“Hey, is the elf a screamer? ‘Cuz that might explain some sounds I’ve been hearing from its prison.”
“Will you just shut up?! I have no interest in thinking about V like that!” Roy growled and jumped up, wildly slicing upward to get the lich. At this point, Elan was holding his stomach while looking nauseous and Durkon was looking decidedly green. Belkar had outright quit trying to get Xykon and just slapped his hands over his ears, a weird combination of disgust, irritation, and something else unnamed plastered over his face. “Seriously! That’s really sick!”
“Hey, it’s not my fault that your spell caster is a frickin’ whore who’ll sleep with whatever can keep it out of a torture chamber!”
An arrow came flying and slammed right through his empty eye socket and he suddenly grew a halfling with daggers on his ankle.
“…Ow. How the hell did you jump up here?!”
Xykon casually pulled the arrow out of his skull and shook the leg with the stab-happy halfling on it. “Hey, get off. Only room for one on this ride.”
More stabbing. Xykon mused that the halfling should probably invest in metal that could actually harm liches.
“Alrighty, then. Meteor Swarm.”
The halfling slammed into a ground, leaving a small crater behind, and groaned in pain, blood oozing from a chest with ribs sticking out of it.
“Ooo, I love a good punching bag!”
“Yeah, well you’re not getting that one!”
More arrows. The blond pun-spewing guy and the swordsman jumped up and started swatting at his feet while their cleric healed up the halfling. It was almost cute how the little adventurers actually thought that they could defeat him with only one weapon that worked against liches.
A shock went through his bare spinal cord and he froze. Almost as instinct, the adventurers froze as well, wondering what was happening. He didn’t care about them. They couldn’t do anything.
The shock had come from a little spell he had on the elf’s and paladin’s prisons.
They had both escaped. Alive and well.
Someone was going to pay.
“Oh little Reddy, you and Uncle Xykon are going to have a little talk after he disembowels your so-called ‘sources of information.’”
“What the hell are you—”
“Cone of Cold.”
The adventurers froze in little blocks of temporary magic ice.
“I have someone to find.” Xykon immediately flew over the crowd, looking for the people he wanted. Redcloak had actually outright disobeyed him? Xykon didn’t think that that would ever happen after that stint with Right-Eye. Well, at least this way, he can finally get proper revenge for the phylactery incident. “Where are you, you little corksuckers?”
There was a flash of violet among the battling crowds right next to the castle’s main entrance, followed by a general outcry among the hobgoblins as one man without armor impaled them with a spear that could have only been taken from one of their fallen comrades.
“There you are.”
He swooped down and wrapped cold phalanges around a warm throat, flying back up three stories and holding the creature he had found by the neck, tightening his grip hard.
The elf scrabbled at the bones around its neck feverishly, legs dangling in the air without use.
“You little whore.”
Xykon slammed the elf against the wall of the castle, probably hastening the oncoming unconsciousness. “You know, I never liked the idea of anyone using sex to get what they wanted.” Another slam. “It’s a cheap trick. Fun for villains to take advantage of, but it makes for very cowardly heroes.” Another slam. “I hate cowards.” Another. “I especially hate smug cowards.” Another. “I especially hate smug cowards who lose MY FRICKEN’ PHYLACTERY!”
He tightened his grip on its throat, rammed his knee into its stomach, and ripped and tore at the elf’s pointed ear savagely, eliciting a strangled cry and a warm flow of blood. Its face was turning an interesting shade of blue.
Xykon leaned forward so what was left of his mouth was right next to the elf’s bleeding ear, his voice an angry hiss. “I’m going to kill you in the most painful way possible. Then I’m going to revive you. You’ll come back or I’ll hunt down everyone you love and have them thrown to the frickin’ Snarl. I’ll do it to Reddy too—the damn fool is useless anyway with the way he’s been going about. I’m going to kill you and revive you and kill you and revive you until the end of time, and that’ll just be the start of it, you wretched whore.”
The elf’s eyes fluttered shut, esophagus thoroughly crushed under Xykon’s fingers.
“Good night, elf.”
A fireball crashed into Xykon’s back. He teetered in the air and swooped down, casting his gaze around to see who did it, before a familiar glowing green sword slashed at him, causing him to drop the elf in his hands.
Xykon zipped up, spinning around and growling to himself to see the entire adventurer party plus a party of elves glaring up at him, the blond adventurer boy having caught the unconscious purple-haired spell caster and was now desperately trying to see if it was alive.
They had magic and a glowing sword against undead.
He didn’t know where his phylactery was.
He roared in pure frustration. He’d have to withdraw from the battle or risk permanent death.
“EVERYONE WHO LISTENS TO ME OR REDCLOAK: KILL EVERYONE! KILL EVERYONE OR I’LL KILL YOU!”
