Belkar leaned back, tapping the tip of his knife against the counter. There was a soft murmur of people talking. Soft music played from the dark wood stage. Some guy playing the harpsichord and singing about how much he loved a woman. For the fifth time that night.
“I hold your hand in mine, dear,
I press it to my lips.
And I take a healthy bite
From your dainty fingertips.”
Kinky, if only mildly. Meh. Probably written by a vampire or something…
He was sitting in the tavern he and the rest of the Order of the Stick were staying at for the night. The actual rooms were upstairs, but the bar and restaurant were on the first floor. He was sitting at the bar, swinging his legs under a stool that was too big for a halfling and staring at an empty mug. A bunch of tables were behind him, just a bunch of people. None of them looked too dangerous or important, so Belkar wasn’t concerned. At the front of the room, which was completely made out of wood (Belkar wondered sometimes if these inns had ever heard of fires before), there was a small stage were some human bard was playing.
But the halfling didn’t really care about that. Almost everyone else in his party had already gone up to bed. Vaarsuvius was sitting three seats away from him, casually sipping some elven wine and reading a book in the faint light and looking extremely tempting for some reason.
Belkar glared, tracing the elf’s silhouette with his eyes. How is it that he could lust for someone when he didn’t even know their gender? Weren’t there rules for that?
…Then again, he was Chaotic. It wasn’t like he followed the rules anyway.
Was ‘falling for’ someone pure lust, even? By the gods, he was rusty on this stuff. He would need to ask his cousin about it if he ever went back to his hometown. (Though then again, maybe he shouldn’t. Lyle would laugh his ass off if he thought that Belkar had actually ‘fallen for’ someone.)
So, as any other boy who liked someone but didn’t want them to know, he decided to torture the object of his affections.
The stupid Mark of Justice and Roy’s activation word kept him from doing anything serious. He just pulled out one of the many rubber bands Roy had given to him to keep him amused earlier that day and stretched it, aimed for the unsuspecting elf’s forehead, and fired.
Vaarsuvius started with a small cry of pain and surprise, slapping a slender hand to a growing red mark where the rubber band had hit. “What was—?!”
Belkar started to laugh, stretching another band and hitting the elf’s neck. Vaarsuvius jumped up, somehow still managing to look graceful and elegant, and looked down to glare fiercely at the halfling. “I am sorry, I was not aware that I was traveling with a kindergartener!”
Another rubber band was sent flying. Vaarsuvius dodged it quickly, glaring at the cackling halfling with a look hot enough to melt glass. Belkar was going to get a face-full of Explosive Runes tomorrow morning just as he did this morning, but that was fine. The sight of the elf’s face flushed attractively with anger was a good enough reward.
“My joy would be complete, dear,
If you were only here,
But still I keep your hand
As a precious souvenir.”
The completely out-of-place lyrics stopped even Vaarsuvius for a second, forcing both of the party members to look up at the stage in shock.
“The night you died I cut it off,
I really don't know why.
For now each time I kiss it
I get bloodstains on my tie.”
The elf and the halfling exchanged glances.
“Hey, you’re married—do couples usually do stuff like that? Because if they do, I’ve really been missing out. I thought it was only my family…”
“No, one usually does not kill their significant other.” Vaarsuvius glared at the halfling again, crossing thin arms. “But I suppose you would.”
“Hey, hey, I don’t kill people I love.” Belkar shrugged, smirking. “I just don’t love people. Easy out.”
“I'm sorry now I killed you,
For our love was something fine,
And till they come to get me
I shall hold your hand in mine.”
Vaarsuvius glanced at the stage again, frowning. “I shall go to my room before the bard begins another macabre song or you start your childish antics again. Good night, cretin.”
Belkar smirked at the knee-jerk politeness from the elf. “Sweet dreams, pointy-eared twit.”
“I do not dream.”
“Trance memories, then.”
The elf arched an eyebrow. “You know how my ‘sleep’ cycle works, then. I will not ask how.” Vaarsuvius grabbed the book off the counter and left quietly.
“What do you see in her? She seems so pompous…”
Belkar spun on his stool to face an elf who had apparently been sitting behind him the whole time. “Come again?”
