Redcloak woke up reluctantly, but willingly. He didn’t want to deal with everything he knew he would have to, but he knew that he had to. The story of his life.
He sat up, stretching out his back, and looked to see Vaarsuvius sitting in the corner, eyes studious and bright. “Someone slept well.”
“I do not know why.”
“You were tired.” Redcloak stretched and stood up slowly.
“It’s still early.” Vaarsuvius averted its gaze. “Are you sure it is wise to go so soon?”
A tiny smile played across Redcloak’s face. “Don’t get me wrong: Xykon is a horrible, horrible abomination. But he’s not really the type to randomly snap and break his right-hand man’s ribs often. He only did that because he’s frustrated about his phylactery. You don’t need to be worried.”
“I am not worried.” Vaarsuvius gave a small pout (Redcloak chuckled inwardly at the likely reaction the elf would have at the fact that any expression it made could possibly be classified as a pout) and averted its gaze even more.
Redcloak cocked his head, contemplating the little elf in front of him. “…Food will come soon.”
“Have there been any developments with my comrades?”
Redcloak shrugged. “They’re not dead as far as I know. I’ll tell you if I hear something significant that won’t give you too much information about us, okay?”
Vaarsuvius nodded slowly, eyes thoughtful. “It is very generous of you. Thank you.”
“No rants about how I’m not acting consistently?”
“You’ve proven that you have no concern about that. Continual protest would be a waste of my energy.”
“You’ve proven that you have no concern about that.”
“Stop repeating what I say.”
Redcloak smirked. “I only do it when it’s applicable.”
Vaarsuvius frowned a little at the wall before slipping to the floor, standing on wobbly knees.
“Vaarsuvius, you’re going to fall again.”
“I think that my legs are getting stronger, and I wish to evaluate something.” Vaarsuvius pursed its lips. “Yes, I think I will be able to walk on my own soon.”
“Great. So I won’t have to catch you again?”
Vaarsuvius blushed, turning its face away in a vain attempt to hide the new coloration. “You didn’t have to in the first place.”
Redcloak rolled his eye. “Whatever you say, Vaarsuvius. Just don’t fall and get hurt while I’m not around to pick you up.”
The elf was still blushing. “I can pick myself up.”
“I know. It’s easier on you if you have help.” Redcloak took some cherries out of a pouch at his hip and popped them in his mouth. “I’ll be back tonight.” With that, he was gone.
Redcloak stood out on the tower, staring up at the Snarl, frowning and getting just a little nervous at the presence of the deicidal abomination. He was feeling increasingly restless, a feeling he knew that Xykon shared, but he wasn’t comforted at all by the prospect of a bored, impatient lich. Xykon was happy as long as he was amused and he felt safe. Being an epic-level sorcerer lich, those conditions were usually easily met.
But missing his phylactery had obliterated all sense of security, and that made for a very angry Xykon. That in general was a bad thing, so Redcloak had to concentrate on finding his holy symbol before Xykon completely lost it and lashed out at anyone and everyone that could possibly be blamed for this situation.
Something flickered in his heart. He wanted to go back to the stone door with the gold ring. He wanted to be back with Vaarsuvius, probably the only person there besides perhaps Jirix who he could actually enjoy the company of. The elf was proud and rebellious, but in an admirable way. Despite himself, Redcloak had grown to… respect it? Car—
No. Not anything down that road. Just respect. It was more than easy to respect someone who shook Xykon’s foundations so completely and pile so much defiance on top of it in an obviously hopeless situation, no matter what trouble it caused himself.
The scientist in him shoved the memory of the three kisses into his mind, loudly proclaiming that that certainly wasn’t a mark of mere respect. The person inside of him hid the memories and made sure that the scientist was firmly bound and gagged in a dark corner so he couldn’t bring up anymore uncomfortable truths.
“So you finally got back from the elf’s room? Did you sleep with her or torture her? Or both?”
Redcloak almost jumped in surprise, spinning around to scowl at a smirking Tsukiko. “Don’t you have anything better to do?”
“All the slaves are settled down. They thought they could rebel. How cute.” Tsukiko grinned, crossing her arms and sauntering up to Redcloak, a spring to her step. “So you really do like us mammals more than you say. How does it feel to do it with someone who is actually warm and squishy for once in your life?”
Redcloak gave a small sneer, shaking his head. “You’re disgusting. I should have only expected it.” He turned around, walking to the edge of the tower and looking from the Snarl to down at the foot of the damaged castle. “I’m busy trying to think of our next strategy. It would help if you left.”
“Strategy is no fun. Talking about your sex life with the prisoner is.”
