A short piece I meant to upload earlier! Because I really like dreaming up young!Alfred headcanon. And romance apparently.
Originally was part of my last chapter from my other story, but I took it out since it didn't fit with the rest. Hopefully it stands well enough on its own. Mostly an attempt at fluff? Bittersweet fluff? D:
Dedicated to Antares and her awesome DGC stories. Much of this piece was inspired by her writing. :)
Coren was unusual for a Sartan.
It was not something overly obvious, for he was as polite and well-behaved as any of his peers. He obediently did his duties, and walked among the mensch when his people deigned to grace their 'children' with their presence. But still he was… lacking as a demigod. He was too introverted to talk with the mensch in any real form of superiority, the serenity of his people lost to his own awkward nature. His parents, though loving him dearly, could never understand why their Coren was this way.
Still, they were thankful he was not as worrisome as his friend, Ivor. Reckless ever since he met Coren as a child, with unkind rumors now trailing after him of much too casual encounters with the mensch, it was a wonder that their son remained friends with him, all the while steering clear of such bad behavior. And then there was Lya, the peculiar girl from the Low Realms. She was polite… when her mind didn't wander. She gave far more thought to the mechanical contraptions of the great machine she would continually fiddle with, and sometimes neglected her tasks due to forgetfulness. Though not shy, she socialized even less with her brethren, her pointed silence taken for discourtesy.
All three were indeed unusual demigods.
And though Coren knew his role well, though he always tried to follow the ways of the Sartan to the fullest degree despite his shortcomings, he, like his friends, still had a troubling habit.
Strange as it was, he read too much.
It used to be quite minor- a small inconvenience for those who couldn't find him. Being so entranced with the books over at the library, sometimes reading and studying them for hours on end, he would forget all about himself. It didn't help that he read all the subjects as well; from Arianus' history, to the theories on the mensch races and their behaviors, as well as treatises on certain magic spells and their uses.
It was these books in particular that he would start tracing the thoughts of a spell on his own. He would write runes on the parchment, connecting the multi-layered structure to a point of obsession. Reading only made him lose himself for a couple of hours. When he wrote spells, he would be gone for days.
It was at these times when Lya would -literally- become a lifesaver.
When he woke, he didn't even remember writing down the patterns he was seeing before his eyes. The paper was littered with wide strokes of the runes, words to a vast assortment of spells. He blinked, his back suddenly feeling very stiff. One of his hands was laying against an open book. He felt the warmth of the globes of light hanging suspended in midair- which only activated themselves when the Lords of Night covered the skies.
"Coren," came a voice, mildly scolding. There was the sound of cloth shifting, followed by the harsh clang of metal.
At this, he shook his head, the magic finally releasing its hold. "Oh, what-?" he licked dry lips, his eyes suddenly feeling very heavy. He couldn't lift his head.
Someone pushed a cup of water in his hand, wrapping his fingers around it. "Drink first."
He did so immediately, swallowing all of the contents. Once his vision cleared, he raised his head to see Lya standing next to him.
"…How long was I gone this time?" He asked the question reluctantly, expecting the usual lecture that everyone gave him whenever he did this.
Lya put a finger against her chin in thought, her movements drawn out mockingly. "Well, I just spoke with Ivor, and he told me he hadn't seen you since yesterday when he was at the library too. You didn't answer him back when he tried talking with you, so he thought you were still mad at him from before."
"I… really don't remember that," Coren admitted.
"And I was at Drevlin for the entire week, so, you tell me how long you've been here."
Judging by the growling of his stomach, he figured it must have been a good long while.
"I suppose I shouldn't have fights with friends before I do this."
He pushed himself away from the long table he was sitting at, his arms shaking. Lya helped him up, her small hands surprisingly strong.
It was past the dinner hour, the library completely empty except for the two. Lya still had her hood up despite being indoors, the hem slightly pulled back from her face, revealing more of her hair. It framed her face in its messy tangles, unlike the usual straight and neat hair of their brethren. He smiled at that. She really hadn't changed all that much in four cycles.
Still a little shaky, his hand brushed against worn out satchel that was placed on the table. Something sharp pricked his finger. "Ow!"
