As Zsófia and Edda departed to tend to Rubin, Vahkragg made certain the door was closed and they had definitively departed before he spoke.
“We can’t stay here for long.”
Telfor from his seat at the table tightened his fist. Vahkragg understood his leader’s conflict but would not fear to confront him with the hard truth.
“We will stay only as long as it takes to get Rubin back on his feet.”
“And if that takes longer than we can spare?”
The silence was tense. All three of them knew how dangerous it was for them to be here.Vahkragg’s words hung in the air, their weight seemed almost physical with how they wore on Telfor’s brow.
“If he’s not ready to move out by the morrow then you Vahkragg and I will make for Capital and Pan will follow when they’re ready.”
Vahkragg and Pan exchanged looks, but chose not to put their thoughts to words. The conversations path was too obvious to bother discussing. Leaving Rubin in Verwich simply wasn’t an option, but neither was leaving their report of the force of undead and likely an escaped sorcerer, undelivered. Telfor had to go, and Pan had to stay. That was simply the only way. They all understood, but Telfor would consider the decision a personal failing.
With a nod of his head Vahkragg captures Pan’s attention and together the pair head downstairs to the bar, leaving Telfor to his thoughts. With a wave and quick word the giant ordered a round from Lily before fixing his stern gaze on Pan. Unable to read the expression that fixed him Pan waited silently, knowing that small talk was a waste of time on the larger man.
Momentarily, Lily returned with their drinks and from Vahkragg’s blind spot silently asked Pan if he was okay. Slowly he blinked, conveying this was safe, he lifted his glass to his lips and tasted the familiar flavour that sent him back to his service days. As the glass met the table again, Vahkragg still stared intently across the wood but at last his stonelike expression cracked and he spoke.
“You don’t trust Rubin.”
“Of course not.”
Pan chuckled unpleasantly, “Because he’s never given me reason to trust him, and he’s given me plenty reasons to be suspicious.”
“You spilled blood together.”
“And that’s supposed to mean something to me? I was in the army during the border conflicts, I spilled blood with strangers on a daily basis. Most of them I wouldn’t trust, and none of them ever actively betrayed me.”
Again the giant returned to thoughtful silence, honestly Pan was disappointed. He’d always considered to be Vahkragg wiser than he let on, but if he thought killing with someone made you blood brothers, perhaps he was the simple barbarian most thought of when they saw his kind.
“You knew Rubin before Telfor took him on.”
That wasn’t a question, Pan noted, “Not exactly, Veru knew him. I knew her. Rubin and I never met, but I knew of him.”
“Verumalleus was a great warrior.”
The unexpected shift stung. They hadn’t been open about it, but she had been someone special to him and now she was gone. With how recent it had been, and how busy they’d been, he’d not really had the time to properly grieve. If he was honest, he’d been avoiding it. As if by not acknowledging it, he could make it so it wasn’t so.
“Yeah.” He lifted the drink to cover his face somewhat, “That she was.”
The near empty room had nowhere for him to hide however, and his drink was far too light to drown it. He restrained himself to only drink lightly, rather than draining the glass like he wanted to. Behind the bar Lily stood, blending in as to almost be unnoticable as she spied on them. Too caring by half, she was.
“How did you meet her?”
The question raised an eyebrow from Pan, “That’s a personal question for you, isn’t it big guy?”
Answered only with an indifferent shrug, Pan decided he didn’t mind talking about her.
“She’s a crusader, I was a scout. It’s only natural we met each other during the conflict. Of course, when I first saw her we were in pretty different worlds. Crusaders are a class above us rank and file, after all. If I wasn’t as I am, I doubt she would have given me a second thought. Maybe she’d still be alive. But maybe not, crusader’s aren’t known for their longevity, and besides she’d be mad at me for thinking like that, so I’ll just be grateful for how things went.
Like I was saying, she noticed me because I’m a revenant. And like most folk she was suspicious, I guess even Atyx’s chosen fall for superstition when it comes to things like me. Thankfully she didn’t just try to exorcise me, instead she had me assigned to her command. That’s how I got to know her. The conflict only laster thirteen months but in that time she came to see me as a good soldier and a friend.”
Vahkragg simply nodded, “Will you be confident handling Rubin and Zsófia alone?”
As empathetic as ever, Pan thinks, “Of course, I can handle a lone magician.”
Vahkragg’s stare intensifies, challenging the flippance of Pan’s response.
“I can handle it.” He reiterates firmly, annoyance at being underestimated.
Another shrug is his only answer. Seemingly done with talking Vahkragg rose from his seat at the table and after paying for their drinks disappears back up the stairs. Watching the giant go, Pan only notices Lily’s approach from the corner of his eye before he feels her hand on his shoulder. The tenderness in her touch affects him in a way the harshness of reality hadn’t managed to and all the sadness and grief he’d pushed down suddenly welled up.
“Come out the back,” Lily whispers. Too caring by half, he thought again.
Image Credit: Thief 4 concept art, Nicholas Ferrand https://www.artstation.com/artwork/Ewb0