Actions

Work Header

Zwilling Doppelgänger

Chapter Text

Air traveled unbothered in the forest glade, thick as ever. No one walked through these woods; Well, no one sane enough would go through them. The particles captured in the sunlight bounced and changed in almost delightful spasm-- Charged with an energy known as magic. The inhabitants of the woods were those of human fairytales, brought to life as something that was beyond their understanding. The tales always warning to stay away from these mythical creatures: To stay out of fairy circles, to not trust a black cat, or especially to not trust a house made of candy. Humans were quite the wary sort.

At least that’s what the doppelgänger thought. He lived in these woods, away from human society. He considered himself human, sure. He was born to one, and raised as one despite his… Condition. Too many deaths would occur, the magic of seeing a doppelgänger being an omen. He wasn’t lonely though. Or.. at least not too terribly lonely…

“Emil, I’m heading out. Want anything?” A voice called out in the cabin near the door. Green hues glanced over to the figure. Red tousled hair, freckles, matching red eyes to the red hair.

“…T-That look doesn’t suit you. Just the usual.” He mumbled the first part almost as a forethought to answering the question.

“If I could pick what I looked like, I would. So would you.” The other huffed. “If they don’t have flour, I’m just buying biscuits. I don’t understand why you want to make everything.”

“Oka-ay...” Emil’s shoulders sagged slightly. Of course his twin brother wouldn’t understand. The other found joy in the forest. Foraging, interacting with the other residents of the woods, and even helping them build things. He often wondered if he considered himself a part  of the mythical creatures despite his and his brother’s human upbringing… He didn’t doubt that, actually.

“Stay safe... Ratatosk.” Emil simpered.

“Yeah, sure. Don’t answer the door when I’m gone.” And with that, the currently red-headed male left the house. The door swinging to shut behind him while stirring the sparkling air particles.

Chapter Text

Moving fluidly within the crowd was never a problem. Dodging, weaving, and dancing around the figures that bustled along. Keeping keen red eyes sharp on all of the faces that were around, the people who went on about their day carelessly. Unaware of his existence. The grey cobbled streets echoed the sounds of clopping from horses, high heeled shoes, and running of children. Glazed with a golden hue from the early October sun. It was a nice day. If only the redhead would see it like that.

To Ratatosk, the local settlement town was the last place he would go to hang out. The hustle was annoying, and the loud noises were excruciatingly grating. The chatter of people mingled in with the calls of salesmen trying to sell their wares. However, the forest couldn’t provide everything. Well, it could if it was only Ratatosk who lived in the forest. With his twin brother, there were other needs to satisfy. Emil loved to bake and cook. The baking was specifically troublesome though. Almost everything for cooking could come from the woods, but when it came to pastries, breads, cakes, and the like it required flour, sugar, and all of that kind of stuff. The only reason he tolerated the hobby was because he had a sweet tooth. Though he honestly thought buying the ingredients were pointless. What’s the point of a local baker if not to buy from them?

He supposed his brother was just antisocial and that’s why he preferred baking. Didn’t want an excuse to leave the house. He sighed, running a hand through red locks. He caught his reflection on a pane of glass to a tinker shop. Emil was right, this look did not suit him at all. He scowled at the reflection before entering the store. The one thing he knew for certain Emil needed was a new oven monitor. Something practical he could understand needing. He knew all of the shops owners and their employees faces, he had to. On the days he looked like any of them, he had to avoid them like the plague unless he was in the mood to watch them die. Employees often put names to the faces he wore. It was aggravating because if they knew the face very well, they often asked him questions he could never answer.

With the thermometer in hand, he went to the counter. A cheerful hello and the obvious fake ‘welcome to this store’ mantra. “Oh- You’re that traveler that’s in town. Plan on moving to Auerheim?”

“Who knows.” a reply slipped his lips easily. A traveler, huh? Hopefully they were staying at the inn today while he ran around to buy things.

They smiled, before putting the item into a bag, announcing the price, which he paid. Ratatosk handed the golden coins over. “Probably best not to, honestly.” a whimsical sigh from the sales employee. “Lots of deaths and strange rumors around the deaths. They say faeries are behind it. Of course, we’re super close to Neubirn Woods.”

“You think the fairies want anything to do with this town?” he casually asked, humoring the random conversation. He wasn’t interested. He knew the rumors. Knew what others said about his and Emil’s home.

“Don’t they? I mean after all the fae are mischievous folk. Even the non-fae. It’s up to you though. Good luck!” they answered before ending the conversation. Finished with the transaction of business with him.

Ratatosk took the bag and left the store, instantly dumped back out onto the street to carry on. Store after store, after vender, after salesman, they all called his face a recent traveler. Some had nice things to say about the town, others had bad things. The consensus was the same no matter who was talking to him. There had been a lot of deaths as of late. Some thought it was a fae from the woods, others thought it was a serial killer on the loose. Ratatosk knew the source. The major rumor usually was of some kind of look alike appearing and killing the person in fright. While Ratatosk knew how to avoid the people he looked alike, knew every back road and side street in this town, Emil did not. Emil was clumsy, uncertain and indecisive. They were all running into Emil and dying because of the doppelgänger curse.

His hands full with bags, he took the side road off into a dirt road, following the street of dilapidated houses. They huddled near the outskirts of the forest where the poor lived. The children played with wood for dolls, dirt for toys, and twigs for trinkets. Nothing like what the inner town kids played with, such as porcelain dolls, round tops, and intricate puzzles. They didn’t take notice to him as he watched them play, carrying the bags into the woods. The forest silence swallowing away the hollers and voices of children. Left with only birds, rodents and the soft voices of the fae. He followed the main path before going onto a deer trail that led  directly to a small cabin. Something he could say he was proud of making. It wasn’t an easy feat, but with the help of the other magical creatures, he managed.

He entered the house, setting the bags onto the table. “I’m home!” his voice called out in the house. A creak followed by footsteps down wooden stairs resounded. A blonde bedhead looking boy with a slightly small build coming over. Green emeralds sparkling in curiosity over the plethora of bags.

“W-Welcome home Ratatosk,” a warm soft voice leaving Emil.

Ratatosk blinked slightly at the other before smirking. “Well. Someone ended up with effeminate features today.” he teased.

“I’m Sti-ill male I assure you!” Emil pouted his cheeks. “I still don’t like that l-look you have. It’s… weird looking.”

“He’s a traveler. Probably a foreigner. Likely not from around here.” He dug a hand into one of the bags, pulling out an apple and tossing it to Emil. “There’s a bunch of rumors about the deaths you’ve caused.”

“W-What!?” Emil fumbled at catching the apple, but managed to catch it before it hit the ground. Rubbing the reddish yellow fruit on his faded blue shirt. “A-a-are the-ey real-really talking about it a-all…?” He visibly deflated. Bothered by the deaths he caused.

“Well, yeah. 12 people in a single week. People are going to talk. Keep that up and we’ll need to either relocate deeper into the woods and completely cut off contact or move to a different town’s outskirts.” Rata picked some bags up and over to cabinets and pantries, putting the contents away. “After all, if they knew we lived here we could be hung, or burned, or worse. I don’t plan on dying by their hands thanks. It’s bad enough we have death seekers. The forest grave is getting too big. Most don’t even have names--how pathetic is that?”

Emil sat on the cushioned chair, nodding slightly. “I-I.. I know..” he mumbled. He felt horrible about the deaths and the death seekers. Wanted no part in their charades. However, like Ratatosk, he did like this location a lot. It allowed him a society to connect to humans, but also allowed him to be away and safe from that very same human society. It allowed his brother to mostly remain unbothered by humans and to interact with other species. “Do... D-Do you.. Erm… consider yourself.. Uh.. mm... Well. I-I mean…” he fiddled with the apple in his hand. “A part of the fae life h-here...?” he asked hesitantly.

Ratatosk paused, sitting where he was for a bit. The gears in his head turned to give his brother a reply. “We take human faces, bring death to humans for taking their faces, and are ostracized by society because of this curse… I don’t know. I don’t like how we were treated, but at the same time… surely it was a fae that cursed us,” he hummed in thought. “I don’t know.”

Emil nodded slowly in understanding. “I-if you had a choice... Wo-would, would you ch-choose to be human?”

“All of these questions.” a sigh “I don’t think so. Maybe be like… hmm... An elf or something. Something similar but different.” Emil tilted his head at his brother’s comment. Well, he wasn’t expecting that for an answer. “I’m kidding Emil. Honestly, I would choose to be normal. To have my own face. I don’t care what species that is, as long as I have something of my own. I should only ever have to share that with one person, which is you.”

Emil smiled slightly “J-Just me?”

“Well duh, you’re my twin brother! Of course just you! I also would want to be immune to dopplegängers, because fuck this whole death from seeing a look-alike thing.” He rolled his red eyes. “Anway, what are you sitting around for! Come help me out, sheesh.”

“O-okay!”

Chapter Text

The creak of a chair resounded and then dulled against wooden walls. Feet propped against the table as a male leaned dangerously far back in his chair, a pencil held up on his face by his upper lip and nose in deep thought, looking at the wall full of newspaper clippings. Some of the pieces were fresh printed grey paper while the rest had seen it's fair share of candle light and sunlight. Scrawled in black ink were all the deaths that occurred in Auerheim and other, not-so-local town, that spanned across many years. The male breathed a sigh, leaning back slightly farther on his tilted chair.

“This is worse than a murder mystery. It makes absolutely no sense.”

From over in the other corner, dimly lit by a single lantern was a bigger male. The light created a golden red glow off his deep satin red hair. Moss colored green eyes glancing at the male on the chair. “Aster, you're going to fall and hurt yourself. Sit on it straight.”

He tilted farther in his chair in protest, the pencil falling off his face and clattering to the floor from his continued talking. “It makes no sense though! What do any of these deaths have in connection aside of dying for seemingly no reason and everyone sharing the same delirium that their clone ran into them?” he puffed a cheek, “Usually finding a connection and motive is obvious! There's none here though! C'mon, Richter, aren't you the least bit curious?”

“No.” A quick and dry answer. “We're not a detective firm, we are researchers currently studying to what degree are humans connected to Magic. I would have thought catching Evelyn the Face Stealer and nearly dying from that encounter would have set you straight from this nonsense.” he put a hand on the bridge of his nose, obviously still displeased with the situation they were in.

“Awww but Rich~” he leaned back farther, “It was only a small cut along my jawline! Just a small flesh wound!”

“You could have died had I not caught up to you!” Richter scolded, jolting Aster enough that he clattered to the floor completely. His white jacket flopped  over his head as he rolled over to sit up, pushing the white folds of cloth off him. His blonde hair was completely disheveled now.

“But I didn't. Pleeeeaaase! This is the last time I promise!” Aster clasped his hands and did an impression of a begging puppy.

Richter took his glasses off momentarily, pretending to clean the lenses. Really he was trying to make sure he couldn't see Aster's adorable features contort into a pout. He wasn't going to give in! Or… so he thought. He could still imagine the look in his head and even that was enough to wear him down. “Fine,” a sigh, “This is the last time. No more after this. We're scientists Aster. Not murder mystery detectives.”

Aster picked up his pencil and straightened out his chair before practically pouncing on the older male. “THANK YOU!!!” He exclaimed joyously.

“Yeah, yeah. You have a month, Aster. I think you've gathered more than enough news clippings to have figured something out.” Richter held the blond who had leapt onto him. He almost fell out of his chair from the impact but managed a loud scoot to push the chair back firmly in standing position.

“The only similarities are a look alike being on the scene and various different ways of dying. Some from heart attacks, others from aneurysms, and the majority just… their heart stopped or something.”

“So they die from meeting a dopplegänger? That's it? Are you sure this is a murder mystery?”

Aster took a hard pause from Richter's words before scrambling off him and running over to a shelf full of story books. Pulling out and thumbing through many of them before returning to the shelf while also setting a few books off to the side. Fervently searching for something. Richter blinked at the sudden fervour of his partner.

“Aster?” He asked curiously before getting up from his chair and walking over.

Aster finally found the book he was looking for after much digging and making a mess of the shelf before exclaiming “Ahah!”

“Ahah, what?” Richter echoed.

“DOPPLEGÄNGERS, RICHTER!” he shouted, a crazed look in his eyes. Richter knew this face all too well. The other often acquired it when he was onto something brilliant… or incredibly dumb.

“Okay, and?”

Aster flipped open to the page before handing it off to Richter. “Doppelgängers are mischievous fae that steal the looks of others. A single look from your would-be self is enough to kill you! I was thinking too hard that this was a human murdering spree, but it's a fae!”

Aster had officially lost Richter in his ramblings. The redhead shook his head sighing. “That…” he paused briefly, “is by far the dumbest thing you have come up with, Aster.”

The scrutiny of the comment made the blond puff out his cheeks again. “Okay then. We'll go into the woods.”

“What?”

“And look for it--”

“Aster it's night time.”

“and If we do find a dopplegänger, you owe me two dozen donuts!”

Richter stared at Aster in disbelief. “It's night time.”

“Isn't that the best time to go Fae hunting?” He countered, walking over to a closet near the bookshelf and pulling out a tan jacket

“But--”

“You don't have to come with if you don't want to Richter.” Aster smiled at the red head. “Every theory is worth exhausting at the very least, right? I want to at least put it to the test before admitting it's a dumb theory.”

Richter walked over to the closet as well, pulling out a grey jacket himself. “Fine, but only because you make a sound argument. Please don't walk too far ahead of me this time.”

“I won't! I'll share some donuts with you if you keep up~.” He giggled in reply. Richter looked away, a blush tinting his cheeks. He'll always wonder how he ended up with the most vibrant person in the world as a partner. Gloved hands shoved into his pockets with a small clearing of his throat.

“Well, let's go then. While the night is still young,” he directed. Aster happily took him up on that and opening the door to a main room which then led to outside. The cool air meeting his tanned skin, Richter followed after him. One of these days, Richter thought, he'd finally work up the courage to ask his science partner to be more than just that. Maybe after this whole shenanigans was over with the doppelgänger search.

Chapter Text

The path to Neubirn forest was riddled with leaves, twigs, and tree debris. The only reason the two males knew that it was there was thanks to the lantern light that shone through the darkness and the occasional snapping of twigs, crunching of leaves, and needing to step over a trunk or two. Aster shuddered slightly when the wind howled right through his jacket, the piercing cold like pins and needles against the skin. Richter kept up with Aster as best as he could while trying to keep an eye out around the dark woods. Besides the lantern, their only other light source was the moon and even that wasn’t giving him enough light to see.

“Aster, Slow down. I can’t really see without the lantern,” he informed the blond who heeded him. He slowed to a stop and turned to face Richter, teeth absolutely chattering. Richter, finally reaching Aster, put a hand on his shoulder and pulled him close, preventing Aster from continuing on for a moment. “You’re cold. You should have worn more layers.”

“I-I-I-I-I’-m-mmm fi-i-nn-n-ne.” Aster shook while taking the gesture to cling to Richter for warmth.

