The blood was gone. The children were gone. The dragon/Inkyrius was gone. The gargoyles were gone. Nothing was left.
Except for a person who Vaarsuvius wasn’t sure was real or not.
The tunnel swayed. The only things holding the elf upright were two firm scaled hands on lightly trembling shoulders. Vaarsuvius noticed that there was new pain in a pale cheek and delicate arms, coupled with the feeling of warm liquid dripping down. Redcloak, or at least a shape shifter who was good at imitation, was kneeling on the ground, eyes staying trained on the elf’s face.
Vaarsuvius wanted to look away, a persistent feeling of shame starting to pull hard within. Whether this was a shape shifter, a hallucination, or Redcloak himself, the elf had been caught in something deeply personal and undignified. No one should ever see the effects of the mage’s nightmares and visions. No one should ever hear the screams. No one should ever witness that disgraceful weakness. It was too private.
Redcloak’s hands left the elf’s shoulders. The goblin’s face was expressionless as he gently fingered the cuts in Vaarsuvius’s face. “Cure Minor Wounds.”
The elf looked down, the slashes on pale arms and face sewing themselves up until all that was left were all but invisible scars.
A shape shifter wouldn’t know cleric spells unless it was an actual cleric. A cleric shape shifter in the depths of Girard’s dungeon would have no reason to heal Vaarsuvius.
Redcloak looked like he would say something. Vaarsuvius hated conflicting feelings, and they were coming in waves. On one hand, there was pure joy at being with the goblin again, especially without anyone around forcing them to attack each other. On the other, there was fear of being alone with him and what emotions that would bring up. There was the embarrassment of being caught in disgrace. There was relief that it was Redcloak who had done it—he had seen worse. There was warmth in the elf’s chest and stomach at being with the cleric again. There was hatred of those feelings, because even if it was only on a subconscious level, the mage knew what they were and what they meant. Along with all that—and a vicious twinge from the elf’s abdomen served as a chilling reminder—Vaarsuvius knew that this goblin had unknowingly fathered the child now growing within the mage.
Oh dear elven gods. Vaarsuvius was carrying Redcloak’s child. And he didn’t know.
This realization—something that Vaarsuvius should have already come to terms with—knocked the very breath from the elf’s lungs.
Redcloak stood up wordlessly, oblivious to what was going through Vaarsuvius’s head, and turned to leave.
The elf knew that the goblin should go. It was dangerous for them to talk, to even touch, when there was no one else’s presence to keep them in check. The feelings between them were too convoluted and ran too deep—dangerous territory.
Blood started dripping down the walls and Vaarsuvius shook, trying to blink away the illusion but failing. “Redcloak…”
The goblin glanced back, frowning, hiding a flash of worry in his eyes. Vaarsuvius never sounded so pathetic. Never.
The elf seemed to catch on to the distinctly weak note to the voice and scowled at the floor, clenching small fists and trying to keep violet eyes away from the blood. Red started pooling on the floor, whispers coming from the very walls themselves. “You were a fool to save me.”
Redcloak stayed expressionless, watching the elf with a face that would seem clinical and dispassionate to anyone else. If someone other than the mage’s loved ones had heard the harsh remark, Vaarsuvius would sound hard and angry. Redcloak knew better than that. He knew too much about the elf’s pride and defense mechanisms.
He walked back against both their better judgment, kneeling before his partner and tentatively putting his hands on small shoulders. He wasn’t sure if he was permitted to touch Vaarsuvius anymore, but judging by the elf’s subtle lean into his hands, he was more than welcome. “I didn’t expect to see you again so soon.”
The blood melted away and the whispers faded as soon as their skin met. Vaarsuvius resisted the urge to throw delicate arms around the goblin’s neck and kiss him until time itself ended. They couldn’t fall back into their old pattern. It was too dangerous. “The feeling is mutual.”
Pain tore through the elf’s abdomen angrily, clawing for attention, giving Vaarsuvius a ruthless reminder that there was something within that demanded what the elf could not give—a body structure capable of handling what was being asked of it and proper rest and sustenance. As revenge, it dealt the elf a brutal token of one thing that could not be explained away, could not be ignored, that would bind the cleric and mage together until it ceased to exist.
Vaarsuvius, to the elf’s credit, only winced slightly, stifling a cry and tightening thin lips a little. It was enough for Redcloak’s notice, though.
“Are you still hurt?” He frowned, tightening his grip lightly on the elf’s shoulder. “Cure Light Wounds.”
Pain receded for the moment, but Vaarsuvius knew well enough that it would come back if the elf continued without enough food, trance, and medical attention. People weren’t supposed to have this much cramping at the beginning of pregnancy. The backaches and the headache were normal, but the cramping was worrisome.
“…Thank you. You are still a fool.”
“Well, at least I know you’re not an illusion.” The slightest smile played over Redcloak’s lips. “Only Vaarsuvius could be healed and then insult the one who did it.”
“And only Redcloak could be insulted for his mistakes and then repeat them mere moments later.”
