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The Lady's Choice

 
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Aurelia
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 19, 2014 11:41 am    Post subject: The Lady's Choice Reply with quote

A few days after Rhys and Natalya had returned to New York, a blue SUV pulled up the gravel drive that led to the old Donovan place completely unannounced. What better way to check in on someone, after all, than to do it without warning? That way, they'd have no time to prepare and no time to hide any nefarious dealings, if there were any nefarious dealings going on. The man behind the wheel wasn't overly thrilled with the prospect of playing babysitter to a half-demon witch who might or might not lose control of her darker half. He thought there were far better things he could be doing with his time - like research, for one - but when the Lady of Avalon requested - no, demanded - your help, you didn't refuse, if you knew what was good for you.

And he had learned over the last few years that, no matter how strange the request might be, in the end, she was always right. Somehow he got the feeling he was being set up on a blind date, but he pushed that thought from his mind and pocketed the keys, while gathering his courage. If it wasn't for the GPS, he might have missed this place all together. It didn't look like much, but then he wasn't exactly expecting the Ritz.

Since Rhys and Natalya had gone back to New York, Aurelia had turned her full attention to making the cabin liveable once again. She'd cheated, of course, on the cleaning, but everything that needed fixing, she was insisting on doing by hand. Thanks to Natalya's Olympic spending spree, the house was fully equipped with everything Aurelia needed; even down to the black Jeep Cherokee that was parked on the gravel in front of the cabin. From the outside, it didn't seem like much had been done to the place, and it certainly didn't offer much in the way of welcome to the unexpected visitor. Nor was there any sign of the inhabitant - Aurelia was busy out the back, oblivious to the sound of the car pulling up nearby.

"Huh," he mused thoughtfully to himself when he noticed the duplicate of his own vehicle parked outside the cabin, though his was a deep shade of blue - his favorite color. Coincidence. That was all it was. He stepped out of the car, shoes crunching on the gravel as he made his way toward what appeared to be the front door, assuming, from the presence of the Jeep, that someone was around somewhere, though he had yet to see any hint of the woman who was staying here.

Finally, as he approached the house, there came a sound of someone in residence. From the back erupted a loud yelp - of surprise or pain, it was impossible to tell - sending the various animals and birds in the area into a sudden frenzy to get away. This, in turn, was followed by a loud female laugh, and the sound of a voice talking to itself in amusement.

He arched a curious brow as he overheard the yelp followed by a rustle as various animals seemed to scurry and flap away into the surrounding woods. It was curious, strange even, but fortunately for him, he was accustomed to such things. In fact, he made a living out of studying them. He made his way onto the porch, glancing around at the woods that surrounded the small cabin, finding it quaint, if a little bit isolated. Turning back toward the door, he heard a woman laugh and then mutter something, as if she was either talking to herself or a companion, though he heard no reply. Well, it was better than being attacked by a rabid guard-dog, anyway. He lifted a hand to ring the doorbell, but it seemed there was none, and so he rapped his knuckles on the door instead.

The knock, at least, seemed to get her attention, if not the reply he might have wanted. "Come around to the back!" that same voice called out, rich with an accent most would take for French. "Take the left side of the house, the right is too overgrown right now!"

"Why not just walk right through to the back?" he wondered aloud, but did as he was told, heaving a small, impatient sigh as he stepped back off the porch and started around to the right side of the house, rather than the left. It wasn't that he was unclear which was his right and which was his left, but he thought if she was looking at the house from the back, she must mean his right, which was her left. Unfortunately for him, he was wrong, as the right proved nearly impassable. By the time he struggled his way through the overgrown brush and brambles to the back of the house, his suit coat was covered in leaves and pricklers and his unruly dark curls were even more unruly than usual. "I don't see how anything could be more overgrown than that!" he declared in a slightly scratchy voice that sounded a little irritated.

What awaited him at the back of the house was a pleasant surprise. Aurelia had somehow unearthed a lawn of sorts from the encroaching creep of the forest, and had spent the morning cutting out beds and turning soil to receive the plethora of plants she had waiting to be planted on the back steps. And, of course, there she was, too - dark hair falling over her shoulders, contrasted against the bright blue of her shirt, as she twisted to look back at him. "That would be because you took the wrong path," she commented mildly, pushing herself up onto her feet, wiping the soil from her hands onto her jeans. "And I would be a fool if I invited an unknown stranger to walk through my home, would I not?" Satisfied her hands were at least mostly clean, she smiled at him. "I assume you are looking for the owner. I am the tenant."

He picked a particularly dangerous-looking prickly thing from his coat, and attempted to shake it from his hand onto the ground before lifting his head to take a look at the woman he'd been sent here to keep an eye on. "Oh!" he exclaimed as he was met with a very different view than the one he'd envisioned in his head, but then witches really didn't have warts, like they did in the storybooks. "I, uh... No, actually, I'm looking for an Aurelia Dupuis," he said, pronouncing her name perfectly.

Looking him over, Aurelia touched the tigers eye hanging at her throat for a moment before choosing to answer, not entirely sure what to make of the absent-minded professor standing in front of her. "Who, may I ask, is looking for her?" she asked politely, wary of strangers in her own turn.

"Oh," he said again, as if just remembering his manners. "My name is Ian," he said, as he tried to disengage the prickly thing from his finger by rubbing them together which only seemed to make it cling all the harder. "Ian Evans," he added.