“It’s fall. It’s been fall.” He sighed, taking the scarf off from around his neck and wrapping it around Aster’s. He’ll be damned if he let his small partner catch a cold from negligence.

“I-I-It’s o-o-onn-n-ly O-o-o-cc-kk-ck-- BURR” He wiggled slightly to warm up. “It’s only O-octobe-er though R-R-r-r-i-richte-er.”

Richter shook his head, “We should head back. We can barely see, you’re freezing, and it’s not safe to be traversing these woods.”

“No-No-no-no-no! I’m fi-i-inne! Fine! Se-ee! Warming u-up now!” Aster was now hopping on his feet trying to get the blood pumping. “We can conti-inue st-i-ill!”

“You sound like you have a speech impediment with how chattery your teeth are.” He tried to not chuckled, but an amused ‘hmph’ did leave him.

Aster laughed, “H-Hey! D-d-d-don’t b-be-e mean to thos-s-se that actu-tually have one-ne!”

“C’mon then, since you’re so insistent we find your doppelgänger tonight.”

Aster handed the lantern off to Richter before pulling out a small rod like device. “I want to test this, it’s the perfect place to!” a click of the button and from the one end of the rod did it illuminate the forest. “Haha! Better than a lantern!” he exclaimed.

Richter looked at it bemused. “A… torch? But it has no flames… Aster when did you make this?” When did Aster make any of the random inventions he created was the real question.

Aster grinned “Our research is to see what capacity humans have for magic. This is powered only when a creature of magic touches it! Granted, the more magic that is in the person the brighter the light,” He shrugged. “It was much brighter when I tested it on wish stones.”

Richter breathed a small sigh. “So you do work on research in amongst your murder mystery solving,.” he was quite surprised by that if he had to be honest. He thought when Aster got distracted, that was that and no work henceforth was completed. However, “When do you have time to sleep?”

A sheepish grin painted itself on the young scientist’s face. “I’m on my third day without~”

“ASTER.”

“Shhhhh! Keep your voice down. We’re in the dreaded fae forest, remember?” He giggled, walking along with the lit rod in hand, stepping around a pile of leaves on the path before stopping again. “Hey Rich, do fairies rake leaves?”

“Is that your sleep deprivation talking or-” Richter followed Aster up to where the blond had continued on to, staring at the path. “Oh.” Indeed the path seemed to be raked, though missing were the obvious grooves that a rake created.

Richter continued on ahead of Aster, nervousness filling his ears with a heartbeat. Mossy eyes looked around for anything suspicious, including rustling leaves. The path didn’t seem to end, it felt like. Which was worrying for Richter. What was on the other side of these woods? He must have been paranoid enough by the uncovered leafless path because Aster crept up unto Richter and near his ear gave a hearty-

“BOO~”

“AST-STER!” Richter jumped almost a foot in the air in fright from the other’s nonsense who melted into a puddle of laughter. “That- do you recall where we are!?” he spluttered to the blond who still hadn’t recovered from laughing.

“I’m ahaha s-sorry I just, you got so tense and I pfffff” he melted back into giggles.

Richter put a gloved hand onto his forehead and composed himself from the sudden onslaught of fright. “Right, well when you’re done laughing, can we continue on? It’s going to be morning by the time we’re done here.”  Aster nodded, also trying to compose himself to very little avail before his eyes caught sight of something in the distance.

He tugged at Richter’s jacket and pointed, shining the lit rod in the general direction. “Is that… a cottage?” The lights glimmered through the foliage of the forest, and smoke clearly rose out from the chimney. Richter took his glasses off momentarily and cleaned his spectacles before returning them to his face, as if in disbelief to what he was seeing.

“I… I think so.” Richter confirmed. “Did… Were there townspeople who planned on moving into these woods? Wouldn’t the Fae have driven them out?” He found it odd. Exhilarating, sure, but odd. What was special about the inhabitants of this place that the fae allowed it?

“Unless they are also fae, Rich.” Aster breathed under his breath. His green hues looked around, trying to find an easy path that led over to the cottage. He backtracked slightly, looking around before opting to continue on. A slight brisk walking pace down the dirt path that was free from leaves. Aster’s feet thudded against the earth as his pace picked up, and Richter realized that the blond had once again took off without him.

“Aster, wait!” He scrambled after the blond. This always happened, he swore. Once second he was right by his side and the next second he was running off! “Aster!” He called for the other again. Aster wasn’t slowing up. Soon he saw the torch Aster held divert off the main path. Equipped only with a lantern it took him longer to find the deer trail, covered by bushes and weeds that hid such a slender path. He couldn’t tell if it was a legitimate deer path or one made by people. He walked carefully along the path, worried that it could be a legitimate animal trail. Fearing getting bitten by a snake or rubbing against poison ivy. Neither of which he found to be there once he got to the end where the field opened up. His eyes looked up and found Aster, already at the door, staring at it in wonder.

“Aster,” he whispered harshly to his companion. “Get back here, now!”

Aster looked back to Richter and waved the redhead over. “But Rich! It’s a cottage! I hear talking inside!” Aster also whispered back.

“They could just be normal people, Aster. It’s almost midnight, you’ll be disturbing them!”

“What if they aren’t just normal people though!” he gave bunny air quotes to the word just, as if to push his point further that it couldn’t be the case. “C’mon Rich, this could be who we’re looking for!”

“You said they are talking inside. There’s more than one.” Richter countered harshly.

“I talk to myself all the time though.”

“That’s because you forget I’m not in the room.” Richter rolled his eyes.

“Then stop leaving me alone in rooms~” Aster giggled silently. “C’mon, come over here. It doesn’t hurt to knock and ask.” he tried pushing again for Richter to cross the field over to the entrance.

Richter on the other hand snuffed out the light from his lantern and ducked low when he saw a shadow near the window. “Aster. Come. Back. Here. Now.” He whispered again.

Aster huffed, turning to the door and giving it three loud raps onto it. “Hello?” He asked to whomever could be on the other side. There were shuffling, then a long pause. Then what seemed like a muffled heated debate. Richter was right, there were more than one inside. However, he didn’t think it was more than two. “My name’s Aster, I live in the town nearby. It’s called Auerheim, perhaps you know it?” He said again after there was another pregnant pause.

“Aster, stop it, come back here.” Richter pleaded, this time not so silently. He saw it in the window, he knew Aster’s frame anywhere. Even if he knew it wasn’t Aster. “Look you were right, it’s a Doppelgänger, now please come back before they open the door.”

Aster was a tad ticked with Richter now. “If I’m right, then I want to see them,” he replied with a huff.

“Aster, please!”

Aster ignored him this time, knocking on it again. A timid voice left the other side of the door, seemingly as though someone approached it. “U-Um.. W-Why are you here?”

“I wanted to know how you managed to attain a house within this forest. Aren’t the fae mad at you?” Aster played coy, unsure if they overheard richter.

Aster saw a small cat slink over smoothly to him in graceful movements, stopping at his boot to sniff at it. It was an odd color for a cat, Aster thought to himself. The way it was painted in vibrant reds with white markings. Like a tabby… if tabbies could be inverted and made red. Aster reached down and picked the cat up curiously, waiting for the person on the other side of the door to reply. Perhaps they were scared? Or they couldn’t answer? The cat rubbed it’s cheeks against Aster’s hand that was petting it, purring softly. Perhaps it was a stray? It seemed too personable to be a stray though. Was it their cat? He knew animals weren’t afraid of the forest, as all animals were seen as friends to the fae. So perhaps the cat was cared for by the fairies? He perked up when the other finally replied.

“N-No.. Th-they aren’t mad… I think…” he heard the other shift next to the door. Were they scared of Aster? Or… oh man, Aster wondered if this person had a speech impediment. “W-were you… um.. And some-someone else s-scre-screaming in the woods?”

“That was me and Richter” Aster confirmed, “Sorry for scaring you. Can I meet you?” The cat gave a rather wide yawn at this, before leaping up onto Aster’s shoulders, perched and looking over his head. Curiosity glinting in it’s auburn eyes.

There was a pause, some more inaudible whispers. Aster looked back to Richter, who seemed frozen in his spot. Hesitation clear in his eyes. What was he being such a scaredy cat for? A different voice... Or similar? It was deeper than the first one, however it sounded plausible that it could be the first one? “What’s your name and what do you look like?” The cat meowed as if to talk back to the voice. Which prompted some more whispers.

Aster was slightly taken aback to how sure this voice sounded in comparison to the other one. “I’m Aster Laker, I have… Black hair, brown eyes, pasty white skin, and uh.. I guess we can consider my face squarish.” Aster lied. “I’m about Fiiiiive.. Ten in height. Need anything else?”

Aster watched the cat jump down from his shoulders onto the ground, darting to the door pawing at it. Did it want in? It was such a curious kitty he mused… Or perhaps it really was their cat.

“And your friend?”

“He’s got loooong flowing red hair, tannish skin.. Kinda, beautiful porcelain features if you ask me. He wears glasses and has… mmm… probably mossy green eyes. He’s about five, eleven. His name is Richter Abend.” Aster practically gushed about Richter, telling the truth. He had meant to lie as well, but it was was worth seeing if it would cause Richter to blush. A quick glance back to him and he was correct. The redhead’s face was a lit red light bulb. Aster restrained himself from giggling. “What do you look like… I assume there’s two of you?” The cat then sat on Aster’s foot.

There was another pause before a sigh. “Short red hair, freckles, sunburnt skin, red eyes about five, eight if I had to guess. The other with me is blonde short hair about to his jaw line, lightly tanned skin, green eyes… roughly five, five or five, six.”

Aster’s heart was beating faster than it had been. Anxiety welling up in him. So one of them matched his description? “So why does appearance matter? Can I see you both now then?” Aster said without thinking it entirely through. The cat moving away and back into the brush.

Another pause. Behind Aster, he could hear Richter approaching. Did his partner finally get over himself? “We match neither of their descriptions so...” The deeper voice finally said. The door finally opened inward, light blinding at first before his vision cleared.

Chapter Text

Ratatosk and Emil had finished putting groceries away before Ratatosk stretched in place. He was glad to be back in the forest. “Welp, I assume you’re going to do some baking, right?” He asked the other in the room who sat on a chair flipping through a cookbook.

“U-um..” Emil nodded in reply. “Is… Is that okay?” Hesitation shown through his question as he looked up to Ratatosk. The freckled male put a hand to his hip and tilted his head slightly.

“I expected it. What do you mean ‘Is that okay?’. If you always do it, why wouldn’t it be?” He questioned back. Emil looked back down at his book nodding slightly.

“I.. um.. I don’t get the sense you like.. i-it when I-I b-bake…” Emil mumbled to himself.

Ratatosk looked out the window, it was roughly noon if he had to guess. He sighed, taking a seat next to Emil. “Okay, why exactly?”

“Eh? Uh.. w-well…”

“Emil.”

Emil looked back up to Ratatosk. He sincerely hoped he wasn’t in trouble with his brother. However, Ratatosk simply patted Emil’s head.

“You look like a whipped dog with that face.”

“Eh!?” Of all the things he anticipated Ratatosk saying, that was not it. “R-Ratatosk! T-that’s not f-fu-funny! This is someone’s f-face!”

“Exactly, and you’re making it look like a whipped dog.” He grinned. “Yeah, I don’t get why you bake a lot. I’m sure it’s just… I don’t know, you’re coping mechanism or whatever. I’m here to talk to, though. We almost never talk anymore about things that bother you. You’re constantly bottling it up and drowning yourself in baking instead.” The grin that once painted his face had slipped away.

“That’s...” Emil was now no longer looking Ratatosk in the eye again but down at his hands in his lap. “That’s because you... Ne-never tal-talk about what’s eating a-at you… It’s alwa-always just been me and I-I feel… self-self-fish.”

Ratatosk’s face was now one of shock, looking away from the blonde. “Oh.”

“A-And I know... I know my stu-stu-tte-stutter mak-kes you upset…” Emil continued, his hands now firmly clasped, trembling.

The redhead shook his head slightly before sighing. “No. No, it doesn’t Emil. I’m used to it.” His tone was softer, but almost in self reflection. “Look, I’m sorry. I don’t benefit from telling people what’s wrong with me. You do though, I know you do. You always bounced back anytime you opened up to me or the fairies.”

“That’s!” Emil exclaimed “That’s because you’re all so kind!” he spoke with clarity in this sentence. Ratatosk shrugged.

“If you say so. I don’t particularly consider myself ‘kind’. If anything, I’m the reason you can’t live in amongst humans.” He said somberly.

“I-It’s not your fault! D-Don’t blame your-yourse-self!” Emil looked up from his lap to Ratatosk. “Don’t take bl-blame for something neither of us-s have co-control over.”

“Right… Well. Whatever, what is it that’s eating at you, Emil.” Ratatoks brushed the topic aside. Emil standing up from his chair.

“No, it’s n-not whatever. I-Is that what’s bo-both-thering you?”

“Emil--”

“Ratatosk, Please. I’m here t-to help you too.”

“You’re not going to back down from this… Are you?” Ratatosk looked up to Emil, motioning for him to sit back down. Emil blushed slightly at his own outburst and sat back down.

“No.” He confirmed.

“I think it’s highly suspect that doppelgängers are born from normal people, yet are considered fae. What separates us from real doppelgängers if they are a Fae species and not a human species? Our mother always said we were cursed, but never mentioned by who.” Ratatosk shrugged. “And it’s not like we can ask her anymore, so it’s pointless. I had the opportunity to ask and I didn’t. I could have tracked down who did this and given you the chance to be normal.” Ratatosk crossed his arms and leaned his elbows on the table.

Emil sat in silence slightly, taking in what Ratatosk said. Of course, how had he not noticed. Maybe that’s why Ratatosk constantly hung around the fae. He was trying to get information. “Do… Do you think Au-Aunt… Aunt F-Fl-Flor-ora knows?”  

“I doubt that bitch would tell us even if we asked. Especially after I killed her husband.” he spat in reply. “Flora may be directly related to us, but she’s too stuck up her own ass to care about others.”

Emil sighed and nodded. “You think… sh-she’ll ever f-forgi-ive us?”

“Why should she, I had every intention of killing him. Through our unfortunate circumstance or by hand.”

Emil paled slightly. “Ratatosk. Th-That’s--”

“It was just luck that I ended up looking like him, but I sought him out after I realized what occurred. We never look like family members. He wasn’t family.” He didn’t back down from it. Eyes boring into Emil. “Your speech impediment is his fucking fault. He deserved what he had coming.”

Emil deflated, his shoulders sagging. Remembering all of the horrible times Uncle Alba would come home and beat him. He always did so when Ratatosk was away, or out of the house. He tried to hide the injuries from Ratatosk, but a broken arm was too hard to hide. Ratatosk had initially thought his stutter was Emil thinking too fast before he spoke but the revelation had set it all in place for him on what was really going on. Then learning that Aunt Flora never once came to his aid made Ratatosk so angry, Emil was afraid of him for a few years. It was a week later that Ratatosk stole Uncle Alba’s face and it was that same day Uncle Alba died. Emil remembered it all so clearly.

