When Livia wakes up the next morning, the kitten is still next to her. Its small body snuggles into the curve of her stomach as it sleeps. She squints at it blearily for a long moment, before her eyes widen and she scrambles away.
Did she just...!?
The kitten startles awake at her movement, and its yellow eyes blink innocently back at her.
She points a shaking finger at it, her face hot in embarrassment, “Sen! Stop this at once! Return to yourself!” She demands in a shriek.
The kitten tilts its head, staring at her curiously.
“Sen, I swear-”
The two leaves blocking the entrance of the cave pulls back and Sen peeks inside. He raises a cerulean eyebrow at the scene.
“Why are you talking to the cat?” He asks her, looking from her then to the kitten.
Livia gapes at him.
“Wha-? What are you doing over there? Weren’t you the cat!?”
Sen looks at her as if she lost her mind, “I can’t transform into other animals.”
“Bu-but aren’t you a cat?” She flinches a bit when the kitten suddenly clamors on her lap, it little nails digging into her leather tights.
Sen steps inside the cave completely and plucks the cat up with one hand. It mewls angrily at him, squirming, but he ignores it and starts petting it.
“I’m not a cat,” He says, sounding insulted.
Livia looks at him in doubt, “I’m pretty sure you are a cat,” She says, eyeing him up in down.
He frowns at her, “No.”
She makes grabby hands for the kitten, and Sen hands it back over, “I remember what I saw. Long ears and a slinky tail...that's a cat.”
Livia coos at the kitten, given it all the love it deserves, before she turns to Sen and says, “It’s okay to be a cat. They are cute and fluffy. There is nothing to be ashamed of.”
Sen eye twitches, “I am not a cat.”
She nuzzles into a soft belly, uncaring of the tiny palls that bat at her crazy bed hair, “Sen, it's cool to be a cat. You can stop denying it.”
Feline ears and a tail suddenly appear from one blink to the next, and Sen leans over her with a menacing growl, “I am not a cat.”
Livia stares at him in boredom for a solid second, getting a close view of his black claws, and vicious-looking teeth, before she raises a hand slowly...and pets Sen on the head.
“Cat,” She says. The little kitten in her lap mewls in agreement.
Sen glares at her as she ruffles up his hair, but does not bat away her hand or move away. He puts up with the demeaning treatment until she drops her hand. He carefully straightens to his full height and his expression was only mildly irritated as he fixes his hair back.
Livia absently plays with the kitten with a string while she stares at Sen from the corner of her eye.
She remembers what he said the day before, and wonders if she should bring it up, or just pretend she had misheard. Livia was still angry, and no closer to forgiving him. She would prefer it if he had just left and not look back. It would have been easier for them both of him if he had.
But he didn’t.
Sen stayed, and he even gave her a little kitten from hell knows were. Livia could pretend like it all means nothing like it doesn’t matter, but she knows a peace offering when she sees one. And though she does not approve of the gifting of animals, there was no way she was letting the sweet kit out of her sight.
She watches as Sen sighs before leaving the cave. He comes back a few minutes later with a fish jammed on a stick, perfectly crisp and smelling divine. He offers it to her without a word, and she gladly takes it and attacks the food, starving.
The kitten mewls at her, trying to climb up her body to get at the fish, but it flops to one side and does an awkward little roll (Oh, it’s a boy). She smiles at its cute antics, instantly fond and offers her fish for it to nibble on.
“So,” She starts, “Is he supposed to be your peace offering?”
“...Yes,” Sen says cautiously, eyeing her like she would strike out at him at any moment.
“Animals are not gifts,” Livia says, “And where exactly did you spring the little kit from?”
“Does that matter? He is here now, and he is yours,” Sen says, avoiding her gaze.
“Well, it’s not like I plan to give him back to you. Who knows how you will treat him?” She huffs.
Sen looks properly affronted at that, but he does not bring up her forgiveness, or lack thereof.
Livia gets up carefully (Her ankle was still swollen) and slowly stretches. Sen turns his back to her when she does, and her mouth quirks up. What a prude.
She leaves the cave, and the kitten and Sen follow her out. She breathes in the fresh air as Sen puts out the fire and the kitten climb up a fallen log.
