Vaarsuvius was struggling, waves of resentment rolling off of him, as was to be expected when one was being forcibly dragged by a determined, grumpy dwarf.
Durkon ignored the elf's protests as he pushed open the door to the kitchen and entered. It was empty, as was to be expected this late in the day, but Durkon didn't need help to find the leftover soup from today's dinner. Not releasing the increasingly agitated elf, Durkon scooped some of it into a bowl and set it on the table, a few candles supplying the only illumination in the otherwise dim chamber.
“Durkon, I demand you release me immediately!” the elf scoffed, trying to pull herself free.
“Only if ye promise ta shove yer stubborness inna dark corner somewhere an' listen ta me,” the dwarf huffed.
“Leave me be, Durkon,” she scoffed, trying to wriggle free. “I am a grown elf and I do not require-”
“Now look 'ere!” Grabbing the elf's shoulders, Durkon pulled her around to face him, glowering up at her pale face with a righteous anger of his own. “I've had jus' aboot enuff o' this. I dinnae care 'ow grown ye think ye are if ye're 'in gonna act like it and ye've been doin' everythin' but. I dinnae care aboot any o' tha trollcrap aboot 'ow ye high an' mighty elves dinnae ev'n need ta trance when I jus' need ta look at ye ta tell otherwise!” He pulled the elf down till their eyes were level. “Now this ain't right. I know ye haven't had a trance 'n months an' by the looks o' it,” he squeezed the glaring elf's bony shoulders for emphasis, “ye haven't been eatin' enuff, either. I know this ain't good fer ye and I cannae let this continue, do ye understand? I dinnae care if I haf ta tie ye up ta do it, but we'll be gettin' some food inta ye and ye'll be takin' a trance, too!”
“…Going to extremes, are you not?” Vaarsuvius said coldly, but there was resignation in his voice.
“Jus' what I haf ta. I owe it ta Roy ta take care o' 'is wizard and I owe it ta Haley ta na let 'er friend fall apart like a roach col'ny hit wit Smite Evil. Now sit and eat,” he said gruffly, pushing the elf down into a seat at the table.
“Very admirable,” Vaarsuvius muttered, frowning at the soup as she picked up a spoon and started idly stirring it with disinterest.
“Dinnae get me wrong, I owe it ta ye jus' as well,” Durkon said, sitting down on the bench beside the elf. “Eat,” he repeated forcefully.
“I appreciate your concern, Durkon, but I am not hungry,” the elf said quietly, her head low. The stupid pride had seeped out of her posture and been replaced by terse weariness, instead.
“Tha's 'cause ye've been eatin' so little tha yer body thinks thar's a food shortage an' it tries ta conserve energy by keepin' ye wit a low appetite.” At V's surprised look, Durkon scoffed. “I'm a cleric, ye know. Jus' eat already,” he placed a heavy hand on the elf's shoulder and shook it slightly.
Vaarsuvius shrugged and hesitantly tried the soup. It was probably luke-warm at best, but there was little Durkon could do about that. Vaarsuvius frowned, laid aside the spoon, sat a little straighter and took the bowl in her hands.
Durkon peered suspiciously at her. “What-”
“Burning Hands,” the elf muttered, startling the cleric as her bony fingers lit up with fire for a second, the flames carefully shaped to encircle the bowl and touch nothing else.
A moment later, Vaarsuvius carefully picked at the food again. It must have been much warmer, for she quietly nodded to herself, sighed and slowly began eating.
Durkon watched for a moment, then grunted, “Hmpf. Usin' spells ta warm up lefto'ers. Shoulda known. Maybe tha's tha problem. Ye go aroun' expectin' everythin' ta be tha easy.”
Staring down into his bowl, Vaarsuvius scowled, “Worry not, your continuous lecturing is doing a marvelous job at keeping me safe from assuming that magic is the solution to everything.”
“Nowhere near enuff,” he grunted.
She paused, then looked sideways at Durkon, pale pink eyes the colour of her magic narrowing at the dwarf. “Will you eat as well, or do you intend to maintain your vigil beside me to keep me from escaping?”