"Oh!" Just like that, the wariness in her face dissipated, replaced by a more welcoming smile as she offered him her - only slightly grubby - hand. "I am Aurelia Dupuis," she introduced herself. "You are the gentleman Rhys told me I should expect, yes? Had I known you were coming today, I would not have made you walk around the cabin."
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Aurelia
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 19, 2014 11:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

He was still trying to get that sticky weedy thing off his finger and so he was unable to shake her hand, grubby or not. Instead he shook his own hand, growing more flustered by the moment. The man was covered in the things and not looking overly happy about it. "Sorry, I... seem to have misunderstood your directions."

"Oh, goodness." The witch made no attempt not to laugh at the sight of him trying to remove the various sticky pieces of plant life from himself. "May I help you with that?" she offered. "And, of course, offer you a drink."

"That would be most gracious of you, yes," he replied, with the utmost of good manners and just a hint at what might be a proper English accent.

"Come inside then, Mr. Evans." With delicate fingers, she picked the sticky barb off his hand and flicked it away into the overgrown undergrowth before moving to lead the way over the back porch and into the kitchen beyond. Without thinking, she put the kettle on the stove to boil, assuming he would prefer tea to coffee. "Did you have much trouble finding the place?"

He watched as she picked the barb from his fingers before sucking at a single speck of blood that rose to the surface, slightly annoyed that she'd made it look so easy. "No," he replied, lying a little. That's what he had a GPS for, so he wouldn't get lost looking for out of the way places like these. It sure wasn't Boston or Philadelphia or even London, for that matter. "I'm sorry if I caught you at a bad time," he said, a little distracted by the sight of her backside as she led the way inside.

"Not at all," she assured him, turning back to welcome him into what was now her home. "Now, let us see if we can tidy you up a little, shall we?" From a cupboard, she produced a first aid kit, handing him a small antiseptic wipe before taking out the tweezers. "If you remove your jacket, please. And stand still for a moment." She didn't outright say why she wanted him to stand still; a small part of her wanted to see his reaction when she started to remove the burrs from his crotch and backside.

"I beg your pardon?" he asked as he was abruptly handed a wet wipe that smelled faintly of alcohol. It was just a tiny wound, smaller than a paper cut really, though there was always a chance of infection if not cleaned promptly and properly, and sucking the blood from the wound didn't count, as the human mouth was the worst place for germs. He wasn't of a scientific bent, but even he knew that much. "Are you asking me to undress, madam? We hardly know each other yet!"

She laughed, shaking her head. "Mademoiselle, if you must use a title, please," was all she said in answer to that ridiculously prudish response, bending to begin plucking the little barbs from ... well, yes, his crotch. There was one particularly stubborn one right on the seam, too.

His entire body tensed as she bent to pick the barbs from his pants in that particularly sensitive place, but realizing finally that she was actually trying to help him, he made no protest, only stood as still as he possibly could, hoping his anatomy didn't betray him in such a delicate position. "Well, this is embarrassing. Perhaps I should go back out and try again."

She glanced up at him with a chuckle. "Or perhaps you could relax a little, hmm?" The last burr came out of his pants with a gentle tug, set on a piece of kitchen paper on the table, and she handed him the tweezers. "I will let you fix your own jacket." With an almost teasing smile, she stepped back. "How do you like your tea, Mr. Evans?"

He tried to relax, he really did, but it wasn't that easy when a beautiful woman with a slightly-French accent was poking at your crotch, even if it was only to help you remove a few weeds due to your own inept idiocy. He rubbed the alcohol wipe against the tiny wound in his finger, perhaps more than was needed, until she was finally done. "My tea? Oh, with milk and sugar, please."

"As you wish." Her hands moved with calm surety as she poured the water and set the tea to brewing, turning to lean back against the counter and watch him for a long moment. "You seem very ill at ease, Mr. Evans," she pointed out thoughtfully. "I take it you have been informed of my unique circumstance?"

He watched her as she moved about the kitchen, trying hard to forget that she'd just been poking around at his crotch. "I am not ill at ease," he countered, busying himself by shrugging the jacket from his shoulders. "I am aware of your circumstances. I assume you were told to expect me." There was no way he could possibly remove the burrs without sitting down, and so he gestured to a chair. "May I?"

"Of course." She nodded in answer to his query, gesturing for him to make himself comfortable. "Rhys informed me that he would be asking you to look in on me. He is worried that I may somehow revert and kill again."

"Yes, well... Fortunately for him and for you, I am not new to these matters," he replied, seemingly distractedly as he plucked burr after burr from his suit jacket. "What is important is what you think. How strong is your hold on the dark side?"

She was quiet for a long moment. "Strong enough," was what she eventually said, though she could understand that it was probably not enough reassurance. "I know how it happened before, and it will not happen again. But, should it come to it, I am working on a spell to make certain that if I do turn, I will die before I harm anyone."

He jerked his head up at that, arching a dark brow at her, the tweezers held poised in one hand. "Surely, it will not come to that, will it?" he asked, his gaze drifting to the tiger's eye pendant she wore around her neck. "May I?" he asked, setting the tweezers aside and leaning toward her with interest.

"I would hope it will not, but I cannot guarantee that I will not awaken the demon once again in defense of my friends, of those I love," she admitted quietly. His interest in her pendant made her smile, though. She stepped forward, moving to sit beside him. "So long as you do not remove it, you may study it all you wish."
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Aurelia
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 19, 2014 11:42 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Bristol said this is what helps you keep the demon under control," he said as he very carefully lifted the stone to examine it, leaving it where it was around her neck. To his sharp and astute eyes, it appeared to be nothing more than an adornment, but he knew it was much more than that.

"It is," she nodded, keeping her chin high to allow him ample room to study the simple piece. "It was blessed by an angel, thus heightening the stone's natural power. I wore one like it from an early age, though that one had not been blessed by a being of pure goodness. This one is far more powerful, though it is my own strength that keeps the demon at bay."

