“Lir…” The Halloran—Dorian, Lir learned a tad earlier on—hums a lonely tune.
“What is it?” Lir groans. He still cannot trust his intentions are of the better kind, for he is perplexed that Dorian chooses to live here, alone, out of all places.
He could be a criminal.
He could be a murderer.
His name might not even be Dorian.
“Nothing.” Dorian sighs. He pats the edge of the rocks that keep the waters at bay and motions for Lir to sit. Outside, the rain is still heavy; it has surely smudged any traces of his and Tobias’s footsteps away. Lir cannot say he is reassured that no one could come looking, even if he screamed for help, considering the existence of their passing has been reduced to piles of dirt, rearranged as meaningless shapes. “You’re very far away,” the Halloran mutters, as if he were disgusted by the thought alone. “It’s a bit… disconcerting.”
“Why?” Lir asks him. “I know you see me well, even if the light is dim here, it shouldn’t be a problem for your kind.”
Dorian’s interest seems to rise. “Oh?” A wave of bold pretention washes over his features and darkens alongside his cocky grin. “And where did you learn that?”
He scoffs. “Please, newborn, we don’t need to play this game. I’m aware you’ve likely developed at least some of our abilities. And I’m sure you’ve realized that, deep down, it isn’t your human friend who will teach you all about them.”
It’s true. He has a point. Tobias is just as clueless as Lir is.
Lir crosses his arms. He scratches the back of his elbow, then looks away. The crystals that run alongside the cavern’s walls are purple now, and the more he stares at them, the more they feel familiar, as if he has seen them before yet can’t quite remember where, or when. “Are these rare?” Lir doesn’t believe this question poses a risk. He also doesn’t think Dorian could chase them—should he decide to drag Tobias by the arm, and out of this luminous cavern—since the Halloran’s lower body is all tail, no legs.
However, for now at least, saving his mentor in such ways is off-limits. Lir has yet to recover from limping to his current location and his trip on the boat, not to mention the storm is still raging outside. He should stall, he must, for as much time as he can possibly buy them.
Then, once daylight breaks, he will make a run for it and take Tobias along with him.
“You tell me.” Dorian’s glare is deadpan. He glances at the crystals, then back at Lir. “Is it a common occurrence, in your opinion, for crystals to exhibit such eccentric behavior?” The way Dorian says this rips a tiny chuckle from Lir’s lips.
“No, not really.” Lir locks his hands together behind his back. “But it could be for you Halloran folk. I don’t know.” Lightning strikes the sky and douses the entire cave in a white flash that is quick to recede, as it is succeeded by darkness again.
Lir gulps. He wishes Tobias were still awake. Even though he felt flustered at the prospect of being fearful in front of his mentor, admittedly so, his presence was quite a reassuring one.
Dorian completes another lap around his modest pool of water. “You’re having a hard time accepting it, aren’t you?” His chin disappears beneath the water; now, Lir finds that the way his hair reaches for the corners of nearby rocks reminds him of cobwebs, not sea-plants.
“I’m not sure I follow what you’re trying to say.”
“You use the words Halloran folk”—Dorian rises again—“as if they didn’t apply to you.”
“You’re right.” Lir knits his brows together. “That’s because they don’t.” He points at himself. “Look at me, I’m nothing like you.”
A snicker escapes the Halloran’s lips. He, in turn, raises a single finger, until it is aligned with Tobias’s sleeping figure. “But he is nothing like you either.” The statement hits Lir harder than he believed possible. It churns a certain hope within him that he had wanted to hold onto, makes it boil and simmer, until nothing but a sentiment of being truly alone in this mess remains. A certain fear that his transformation is irreversible, inevitable after all, spreads like wildfire in his gut. as much as Lir wants to reply with absolute confidence that he will find a way to escape this and undo the undoable, he cannot. His mind is blank.
“Well,” Dorian huffs. “This is by far the first time I’ve made someone cry with only words”—he wriggles his fingers—“and not these claws.” His voice softer than before, almost bordering on empathy for Lir’s case. But cry?
What does he mean by cry?