He got up and over to the fridge and pulled out two containers of chocolate pudding, and then over to a drawer pulling out two spoons. He set the one spoon and container in front of Ratatosk. “W-Well, I’m still glad to be with you despite it.” he gave a nervous smile.

The freckled redhead looked up at Emil in slight confusion, “Emil?” It was putting it lightly to say he felt touched by those words. He always wondered if his brother wanted nothing to do with him.

“I-I think w-we both could u-use some pudding.” Emil nodded taking the lids off and sitting back down his spot, spooning some into his own mouth and giving a happy hum. “So good~” he practically melted.

Ratatosk arched an eyebrow at his brother. “Dessert before dinner. Is that how we’re rolling now?” He teased with a chuckle before also picking up the spoon.

Emil gave a small laugh. “We live alone! We make the rules!”

“Touche. If your appetite is ruined, don’t blame me,” he shook his head also taking a bite of the pudding. He concurred, it really was good. “Okay, I agree, spending 6 hours trying to figure out how to make pudding was worth it.”

Emil laughed some more “See! I told you!”

Ratatosk glanced out the window again to find night time blocking his sight of the outside. “Welp, we spent the rest of the afternoon chatting.”

“I-Is that a bad thing? D-Did you ha-ave plans today?” Emil tilted his head nomming on another bite.

“No, it’s fine.” he stretched in his seat. “I don’t plan my days, they plan themselves,” he reassured Emil.

“O-okay.” He nodded

The both of them sat in silence for a bit, eating from the small pudding dishes. Emil loved this pudding a lot, he’ll have to make another batch in the future. “Oh! I have to let Butterscotch in!” Emil hopped up from his seat and over to the door, opening it just as a loud ‘ASTER’ resounded. He quickly closed it in fright. Ratatosk had hopped from his seat and over to the door. He had a serious look on his face.

“Again? How many more death seekers are there going to be before they get the hint to stay away?” Ratatosk practically spat. Emil clung to Ratatosk’s arm slightly, trembling like a leaf.

“I-I-I-I-I th-th-in-thin-think th-there-ere’s m-mm-more than-n o-on-ne.” Emil was struggling to say a single word without a stutter.

Ratatosk led Emil back over to the chairs and had him sit down. “Stop talking. Focus on breathing. I won’t let anything happen to us, okay?” Emil nodded, yet wasn’t letting go of Ratatosk’s sleeve. He knelt beside his brother and rubbed his shoulder, trying his best to calm him down. Really, Ratatosk wanted to dim the lights so that it’d be hard to find their cabin, but no way in hell did he dare to with Emil shaken up like this.

It took a small bit, but Emil did finally let got of Ratatosk’s sleeve, finding the rubs on his shoulder soothing. The red head patted the blond before remembering that Emil’s cat companion was still outside. He bit his lip slightly, wondering if it was worth risking going outside to fetch the cat while there were hooligans outside. Judging from the sound of that yell.. He had to guess that whoever it was truly did intend to enter the woods. They had to be just before the cleared path that he made. He crept to the door and opened it slightly, inching his way outside. Keeping an eye over at the trail. Emil watched, hands clenched against his chest. Fear for his brother pounding loudly against his chest.

Ratatosk whispered while looking around. “Butterscotch. Hey. Butterscotch, c’mere. For fucks sake, of all days it chooses to be late today.” he hissed. “Butterscotch!” he whispered a tad louder. He half wondered if the loud noises scared Butterscotch from coming near. He thought it was possible. He swore Emil needed to stop letting this cat out and about. However, he froze and fell deathly silent when a loud ‘BOO!’ and ‘AS-STER!’ resounded. Ratatosk shook himself slightly, deciding to hell with the cat and went back inside, closing the door and bolting it shut.

Emil had eyes for saucers. “W-What-at a-ab-about--”

“She’s a smart cat, she’ll be fine.” Ratatosk replied.

“Bu-but--” Emil tried countering until another muffled yell occurred outside. They knew. The cabin had to of been spotted at this point. Emil trembled some more, tears welling up in his eyes. “W-Why d-d-do they-ey al--” he hiccuped, “w-ways c-com-mme here!”

“Shhh, Emil. It’s fine, We’re fine, okay? It’s not anything we aren’t used to, right? Just two death seekers instead of one. We’re okay. Our luck has been 20 for 20. One of us has always matched the death seeker.” Ratatosk tried to reassure.

“But th-th-there’s two o-of them.” Emil mumbled.

“I know.. We’re fine. We’ll leave through the basement if we don’t match one of them, okay?” He put his hands on Emil’s shoulders and gripped slightly. “I need you to have courage. Please.”

Emil nodded, though was still shaky in his breath. He stood up and walked over to the door with Ratatosk, keeping an ear out for sounds. His lip trembled slightly. There were definitely people outside of the house… or at the very least approaching still. Ratatosk had his ear pressed up against the door, a very stern look on his face. He could tell that Ratatosk didn’t like this situation either. Maybe they should move on to a different town after tonight? Was that safe? Or move deeper into the woods into the section where the Fae absolutely kept humans out? Would that be okay for Emil and his brother, though? He failed the test last time, so what would make him pass it this time? Emil mustered every last bit of confidence he had left and peeked out the window. He barely caught it, but he saw someone snuffing out a light. He quickly moved away and hid behind the door next to Ratatosk, his heart beating rapidly.

“R-Ratatosk.” He whispered, pointing to the window. “I-I saw s-s-som-mm--” His mouth was covered by his brother.

“Shhhhhhhhhhhh. They’re nearby.” Emil licked his hand in retaliation and Ratatosk pulled away disgusted “Ew- Emil!” he whispered harshly.

“I-I saw o-one o-outside” he finished his thought.

“Why did you peek outside, Emil? What if they saw you?” Ratatosk sighed. He jumped a bit when a voice resounded suddenly next to the door.

“They could just be normal people, Aster. It’s almost midnight, you’ll be disturbing them!”

“What if they aren’t just normal people though! C’mon Rich, this could be who we’re looking for!”

“You said they are talking inside. There’s more than one.”

“I talk to myself all the time though.”

“That’s because you forget I’m not in the room.”

Emil and Ratatosk froze. Looking at each other. Emil looked ready to lay an egg, where Ratatosk for once looked rattled. Emil didn’t know what to do to help reassure Ratatosk, especially with how loud his heart felt in his ears. However, Ratatosk looking scared, made him even more scared. Knocking filtered through the wooden door, causing Emil to hold his breath. Ratatosk shook his head at Emil, putting a finger to his lips. He seemed to have regained composure however, Emil knew that flash of fear meant that even his brother wasn’t immune to being terrified. He wanted to beat himself up for being so selfish and forcing Ratatosk to always be the stronger person. Those thoughts instantly died when once again there was a knock at the door. There seemed to be more talking on the other side, but neither of the twins wanted to put an ear to the door to hear.

Emil once again glanced at Ratatosk before working up the nerve to speak up. “U-Um.. W-Why are you here?”

“I wanted to know how you managed to attain a house within this forest. Aren’t the fae mad at you?” The voice on the other side sounded young. From someone probably his age? Emil was stumped trying to come up with a reply. They technically weren’t in the area that the Fae protected from humans. It was an awkward cross section for those who sought asylum from humans but weren’t allowed in with the fae.

“N-No.. Th-they aren’t mad… I think…” Emil tapped his fingers together, replying in what he thought was a lame fashion. “W-were you… um.. And some-someone else s-scre-screaming in the woods?”

“That was me and Richter. Sorry for scaring you. Can I meet you?” Emil hesitated, looking to Ratatosk for an answer. He grimaced slightly but seemed to recover from being scared. Or at least Emil thought he did.

“W-What should we say?” Emil asked Ratatosk who took a deep breath.

“What’s your name and what do you look like?” His voice spoke up in place of Emil’s. Emil blinked in shock to hear his brother speak instead.

“I’m Aster Laker, I have… Black hair, brown eyes, pasty white skin, and uh.. I guess we can consider my face squarish.” Aster lied. “I’m about Fiiiiive.. Ten in height. Need anything else?”

“...Bullshit.” he muttered under his breath. “And your friend?” Emil raised an eyebrow. What was bullshit? Emil tried to get his brother’s attention silently to ask, but the other wasn’t having it.

“He’s got loooong flowing red hair, tannish skin.. Kinda, beautiful porcelain features if you ask me. He wears glasses and has… mmm… probably mossy green eyes. He’s about five, eleven. His name is Richter Abend. What do you look like… I assume there’s two of you?”

Emil casted a worry glance to Ratatosk, again trying to get his attention. Neither of them looked like them. What do they do? Did their 20/20 streak finally give out? Not that it was a good streak to Emil. “Ratatosk.” He finally shook his brother’s arm. “W-what do you m-mean bullshit?”

Ratatosk rolled his eyes and whispered back, “You have the same voice as he does. That’s why it’s bullshit.” He gave a sigh before finally replying to this Aster kid, “Short red hair, freckles, sunburnt skin, red eyes about five, eight if I had to guess. The other with me is blonde short hair about to his jaw line, lightly tanned skin, green eyes… roughly five, five or five, six.” He described the both of them while giving a quick look over of Emil and comparing him to the height chart that was hung to the door for rough guidance.

“So why does appearance matter? Can I see you both now then?”

Ratatosk thought it over slightly. Was it safe to? Did the other guy’s ‘Friend’ go up to the door? He didn’t hear him though, so he didn’t think so. “We match neither of their descriptions so...” Ratatosk unbolted the door, and had Emil move back behind it. Sure enough, on the other side was the spitting image of Emil’s current face. Ratatosk kicked him square in the chest, sending the poor blonde tumbling into the redhead he accurately described.

“Go Emil!” Ratatosk ordered to his brother, who stood behind the door, frozen in shock before finally scrambling over to the bookcase and climbing up the ladder on the side of it and jumping down a hole that was there. Ratatosk took off after Emil and kicked the bookcase over before also descending, both of them landing into the underground trail hideout.

Leave it to Butterscotch to purposely trip up Aster and Richter from catching up to the two boys.

Chapter Text

Aster’s eyes connected with a freckled red eyed face before the wind was knocked out of his lungs, falling back into Richter with a loud painful noise leaving his throat when he recovered. He curled up slightly before getting to his feet. Richter called out, ready to run in before suddenly tripping over the cat. “Hey, get back here-- Shit!”

Aster saw the bookcase go tumbling to the ground and pulled Richter away from it, watching the unfamiliar face slip to the other side. “Richter, hoist me up! I’m going to go after--” Richter grabbed Aster’s wrist and pulled him back harshly.

“NO! You were right. I wasn’t lying when I said you were right, Aster. I saw your figure in the window.” Richter held Aster in place. “You’re lucky one of them saw through your lie. You’re.. You’re super lucky. You could have died, Aster! Let’s go and leave them alone. Clearly they’re more scared of us than we are of them.”

Aster blinked, shocked by Richter’s actions. He wasn’t used to being told “no” so sternly by his companion. However, even he could tell he crossed a boundary and made Richter upset. “Rich…” He reached out and grabbed the cuff of Richter’s sleeve. “I’m sorry, I… I got too excited and carried away...” Aster’s eyes looked to the floor. His eyes landed on the cat that sat there with a glint in it’s eye. “Say… Richter… Why did you chase after the one?”

There was a pause as Richter inhaled and let out a breath slowly. “I got angry that he kicked you.” The answer was simple and straight to the point. Despite that though, it caused the corner of Aster’s lip to twitch up.

“But what do we do with the knowledge that they do in fact exist and are the most probable reason for all the deaths? If they're scared of us, why kill in the first place?” Aster questioned while having a hand on his chin. “Also I'm super certain that you're their cat, Mr. Kitty.”

“It's female, Aster”

“Miss Kitty.”

Richter snorted slightly at how quickly Aster corrected himself. “Yeah I think it is their cat.” He nodded in agreement.

Aster picked the feline up again, though it squirmed in his arms. Not wanting to be held this time. “Hey Rich, hoist me up. I want to send her on down after them.”

“What? Are you nuts? Aster, you wanted me to hoist you up to chase after them before, why would I now?” Richter asked incredulously.

“If she's their pet cat I'm sure they'll miss her.” He opted to setting the cat on the table for now. “It's likely a tunnel of sorts.. Maybe we should send her down to them with some food? Things they'll need?” Aster mused.

Richter stared at his partner. “You have a heart of gold, but I doubt they would appreciate it.”

Aster rummaged around slightly, finding some cloth and putting his torch on it before quickly scribbling a note on how it worked in his pad that he pulled from his pocket and affixing the note to the torch. His attention was drawn to a rather large mechanism in the house. It was white with silver handles and gave a low hum. “What do you suppose this is?”

“A brick with handles. I have no idea.” Richter shook his head.

The blond curiously opened the door and was met with a coldness. Inside it was food of varying sorts. “It's… an ice box? For preserving food?”

“What?” Richter approached it curiously and felt the coolness radiate from the square compartment. “A cold closet.”

“PFFF” Aster covered his mouth to stop from laughing, to no avail.

“What!?”

“A- pfff  - a cold closet! Hahaha oh man, Richter. That's-- that's funny.”

“No funnier than you calling it an ice box!”

“Well, whatever it is, it seems like they preserve food this way.” Aster mused. He pulled out a few things he readily recognized and understood to be capable of being warmed and folded the cloth in such a way it acted like a pouch. He tied it around the cats abdomen who seemed to want no part in Aster touching her, but did nothing to remove the makeshift pouch. He once again picked up the cat, went over to Richter and gave his best impression of a kicked dog. “Please, Richter?”

The taller male sighed and hoisted aster up over where the bookcase once was. Aster sat the cat down and gave it one final pet. “C'mon missy, go on”

As if the small bit of goading was all she needed, she jumped down into the darkness. The echoes of her land traveling up along with patter of her running. Richter sat Aster down. “A short drop, travels underground.” Aster relayed.

“You counted.” Richter deadpanned.

“Pffsshh of course I did. Well... anyways… now what?” Aster looked around.

“We leave. Hope they return. Send them a basket of fruit with an apology, and promise to never return.” Richter crossed his arms.

“We're kinda.. leaving their place a mess though.” Aster scratched his cheek slightly, noting the books, the bookshelf, and the fact that the two individuals we're doing something before they showed up. “Can't that also be a part of the apology? ‘Hey sorry to scare you, we cleaned up your place’?”

“It'd be invading their space.”

“I'm sure if their cat finds them they'll know I did a tad bit” Aster grinned.

“... I can't argue with you, can I?” Richter came to the realization.

“Nope!” The blond practically chirped.

Richter shook his head and bent down, hoisting the bookshelf back in place, some more of the books falling out in the process. Aster collected the books and started putting them into the bookcase, instantly applying them by category on the shelves.

“They must love to cook and bake.” Aster commented as he added what felt like the 15th cookbook to the shelf.

“Can't relate.”

Aster giggled at the dry comment Richter gave. They had an array of all kinds of books. Some were building books, there were a few academic books, and some casual reading. However, there was one book that didn't fit. “Um.. hm.”