"An angel?" he echoed in surprise, not having expected that. It seemed there was more to this than Bristol had told him. He let go of the stone and leaned back in his chair, eying her with interest. "How do you manage it?" he asked curiously. If he was going to be keeping an eye on her, he needed to know everything he possibly could about her and the demon.

"It is difficult to describe," she warned him, rising to complete the making of his tea before she brought the mugs to the table, allowing him to add milk and sugar as he preferred, drinking her own black. "The demon and I, we are two sides of a coin. One cannot survive if the other is gone, and yet we cannot co-exist without destroying each other. Thus one must always be dominant. The demon has more power, but less finesse. She relies upon brute strength to overwhelm me, and as such often fails. So long as there is even a small drop of power in me, in this good side, there is no way for the demon to take over. Does this make any sense?"

"Yes, of course, it is the old question of duality. There is duality in all mortals though - the potential for good and evil. Most people are varying shades of gray. There are few who are truly one or the other. Most of those deemed evil are either possessed or simply mad. Those who are deemed good - saints and the like - have usually been touched by some... higher power. You, though..." He waggled a finger at her pointedly. "You are two sides of the coin - one half is good, while the other half is evil, so to speak, though even good and evil are open to interpretation. In ancient times, tribes sacrificed their own people to offer them up to the gods. Some view that as an evil act. It seems barbaric in light of modern society, but to those ancient people, they were only doing what their gods asked of them. To them, there was no greater sacrifice they could make and people went willingly to their deaths."

"Which god would you recommend I sacrifice myself to?" Aurelia asked. She was only partially joking - if she had thought there was some way to remove both herself and the demon in one stroke, she would have done it a long time ago. As it stood, she dared not attempt to remove herself at all - killing her human side would only set the demon half free. "Though perhaps I should warn you, I am afraid of spiders, so please do not recommend a spider god."

"Sorry," he apologized, looking a little sheepish. "I get a little carried away sometimes." And they'd only just met. Nice work, Ian. The woman isn't an idiot and doesn't need one of your college lectures. Her eyes will glaze over with boredom.

Yet she showed no sign of being offended or bored at all. If anything, his sudden expression of knowledge and passion for his subject had caught at her attention. "Never apologize for passion," she told him firmly. "You English are always apologizing for yourselves. You should accept what and who you are and be proud of it. You would certainly obtain a greater variety and number of lovers if you did."

He chuckled at her remark, countering with an observation of his own. "And you French are experts on the matter, I suppose. But then, you aren't French at all, are you?" He stirred a bit of milk and sugar into his tea, just enough to make it sweet, but not overly so. "I'm thinking Belgian, perhaps."

"Ah, well done, Mr. Evans," she congratulated him with a quiet chuckle. "You are correct, I am Belgian. Chocolate, lace, and being invaded to start a fight with a completely different party are supposedly my strong points." This caricature of her nationality made her laugh again, even as she raised her tea to her lips for a sip.

"And I am guilty of being English. We are unemotional, egotistical, and hate everyone who isn't English. Is that about right?" he asked, with a bit of a smirk that lit up his green eyes.

Aurelia found herself laughing once again, charmed by this unexpected Englishman and the handsome twinkle in his eyes. "Having met you, I would say reserved," she assured him. "And what is it you do, Mr. Evans, aside from babysit witches who have very personal problems?"

The smile faded and was replaced by a frown. This was about where he lost most women and watched as their eyes glazed over and they quickly lost interest. "Nothing too terribly exciting, I'm afraid. I'm a professor." How's that for boring, he thought to himself. "I'm on sabbatical right now while I research a book I'm writing."

"And what is your subject?" Aurelia asked. He seemed so wary of sharing this information with her, leaving her to wonder if he studied something awful like execution techniques or pornography through the ages. "You have already shown passion in your work to me, I am curious to know what subject brings an Englishman such joy."

An unmarried, unattached, boring as bloody hell college professor who keeps his nose buried in books so often he hasn't been on a date in years, his inner monologue continued, to which he told himself to please shut the hell up. He blinked out of his thoughts as she questioned him further. "Legends and Mythology. European Mythology, to be exact." He was no more specific than that, for now, though that didn't really narrow down his field of expertise.

It was Aurelia's turn to blink in surprise, her smile deepening, clearly impressed by his chosen topic. "That is a very wide subject to commit yourself to," she commented mildly, wrapping her hands about her mug as she sipped. "Though I would assume that your initial point of interest was your King Arthur. That is a story the British have good reason to be proud of, I feel."

"There is not so much interest in the States for King Arthur as there is back home, but yes. Arthurian legend happens to be my specialty." And if you knew what I knew, you'd understand why. Hopefully, she wouldn't ask him why he was here instead of there, but if she kept going the way she was going, he knew it was bound to come up. "But enough about me. Tell me how you lost control of your other half."
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 19, 2014 11:43 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

For the first time, Aurelia relaxed enough to be able to share the full details of what had happened to her, without considering the consequences to her audience. Ian Evans did not know Rhy'Din, or the people she had known there, and thus, was a completely impartial listener. It did, however, require some explanation. "Before I begin ... are you familiar with the concept of the multiverse, and with the practicalities of magic use?"

"I am familiar with it in theory, yes. As far as magic goes..." He flashed a very disarming smile, though he wasn't really aware of it. "I'm an Arthurian scholar. What do you think?"

Something in that smile did interesting things to her insides. Aurelia felt herself begin to blush, looking down into her tea as she laughed a little. "I apologize, I find it is best to ask before confusing my companion with something beyond them," she explained softly, tucking her hair back behind her ear. "I do not think you will have the same problems, though."