She was a moon elf if Belkar knew his elf sub-races at all. She was slender with big red eyes, silver hair, and pale. She had a clearly defined gender, which was nice for a change, her hair was pulled in a loose ponytail, and she had an odd headband on her head with a round white light attached to it. Her body was dressed in a relatively revealing robe, and she looked like the type of girl who’d be willing to help Belkar deal with some leftover ‘excitement’ from Vaarsuvius’s small outburst. It was always nice when Belkar was approached by a slut.
For some weird reason, even though this elf was definitely female and more aesthetically pleasing to the male eye, Belkar would have preferred it if Vaarsuvius had just stayed and kept up their verbal sparring.
“You are attracted to her, aren’t you? Or him… it is always so difficult to tell with that race of elves…” The moon elf shrugged it off, folding her hands in her lap. Belkar raised an eyebrow in surprise, provoking a small chuckle. “I’m a druid. I learned how to interpret behavior and demeanor in animals when I first started out, and it passes on to humanoids. You were acting like a standard mammal trying to impress a mate, if you don’t mind me saying.”
“I’ve been compared to worse things than animals. So the androgyny is a racial thing?”
She nodded, lacing her fingers together. “She’s a part of a rare sub-race of high elf, mostly found in the Northern, forested parts of the Elven Homeland. I think that the androgyny is just an aesthetic thing, but I could be wrong. It has… been a while since my sub-race has associated with our brethren.”
Belkar stored the information for later. Vaarsuvius was so private and secretive that any facts, even on something as general as species, was a plus. “And a ‘standard mammal’ snaps rubber bands in someone’s face to get laid?”
The moon elf giggled, covering her mouth politely. “More like… trying to prove that they’re strong enough to take care of the mate. Or trying to coerce them with small abuses. Either works.”
Belkar smirked, leaning forward and staring at the elf’s face, tracing her lips with his eyes. “What’s my ‘demeanor’ now?”
She leaned forward, a smile playing across her lips. “Searching for a mate now that your favorite candidate is gone.”
Her smile turned into a grin, and Belkar noted off-handedly that her teeth looked a little sharp. “I’ll tell you as soon as I know your name.”
“Belkar. Death’s Li’l Helper.” He smirked. “What’s yours?”
She chuckled softly, leaning forward so their lips were nearly touching. “Elaraal.” Her eyes fluttered. “To answer your question, my demeanor’s receptive.”
“Then maybe we should go up to my room.”
Elaraal smiled. “Maybe we should.”
Belkar closed the distance between them, kissing her roughly. For some odd reason, he craved the taste of elven wine. But she didn’t taste like wine. She tasted like mint leaves. She didn’t kiss like…
But it wasn’t as if Belkar was going to be able to kiss that one again.
He parted their lips, taking her wrist and leading her out of the room. Just before they left to take the stairs, she turned slightly, waving casually at another elf that looked similar to her. Her brother, maybe. The male elf rolled his eyes, setting down a drink and standing up.
Belkar shrugged and walked up the stairs, letting the slim moon elf woman into his room.
“Excuse me, Ma’am.”
Vaarsuvius looked up, ears perking at the sound of the Elven tongue, a hand hovering over the doorknob. The inn had been cheap enough so everyone in the party had a separate room, and Roy had insisted that Elan and Belkar not sleep anywhere near him. An obviously male moon elf (or perhaps a star elf? They looked rather similar and it was so unlikely that one would be here that Vaarusivius simply assumed that the stranger was a moon elf) stood slightly taller than the wizard, leaning against the wall. He had silver hair and pale skin, even by moon elf standards, and he had a familiar headband on his head with a circular white light source attached. He was slim, but his arms and hands were strong and callused. A sword sheathed at the moon elf’s hip, partially covered by the folds of a gray cloak, spoke of a fighter class. He had an odd accent that the mage couldn’t exactly place, and that alone made V a little wary.
The wizard slowly allowed the hand touching the knob to drop. The moon elf didn’t look like he was going to leave soon, and it was nice to hear someone speaking the mage’s mother tongue. “May I help you?”
“Yes. I wanted to ask about the halfling that was harassing you.”