Redcloak’s hand twitched, an incomplete motion towards the elf’s face. “Vaarsuvius, I…” He stopped himself. “Never mind. You look like you haven’t tranced in a while.”
Vaarsuvius shrugged vaguely. “I tranced last night.” In fact, the elf was a little suspicious of the circumstances of that, but considering that there had been no nightmares, Vaarsuvius was willing to overlook the possibility of deceit on the Order’s part.
“One night doesn’t do much versus several nights prior.” Redcloak frowned at the phosphorescent walls around them. “It was nighttime when I got in here.”
“It was the afternoon when I did, and I am rather certain you came first.”
Redcloak nodded thoughtfully. “Then, if my sense of time is worth anything here, it’s night again. We should probably stay together for now—Dark One knows how this place will mess with our dreams.”
Vaarsuvius recognized the favor Redcloak was doing. He was offering a good night’s rest just as he did in the Azure City castle, and in the process, he was sparing the elf hurt pride by only mentioning how they would equally benefit from it.
The elf’s only response to this imprudent generosity was blinked thanks. “Either of us could easily kill the other in their sleep.”
“True.” Redcloak leaned on the wall comfortably, cocking his head. “But neither of us will.” The same way neither of us did last time.
Vaarsuvius hesitated, then slowly nodded, strands of purple hair falling out of the ponytail. “Very well.”
On unspoken agreement, they both sidled up together, intertwining until both had their arms around the other, one providing heat and the other providing comfort. Redcloak noted worriedly that the elf was still shaking from the vision. Vaarsuvius noted gratefully that the goblin still hadn’t asked about it. By the same unspoken agreement, their hands stayed in completely respectful and pure areas. They were willing to extend some form of the emotional and physical intimacy they had shared in Azure City, but they knew better than to engage in anything more than the limited amount they had already permitted. They knew better than to engage in any at all, but both were feeling too weak to resist for different reasons.
Vaarsuvius’s shaking tapered off and violet eyes glazed over in a trance. There weren’t any nightmares for either of them.
Durkon didn’t understand the mechanics of magic and illusion too well. He had only been interested in his god as a child, a teenager, and as an adult. He had never intended to become a mage, so he didn’t see why he should try to learn anything about magic. But he knew what an illusion was and he knew that he was seeing one.
That fact didn’t make his blood freeze any less.
“Get off of me! How dare you?!”
The sound of Vaarsuvius’s voice was piercingly clear, even though it was impossible that the elf was there. Durkon’s grip on his hammer tightened and he leaned against the wall, trying to calm himself down, and his eyes were fixed on the opposite wall just in front of a bend in the tunnel, shadows as clear as if they belongs to people just out of sight in the tunnel moving against the surface. One shadow was of a familiar, straight, impossibly slender body clothed in robes. The other was of some greater monster warped by Durkon’s own perceptions, only identifiable from the wicked claws on its long fingers, currently wrapped around the more slender shadow’s arms.
The owner of the slender shadow twisted and continued to shout, trying to rip out of the monster’s grasp. “Unhand me immediately!”
The monster said something in guttural goblin tongue, the shadows being forced closer and closer together. There was the sound of ripping clothes. “Get off of me. Get off of me. GET OFF OF ME!”
Durkon steeled himself. The shadows were of nothing. The sounds were just illusions. When he walked around the bend, it would be over. Vaarsuvius wasn’t being hurt again. Vaarsuvius wasn’t being hurt again. Vaarsuvius would never be hurt again as long as the Order existed.
The demands morphed into horrible screams and the shadows meshed together. Durkon couldn’t go forward. If the dungeon had the power to make shadows and sounds, it had the power to make images of people. He wouldn’t be able to handle an outright sight.
He went on his knees and prayed to Thor for strength, shaking, trying to block out the sounds. He wouldn’t be able to even walk to this illusion, let alone face it. He knew it wasn’t real. He knew that Vaarsuvius wasn’t being hurt. It was still too much. This hellish dungeon preyed on the fears of the adventurers who traveled within it. None of its visions were real. He just needed to remember that.
Durkon didn’t know how long it took for the screams to recede, turning into soft whimpers, and for the shadows fade from the walls. The nightmare was over. The cleric could continue on his way, hopefully without anymore visions having to do with his worries about Vaarsuvius. He didn’t know if he could handle going through it again.
He ignored the slight tremor his hands had developed and stood, taking pains to not notice the residual whimpers that were probably just echoes from the finished illusion. He was slow in walking around the bend.
He quickly realized that he should have been slower.
Vaarsuvius shook violently, sprawled prone on the ground, knees pulled up a little so they protected the abdominal area, purple hair loose and wild, robes ripped up and stained with blood. Even if Durkon hadn’t heard it, he would have known what had just happened.
The elf let out a pathetically feeble whimper, shaking and propping up on trembling arms. Scratches ripped down them, blood squeezing out, and veins popped out of the flesh in an unhealthy way. Vaarsuvius glanced up, eyes widening at the sight of the dwarf. “Durkon?” The mage started shaking harder. “How long have you been there?”