Lir raises his hand. The tip of his fingers brush past his cheek. His lips part. He doesn’t remember when these tears first fell, yet, here they are there, streaming down his skin that seems to absorb them much quicker than when he was whole, human—alive.
“You shouldn’t stay with a human.”
“Huh?” Lir’s voice is shaking. This is bad. There’s no way he’s going to be able to carry out whatever plan he’d wanted to salvage when it feels like he’s just been cut open with a knife and crushed by a million different forces at once.
“I’m not saying this to taunt you.” The Halloran swims closer to him. Lir can’t be bothered to step away. He’s too transfixed by the whole scene—the way Dorian’s tail creates echoes of waves in the water, how the crystals’ violet glows reflect against his scales, giving Lir the impression of being thrown into another world—one he’d held barely owned any clues about until days ago, when his lungs collapsed, and the light disappeared from his eyes. “It’s never a good idea to mingle with their kind.” There is pain in Dorian’s words. Lir wonders where it is from, and if it has anything to do with the scar that is carved into the Halloran’s arms. “They’ll betray you. You can’t trust them. We were meant to live apart from each other, not together. Never together.”
Lir glances down at him. His eyes are lidded. Today’s events have started to weigh him down in the shape of a sudden urge to retire for the night. He kneels. He shifts, close, and then closer, to the edge of the lake. As he dips his feet into the water, he sniffles. “You don’t understand.” Lir hunches over himself, then presses his palms to his face. “I can’t leave Tobias behind. He’s the only company I have. He’s… my only hope.”
Dorian presses a finger to Lir’s chest. “Lies,” he says. “You have yourself.” The Halloran’s touch leaves him as quickly as it had come. He turns around. “Yourself should be all you need to survive. If it’s not, then you are dependent, and dependence means death in this world.”
Lir wishes everyone would stop talking about dying and start thinking about living instead. It is in times like these, when he misses Wolf’s childish antics.
He wants to go back to that—back to before, where the most serious issue at hand was getting the number zero on a paper in school. “You said I had to get a tail.”
To Lir’s relief, Dorian seems to accept his sudden change of topic, and agrees to follow suit with a curt nod. “Yes,” he mumbles, with a fist strewn to his chin. “It’s imperative for your survival—if you do not give up your past, then it will fight with your future. The two cannot coexist. Nothing will remain, once the battle between them is over. Unless you end it yourself.”
Lir’s fists fall back down to his sides. “Why can’t I give up my future?” he asks him. “Why… does it have to be my past?”
Dorian shakes his head in dismay. “Because there is no future in the past,” he tells Lir.
The rain finally comes to a cease. As the winds die out in turn, Dorian holds up his hand. He says, “Wait here.”
He dives, deep into the water, to a point where Lir starts wondering whether he will actually rise anew. Seconds pass. There is no one. Minutes elapse. Still nothing. Around an hour later, Dorian finally surfaces again. He extends his hand. He holds out a vial for Lir to take. The inside of the glass is filled with a potion that glimmers in shades of gold. “Once you drink it, you will know what to do.”
“I have to drink it now?” Lir blurts.
The Halloran laughs. “No, newborn.” He smiles as Lir takes the vial. “Only when you’re ready. But… don’t take too long. The future has never been a patient one.”
Lir glances back at Tobias. He gulps, and truly hopes Dorian hasn’t done anything that could be of permanent harm to his mentor. “What about him? Will he… Will he be all right?”
The Halloran huffs. He crosses his arms once more. “As I told you, he’s merely asleep! I’ve also wiped his memory of me, so—” Dorian squeezes the water out of his hair. “I would greatly appreciate it if you would keep this meeting in your heart, and not in your spoken little human words.”
Lir returns his grin. “Of course.” A flutter of relief fills his chest with warmth. “Thank you, Dorian, I will—” A loud splash of water makes Lir shut his eyes tight and recoil in on himself. “Dorian?” Lir blinks again. Dorian has disappeared.
If it weren’t for the potion’s weight in his palm, Lir could have convinced himself that his nocturnal conversation with the Halloran was nothing but a dream.