Vaarsuvius frowned suspiciously.
“Only because he has spirited away my sister.”
The mage relaxed. Concern about one’s family was something Vaarsuvius could understand. “Ah. To his room, I assume?”
“Yes. May we walk?”
Vaarsuvius tensed again slightly, but slowly walked with the moon elf down the hall. “I am not his keeper or his friend. I know little about him.”
“I simply need to know if he might hurt my sister tonight. His behavior with you is not promising.”
The elf’s lips pursed, careful about doling out information regarding any of the Order’s party members, but this seemed harmless enough. Belkar was a Chaotic Evil sociopath, but he was certainly not a rapist or sexual assaulter. Further more, while he enjoyed killing, he wasn’t a Bluebeard—Vaarsuvius couldn’t think of one situation where Belkar had killed one of his harlots unless she attacked him first. “He will not hurt your sister. He treats me the way he does because he does not like me.”
“Ah, but he seems to like you. Inappropriately.”
“Believe me when I say he does not.”
The moon elf smirked for a moment, as if reveling in a secret that he knew Vaarsuvius wasn’t in on, but his face smoothed quickly. “Then why are you both here? You must have a serious reason to be traveling together if you dislike each other so much.”
“We are simply in the same party and we are staying here for the night. If you will excuse me, I am rather tired and would like to go to bed…” Vaarsuvius turned to go back to the room, but the moon elf reached out, taking the mage’s delicate wrist. V’s heart skipped a beat and every muscle in the little body tightened, preparing to launch a spell.
“Be calm. I simply want your name.”
“Vaarsuvius. Please let me go.”
“My name is Alrahb.” He released the mage, holding up his hands for peace. “I don’t mean to scare you. I know that I can be intimidating, but I am not sure how comfortable I am with a fellow elf traveling with N-Tel-Quess, especially the sorts that would go to bed with a woman not of their species mere minutes after meeting them.”
“Xenophobia is not usually a trait in moon elves.” Vaarsuvius arched an eyebrow, starting down the hall. The mage, in a small show of irritation and disapproval, switched back to Common. “Luckily, my decisions on my travel companions have no effect on you. I assure you that your sister is safe tonight. Good night, Mr. Alrahb.”
Alrahb’s face twitched slightly. He obviously didn’t like the blatant challenge to what he seemed to consider his inherent authority. The switch in language probably did not smooth out relations either, but Vaarsuvius cared little. “To quote my sister, ma’am, birds of a feather flock together. And when one tries to force birds of different species to flock, they rip each other apart and let each other starve. You aren’t safe with N-Tel-Quess.”
“I am safer with them than I am with many of my own species.” The sharp rebuttal surprised even Vaarsuvius, but the mage went on. “I would appreciate it if you would not mix yourself into my—”
There was the sound of shattering glass and crashes in Belkar’s room. Vaarsuvius stiffened, immediately concluding that the elf woman hadn’t been as safe from the halfling as had been assumed. There was a shout and more crashes.
The mage ran to the door, but a firm hand grabbed a delicate wrist, this time with bruising force. Vaarsuvius bit back a cry of pain and spun around. “He—”
“Last chance. You can go to your bed and keep traveling with filthy N-Tel-Quess or come with me and my sister so we can go to a village and protect you from them.”
“Your xenophobia is astounding, truly. I thought we were over such things.”
Alrahb’s face twisted into an ugly expression of hate. “Ssindossa ssinssriggin nek.”
The mage’s mouth fell open, blinking in shock at the grave insult that had just been hissed. Vaarsuvius had only heard that slur spoken once, and it had enraged an entire village of elves. “Excuse me?!”
The moon elf slapped Vaarsuvius hard across the face. The mage gasped in shock, looking up at the elf, and stared deep into red hate-filled eyes. Moon elves never had red eyes. “Amin feuya ten’ lle, ssindossa ssinssriggin nek!”
Flaming chunks of rock slammed into Alrahb’s face, sending him against the wall. Another crash came from inside the halfling’s room and Vaarsuvius ran in.
Belkar looked up, relief flooding him despite himself when his favorite arrogant pain-in-the-ass ran in. He stumbled again, swearing loudly.