"Well..." he started, "many of my colleagues do not believe in magic. They are only interested in comparing various myths and legends in order to understand their cultural significance. What many fail to understand is that yesterday's magic is tomorrow's science."

"That is a little deep for me," Aurelia admitted. "Though, for me, magic is neither yesterday nor tomorrow. It is right here, right now." To demonstrate, she took a hand from her cup, turning it palm upward. Hovering above her palm appeared a crackling ball of blue energy, in constant motion but held in place by her own will, one of her innate abilities, the magic she had been born into.

He had seen magic before and believed in its existence. Avalon alone was proof of that. But he'd never seen anyone manipulate magic up close and personal in such a way as this before. He arched a curious brow, unafraid and more than a little amazed at the ball of energy in her hand. This was no parlor trick; it was the real thing. "May I?" he asked, lifting a hand, but not daring to reach out without her permission.

"It would not be wise to touch this," she warned him gently. "But this ..." The crackling ball of energy was absorbed into her palm, and a moment later, a perfect sphere of that same blue energy seemed to push its way out of her hand, a shield around her outstretched limb. "This you may touch. The gift of my father's magic - a natural shield, that can also manipulated into a weapon, an energy ball."

"What's the difference between the two?" he asked, refraining from touching the ball of energy until she allowed it. He might be a little absent-minded, but he was no fool. He noticed that the first blue ball of energy crackled, but the second did not.

She extended her hand toward him, inviting him without words to test the smooth shield wrapped about her hand. "Where I come from, witches are born," she explained. "We are often born with a single power, something we must learn to use as we grow up. But as we grow, we also tend to develop secondary powers, sometimes even tertiary ones. For me, I was born with the knowledge to shield, to do this. I learned to make my shield impenetrable, or malleable, as I needed it to be. When I began to have run ins with demons, I developed the ability to create balls of energy that can vaporize a demon. Humans are hurt by them, often burned badly, but my shield doesn't cause harm."

His gaze darted to her face as she explained before sliding back to her hand as he very carefully poked a finger at the blue shield of energy that was surrounding her hand. "I don't know much about demons," he replied. "They possess humans, don't they? So, if you vaporize a demon, I presume the human its possessing would perish, as well."

The little shield didn't yield to his push at all the first time, and only a little the second. The third poke, she let through, allowing him to feel the spine-tingling sensation of having a magical shield slide over your skin. "Well, the demons I knew are very different to the demons of this world," Aurelia shrugged lightly. "Back home, they have forms of their own, and there is no Hell. They originate in the Underworld, and most stay there when they are not causing trouble in world above. But here, yes ... demons are possessing spirits, and I do not think my power could kill one."

"And you have no desire to return to your home world?" he asked, stifling a shudder as the energy shield slid over his own skin. It was a strange sensation, but not really painful or unpleasant. "Or can't you?" he added, upon realizing that she might not be here - on his Earth - by her own accord.

"I think I could, but ... ah, I have no wish to," she admitted. All it took was a little concentration, and the shield expanded to envelop them both, a perfect sphere surrounding them where they sat. "I could not say exactly why I do not wish to return. I have no family - in all the multiverse, I have more here, in friendship with Rhys and his wife, than I could expect to have on the world of my birth."

His eyes grew wide as the shield expanded to envelope them both inside a sphere of blue energy, sort of like being inside a big blue bubble. He poked a curious finger at the sphere once again, wondering specifically what sort of protection it afforded and against what. It seemed they were still visible; he'd still been able to see her hand within the translucent blue shield. He would have asked, but she went on to explain why she had no desire to return to her own Earth. "I'm sorry. About your family, I mean," he said, wondering if he was being too English and apologizing too much. He had to assume her father was dead then, and that she had no siblings.

"My father died a long time ago," she told him. "I have cried my tears for him. And to be quite honest, if I ever see my mother again, I will kill her." This was offered in as calm and unruffled a manner as if she'd been discussing the price of teabags. The shield collapsed gently in on itself, the energy absorbed into her palm once again. "Of course, these powers are only unique to my bloodline. I have the same abilities as other witches born on my Earth - to make magical potions from simple ingredients, and the necessity to watch what I say in case I rhyme without meaning to."

He restrained himself from apologizing again, so as not to sound too redundant, but the frown on his face was sympathetic and compassionate. He made no remark about her mother, assuming she was responsible for the demonic half of her bloodline. "So, is it fair to say that you are the only witch of your kind on this Earth?" he asked, curiously.
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 19, 2014 11:44 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"I think it would be very safe to say so, yes," Aurelia nodded, smiling at his curiosity. "For example ... have you ever heard of a witch here, who can do this?" She glanced around for a moment, and let her eyes settle on a frying pan on the counter. "A pan that fries lying over there; come here to my hand, through the air." And the pan lifted itself up and flew to her hand. She turned a grin onto the scholar beside her. "Have you encountered any witch who can work a spell with only a rhyme, Professor Evans?"

He chuckled a little at the rhyme, about to compare her to Dr. Seuss, when the pan lifted off the stove and found its way to her hand. The look on his face was one of obvious astonishment. "I cannot say that I have, Miss Dupuis. How did you do that?"

She chuckled at his expression once again, charmed by the open and obvious interest. "An idiosyncrasy of being born a witch on my world," she explained. "There are witches, demons, and humans born on my world. A human has no power, no understanding of magic, and magic is kept a secret from them. Demons have individual powers - flame throwing, for example - but no ability to work true magic for their own ends. Witches ... we are born with the ability to twist the world with words. If I rhyme, I am creating a spell. Not all of them last, and many of them are for a single moment in time, but the strongest and best spells of my father's family line have been recorded in my family's Book of Shadows. And please, Professor, call me Aurelia."