"Sorry!" Lya said, flustered. She grabbed at the satchel where other pointed edges had cut through its surface. She quickly whispered the possibility for it to be fully complete again, but Coren had caught the sheen of steel, the runes engraved across them.
"More work?" he chuckled.
"Yes, but they approved of it this time!" Lya grinned, her eyes shining. "We were just finishing up on our latest project."
Coren could already tell she was rather excited. Her fingers played with the clasp of the satchel, itching to unveil its contents. Which was different, because before she would always keep the bag to herself, making a great deal of hiding it from other's eyes including his own, even as she carried it on her person wherever she went.
Now he was curious, which momentarily took over the pain from his self-induced starvation.
"Can I see?"
Lya was apparently only too happy to oblige. She immediately knelt on the floor, upending the bag, ignoring the table that was much too covered with sheets of lose paper and books for her own belongings.
Coren knelt across from her, looking at the assortment of mechanical contraptions before him. Many of them looked half-finished, small parts to something bigger, their color a polished bronze. Except for the runes lining their surfaces, he saw no order to them, the whole contents a chaotic mess. He supposed he shouldn't be too surprised, considering how she always carried them around roughly in that bag of hers.
"Are…these all part of the great machine?" He poked at one of the parts that was half the size of his hand.
"Yes. The unused parts of it." Lya held what appeared to be a thin sheet of metal, balancing it in her hands. "They're scraps- the parts that have no use to the machine."
"If they're useless, why do you carry them around?"
Her answer was quiet, thoughtful. "Because they're useful to me."
Coren stuttered. "I didn't mean-"
"I know. It's alright." Lya smiled, patting his hand. The touch was nice, but he was able to rein in his thoughts this time- he had to ever since they became close friends. "That's why I kept this from my family for so long. It's a strange hobby of mine, remember?"
Her hands went toward one metal contraption in particular, this one composed of several parts. The runes for this one were also different from the rest, their patterns looking a bit more complicated. Coren thought he recognized the spell structure, but couldn't remember from where.
"They were okay with this though." She held it up for him to see.
If Coren were asked to identify it, he would have termed it a doll- a small mechanical doll with brass parts, it's limbs jointed like that of a person's. It was a simple body construct, having no individual fingers and no face for its headpiece. Certainly a toy that the mensch children would be delighted with, if it weren't for the small pieces they might accidentally swallow.
Seeing his thoughts, Lya gave a small laugh. "It's an automaton- or a replica of one. The real one is with the machine in the control room." Her words showed him a grand area, a place underneath the ground with the Sartan. No dwarves were around, unlike the rest of Drevlin, even though there were a fair amount of levers and pulleys in the room for them to work with. What seemed to look like eyes were embedded in the walls, continually shifting and portraying images of other parts of the great machine in their pupils. But what caught his attention was the single, tall figure in that room, metallic surface shining, and standing eerily still. It appeared to be missing one of its arms.
"You helped make that?"
"Only a little bit," she answered, her voice suddenly low. Before he could ask what was wrong, she set the little automaton on the ground. "Here, let me show you something."
Her voice rose in a song.
Coren had grown up with music; the runes would swim before his eyes as his people worked the magic, as he himself did so. Yet it affected him more than most, moving through his blood, until he would lose himself completely. It happened more often than usual now, spells sometimes moving past his lips without his forethought, his hand marking rune structures in the air beyond his control. It was worrisome at times, and it seemed to manifest itself more with his ventures in the library- until someone was there to draw him out.
Lya wasn't entirely the same. She whispered her magic briskly, brushing away the runes when she no longer needed them. But she had a different obsession, which he could so clearly see as she stared at the machine parts. This connection with the physical, with something that was seemingly cold and hard and lifeless. The great machine was a magnificent creation, a feat of Sartan technology to one day bring the floating isles of Arianus together, while also providing the rare water to the mensch populace. It was immense, and frightening to behold. And Lya regarded it like an old, dear friend.
As she sang, her voice clear and precise, reminding him of their walks through the hargast forests, their magic protecting them from stray crystal shards- the automaton twitched.
