Hello! This week's update is a partial rewrite of chapter 5. I got the idea from AslansPrincess19, who said I should've had Seth pretend to be someone who works for the Underking instead of revealing who he actually is, and I figured why not? I like that better, and anyway, I'm mostly writing this because I want to read it!
Another thing- I am posting sort of progress updates with a date on my profile for when I'm not posting chapters and you want to see what's going on! So if you're ever wondering what's going on, there's probably something there! I'm working on self-discipline as a real character trait, including in my writing, so expect me to go back to weekly updates and PLEASE yell at me if I start skipping weeks again! Either way, the next chapter will definitely be up next Friday!
The last thing I have today is that I wrote an angsty oneshot the other day based off the headcanon that Eve's parents are divorced (which I got and adopted from lov_lyness on ao3!). I haven't posted it because I wasn't sure if anyone would want to read it. What do you guys think? Do you want to read it?
She could feel her mind scrambling to get a grip on what was happening. The Underking… just offered her… a tour of the Under Realm?
No way was this really happening.
Her next response was suspicion. This must be some sort of trick. Why in the world would the Underking be offering a tour of the Under Realm? It wasn't some sort of tourist attraction. This was the Under Realm. She'd been surprised not to have been killed on entry.
Eve was suddenly aware of the fact that the Underking had asked her a question and was waiting for an answer. What should she do? She couldn't just turn down an offer from the Underking, even as suspicious and possibly deadly as it seemed.
"Umm…" she hesitated. "Yeah, that—that sounds good. I…thank you." She wanted to ask why, but she couldn't imagine that would go over well with the Underking.
Wonderful, came that raspy voice speaking directly to her mind. I will have an assistant waiting outside the door to show you around.
Eve fidgeted, shifting her feet. "So…should I just… go to the door then?" she asked.
Yeah, that's fine.
Walking uneasily back towards the door, Eve frowned. That seemed like strangely informal language for a king to use. She couldn't shake the feeling that something wasn't right. She was uncomfortably aware of the perfect silence in the room aside from the sound of her shuffling feet.
Just as she started to wonder if she would even know when she reached the door in this darkness, her extended hand touched a surface. Eve stopped walking.
A sliver of light made its way into the throne room as the door opened, seemingly by itself. It swung open, and Eve realized it was being opened from the outside. She stepped through into a wide hallway, brighter than the throne room so that she could actually see but still dimly lit.
She looked to the figure next to her, blinking in the light.
When the Underking had said "assistant," Eve had assumed it would be another wraith or other such undead creature, but the assistant appeared to be a humanoid being, like the Fair Folk were. He appeared to be a boy of about her age, with unkempt light brown hair that just passed his ears. His skin was pale, presumably from living underground in an environment with almost no light, but there were dark circles under his eyes as if he hadn't slept much recently. This assistant, Eve realized, appeared to be alive.
His eyes flicked to hers, and he turned his head slightly toward her, offering her a small smile that almost looked nervous. Eve responded with a smile that she was sure looked nervous.
The Underking's assistant started walking, and Eve followed. She wasn't sure what else to do. This was undeniably dangerous and slightly scary, but now she was starting to think more about the fact that she was getting a tour of the Under Realm than about the motives behind it. She'd gone out in search of adventure today, and this was an adventure, indeed. As she followed slightly behind him, she realized that he was shorter than she was.
Eve was startled back to the situation at hand by a voice from next to her—this time out loud. "So! That was the throne room, obviously. Or maybe not obviously. You couldn't see; I don't know."
"Wait—you can talk?" Eve asked, then immediately felt stupid. Why wouldn't he be able to talk? Most of the undead that she had encountered communicated telepathically like the Underking, but she wasn't sure this assistant was undead at all. He didn't look it.
The boy gave her a blank look. "Uh, yeah," he said, sounding a bit startled.
"That makes sense," Eve said, feeling awkward now. "I guess I was just startled because I was just talking to the Underking and he uses that weird telepathy thing."
"Oh, yeah," the assistant said, nodding. "That's reasonable." He paused for a moment before continuing. "It kinda hurts my head sometimes."
Eve started to relax a bit, feeling the beginning of a real smile on her face. "Yeah, me too," she said. "That telepathy thing is…" she trailed off, trying to come up with a good word. "Kinda scratchy on my brain."
The assistant just nodded. "Yeah, it's definitely kinda scratchy. Sure does a good job discouraging unwanted visitors." He side-eyed her.
"Uh… sorry about that, by the way."
He exhaled sharply, almost like a lame excuse for a laugh. "You'd be more sorry if you were trying to get something or fight the Underking or something. Or if you'd caught a different Underking." He waved his hand in a vague gesture at the broad hallway they were walking through. "And this is pretty much the Main Street of the Under Realm. This hallway gets you to just about anywhere down here."