"But even though you are not on your own Earth, your power and abilities still work here, so it is something that is within you, not something that is limited to your own Earth," he said, trying to sort it and make sense of it in his own mind. "As far as I know, only humans are born here," he added, noting the differences. "You have this Book of Shadows in your possession?" he asked, distracted a moment at her insistence to address her by her given name. "I am Ian. Only my students call me Professor."

"Naturally I have the Dupuis Book of Shadows in my possession, Ian," she informed him, her accent doing something highly sensational to his name. "I am the last Dupuis. Would you like to see it sometime?"

"Um..." That question gave him pause. Of course he'd like to see it, but it seemed a bit presumptuous of him to ask to see it now. "Perhaps," he replied, assuming this was not their one and only meeting. The Lady's Champion did tell him to keep an eye on her, which implied multiple visits.

Her brow rose as she studied him. "I am not proposing to allow you to see and touch my family heritage on our first meeting, Ian," she warned him. "I am simply gauging your interest. I have spent most of my life keeping it out of evil hands."

"I am most definitely interested, but I would not expect you to show me your family's most prized treasure on our first meeting," he replied in complete agreement. "Though I can assure you my interest is completely of a professional nature." He couldn't help but smirk a little at her pronunciation of his name, which stuck him as just a little bit cute.

"It is?" Much to her surprise, Aurelia found that she was more than a little disappointed with that assurance. It was startling to note that she had been beginning to hope that he might have more than purely academic interest in her, and what she had."Tell me, Ian, what did your wife have to say when you told her you were driving to the middle of nowhere to look in on an unmarried woman?"

As it happened, he was finally taking a sip of his tea when she asked that question, and he nearly choked. Wife? he thought to himself as he covered his mouth, coughed once, and swallowed that mouthful of tea. "Good lord, woman," he said, when he finally found his voice again. "What gave you the impression I'm married?"

Aurelia couldn't help laughing yet again, this time at the flustered reaction to what she had thought was a simple enough question. "You are a handsome, intelligent man," she said simply, as though he should really have known that for a fact. "Why should you not be married?"

He lifted a finger and waggled it at her again, as if to make an important point. "Boring. You forgot boring," he pointed out, with a good-natured smile. At least, he thought so, though he had a few secrets of his own. "I could ask you the same thing. Why is a lovely, intelligent, young woman like you alone? Or do you have a lover hiding in the bedroom?"

"I do not find you boring," she pointed out warmly, leaning back as he waggled his finger at her. "As to my being alone, is it really so very strange? I have been in this world of yours precisely ten days, and have only left this cabin in the company of my friend and his wife once. I am of the opinion that companionship of a romantic nature is not essential to a peaceful life, but a life well lived is empty without it."

"Not strange, no," he replied, lifting his cup of tea for another sip. "I'm afraid there aren't many women who are interested in an academic who always has his nose buried in a book," he offered as honestly as he could, though he made no comment on whether or not a romantic relationship was essential to happiness.

"Have you ever taken your nose out of the book long enough to find out?" It was a pertinent question, as well as being impertinent from the lips of someone he had only known an hour or so. Aurelia smiled sweetly to soften the inquiry, but stood by it, wondering if he could answer the question without confusing himself.

"I don't have my nose buried in a book at the moment, do I?" he countered, almost feeling as if they were sparring against each other using words, rather than swords. Or was this a type of flirtation? He wasn't quite sure. "To be honest," he continued. "I have never met a woman who was willing to share me with my studies. My mother, God bless her soul, tried for years to hold my father's attention. Her death certificate said complications of cancer, but in truth, she died of neglect. I do not wish to repeat that mistake."

"With the right woman, you would not have to worry about making that mistake," Aurelia pointed out gently. "No one should spend their life devoted entirely to a single person, with no pursuits of their own. My father and his wife, they were scholars, each in their own way. She was very much like you - human, but aware of the big secret - and like you, she could spend hours in a single day wrapped up in her studies. But my father had his own studies, studies that every witch has - new spells, improvements to old spells, protecting innocents who crossed his path. It is sad, that your mother did not have something else to feel passion for, besides your father. But that does not mean that you will make the mistakes your father did, purely because you are of an academic mind. You should not close the door to such things out of fear, Ian."
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Aurelia
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 19, 2014 11:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Well," he started, lifting that tea cup for another sip, but not yet taking it. "She had me," he added soberly and perhaps a little bitterly. He had never forgiven his father for what he deemed as neglect on the man's part. He shrugged his shoulders as he sipped his tea. "I will try to keep that in mind if the right woman comes along," he said, though he had his doubts. He was already in his thirties and there were few prospects. Oh, he had some female colleagues, but as the old saying goes, most of the good ones were already taken. "I assume your mother and father were not married then."

"No." Aurelia couldn't help laughing at the thought of that, though. "My mother is a demon, a succubus," she went on to explain. "She was trying to get her hands on the Dupuis Book of Shadows, and decided to seduce my father to get to it. She failed, obviously, but I was the result. I began life as a demon, and only when my father discovered me and brought me to his home, and suppressed my demonic side, did I learn what it is to be human. His wife was good to me, though she never liked me, and I never liked her. We got along for his sake, and when he died, we lost contact. She wanted nothing more to do with magic, and to honor that wish, I took everything magical from the house, and I disappeared. I went to Rhy'Din, and I tried to start again. It did not end well."

"I see," he replied, silently taking that all in. All of it made sense, though some of it surprised him. He was not particularly schooled in demon lore, though he certainly knew what a succubus was, at least as far as folklore and legend were concerned - a female demon whose primary goal was to seduce a human male and impregnate herself, for whatever reason. He wasn't overly surprised that demons were real, but there was something she said that was unfamiliar to him. "Rhy'Din," he repeated. "Another world in the multiverse?" he asked, making a guess.