The room was a mess. The chest of drawers were smashed on the floor, splinters of wood everywhere, one of the windows was shattered, throwing out shards of glass with the broken wood, and the mattress was flipped off the bed on the floor. The crazy moon bitch was stuck to the wall, spider-style, with giant inch-long fangs bared and eyes flashing. A vampire?! A goddamn elf VAMPIRE?!
His vision was blurring. Blood was draining slowly from two puncture wounds on his throat, seeping into his clothes and staining his skin in a macabre testament to how badly he was hurt. Elaraal had gotten him smack in his jugular and his ankle was possibly injured seriously. As much as he hated to admit it, Vaarsuvius was a very welcome addition to the equation. But, attractive party member or not, he would stab the elf if he or she or whatever the hell it was pointed out the embarrassing fact that he was nearly killed by his lay.
A bolt of lightning hit Elaraal head-on, but she shrugged it off. “I have Resistance to electricity and damage reduction.” She turned her glowing red eyes on the elf, baring her fangs.
Belkar took advantage of the elf vampire’s brief distraction and lunged forward, stabbing a dagger deep into her stomach. She let out a furious shriek, slipping a quarterstaff out of her shirt and kicking him back. That would have been really hot if she hadn’t bashed the halfling’s skull so hard that he fell flat on the floor. The moon bitch grabbed a fallen quarterstaff on the ground, spinning her two weapons and preparing to slam them on the halfling.
Vaarsuvius’s eyes widened, fingers twitching in preparation to prepare another spell, but the mage remembered—too late—about the fighter in the doorway.
The halfling rolled out of the way and jumped up just in time to see a bigger male elf behind Vaarsuvius bare giant fangs and whip out a sword, slashing the mage in the back. “Gurth gothrim dhaeraow! GURTH GOTHRIM SSINDOSSA SSINSSRIGGIN NEK!”
Belkar made a mental note to ask Vaarsuvius what the hell that meant, because judging by the mage’s deeply offended and outraged expression, it was something serious. V fell to the ground and propped the small body back up, wincing in pain from the glass digging into delicate palms. The slash on an unprotected back stretched with the movement. Blood soaked the back part of the robe and dripped onto the floor, making the cloth stick painfully to the skin. The mage looked up just in time to see Alrahb raising his sword to impale.
“Hey! I’m the only one who’s allowed to deal fatal damage to my party members!” Belkar jumped at the vampire, latching onto his arm and stabbing his bicep.
“GET AWAY FROM MY BROTHER!”
Elaraal shrieked furiously and a wolf suddenly popped into existence on the flipped mattress, lunging for Belkar the moment after Alrahb shook him off.
The little halfling only had enough time to swear before he was clamped in the jaws of the giant wolf.
Vaarsuvius staggered up. “Scorching Ray!”
Alrahb was only sent against the wall, dazed for a moment. The mage was almost completely out of spells.
“Son of a—!” The wolf started to shake the halfling like a chew toy. Blood spurted forth, staining the animal’s white teeth and splashing across the wood floor. Vaarsuvius’s eyes widened, frozen for a brief moment at the grotesque painting. Why hadn’t anyone come to help them? Someone must have heard this by now, unless there had been some spell cast!
The spell hit the wolf’s side, sending it sprawling on the ground. Elaraal screamed, hitting Vaarsuvius’s hand and head hard with her staves, smashing the hand against the wall and making the mage crumple to the floor. She backed up, allowing Alrahb to straddle the mage’s hips and put his hands around the little elven throat. The position was much too suggestive to be accidental. The vampire was trying to demean and destroy the smaller elf in every way possible.
“Let this be a lesson, race-traitor. I will enjoy feasting on your blood.”
The vampire fighter tightened his grip on the little windpipe and ripped at the slash on the mage’s back. Vaarsuvius couldn’t hold back a scream, but it didn’t matter. Barely any sound or air could get through. The mage struggled to breathe, convulsing, and desperately scratched at the fingers around the delicate throat.
“GODDAMN GLASS! GODDAMN WOLF!” A bloody mass about the size of the halfling stabbed Alrahb’s back. “WHAT’D I SAY ABOUT DEALING FATAL DAMAGE TO THE ELF?!”
