It was late. The only remaining light was the ominous orange burn coming from the distance, clawing at the stained glass along the temple walls. Exhaustion sank itself into every one. Every man, woman and child. And yet, all anyone of them could manage were fitful and restless bouts of sleep, plagued by horror and nightmares. And even that evaded some, forcing them to lie awake and relive the horror over and over again.
He stood there silently, tucked away in the shadows. He looked at the disheveled group who now called Greyskull Keep their refuge. The few who had escaped the wrath of the Chroma Conclave. Unlike the others outside the gates, whose terror stricken visages were on display. A cruel menagerie of tormenting reminders. Here they were, huddled heaps of dismay, desperation and loss, wrapped up in whatever blankets could be found. But it wasn’t them, the few of them, who drew his attention. It was only one. One person lying in the midst of that misery.
Vax wanted to step forward, step out of the shadows, move towards him. But he couldn’t. His feet, which normally flew ever so quickly, were now leaden and kept him staunchly in place. Kept him there, in the dark, hiding from what was in front of him. A mere handful of hours ago, Gilmore had been a sight to behold. As he always was. Best of robes, crushed blue velvet in color. Curly raven black hair held neatly in place. And that ever present wide smile that decorated a beautifully handsome face. With him, it was always about presentation. But not now, not any more. The dragons had come. Just like before, with fire, terror and destruction.
Vax simply watched from his dark corner. Watched and thought. He had been no more of a help tonight as he would have been to his mother on the night her home had faced the same fate. The robes now slashed, burned and stained with blood. The curly hair now stuck to a feverish and pale face. Someone else who Vax cared deeply for was almost torn from him by the same monster who had taken from him before. What had Vax been doing all of this time? Yes, he had grown. Yes, he had learned. Yes, he was a man now, a powerful man. A powerful man with powerful friends. But what had that done for Emon? What had that done for Gilmore?
Gilmore’s head shifted on the pillow underneath it. With eyes still closed, his lips parted.
“Someone is brooding very loudly over there.”
Though weak, the deepness of Gilmore’s voice still sounded solid. And calming. Vax’s first instinct was to quietly walk away. To not face this lump building in his throat. Not here. Not with Gilmore. However, walking away after tonight, after what had almost happened, felt worse.
“I thought you would be asleep,” Vax replied in a low voice.
Gilmore slowly opened his eyes and turned his head as the half-elf approached. Even though Vax was now standing where Gilmore could see him, he might as well have brought the shadows with him as somber as his face appeared.
“Oh my, such sad eyes and heavy shoulders.”
Vax didn’t answer. Vax didn’t want to speak. Being this close, imagining what could have happened if Pike had not been there. The ache in his chest crushed his lungs with every breath. The growing hollow in his stomach was swallowing him piece by piece. It was another day the dragon had came. What had he been doing all this time?
“Nothing has changed, Gilmore,” Vax finally sputtered out, doing everything he could to keep his voice even, “Nothing at all. The most important people in my life and I can’t…”
Vax stopped, clenching his jaw before he continued on, “You were right in front me and all I could do was sit there…”
“My dear Vax’ildan,” Gilmore whispered, “Come. Sit with me now.”
Vax sat on the edge of the bed, head falling forward as he stared at the stone tiles of the temple floor, “How much will this Cinder King take, Gil? How much more is it going to rip away from me?”
There was silence. A silence weighed down by everything that wanted to be said, but there were no words for them. Vax felt a gentle warmth as Gilmore’s hand slowly slid over his own. The corners of Vax’s eyes burned as he blinked back the watery blur that was beginning to distort his vision.
“This is where I am supposed to tell you everything is going to be fine. That we will find a way out of this. But honestly, I don’t know that to be true. Even I have doubts at this point. But what I do know is that you have always survived. Beyond all odds, you, Vax, always survive. This is no different.”
Vax shifted his gaze and peered at the ruggedly handsome face that weakly grinned back at him. Still grinning, because it was always about presentation. Vax shifted his hand so that Gilmore’s fingers fell between his. This close, Vax could smell the familiar scent of incense that usually permeated Gilmore’s clothing intertwined with smoke, sweat and blood.
“I hope you don’t believe that. That all I care about is simply my survival.”
“Then obviously something has changed then.”
Vax slowly leaned down and gently laid his forehead against Gilmore’s.
“I’m going to protect you,” Vax whispered earnestly, “I swear it on my life.”
“Good,” Gilmore whispered back.