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For Those Left Behind

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It took Tary a moment or two to realize exactly what was happening.

"No." He wasn't even aware that he had spoken until the word was out there, almost echoing in the silence of his room. And then it was as if he couldn't stop, the words coming out of his mouth like a mantra. Or maybe a prayer, although he'd never been a religious man. "No, no, no."

The dragon tooth necklace around his neck pulsed silently, glowing red, the warmth it was emitting noticeable even through his armor. It was like a flame, a tiny flame around his neck. If it had been against his skin, he thought it would have burned like a brand.

Or maybe that was just in his head. It was hard to tell just then, what was real and what wasn't. Not with the necklace pulsing against his chest, irrefutable proof that wherever they were and whatever they were doing just then, Vox Machina was in danger. That someone was down. At least one someone. Maybe more.

Tary reached up to grab the necklace, wrapping his hand tightly around it. A distant part of him was surprised that it didn't burn his skin when he did. It felt like it should have burned like fire, considering what it was telling him.

It hadn't even been a day. Hells, it had only been a few hours since the others had left. He hadn't even left Whitestone yet. His last few arrangements were still being made. His belonging weren't even completely packed. Chod or Lionel or whatever his new recruit's name was – and, honestly, he really did need to ask what the man preferred to be called at some point, since the half-orc apparently was actually going to join him – was still out wandering the city in search of chocolate milk.

He'd just seen them. Gods, he'd just seen them. This couldn't be happening. It had to be a bad dream, another nightmare like the ones full of kraken and devils and golems and his father that occasionally woke him at night.

Around his neck, the necklace's silent pulsing sped up, increasing in intensity. Then it faded for a moment before picking up again, just as fast as before. A clear sign that something had happened. That something else had happened. Maybe something better, maybe something worse, but something nonetheless.

Maybe someone had been healed, jerking back to consciousness thanks to Keyleth or Pike or Vax or Vex or that gnome, Scanlan, that they'd all been so torn to see return. Or maybe they were dead, their body slumped unmoving on the ground of the Shadowfell. Maybe they were all dead, far away in another plane.

He had no way of knowing.

That realization felt like a punch to the gut. He didn't know what was happening, and there was no way for him to find out. Not until the others came back to tell him the story.

If they came back to tell him the story.

If. That was the important word there, the one that kept echoing in his mind. If. If. If, if, if.

Tary felt his legs start to waver as that thought rushing through his head over and over again, and he didn't try to fight it as they crumpled underneath him. He slumped to the floor, his hand tightening like a vise around the necklace that was still pulsing against his chest. He was distantly aware that he was silently crying, tears streaming down his face, but he couldn't quite force himself to worry about it just then. Not then.

"Tary?"

For a second, he could almost hear Doty's voice coming from behind him, right down to the slight lilt at the end of his name. Comforting and chastising and confused and a thousand other emotions all shoved into two short syllables. But then the events of the last few days popped back to the forefront of his mind, a harsh reminder of reality, and he realized that it was only in his head. Doty was gone, at least for now, until he found the time and the money to get him working again.

Doty was gone. Vox Machina was gone. His family, at least the one tied to him by blood, was back in Wildemount. For the first time in over a year, he was entirely alone. He had no idea if his friends, the people he'd learned to call family, were still alive. If he'd ever see them again. If he'd find out what happened to them.

If, if, if. There was that word again, running through his head alongside one other. If, if, if. No, no, no. A plea, a prayer, a mantra, a litany of regrets.

He was Taryon Darrington, writer and baker and adventurer and member of Vox Machina. He was Taryon Darrington, son and brother and friend and soon-to-be leader of heroes. He was Taryon Darrington, artificer and creator and tinkerer. He was Taryon Darrington.

The necklace around his neck pulsed one last time before going still. Deathly still.

It had only been a few minutes since it had first pulsed. Just a few fucking minutes.

He was Taryon Darrington. He was... he was...

... he was Tary, terrified and full of regrets and curled up on the floor of his own empty room with no idea if the people he'd learned to love were even still alive.

And it had been his own damn choice to stay behind.

"No," he whispered, his hand still wrapped around the now still necklace. A prayer and a plea and a refusal to even consider the fact that they might be gone. "No. They'll be back. They have to come back. All of them."

It had only been a couple of hours. A few hours. Everything couldn't have gone wrong in just a few hours. It couldn't have.

He wouldn't believe it. He couldn't believe it. They'd be back. They were fine.

They had to be fine.