asa was the one with power now. Yuri had nothing unless his friends gave it to him.

Well, maybe not nothing. He still had access to his mind. He knew things and he could still contribute with that knowledge. It just did not feel like his guesses and theories made a difference.

After being stranded and mostly helpless in Willow’s world, he never imagined that he would be in an even more compromised position here. He thought he could find a silver lining once he got over the shock of it. The shock had worn off at this point and nothing was improving.

The longer he paced, the more aware he became of the two sets of eyes on him. He had been caught in his own thoughts so often lately that he could not even be sure how long they had been watching him. Now that he was aware of it, he knew better than to ignore them.

He sighed and sat down again near Willow. Even if pacing did seem to help his mind work through some of the blocks stress and lack of stimulation put up, it was not going to work now that he knew he was being watched.

Once he sat down, he waited a moment for someone to say something. They were silent and seemed to be waiting for him to do the talking.

Yuri gave in eventually. “Asa,” he began carefully, “you need to go back to the palace.”

“I can’t just go back to the palace, Yuri. I disappeared without warning days ago. I can’t appear out of nowhere and expect no one to question me.”

“You have to go back,” he insisted.

“If I go back I’ll be in just as much trouble as you would be if you just showed up out of the blue.”

“No. You won’t.” The gears started turning in Yuri’s mind. He knew this was risky. He did not relish the idea of putting Asa in any sort of danger, but he also had absolute faith in his ability to survive. Asa had the training and intelligence to accomplish this. Erramun might prove to be a bit of a wild card in this plan, and Alenna was a complete unknown, but if they moved quickly he did not think Alenna would have enough time to gain Nyura’s trust and begin to influence her.

Erramun would be their biggest problem in that regard. He was here for a reason and he had already proven that manipulating Nyura was part of his plan. Thinking about it made Yuri sick. Nyura was many things: weak willed, prone to getting lost in her own flights of fancy, moody and easily distracted, but Yuri refused to believe she was a bad person. Terribly ill-suited to rule over any number of people, yes, but not due to any malicious reasons on her part. Her personality and temperament did mean that it was easier for her to be manipulated by those that might wish to intentionally cause harm. Even if she was being influenced by forces that might guide her to do evil, Yuri believed Asa would still be able to appeal to her better nature.

Asa had told him of how he had managed to do just that previously by offering himself up as a means of finding Yuri. Doing the same again should not be too difficult. It might not be possible to approach it the same way, but Yuri felt sure that Asa could say something to convince Nyura to accept him back. She might not always be logical or sensible, but she was capable of behaving with compassion. It was just a matter of reasoning in a way that appealed to her.

Yuri knew all about his adopted sister’s obsession with him. It made him uncomfortable and it was more than enough to motivate him to stay away from her under almost any circumstances. Fortunately, he did not have to go anywhere near her for this to work. He needed to invoke the possessiveness from a distance. He knew he could easily get Asa to do it. As long as she felt Asa was the key to getting him back, Nyura would welcome him back with open arms.

Asa was not easily convinced to join in his scheme. Yuri knew it would work, but so many of the particulars were contingent upon the conditions Asa would find upon arriving in the palace, that he understood well enough why Asa was skeptical. He had faith in Asa’s ability to read the situation and figure out what to say to make himself safe with Nyura. Asa had played that game already and he managed to stay afloat for weeks. Getting back into her good graces might be a bit more complicated, but there was no reason Asa should not be able to handle it. He knew everything he could need to know to make this work, he just needed to be sure of himself when he did it.

Yuri knew things had to be this way. He could not sit here doing nothing and knowing nothing while Alenna and Erramun played games with Nyura and the entire population of Detreya. He was itching to go himself, but he knew that Asa would never allow that to happen so he tried to push that idea to the side. The only alternative he saw to that option, was to have Asa go.

The more he thought about it, the more conflicted he became. There were risks and Asa was not eager to return to the palace. It did not seem as though it was fair for him to press anyone else into doing something so risky. He screwed up his courage and approached the subject once again. There was no way he was going to let this go. He just needed to find the way for them to handle it that would get the least number of people upset and most importantly keep them all safe.

“Maybe I should go,” he offered finally.

“No,” Asa replied without a second of hesitation. “No way. I’m not letting you go back there after all the trouble I went through to get you out of the city safe and sound.”

“There’s nothing else we can do. We can’t let Erramun and Alenna turn Detreya into a war zone.”

“Asa’s right,” Willow chimed in. “We’ve worked so hard to keep you safe and hidden. You can’t throw that away now.”

“I can’t see any alternative. If I’m not willing to do what needs to be done, I shouldn’t ask anyone else to do it for me.”

“No. That’s exactly what you should do. You’re not going back into the city before we make sure it is safe for you to return.” Asa crossed his arms and stared Yuri down.

He sighed. It might have been what he originally wanted, but after thinking about it for a while, it was the last thing he wanted to have happen. Keeping the people he loved safe and defending the people of Detreya were his responsibility. He hated that it seemed like he had offered to go himself to manipulate Asa into going. It was the last thing he wanted to do, but of course, the expression of his change of opinion resulted in him getting what he no longer wanted.

Nothing seemed to be going his way today. Now on top of all his usual worries, he had to think of a way to get Asa and Willow to see things the way he now saw them. It did not seem likely to happen. Now he had to contend with them taking sides against him. For some reason, he never imagined that would happen.

He wanted them to be closer, but he did not want them to be on a different side than his. He always assumed they would both be on his side. Now he realized he had set himself up to be outnumbered all the time. One on one he could contend with either of them and reason with them until they saw things his way. He did not know if he could even get one of them to budge if they had each other to lean on for support.

This might be an impossible task. He wanted to know whether or not he was able to contend with the odds that currently faced him, but he did not think this particular issue was the one that he wanted to waste even an hour on for experimentation. This issue needed quick, decisive action.

He resigned himself to not getting his way this time. They needed information and someone was going to put themselves at risk to get that information. The sooner they figured it out, the sooner they could know what was really happening.

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