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Feel What I Feel

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Scanlan falls in love with Pike the very first time he sees her. Pike isn’t wearing armor or wielding a mace then, rather she is dressed in a blue tunic and brown trousers with the symbol of Sarenrae hanging from a leather cord around her neck. She is sweating a little, and has black hair tied up in two buns that seem to perch on the top of her head. Later Scanlan will insist that he was struck in place by her beauty. Later Scanlan will insist a lot of things.

Later Scanlan will insist that he falls in love with Pike the very first time he sees her, but it’s hard to prove because everyone was so worried about Grog when they met. It’s one of the few times over the course of their friendship that Scanlan doesn’t manage to hit on Pike ‘in spite of.’ Mostly that’s because it’s Grog that’s missing and behaving weirdly. Something deep inside Scanlan that can’t help but take the things that involve Grog seriously.

For Pike meeting Scanlan is actually not that notable. Mostly because she was scared for Grog, and he was worried for Grog, and neither of them managed to look beyond that. It’s funny how often that ends up happening.

The thing is, one day when Pike is little Wilhand doesn’t come home on time. When he finally arrives he is covered in blood and looking bruised as all get out. Following behind him is a giant hulking Goliath. Wilhand turns to Pike who is gaping and says, “This is Grog, he’s going to live with us from now on.”

Pike learns a lot from Grog. She learns that he’s a teenager Goliath, and that the current size of him is not where he will finally reach. She learns that by Goliath standards he is not so much giant and hulking, as he is childish and lanky. She learns that the people who pick on a small gnomish girl in the street won’t look twice at her for a target if she is sitting on the shoulder of a goliath man. She learns that simple doesn’t mean stupid, and that even though Grog isn’t the smartest, he’s quick to understand the things that matter and his heart is as big as he is. Besides who cares about smart; Pike is around to read for him now.

The first time that Scanlan and Grog meet, Scanlan tells Grog that he wants to have his babies. Much like Pike, he comes to love the big man very quickly. There is something foundational about the way that three of them have always been tied together. Scanlan and Grog meet before Scanlan and Pike. And Grog and Scanlan meet before Pike and Scanlan. When Pike is fifty and finally used to her adult body, she grabs Grog’s hand as they lie in their pillow fort and tells him that wherever she goes he will have a home with her. Grog looks at her solemnly and asks if it will be big enough for him to fit, because he loves Wilhand but the house is a little tight. She promises that anywhere she lives will have Goliath sized ceilings.

When Scanlan is sixty-nine he grabs Grog’s arm and thinks about the way that Doctor Dranzel used to ruffle his hair, he thinks about being the youngest, of being the impulsive one, of being the kid that no one took seriously. Scanlan grabs Grog, who looks up to him even though he has to look down, and tells him that he’s advanced in years so it’ll be nice to have someone stick around for a while. Grog tells him that he lives with his best buddy Pike, but that when he goes home after the next couple of jobs, Scanlan can come to.

So it’s Pike and Grog, and Grog and Scanlan, and Scanlan and Pike, but that’s okay because it all makes sense somehow. They fall into a rhythm when the S*H*I*T*S get going. Scanlan is in love with Pike, who tolerates Scanlan because she thinks he’s funny, and Grog loves them both, but he loves Pike best of all. Grog’s not a romantic guy. He likes sex, and he appreciates the attractiveness of a person beating the shit out of something, but he doesn’t need the rest of it. Relationships are complicated where feelings are simple. He loves Pike, so with her he’ll stay, and he also loves Scanlan so he supposes that Scanlan will have to come along.

It’s always the three of them even when they’re not together. Even if Pike doesn’t love Scanlan quite the way he wants or if Grog doesn’t quite understand Scanlan the way he needs, it’s still the three of them twined into a unit. There’s the twins loving a Percy and a Keyleth, and there’s Percy and Keyleth each loving a twin, and then there’s Team Gnome sitting on the shoulders of their Goliath. Scanlan believes in their little team of three, but when Pike tells Scanlan that she’s in love with someone else, it makes the foundation of his world change. It’s one thing for her to not want him back—that’s utterly understandable—who would want him, but her loving someone else shakes him. It's probably because when Scanlan thinks about the future, he pictures him and Pike, and Grog off to the side making them breakfast. Picturing Pike loving someone else hurts his heart.

Seeing Scanlan with Kaylie hurts Pike’s heart. She doesn’t like the idea that Scanlan left a daughter. She also doesn’t like that she feels that way, because based on everything that she knows, the entire situation is mostly not Scanlan’s fault—so she buries it down deep. She likes Kaylie despite the fact that her existence makes her gut clench, but there’s something distant about Scanlan after Kaylie arrives that is new and not entirely comfortable for Pike. He’s always been in love with her, and he still is, but he seems darker in a way, preoccupied with something that he won’t tell her or Grog. She doesn’t like that. When she’s with Vox Machina she loves them all, but it’s Grog and Scanlan that she adores best. She loves talking to Scanlan; he makes her laugh. He’s not a good person necessarily but he’s trying to be one she thinks. The entire Kaylie thing probably hurt him worse for it.