“What's wrong?”

“I can't squeeze this book in this shelf.. I'm not even sure how it fit in here in the first place.” Aster tried yet another spot to no avail.

“Perhaps it was hidden behind taller books in the back?” Richter prompted. Aster's green hues glanced over to Richter who was sitting at the table. Richter, while Aster tidied the bookcase, had cleared the table, washed the dishes and put everything away as best as possible. “What is the title?”

Aster looked at the binding, front and back before opening the red book. “Ratatosk's Journal” Aster read aloud.

“Put it on top of other books for now. I'm sure whichever one was Ratatosk, they'll put it away.” Of course Richter said that hoping to stop the curious researcher from snooping.

To no avail, as Aster flipped through many pages before landing on a page with intricate drawings. “He's an artist!” Aster admired some of the pieces. Before looking at the text. “Ah, well. Darn. It's written in code. So can't peak anyway.” Aster closed the book and set it on top of a set of books. Based on the drawings of buildings, furniture, and what looked to be blue prints, he figured Ratatosk owned the building type books.

“Smart.” Richter shook his head. “He made it Aster proof.”

Aster rolled his eyes. “Give me a week and I’ll crack it.”

“No you won’t. You’re leaving that book here. You have no idea what they’ll need it for.” Richter got up from his chair. “Well, we cleaned the best that we could and tidied up. We should go.” He quickly looked out the window and sure enough the sun was peeking of the horizon. He gave a slight grumbled sigh. “We spent the whole night out in these woods.”

Aster put his jacket on and the scarf Richter had given him, buttoning up the front of it. “We discovered an answer to our mystery though!” he announced proudly. “No resolution though.”

“If I were them, and I’m being honest Aster, I would skip town immediately.” Richter pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose slightly.

“Is that why you didn’t want to tidy up?” Aster questioned while handing Richter his jacket.

“No, it just occurred to me now.” He took the jacket Aster handed to him and put it on, also buttoning it up. “They’re afraid of us, live out here remotely, and the deaths are usually infrequent if we ignore this past week with 12 deaths. One of them must be very good at dodging the person they look like, and the other is probably really bad at it.”

“Don’t dopplegängers pick who they look like?” Aster tilted his head. “According to all of our books they are supposed to be able to choose.”

“What if they can’t?”

“That sounds like a hellish life, but why travel amongst humans? The fae don’t want them?”

“... Hmm” Richter tapped his foot slightly, looking to the ground thinking. “They like to cook and bake… How hard do you think it is to get baking ingredients from the forest?”

“There’s no wheat fields so probably hard… Oh. They keep going into town for baking supplies.” Aster put a fist to his hand as if having an ‘Ahah’ moment.

“That’s what I’m thinking.” Richter sighed, opening the door. “Well, let’s go. If they come back, they come back. If they don’t. They don’t.”

Aster followed Richter to outside, the door closing behind them by Richter’s hand. “You’re hoping they do come back~” he smiled. “I hope they do too.”

“I’ll give it a week before going back to leave an apology basket.” Richter nodded in reply. “If anything, maybe we can gain some forgiveness for your prying curiosity.

The two of them set back down on the path, walking back to town. Richter gave a big yawn that Aster almost immediately mimicked. The two of them were tired and looked forward to going home to bed.

Chapter Text

Emil landed on his feet with a thud moving away from the entrance. Worried green eyes watching for his brother as panicked gasps clutched at his throat making his mouth dry. Soon he heard a loud thud of his brother coming down, running over to Emil and grabbing his hand.

“Ratato-”

“Move, c'mon!” He ordered, ushering Emil down the musty dark path. It didn't take long before the light that did filter through the house couldn't be seen, darkness absorbing them. Ratatosk kept a firm grip of Emil's hand, not letting go. He could hear every breath they made, every echoing footstep, every drip of water. It was dark, cold, and moist down here. He knew it existed, knew Ratatosk had connected it to the house, but he never personally traveled through it. He should have, he thought. He was more scared of it because it was so dark and hard to see, didn't know where it exactly led and how long it was. Things he was sure his brother knew. It was only after a few minutes of traveling through the dark that he felt his brother pause and pull Emil down to sitting. The jerky action caused Emil to slip slightly on the wet floor.

“Ratatosk?” Emil questioned, fumbling slightly in the dark to reach out to him. He could hear the stuttering breaths the other gave, how shallow they were. He had never been so intrinsically aware of what a panic attack sounded like, but that's exactly what he recognized those shaky breaths to be. When his hand finally landed on his brother's chest, he pulled the other into a hug. He was sure the lack of reply from Ratatosk was because he didn't want his voice to betray him, letting out just how terrified he truly was. “Y-You kept y-your pr-prom-mise. We're ok-kay.” He tried reassuring as he felt arms wrap around him in return as a head put itself on Emil's shoulder and give a slight nod. Ratatosk's form trembled against him, absolutely breaking Emil's heart. He didn't like the knowledge of his brother being scared. He was too, of course, but his brother was always the strong fearless rock of them both. Right now though, Ratatosk was not that fearless rock. Neither of them were.

He rubbed the red heads back in small soothing circles with the tips of his fingers, allowing the sounds of the area to slowly calm their breaths. The drips pooled into puddles in rhythmic measure while a cool draft brought intrinsic awareness that they were indeed underground. Emil could feel his heart beginning to slow down and calm even if periodically it was still fluttery. Even Ratatosk’s trembling died down slightly. He wasn’t sure who’s breathing it was he had synced with in following, but it was soothing and pulling at the tiredness that was at the fringes of his mind. The adrenaline rush was wearing off, and he desperately wanted to fight it from doing so. Emil stirred after a bit, but only because Ratatosk pulled away a small sigh escaping his lips.

“A-Are you... You okay?” Emil questioned.

Ratatosk nodded, and then seemingly remembered they were in the dark before finally replying “Yeah… Sorry.”

“No no, It’s fine.” Emil shot down the apology. “I’m just… I’m glad yo-you’re okay.”

“You seem to be doing better.” The comment caught Emil off guard, and he really wished there was a light. He could always understand Ratatosk’s meaning better by his face. Even if it wasn’t his face per se.

“U-um… h-how so?” He questioned. He had no choice but to, without any way to read his body language. His voice was… deceptive. It tricked almost everyone he knew.

“Your stutter isn't as bad as before.” He replied with ease, exhaustion lightly laced in his words but barely enough that Emil realized he was also having an adrenaline crash.

“Where does… w-where does this tunnel l-lead?”

“Into a cave. It has many entrances, but we'll need to wait till day time in order to see.” He shivered slightly after giving the reply, rubbing his arms to warm up. “Didn't expect it to be this cold down here.”

“I-is there a lakebed nearby?”

“Oh, right. You don't leave the house much. There is, sort of. It's a bit of a ways off and channels down into here. The fairies love to soak in it for the minerals.” Emil found that bit of information amusing and quite adorable, but it reminded him of their current predicament in the dark. “Why'd you ask?”

“Oh! Um, I keep h-hearing dr-dr-dripping noises.”

“That's from the stalagmites and stalactites.” Again another easy answer. Emil frowned to the darkness slightly, all the while knowing Ratatosk couldn't see it.

“How'd you learn all this.”

“I asked. Also we own a book on it.” Emil's cheeks blushed.

“W-We do?”

Ratatosk shifted slightly in his spot, Emil flinching from the sudden noise. “Yeah, it was on the bottom shelf… or used to be. I kicked it over to deter them following us.”

Silence fell upon them both after that. Their soft breathing filling the void before Emil spoke up again.

“What… what are we going to do?”

Ratatosk bit the inside of his cheek, hesitantly asking. “Well, what is it that you want to do? I think you know our options at this point...”

Emil nodded before blurting out “Oh- sorry you can't see me-- I mean sorry um…” however the blunder caused Ratatosk to smirk and laugh slightly

“I can't see you if you goof, goofball.” Emil also laughed as well.

“I-I know but it came out suddenly. U-um… I think… uhm.. Well, is there a third-d option of g-going to see the great f-fairy of this forest and getting her opinion?” Emil asked after some thought.

“Oh-, I hadn’t thought of that.” Ratatosk rubbed his arm absentmindedly. “Is there a reason you want her opinion though?”

“Well… I think… I think w-we should move into the w-woods but--”

“You failed the test the first time.”

“Yeah.” Emil frowned.

Ratatosk pulled his knees to his chest with a small hum in thought. “So what makes you think you’ll pass it this time? I’m not against you taking it again. However,” he paused, gathering the words he wanted to say, “If you don’t pass it again, what then? Ask her if it’s safe on the fringes still despite those humans, or…?”

Emil took a breath, ready to reply, but let go of it after realizing he didn’t have a good answer. Shifting in his own spot slightly and rubbing his fingertips along the smooth moist ground. “I… I don’t know.” He admitted finally. “I just… I want you t-to be safe and… I-I always feel like I’m pre-preventing that.”

Ratatosk sighed. “I want you to be comfortable, Emil. You enjoy baking and we’ve already asked but the Fae can’t provide you with what you need at this particular forest. They haven’t yet forged an agreement with the local Elven tribe nearby. What we do know is the town over has an agreement.”

“Wh-Why can’t we live with the elves?” Emil mumbled.

“Because they don’t like us. I asked a month or so back and they called us Changelings.”

“Wh-What’s that?”

The red head leaned against the wall of the path, the sharp rocks jutting into his back slightly. It wasn’t at all smooth like the ground. “Changelings are Fae children swapped out with human children. Or elderly Fae swapped out with human children.” Emil’s jaw dropped. “Changelings are almost indistinguishable to human children and are sick with rare ailments or things that don’t make sense.”

“But--”

“We have no proof if we are or aren’t.” Ratatosk shot Emil’s rebuttal down.

“E-Even so! Why would they think that when we don’t know!”

“Because I passed the test on my first try.” Emil stewed slightly in silence, scratching the ground now. Miffed that they would accuse his brother like that. The grating sound was picked up by Ratatosk’s ears and while at first he questioned what it was, he figured it out and shook his head. “Emil stop picking at the ground. It’s not good for your nails.” Emil did what he was told, opting to ball his hands into fists.

“Just…” He gritted his teeth “J-just because you’re better at casting away your humanity d-doesn’t mean you’re a changeling. They said even humans can pass the test!” Ratatosk reached over, finding his brother’s arm in the dark before giving it a soft squeeze of appreciation.

“Thanks.” He meant it. He was glad that even though the Elves thought it was so, his brother was willing to go to bat for him. Despite how timid Emil was.

“F-For what?”

“For being you.” Ratatosk replied. Emil blushed slightly, not used to receiving a compliment from his brother. “Should we sleep? We have no idea how long it’ll take for the sun to light up the area down here.” He stretched his legs out again.

“I-I don’t know if I can sleep.” Emil bit at his lip slightly.

“Pff, well. I don’t know if I can either, however. If we’re going to see Foren, we’ll need all the sleep we can get. The great fairy wouldn’t be happy to see you looking like you haven’t slept all night.” Ratatosk teased.

“What? Wait, why would she care about wh-what I look like?”

Ratatoks laughed. “Emil, she was totally flirting with you before.”

“What.” Emil stared at the darkness where he was sure his brother was, eyes like saucers in utter disbelief. “Y-You better not be teasing me.”

“Of course I’m teasing you. That’s what siblings do. Why would the great fairy be interested in random kids?”

“Foren better smack you tomorrow.” Emil pouted.

“Because you can’t see me?” Ratatosk laughed some more.

“EXACTLY Because I can’t see at the minute.” Emil huffed before freezing in place. Hearing the light thud and pitter pattering of feet approach them before something fuzzy and warm jumped onto his lap, giving a small mewl. “Butterscotch!” Emil happily hugged the mass of fur on his lap, “You found us!” He was too overjoyed to be reunited with his pet to realize the small pouch on her back.

“How…” Ratatosk was skeptical. “How’d she jump up to the entrance…?”

“Does it matter how? I’m just glad she’s here!”

“Yeah, Yeah, sure. Come back to reality for a second, Emil. There’s no way she jumped that high up by herself. She never got up that high even with the bookshelf there.”

Emil was chewing on his lip some more while he petted the feline, until his hand bumped into the pack on her back. “Oh? What’s.. Wh-what do you have on your back, Butterscotch?” Emil fumbled with taking it off her back before feeling the fabric on his hand. He recognized it to be the handkerchief that was out on the buffet. Carefully, he undid the knots and laid it flat, his hand bumping into the various objects. A lot of it felt like… food? He thinks? Then his hand bumped into something cool and flashing into the darkness was a light. It blinded his vision as his brother gave a startled noise.

“What the hell was that!?” Ratatosk yelled.

“I-I-I do-don’t k-know!” he groped at the darkness looking for the object till he found the smooth object, eyes shut tight in fear as he grabbed it. Again a bright unfiltered light shined through the once unstifled darkness. Emil peeked with one eye open, looking at what he was holding. His eyes took a small bit of time to adjust and become acquainted with light. “It’s… A light... Thing.” Emil tried describing.

Ratatosk didn’t like it, and was on edge while Emil fumbled for the object. Even after getting used it. “Fairy tech?” He asked

“I-I don’t… think so?”

“So human made.”

“M-Ma-Maybe?” Butterscotch gave a yawn to the both of them. Ratatosk glared at the cat slightly.

“The hell did you allow those idiots do to you? Domesticate your dumb ass?” He hissed.

Emil giggled. “I-Isn’t she t-technically domesticated? Sh-She sleeps with me a-at night. She’s also not d-dumb, Ratatosk.”

“Sure, sure.” He rolled his eyes. Emil was so glad to be able to see his face again. He really did read better with his face, at least in Emil’s opinion he did. “Hey,” Ratatosk pointed at the stick, noticing a rubber band. “There seems to be some paper with writing on it.”

Emil looked as well, perplexed by it. He took it off slowly, trying to not lose contact with their only light source, having figured out that him touching it made it shine. “Dear Residents of the cottage--”

“It’s a cabin. Do those idiots not have eyes?”

Emil shot Ratatosk a look that said “Please don’t interrupt me.” before continuing on. “Sorry for scaring you a-and lying t-to you. We, be-being Aster and R-Rich-chter, were looking for the s-source of the deaths. T-The only cl-clue-ue we had wa-was a look-alike b-being involved. We assumed dopplegänger a-and went lo-loo-k-king around. We found s-some food t-to send to-to you a-along with my ‘Torch’. I-It’s m-mag-gic act-tivated so requires b-being held.”

Ratatosk stared at Emil through the duration of the reading, waiting for Emil to pause. “Are… Are they seriously dumb in the head? Like… How were we supposed to read that note in the dark to figure that out.” Emil giggled.

“W-Whoever wrote this s-seems imp-pulsive.”

“The one who’s face you’re wearing seemed to be, Yeah.” Ratatosk nodded.

Emil continued reading the note, “I, b-being Aster, w-wish to me-meet you both. W-we don’t want to d-drive yo-you both away. S-Sorry for everything. Aster and Richter.”

