- Project: Inbetween
- Chapter: Thirty One
- Word count: 2,790
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Asa returned before another day was through much to Willow’s relief. Yuri became increasingly jumpy the longer Asa was gone. Willow noticed the tension in Yuri’s frame immediately relaxed when his eyes lighted upon Asa again. She felt relieved herself to see him back safe and sound and to know that Yuri would calm down.
Initially, she hung back and let the two of them reunite with at least what passed for privacy in this cave. After they had a moment to themselves, her curiosity urged her to step forward. She wanted to know what would come next just as much as Yuri, perhaps even more since she understood nothing about the situation that would allow her to accurately predict what might happen. She needed to hear it straight from Asa’s mouth or she would continue to be in the dark.
“Well,” Yuri said with a leisurely drawl that did not do an adequate job of hiding his impatience. “What did you find out.”
Asa shrugged. Willow could not help but notice the dark circles around his eyes and the tightness around his mouth. He might have been in a less harsh, more stimulating environment the past few days, but that obviously did not mean that he had fewer worries weighing on his mind. She wanted to know what he had been through and what it meant for them all.
“Things still aren’t going well in the palace,” he began carefully.
“I figured that much,” Yuri said as his shoulders slumped in defeat. “It was too much to hope that Nyura could break away from Erramun’s influence on her own.”
“Yeah,” Asa agreed. “But Alenna isn’t interested in competing with Erramun for her favor.”
“What’s she doing here then?”
“She wanted to meet with you.”
“But I’ve been gone. Nyura’s been in charge for weeks now. Why would she think she should meet with me? How could she hope to see me in the palace when I’m still missing?” Yuri’s voice had a panicked edge that put Willow on alert.
The longer she spent listening to Yuri and Asa talk about the political mechanizations in place the better of an idea of the situation she got. She thought at this point she had a pretty good grasp of the problems that stood in Yuri’s way. Even so, she continued to hang back. This was not her world and she did not feel she had any right to butt in and interfere.
If they asked her for something that would be different, but as long as they seemed to be content to take care of things themselves, she thought it was for the best if she tried to have as little impact on this world as possible. She did not know much about traveling between worlds, but she imagined the rules were something like the ones about time travel she learned from movies. Anything she did here could have huge consequences she might not be able to imagine. It would be for the best if she tried not to meddle in the affairs of this world.
She knew time travel probably had next to nothing to do with what she was currently experiencing, but the logic of interference being a bad thing seemed to make sense and it gave her the perfect excuse not to engage with or deal with the dilemma she found herself in regarding Yuri and Asa. She did not know why they even wanted to include her in their relationship. Just watching the two of them together proved to her that what they had now worked. They cared about each other and seemed to even intuitively know what the other was about to say or do much of the time. It seemed like adding her to the mix would only mess things up. Yet, for some reason, Yuri wanted her badly enough to keep bringing it up. She did not know exactly what Asa thought about it, but considering how in sync the two of them seemed to be, she could imagine he was on the same incomprehensible page.
She could not help thinking about it. The idea was not entirely unappealing to her, but she was far too cautious to agree to something so extreme without careful consideration. Even if there were a number of very obvious perks to saying yes in the short term, she knew it would only complicate matters down the road, and things were complicated enough as they were. She knew Yuri had been hoping for her to come around to this idea for a while, but the fact of the matter was, even before she knew about Asa, she had reservations about acknowledging her attraction to Yuri because of the apparent temporary nature of their connection. Allowing their relationship to progress would only end up hurting them.
She knew she needed to pay attention to what they were saying. Her own inner turmoil was a lot less important than figuring out if Yuri had the ally he needed to get them all out of living in a cave in the desert. Willow looked forward to their circumstances changing.
Not only was she not a fan of the whole mandatory camping trip situation, but she wanted them to have better resources so she could start working on finding a way to get home. She left so suddenly and with no warning. She did not know if her family would even be able to figure out what had happened to her. After all, only her grandmother had noticed Yuri was not an ordinary human being. If her grandmother did not pick up on the rest of the clues, her family might never know what had happened to her.