Roy swore viciously as the hordes of hobgoblins jumped to attention at the shout of the lich, starting to crash on them like an ocean under the influence of a storm and an angry sea god. “Durkon, how’s your magic doing?”
“Almost on empty, lad.”
Elan shrank back from the oncoming hobgoblins like a small child from a wildfire, hugging the unconscious elf tightly to his chest. Durkon quickly jumped up and prodded Vaarsuvius, checking its throat and tracing the black, bruised depression there with a worried flash in his eyes. “This is a nasty number tha’ Xykon did on Vaarsuvius. I dunno ‘ow serious it is without a better look. Coulda caused internal bleedin’ or mortal damage t’ th’ esophagus.” He leaned in a little, listening to the elf’s chest. “‘Artbeat’s a little erratic, but tha’ could jus’ be th’ adren’line. ‘E’s breathing, though. Tha’s a good sign.”
Roy knocked aside two hobgoblins that had lunged for the medic and bard tending to the wounded. “Sink what magic you can into keeping V alive. I just got back—no need for another dead party member to spend three months trying to resurrect. Elan, V won’t survive this battle unconscious and fresh out of a dungeon and who-knows what else. Cast any illusions you think will help and get him out of here. We’ll meet you in the Resistance HQ and then leave the city to find the wizard Hinjo gave us and teleport back to the refugee settlement.”
“And make sure V doesn’t die, Elan!”
“He’ll be safe!” Elan smiled, cradling the elf’s body carefully and privately getting a little worried at its lightness while Durkon put in all the healing spells he could. “I promise.”
The headquarters of the Resistance was milling with casualties of the battle. O-Chul was glad to be clothed again, and he never thought that he would enjoy sitting on a soft chair with some tea between his hands more.
“I can’t believe you’re alive, O-Chul!”
O-Chul looked up, smiling as the Order of the Stick (minus the elf, of course) sat across from him, their wounds from the battle healed and their cleric’s spells spent. He couldn’t help but pity them. They looked absolutely exhausted, and he strongly suspected that their bard was actually asleep with his eyes open.
“The Twelve Gods spared my life so that I may assist in the fight against the lich.” O-Chul sipped his tea slowly. “It has not been easy, but I am confident that my experience will help our cause. Your friend, Vaarsuvius, was quite effective in helping us as well.”
“What happened with V?” Roy sat forward, frowning. “He disappeared, talking about how he was going to face off with Xykon. We didn’t see him after that until Xykon was strangling him in the air. And he looks different now. Less scary.”
O-Chul sipped his tea, privately wondering how much information about the elf he should impart. There was a line between what was useful to know and what was strictly personal, but when it came to war and adventuring, the lines seemed to overlap.
He decided to give the elf a chance to tell her (or his? O-Chul wasn’t quite sure, though he’d never say such a rude thing aloud) companions about the soul splice and her possible relationship with the goblin leader herself.
“Indeed. Your companion teleported into the lich’s throne room looking quite menacing. During the fight that ensued, the cause of the change seemed to be lost.” O-Chul sipped his tea again. “I managed to escape my prison while they fought and the elf managed to use a raven to drop the lich’s phylactery into the sewer. No one knows if it is still in the pipe it fell in or if it was swept into a labyrinth, a treatment plant, or the ocean.”
He gave that a moment to sink in. The members of the Order all exchanged looks.
“It has to be said: the androgynous twit managed to do something completely awesome there.” The halfling sat back further in his seat, petting the deceased Lord Shojo’s cat gently. “And if any of you tell it that I said that, I’m going to make sure you regret it.”
“We’re sure you will, Belkar.”
Haley ran a hand through her shortened hair, shaking it out a little. “But what about after that? How did either of you survive the aftermath of that little stunt? Somehow, I don’t think that Xykon was too happy.”
“I am still rather confused by that myself.” O-Chul sipped his tea. “The lich was quite ready to kill us both. I had resigned myself to it, as had your companion. His goblin subordinate, oddly enough, saved us at the last minute for the sake of any information we may have possessed about the gates.” He glanced at the wall reflectively, looking through the people walking around them. “I believe that this is part of the reason that the lich forbade the goblin from regenerating an eye that he had lost in the fight. He is now half-blind, which will hopefully help us in the long run.”
“Served him right.”
O-Chul nodded sagely, taking another sip. “I fear that, after the battle, there is little I can say about your comrade. The goblin took Vaarsuvius away and we did not meet again until she came back to the throne room today with a dagger, a raven, and a set of keys. She told me that she had escaped her prison and it was time for us to leave. She seemed reluctant to talk about her time in captivity or the circumstances which she was able to flee, so I did not pry. Before we came to the battle, she gave me her dagger, told me that I knew more about weapons than her, and she ran through the fight in hopes of finding you. Unfortunately, the lich found her first.”
He placed his tea in his lap, keeping his hands cupped around the warmth. “I can only pray that she will survive her current wounds and that she has not suffered too much during our imprisonment.”