“I’m going to freshen up,” Livia tells Sen, who grunts back in reply. She twirls her wrist, and a bag comes flying out of the cave. She catches it from the air and starts to leave. When the kitten tries to follow her, she stops and looks down as he weaves around her ankles.
“Oh sweetie, you can’t come. I will be very worried about you drowning into the water. Wait here with Sen, alright?” She says even though she knows it can’t understand her.
But then the little furball nuzzles into her ankle and trots off towards Sen as if he had.
Hmm, maybe you do...?
She stares at the kitten a bit longer before she leaves to get washed up.
Livia passes the stream, a group of thick trees with black mushrooms growing at its base, and walks deeper into the forest. She no longer needs a compass, and she turns northeast. She walks a while and enjoys the quiets noises of the forest. A few monsters step into Livia's path, but most scutter away. The mean and ever aggressive pink slimes charges at her. She kills ten before she finally hears the loud noise of water being pulled down by gravity.
It takes much longer than usual to bath since she has to be mindful of her leg and arm. She decides at the last minute to wash her hair. She takes her time and enjoys the cool water on her scape. After, Livia slowly combs out her long purple locks, slowly untangling it from the rats' nest it had been for the past few days. She sits naked on a rock in the middle of the lake as she does so, and a certain image of a mermaid pops into her head, causing her to smile a little sadly.
She does not return to the shore immediately after she bathes. Livia floats in the lake on her back with her gaze to the morning sky. With her ears submerged, the world around her is muffled and she becomes lost in her own thoughts.
She thinks of the past few weeks, months, and years. Of her life as Livia Katrina Valentine.
Of the time before her debutante and her subsequent exile. Back when she was the Crown Prince fiancé. When she had been the ever-obedient daughter of Duke Valentine and the doting older sister to Liliana.
Lili, Livia tears up at just the thought of her little sisters' name. She misses her dearly. Her bright smile, her ruby eyes that always lit up whenever Livia came to visit her, and the way she always spoke of the outside world with such wonder. If she never had gotten closed to Lili, and avoided her as the original had, the chances of her survival would have been abysmal. Even though she had no clue at the time, Livia's reason for loving her sister had been self-serving, and she now owed her very life to that sweet girl.
Recalling her half-sister, she couldn’t help but think of their shared father. Livia had no fond memories of the man. He was always away on business, and the rare instances he returned home, he always had been occupied with other matters. The few occasions she had interacted with him, left a lasting impression of a man who was not the least bit interested in getting to know the daughter he fathered. He was always distant and cold. His eyes, which mirrored her own, never once gazed upon her fondly. In comparison, those same eyes looked at her little sister as if she had been the incarnation of the sun itself. The way Duke Valentine treats his two daughters was as different as the day was to the night.
Livia had never been able to let her bitterness go, even when she adored Liliana with every fiber of her being. She never blamed Lili. It was not her sister's fault that their father had been incapable of loving his oldest child. And maybe it had not been entirely her father's fault either, but he still had chosen to marry Livia’s mother, and no one was holding him at sword point to procreate with the Duchess. He had a responsibility to her...and he failed. Duke Valentine gave up on loving Livia even before she had been born.
Thinking of her father, makes Livia think of her mother. Lynette Mary Valentina was a sly, scheming, and ambitious woman. Livia would have never become the Crown Prince fiancé if it hadn’t been for her mother's manipulative ways. She would have married some unremarkable nobles' son if it had been up to her father, wedded of the moment she came of age, but her mother would not let him. They often would argue over the matter when she was young. She would often overhear them over breakfast, tea, lunch, and dinner, all of which she would usually attend alone.
Just like her father, Livia had no fond memories of her mother. When Lynette was not busy coming up with her intricate schemes, and stepping in to take over the many lessons she had arranged for her only child, she would leave for weeks on end. Especially after Liliana had been brought into the family, newly born and the living breathing proof of Duke Valentine infidelity. He had not cast Lili away and ignored her existence like all other before him, he took her in even despite knowing full well it would impact his image negatively.
Though Livia resented her father for his neglect, she had been oddly proud of him standing tall against society for his youngest daughters' sake, but it was a double-edge sword. Because Livia always circled back as to why he ever married her mother in the first place if he loved another. Maybe it had been her first life bubbling to the surface, but she had always hated how he gave into society despite having every reason not to. Sure, she would have never been born, but it was better to not live unknowingly, then to be brought up into a world where you were seen as nothing but a tool.