That settled it. Willow needed to stop getting caught up in her own thoughts and pay attention. Her focus shifted back to Yuri and Asa. She assumed they were still talking about Alenna.
Asa shrugged. “She said she only heard about your father’s death before she set out. It’s a long journey and we did try to keep your disappearance under wraps for as long as we could.”
Yuri shook his head at that. “I just can’t believe she came here to see me. It wouldn’t take her that long to travel here, and even if she did not know I wouldn’t be in the palace, why would she want to see me?”
“I don’t know,” Asa admitted. “There was something about her that put me on edge, but I wasn’t able to put my finger on it.”
“We’ll have to see what she wants.” Yuri raked his fingers through his hair. “At this point, we’re not in a position to turn away potential allies.”
Willow could not resist the urge to butt in any longer. She blurted out her thoughts before she was able to express any sort of restraint. She tried to let the two guys run the show when it came to matters she did not yet understand, but she had been quiet this whole time and she would burst if she held back any longer.
“Are you sure it’s a good idea to meet with her. If you’re not sure what she’s doing, maybe it would be better to find someone else to help.”
Yuri shook his head. “We can’t just ignore her. Even if she has an ulterior motive, that doesn’t mean we can’t find a way to benefit from speaking to her. We need someone to help us against Erramun otherwise we’re going to be stuck living in this cave for a long, long time.”
“It just sounds like she might be dangerous,” Willow demurred.
“We’ll take precautions,” Yuri assured her. “If she comes to see us on the terms she laid out for Asa, I think we can trust her not to be an immediate threat.”
“And if she doesn’t follow those terms? What if she brings a small army with her?”
“Then we don’t let her see us.”
She nodded. “I’d better get ready. If we can meet with her safely I want to look like a real person.”
“Who said you were going? It might be dangerous.”
“I said I’m going,” she insisted.
Asa stepped back. She felt a bit pleased to see that he was not eager to take a side in their argument.
“I’d rather know you were safe.”
“Is Asa going?”
“Of course I am,” Asa chimed in.
“Then that settles it. I’m going too.” She folded her arms across her chest and set her jaw. “I can look after myself and I’ve protected you before too.”
“I know,” Yuri conceded.
“I’m going,” she said again just to make sure the matter was settled.
She knew she was being childish. She just could not stand that idea of being left behind. Against her own better judgment, she pushed herself into their lives. She was not sure what she was thinking. It might have just been boredom, or she might have started to accept that she had a place here after all. She would not be going home anytime soon and if she wanted to ever have a chance to look for a way back home, she would need to help Yuri be safe in this world again.
They waited in the shadow of a rocky outcrop where they would not be easily visible, even from above. Even though they were expecting someone, they knew better than to risk staying put in a visible position out in the open. Anything and everything could go wrong if the wrong person happened to spot them.
Yuri noticed every fidget and twitch as Asa and Willow waited with him. He knew he was perfectly still. He was hyper aware of his body right now. He did not want to lose the correct frame of mind for what was to come so he just concentrated on keeping his body perfectly still and his breathing steady.
He felt Willow watching him. Undoubtedly she wondered what he was doing. He did not want to explain and allow a conversation to start when he needed the silence to keep him grounded.
Night was falling rapidly. The temperature was falling too. That meant their meeting was about to take place.
Against his will, Yuri felt his breathing and heart rate pick up. He tried to control it. He needed to have his body calm and under control to keep his mind from slipping off into dangerous territory.
His eyes drifted up to the sky. He was the only one of the three that had not seen the air ship on its way into the city. Now he found himself hoping to see it and know what the fuss was all about once and for all. Air ships were so rare in Detreya that he only knew they existed from stories.