"Some people call it the Hub of the Multiverse," she told him, slipping easily into an explanation of the planet she had mentioned. "All roads do not lead to Rome - follow a path far enough for long enough, and you will end up on Rhy'Din, where anything is possible and everything has a place."

"Anything?" he echoed, leaning in to hear her reply with interest. Anything was a very broad and encompassing word. What exactly did she mean by anything?

"Anything," she nodded, smiling just a little. "The past, the present, and the future converge. The realms of fiction and non-fiction collide and create reality. Anything you can imagine, anything at all ... there is a distinct possibility it exists on a world somewhere in the multiverse, and if it exists, it has visited Rhy'Din."

He leaned back, a look of mingled interest and curiosity on his face, and perhaps just a hint of doubt, though his mind was open to most any possibility. "You realize how crazy that sounds." Not to mention dangerous. If certain people were to find out, there was no way of knowing what they might do with such information.

Aurelia's smile was warm and understanding. "Of course I am aware of that," she assured him. "But most people would call me crazy for believing myself to be a witch, for believing my mother to be a flesh and blood demon. Yet you have accepted these as fact - is it truly such a stretch to accept that a place such as Rhy'Din exists?"

"It's not so much that such a world exists, but that, as you say, anything is possible there. That the past, present, and future converge. What does that mean exactly?" he asked, stretching one arm across the table, palm up, as he spoke.

She mused on that point for a moment, wondering how to describe Rhy'Din to someone who had never even imagined it. "The city itself, the hub of the planet," she began, "it merges all times, all cultures. Most of the construction is medieval in style, yet the technology a lot of people use is vastly in advance of their surroundings. There is a space port, an entire district of the city devoted to the more advanced cultures - the technology-rich futuristic places that contrast wildly with the rest of the city. If you walk down the street, you will see horses and carriages, and cars, and vehicles that hover. All times, in the present."

He seemed to absorb everything she was telling him like a sponge, rejecting none of it and taking her word at face value. After all, he'd seen some strange things himself that most people wouldn't believe, so why shouldn't he believe her? "And you have no desire to ever revisit this place?" he asked, leaning in just a little, as if this was a very important question.

"To visit?" She shrugged, leaning forward onto her arms. "Perhaps. I cannot say it is complicated, because it is not. The truth is, I feel resentful toward those I left there. I was used, and that hurts me, deeply. I am ... unused to having my trust taken advantage of."

The frown that touched his face was both sympathetic and sincere. He very nearly touched her arm before thinking better of it. They had only just met, after all, and he didn't want to be too forward. "I'm sorry," he said, realizing he'd apologized yet again and for something that had nothing to do with him really. "It's probably better I don't visit such a place. I might be inclined to write a book about it."

"As I understand it, there are several who have written such books, but they are always taken for fiction on their own worlds," the witch smiled faintly. "Forgive me, I did not mean to concern you. What happened on Rhy'Din is in the past, and yet I cannot forget it, because it is what led me here."

"It's understandable, but you did not yet explain to me what happened there or how you came to be here," he reminded her gently. He had asked the question some moments ago, but the conversation had gone in another direction

"I know." Her smile seemed brittle for a moment before she stopped trying to force it, allowing him to see the hurt in her eyes as she began to speak. "I made a place for myself there," she explained quietly. "I owned a witches' dispensary that did good business. I had friends, or so I thought. One of those friends came to me, worried for another friend and her husband, who had not returned from their scheduled trip, and could not be reached. She feared something had gone wrong, and she was right. They had somehow been drawn through the wrong portal, to an Earth closed to Rhy'Din, and they could not get back. But they had sought out help from a practitioner on that side, who contacted me at great personal risk, and together we formulated a way we could force open a portal and allow my friends to return." Each time she said the word friend, it held a pained undercurrent, but that stayed unexplained for now. It would make sense when she reached the end of her story.

He wrapped a hand around his cup of tea but mostly just to keep his hand busy. "Go on," he said, encouraging her to continue. She hadn't lost his attention or confused him yet.

"On the night agreed, I was as prepared as I could be," she continued under his encouragement, looking down into her rapidly cooling tea as she spoke. "I thought I had considered every possible circumstance that might arise. And to begin with, everything went well. It was difficult, to push open the portal and link my mind to the woman on the other side, but once the link was there, we were able to hold the doorway open. It took so much strength, I cannot describe it. But something happened on the other end - I believe the couple who should have been there at the start somehow brought trouble with them, trouble that killed the woman who had opened the portal. I felt her die, I felt her pain, and suddenly I was all that was holding that door open. I could feel my strength fading; I knew I would not have enough strength, enough power, to get them safely home. So I tapped into the demon's power. I used it, when my own was gone. They came safely through - injured, but alive - and I used what little I had left to send them somewhere safe. But the demon had her chance, and she took it. I had no power to resist her."

He listened quietly and attentively as she relayed her story. It wasn't difficult to understand or even to imagine, not for someone who'd accidentally stumbled into Avalon. "And these friends you helped, that you nearly lost yourself for, never thanked you for your help? Never tried to find you or find out what had happened to you?" he asked further, assuming that was the truth of it. "How did you end up here on this Earth?"

