"Oh dear elven gods…"
"By the Dark One…"
Vaarsuvius and Redcloak both reached out and held each other's hand tightly, completely uncaring about Tsukiko's presence.
The abandoned desert town lay in the valley they gazed upon, the sand stained with blood, and people, both goblin and humanoid, lay in desolate carnage. Broken bodies, some belonging to children and elderly, were strewn across the ground, dark against the sand's beige. The smell of rot rose in the wake of the hot sun, making both of them recoil, yet despite the heat, they felt very cold.
There were familiar faces among the fallen.
"What are you guys looking at?"
Neither the mage nor the cleric could tear their eyes away. Redcloak made a simple sweeping motion towards the bloodshed, completely silent.
Tsukiko stepped up next to them, frowning towards the bodies. "I don't see anything."
Both the goblin and the elf looked up and stared at Tsukiko, shocked. The Theurge frowned in confusion, taking another cursory glance around the stone room they had come into, noting that the phosphorescence wasn't present in the rock anymore. "Are you talking about the light? Sure, it's bad, but I don't see any 'shock' issues with it…"
"Tsukiko, I'm not in the mood for your games."
"What games?" Tsukiko walked forward to the center of the room, holding up her hands. "There's nothing here!"
She turned around only to see that her companions had disappeared.
Vaarsuvius frowned in confusion when the Theurge disappeared. "Redcloak…"
Redcloak subconsciously wrapped his arms around the elf, drawing Vaarsuvius close with a protective growl rising in his chest, ears twitching with wariness and confusion.
He caught himself a moment later. Marveling at the weird turn of behavior within him, he let the mage go, clearing his throat and not noticing the slightly guilty expression on his lover's face. "Sorry. Anyway, it looks like the dungeon took her away. I'm not worried about her. She can handle herself, and it doesn't look like this place is targeting her for trauma." …Like it is for us.
Both Vaarsuvius and Redcloak stared down at the battlefield.
The elf took the goblin's hand again, allowing a small squeeze of comfort. "It is only further proof that none of this is real. Let us continue—as the horrors mount, it should be a sign that we are closer to our goal, whatever it has transformed into at this point."
They stayed still for a while before finally forcing themselves to start the arduous trek down into the carnage.
Vaarsuvius was well-aware of the fact that Redcloak had much more trauma associated with battlefields and the strewn bodies of men, women, and children. Keen pointed ears were able to pick up the slight hitches in the goblin's breathing, eyes able to pick out tense muscle spasms, as if Redcloak meant to run or break down.
The elf gently ran a hand across the goblin's shoulders, giving him a chaste kiss on the cheek. Vaarsuvius didn't know what else to do or what to say, so all there was to offer was the limited physical intimacy the elf was willing to give.
The goblin didn't look soothed. His only eye was glazed over with memory and Vaarsuvius could feel his body trembling. Was he suffering a flashback?
The elf was far too well-versed with that torture. Something had to be done. Enemy or no, the mage refused to let the cleric suffer the mental agony that came with memories of blood and helplessness.
The elf tried to think of something to snap him out of it.
Vaarsuvius stopped sharply, turning so the little body was in front of the broader one, and slapped him in the face. "Redcloak."
Redcloak jerked slightly, wincing in pain, somewhat roused from whatever memories were running through his head. Vaarsuvius cupped his face gently in cold hands, making sure that the goblin was not staring at the bodies. "Don't let Girard's illusions win. I am not above using spells to rouse you out of flashbacks."
The goblin was silent, but the film was gone from his eye, his gaze instead fixing on his lover's face. A smile of amusement flickered for a moment. He slowly slipped his arms around the elf's waist, hugging his lover tightly but briefly. He released the mage, looking calmer, and he rubbed the growing red mark on his cheek sheepishly.
"You've got an arm on you. Thanks." That made the elf's eyes roll a little, but the goblin's smile was genuine. "Let's go."
A ripple of pain ran through Vaarsuvius's abdomen.
The elf's smile fell away, guilt rolling in a furiously beating heart, and they both continued through the battlefield.
Elan kicked his legs over the side of the stone wall he was sitting on, eyes filmed over and mouth fixed in a vacant smile. He was talking lowly. To people who weren't there. People by the names of 'Nale,' 'Haley,' 'Mom,' and 'Dad.' Sometimes other names were there. 'Roy.' 'Durkon.' 'Vaarsuvius.' 'Belkar.'
The observer didn't care.
Darkness enveloped Elan, pulling him inside, but his smile remained in place.
Aarindarius remembered why he usually remained in his tower. He hated trying to needle people.
He had found seven people in all of his two weeks of searching that had sighted his apprentice and her mysterious party. Only a handful had been able to point him in any direction at all.
But he could sense a heavy concentration of magic. Illusory magic, if he ventured a guess. Its presence settled in his bones, strong with the scent of rosewood.
He decided to try that first.
The creature cradled its bundle lovingly, stroking the material that clothed it, spinning slowly on the branch it stood on. Someone whimpered pathetically on the ground, lightly clawing the bark to get the creature's attention. Wind blew the hanged bodies gently like wind chimes.
The creature glanced down, noting the blood on the other being's hands. The creature made a small gesture, dismissing.
The someone at the base of the tree struggled to wail, but it was unable to.
The creature simply smiled.
The someone's mute torment continued.