But Eve was more interested in the previous offhanded comment. "A different Underking?"
The assistant made a ridiculous startled face, like he hadn't realized what he'd said. "Oh. I just meant like the last guy before the current Underking. His go-to strategy was undead-ifying anyone who was trespassing or trying to come to him with a good cause or just who he didn't want around in general."
"Oh," Eve said. "Then I guess it's a good thing I missed him." She grinned. "He must've just left right before I got here, huh?"
The assistant didn't look at her as he stepped through an open doorway on the right side of the hall, waving for her to follow. "This is the library."
Eve didn't fail to notice the fact that he had avoided responding to her joke about the last Underking. She wondered why the Underking would have a seemingly human assistant when he was literally the king of the undead, and why he'd even need one anyway. She was certain that there was something strange going on, but she couldn't quite figure out what. The slight nervousness she'd been feeling before was back, but she followed him through the door.
It really was an impressive library, Eve noted. It was a large room, with rows upon rows of shelves filled with books stretching high above her head, an aisle to access the shelves extending far enough that she couldn't see the end. Flickering torches hung on the wall next to the doorway and on the sides of some of the bookshelves lining the aisle. "Wow," she said. "That's a lot of books. Have you read a lot of them? Or are you allowed to?"
"Yeah, I'm allowed to read them," the boy said, a strange almost-smile on his face. "There's too many for me to have read most of them, but I've read some."
Eve nodded. "This is pretty cool," she said. "So…do you have a name?" she asked. "I'm Eve."
He glanced at her with a startled expression. "Um…it's not important." He turned and left the room abruptly. Eve frowned. This kid was the Underking's personal assistant but almost definitely not dead at all, couldn't have been much older than she was, and wouldn't even give his name. It didn't help her uneasiness with the whole situation.
She followed him back out into the hallway, and it must've taken a couple more hours for him to finish showing her around. The Under Realm was so much bigger than Eve had expected for a magical area that seemed to exist in a network of carved underground tunnels, and it didn't fit her expectations very well otherwise (aside from the dim lighting). It really wasn't as scary as it seemed at first glance; it was rather beautiful, the more she looked.
Over the course of the conversation, she'd learned a few things. The kid was definitely very strange and quite possibly hiding something (then again, what else could be expected of one in close relationship to the Underking?), but she didn't think he meant her any harm. He seemed friendly (and for some reason, he was starting to seem vaguely familiar), and she was almost certain she'd figured out part of why he behaved so strangely: he was lonely. She couldn't blame him.
The tour was mostly finished now, with only one place left on the list. "Here it is," he said. "My favorite place in the Under Realm." He pushed open a heavy-looking door, and Eve was surprised to find that it led outside.
Once she passed through the door, Eve could see more clearly that it wasn't actually outside but a vast cavern, full of plants and lit by glowing crystals growing from the walls and ceiling. It wasn't outside—it was a garden.
"Whoa," she said. "This is amazing!"
"It really is," said the Underking's assistant, who was gazing into the garden room as if this was his first time seeing it too. He started walking again, heading over to sit down on a bench underneath a tree off the main path that wound through the cavern. Eve sat down next to him.
"How does all this stuff grow down here?" she asked. She couldn't see very far into the room from the front; the depth of the room was obscured by trees. From where she was sitting, she could see a little ways down the path, but not very far because it curved so her line of sight was blocked. The stretch that she could see was lined by the same type of large trees as the one she was sitting under and a variety of other types of trees; bushes of different shapes and sizes and colors, some bearing flowers and what looked like types of berries; and some lone flowers and other assorted plants.
"I think they're special types of plants that are more fit for this environment," the boy said. "But I know they get light from those." He gestured to the softly glowing crystals.
Eve nodded, looking at the crystals for a moment, and then back at him. She could almost swear she'd seen him somewhere before, but she couldn't figure out where, and it was driving her crazy. Why would she think she recognized a resident of the Under Realm? She tried to brush it off, but she just couldn't shake the feeling.
"I like to come sit here sometimes. It…almost feels like outside," the boy told her. "And the wraiths and guys tend to stay away from it, so it's a nice spot to avoid them if I want to."
"I bet it'd be a good hide-and-seek spot then, huh?" Eve joked.
The assistant actually laughed at that, though it wasn't very loud or enthusiastic, looking over at her and making eye contact, which had been a rare occurrence on this tour.
In that moment, Eve had a realization. The tone of voice, the facial expressions, the dark brown eyes, the laugh, and that smile (she hadn't seen it in years, but she'd recognize it anywhere) paired with the hidden and difficult-to-access location of the Under Realm, the fact that no one had seen him for years, and the dark abilities perfectly suited for such a position…
i dig into the folds of my mind
scavenging the cracks sometimes for answers
but hope is not, as i have come to find,
something that you understand-but a trust