“Roy? Roy, honey, wake up.”
Roy blinked awake slowly, yawning and stretching his arms over his head. Sun fell on the foot of his blue bed, the sound of morning songbirds filtering through from outside. The door to his room opened up, two little brown and green bundles tripping over each other to jump up on top of him. “Roy! Roy!”
“It’s time for the strawberry picking, Roy! Mommy promised that she’d make strawberry shortcake if we got enough!”
Roy laughed, plucking his siblings from the bed and hugging them tightly. “Alright, alright, I’m up, you little scamps!”
Julia, only three next to Eric’s eight and Roy’s fifteen, giggled and planted a wet kiss on her eldest brother’s cheek. “Roy! Hurry up an’ get dressed! You’re sleeping all day!”
Eric nodded eagerly. “It’s almost noon!”
“Come on, kids. Let your big brother get ready.” Sara Greenhilt looked through the door, smiling in amusement and clicking her fingers for the two young children to come back to her. “Roy, your father is downstairs getting the baskets ready. We can go as soon as you’re dressed and your teeth are brushed.”
Roy jumped out of the bed, catching his little brother in a small noogie before shoving him out the door with a chuckle. “Come on, you kids. Time to let me to the bathroom.”
“Whatever you say, sleepy-head.”
Eric and Julia grasped hands, giggling, and stumbled down the hall. Roy smiled, ducking out of the way before his mother could grab a brush to touch up his hair, and walked to the bathroom, locking the door behind him.
He stretched again, looking at the mirror to examine himself for zits. A gentle feeling of bliss settled in his stomach, as though he had been given what he was always missing. He didn’t understand where the feeling came from, but he was happy, and that was all that mattered.
Roy took out his toothbrush and squeezed a little toothpaste on it.
The only sign of Aarindarius’s feelings was the fact that his knuckles were white around his mug of tea as he listened to the hysterical Inkyrius tell the story of how the one he had watched grow and learn since her birth turned evil and obliterated an entire third of a population in front of their screaming children before disappearing.
His instinct was to deny the possibility. The beautiful, curious, intelligent elf that he had practically raised couldn’t possibly be so depraved. No. It couldn’t happen.
But Inkyrius would never lie.
“Why did you wait so long until you came to me?” he asked softly, his eyes on his tea, his expression difficult to read.
Inkyrius sniffed, scrubbing the tears away roughly. “I… I thought I could make Suvie come back… so we could talk… she wasn’t making sense… I-I thought that I could convince her to come home, or at least explain why she did what she did…” The elf let out another sob. “I filed for divorce. I thought that she would come back for the hearing and I could talk to her then. But she didn’t come back. She signed the papers and she didn’t come back!”
The baker dissolved into a storm of sobbing. Aarindarius looked up slowly, reaching out and touching Inkyrius’s shoulder, gaze distant. “Vaarsuvius loved you.”
“Not anymore, apparently.” Inkyrius sniffed bitterly, trembling, face red. “Sometimes, I wonder if she loved me at all.”
“I can’t be a judge of her feelings.” Aarindarius looked down at the ground. “Vaarsuvius is very single-minded about her tasks. You know that.”
“To the point where she will throw away our family?!” Inkyrius stood up sharply, starting to pace around the study. “What could be so important?! Our children are asking me when their Other Parent is coming back. What should I tell them?!”
“Inkyrius, calm yourself.” Aarindarius knew that it was cold, but he didn’t feel up to trying to comfort someone else when the shock was hardening in his stomach. “There must be an explanation. Do not give up on her.”
“I can’t do this anymore!” Inkyrius sat back down, overcome by another wave of sobs. “The neglect, the time away from home, the distractedness… It hurts, but I can explain it away as Vaarsuvius being Vaarsuvius. But leaving after that, when our children’s legs are broken and they’re crying? After I ask her to stay home? Then just… signing the papers and disappearing from our lives?” More sobs. “Power. That’s Vaarsuvius’s true love. Not you or me or the children but power. Maybe it’s best that she signed. I can’t be second in her life.”
Aarindarius stifled a wince. He had seen that ambition in the little nineteen-year-old child he had first taken as an apprentice. He had nursed it. Encouraged it. Fostered it. Ambition and pride were virtues, he had thought, but he didn’t see how out of control it had become.
It was partially his fault that this elf he loved had spiraled down such a path. He subconsciously started biting his knuckle, a habit he had thought he had broken. He had failed Vaarsuvius for the third time.
“Inkyrius, if what you say is true, it means that Vaarsuvius felt that she had other responsibilities. Her judgment may have been clouded because of the splices and she may have just wanted to keep the power for a longer time, but that is not the only thing that may have happened. We do not know her circumstances. We have not seen her for the past six years. She may have actually felt that she had to do something else before she let the power go for a valid reason.” Aarindarius fingered his mug and bit down harder. He knew that he was making up excuses. They were valid, but he knew that he simply didn’t want to imagine his old apprentice as the monster Inkyrius had described. “Did you use instant summons for the papers?”
“Of course.” Inkyrius sniffed. “I wanted her home as fast as possible.”
“Why did it take so long to get a response?”
“The agency said that she was hard to find. None of their divination spells were sensing her until two days ago.”
“Why would she be hard to find?”
“I…” Inkyrius sniffed again. “I don’t know.”
