“We can’t keep this up in this weather.”
Vaarsuvius simply stopped walking, trying to hide the violent shivers running up and down the small elven body. The snow was rapidly gathering on the street, and they had almost slipped and fallen on the ice several times. The white fluff from the sky already had gotten to the point where it nearly reached the travelers’ knees, and it showed no sign of stopping. “Where do you suggest we settle, then?”
“One of the houses. At least they will keep the snow out over the night.”
Vaarsuvius didn’t protest. Redcloak noted with worry that the tips of the elf’s fingers had taken a bluish color, but he didn’t comment. His cheek still stung where Vaarsuvius had struck it, and he doubted that the elf would react any better to his concern just then.
They both trekked to one of the closer homes, having to struggle a little to get the door open and walk inside.
Redcloak forced the door closed, glancing around the hut. The first thing he noticed was that there was one bed for two with a thick blanket. (Well, he was fine with that—it’s not like they hadn’t slept together before.) There was a pile of wood under a window and a hole in the ceiling, probably meant for smoke from fires, was designed with a little elevated cap on it to protect from snow.
That was odd. Deserts weren’t supposed to get snow, so why would the homes be built to handle it?
“Did you prepare any fire spells today?” Redcloak asked, going over to the pile of wood and setting logs up in the middle of the dirt floor.
Redcloak backed away and Vaarsuvius sent a fireball at the wood, immediately starting the flame. The goblin reflexively jumped a little away from the fire, quickly making sure that it wouldn’t catch on the house. “Don’t get too close right now. You don’t want to warm up too fast.”
The elf didn’t comment when the goblin took delicate hands between his own, slowly warming them to avoid tissue damage. The fire cracked gently but did little to heat up the room. The warmth kept flowing out the windows.
The silence made Redcloak very uncomfortable, but he still wasn’t quite ready to reach out again. He and Vaarsuvius had become dangerously intimate in the last few days, and the elf was right to try to push him away. They wouldn’t be able to fight each other if this kept up.
“We’ll be okay. I promise.”
He had been so stupid to say that, but he couldn’t bring himself to regret it. It was, quite frankly, a promise he couldn’t keep. They wouldn’t be okay. One or both of them was going to come out of this whole thing dead or worse.
Vaarsuvius was doing the smart thing by trying to drive a wedge between them. It hurt, and he worried about both of their abilities to cope with the monstrous dungeon if they didn’t allow each other close, but he knew that Vaarsuvius was right.
He slipped his hands away from the elf’s. “It should be okay to be close to the fire, now.”
They both silently sat near the fire, the uncomfortable silence stretching.
Vaarsuvius suddenly stiffened, ears twitching. Redcloak glanced at his lover in confusion. “Vaarsuvius?”
“…I seem to have detected some strange sounds outside.”
The goblin stood up immediately, walking to the window and glancing out at the wintry landscape.
He tensed, stifling a growl in his throat and doing his best to hide any signs of distress.
That was when he realized that he couldn’t hide anything from Vaarsuvius.
Blood spatters stained the white ground. That alone wouldn’t bother him—it was a cheap visual trick. What bothered him was the fact that four people were sitting in the snow, one of them holding his own decapitated head in his hands. He knew those people.
They were the soldiers he had gotten a brief glance of when he first found Vaarsuvius in the throws of a vision.
A sharp intake of air next to him alerted him to the fact that his lover had stood up and looked out the window to see what was wrong.
Redcloak spun around and stepped so that his body covered the window, taking Vaarsuvius’s arm gently. “Go back to the fire. We should have something to eat.”
“Vaarsuvius, it’s just an illusion. It can’t hurt you if you don’t let it.” He gently yet firmly tugged the elf to the fire again. “Sit down—we should have some food in our packs.”
The elf paused, then numbly nodded, passively allowing the goblin to lead the way back to the fire.
Redcloak did his best to not wonder about the significance of the soldiers. He had just resolved a mere moment before to push Vaarsuvius away, and he knew well enough how private the elf was. It was a small miracle that his lover had been able to mention the trauma of finding someone hanging themselves, even after all they had been through. After everything that they both had suffered, the last thing he wanted was to make Vaarsuvius feel more afraid and insecure about him.
He opened up their packs and pulled out an apple, giving it to the elf. “There isn’t much to eat left, but I think I can make something a little more substantial. I’ll cover up the windows first—all the warm air is leaking out.”