Durkon shook his head. “I had me fill at dinn'r,” he patted his belly. “Though I dinnae think thar's really any way I could stop ye from goin' if'n ye really put yer mind ta it,” he admitted. “Jus' hope tha ye'll haf tha sense ta na go tha far.”
“This coming from a dwarf who has physically hauled me here and threatened to tie me up and force-feed me should the necessity arise,” Vaarsuvius muttered.
“If'n ye could see yerself, ye'd haf dun tha same thin' 'n me place,” the dwarf shook his head, glowering disapprovingly at the elf's pasty grey skin and tangled purple hair, once so immaculately groomed. “I've seen zombies more healthy-lookin' than ye.”
The elf said nothing at that, eyebrows edging together slightly. Durkon then noticed the bowl was almost empty and the elf was now mostly stirring through the soup without actually eating it.
“Good enuff fer now,” Durkon grunted. He stood and took the bowl. “Ye'll haf ta trance now,” he said over his shoulder while giving the bowl a quick rinse and putting it away.
“Wha?” Durkon frowned. His voice raised, he turned back to face Vaarsuvius, “Now wha'd I'd tell ye aboot-”
Vaarsuvius was on his feet, frowning at him with a somewhat distant look. “I will not trance,” he said, unwavering steel in his voice that was more than just mere stubborness. “It is a highly inefficient activity and a poor way to waste four hours of the time I may spend far more productively.”
“Vaarsuvius…” Durkon glowered.
“You cannot compell me to trance, Durkon, and I refuse to waste my time with such nonsense.” She raised her chin, every feature emanating cold formality. “I thank you for your company and I bid you a good night.”
“Na, wait!” Durkon said, grabbing the elf's arm again as she turned to leave. “Fine then, na trancin'. Whate'er ye say. I still think ye need a better break than jus' tha sip o' a soup ye took.” He pushed the elf into the seat again, provoking a frustrated sigh.
“I am truly not getting rid of you this easily, am I?” the elf winced, fingers rising to rub the bridge of her nose.
“Sure as Thor don't own shavin' cream,” the dwarf replied cheerfully, sitting down beside her. For all of the elf's irritation, she wasn't trying to blast him to pieces, which was thoroughly reassuring.
The elf sighed and leaned forward wearily, elbows on the table. “I find myself wondering why you believe idle conversation would be more beneficial for me than returning to an activity I am comfortable and familiar with.” She turned in her seat to look at Durkon, eyeing him with distrust and vague amusement. “Fine then. What shall the subject of today's lecture be, Master Thundershield? Or do you instead intend to discuss the current average incoming radiation and precipitation patterns?” she asked, her voice thick with bemused sarcasm.
Durkon snorted. “I s'ppose we could do tha, or I could let ye talk aboot sumthin' ye're actually int'rested 'n. How is yer research goin'?”
V's face clouded over. He looked away. “It is… not showing visible progress,” he admitted slowly, as if he was trying to swallow acid. “I… I have attempted a wide span of spells that were viable as a means to penetrate whatever effect is blocking my efforts – assuming Miss Starshine is not simply deceased” his face fell a little, his voice quiet, “No standard scrying or communication spells will work. I have researched several new variations that focussed specifically on overcoming interfering effects as well as those that attempted to exploit possible loopholes in the effect, but to no avail. I had the greatest hope for the Greater Animal Messenger spell, for few abjurations normally account for a creature being magically compelled to approach an affected object, but that spell has obviously proven ineffective, as well.”
Vaarsuvius sighed, eyebrows knitting together with worry and agitation and Durkon momentarily regretted having even brought it up. The elf could decide to jump up and bounce back to his research any moment. “I have also explored the possibility that the magical effect is affecting us rather than Miss Starshine and causing interference with any outgoing spells, but scrying on other areas and persons functions without error, therefore that cannot be the case, either…” the elf's voice took on a distressed note as he explained furiously, “The entire area of Azure City is impenetrable to divination. If Haley is still alive, then the spell failures must indicate that she is still there, but that… I-I do not wish to ponder…”
“V…” Durkon hesitantly placed a hand on the elf's shoulder. “Ye know ye dinnae hafta worry tha much aboot Haley. She's a high-level advent'rer jus' like ye an' me an' she's an expert wit cities. Ye hafta haf faith 'n her. She can take care o' 'erself.”