Aarindarius nodded slowly, frowning at his tea. “Take care of your children, Inkyrius. I think that I am going to try to find out more about what my old apprentice has been doing for these past few years.”
the head’s lips were still moving dear elven gods why were they moving the elf couldn’t do anything couldn’t he see the elf was useless useless USELESS USELESS the blood was everywhere it hurt so much to smell the lips were still moving it was impossible to breathe or dear elven gods Vaarsuvius was going insane and deserved it these people shouldn’t be dying VAARSUVIUS IS GOING INSANE INSANE INSANE LOOK AT ALL THE BLOOD INSANE THE BLOOD IS EVERYWHERE INSANE
Sickening sucking sound of metal sinking into flesh. The woman was down. Her eyes were dripping with hate the look hurt so much… “Elf, if you’re still here…”
Blood blooming blooming like a flower insane why couldn’t the elf help insane help HELP magic was supposed to help CONTROL why spend so much time getting more power POWER hold her hand why couldn’t the elf hold her hand HUBRIS so many people should be able to save them should be able to save them WORTHLESS
“I hope you choke on your useless goddamn magic…”
BLOOD BLOOD BLOOD EVERYWHERE EVERYWHERE
the children are screaming Suvie
the voices are murmuring in your ears
you’re dying Suvie
you’re all alone
you can’t protect anyone you love
there’s nothing left
there’s nothing left to fight for
there’s nothing left to live for
there’s nothing left to die for
you’re going insane Suvie
you’re going insane
VAARSUVIUS, WAKE UP!
Vaarsuvius jerked forward, screaming, and the world changed with the pitch. Screaming children. Crucified mate. Dark room with teenage elf reaching out. Dead Azure soldiers. Blood. So much blood.
“Vaarsuvius, snap out of it!”
The elf’s face was slapped hard and everything slammed back into focus.
Vaarsuvius let out a strangled sound, shaking violently, and threw delicate arms around Redcloak’s neck, pressing their bodies close and concentrating solely on keeping the scraps of sanity together.
The world had changed around them again. They were in a forest with giant redwood trees reaching up and completely covering the sky with their leaves, upper canopy so thick that not even beams of light could escape.
And like deranged Christmas ornaments, bodies that were too in shadow to recognize hanged from the upper branches, their legs hanging limp under them, their necks at various odd angles or their faces blown up and blue like balloons, ropes tying them tightly to the trees by their throats.
Someone sat atop the grotesquely decorated branches, long hair obscuring their face, something bundled in blankets cradled in their arms. It was too dark to see who or what it was, yet, despite the fact that it was several stories up, Vaarsuvius could hear its soft, dark voice. It was singing. It was too murmured to distinguish the words, but it sent chills down the elf’s spine nonetheless.
Vaarsuvius swallowed slowly, eyes fixed on the bodies hanging from the branches, retinas burned with the image of the dead and sinuses holding in the scent of blood and sulfur. Sanity had been left in tiny little scraps. Mental defenses quickly started trying to sew up the pieces, trying to mend what was lost, but the elf knew that they wouldn’t be able to fix everything again after this. It was too much. The scraps had barely remained in snippets big enough to reattach.
A wind rushed through, making the bodies swing and hit each other like wind chimes from hell.
“Vaarsuvius, what do you see?”
The elf looked at Redcloak blankly. The goblin looked strained. Tired. Haunted. His eye wasn’t looking at the branches, but at the ground.
They weren’t seeing the same horrors.
“Bodies. Hanging from the branches.” Vaarsuvius looked up at the trees, any semblance of pride and collectedness leaking out and splashing on the grass like the blood of soldiers. “I… when I was a child… on my first trip into town without my master or my parents, I became lost. I went into an open house to ask for directions. I had seen my parents and master do it all the time—it was normal in my village.” Vaarsuvius continued staring at the bodies blankly. “I heard something in the basement and I became curious. When I checked to see what it was, I saw an elf my age with a rope around his neck and tying him to the ceiling. He was still alive. He saw me. His face was so swollen and purple and his arms were flailing and his lips were moving to speak…” The elf stopped for a moment. “I did not know what was happening. I had been sheltered from the world. I had only a rudimentary grasp of what death was, and no idea of the possibility of suicide. I could have saved him had a known just a little more. I did not. He is dead.”
If only you had more knowledge. he wouldn’t be dead you would have saved him If only you had more power. the soldiers would be alive they wouldn’t be massacred If only you had more wisdom. Kyrie and the children wouldn’t be gone
You see how many people you have failed with your lacking?
Redcloak’s grip around the elf tightened substantially, his hand coming up and physically turning the elf’s head away from the branches. “Don’t look at them.”
Vaarsuvius obediently did as Redcloak told, no strength left to argue. “What do you see?”
The goblin hesitated, his grip tightening further. “Massacred goblins. Everywhere.”
BLOOD BLOOD EVERYWHERE
With the renewed shaking from the elf, Redcloak started stroking Vaarsuvius’s hair and back, trying to provide some form of heat. “Who do you recognize, Redcloak?”
Another hesitation. “My little sister. My big brother. My parents. My uncle. My little brother’s wife. His kids.” Another pause. “My little brother…”
Vaarsuvius felt Redcloak’s chest heave. It was silent. It was subtle. It was impossible to misconstrue.
Even though he showed no other signs, he was crying without tears.
Vaarsuvius looked up, eyes getting suspiciously glassy, and kissed Redcloak passionately. Enough with complication. Enough with alignment differences. Enough with all that. Vaarsuvius did not care anymore.
Redcloak kissed back, eager for anyone to cling to to help ease the raw pain inside. The bodies and blood and horror faded away to mist. It was over then, but it would come back. That was okay. If they were together, they could work through whatever was thrown their way.
The pain in the elf’s abdomen was eased as pale hands started to fumble with the string holding the red robe together.
Up above, a creature that hadn’t disappeared with the others continued cradling whatever was bundled in the blankets, humming ever so softly and watching the lovers with black eyes.