“It’s a pretty one-sided conversation, Tsukiko.” Redcloak closed his eye, pressing his palms together and trying to concentrate despite the nuisance next to him.
“Is she a screamer?” Tsukiko purred softly, smirking. “The formal ones usually are. Or maybe that uptight wizard thing extends to the bedroom and she’s just really, really quiet.”
Redcloak gave a small sigh. “If you won’t leave, I will.” He contemplated trying to deny that he was sleeping with Vaarsuvius, but he figured that that would only prove his guilt in Tsukiko’s eyes. The woman had a very warped sense of logic.
He started towards the door.
Tsukiko grinned and cupped her hands around her mouth so he could hear her better. “You don’t seem like the type to sleep around! Are you in love with her? ‘Cuz if you are, I’m never going to let you forget it!”
“I’m sorry, when did you graduate fifth grade? Last week?”
“It’s a classic!” Tsukiko started to jog after him, her grin widening, and they started down the stairs. “Hey, Reddy, as a special favor, when Xykon eventually gets you to soak her for information and kill her off, I’ll make a special zombie spell for you! You can do her all you want and you won’t have to hear that annoying stuck-up voice of hers.”
Redcloak tensed, his step faltering.
“I can even make her warm or cold, how you like. You seem to be more into cold girls—reptile thing, I guess—but you might’ve developed a liking for the finer temperatures of bodies.” Tsukiko frowned thoughtfully. “We’d have to change her clothes, probably. Let her show off what she’s got. I can barely tell what sex she is under those robes.”
Redcloak felt his muscles tighten and his claws sharpen against his scales, readying to slash Tsukiko right across her face. The idea of the prideful, defiant, fiery, alive Vaarsuvius being turned cold, silent, a glorified sex toy in clothes normally reserved for street-walking whores. Losing the warmth that made it so valuable. Losing the pride and rebellious attitude that made it beautiful. Losing the ability to speak all of its thoughts, to be honest with Redcloak about how exactly it thinks about him and what he does… losing what made Vaarsuvius Vaarsuvius…
“Hey, are you going to respond or am I going to have to go into even more detail about the things I can do for your zombie?”
Redcloak kept his temper carefully in check.
“You’re a very, very sick woman. Go and make sure the slaves are in their proper jobs.”
Tsukiko stiffened slightly, frowning. “Do I hear an edge to your voice?” A smirk grew, her mismatched eyes practically glowing. “Oh Gods, you really do love her!”
Redcloak glanced back at her, frowning. “That’s the problem with you and Xykon. You’re both too lazy to actually investigate things, so you just go with your first assumptions. Go and watch the slaves before they decide that they want to rebel again.”
“Whatever you say, Romeo.” Tsukiko gave a cackling laugh, making her sound more like a fairytale witch than anything else, and sat on the stone railing, sliding down.
“Read up on old human plays!” Tsukiko gave another cackling laugh. “It’s a great one, Reddy! Romeo and Juliet! It’ll give you good insight on how this story will end.” With that, she had slid down too many revolutions to be heard.
Redcloak rubbed his face, hoping that Vaarsuvius hadn’t heard anything through its door, and started walking down the steps, seeking out Jirix for more information.
The ground was hot and the air stank of gun powder and sulfur. The ruined human houses stuck up towards the sky like the jagged teeth of a giant. Smoke and the ever-present purple glow of the Snarl obscured the sun and light, making it feel light twilight. The sound of hobgoblin armies beat through the streets, giving the dead city a heartbeat to replace the one it lost in that one valiant struggle.
“Haley, you’re going to have to stop pacing at some point.” Roy looked up at the darkening sky. “Night’s going to come soon.”
Haley ran a hand through her boyish hair, scowling at Roy while the rest of their party worked on prying open a semi-intact old inn for shelter (“No, Belkar, yer goin’ ta slice yerself up if ye let Elan throw ye through th’ window!”)
“V’s been missing for… how long have we been gone?”
“Long enough.” Roy sighed, frowning and crossing his arms. “Look, Haley, I’m worried too. Vaarsuvius is my friend as well as part of my party. I don’t want him hurt anymore than you do. Pacing won’t help.”
“Apparently, neither will actually looking for him!”
“I don’t know what they did. They cast a spell or something.”
“That’d be easy to fix with a spell caster.”
“I know, Haley.” Roy looked at her hard for a minute. “Go and scout for a bit. Burn off the restless energy. Make sure you’re back here soon.”
Haley and Roy stared at each other for a moment, and slowly, she relaxed. “Thanks, Roy.” She turned, checking to make sure that she still had her bow and her new knife handy, and jogged off into the streets.