“Lapis! Lapis, man, I’m in a hurry here, where’s my pile?”
Blue eyes passively flicked to the side before the blacksmith put out a mild suggestion, “Perhaps Callicles finally threw it all out as promised.”
Rex poked his head from the other side of a wall, looking dismayed. With his own special brand of a mewling whine he pouted, “You’re letting her throw me out? How could you do this to me? I love you! What did she do to my – ”
“Rex, Gods… I moved it into the room’s closet. Did it ever occur to you that having a random pile of things in a corner is domestically unattractive?”
The mewl continued as Rex dramatically threw his hands into the air, expressing the sort of angst that true theatrical tragedies attempted to articulate, “I’m sorry all I do is make the housed look bad!” Lapis grinned to himself, warmly enjoying the jaunty melodrama of his more upbeat of friends. He soon heard Rex patter off to get his gear. Today, Rex and Callicles would start their training together in what would become a favored ritual. Callicles, eager and prompt as always, had already headed to the recently designated area. Rex himself was excited to. Finally, a workout buddy!
Lapis however, was feeling a bit wary of the arrangement. Callicles had convinced Rex to start working with her today with a mixture of genuine interest and intimidation. There was no question in Rex’s mind Callicles was ready for physical sparring and work. How could anyone that scary not be ready to fight? But Rex was a much easier interpersonal opponent. Lapis himself was unconvinced. Only time would tell now though as Callicles was too focused on her goals to seriously entertain caution.
“Alright, I’m going to see her. If she kills me, tell Mom what happened and to leave some cookies for me at my grave!”
“Rex, wait a moment.”
Lapis rose from his seat, walking over with confidence. If Cal could convince Rex of something, Lapis was sure he could too.
“Rex, listen I still don’t think she’s ready.”
“Well man, I made her do some basic sets and it didn’t pop her scar.”
“I know. Still. She’s only just now recovered. I still remember Cade’s surprise she made it this far.”
“Oh ye of little faith, listen, she’s really in the zone, okay? With her body back in step with her, and with me there to watch her, she’ll be okay. I won’t leave her, buddy!”
Lapis only nodded before resting a steady hand on Rex’s shoulder. With all seriousness, Lapis made one request. “Just please… don’t hurt her.”
Seif killing student and taking a woman hostage? The Cleric? No.
A chunk of the city being doomed to die? No.
Lyle looking sicker? Please No.
Why… why was it all happening this way?
Desperate to do the right thing – an actual good decision – Rex of course followed the others to the complex Lyle pointed them to. Lapis’ home was too empty and it was time to bring the forger back! Everything in Rex just hurt to get his friend back and put an end to this dead-God business.
As they traveled, Rex did ruminate on what there was to hope for. Saved Elves. Living loved ones. A new party member. A rag tag team of people willing to help them out of the rubble.
Remembering that moment of coming back into the sun, Rex couldn’t help but feel a surge of warmth at seeing people who mostly didn’t know working on their side. Maybe tides could turn. A mage, a half-orc, a demon, a healer, everyday adventures. Their rescuing group was symbolic of the sort of cross-group collaboration Rex always believed in.
With that small bit of positivity amongst all the bad news, Rex was able to drink from the well-spring of optimism within himself and be ready for another storm. This time, Arboth wouldn’t go without explaining himself and handing everyone over.
And the raiding went. Sickly ghouls, mindless but mean mannequins, it was all well and good until the lower levels. Once below, Rex smelled the blood and saw the darkness and instantly felt weakened. But his loyalty to his friend called him to serve and his cowardice was swallowed away.
But, as it turns out, loyalty can be a paralyzing force as well.
“I don’t know, I don’t think about death much. Too busy living. Besides, I’m sure I’ll live on in the hearts of my loved ones all over the world!”
Callicles put a palm over her face, finding the fact Rex completely believed in what he was saying to be absolutely cloying in nature. It was so childish. So sugary. How in all the worlds could he ever actually take himself seriously?
“You and Lapis would remember me. You’d miss me too.”
“We’d move on.”
“I’d hope so. But you can’t argue your lives would be different.”
“It would be a change. Oh how will I ever cope with never hearing you whine again?”
Callicles paused, wiping sweat from her temple with a rag. As the wind picked up, she closed her eyes, taking in the sweet scents of grass and sky.
“I guess we’re just different people.”
“What do you mean?”
“I can’t seem to think about anything but death.”
“For now maybe. But once you get a little more engaged, I’m sure that’ll change.”
Callicles had found where Rex had put his emphasis peculiar. She looked over to see him grinning and could only roll her eyes.
“Why don’t you put your nose into other people’s business?”
“Oh I’m sorry I just want you to actually be loyal to how you feel.”
Callicles paused. “I am being loyal.”
She then turned and took up a stance signaling to Rex their break was over. To redirect him, she did say one thing before launching at him. “If I do die, since you’re so concerned with loyalty to the self, all I want is to be dead on my terms.”
Rex gripped his breastplate, struggling to catch his breath. When she hit, he felt drained. On an inhale he looked up. The sight of her was just as horrible as the first one. In death, Callicles was folds more terrifying. Even now Rex’s knees felt weak. But he couldn’t help acknowledge how desperately he wanted her to stay. By now tears were running from Rex’s eyes. He had missed her so much. All he wanted was to spar with her again. But not like this.
“Please, Cal, not like this.”
The wraith swung and hit again. There was no time for grief. And what little Rex tried to say, Callicles wouldn’t respond or stop. As they fought this one last time, Rex could only wonder if she was really there. If Callicles had a chance to come back, wouldn’t she have gone to Lapis? If she were herself, wouldn’t there be something else more urgent for her to do?
A few swings had hit Callicles by now and still she was coming. Another swing and caused her to cry out and Rex cringed as he recognized her voice. No, maybe she was there. Maybe he was hurting her. Maybe they had a chance to bring her back!
But as Callicles continued to hurt Rex and the others without hold, Rex knew she would only damage the people left in this world who Rex needed to fight for. He swung again, but then, pained, he heard Lapis cry out his long standing request,
“Don’t hurt her!”
And like that, time seemed to stop as Rex looked into Callicles passive, ghostly face. Rex’s heart swelled, heaving with exhaustion. Rex had so much love for Callicles and Lapis. He never felt he got it out enough. And now, in him, his want to serve the desires of his friends tore him apart as they competed against each other. His loyalty froze him.
If I do die…all I want is to be dead on my terms.
Another tear fell as Rex realized he couldn’t leave Callicles this way. She wouldn’t want this. Being taken, manipulated, used as a puppet to sincerely hurt her loved ones. To force Lapis to see her this way. This was not on Callicles’ terms. This was Arboth.
Rex cried, looking to Callicles, whatever of her might have been there. He continued his swing with the sword which now carried her name in this world, pushing through his friend’s pain. Rex whimpered weakly, “We love you Cal. We still love you. I’m sorry.”
And he guided his sword through her as his tears blurred his vision. He kept his eyes shut, not daring to accidentally look Lapis in the eyes. From there, it was all a blur. For the first time, Rex failed to hold back. His sword moved to break everything Arboth was made of and to stop him.
And now that the villain was down, it was time to get answers. And Rex was determined to have everything this man and his band disrupted set right again.