The elf's turned to stare at him. “In the same way the late Sir Greenhilt was a strong and intelligent fighter and could take care of himself, I suppose?” he shook his head, cutting Durkon off as the dwarf was about to reply. “I do not think she is dead, Durkon. I do worry that she may well be wishing she was.”
Durkon's jaw tightened. “I know wha ye mean,” he said, nodding. “But Haley is good at tha sneakin' business. She's na tryin' ta accomplish what Roy was tryin' ta do. Roy, well…” he sighed. “She's na tryin' ta tackle a lich aboot a dozen levels above 'er, not ta mention aboot a hundred feet 'n tha air, fer one thin'.”
The elf nodded fiercely, teeth clenching and hands curling into fists in frustration. “A hundred feet in the air are no obstacle to a Feather Fall, or Fly, or any number of other spells including but not limited to those that would not have required him to confront the lich in melee in the first place.” He shook Durkon's hand off his shoulder. “I could not have brought about his demise more surely if I were a traitor working against him.”
“Eh? Wha's this then?” Durkon peered at the elf in confusion. “Are ye implyin' tha' ye're sum'ow ta blame fer Roy's death?!” Thor's nostrils, the problem was a lot deeper than he'd expected.
The elf stared at him as if he had just proclaimed his intention to never drink another drop of ale in his life. After a moment, Vaarsuvius sputtered, “And are you implying that I am not? It was the lack of my presence that, as you told me, prompted him to attempt such a perilous assault in the first place!”
“O' course,” Durkon snorted at the elf's agitation, “But 'ow izzat any o' yer fault?”
“It was my own decision to leave and engage those three Titanium elementals on my own, despite Sir Greenhilt's orders to the contrary,” Vaarsuvius said, head hanging low. “It was due to that ridiculous venture that I became separated from the rest of the party when cooperation was most crucial! And afterwards, I-… I have spent decades studying magic and yet I could not even cast a Feather Fall – barely more than a cantrip! - when it mattered!
“Och, ye foolish elf,” Durkon sighed, running his fingers over his bald head. “'Ow can ye ev'n blame yerself fer tha? If'n ye hadn't been at tha breach, thar goblins would haf o'erwhelmed tha defenses right at tha start!”
“Perhaps so,” Vaarsuvius nodded coldly. “But then at least we would have stayed together. And, if Sir Greenhilt had not died, then Miss Starshine… Haley… would never have needed to leave to retrieve his corpse, and she would be right here with us! - as would Sir Greenhilt, and even the halfling – and we would likely be on our way to Girard's Gate even now! Making progress in our mission to stop plans that endanger the entire world! And now – because I acted out of turn, grasped at the chance to use my vaunted magical power – foolish – Sir Greenhilt is dead and his body is quite possibly destroyed beyond the possibility of being restored even with a Resurrection and Miss Starshine may be likewise dead or suffering in Xykon's clutches! And on top of it all, we have not budged from our position in many months, while that lich may be at that gate even now! All for want of a nail, as the saying is – or, to be more concrete, for want of my own adequate judgement! And you earnestly question my zeal in seeking to repair the damage I have wrought?!” The elf shook - shoulders hunched, teetch clenched and eyes burning furiously at the dwarf beneath the shadow of messy purple hair.
“Thor's almighty liver…” Durkon muttered. He was at loss for a moment, then fetched two cups, untied his flask of holy ale from his belt and poured it, then pushed one of the cups into V's hand. “Consid'r yerself lucky,” he grunted. “Authentic bless'd dwarven ale ain't sumthin' people get ta drink jus' like tha.”
Vaarsuvius looked bleakly at the liquid. “I think that poisoning my body with fermented organic toxins and earning myself a splitting headache is unlikely to aid us in our predicament nor improve my physical condition of which you disapprove so strongly.”