Vaarsuvius nodded in thanks, understanding the favor the goblin was doing, eyes fixed on something in the fire that Redcloak could not see, and bit into the apple. The goblin stood up, pulling their blankets from their packs and using them to cover the windows. It wasn’t like they would need them that night. The bed they had stumbled on had a perfectly suitable one.
Redcloak used what little they had to cook for both of them. He had to coax Vaarsuvius to finish it off, noting with worry that his lover looked even more ashen than usual. The fact that the elf was sick niggled at him, and he had the sense that he would know what was wrong if he only looked closer at the symptoms. Dizzy spells, abdomable pain, unusual sensitivity in the breasts (he had noticed that easily)…
“Redcloak, what happens if they attack us?”
He was pulled out of his train of thought and looked at the elf curiously.
“Of course we both have spells, but they are creatures made from the very world around us. We cannot run through the snow and hope to escape, and if we vanquish them, more will come.”
“I don’t think they’re there to attack us.” Redcloak pushed his empty plate to the side, leaning forward a little and adding some wood to the fire. “They’re there to make us afraid. That’s what this place depends on. Fear, pain, and desire. Admittedly, it seems to be focusing mostly on pain and fear for us, but there’s probably a reason for that.”
The elf nodded silently, staring at the flames.
“Vaarsuvius, why are they haunting you?”
Redcloak knew that he shouldn’t ask. Vaarsuvius knew it too.
The elf looked up at him, expression difficult to read.
“I know that they’re what you have nightmares about. I know that their… I don’t know, presence has been following us since the start. I know that they mean something.” He tentatively reached out, brushing a strand of hair back from Vaarsuvius’s face and behind a pointy ear. “Why?”
There was a long silence.
“Redcloak, I do not wish to speak of this.”
He shouldn’t push his luck. He really shouldn’t.
The goblin lightly stroked the elf’s cheek, frowning. “Vaarsuvius, this has been plaguing you since before we met.” He hesitated briefly. “I don’t like seeing you tormented like this.”
Vaarsuvius shook a small head. “There is nothing you can do to help, Redcloak.”
“How do I know unless you tell me?”
The elf was very, very quiet for a while. Redcloak wondered for a moment if he had offended his lover, but if he had, he would have been slapped for his troubles. “During the battle…” Vaarsuvius paused, closing violet eyes and taking a deep breath. Redcloak had to stifle a small jerk of surprise—he hadn’t expected his lover to open up. Then again, maybe that was what was needed. “During the battle at Azure City, I ran out of spells. I did not see anything else I could do to assist. I fled.” The elf undid the purple ponytail slowly, letting the long wild hair hang loosely. Redcloak listened carefully, fully aware of the likelihood that he was the only one that Vaarsuvius had trusted with this information. “I was invisible. A group of soldiers crashed into me and correctly assumed that I was the elven wizard that had been assisting in the battle.”
The elf stopped dead, lips pursed until they were white. Redcloak tentatively touched Vaarsuvius’s hand, doubtful that the contact would be appreciated. Vaarsuvius grasped the offered hand tightly.
“They begged me to save them. I could not. They were slaughtered.”
Vaarsuvius was completely silent for a moment, face grim, muscles stiff. Redcloak wasn’t quite sure how to deal with it, so he settled with squeezing the small hand in his gasp and nuzzling the slender neck gently.
“For all my power, I could not save them.”
Redcloak politely pretended to not notice the suspicious glassiness in the elf’s eyes. Vaarsuvius shook a pale head, regaining the aloof and unconcerned mask that had been cracking more and more since they entered the dungeon.
“But, of course, logically, I did what I should have. I can only take the experience as a lesson. I will not make such mistakes again. It is rather pointless that you insisted on me talking about it at all—it is in the past.”
The goblin didn’t point out the tremors going up and down the elf’s body. He didn’t point out the barely contained wetness in violet eyes. He didn’t point out how fragile the tiny creature suddenly seemed, how it looked like, with all the demons the dungeon had forced upon the fiery mage, the seams were coming undone.
He simply slipped his arm around the elf’s waist, murmuring something softly in Goblin and nuzzling a slender neck.
Vaarsuvius leaned into his touches, satisfied with not having to show how deeply the deaths of the soldiers had imprinted themselves on the elf. Their fingers stayed intertwined. They leaned towards each other, touching lips tenderly before resting their foreheads against one another.