“Absolutely not, I am not meeting them again.” Ratatosk hissed. Butterscotch crawling onto his lap to bap his cheek. “Stop being cute. I’m not going to, I don’t care if you liked being domesticated by them.”

Emil laughed. “Y-Your t-talking t-to a cat!”

“What? You do it all the time!” Ratatosk looked grumpy, but there was a small lift on one corner of his mouth. Emil knew, he didn’t mean it in a bad way.

“W-Well… I want to return their light-- uh.. Torch? I think it’s called a torch.” Emil looked back at the note. “I want to return it t-to them. Th-They can’t b-be all bad if they a-are helping us o-out.”

“I don’t trust people who rummage through our things, and I especially don’t trust food provided by strangers.” Ratatosk crossed his arms, which was a mistake as it gave Butterscotch a spot to reach up and hop up onto his shoulders. “Hey- I’m not your perch, cat.”

Emil smiled. “W-Well, i-it was still kind of them.” Emil nodded. “W-We can use this rod thing to continue on, o-or to go back.”

“... We’re not going back, just in case they are still there. You matched the one, I assume Aster, so going back would kill him. I say we continue on. At the very least to get out of this cave.” Ratatosk sighed while standing up, brushing his pants off.
Emil wrapped the food back up, holding it in his hand while passing the torch to his brother. Once verifying they were both ready to go after Emil stood up did they continue on down the path. It was now with the light that Emil realized that the path they were on opened up into a cave, with protruding thorns on the ceilings and floors. He assumed those were the stalagmites and stalactites Ratatosk had mentioned. The two of them walked along, following yellow markings on the walls. They looked to be painted with the same color as the house walls, and wondered if it helped in navigating which led where down in the cave. Periodically did they pass by blue markings and even red markings. Only once did he see a purple marking. They walked in silence for the most part, butterscotch lounging on Ratatosk’s shoulders as their footsteps echoed in the cave. Emil admired the myriad of colors the wet rocks contained, and how they seemed to shimmer with crystals. They walked by a section where a part of the cave was submersed, the light bouncing off the surface like glass, interrupted at times by the ripple of waves when a drop landed on the surface. That was the first time his eyes saw a green paint that lead down a different path, the one which they turned on. Emil wondered if that was the end of the yellow paint, not seeing it continue on. The green trail’s path was mossy and slick, Emil resting his hand along the smooth wall’s for balance were equally as slick. Ratatosk seemed quite in his element, traveling through the various routes. Unaffected by the moss under their feet. He paused shortly, waiting for Emil to get a better stance on the ground  before going up some stairs. Emil almost slipped a few times trying to go up the stairs but managed to reach the top where his body was instantly met with the cool night air of the deeper woods. His green hues could see the stars that peeked through the rustling leaves and gave a sigh of relief. They were out. They were finally free from the oppressive darkness and into a more natural darkness. Emil was so glad to finally see the moon again, though he knew he’d be even more glad to see the sun.

Ratatosk continued walking from there, following the dirt path past tall elegantly winding trees that carried glittering lanterns and lights. He pocketed the torch, making it’s light die out, having no need for it now that they were near the heart of the fairy woods. Some of the fae giggled and waved at the boys, not at all hostile to their presence and even seemed more giddy than usual to see not one but both of them. Emil waved back sometimes with a smile, finding them to be cute. There were small birdhouses that some of the fae peeked out to see what the ruckus was about, while fae in bigger cottages would greet the boys with a nod before continuing with their night time rituals and activities. The energy in the woods absolutely buzzed till they reached the entrance, Emil almost bumping into Ratatosk.

A small orange haired fae greeted the two of them with a big smile. She came up to about Emil’s hip, but the blond recognized her immediately. “H-Hi Efoile.” Emil smiled back.

“Hello, Greetings, Salutations! My, look at you two, you both look like you could use a warm bath and a good nap, jeez! What brings you both here so late, I’m so used to Ratatosk visiting during the day and Emil… well almost never!” She giggled, her laugh sounding like chimes going off.

“Emil wants to meet Foren, is she awake still?” Ratatosk replied.

“Fae Queen Foren is not, No. Oh- but you both can stay at my place instead of making the trek back! I mind not at all!”

“Great, otherwise we would have slept in the woods.”

“The woods!?... Oh dear, oh my, something has happened, hasn’t it? Okay, now I understand why you both want to meet Foren. Come, come, you can stay with me for now.” She grabbed both Emil’s and Ratatosk’s hands, causing them both to lean slightly to her height. Ratatosk wiggling out of her grip making her giggle again as she led the way.

Reaching her place, they found a small cozy hut made of twines and barked wood with intricate vines cascading up some of the wood, wrapping around round windows. Truly a house built for such a short dwarfish fae. The oak door with intricate engravings opened, and the smell of sugar and honey filled the air as she ushered the boys in. Ratatosk almost hit his head off the top of the door before ducking. He grumbled slightly before they entered the house. Thankfully the ceilings were tall enough for them to stand slightly straight. It was a warm abode with flowers growing from every corner and wall space, to glimmering jars full of shimmery substances. Emil smiled, always loving how fuzzy-feeling this place felt.

“Have you boys eaten yet? Oh, never matter, I’ll feed you anyway.” She gave a giggle going over to cupboards and drawers, pulling out an array of breads and jams and setting a lilac-colored kettle onto a metal rod over the fire.

“Efoile, you don-don’t need to, r-really. I-I can help you.” Emil stuttered scratching his cheek slightly.

“Oh hush now, I won’t have it. You two have had a long night, I can see it on your faces. Sit, sit.” she ushered them into chairs, Ratatosk opting to sit on the floor instead. He’s learned a few too many times he weighed a bit too much to sit in them after a certain height. “Quite frankly it’s impeccable timing that you boys came. Orvwin has made a recent discovery.”

“Orvwin?” Emil tilted his head after sitting on the chair, fitting just barely.

“He’s a Fairy, specifically a rainbow one.” Ratatosk informed.

“Yes, well. We all just call him Orvwin since rainbow fairies are an odd lot. They call each other by colors. Colors! How useless. If a room of them are orange, then how do they know which one I mean!” she fussed slightly. “He was one of the few that had gone to meet the Astra fairies. Plannings for the Wish night and all.”

“Useless night.” Ratatosk rolled his red eyes while crossing his arms.

“Dear, that’s why we’re most certain you both are humans with a strange illness. Unlike those horrendous Elves. OOH, just the thought of them calling you both changelings makes me MAD.” she stomped her feet in place slightly.

“So… Wish night doesn’t work on hu-humans?” This was news to Emil, he had no idea. “Wh-why do humans pa-participate then?”

“Oh dearheart, it’s not that it doesn’t work on humans, humans need a special cloak for wish night to work on them.” She shook her head with a small wispy sigh, “However, the Star cloak takes 50 years to make and the Astra fairies only gift them to royalty. Even borrowing one can be quite hard as the cloak then only lasts 75 years.”

“So then why is Orvwin meeting the Astra fairies useful for us.” Ratatosk put a hand to his chin to support his head. His elbow resting on the top of his knee in his pretzel sitting position.

“He mentioned the both of you in passing, he did. Apparently talking about the time he and Emil got lost in the berry side of the forest and was scared by Butterscotch. Fairies remember the weirdest of things to think on fondly. Anyway, he mentioned how wish night last year bore no success for either of you. Of course the Astra then asked what your wishes were.” she recounted what Orvwin told her. “Well, the Astra decided since both of your wishes are not harmful ones, nor of ones that give much self gain, they decided to help. There’s only one catch though.”

“Being?” Ratatosk narrowed his eyes slightly.

“You don’t wish to stop changing forms or the like, but to wish to know who cursed you both. They apparently are almost done making the new Star Cloak meant for Foren’s daughter. They are willing to lend it only for this year’s wish night. Knowing the Astra, I’m sure they’ll want you both to be punctual.” The water steamed in a whistle from the kettle, her small plump hands grabbing the handle and pulling three mugs of odd shapes out and pouring the water in before adding grounded cocoa. She handed the boys the mugs, bringing the plate of treats over for them. “I’m not sure if this is something either of you will be interested in, however. I think it’s both of your best options.”

Ratatosk taking the oddly shaped mug that looked like a cross between a gem and a rock hollowed out gave a contemplative hum. Emil looked over to his brother before using his own strange mug to warm his hands up on. “W-Well.. it’s… better than nothing. I-I think.”

“It is better than nothing… but it’s asking us to directly confront whoever did this… assuming there’s a culprit.” Ratatosk clicked his teeth.

“That’s just how the Astra are, love. They are about having strength and courage to rise against adversaries. They have quite the bleeding heart for such tales,” she took a sip of the piping hot contents of her mug, unbothered by the temperature. “Of course, if it was the flower fairies way, they would have your journey be as easy as physically and logically possible. That’s just how Fairies are. Each type of them have their own quirks.”

“Well…” Ratatosk rubbed his hand absentmindedly on the wooden textured floor. “What do you want to do Emil?”

“I-I… I want to at least try it” he nodded. “It-It can’t hurt to… um… know.”

“No, it can’t.” the redhead agreed.

“Well, It’s not until another week or so. If you both stay in the woods, being punctual shouldn’t be hard.” She took a piece of bread, slathering it with an orange looking gooey substance with a spoon. Emil wanted to try it as well but took the harsh hint to not when his brother reached over and pinched the back of his elbow.

“Only the blue ones, Emil. Is Foren going to be okay with us lingering so close to the Fae woods instead of on the outskirts?” Emil gave a sheepish smile while rubbing the back of his elbow

“I wish I could answer that for you. It would have to be something else you ask. Foren always thinks with the forest’s safety in mind. She may require Emil to pass the test to be allowed to linger. Oh but, if you do pass it and the answer to the wish is a bust. You both will at least have a place to stay that's... Safer.” she hesitated with the word safer. She wanted to say better, but she knew not to. “Plus we almost have a trade agreement set up with the elves and Emil can bake to his precious pure heart’s desire. Oh! I do look forward to tasting some of his recipes” she fawned.

Emil gave a nervous smile, still conflicted. He did love the fae, they were always so nice and caring to his brother and he. Even the first time they came, they were so nice. Granted they learned later it was because the fae could sense evil in people’s hearts, whatever that exactly implied. Though, Ratatosk had mentioned that the fae knew of their existence for quite some time and word had spread. These woods just happened to be one of the few that didn’t mind their existence and were willing to be accepting of it, especially after learning that neither of them have ever taken on a Fae’s appearance. Only Humans. Even so, Baking wasn’t the only draw for Emil, he didn’t want to become disconnected from humanity. Especially since the fae were so certain that they were human. Though, it seemed like they would have to give up the ghost and accept it if they couldn’t confront the person, supposing it was a person..

“What… what if it isn’t a per-person? What if the Astra Fairies are wrong…? Would… the wish mean nothing?” Emil wrung his hands together.

Efoile gave Emil a slight unhappy look. Not outright sad, but restrained. “Well dear. That’s how the Astra operate. They are usually very sure of themselves. Almost too sure of themselves. I’m sure if Foren is made aware she’ll insist upon the ability to allow you both to wish your actual wishes, however…” She trailed off. “I’m not sure she would want you two having access to the cloak before it’s gifted.”

“So either take the risk by asking, or keep our mouths shut and obey the fairies.” Ratatosk glared at the floor not liking those prospects.

“Well… Yes. That’s exactly it.” She bit her lip slightly. “How about we get you boys to bed, Emil’s practically falling asleep on himself.” She gave a smile at the blonde who was indeed slightly looking very lulled.

Ratatosk nodded, getting up and putting the mug onto the table. “Same rooms?” Ratatosk asked.

“Yes of course. I kept them just the same,” she affirmed for Ratatosk. Emil slightly stirred to moving but was obviously very drained, Ratatosk opting to pick him up and carrying him to bed. Emil gave a slight noise of protest before clinging koala style to his brother. Efoile giggling slightly. She looked to Butterscotch who had long since jumped off of Ratatosk’s shoulders and sat there obediently by the door after Ratatosk walked out of the room with Emil in tow. “He cares so much for his brother, it’ll be heartbreaking if they don’t reach their own happy ending.” She sighed.

“Meeeeow.” the cat meowed at her in response.

“Yes, I do agree Butterscotch. Ratatosk’s determination is a force to be reckoned with.”

Emil clung to his brother, felt every planting of a foot, every movement that his brother made to carry them both through the small round living room and up a set of circling stairs that followed the layout of the round living room till it made its way up to an attic where two beds sat. True to her word, she kept them the same from long ago when the brother’s once stayed there as their cabin was being built. Ratatosk shifted and put Emil down on the one bed, decorated in greens and yellows. Really, Efoile had such a funny sense of humor, considering his bed was Red and purples. It didn’t take long for them to get settled before falling asleep.

Chapter Text

Aster was sitting at the desk, pencil tapping at his chin as he wrote up a thesis report. Of course, only a night had passed since their journey to the cottage and despite the one looking like him, though he didn't see them, he was fine. Humans were bustling outside for a very special night, even if it never bore any results. Tradition is tradition he supposed. A tradition Richter absolutely loved. He had to wait a week? Absolutely? He groaned. Why couldn't a week be over already.

"You're still writing that thesis?" The redhead popped into the room from outside, jogging in to grab a bag.

"Yeeeeep." Aster said blandly.

Richter, paused before taking off again. "What seems to be the problem? Usually you blow right through these."

"Can't seem to focus." Aster spun the pencil around his fingers.

"Oh." Richter shifted the weight of the bag in his hands before landing on a thought. "You're not still thinking about those two, are you?"

"What do you mean still ! It's only been a few hours!"

"14 to be exact." He huffed at Aster. "If you want to see them again so badly just wish to see them on wish night next weekend."

"That's exactly my problem, Rich!" The blond put his forehead to the table rather harshly. "That's a week away! I'll never be able to focus!"

"Sorry to say this Aster, but you'll just have to tough it out. Who knows where those two are, and more importantly, we should let them have their space after giving them such a fright. No more staring into space. C'mon, everyone's anticipating your expertise in stringing the lanterns together." Richter took the bag and left, closing the door behind him.

Aster groaned, lightly banging his head against the desk until an idea occurred to him. No doubt one that would piss Richter off. If the two hadn't gone back, surely wherever the dopplegangers left to would be on the other end of that tunnel. How to get there without Richter knowing he left, though, because he knew the other would object to this, but he couldn't let this go. Like picking at a scab. Why were they this way, why couldn't they pick what faces they wore, are they perhaps fairies who wanted a different life or not? He had so many questions and nothing to ask. He half wondered if anything was recorded in that notebook. However, the code would still be something to try and crack and if it didn't contain answers, he's back at square one in needing to ask.