Runes on its body briefly shone. A small arm lifted, a leg slid across the floor. It sat up, turning its faceless head around.
Lya stopped her song. The automaton continued to move, eventually standing on its two legs. Coren stared open-mouthed, realizing just what kind of magic she had performed.
"You gave it life." It was astounding, but also…uneasy.
Lya said nothing at first, watching the little contraption walk around, its head turned towards her.
"This was my brother's work mostly. That's how I learned it."
It took Coren a moment. He noted the past tense. When it dawned on him, he was sad to find out how unsurprised he was by the news.
The sickness that had plagued his people for years, that now seemed to be spreading among those in the Low Realms. It had no apparent cause, no repeating symptoms, no warning. Sartan that were young, old, healthy, failing; all would just suddenly die, their lives torn away. There had been several occurrences during his childhood, confusing the demigods, but then they had rapidly increased. Children weren't even being born. Faces he used to see everyday would slowly disappear, one of them including his own father.
He was unsure if her brother had died while she had been there, or before. But he didn't ask, instead silently giving her his condolences, his sympathies and his understanding. Her own thoughts responded with gratitude.
They stayed that way, watching the little automaton plunk its feet across the floor, occasionally running into other small parts that surrounded it. Lya explained that the real one would be a little more intelligent, along with some eyes to help it maneuver itself. Coren couldn't help but think aloud about the roving (and kind of creepy) eyes in that room he saw, and Lya giggled at the image.
Then she asked, "What were you and Ivor arguing about?"
Coren was holding a tiny gizmo in his hand, the pieces making a whirring sound. He dropped it at the sudden question. Luckily, it was sturdy and didn't break.
Lya's voice was quiet again. "You don't get angry at people, Coren. Not even at Ivor."
And Ivor was notorious for being more eccentric than most Sartan, for even testing Coren's mild nature. But throughout their friendship, Coren had never given Ivor the silent treatment.
He took a while to form his answer. "It was nothing all that important, really."
She didn't believe him of course. But instead of pressing him on it, she whispered the magic again. The automaton fell flat on its back, lifeless once more. Seeing the little body lay still like that made his chest tighten uncomfortably.
"My brother said the automaton was created to make our work easier. But I know it's because there won't be as many of us left."
She said it, knowing he was aware of it too. No one could figure out the sickness, no one knew how to stop it. His father had died so suddenly. He remembered how he had gripped Lya's hand so tightly to keep away the tears.
Then he realized he was doing that just now, fingers seeking her own. Not as desperate this time, but wanting to feel her warmth all the same, to offset the chill of the library. She didn't move away, holding his hand back, smiling.
A thought popped into his head, and it was certainly at the worst possible moment, an idea planted by Ivor's remarks and Coren's own refusal. He suppressed it, but it was difficult, suddenly feeling like their first meeting again.
"Are you alright?" she asked, taking his other hand, reaching across the metal debris that separated them.
She had that odd thing about her, sometimes grasping at his hands like so -when they walked, when they chatted- and no one had ever done such a thing with him. Different than a sharing of thoughts, like a gentle reminder that she was still there with him, and that he existed. It made him aware of his own body, that it was just as important as the threads of magic that wove around them.
She was different. She was strange. And he liked that.
So before he could realize how hard his heart was beating, or how Lya wouldn't stop staring at him, he whispered a little spell- meaningless, a language exercise he was taught as a child. A trace of the magic entered his blood, soothing his head, giving him a courage that was intoxicating, that made him lose the frightened part of his soul. He didn't have to lean forward much, given his height. And her eyes were much clearer at the closed distance, making him wonder why she wanted to hide it all away.
It may not have been his top choice where he would have had their first kiss- in an old library where people could have walked in at any time, (the front doors were facing them) with sharp metal objects laying right between them. But it was a moment that he kept, because it was the first time in years where he could forget about the dark cloud that seemed to hang over his people, about the fear of losing more family and friends in the future. It felt warm and right, and he was glad he had walked up to her that day -stuttering, only fourteen, his thoughts blossoming with infatuation- and given her his silly name.
Not to mention how nice it felt when she kissed him back.