“No matter how many reasons are presented to us, we continue to nurse our relationship. Why is that, Redcloak?” Vaarsuvius murmured softly, voice weighed down by despair and pain that the mage would never admit to. It felt like something heavy was just taken off the thin shoulders, but all that was left was a very tired elf.
“We work out well together.” A slightly subdued smile flickered over Redcloak’s lips. “If it hadn’t been for the alignment and species differences, I think we could have been really happy with each other.”
“I believe so as well.” Vaarsuvius lightly fingered Redcloak’s cheek. “I would have been willing to work past both obstacles under different circumstances.”
“Under different circumstances.” Redcloak smiled, eyes dim. “But it’s pointless to speculate about different circumstances. These are the ones we have.”
“Indeed they are.”
They looked at the fire, leaning against each other, the goblin subtly trying to think of a way to ease his partner’s distress and the nightmares that would obviously descend that night. Redcloak reached up absently, running his fingers through the elf’s loose hair. His nails lightly brushed against pointy ears, sending tangible tremors through his lover’s body.
Vaarsuvius let out a low warble, turning a small head to kiss Redcloak softly. The goblin easily moved so that they were in a more comfortable position and started stroking the ears firmly.
The elf let out a soft gasp, crawling closer to the goblin, tilting a pale head and exposing a slender neck, showing off the trust they had unwisely built between each other. Redcloak’s teeth were sharp and strong enough to rip the elf’s exposed throat open before so much as a scream could be uttered.
With a satisfied growl deep in his chest, Redcloak leaned forward, nuzzling and kissing his lover’s neck while continuing to massage the pointed ears. Vaarsuvius let out another warble, pawing at their clothes.
Redcloak had no intention of taking anything off. Vaarsuvius wasn’t in the right state of mind to consent, and the goblin would feel too much like he was taking advantage of his lover, regardless of what the elf did or didn’t want. He made no movement to encourage Vaarsuvius, instead continuing to kiss a slender neck and stroke the pointed ears. His lover’s face flushed and the tiny body started to tremble, delicate arms slipping around the goblin’s neck. “Redcloak…”
The goblin kissed the elf gently, letting out a gentle purr, and continued his ministrations. Vaarsuvius breathed heavily, body heating up, odd sounds that the mage would normally never utter falling from slightly swollen lips.
It was only a small while of ear stroking until the elf stiffened against the goblin, letting out a soft cry before burying a flushed face in a green neck, gasping a long stream of breathless Elven, and going limp after a moment of intensity.
Vaarsuvius breathed heavily, chest heaving, and violet eyes were glazed over with afterglow. Redcloak gently picked his lover up, carrying the tiny and compliant body to the bed, wrapping the little elf in the covers.
The mage shifted, looking up at the goblin, unable to muster up the strength to be peeved when the elf realized what the cleric’s intentions had been. “Manipulative beast.”
“I didn’t want you to have any nightmares. I just made sure that your brain let out all the chemicals it needed to be happy for now.” Redcloak smiled amusedly, unclasping his cloak. “And at least one of us needs our strength in case we’re attacked in the middle of the night, so I figured that we should hold off on using up energy with sex.”
He pulled off his armor, carefully putting it next to the bed and climbing under the covers, wrapping his arms around his lover’s waist and pressing up against a small back. Redcloak lovingly brushed his lips against the elf’s temple, provoking a satisfied ‘mmm.’
“Next time you attempt a trick like this, I shall be forced to use my not-inconsiderable arcane might against you.”
“I’m sure you will be.” Redcloak rested his head on a pillow, smiling and lightly stroking his lover’s abdomen. He murmured a few words softly in Goblin, nuzzling the elf’s hair and sighing in contentment. “I love you.”
“What does that mean, Redcloak? You know that I do not understand Goblin.”
Redcloak kissed Vaarsuvius’s neck gently. “It was an affectionate way of saying goodnight.”
“Oh.” Vaarsuvius lightly fingered the goblin’s hand. “Good night, Redcloak.” A smile flickered over the elf’s lips. “I would use a more affectionate term, but Common does not provide one and Elven has no words that would fit.”
“That’s alright.” The goblin smiled wistfully, tightening his grip only a little. “Good night.”
Vaarsuvius smiled faintly and slipped into a satisfied trance, still bathing in afterglow. Redcloak fell asleep soon afterwards.