He stood up, chair squeaking out from underneath him. Does he or doesn't he? If he goes, he needs to go now before he loses the day, but if he goes, how does he know that neither of them look like him? He teetered horrifically in uncertainty. It would be safer to not go because of the risks but was it worth passing up learning? And if it's just him, what are the chances of them looking like him again? The probability should be low, right? He walked over to the coat hanger and pulled one out, while also taking out a spare torch. It was his beta test one and was prone to innoperation but better than carrying a lamp. He slipped on the coat and went down the hallway to the back of the house, peeking out the door. No sign of Richter. He slipped out completely before slinking around in the shadows trying to avoid people. It seemed to be working pretty good and he tried to mentally imagine if this is what those two would have to do when visiting.

Soon he made his way to the same fringes of the forest again, hesitation gripping at his form. He gave one last look at the town before looking ahead and taking off. Hey, he’s fine by himself. He’s not doing anything wrong. Totally! He ran down the path from before till he saw the cabin but screeched to halt and ran behind the tree. Were those- No they were! Fairies! Flying Fairies! He tried to peer at them closer to figure out what kind. So were those two fairies, then? 

“Are you sure humans were here Wappa?” The golden fairy asked, flying upside down past the pink fairy’s head.

“ME!? I don’t know! That’s what Rata-pyon said!” She huffed. “And poor Emi-pyon looked so upset, OOOH if I see those humans” she gestured fighting punches and stances “I’ll PUNCH THEM!” 

“Mmmmmmmmmm, I know Wappa-”

“CAMELLIA! It’s Camellia! Not Wappa!” She huffed, stomping on thin air.

“Camellia, but Rata-pyon only described as the one looking like Emi-pyon and other looking like a taaaall redhead guy- Which! Hey!” He jumped in the air “Isn’t he part fey! He has red hair!”

“I don’t know Marigold! Why do you ask me things I don’t know!?”

Aster was finding that watching these two is super amusing. However, it brought up a conundrum. How does he get in without them noticing? He looked around briefly before spotting a stone and picking it up. Turning the smoothness over in his hand. What to do with this stone… 

“Well, I think Rata-emi-pyon are just scaredy cats. Their place looks like they just left for the day! No turned over bookshelf or anything!” Marigold huffed. “What do we do now?”

“Again with the questions! I don’t know!” She sighed, “Why are we even here to begin with.”

“To look for those people?”

“But why!?”

“Um hm… well… to beat them up. They aren’t here though.” she deflated, sinking in the air slightly. 

“So then let’s just go then!” Marigold huffed flying off

“Hey! Wait for me!” She flitted off after the gold fairy, leaving a trail of pink dust.

Aster came out from behind the tree, pocketing the stone. Looks like he wouldn’t need to use it after all. That was a relief. He walked over to the building, keeping his eyes and ears peeled for anything else before slipping in. Just like he expected, they haven’t been back. He assumed they would have locked the door if they had returned as it didn’t seem incapable of locking. Closing the door behind him he looked around and made his way to the bookcase, finding the book with the strange code. Why did they code this? Was it to keep secrets away from each other, or was it to keep secrets away from others?

He flipped through it with a small hum before landing on a page that sparked his interest. It actually had normal written language on it. Vibrant green hues scrolling down the text, absorbing the information.

Fae vs Non-Fae::

Fae folk extends to Fairies, Half Fairies, Elves and Half Elves. Anything with a fae lineage. Non-Fae is obviously everything else like Humans. Fairies hold a test of Magic as a way to protect themselves from those with impure choices and decisions. Fae generally automatically pass the test, but Humans have to cast aside their humanity in order to pass though it won’t suddenly classify the Human as Fae. It’ll classify the Human as one to trust and to receive a Queen Fairy’s blessing; turning the human into an Aes Sídhe. 

The test is fairly simple according to Efoile. All Fae know how to collect any of the three objects that the Queen requires. Everyone has their own set of three, and can change upon retests. Usually they are ridiculous things such as tears of happiness, cat’s laughter, or the smell of delight. 

Doppelgängers do not assume the form of Fae, or Aes Sídhe.

Aster tapped his chin in thought at the information on the page. He hadn’t realized that Elves and Half Elves were considered Fae, he always assumed it was reserved to Fairies. Though if he thought about it, there were many various types of fairies, and humans didn’t necessarily refer to every type by their name. What were Aes Sídhe though? Clearly they weren’t ‘Fae’ if it didn’t declassify them as humans, so then what exactly were their purpose and point of existence? Sooner or later, Aster finally stumbled upon another realization, voicing it outloud out of thinking habits.

“Wait--is it possible that they are attempting to pass this test to become this…. How is this word even pronounced? Eyes Side?” he hummed slightly.

“Ays Shee.” A figure moved down from the stairs where they were hiding. Aster however was still absorbed in his thoughts.

“Ohhh--I see, So then that means those two are human, looking to become Aes Sídhe.” He nodded, before realizing that it wasn’t Richter who answered, having been so used to Richter being the one to interject. He jumped in startlement, dropping the book onto the wooden floor. 

The figure with red hair and a very familiar freckled face gave a smirk. “I take it you were the one that scared those two away from here?”

Aster stared for a bit before replying, a small laugh leaving him. “For a second there, I thought you were one of them, they were wearing your face the other day.”

A contemplative nod. “Not anymore though, I’m sure. Just yesterday was I given the Queen’s blessing.” He gave a chuckle. “She felt fear go through one of them and sent me to check it out, of course those pesky Flower fairies accuse everyone, Sídhe or not of being the perpetrators. So, what did you hope to gain by coming here?”

Aster picked up the book and set it on the table, taking in the information. “You seem rather proud of gaining the blessing?” 

“What if I am? Not like you can tell anyone without being called a witch.”

“A Witch?” he gave a curious head tilt. “That’d be a new name to add to the list of things I’m called. My name’s Aster, You?”

A tentative pause “Fiore. What else do they call you?”

“Insane.” A grin. “I was under the impression that the two of them were behind the recent spike in deaths based on a random whim. While it’s not completely conclusive, I’d say I’m on the right track.”

Fiore crossed his arms, the brown of his leather shirt audibly restricting but forced into the movement. “So? You learned the dangers of what they are, why come back?”

“Answer this first: you said the Queen felt fear in one of them. What do you mean by that?” Aster’s eyes gleamed slightly. Did that mean that this blessing created a bond? 

“Oh, well… I believe it’s the older one of the two. He passed the test before I did awhile back apparently. Never met him though. All Fairy Queens and Kings feel the bonds of those who passed the test, and all those underneath their care. The closest one is usually alerted though.” he informed.

Aster was intrigued by this abundance of info. Why were humans not privy to this before? This sounded like a wonderful way to bond with Fairies and to share knowledge! He was getting mentally carried away though with all of the excitement that brought. “I’m interested in them! What happened that they can’t choose who they look like, why do they live so close to human society, what do they know and are privy to- I MEAN, LOOK. IT’S A COLD CLOSET!” he ran over to the box with handles and opened it, cold air spilling out.

The freckled male blinked at Aster in bemusement. “Why… do you care?”

“The more logical question is; Why don’t you care?”

Fiore’s face flashed in annoyance before fading into boredom. “It’s not my problem, and none of my business.” Aster sighed, not liking the answer. It must be really easy to get those three objects because he couldn’t understand how a guy like him could ever pass the test.

“I’m a researcher and a scientist. If I can help them, I want to. I would love to understand more about their condition and how to relieve that condition. For the sake of them, and other humans. One of them seems fairly interested in baking and I’d imagine living in a forest makes that hard.” Aster admitted with a slight shrug.

With a huff, Fiore walked around the table, picked up the book, and put it back on the bookshelf. “Well, don’t. I mean it. I personally can’t do anything to you, I only recently became an Aes Sídhe. However, the other one probably knows how to wield magic by now, and most Aes Sídhe aren’t afraid to defend Fae territory.”

“Magic!?” Aster practically vibrated in excitement. “You mean humans can do magic too!?”

“Uh… Yes? Were you born under a rock?”

“Pardon my lack of knowledge, but this is all very new information to me. I’ve never once heard anyone in town talk about it!”

Fiore gave a contemplative hum. “Uh, well I’m personally not sure why that is, but where I’m from it’s common knowledge that becoming a Sídhe is taboo. It’s like walking into a fairy circle and begging to give your name away type taboo.” he scratched his cheek. “Oh, but most places call them witches.”

“So why did you become one if it’s dangerous?”

“Feh! I have no want to learn magic! I just wanted an easy life where fae folk would never bother me as long as I lived!” He retorted as if that was a dumb question. “Fairies are so dumb in thinking that a human has to cast aside their humanity in order to pass it, it’s almost laughable.”

Aster frowned. “So that’s what the owner of the journal meant by not suddenly classifying humans as fae.”

“What?”

“I don’t think you should insult fairies like that, Fiore. They are quite intelligent, that’s why for centuries they’ve maintained their borders. I’m sure they understand that humans probably want as little to do with them as they do with us, and I’m sure both sides make exceptions. That’s why we have Half Faes out there.” Aster rubbed one of his arms slightly. “You seemed so proud to pass, but I see that to you it’s just a mark of feeling free from whatever fears you built up. Valid or invalid. Probably Valid since doppelgängers have the ability to kill the person they look like.”

Fiore looked stunned, spluttering to compose himself and reply. Aster shook his head. “I’m sorry that Fae folk scare you that much, but I’m not afraid. I’ve always wanted to get to know them, and now I know there’s a way to. So thank you for the information Fiore.”

“W-Whatever! If you die it’s your own fault, okay!?” Fiore stormed passed Aster and out the door. “Less dumb people in my life is all that means!”

Aster gave a small sigh. Well wasn’t that person quite unpleasant. He wasn’t sure what occurred to Fiore to lead to this point, but he decided he sure as hell was not going to dwell on it. He now had an idea of what he should probably do next, and that was to meet with the Queen. Well, good as time as ever to head that way! It was still bright and early after all! He followed suit and left the cottage, looking around for those fairies again. They didn’t seem to have returned yet. So returning back to the main trail and continuing deeper into the woods was easier. 

The glade was thick as ever, and only getting thicker the farther he traveled, but so was the air. He once read in a book that magic was very thick and heavy but he never imagined it to this degree. Continuing on the dirt trail he soon started to see all the tell tale signs that told humans to turn back around. Small glittering lights, the tinkling of laughter, the soft deepening of shadows, which soon morphed into bird house-like structures, turning into tree house structures and soon into small huts. Many fae watched him, all with wide curious eyes. Many asking him for a name, some coming up close to poke to then dart off laughing. Really their merriment was quite amusing to him. Despite the lack of talk about the Aes Sídhe, he wasn’t naive to the tales. Never give your name to fairies, never disrespect them, and whatever you do, do not fall for their tricks. The last one he never quite understood being a bit of a trickster himself. He was surprised how easy it was to simply travel this deep into the woods. He was always told that Fairies would attack you viciously for daring to enter their home. Or perhaps that meant the literal home? He soon saw a small cozy house that could only be described as belonging to a dwarf. Oh shoot, did he make a wrong turn? Surely this wasn’t the right way? There had been many winding trails and forks in the road, he wasn’t sure which way was the correct one, and some Fairies would sometimes point down certain paths. Perhaps that was the tricks?

He finally broke his silence, inquiring to a cute pink fairy that kept floating dangerously close to him before flitting away and repeating the process. “I’m looking for the Fairy Queen, and I’m quite lost. Could  you help me?” 

The pink fairy squeaked and flitted farther away this time, hiding behind another fairy of her size. He supposed that was a no. The door to the house opened, a rather short woman, closing the door quickly and running up to Aster, grabbing his hand, and dragging him down the path away from the house. “Queen? Yes? I’ll show you deary! Goodness me, goodness me! You shouldn’t be here, you shouldn’t be here, such a foolish child, Come, come, I’ll take you to the Queen, but you must leave absolutely afterwards! Not safe still, not safe!” the dwarf rambled.

Aster, though being slightly bent and struggling to keep up, marveled at her orange hair. “I’m sorry, what’s not safe? I wanted to inquire about becoming an Aes Sídhe. Is there a process I should do?” He almost walked into her as she stopped abruptly.

She spun around and drug him down lower by grabbing his clothes. “You want to WHAT? Oh dear, oh dear, that would take far too long! Misery if you should fail!”

Aster was getting a bit lost, what was the panic about? Surely the two boys don’t look like him, right? “I’m sorry…?”

“Sorry!? Oh hon! Please don’t be! Listen, and listen well. Poor dear Emil was given quite the shock last night, and I can only assume it was because of you! Looks just like you! Anyway, not safe. Absolutely not safe! Poor dear has a fever and it’s screwed up everything!” She continued on, shaking Aster slightly.

“What did it screw up?”

“Magic!! Magic deary! Such a finicky thing! They never change forms when sick, the magic halts and everything stops! At least I’m assuming magic. Deary you’re in great trouble should it persist! Misery I say!” She let go of Aster finally throwing her hands in the air. “You could die just having a glimpse! Oh dear me, come along. Queen, right? The boys were going to head there today but just seeing you, ooh!, I almost dropped hot water everywhere in fright! You’re so terribly lucky that Ratatosk is such a sweetheart, so, so terribly lucky. Insisted they waited for Emil’s fever to go down despite the heaps of trouble that’d put them in! Truly deary, you’re truly lucky.” She rambled, waddling down the path. “This way, this way.”

Aster listened and realized that he possibly did create a blunder. “Oh, I’m sorry. I went the direction I was pointed in. I didn’t realize they were at your place.”

“REALIZE! Oh deary, please! Of course they led you there, they love a good bit of mischief! Never trust a fairy that doesn’t trust you!” 

Aster paused in step. “What about you then?”

“Me? Of course me! Have I asked for your name deary? No, I have not. No tricks here to be found, deary. I’m exhausted with worry for those boys, you hear? I want you out of this forest or protected by a blessing as soon as possible, either or, hon!” She shook her head continuing on. Aster realized he better start walking again or he’d be left behind.

“Do you want my name?”

“GOODNESS NO! You can tell me your name, but dear me I don’t want it!” She corrected him. “I’ll tell you my name, you may call me Efoile.”

“Oh! I see. You may call me Aster then.” He smiled, quickly grasping the concept.

“Correct dear! Smart head with dumb wits, I see!” she laughed.

“Ratatosk mentioned you in his book at the cottage. You taught him about the Aes Sídhe?”

Efoile slowed slightly so Aster could walk beside her, while giving a nod. “That’s me alright! Naughty you, reading other people’s belongings!” She teased. “He’s a quick tact that one, yes indeed. Has to be I’m sure, lingering amongst humans is so dangerous” she shook her head. “Waltzed into the woods with his brother one day, homeless and starving, ran from a previous town that was out for their heads. Witch-hunted I tell you! My heart broke for them, abandoned by humans and unknown by fae. I told them both all that I could to help. They deserved a little luck in the tides for them! Of course, you came along and spooked them good, deary!” She put her hands on her hips and wagged a finger at Aster. “Believe me, if they end up leaving to another woods I’ll be utterly devastated! I’ve spent quite a bit of time with them both, they are family to me!”