Alrahb let go of Vaarsuvius, jumping up and around with a shout of pain. Elaraal lunged for Belkar, but Vaarsuvius had the presence of mind to grab her ankle as she passed and tripped her. With a shout, she fell to the ground. Alrahb immediately looked down to see if she was wounded and the mage stood with a cry of pain, trying to ignore the dizziness and back wound. Their opponents were in between them and the door. If they did manage to succeed in getting into the hall of the inn, they would be murdered within moments by the pursuing predators. That left one option.
While the vampires were distracted, Vaarsuvius grabbed Belkar’s hand, slippery with blood, and dragged him to the window. Knowing what had to be done without asking, the halfling punched out the last of the glass, ignoring the skin that was being torn to ribbons, and held the elf close against his body before they both jumped.
Belkar hit the ground first with a shout of pain, cushioning the fall for the more delicate elf. Pain zipped up both of their bodies and an ominous cracking and crushing sound rang in the moonless night. Vaarsuvius desperately tried to stifle a pained noise that sounded like a cross between a whimper and a moan, but it was not possible. Belkar slowly got to his feet, lifting a foot impaled with a glass shard off the ground and palming a rock. With all his strength, he threw the stone at the window of the room that he knew belonged to Durkon. The glass shattered and there was a sudden exclamation from within.
“They’re going to—”
“I know. Let’s hope they don’t have ranks in Survival or Spot.” Belkar yanked the glass piece from his foot roughly, shouting in pain, and tried to get Vaarsuvius to stand. They both should have been lying down with a cleric fussing over them. Neither should have been able to move.
There was a furious screech from the room they just left. Vampires tended to be a good incentive to escape.
Vaarsuvius gasped softly in pain, subconsciously taking the halfling’s hand and squeezing it hard, and started to stagger forward. Belkar grit his teeth against the pain and concentrated on keeping him and the elf standing. They slipped into the woods just past the inn, practically carrying each other.
“We cannot continue like this…” the mage whispered softly, voice strained.
“You’re out of spells, I’ve turned into a glorified wolf chew bone, we’re missing our party members including our cleric, and they’re both fast-healing undead bloodsuckers, one being a fighter with a big-ass sword and the other being a shape-shifting animal lover with a hell of a lot more unused spells than you. What do you suggest?”
“We need to stop to dress our wounds. You’re bleeding too much and you’re swaying on your feet. You are suffering from blood-loss.”
“Hello, Pot, my name is Kettle.”
“All the more reason to…” Vaarsuvius stumbled, almost falling to the ground. The mage desperately fought against it. If they stopped, the elf would not be able to start moving again.
“Okay, okay, fine.” Belkar sniffed the air, limping forward with the elf in hand until they came to a clear pool. Vaarsuvius stiffened briefly, memories coming up at the sight. “Get in the water and get all the blood off. I know jack about first aid, but I’m pretty sure that it’s easier to see how bad something is when there isn’t all this dried blood screwing with how it looks.”
The halfling limped to the edge of the water, letting the elf sit down slowly and sniffing the air for any signs of their opponents. His knees buckled under him, sending him to the ground.
Trees surrounded the clear reflective pool thickly, blocking them from view. That would be the best protection they would get. A giant oak tree grew from the edge of the pool across from them, covering up a lot of the sky, and Belkar had the vaguest sense of being watched.
“Your neck needs immediate care.”
Vaarsuvius sat up, careful to keep from moving the left arm too much, and ripped a piece of red cloth from the dirty and blood-soaked robe. “This is far from sterile, but it will have to do.”
The elf dipped the strip into the water, ignoring the cloud of blood and filth that floated up from the cloth and hand holding it, and cleaned it as much as possible. “Lie down.”
Belkar decided that now was not the time to be a smartass and did at the mage said, frowning. Vaarsuvius carefully wiped the blood away from the halfling’s neck, dabbing at the two puncture wounds until they were clean with a gentle hand. The halfling smiled slightly, enjoying the light touch despite the situation. It wasn’t often the elf touched him, and even less often that the touch was so gentle and concentrated. V frowned when the bite marks continued to bleed and dipped the cloth in the water again, cleaning it before wrapping the wound tightly, making sure that it was loose enough to not restrict that halfling’s airways. “This should help staunch the bleeding. Are you dizzy?”