“An' I think ye need a drink.”
Vaarsuvius stared at the cup again, not replying as his fingers curled around the mug tentatively.
“Ye know, I thought ye were an intell'gent elf, Vaarsuvius,” he mused, retaking his seat and taking a good solid gulp from his own cup. “Ye cannae be serious aboot this.”
Vaarsuvius scoffed at him resentfully, then raised the cup and swallowed in a way that was unnervingly at odds with the composed, delicate way he usually sipped his wine. The gulp of dwarven ale sent him coughing and grimacing a moment later. Coughing once more, he took a careful sip. “This is much stronger than what I am accustomed to…” he muttered, wincing.
Durkon shook his head incredulously at the elf. “What aboot war? An' famine? An' death? Ye figure out a way ta blame yerself fer tha yet?”
“Rest assured that I am working on it,” the elf snapped angrily after another cough-inducing swig from his cup, a slightly unsteady sway to his hand already.
“No no no, ye cannae do this, V!” Durkon gestured exasperatedly. “Ye know what they say aboot hindsight! Jus' 'cause ye think things would haf gone diff'rently if'n ye'd dun sumthin' diff'rent dinnae mean they really would haf gone tha way!”
The elf set the cup down with a loud clank, turning to face him. “Are you of all people denying that disobeying the orders of our leader was a bad decision and a tactical mistake?”
“Did it seem like one at tha time?”
“I…” Vaarsuvius seemed taken aback. The fight drained out of him again and he ran a hand through shaggy hair. “How…How is that of any relevance?” he asked weakly, shaking his head.
“Hmpf. If'n ye knew tha what ye were doin' was wrong when ye did it, then ye'd be right ta regret it,” Durkon paused to take a long, hard drink from his own cup. He wiped his beard with the back of his hand, then said, “But if'n it seemed like tha right thing ta do, then where's tha sense 'n kickin' yerself o'er it? Jus' remember tha mistake fer tha future so's not ta make it agin. Try ta undo any damage ye think ye've caused, but dinnae lose yerself 'n it.”
Vaarsuvius stared bleakly into his own cup, then took a swig from it, saying nothing. Durkon gave him a hard look. “'n fact,” he said, “I'm surprised atchye, V. I al'ays thought ye ta be too pract'cal an' pragmatic to dwell on tha past like this. I'd haf expect'd ye ta shrug an' say tha nuthin' cannae be dun fer tha an'more. So why're ye so hun' up on this?”
The elf's look was distant. He rubbed a hand over his face. “I am too pragmatic to… dwell on this. I am merely eval… evaluating my performance and drawing the… appropriate conclusions…”
“Och, izzat so? An' what part o' those conclusions says ye hafta stay on yer feet without restin' till ye look like a bloody ghoul?” Durkon demanded.
The elf glared in return for a moment before his gaze wavered. “Trancing is not… mandatory for elves. My appearance is irrelevant.”
“Yer 'ppearance is rel'vant 'nsofar as it tells me tha tha lack o' trancin's havin' a bad effect on sumthin' which may na be jus' tha 'ppearance! Tha way ye've been actin' wit me an' Elan an' tha paladins, I def'nitely think it's na jus' tha 'ppearance!”
Vaarsuvius let out a frustrated sigh. Though annoyed, he seemed more tired than ever, his frame was swaying and he seemed to be having trouble keeping his eyes open. “I have… no more patience for this and… I do not see the point.” His hands planted on the table, he tried to stand, but his legs buckled under him and he collapsed onto wobbling arms again. It was just as well, for Durkon had once again reached out to grab him and prevent escape.
“Tha point,” the dwarf growled, “is tha I'm tryin' ta get ta tha bottom o' this, ye foolish elf. Whatev'r ye're sayin' aboot yer mistakes an' such… Ye've made mistakes before an' ye never went so guilt-ridd'n all o'er it, so tha cannae be all there is ta it. Ye're na actin' normal, an' I'm goin' ta try an' get ye back ta normal.”