“V ‘as strange scars all o’er ‘is face an’ arms, though I ‘aven’t gotten a chance t’ check under ‘is robe t’ see if there ‘re any there. They’re well-healed an’ not easily seen, but a good ‘ealer c’n pick ‘em up. It looks like ‘e was mauled by somethin’ with nasty claws then found by a healer who patched ‘im up with a coupla good spells. Ye ‘ave any idea where ‘e got those?” Durkon shifted, obviously peeved by the idea that a party member had been hurt while he wasn’t around to heal them and, on top of that, that he didn’t know what had caused the hurt.
“The goblin took a special interest in her,” O-Chul said carefully, reluctant to share too much information without getting the elf’s side of the story. “He took a special interest in both of us—he was the only one who saw us as possible sources instead of cheap entertainment. I would guess that he treated her violently during interrogation, though I am curious as to why he would heal her.” He shrugged. “She seemed very frail when I saw her last. The goblin said that he would need to heal her before any questioning or it would be possible that she would die if he wasn’t careful. Perhaps he was wary about allowing her to be with too many wounds over a long period of time.”
“Vaarsuvius, frail? I would have paid to see that.” Belkar smirked and stroked Mr. Scruffy. “But clawing V’s face? The goblin’s earned something from me for that.”
“He’s earned something from all of us, Belkar. Be sure to let us all have a piece,” Haley said, her smile tight.
“That is most of what I know about your comrade. I have information that I must get to Lord Hinjo, however.”
“Sure. We’ll bring you along when we leave for the new Azure City settlement. We need to wait for V to wake up, though.”
Durkon stood up, brushing himself off. “‘E’ll wake up t’morrow at th’ latest. Vaarsuvius may not be a swordsman, but ‘e’s tough as nails an’ I doubt that ‘e’ll let anythin’ like near-deadly strangulation keep ‘im down fer long. Ev’n if’n it takes longer than t’day t’ wake up, I’ll ‘ave me spells back t’morrow an’ ‘e’ll be healed up in no time.”
“Good.” O-Chul stood, finishing his tea. “She is a noble and brave warrior. I am grateful to have her on our side.”
“You’re not the only one.” Roy smiled and stood. “V’ll be back on his feet before we know it. Right now, I think we all earned a good night’s sleep. We’ll talk about what to do about the phylactery in the morning.”
Everyone nodded in agreement, save for the bard. He was obviously asleep already.
The elf smiled, easily slipping delicate arms around Redcloak’s neck and kissing him softly. Redcloak was more than happy to return the contact, wrapping his arms snuggly around a thin waist and kissing back tenderly. “So you ran?”
“Of course I did.” Vaarsuvius pulled away, looking up and smiling, eyes glowing with the fire that wrapped itself so tightly in the goblin’s heart. “You did not expect me to go quietly, did you?”
“Anyone who’s known you for longer than a minute knows you wouldn’t go without a fight, Vaarsuvius.” Redcloak cocked his head. “Is this a dream or a dying hallucination? I trust you to not kill me, but my trust has been misplaced before.”
“I would know no better than you, Redcloak.” Vaarsuvius rested a light head on Redcloak’s shoulder. “I am not real. I’m a figment of your imagination. Your subconscious.”
“I guess that I’ll just need to wait and see.”
He tightened his grip a little around the elf’s waist, nuzzling a pointed ear in a way that he knew from experience would make his partner squirm. He smiled when his efforts were rewarded.
“Redcloak! You know what that does to me!”
Redcloak could feel his partner’s face flush darkly and Vaarsuvius started to twist, ears twitching hard and a warbling coming from deep in an elven throat. “Of course I do. Why else would I do it?”
“Manipulative beast!” Vaarsuvius lightly hit the goblin’s scaled chest, but was betrayed by the soft laughter coming out of a warm mouth. “Need I remind you that I know what affects you as well?”
“You wouldn’t be able to find my spots without probing for a while.”
“On the contrary, I make it a habit of paying attention to my partner during copulation. I like to understand their subtleties.” Vaarsuvius ran a finger along Redcloak’s scales until it hit a line in his side where his scales met and didn’t completely cover the vulnerable skin beneath.
Redcloak shuddered, letting out a soft purring growl, and twisted away from the touch. “Hey! Don’t mess around there if you don’t plan on finishing things off.”
“I doubt we have time.” Vaarsuvius smiled and instead of continuing decided to wrap thin arms around the goblin’s neck. Indeed, darkness was starting to grow on the horizon of the indescribable dream-landscape. He was either about to wake up or about to die. “But there is something that I, as your subconscious, must share with you.”
Vaarsuvius glanced at the growing darkness. “Remember when I said that you did not love me?”
Redcloak hesitated, reluctant and skittish about where this was going. “Yes.”
“I was wrong.”
The darkness overcame everything and Vaarsuvius disappeared from Redcloak’s grasp.