“No more than you. Careful, don’t strangle me.” The halfling dipped his bleeding hands into the water, hissing darkly in pain. “Damn glass… where’s the dwarf when you need him? Turn around. You’re going to bleed out from your back. At this rate, we’re both going to need to be resurrected.”
Vaarsuvius turned around reluctantly, wincing in pain. “Don’t make it worse. Please be gentle.”
“Hey, I want you to feel pain when I try to hurt you, not when I try to patch you up. And it would be unsportsmanlike to steal a kill and piggyback on the damage done by someone else—if I kill you, it’ll be all me.” Belkar reached up, tearing the robe a little more to reach the slash better. Vaarsuvius did not protest.
The halfling took out a dagger with his least-wounded hand, cutting a strip away from his cloak. He copied Vaarsuvius by dipping the filthy cloth into the water and cleaning it as well as possible before tentatively starting to wash the dried blood off of the elf’s back. The mage hissed softly, stiffening, and Belkar paused despite himself.
This felt weird. Belkar was a killer by nature from a family of crazies, sociopaths, and criminals. All his adult life, he had done nothing but murder and revel in the blood he shed. When he joined the Order, he started to do little things that went against his nature, like saving Elan from the bandits or letting party members live after they did something like steal from him or blow him up with spells, but they were never big enough to make him worry too much. But now he found himself trying to clumsily heal a person with hands that were only good for killing. He found himself actively trying to keep that person’s pain level as low as possible.
“You see, Belkar, no one besides us deserves to live. These silly little meat bags? They’re there for us to swindle, to hunt, to murder. They don’t deserve mercy. They don’t deserve love or compassion. Those are weak emotions. They’re disgusting emotions. If you let yourself feel them for anyone but your family, you are just like them and have no right to yourself. They’re there for our enjoyment. I enjoy torturing them. So I do. It is my right.”
“Please… child… help…”
“See? Now he won’t talk anymore.”
The halfling carefully started to wash off the blood again. There was a soft gasp and the elf’s muscles tightened, but Vaarsuvius said nothing.
Belkar grimaced when all the blood was gone. The slash was a macabre crescent moon, arching from the shoulder blade to the opposite hipbone, and it was slowly oozing more blood. The halfling dipped the cloth in the water again. “It’s pretty big, pretty ugly, and it’s still bleeding. You know more about this stuff than me; what am I supposed to do here?”
“Make the cloth as clean as possible and press it hard against the areas that are still bleeding. It will be very painful, but pain is a better option than death.”
The halfling twisted the cloth underwater, getting as much blood out as possible, and took it out, squeezing it to get rid of some of the liquid. He bundled it up. “Get on your stomach.”
Vaarsuvius slowly obeyed, tensing in preparation. Belkar pressed the cloth against the parts still bleeding, eliciting a soft stifled cry of pain.
“Keep the pressure steady until I clot,” the elf hissed through gritted teeth.
Belkar would be completely lying if he said that he wasn’t turned on a little by all this. Vaarsuvius’s back was almost completely bare, slick with sweat and muscles bunched up underneath inhumanly smooth, hairless, flawless skin. The elven body felt almost silky under his hand, tempting in every possible meaning of the word. It brought up memories of plenty of dreams that made him really glad that no one in his party knew how to read minds. If it weren’t for the soft hisses of pain and the fact that they both were dying, Belkar would have had a hard time to not have one of his screw-ups and kiss the elf. And Belkar was usually one to try to get what he wanted.
The halfling checked to see if Vaarsuvius’s back had stopped bleeding. Belkar had a small realization, and slowly smirked. “You’re going to need to take your robe off, Ears.”
“And allow you to see me without clothes on?”
“How else am I going to be able to wrap this thing up?”
Vaarsuvius very carefully sat up, making sure to not stretch the slash at all. “I can wrap it myself, diminutive cretin.”
“Well I’m not looking away.”
“You have no choice. Sleep.”
Belkar swore the moment before he fell asleep.