Aster rubbed the back of his head, taking this all in. “Richter and I won’t tell anyone the location of the cottage. We haven’t. After all, our intentions weren’t to drive them away. We were just curious.” He felt really bad. One was so scared he was sick? Plus they were even contemplating leaving? Richter was right about wanting to leave if he were them.

“Curious and playing with death is what you are, indeed.” She paused in front of an entrance.

Aster guessed they were in the center of the woods at this point, and what was once normal woods with cute adornments and buildings, was now fauna and life that Aster had never seen before. Everything was so lush and lively. 

“Alright now deary, any last questions before you meet the Queen?” Efoile asked, crossing her arms.

“How do I address myself and ask? Will she understand my intent if I ask I want to be an Aes Sídhe? How does she know if I collected something correctly? I think that’s it for now.”

“Exactly as you did to me. ‘You may call me’. She wants your name as much as I do, which is not at all, deary. If your heart rings clear, she’ll understand, and trust me hon, she’ll know. Make no mistake about that. If that’s all, then you're all set, kiddo! Good luck!” Efoile opened the entrance door, laced in vines and flowers and pushed Aster in. “Don’t conceal your heart’s intentions whatever you do, deary!”

He wasn't sure if he was exactly mentally prepared yet to be shoved towards the room in which she resided, however he noticed he was being given very little choice. Efoile must be super worried about something bad happening he supposed. The Queen turned, noticing Efoile’s slight ruckus and gave a soft smile to Aster. “Hello, young human. I am Queen Foren, Fairy head of this forest. What brings your here?” Her blue eyes watched the other curiously with hands folded neatly together. Her wings almost as white as doves but as powerful looking as an eagles. Aster was in awe at how stunning she was. Efoile curtsied before waddling out of the room, closing the door behind her.

“Y-You may call me Aster. I heard I could become an Aes Sídhe by completing a test. May I take this test?” He bowed slightly, not knowing what proper etiquette was when addressing a fairy queen.

"Efoile truly has gotten tender-hearted. You're now the fourth she has brought here." She looked away, purple hair facing him as she addressed a much smaller individual. “Forel, what do you think dear?” She called.

Inside the enclosure the sun still shone brightly, catching petals and glass and casting an array of colors onto the grass. The petite girl could only be her daughter, he assumed, with how similar they both looked. Aster gave her a smile as well and another bow. He really should have asked what he should do when addressing them. “I don’t see why not.” she hummed slightly “Eccentric… but kind” she nodded, moving behind the taller female as if to hide behind the many folds of the leaf like dress. To Aster, the two of them were like Elves, the only distinguishing part of them being their luminescent white wings.

“What three things do we need?” The queen once again asked her, gently patting her head as if to reassure her it was quite alright.

“A tree’s whisper, a shadow’s loneliness, and” she thought for a bit on the last one, “A child’s laughter.” 

“Yes I quite agree. You have 5 hours to accomplish this, do you think you can do it, young Human?” 

Aster blinked. They were just as abstract as the examples in the book had noted “Do I have to leave to collect these objects?”

“You may not leave, all must be here presently.” 

He bit the inside of his cheek. So no time to even dwell on it by being with these elements. “I think… I can.” He hesitated. He was a scientist, through and through. Trees don’t speak or talk amongst themselves so a whisper was quite strange to him. If they couldn’t do one, then surely they can’t do the other. Shadows also couldn’t feel loneliness, much less anything. A child’s laughter though he felt like would be easiest. Afterall, there was a child here. “Am I allowed to solve them out of order?”

“Of course!’ Forel chirped in reply this time. 

“Okay,” Aster grinned. “Knock Knock!”

Forel smiled widely, seemingly liking the idea of a joke being presented to her. “Who’s there?”

“A little old lady.”

“A little old lady, who?” 

Aster donned a fake surprised look. “I didn’t know the princess could yodel!”

She tried to suppress a laugh but an out pour of giggles left her. “I don’t yodel!”

“But you just did! We both heard you~. Does that count as a child’s laughter?” he inquired, receiving a nod from Foren. That meant just two to figure out. He supposed the hardest one would definitely be the shadow. Unless there was something particular about shadows on a scientific level that he was unaware of, they were just dark patches that occured where light cannot pass through an object. Maybe fairies just thought of things in an abstract way? Clearly he proved that certain objects aren't necessary to 'collect' persay, so what was the purpose of this test? Sure, to get him a fairy blessing so he could pester those two boys and learn of their plight and ask them ten million questions, but surely every test had a reason behind them? He felt like this was more like a riddle than an actual collection test. Whispering trees, trees don't talk, but they do rustle and move because of the wind. How does he convey that though? Perhaps this was also to test the resourcefulness of an individual? What did fae folk need from Aes Sídhe that this was necessary to test?

He looked over to a tree that seemed fairly young and walked over to it, lost in thought. Perhaps he has to rustle the branches? No, he was sure it was supposed to be a natural cause and effect which outlined the need for wind. He blew on the leaves, as that seemed to be the only way he was getting wind without imposing they flapped their wings, and sure enough the leaves rustled against each other. 

"The tree whispered!" Forel exclaimed, no longer hiding behind her mother's dress. 

So that passed? All he needed was a shadow’s loneliness? This one was by far the most puzzling. He was sure, just like the last two, he had to instigate this causation. What shadow was lonely? Foren has her daughter Forel, the Trees had each other, the plants as well, there was nothing here that was lonely. He half wished Richter was here. To give him a lecture that he's thinking too abstractly and to say that shadows don't have emotions as well. To yell at him for sporadically deciding that he couldn't leave this alone for a week, that he went into the woods anyway to learn something . He put his hands in his pockets, feeling the cool metal of his torch in his hand. He supposed he was lonely without Richter, but how could they have known that? It didn't hurt to try he supposed.

He took the torch out of his pocket and shone it at his arm, the shadow lighting up perfectly. He looked to the two with curiosity. 

The Queen nodded. "I recognize, that you, Aster, have collected all three objects. Are you sure you want my blessing? Human folk may ostracize you, attack you, and fear you should this blessing be known."

"I'm positive." He nodded. "However, I do have a question. What do the fae need Aes Sídhe for, and is it something that has two distinct differences?"

The little girl looked back and forth between the two as she watched the conversation. Foren nodded. "Only one other has ever asked me that. It is so hard finding legitimate Aes Sídhe. It's the mark of the Fae. One will grant you the magic required to help fairies keep demons from infecting both fae and humans, and the other will simply protect you from fae only."

"Infecting?"

"Human tongue refers to those infected as Changelings, incorrectly assuming that Changelings are of the Fae folk. Elves make such mistakes as well." She clarified. 

"How did you know I was lonely?" Aster's curiosity thrummed

"We see all in this forest and beyond it to our true borders. Your friend is quite worried about you. Please, do take his feelings into consideration in the future, some are bigger than you realize beyond trust." She smiled.

Aster wondered what she meant by that, however she could sense anyone who was of Fae lineage? "...WAIT, RICHTER IS A FAE!?" Forel hid behind her mother again at Aster's sudden shock. "Oh my gosh, he never told me!"

"I don't sense he is aware of his ancestors." She nodded.

Aster was buzzing excitedly inside. "Okay, I think that's all of my questions then. Thank you so much. Yes I'm ready."

Foren laughed slightly and nodded. “Mar chaomhnóir na gcoillte seo, agus mar chosaint ar chruthú; Cuirim ar Aster Laker mar Aes Sídhe. Caomhnóirí éisteacht liom. Éist leis an beannacht seo a thugtar ar ár gcosantóir nua.” Her arms raised up as light particles bounced and flowed throughout the air, changing and evolving into bigger orbs of light. Aster’s eyes moved from all the various lights in curiosity before feeling a burning pain on his shoulder. “Mé, Foren, Cosnóidh sé ár gcaomhnóir nua fad is a fhíoraíonn an draíocht. De réir mo dhualgais mar Bhanríon.” Aster truly, though he wondered what she said in such a strange tongue, was finding that staying awake was suddenly very hard to do, falling to his knees trying and failing to get up.

“Forel, fetch the flower fairies. Find the red-headed Half Fae, Richter. I’m sure he’ll want to know the state of his friend. I will personally see to the twin’s needs, I sense unease.”

“Yes, mother.” 

Aster succumbed to the sudden exhaustion and collapsed completely.

Chapter Text

Morning sifted through the window, and Ratatosk rolled over at first to cover his head with a pillow, never being an early rise, and though the intent was to go back to sleep he realized something particularly out of place. Emil wasn’t up yet. He mulled it over sleepily with himself, trying to decide if it was just Emil being super exhausted from last night, or if Emil decided to also sleep in. However, the longer he toyed with it, he kept coming back to the same conclusion. Emil disliked sleeping in at a guest’s place. He figured he shouldn’t care. After all, it was quite plausible that Emil grew out of that mentality, though that mentality wasn’t that long ago. He grumbled and got up, rubbing a sleepy eye and stifling a yawn. Honestly, he was going to kill Emil if he got up for nothing. It wasn’t too far of a reach from his bed to Emil’s but his hand rest on the other’s shoulder and shook slightly.

“Oi, I thought you hated sleeping in at other people’s places, Emil” he killed yet another tired yawn as it tried occurring. He received no response from Emil though aside from his brother curling in on himself with a slight shiver. Personally, Ratatosk didn’t find the house cold. In fact it was quite warm to him, practically perfect cat lounging temperature. “Emil, hey.” He sat on the edge of his brother’s bed and poked his forehead before quickly pulling a hand back in shock. Emil was super hot to the touch to him. He pulled the covers away from Emil to get a better look at him causing another shiver to run through him. Oh no. Emil was still wearing the same face from yesterday.

He got up and ran down the stairs, sure enough Efoile being the early riser as always. “Efoile, Emil’s sick with a fever. He’s still has that kid’s face on from yesterday. I’m going to go out and get some medicine for him-”

“Oh goodness me! Look in the mirror first before you do, Dearheart!” She exclaimed

“Why? Nevermind, I’ll worry about it later-”

“No, no. Absolutely not. Come now Rata dear. I have the mirror from before set up by the door. I insist you look.” She put down the pot she was holding and pushed him over by the mirror. Ratatosk protested, just wanting to go and get something for Emil until he paused, bemused at the face reflected back at him in the mirror. “Oooh, has either of you gotten sick before in the past after you passed the test?”

“No…” he stated slowly. Reflected back was the same face Emil was wearing only with his familiar red eyes that never changed despite forms, but stark white hair.

“I told Foren, told her over and over again that blessing one and not the other would cause chaos in magic should anything happen to either of you! Told her she should wait for Emil to pass. She wasn’t going to have it though, she was worried about you both just as much as I. Though, I’m sure that’s because she knows more about everything than the average fairy, but oh what to do. We should take Emil to Foren, have her bestow a blessing on him too, oh but she’ll insist he retake the test, oh what to do, what to do-”

“Efoile!” Ratatosk said loudly to get her to stop blathering in anxiety. He gave a sigh. “Listen, I’m fine, so what that I look like I took a bath in rainbow fairy anti color water. For the same reason Emil hasn’t passed the test, I’m still not allowed to use magic, much less attempt it. So I need to go get Emil medicine.”

“No. No, No. Absolutely not. Get cold rags, and some water, and I’ll go into town to get the medicine. I understand your worry, but I will not allow you to enter town looking like that. You watch over your brother. I’ll put some hot tea on too just in case he prefers something warm.”

“Are… are you sure?” Ratatosk was shocked. Fairies hated going into human towns. They tried as much as possible to avoid doing so.

“Of course! You two have already been through so much and what if you run into those two again? No, I won’t have it.” Efoile put her hands on her hip. “You’re both my guests and it’s my responsibility to care for you both.”

He shook his head with a sigh. “Now I know where Emil’s stubbornness for hospitality came from. Alright. If Emil does end up feeling better enough to visit Foren, we’ll go to her and see if this is as simple to correct as getting him to pass.” He walked away from the mirror, going to the closet and grabbing the towels and then to another for a bowl to fill with ice and cold water.

“I heard the test is usually fairly simple, why did Emil fail it?”

“He had the three strangest things to collect. Mine was simple. The silence of hiccups, the roaring of pride and the wood animal. His stumped even me.” He started getting a towel soaked in the ice water as he talked. “Courage of belief, dreams that speak, and realization magic. How is someone who can’t use magic supposed to do that? Plus dreams that speaks? Courage of belief I can somewhat get, but even so it’s nonsensical at best.”

Efoile put a hand to her chin. “Ah I see.” She nodded. “I do believe Emil’s requires self. They are normally easy because most people who take the test have already made up their minds what the purpose of the test would mean for them. Emil still loves so much about the folks in towns beyond the woods, I’m sure such a test makes him uneasy.”

An eyebrow was raised at her response. “So his three would change if he were to become more sure?”

“Oh, Likely not. Granted, hardness of questions doesn’t mean the greater the Aes Sídhe. Everyone knew you would be excellent and you breezed through yours. Everyone was saddened when you were told to abstain from the call of magic until your brother passed. Twins are so closely woven together, especially you two.”

Rata nodded before picking up the stuff. “I’m going to attempt to wipe Emil down and get him cooled off now.”

“Yes of course! I’ll get the tea started and head out.” She scurried to the kettle to start filling it with water.

Rata carried on back up the stairs to the beds where Emil was still laying, still out like a candle. He set the bowl down on the end table and re-pulled the blankets back off of Emil, who whined in protest. Ratatosk wasn’t giving in to his brother though, as he made easy work of getting the clothes off him and started to wipe the sweat off of him. Granted, he was sure the cold water didn’t feel great when already shivering. To him though, Emil was worse than an oven. He heard a yelp from downstairs and peered a head down the balcony after wrapping up with wiping Emil down.

“Everything okay down there, Efoile?” he asked curiously.

“Fine! Fine! Water on the fire! Nothing wrong! I’ll head out for the medicine now!” She sounded rushed. Rata thought he should probably go and actually check what was wrong but decided against it as Emil’s chattering suddenly became audible. He heard Efoile run out the door a few moments later and shook his head.

“Alrighty then.” He mumbled to himself, getting out a fresh new pair of clothes for Emil and changing him into them. Finally allowing his brother to cocoon back into the blankets. He put a cold towel on Emil’s forehead. Finally done. “You’re a pain in the ass to care for, you know that?” He said out loud to Emil, but knew the other was probably still not in the land of the living yet to hear.

He wondered what else he should do for Emil while he waited for the fever to break. Make some food? Would he even have an appetite? He went down the stairs after putting his own blanket on top of Emil’s to help with warming up, and wandered into the kitchen. He guessed he could feed himself, afterall it was breakfast. They knew Efoile enough to know she wouldn’t mind if they used her kitchen as long as they cleaned up after themselves. He saw the mirror again and went over to it, looking at himself. He didn’t get a good look of the kid from yesterday but it was always amusing to him how different they could look comparatively to the original. That despite not having their own faces, they still had their own ways of expressing a face. Emil though looked closer to the other boy. Though Emil’s smile was always much more soft, he felt. That other guy’s smile was borderline creepy. Like he’d take some tools and dissect them if given the chance. Oddly though, he was quite content looking the same as Emil. The only time they did was when they were born according to their mother, but ever since then they had never looked alike. Granted, it meant that they had the idiot’s face but that's besides the point. He finally did tear his eyes away from the mirror and set about making them breakfast. If Emil wasn’t hungry, he was sure some other fairy wouldn’t mind having it instead. Taking a pan out and some butter into the pan over the heat, he began the process. Moving over to the fridge and grabbing a carton, opening it and cracking eggs off the table and into the sizzling pan, opening a window and discarding the shells into a compost that was just outside of it. Soon he was placing strips of meat beside the 4 eggs and cooking them as well. The aroma of food filling the house.

