They had to stop in the abandoned village for the fourth time for Vaarsuvius to sit down and fight off a dizzy spell. Redcloak was obviously worried about it, the mysterious third voice inside of him forcing him to become more and more agitated over his lover’s health. He had to actively fight himself to keep from growling, purring, or holding Vaarsuvius protectively. This deeply primal need to make sure that… oh great Dark One, he thought of Vaarsuvius as his mate. (Wasn’t that only supposed to happen once he had kids?) But he had this base urge to make sure that his lover was always safe and at his side. Why all this all of the sudden? What was wrong with him? What, by the Dark One, was wrong with him?
More to the point, what was wrong with Vaarsuvius?
The elf just sat on a stone wall next to one of the houses made from red clay, face looking a little ashen and arms wrapped securely around a slender abdomen. Redcloak suppressed a protective and worried growl, stepping in front of the elf and leaning forward to see Vaarsuvius better.
“Redcloak, I fear I have fallen ill. I am slowing us both down.”
“I’m not going to leave you here, if that’s what you’re implying.” The goblin frowned at the elf, clinically wrapping his hands loosely around a slender neck and feeling if anything was swollen. “You know, evil clerics are still clerics. I know how to deal with sickness. What hurts?”
“I know my ailment, Redcloak.” The elf squirmed a little, reluctant to allow the goblin to examine too closely. “Suffice to say that I am ill. For now, I must suffer through it until this is over.”
“Vaarsuvius, don’t be stupid. You’re sick. If you’re getting this dizzy, then it can be serious.”
“Redcloak, do not pry into this.” Vaarsuvius shifted back, obviously starting to get defensive, and the grip tightened hard around a small abdomen. This agitated Redcloak further, making the third voice within rage and demand that the problem with his mate be found and dealt with. “This is not your concern.”
The goblin sighed in frustration. The scientist and the person ganged up on the third voice, trying to wrestle it to the ground and yet being bested easily. The third was far stronger than any other conscious aspect of Redcloak. “We don’t have time to deal with you being stubborn, Vaarsuvius.”
“Then accept that I am not being forthcoming and let us continue our journey.” Vaarsuvius scowled warningly and hopped off the stone wall, starting down the dirt road again.
Redcloak gripped the elf’s shoulder tightly, but instead of making the mage stop, Vaarsuvius spun around and slapped him hard in the face.
The goblin recoiled, holding a hand to a growing red mark on his cheek, the shock in his expression morphing into hurt.
“It is none of your concern, Redcloak.”
The elf gave him another glare and turned around, arms crossed, and continued forward. Redcloak followed after only a moment, keeping his hands carefully away from the mage.
They didn’t talk again for a while.
“Yer na goin’ t’ get me tha’ easily!”
Durkon nimbly jumped up on a stone platform, running across it with something at his heels. He kept his hammer brandished at his side, and when he hit the wall, he spun, hands glowing white. “GO BACK T’ THA ABYSS YE CAME FROM!”
The creature reared up, shrieking, and a blast of pure divine magic slammed it head-on.
Aarindarius weaved through the virtual maze of illusions with difficulty, the concentration required starting to make his head pound. He was battered by emotions that weren’t his—despair, anger, hurt, love, contentment, amusement, fear, shame, guilt. Things that should have distracted him. He simply focused on Vaarsuvius and everything else melted away. He was going to find her if it was the last thing he did.
“Who are you people?”
The voice was just next to his ear, breath brushing against his earlobe and making him tremble. Damnable sensitivity in that area! But he ignored the illusion, focusing solely on slipping through the strands of magic.
“This place hasn’t had any action for decades and suddenly it’s Grand Central Station!”
Aarindarius started undoing the tapestry, glimmers of hanged shadows, the smiling, innocent face of a blond man with a goatee, a happy dark-skinned human patting his son’s back and picking strawberries, an emaciated red-haired male prisoner, and dead goblins flickering past.
“Are you one of them? One of the people who killed Lirian? Dorukan?”
Grief—silent, stealthy, hidden away forever—manifested within the web.