"No, they never did. I was not missed at all." And there was the pain, the bitter resentment she had warned him about. It was the only time her willingness to help had ever been taken for granted, and it cut her deep. She swallowed, raising a hand to brush her dark hair out of her eyes as she met his gaze. "The demon was in charge. She stayed on Rhy'Din to kill a few people and gather a small collection of powerful objects, before tracking Rhys to this world. Once she was here, everything was so different, she tried to build a power base, and she might have succeeded, if I had not had one friend who did not give up on me."
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 19, 2014 11:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

"Rhys Bristol," he guessed, though he and the Lady's Champion were not friends or on a first name basis - at least, not yet. "Why did she track him here?" he asked, wondering if the demon had tracked Bristol here for a particular reason that had something to do with him or if she'd just used him as a means to escape Rhy'Din.

"I believe she wanted to use him as my mother used my father," Aurelia admitted, confessing something she would never have told Rhys. He didn't need to know what the demon had planned for him. "He is a powerful being, who gave away a powerful artifact for the sake of a friend, and she could not understand that. But it was his power she was drawn to."

He arched a brow at the news of what her darker side had wanted to do to - or with - the Lady's Champion. Was it only the demon who wanted that, or was there some desire on Aurelia's part, as well? She was of a truly dual nature, but was it like two separate beings living in one body or was it two sides of the same being fighting for dominance? He thought it was more than likely the latter. Of course he is, Ian thought as she continued. He's the Champion of Avalon. Only the second Champion since Arthur, but he could not tell her that. At least, not yet. Perhaps never. "What artifact was that?" he asked, his curiosity piqued.

"It was a dreamstone," she explained quietly. "Hematite, which I enchanted for him. He wore a small piece, and it protected his dreams from intrusion by other sources. It also recorded his dreams, and the larger piece stored them. If he had ever wanted to replay a dream, to analyze it, he could have done so."

"It protected his dreams against intrusion by what or whom?" he asked further. Though they had meandered away from the question of how she'd lost herself to the demon and found herself here, each answer and explanation seemed to only led to more questions. A lifelong scholar, it was in his nature to ask questions, to seek knowledge, to learn. "Why did he give it away, do you think?"

Her smile reappeared, gentle and censuring. "I cannot tell you that," she told him quietly. "The reason he sought the stone is his alone to share. It would be wrong of me to break that confidence. As to why he gave it away ... he is a good man. If he truly believed someone else needed the stone more than he did, then he would think nothing of giving it away."

"Self-sacrifice," Ian murmured. The man was either a hero or a fool. He judged it was likely a little of both. He appreciated her desire to keep the man's reasons for seeking the stone a secret and, respecting that, asked no more about it. "May I ask you something?"

She couldn't help teasing him, picking up on the opening he had given her. "I think, if we have proved anything today, it is that you may ask me anything, Ian," she smiled playfully, drinking down the last of her tea. "Please, feel free to ask."

One brow ticked upwards, wondering if she was flirting with him, or was he reading her wrong? He cleared his throat, somewhat nervously. It had already been established that they were both single, but he wasn't quite ready to ask her on a date yet, if ever he would be. He was not only the absent-minded professor, but the slightly shy professor, as well. Perhaps that was in part why he was still single and unattached. "Ahem, well... What I was wondering is, do you think that if you knew then what you know now, would you still have helped open the portal?"

"Yes." The answer came without her needing to think it over - no matter how hurt she was, how angry a part of her was, over the way she had been forgotten and taken for granted, she couldn't imagine not giving her help when it was needed. "They needed help that I could give. That is all I needed to know. That is all I ever need to know. Had I known what would happen, I would still have done it."

"Even though they did not seek you out to thank you or to find out if you were all right?" he pressed her further, trying to make a point, though he hoped she would come to that conclusion on her own.

"It does not mean that they are bad people," she said quietly, not entirely sure what he was driving at. "It is easy to second-guess in hindsight. I have never refused my help to anyone who asked for it."

"You are justified in feeling hurt, but whether they had thanked you or not, whether they had repaid you or not, whether they had sought you out or not... No matter what they did or might have done, you would have done the same. So, does it really matter what they did when you know in your heart that you did the right thing and that you did everything you could have done to help them?" he asked, trying to help her move past the hurt and let it go.

She was quiet for a long moment, understanding what he said and what he was trying to make her see. "I lost three years of my life for them," she said softly. "It is not that they could have done anything, because they could not. It is ... I know it will seem strange, but I have never been taken for granted. No one has ever simply assumed that I would risk my life for them. The fact that none of them made any effort to even thank me, much less notice that I was missing ... that is what hurts. It ... it makes me doubt myself, my nature. Am I too trusting?"

"Perhaps, but that is not necessarily a bad thing." He paused a moment, studying her quietly as if he was assessing her or considering something. "May I tell you something?" he asked permission once again, not wanting to press his luck or presume too much.

Dark eyes turned to his, curious and inviting, her expression soft in the unexpected intimacy of their conversation. "Whatever your thoughts, I would very much like to hear them," she told him, and to her surprise, found that she meant every word absolutely. This absent-minded professor intrigued and interested her, in a way she had not encountered with others. "Please do."

Though a little shy, he met her gaze unflinchingly. He wasn't sure how she'd take what he had to say or even if he was way off base in saying it, but he'd come this far and thought he should finish making the point he was trying to make. "I don't know much about demons or demonology, but I know a good person when I see one. I think you are a very special person, Aurelia," he told her gently, having to hold himself back from reaching for her hand, wanting to reassure her somehow and soothe her hurts. "I must confess you are different from anyone I have ever met, and I mean that in a good way."
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PostPosted: Thu Jun 19, 2014 11:48 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

He couldn't possibly have known how those words would touch her. To have anyone call her good was warming enough, but for some reason, to have this man state that he considered her good, that he considered her special, brought a sparkle of tears to her eyes. Tears she made no attempt to hide, holding his gaze as her smile deepened. Unlike him, she felt no need to hold herself back, lowering her hand to wrap about his own as she took in a shaky breath. "I would give much to see myself through your eyes," she told him quietly. "But I am glad, and honored, that you see me in such a way. It means more than I can say."