Livia eyes glaze over her gaze distance and unseeing as she sunk further into her thoughts.
They would be left alone for weeks at a time. Livia and Liliana would not even be aware their parents were gone until the Duke and the Duchess returned home. Despite her father’s doting behavior to her little sister, he had still left her to be raised by nannies and maids just as Livia had. When he had thought to take his longtime lover as his second wife when Liliana was born, Lynette had flown into a rage so great, he never brought up the subject again, and the woman had faded back into the shadows.
When Livia was five, and Liliana was three, her mother's yearlong schemes had finally reached their conclusion, and she had been engaged to the Rodale Franklin Silvan, who had only been the second Prince at the time. By the time she turned eleven, the former Crown Prince had stepped down, and Rodale took his place. After, her mother became more involved with her, more interested. Livia recalls how pleased she had been at first, but then came the punishments.
Livia had never hated her mother even after everything. In a way, her mother had been looking out for her best interest, even if it had been an extension of her own ambitions.
But then she had been condemned, and neither her mother nor her father dared to show even a glimpse of their face while their own daughter had been given the death sentence right before their eyes.
She has had plenty of time to think about it. To go over the scene in her head, over and over again, and every time, her parents were nowhere to be seen. Her own flesh and blood had stood by and watched as she was dragged away to hell know where, and not once had they visited her in prison. Not once had they contacted her through a letter. She had been abandoned and left to rot while they no doubt went about their lives as if she never existed.
Livia hated them.
She had been their child, their baby, but she had only been seen as a puppet, a thing.
Only her sister fought for her, and if Liliana had not been forcefully removed from her side, Livia has little doubt she would have clung to her even when she had been hauled away.
To Lili, Livia was her only constant. The nannies and maids came and went. Lynette hated when they grew close to her daughter and step-daughter, and had constantly replaced them. The two sisters learned to only rely on each other, to only love each other, but then Livia had been forced to leave.
If things had gone according to her abysmal plan, Livia would have been exiled and would have been able to later contact her sister, and maybe been able to coax her away from the lavish life of high society. Lili always had been curious about the world outside of Etheria but had never been able to explore it because of her weak constitution.
Now Livia has been gone for a whole year with no contact with Liliana.
She hoped her sister was doing well and in good health. She knew their father would not let his precious daughter waste away, but it was a small relief.
Her fingers were now starting to prune up, and the Sun has descended higher in the sky. Livia should get out before Sen comes looking for her, but she only closes her eyes as she lets her body sink down into the body of water until all her sense are cut off.
The silence helps her focus more, and she dives back into her thoughts, unaware of the deep trance she starts to put herself in as she strolls down memory lane. Above the rippling lake, the wind begins to pick up, and the cold, unnatural current of air is strong enough to rustle all the trees in the Crocus forest.
As Livia descends deeper into the depths of the lake, her purple hair fans out and the bandages wrapped around her arm becomes soggy and slowly comes undone, the white stained ends start to rise towards the surface. Her blood sluggishly seeps out of the wound, floating around her in a red hazy fog.
The memories she immerses herself in suddenly start moves backward rapidly as if time itself had become inverted. Livia is sixteen again, then thirteen, seven, five, two, and suddenly sees hovers in a room were Lynette struggles alone in labor. Her mother looks younger, and stressed, sweat beats down her temples as she screams and grunts in pain as nurses rush around her bed and the midwife orders for her to push.
A disembodied voice speaks above the chaotic scene, distant and muffled.
The baby...its...born...I can...not enough time...now...
Then the scene is gone, and she is in a wooden cabin. A cauldron bubbles in front of her on a table as she chops up ingredients with expert ease. A book is laid out in front of her, the language one she has never seen before, but she reads the words easily as she follows the instructions on it. She was making a potion, one that was complicated and experimental. She had invented it herself. She leans forward to drop the freshly chopped ingredients in the now simmering cauldron and gets the first glimpse of her face.
She sees that she is not a she.
And that he is not human.
Livia has now sunken to the very bottom of the lake, the wound on her arm is bare, jagged and bleeding freely. Her chest does not rise, and she is deathly still.
A moment passes.
And then another.
Suddenly the quiet serene lake is disturbed as a body crash into it.