“I… I will most assuredly be back to normal as soon as… as soon as Miss Starshine is found,” the elf said.
“Ye mean ta say if 'Miss Starshine' is found 'fore ye work yerself ta death lookin' fer 'er.”
“Whichever comes first,” V shrugged.
“O'er me dead body,” Durkon snorted. “Thor's nostrils! Why're ye so oppos'd ta trancin', anyway, if ye're na makin' any progress?”
“Lack of… lack of success is no justification to damage one's future chances of succeeding.”
“It's jus' four 'ours a day!”
“And thus one-sixth of the entire day span and… conclusively, the time until our eventual reunion with Miss Starshine.”
“So make it four 'ours ev'ry second or third day, it'd still be an improv'ment o'er na trancin' at all!”
“The effect on my efficiency and efficacy would still be tang… tangible.”
“What aboot tha 'ffect on yer 'fficacy 'cause yer too tired ta think straight, hmm?”
“Negligible, my mental faculties are functioning as well as ever.”
“Like hell they are, if'n ye cannae figure out what's wrong wit ye yerself!”
“Durkon!” the elf positively snarled as he tried to stand again, all unsteady limbs and sheer aggravation burning through the exhaustion. “I have quite simply had it with your ceaseless probing. This pointless exchange of barbs shows no sign of acquiring a purpose anytime… anytime soon, save to provide further proof that interro… interrogating me is a waste of your time. I will return to my research and h-hopefully hasten the resolution of this nonsense. Do not attempt to restrain me again.”
“It's fer yer own good, ye stuck-up pixie!” Durkon cried angrily, reaching a hand towards Vaarsuvius.
“Hold Pers-… ngh!” The elf jumped to her feet, hands gesturing a spell… or at least tried to, but with her coordination unsteady and haphazard, she stumbled over the bench or perhaps over her own legs and as her hands belatedly shot out to balance, the incantation was interrupupted and she crashed down onto him in a mass of unsteady limbs and voluminous robes.
Durkon caught her.
Very much belatedly, it occurred to him that he had just served a full cup of the finest and strongest dwarven beer to a wispy slip of a creature whose delicate drinking habits and tolerance of alcohol could almost be likened to those of a puny, undernourished monk.
In the moments that followed, Vaarsuvius tried to disentangle herself as best as she could with her ruined coordination and her baggy robes that made the task even more difficult, all while hissing angrily, “V-very… very cunning, Durkon. An un… unorthodox way of disabling a spellcas… spellcaster… but…”She tried to straighten up but slipped, nearly tumbling down again. “…quite effective… I ought to given… to have given you more credit.” As her voice came to sound flat, she was more and more like a limp ragdoll and the efforts to get the elf to sit separately on her own again became increasingly one-sided on Durkon's part.
“Dinnae be ridic'lous,” he grunted, “I dinnae plan fer tha. Twas Thor watchin' out fer me an' yer own foolishn'ss tryin' ta cast a spell.”
“Yes, a… a spell to escape the clutches of a bored dwarf trying to give me… therapy against my… my own will, of course… what was I thinking… not at all an appropr… 'propriate response to….”
Vaarsuvius fell silent.
Sometime between one moment and the next, Durkon found himself with an armful of completely limp elf, very much like a messy bundle of red laundry with a few gangly limbs sticking out here and there. And a head, the purple hair tickling his nose.
The cup was empty. Or near enough that it didn't count.
Durkon carefully tried to lift the elf off of him, but Vaarsuvius tensed and shifted slightly, muttering something too softly for him to hear. Durkon halted, staring down at the purple in front of his face with a puzzled frown. Rather than flat passed out, Vaarsuvius seemed somewhere between drowsy and merely drifted off, as if he could bolt wide awake any moment.
He'd finally gotten the elf to trance. For today, at least. As always, Thor's holy beer was proving the ultimate solution in a way the elf's magic could only hope to rival.
With no way to remove the elf without risking jostling him awake, Durkon shifted to sit a bit more comfortably.
It was going to be a long night.