“Soon is dead. Lirian is dead. Dorukan is dead. Kraagor is gone. Serini…”
The web started sticking to Aarindarius’s robe, pulling him deeper in, making him start to lose grip on his magic.
“Why should you see the one you love when I can’t? When Soon can’t?”
Aarindarius struggled to keep his unweaving up.
“Well, I can’t let you cheat. Soon and I can’t, so you can’t either.”
The illusions snapped around Aarindarius, dragging him into darkness.
The presence disappeared and Aarindarius felt someone wrap thin arms around his waist from behind, teeth lightly nibbling at his ear. He let out a gasp, his entire body going rigid and blood automatically rushing to his face. He grabbed at the hands at his abdomen, trying to twist out of their grip, but the teeth lightly bit on the tip of his ear and a tongue ran down it, forcing a mewl from his lips.
“How dare you?!”
Aarindarius twisted so he was face-to-face with his assaulter, his hands and eyes glowing in preparation for a spell, light illuminating the other’s countenance. The wizard froze.
A familiar purple-haired elf smiled, slipping delicate arms around Aarindarius’s neck and pressing their lips together. Their tongues touched. Their heartbeats pounded against each other’s chest. Thin fingers slipped past the wizard’s robe, touching him in a way that he hadn’t been touched in a long time.
Aarindarius’s own body betrayed him. The soft cries from his student in his ear sent lightning down his spine. His hands instinctively went to places that he knew that he should never touch on his old apprentice. Vaarsuvius made a gentle mewling sound, readily encouraging the touches. “Master!” Another cry, jolting the wizard. “Aarindarius!”
The sound of his old student’s voice snapped him out of the momentary shock-induced lapse. He sharply pulled away, breathing heavily and closing his robe. “No. I am not going to do this. I do not care if you are an illusion or not—I refuse to entertain any sort of fantasy regarding my student, former or no.”
Vaarsuvius breathed heavily, leaning against a wall. “Aarindarius…”
“Fiend. I know that you are not Vaarsuvius. I do not bear witness to what happens in her mind, but she would never approach me in such a blatantly sexual manner.” Aarindarius forced himself to calm down, tying his robe up tightly. “Close your gown. Show your own body if you wish, but do not defile my old apprentice in such a way.”
The demon that had the form of Vaarsuvius looked at him pleadingly with big violet eyes, body still blatantly showing. “Master, you want this!”
“Every form of love has a sexual undertone. If nothing else, that is what Vaarsuvius’s parents taught me.” He glanced down for a moment, eyes closed with shame. “My body wishes for Vaarsuvius. I will not deny it.” He looked up, hands starting to light with dark purple fire. “My mind and heart, however, do not. She is my daughter.” Aarindarius’s eyes started to glow. “I will not suffer your continued perversion of the image of my daughter. Be gone or I shall destroy you myself!”
The fiend disguised as Vaarsuvius let out a loud obscenity, the word sounding incredibly foreign in Aarindarius’s old apprentice’s voice. “For the love of my unholy masters! What is it with the tramp’s form and people refusing to screw?!”
The fiend morphed into a black-haired succubus, red eyes glowing darkly. “I mean, this is the second time I’ve taken her form and already two guys reject me!”
“Next time, I’m just going to spend my time polymorphed as a dead body and keep screwing the Theurge chick.”
The succubus disappeared, leaving a thoroughly confused wizard behind.
He blinked and ran a hand through his hair. “What on Earth has Vaarsuvius gotten herself into…?”
No one was there to answer.
The creature lovingly cradled its bundle, a low hum coming from deep in its throat. Blood stained the branch it sat upon. The red liquid dried and stuck to the wood like sap. Strains of a forgotten lullaby murmured from the observer’s lips. The bundle gave no response.
The creature held out a hand and the world began to change.
Sand became hard and packed. The temperature dropped like a brick. Puddles of water gathered on the ground without reason and froze solid. Snow fell from the sky and, against physics, the temperature continued to drop despite the natural insulator.
The creature’s lips turned up in a smile.
The snow and ice quickly built up and creatures made of nightmares rose from the frozen wasteland.