A hand reaches out to Livia’s still form, and she is quickly dragged back up to the surface. Her head hangs limply on her neck, and her lips do not draw breath even as she is carried back to the shore, and laid gently on the ground.
“Hah, just my luck,” A voice drawls, “I see a pretty girl bathing under a waterfall, and the moment I look away, she tries to off herself. Maybe it’s a sign?” The tone is light and sardonic, but the hands of the voice that pumps firmly at the lifeless chest of Livia do not let up.
Long strands of pink-tipped blond hair fall into the face of the would-be savior. Brilliant green eyes close as he leans down to transfer lifesaving air back into the lungs that desperately needed. Soft lips are deathly cold and damp as he pulls away and goes back to compressing her chest, before repeating the process. He is just starting to lose hope when purple eyes snap open, and Livia jolts up.
She instantly turns to retch up water, coughing and shaking as she expels it. A warm hand pats her back, and a voice like velvet gently says, “That’s right, let it all out.”
Livia stares blankly into nothing as her wet body trembles, and her hair sticks to her face. Her wide-eyed gaze looks to the lake even as a warm piece of clothing is placed on her shoulder, covering her bare body.
The hand returns to her back and it rubs gentle circle into it as she slowly comes back into herself.
“Must have been a fright...” she hears, catching the end of whatever her rescuer was saying. Her empty stare turns to him, and he offers a charming smile, though his eyes crease in worry.
She should be grateful. She should be thankful. But instead, she was just frustrated and angry. Livia's fingers dig into the soft sand as she has to physically restrain herself from clawing at him like a wild animal.
She had been so close to finally becoming whole...
A few minutes longer, and she would have gotten everything back!
Livia hadn’t been drowning.
She hadn’t needed saving.
She didn’t know what she was doing, or how she even started to do it, but now that it ended prematurely, she feels like her legs and arms had been hacked off, and she would really like them back. They were hers after all. So why were they suddenly gone, leaving a space of such emptiness that she wonders how she ever thought she could go on without them.
But all the same, he had saved her. That had to count for something, or that is at least what she kept telling herself as her fingers sink deeper into the ground.
“T-Thank y-y-ou,” She stutters out between chattering teeth as she trembles, her body feels unnaturally cold.
Her savior reaches out to her, and she has to stomp down on a flinch, as he tucks his jacket tighter around her. She curls into the lingering warmth the cloth brings, her gaze searching out the bag she had brought with her when hands suddenly tuck themselves under her knees and around her shoulders. She freezes as she is lifted off the ground, her wide eyes gaze meeting kind green.
“Wha-? I-I don’t n-need you-r-r hel-p-p!” She protests, struggling weakly.
Livia tries to call her magic to bend to her will but it does not respond and she feels a deep, sickening tug in the center of her belly. She gags and pushes frantically at a firm chest. She is returned to the ground and she promptly retches up her breakfast, her stomach heaves painfully until there was nothing left in it.
She fights back tears of vexation. She was so tired of being weak. And it seems every time she hit her lowest point, someone was always there to witness it in full display. She did not need to go through this again, so she tries to quickly flee the scene, avoiding eye contact with her rescuer.
She feebly tries to get to her own feet, ignoring the bone-deep exhaustion that weighs down heavily on her, but her knees give out and she nearly crashes fast first into the sick she just expelled from her mouth. A hand quickly wraps around her arm to prevent a very disgusting fall, and she is once again lifted into strong arms.
Livia mumbles protests under her breath even as her vision darkens around the edges, and her eyes blink heavily. She reasons quickly that whatever she had been doing, in the water, surrounded by her blood in a deep trance, it had drained her to a very dangerous level.
If she had been able to properly finish it, this would have never happened, but because she had been forced to stop...
She feels frail and faint as if she can disappear in any second. Her hands wrap around her stomach, and she is struck with a sudden heart-stopping terror. Her spells were still in place, but she can feel them fading. Tears sting her eyes, and she shakes her head frantically. Pleas fall unheedingly from her lips as she begs her rescuer to help her, to save her baby.
He shushes her gently, pulling her tightly to his body. From the corner of her blurry vision, warm gold lights dance, but she is so far gone that she barely pays it any mind.
Livia musters up what little magic she has left and feds it into the spells protecting her baby, but by doing so she ends up blacking out instantly.