“Rata?” A tired voice carried from the door, Emil out of bed. Red eyes glanced back before putting the heat on low. Emil rubbing his eyes.

“Go back to bed, you have a fever. You shouldn’t be up.”

“M’fine.”

“You’re not fine, C’mon.” Rata ushered his brother back to bed. “How did you even climb down the stairs?”

“On m’ butt.” he flopped onto the bed.

“You’re an idiot. Stay in bed okay? Hungry at all?” the blond nodded.

“Your hair is a funny shade.”

“Yeah, it’s probably just a side effect from you being sick. We have the same face today for some reason.”

Emil sat back up in surprise looking more directly at Ratatosk. “Eh!?”

“Down, lay down. Jeez.” He pushed his brother back down to laying.

“B-But, how?”

“The blessing Foren gave, Efoile mentioned that it was likely it would mess with the magic.”

“Weren’t you given the non-magic variant?” Emil wanted to sit back up but opted to rolling onto his side.

Rata was silent for a moment before sighing. “No.”

“Ratatosk!”

“Listen, we’re already ostracised, what’s the difference in being an Aes Sídhe going to make if we’re already abandoned by humanity? And anyways, drop it. So magic went a little crazy, who fucking cares. Focus on getting better.” He turned away to descend the stairs.

Emil pulled the covers his head. “No wonder my test was so impossibly hard! I didn’t want the magic variant!”

“We both can’t want different things Emil. It’s as simple as abstaining from using Magic. I’ve been doing just that for you this whole time.” he called back from the foot of the stairs returning to the kitchen, flipping the meat and eggs. “Not to mention, my test was not hard. I solved it within two hours.”

Emil sat up. What? His brother wasn’t upstairs and therefore could not see him. He was bitter. He thought the point of the test was to just cast aside humanity to live in the forest and that there were two variants. There was more to it? Why was he never told? He huffed. He was roasting. He looked down to the blankets and noticed Ratatosk’s blanket amongst the pile. He supposed that his brother has been sacrificing a lot just to make him happy but, was forcing them both to accept the magic variant fair just because his brother, for whatever reason, wanted access to it? Soon his brother’s head appeared up the stairs with plates in hand.

“You sat up again. Whatever, you’ll need to to eat I guess.” He sighed handing Emil the plate and utensil to then move onto his own bed to eat as well.

“Why didn’t you ever tell me? When were you planning to tell me?” Emil poked at the egg to break the yolk.

“I did, you shut it down, and what? That I got the Magic variant? Both variants are magic Emil.” He chomped at a slice of the meat. “One is a warding and one is an equipping. The variant you wanted is equipping.”

“Warding? Equipping?” Emil tilted his head slightly.

“You have to cast your humanity away to be accepted, right? The catch to it is it doesn’t declassify you as human. Why is that?” He received a shrug as a response. “Humans that want nothing to do with the Fae for the rest of their lives will get the warding variant. This makes them essentially anti-fae. It tells the fae that the person is a douche bag and to avoid at all costs. He didn’t give up his humanity, he just compounded just how human he is. The Equipping variant means you’re planning to take up magic to co-exist with fae. You’re willing to shed away human incompetence to accept others, and take upon a new aspect that is Magic. You’re still human, just decidedly less human to Fae. Remember, all of this is written in fae-ese. You have to think of this bullshit from their perspective or you’ll never get it.” Emil furrowed his eyebrows while chewing on an egg. “What?”

He swallowed before speaking. “You got it though. You understand ‘Fae-ese’ apparently.” Emil used air quotes around his brother’s made up word. “Why is it so natural to you?”

“Emil we’ve lived with Efoile in the past, she fucking thinks if you don’t laugh at flowers in the morning they will fucking wilt.” he deadpanned, rolling his eyes. “They are smart, but super off in left field. I understand it because…”

“Because?”

“It’s easier to live carefree, isn’t it? They don’t care who judges them or who makes fun of their weird habits, and when they fight they never mean it. People in the towns take everything so personally. You could crack a joke and suddenly you’re a heretic or an insane lunatic. ‘How dare you enjoy life’ is basically the feeling they give off.”

“O-Oh…” Emil said afterwards, taking a moment to let the words melt in. “You think a lot about the others around you, huh?”

“Force of habit thanks to the assholes back in our aunt’s town.” he polished off the rest of his plate and stretched. “It’s why I can’t wait for the fairies to finally finish that damn agreement with the elves. It’d be so much easier to live amongst them and never worry about who the hell we look like.” Ratatosk got up, going over to the stairs.

“I kinda like that we look the same today…” Emil said a bit quietly, causing his brother to freeze in his spot and turn around with a surprised expression.

“Really?”

“I-I mean! W-were twins, right? So, I mean, we used to look alike until something happened but, but I mean, we don’t because of this curse and so, what I mean to say is, it’s been the first time in forever that we do and I don’t dislike it because I think that it’s great… to finally look the same.”

“Emil you did so many fucking circles in that sentence, I don’t know if that was a ‘Yes, really.’ or ‘No, really.’ Which was it?”

“Y-Yes, really!” He received a smile in response from the red-eyed male who turned and descended the stairs.

“Finish your breakfast, nerd. Get back to resting. Your face is still flushed.” Ratatosk chuckled shaking his head.

Emil nodded and got back to work on the food. Admittedly he was feeling very queasy. Maybe breakfast wasn’t the best thing to have. He pushed the food around on the plate. Really, he just wanted to wish the curse gone. Be done with it. Make it go away like a bad nightmare. However, he never did ask why Ratatosk wanted to use Magic. He set the plate of food aside on a different and table and curled back under the covers. What bad timing though to get sick. Soon the white haired male returned with a new towel, soaking it in cold water bowl and putting it on Emil’s forehead.

“H-Hey.”

“Hm?” He was going to just leave Emil after that to let his brother rest.

“Why did… um, why did you want to do Magic?”

Ratatosk shifted on his feet a bit, thinking on an answer before sitting on his own bed, crossing his legs. “It’s a secret from all fairies except to the guardians of the borderlands. It wasn’t always, of course, but a long time ago Fae folk worked with Humans to wage war against Demons. Demons could curse humans to become changelings. That’s the true origin of the word. Over the years the concept got switched out because of Fairies being mischievous. Humans were at the biggest disadvantage, though. They possessed no means of defense or attack and Fae of all manners were strict about not sharing their lineage with Humans. Wanting humans to prosper as their own race disjointed from Fae.” he shifted on the bed. “So the original 8 guardians, also known as the origin of Fae kind, created a special magic for humans to wield. Before all the humans had to do was swear an oath and they were granted the magic, but it meant they joined the fight against demons.”

Emil tilted his head. “It’s not like that anymore, though.”

“No, it’s not. That’s why the confusing terms and conditions. Humans abused this privilege and attempted to turn on the Fae. Demons at that point were so rare thanks to the combined effort of the races, that life was peaceful for both. To protect that peace, the Guardians changed the ancient magic and it’s rules, and created two sets. Both go under the same name, and only the Guardian Fae can determine which kind to give you.”

“So the Queen is one of them.”

Ratatosk snickered. “Yeah, sure. A descendant of one of them.”

“So then why did you want to, if everything is peaceful?”

“Is it though? We have only speculations for our situation. Are we fae switched out with humans? Likely not, other Doppels have the ability to pick their form, and wish night failed for us. So that narrows us down to Humans, but then who cursed us and why? Did the Fae or Demons curse us? Or was it a Human who got ahold of magic through either their own means, or fae means?” He rocked back and forth slightly in loose repetitive movements.

“Okay, so then what’s the magic for? Breaking the curse?” Emil felt like he was struggling to get a straight answer from Rata. Why was it so hard?

“Well… yeah and no. If it’s Fae, you passing the test means that’s it. Curse is broken. We’re done and over with it. If it’s human, we have to actually either locate them and have them reverse it, or we have to undo it. If it’s a demon though… Well, we’ll have to locate it and kill it to end it’s magic. However…, I just don’t think I’d ever fit in with humans even once the curse is broken. So really, I think I’d rather travel around, help Fae and eliminate the remaining demons and live like that.”

Emil listened pulling the blanket up a little higher, covering half of his face. That made sense, he supposed. His brother grumbled anytime he had to go into town, got on well with the fae, much better than he did, and overall seemed the uneasy type to stay still doing nothing for too long. Though it made Emil a bit sad and he hated it. He was so dependent on his brother, well it was so easy to be because he was so courageous and strong and everything Emil wished to be. Ratatosk had all of these dreams and answers on how to get those dreams. Emil only had hobbies and interests. He should be happy that his brother knows what he wants to do after the curse is broken. Should be able to let go of him to go on and live his life. Afterall they aren’t children anymore. Emil was so absorbed in the status quo at the cottage he hadn’t thought about there being a day when his brother would ever leave him.
“Emil?” Ratatosk questioned. The sudden silence and sad expression on his brother’s face was worrying. “Did… anything I say bother you?”

“H-Huh? Oh! No. No, it’s just… I guess I’m just realizing how selfish I am all the time.”

“Huh? What do you mean?”

“I’m always so dependent on you, and n-needy and… I was so used to being cursed and there being no cure for it. O-Of course I also wanted what was best for you too b-but… I never really took into consideration of a future where we were free of our curse and you, well, um, leaving…” he covered his head with the blanket fully. “I’m sorry, it’s really terrible of me. I-I’m such a burden and… I’m sorry.”

“Emil.”Emil felt a weight on the edge of his bed. “I would still obviously visit, and I am only one person. I would always need a home to return to to rest. I don’t think you’re overly selfish. You’re pretty selfless at times. Yeah I hate the fact that one of your hobbies is baking, but we’ve worked well with it for this long? What’s a little longer? Hell, once the curse is broken, you could own a bakery! How great would that be?” He tried cheering his brother up, after all he was sick. What was he doing thinking about such depressing things? Though it did make him feel uneasy. Him dragging his brother to be an Aes Sídhe and living in a town could potentially be dangerous. It was truly far too unsafe for Emil. Maybe with the curse broken the Elves would accept them? He patted Emil’s head.

“It’s a ways off anyways so… Don’t worry about it for now Emil. Please just focus on getting better.

Emil nodded slightly, and then peeked from the blankets when a knock on the door resounded. “I-Is that Efoile?”

“Probably one of her friends, she went into town to get you medicine. Don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of it.” Ratatosk got up and headed down the stairs and over to the entrance way, opening the small door, only to see Foren. His face carrying bemusement instantly. “Q-Queen Foren, Why-?”

“How is Emil?” She wasted no time.

“Sick, with a fever. Um…”

She nodded with understanding. “Your heart spoke with unease and worries. Your appearance though.” She paused putting a hand over her heart and tilting her head forward apologetically. “Efoile was correct that the magic would go awry with you both not being Aes Sídhe. I apologize.”

“No, it’s fine. I’m perfectly okay.” he waved his hands in front of him. “I’m sure things will return to normal once he’s feeling better.”

“I’m not so sure. Magic gone awry doesn’t always fix itself. Now I understand Efoile’s haste.” she patted Ratatosks’s head, standing a good foot taller than him. “I do believe you two have a guest willing to accompany you on your quest. Two, should the other be willing. I understand they gave you quite the fright, however, I think it’s now of great necessity that the wheels of fate start moving.”

“What do you-”

“Seek the Astra fairies with the two I send to you, I give permission to borrow the cloak for wish night. With them, go find who it is that cursed you both. Before you do find them though, please help Emil solve his internal issues with himself. I have faith that he can answer the questions for his test.” She paused, taking his hand and putting a pouch in it. "Efoile will have her hands full helping me. Pour this into hot water and make sure he drinks all of it. The medicine won't be effective otherwise."

Ratatosk took the bag. The two that gave them a fright? Did they enter these woods? What all occurred after Efoile left? "Uh, right. Okay." he nodded. "Get Emil better, meet up with those two from before… visit the Astra Fairies, help Emil solve his test and then look for the person who cursed us--wait, why are you so certain on some of these things?"

She smiled. "Focus on your brother for now," she patted his head one last time before vanishing in a puff of sparkles. Magic dust flying everywhere. He shook some of it out of his hair and looked around, subtly annoyed. Going back into the building to make the medicine.

Emil wasn't going to like this. Not at all. Granted he couldn't necessarily go against her wishes, as that was the nature of the blessing, but he sure as hell knew he didn't have to readily accept it. Just carry it out begrudgingly. He got the medicine ready in a mug and strangely, the stuff acted like hot cocoa. Leave it to the fairies to treat his brother like he was incapable of taking some bitter medicine. He went up the stairs and handed Emil the mug.

"Drink that, all of it, and get better." He crossed his arms.

"Y-you seem in a bad mood…"

"Probably because I am in one."

Emil looked at the contents of the mug. Should a sick person be drinking hot cocoa? "D-Do you want-want to talk abou-about it?"

"Nope."

"I-Its no good to stew on it…"

"Just focus on yourself."

Emil frowned. "Who was at the door?"

"Don't worry about it."

Emil sighed and drank the drink. Yeah, this had to definitely be hot cocoa, tasted just as much. "Why did you make hot cocoa?"

"It's medicine according to a particular Queen." He crossed his arms.

"O-oh." So the queen was at the door. What was said to make him in a sour mood? "S-So… when is Efoile returning?"

"Who knows. She got whisked into something, somehow. It's likely just me and you for the majority of today." He laid on his own bed and stretched like a cat.

Emil watched and finished the rest of the drink, honestly though he swore it was just hot cocoa. "Well, if it's going t-to be, th-then I request you cheer up. It's hard to focus on myself w-when you're acting like a s-sour cat."

"Sourpuss?"

"I-I was trying to a-avoid that word."

Ratatosk grinned. "Why~?"

"DON'T- JUST!! FORGET ABOUT IT!" Emil recognized the mischievous grin easily.

"Mmmm, no~. C'mon, don't be such a sourpuss"

"Ratatosk, jeez-"

"C'mon, you can tell me. Or are you just a pissy cat wanting to hide?" Butterscotch, entered up the stairs and hopped into the bed, sitting on Emil's lap. "Now it's a litter of scaredy cats."

"Ratatosk-" he was laughing pretty hard at his own jokes over Emil's protests. "You're hopeless."

"Y'ahuh. Says the one who got sick."

Butterscotch's ears flicked watching the two boys goof off before giving a big yawn laying on the blond's lap as the boy was relentlessly teased. In this cat's opinion they were both hopeless.