"I shall strive to make you do so," he said, smiling softly back at her. He wasn't sure what made him say it, but the words tumbled out of his mouth before he could stop them. He didn't quite flush when she took hold of his hand, though for some odd reason, his stomach went flip-flop, and he was fairly sure it wasn't something he ate. "I, uh..." He cleared his throat. Perhaps that was enough for one day. "I should probably be going. I've taken up enough of your time."

She nodded, conceding this point even if she wasn't all that happy about it. "You are welcome to come back at any time, Ian," she offered gently. "I do not go out much, except for groceries. I still have a great deal to do to this cabin to make it a home - I can be relied on to be here. I-I would very much like to see you again, if it would be no bother to you."

Whether he wanted to see her again or not was beside the point. The Lady's Champion had demanded it, though it did not seem like such a vexing task. "It would be no bother," he replied, moving a little awkwardly and somewhat reluctantly to his feet. "If you don't mind my saying so, a woman like you should not spend all her time alone in a cabin, away from the world at large," he said, though once again, he wasn't quite sure what made him say it. He'd never been quite that bold before.

"A woman like me?" she repeated, curious to know what he meant, but not exactly passing up the opportunity to tease him, either. Her brows rose as her lips curved into a playful smile, her entire expression innocently asking what he meant with a twinkle of humor as she rose with him.

"Well, yes... I mean..." he frowned, at a sudden loss for words. "A woman..." He moved one hand in a circular motion as if that might help her understand what he was trying to say. "A woman as lovely and kind and special as you," he said, frowning nervously. "I, um..." He sighed.

"Perhaps you only see me that way because of my isolation," she suggested, but her smile had warmed once again, the rich brown of her eyes dark with unspoken words. It was too soon to say those words, at a first meeting, but she found herself hoping for further opportunity. "Or, perhaps, because of your own. But thank you, Ian. You are a good man I hope to know better."

"Well," he started, as he was in the habit of doing. "Your friend Rhys has charged me with keeping an eye on you, and it would be far easier to do if I had your leave, rather than if I didn't," he remarked with a smile and an almost amused twinkle in his hazel-green eyes.

"Then perhaps we should set a date for your next visit," she suggested, her own twinkly-eyed smile answering his as she walked him through the cabin to the front door. "Dinner, perhaps? Tomorrow, at seven? I am a good cook, you do not need to worry for your digestion."

"Not going to sneak a love potion into my tea, are you, Miss Dupuis?" he asked, those green eyes twinkling further as he followed her to the door.

"Only if I think you need it," she laughed back at him drawing the door open and leaning against the jamb. She smiled at him, warm and friendly, trying not to seem too hopeful for something that shouldn't even have crossed her mind. "Would you like to come to dinner, Professor?"

He stepped across the threshold before turning back around to face her to answer her question. "I would like that very much. Tomorrow at seven, then?" he asked, politely and cordially, despite the hint of amusement on his face.

"At seven," she nodded, her smile widening with delight at having her invitation accepted so easily. "Is there anything you do not, or cannot, eat? I would not like to make you uncomfortable, or put you in a hospital, when you are supposed to be keeping an eye on me."

"Hmm," he mused a moment. "Carrots," he replied at last. "I am not overly fond of carrots." There were other items on his list of things he didn't like, but he wasn't going to go over a list of them now when she had so graciously offered to make him dinner, and he was fairly easy to please.

Aurelia nodded once again, her smile suggesting she was having a rather impish thought that probably involved cheating somewhat. "One last question, Ian," she asked softly. "Where in England are you from?"

He arched a single inquisitive brow at her question, wondering why she wanted to know that and what it had to do with dinner. "Oxford. My father teaches at the University." Not taught, but teaches. Present tense. Whether they got along or not, it seemed his father, at least, was still living.

"Oxford." Her smile had turned a little secretive, but she was still engaging as she pushed out of her lean. One hand touched against his arm, but it was what else touched him that mattered - her lips, brushing softly against his cheek. "It has been a very great pleasure, Ian. I look forward to seeing you again."

The kiss, though friendly and innocent enough, took him obviously by surprise, and he couldn't help wondering what he'd done to deserve it. He cleared his throat - a sign of nerves - and smiled warmly, if not a little awkwardly, back at her. "I assure you, the pleasure has been all mine, Aurelia," he replied with a small gracious bow. "Until tomorrow then." He paused a moment as if reluctant to leave or debating whether or not to return that kiss, before turning finally and walking across the gravel drive, his coat slung over one arm, still half-full of burrs.

She resumed her lean to watch him go, wondering just who he was, how he knew Rhys. And just why, of all the people Rhys knew, Ian had been chosen to keep that wary eye on her until they were all certain she was not about to turn again.

He was just as curious as she was, but for different reasons, though it seemed he was going to have to wait until tomorrow night to further satisfy his curiosity. He knew why the Lady's Champion had chosen him, and in fact, he knew much more about Aurelia than she knew about him, though in time, that might change. He waved back once, looking very much the absent-minded, harmless professor before climbing into his car and pulling away from the house and down the driveway to disappear from view.

"Au revoir, professeur," she murmured, watching his car pull away and fade from view. And slowly, as she watched, that impish, secretive smile reappeared on her face. She knew exactly what she was going to serve him tomorrow night, and it wouldn't require her to cook a single thing. She just hoped he wouldn't freak out when he found out how she'd done it.

((Yes, yes, lookee look, new pairing. Oh dear, what a pity, never mind. Laughing And, naturally, my writing partner is awesome and deserves huge thanks!))
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