Without any sort of fanfare, or noise to announce its coming, Alenna’s air ship glided into Yuri’s field of vision. He did not know exactly what he had been expecting, but he knew that it was even more spectacular than he could have imagined. Its sails reached nearly to the stars and the body of the ship beneath those cloud-like sails gleamed. He found himself staring up into the sky as the ship flew overhead. He knew that he would be even more overwhelmed by it than he was now if he had not experienced even stranger large machines used for transport in Willow’s world.
He did not know how Asa was remaining so calm. He did not have the experience of the strange, loud, bright cars and trucks of Willow’s world and yet, he remained quiet and stoic. Yuri did his best to keep his expression cool and calm as well.
Willow did not bother with hiding her emotions in the least. She gasped at the sight of the airship and avidly watched its progress overhead. The ship impressed her even though she came from a world full of bright, flashy vehicles of unknown means of locomotion. She even owned one. As far as Yuri knew, it did not fly, but it was an impressive machine none the less. Willow’s awed response to the airship left him feeling a bit better about his own reaction.
They watched and waited as the airship slowly lost altitude as it lazily circled the area. No one moved or said a thing until they saw the anchor drop. Willow gasped and started to stand up. Yuri quickly reached over and grabbed her arm.
“Not yet,” he whispered hastily.
“Okay,” she said with a frustrated little huff.
They waited together until they saw someone descend from the ship. They were too far away to see just who it was, but no one else seemed to be disembarking to join the first person. Whoever it was, they appeared to be alone.
Yuri was torn between waiting and watching a while longer and rushing in to learn everything he could from Alenna. He was sure that it was Alenna that left the ship. It would be a risky choice on her part, but his gut told him that it was her. At the same time, he knew that he should wait to see what else might transpire. He also wanted to seem less eager than he was to hear what she had to say. There was a certain degree of power to be gained by seeming as though this meeting was for her benefit.
He forced himself to wait a moment longer. No one else left the ship. Alenna remained alone on the ground and Yuri could no longer feel justified in waiting any longer. He needed to know what she had to offer him and what she expected in return.
He stood up. Asa and Willow rose to their feet immediately as well. They stood on either side of him. He glanced from one to the other, confirming with a look that he had their support before he started to walk forward.
Asa had warned him that Alenna defied expectations. He still found himself thinking that she looked too ordinary and too unassuming to be the person they were looking for. He could not imagine the woman before him doing anything unusual, let alone flying in a giant air ship. This had to be part of her ruse. No one suspected her of being capable of anything so she got away with more than the average person. She might not look it, but she had to have a lot of nerve underneath it all. He could respect that.
She looked calm and relaxed while she watched them approach. She seemed completely at home standing in the middle of the desert near a huge airship and waiting to conspire against an insanely powerful High Lord. Yuri did not think he was capable of looking so calm and composed anywhere. There was something special about her, that was for sure.
“Ah!” she said with a pleasant smile spreading across her features. “You must be Yuri.”
“And you must be Alenna,” he replied.
She inclined her head slightly. “I’m sorry about what happened to the duke. He was a good leader and I can tell he is sorely missed by your people.”
“Yes. I’ve been worried about what will happen to them now that Durya is gone,” Yuri admitted.
“Shall we go somewhere more comfortable to continue talking?” she asked with a gesture to her ship.
Yuri shook his head. “We should sit down and get to know each other, but not on your ship.”
“Prefer neutral ground?” she asked with a slight smirk.
“Of course,” he agreed.
“Fair enough,” she said with a shrug.
Yuri decided it was time for him to take the lead. He turned and lead the group back to the place where they had been sitting and waiting. It might not be the best spot in the world, but it was hidden from direct sight and had not been too terribly uncomfortable while they were waiting. It would do in a pinch. It was best not to stay out in the open just in case someone took notice to Alenna’s ship flying out here and decided to follow. It was also not safe for them to go aboard her ship just yet, not only for the reason of the ship possibly being followed but also because he was not yet sure that they could trust Alenna. Their hiding place was more secure than open ground and did not trap either party in uncertain territory.
It did not take them long to get settled back into their hiding place, even with a fourth person to squeeze in. Then the discussion could truly begin.