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The Price

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Word comes late in the evening. The cleric Pike, he’s come to rather enjoy his time with since settling in Whitestone for the long winter months, comes to him somber faced. “Vax’ildan has fallen?” Gilmore asks. Her eyes lower, the weight of her plate armor seeming somehow doubled as she swallows back her initial words.

 

After a long moment, she whispers; “No. Not entirely.”

 

Being knowledgeable in the way of many magics, he understands the concept of ‘not entirely’ dead all too well. “Tell me.” He shifts in his chair, ushering her closer. When she closes the door upon entering his chamber, his heart sinks with recognition, he already knows what she is about to say. Part of him had long hoped there would be more time before it happened – just a little longer to hold on to the peace they had found despite the dragons’ reign.

 

She steps closer, shaking, and closes her eyes as she stands finally before him. “His sister fell first, weeks ago. She was saved, for a price that has come to weigh heavily on Vax’s heart. We’re all worried about him; he doesn’t sleep anymore, barely eats.” Her soft voice drops to barely even a whisper that he has to strain to hear. “He gave himself for her.”

 

Vax would, of course. He’d seen as much. He’d seen many things in Vox Machina that he had thought would never come to pass. “To the Raven Queen.”

 

Pike nods, mouth open in silent question.

 

“How did I know?” Gilmore asks for her, looking the sweet gnome in the eyes. She is their light, their shining beacon in the darkness. Sarenrae’s grace. “Even the Goddess of Death has a price, young gnome.” Clarity sparkles in his eyes, and she doesn’t see the soft glow that begins in his palms slowly tracing upward and disappearing into his wide sleeved robe. “She required a champion. My needs, I’m afraid, are of a different sort.”

 

“Gilmore?” She looks up at him quizzically, cherubic face upturned and innocent. She doesn’t feel the surge of power that runs through her as he grasps her hand.

 

As she draws her last breath, she doesn’t hear him whisper; “I’m sorry, but you would have stopped us.”

 

***

 

She comes to him now every night, visions of darkness and feathers demanding that he make his choice. Vax’ildan can’t make that choice. He can’t be her champion when his sister still draws breath. He has seen death in action; he knows what she will require of him.

 

The call to return to Whitestone comes unexpectedly, and with great sadness. It is only seeing the fallen Pike Trickfoot, the heart of Vox Machina crushed so easily, that drives him to the Raven Queen. At Pike’s resting place, alone, his family’s wails heard throughout the castle, he goes to her.

 

“All right you raven bitch, you win. Spare them. Spare Vox Machina, spare my fucking sister…” his voice cracks with a heavy sob, but he forces out the words; “I will draw blood for you. I will be your reaper, and you will spare them.” Sleep, if one could call it that, comes in the small hours of the morning as the snow caresses his feathered cloak and wets his hair.

 

“Your path has been laid before you, your soul is shrouded in darkness and despair. So you will find your vengeance shrouded in blood and magic.” Her voice wraps around him with visions of death, and a familiar hand reaching out to him. “You are not alone,” Gilmore’s voice says in his dreams. “We are destined for greater things.”

 

***

 

The small bowl of water shimmers in front of him as Gilmore watches it unfold. The champion has made his choice, Vax’ildan has slipped out of Whitestone unnoticed by all save his eyes – his family will not know he is gone for several hours yet and would not guess where he is headed. Gilmore knows, he knows the things whispered as he slept, he knows the honeyed words that brought tears rolling down Vax’s cheeks when he woke.

 

In a flash of purple arcane light, he himself is gone. He will be waiting in his secret chambers when the champion arrives.

 

***

 

“Who are you?” Vax asks, glaring at him as pushes open the door of the ruined tower barely standing on the outskirts of Emon. “You’re not the man I knew.”

 

I am the last man who asked a favor of the Raven Queen.” Gilmore answers, watching him a sharp gaze. “The last before you.”

 

He steps forward, clasping one hand on the hilt of his flametongue dagger. “To what end?”

 

There is only honesty now, no need to hide in shadows. “The only one that matters. In the end, we all die… but we, you and I Vax’ildan, tread the same path of darkness. The world will bleed as we grow stronger, to protect the people of Exandria… to rule over them with our combined power.”

 

“You speak of protecting the people, but what she showed me was only death.”

 

Gilmore leans toward him, curving his fingers to draw him closer. He understands Vax still holds to his delusion that he can yet walk the path of righteousness, that he has not yet accepted his nature. This will come in time, and with a great price. “She showed you vengeance. Peace. The only way to protect the ones you love.”

 

“Gil…” he stumbles, but does not fall. “I don’t understand.”

 

“You will.” He answers, a shiver running through him as Vax kneels at his feet. When he looks up at him, fresh wetness shines in his steely eyes. “I will guide you on your path. Together we will cleanse the realm in Her name.”

 

“Together.” Vax echoes, laying his head on Gilmore’s thigh, accepting the gentle stroke of fingers through his hair. “I don’t want to be lost any more. I have to protect them.”

 

“You are, darling. Vox Machina will see glory once the traitor has been dispatched.” Arcane energy tickles along Vax’s scalp – delivering the images from his own memory. Vex’s lifeless body in his arms, the pain of her near-death, a guilty man wreathed in smoke and ash. “You know what you have to do. I will help you take care of the problem.”