Durkon couldn’t move. He couldn’t breathe. He couldn’t think. “Vaarsuvius?”
“You sat back and let him do those things?!” The violet eyes, already somewhat off from what Durkon was used to, drained to black and the surprisingly feminine voice became double-toned and guttural. “You call yourself a healer?! You call yourself my friend?! You allow me to spiral to my own doom through self-starvation and exhaustion, get captured by that monster, allow me to begin self-destructing again, and then you simply sit back and let the monster hurt me again?!”
Durkon knew that it was an illusion.
He also knew that it was telling the truth.
Seeing the affirmation in the dwarf’s eyes, the creature that looked like Vaarsuvius roared, face turning black with a giant mouth lined with sharp teeth, and its head snapped forward, giant mouth opening to swallow the dwarf whole.
Then it was gone. Just like that. And there was nothing in the tunnel to imply that there had been anything there at all.
Durkon didn’t start moving forward again until after a long while.
“I know that you and I do not see eye-to-eye in most matters, especially concerning Vaarsuvius, but I think that she is your child and should be treated as such. It is your privilege to raise her. This is different. Why did you not tell her about this beforehand?”
Vaarsuvius knew that everyone expected the child to be up in bed and asleep, but the apprentice couldn’t leave. The child huddled near the entrance of the living room, ears twitching as she eavesdropped.
“‘Darius, I think you’re overreacting. She’s finding things out the natural way.”
“We are past the dark ages! She thought she was dying. She was crying, Aula! In all my years of teaching her, I have never once seen her cry. She was that terrified.”
Vaarsuvius blushed and curled into a ball of shame.
“I will never doubt that you love her, but you are doing damage by this refusal to tell her about these things.”
“Oh, she has been handling the changes in her body fine. That’s how it’s supposed to be.”
“Well, you explained about the different ways she would develop.”
“No, we didn’t.”
The firelight flickered, almost going out before flaring then settling. A sign that Aarindarius was extremely upset, so much that his magic was affecting the world around him without his urging.
Vaarsuvius started angling so the people within the living room could be seen.
Parent and Other Parent were sitting on the couch nonchalantly, Other Parent lying down with his head in Parent’s lap. Aarindarius was pacing in front of the fire, biting his knuckle with his eyes closed. Vaarsuvius had only seen him do that once before when he had found out that a friend of his had become evil because of his lust for power. It was what Aarindarius did to calm down.
“No wonder she has been so angry. You have left her nothing but confusion to work with.” Aarindarius spun around to face them, more agitated than Vaarsuvius had ever seen him. “You are willing to copulate in front of her and yet you won’t even warn her that she will begin menstruating?!”
“Well, making love is perfectly natural.” Other Parent smiled up at the wizard, and expression completely at odds with Aarindarius’s. “She’ll find that out too.”
“You haven’t even explained that?!”
Aarindarius bit his knuckle and closed his eyes again, face turning an odd shade of red. “She is at the age where children get curious. You need to inform her about the feelings she will get and the things that she will want to do before she makes a horrible mistake.”
“She doesn’t need to know. She’ll instinctively know when the time’s right.”
“She will be taken advantage of, Tiberius!” Aarindarius tore his knuckle from his teeth, barely noticing as he scratched up the skin and throwing his hands in the air. “Did you learn nothing from the story of the cleric’s daughter in Corellon Larethian’s temple? She was used by the budding sociopaths among our teenage children because of her lack of knowledge! Vaarsuvius will start going into the town more, if not because she wants to but because she has to at this age. She is becoming beautiful. She will be noticed by the other teenagers. She won’t know what they are doing to her!”
The fire flared dangerously again before Aarindarius caught himself. Vaarsuvius shook, curling tighter in a protective ball. The child had never seen the wizard this upset. Was she in danger? What were they talking about?
“I know you love her. I love her as well. I do not want her to be hurt, especially in such a vile manner.”
“And she won’t be.” Parent shifted, frowning at Aarindarius. “‘Darius, you’re getting worked up over nothing. The young elves here are good people. Suvie will attract them like honey, but they won’t hurt her.”
“You are as naïve as you are loving, Aula. Individuals can be trusted, but you do not know all the teenagers of Ivyleaf. There are always depraved among the pure.” Aarindarius crossed his arms. “I love Vaarsuvius. It pains me to see her afraid and upset. She has been in a perpetual state of that since her puberty began.”
“Now, ‘Darius, I think you’re exaggerating…”
“I am not. She needs something to hold on to. She needs to know what her body is doing to her before she decides that it is something to hate. Don’t you see what you are doing to her?”
“‘Darius, if you want to teach her about love and the body, we won’t stop you. We just don’t feel that it needs to be said.”
“My friends, you are fools. If you won’t teach her, then I shall. I cannot stand to see her so afraid, and I will not stand to see her exploited because of her ignorance. As long as I live, she will have no reason to cry to me again.”
The fire flickered again, the smell of thyme and rosewood, magic, strong in the air.
Vaarsuvius stood and quietly padded to bed.