 

***

 

Snow falls for three days in Whitestone, a blanket of impenetrable cold and ice so thick the lone figure cloaked in darkness may as well be invisible. He enters through the kitchen, up the stairs without notice until he steps into the blazing workshop.

 

“Where have you been off to?” Percival asks, not looking up from his tinkering. “Your sister’s been losing her mind with you just running off like you did.”

 

“There was something I have to do.” He answers honestly enough, withdrawing his new blade. The obsidian and black silver shines in the low candle light, catching sparks off a low-burning forge as he turns it over in his hands. It had been presented to him after watching the wizard enchant it himself, drawing first blood on his own forearm. Gilmore called it, rather appropriately, Deathbringer.

 

“You could have said something.”

 

He draws a shaky breath, willing Percy to turn around catch him – to fight, to give him a reason for what he’s about to do outside of the reminder of his careless deeds. He gets no such reprieve. “She would have stopped us.”

 

“Us?” Is the last sound heard in the workshop. The final piece of a new toy is forever unfinished as he draws the Deathbringer across the traitor’s throat. In the back of his mind, Her voice mingles with the words Gilmore spoke before he left Emon; “You will bring death to the guilty. You will savage the land from the shadows.”

 

***

 

There is a plan bigger than revenge, bigger than saving Vex’ahlia. A plan that was set into motion the moment Gilmore signed a pact in blood. Life for life.  Life for power. Power for he that desires it. He’s resigned himself to the fact that he is no longer a good man, perhaps he hasn’t been since Thordak slit his belly and sowed the seeds of evil in his weakness. He’d cried out in the night then, just outside the walls of Greyskull Keep, for an end to that weakness. So many could have answered, could have used him for their chaotic destruction and he would have welcomed it with open arms in that moment – anything to stave off the emptiness of his own demise. It was She who answered with riddles of fate and questions of where his destiny lies. It was She who told him he had greater things yet to come.

 

In the end, it was him alone who chose the path of darkness. He does not delude himself with thoughts that he could be a good man with the desire for power in his heart. If it means his soul, for whatever worth a soul has, he will give it all for the power to end the reign of the dragons… to set things right in Exandria in the only way he knows how.

 

Through fear.

 

***

 

They know now that a second death has come to Vox Machina, Vax thinks as he watches from the shadows. They do not know it will be the last, that he has made sure the crown of Whitestone would be the final blood of his family spilled as long as he draws breath.

 

He watches Keyleth, mourning at the Sun Tree in the only way she knows how. His heart longs to reach out to her; to confess, to beg forgiveness for breaking her heart. He wonders if they’ll blame him when they come to understand that he’s not coming back. He can’t come back.

 

Gilmore’s hand rests on his shoulder, warm in winter’s deathly chill. “You’re protecting them.” He says, his voice calm and even as Vex joins Keyleth in their sorrow. “They wouldn’t understand what you’ve become.”

 

“They could.”

 

A long silence draws out before them; neither damning nor reassuring. “When I sit on the Raven’s throne, you will be by my side. We will be monsters to them. We already are with the blood on our hands.”

 

He knows what Gilmore did, he doesn’t need to ask – be it through magic, intuition, or a little of both. He knows what he’s done and will do yet still. “I’m protecting them.” He swallows back the lump in his throat, looking up at the wizard with a drawn frown. “We are protecting them.”

 

“To the end of the world, Vaxi’ldan.”

 

***

 

He doesn’t question the blood that he draws any more, not after the first. Nor does he take comfort in the fact that he brings death to those who would harm others. He doesn’t question the motives that brought him down his path, nor that lust for power that clouds Gilmore’s eyes the closer they get to facing their ultimate quarry.

 

She lives in his dreams; blackness and ravens guiding his blades. He trusts the steady hand on his shoulder in waking hours, the only light left in his dim world. They are one now, singular in purpose despite the field of smoldering, bloody bodies left in their wake. Magic and blood. Darkness and power. They are monsters that have chosen their fate.

 

It is not until they meet on the battlefield that was once the Cloudtop District that Vax allows the ones he loves; the ones he protects to see what he’s become. They fight together one last time; it is the most Glorious who fells the dragon – Vex’ahlia embedding a dragon slaying arrow in its chest to bring it down, Gilmore boldly pressing a hand against the beast’s chest and drawing the life out of it with a chilling laugh.

 

They are coated in blood; blood of the guilty, blood of the innocent, blood of the damned.

 

“So this is what you’ve become?” His sister asks, seeing the darkness in his eyes. “I’ve seen your work. The cult of Orcus, slain down to the last woman and child. You slit Percival’s throat. How many have you killed now?”

 

Keyleth stares him down from sixty feet, the closest she will allow herself to get to him. “It didn’t have to be like this.”

 

Purposefully distant, Scanlan makes a rude gesture that Grog doesn’t laugh at – instead he picks up the gnome and continues their work sorting out the living and dead in the dragon’s wake. Even Trinket knows he’s not the same.

 

He has no words to say. In the end, he turns his back and walks away. Emon is the first to know of the wizard’s glorious rule. For better or worse. “I’m protecting you,” Vax whispers to the wind when Vox Machina has moved on to helping the wounded while he joins their new leader to address all of Exandria.