Watching Scanlan leave makes Grog sad. When he looks at Kaylie and Scanlan it’s like looking at the twins, one so clearly the reflection of the other. Grog's knows that there's not much else to be done for it. Scanlan can’t go on like this; he’s in too much pain. Grog understands pain. He remembers the time before Pike with clarity that he wishes he didn’t have. Physical pain doesn’t actually matter all that much in the long run, it’ll leave its marks on you sure, but in the end it’s surmountable. The pain of family turning on you, the pain of being a disappointment even as you wish to be anything else is a feeling that Grog knows well. Grog also knows that there’s nothing to be done to change it except move on. So he stands on the battlements behind Percy and watches Scanlan and his baby walk out of the castle. Then he goes and cries on some dancers.

Pike doesn’t say anything when Scanlan has it out with them. He’s not saying anything that she hasn’t thought about Vox Machina before. As a whole they are remarkably unconcerned with each other’s lives. There is something to be said for the power of self-absorption making the adventuring life easier. Not knowing the mothers, friends, and helping hands that raised means that when your compatriots die there are less people to apologize to. She loves Vox Machina with all her heart, but she knows they forget sometimes that she left them too. She knows for certain that Scanlan forgets as he spits at them. He flings vicious words toward everyone in sight without bothering to look at the color of her hair. He calls her resurrection, the gifts of her dear sweet Lady, “weird fucking magic,” and snarls that they’ve never fought for him the way that he’s fought for them.

He’s right of course, except that he’s not. They’ve never really fought for her either. Them fixing Pike getting ripped in half by a Pit Fiend does not qualify as personal care. Her friends brought her back, but she knows in her heart that if resurrections are the true measure of friendship, then her adventuring family is well into her debt at this point. She looks at Scanlan and listens to him as he stands dripping pudding (he should have thought that was funny, she thought it was funny). His shouts about parents and children, about what friendship means ring in her ears and Pike is paralyzed. There is nothing in her to respond.

As he rails against them, Pike thinks for the first time in a long time about her mother. Her parents who thought that having a child meant an extra pair of hands on the road. As a child, a tiny gnome, Pike saw her mother step toward a sleeping guard and draw her knife quick as lightning across his throat. He had slumped to the side without a sound. Later in a dungeon long separated from the sun, Pike mirrors her mother with no compunctions as the symbol around her neck cracks. None of Vox Machina know her mother’s name either, nor have they cared to ask. After she wakes from being ripped in half Pike feels useless. She is traveling among Heroes who far outclass her in power and ferocity. When Scanlan talks about being useless, she can’t help but think, yes I know how you feel. Why did you never come to me? Why did you never tell me? Why did you never ask?

The difference between her and Scanlan is that she is good and he is not. She’s a little chaotic; she enjoys a good prank or joke, and if the rules stand in the way of what is right she will not hesitate to break them. Even so, there are lines that she would never cross and things that she would never do. At the core of her self, Pike is good. (She tries not to think about pulling a knife across a throat in the darkness of a dungeon, and the simple joy of helping her family even as red stains her hands.)

Scanlan is a force of Chaos alone. He is trying to be good, oh he is trying, but there isn’t much to be done about the way his first instinct is always to trick. When he is happy, he brings those around him up, when he is vexed, he vexes. There is always a joke, always a trick, always a façade and when Scanlan is truly, deeply, wounded, he strikes out intending to wound.

In a way it speaks to his development as a person that it took him this long. At the start of it all, a Scanlan with the darkness growing in him that Pike had noticed would have lashed out right away. Pushing everything down might not be the best of coping mechanisms, but Scanlan doesn’t really want to harm, he just wants everyone else to feel what he feels. Bringing a captured audience in and making them believe something has always been one of Scanlan’s talents. Still Pike is the resident expert on leaving, and she can’t help but find it infuriating that Scanlan chooses to leave this way.

Scanlan is a bard; his words are performative utterances. For some reason, when his voice rings out, reality itself changes for him. Pike has never had that ability, but she has tried to use it all the same. I’m leaving to become stronger, she said. I’m leaving so I can help you better, she said. I’m leaving to serve my goddess, she said. She willed these things true, and in the moments when she is angriest at Scanlan, she can’t help but hate him for not trying to wish the situation better, and instead cursing it worse.

As Scanlan shouts and sees Pike in the corner with white lips pressed together and gauntleted hands in shaking fists, he thinks, good, and he’s glad to have hurt her. There’s a vicious joy in it, making her feel what he does. Later he’s walking on the road with Kaylie at his side, he thinks shit, and he has a sneaking suspicion that he’s never going to be able to face Pike again. Later Scanlan thinks a lot of things.

Pike makes Scanlan happy. He knows that much. Pike makes him laugh. He knows that much. And when he rides to tell them about the Ziggeraut, he thinks about Pike and he knows that if he faces her as him he might just die of shame. He’s furious with himself and the way he left, but Scanlan’s never been particularly good at feelings, so he stuffs that shame down, puts on a hat. He both hopes that they’ll discover his ruse and remain in the dark in equal measure.

Vex figures it out, because of course Vex does, and Grog and Pike don’t say anything much before walking away. It hurts a little bit, well it hurts a lot, but hey, they’re feeling something. As long as they still care in some way, they’ve given Scanlan something to work with.

He let’s Pike swear at him. He apologizes one, twice, and again. He writes passes for bars and offers to kill his best help if Grog wants him to. Pike and Grog put on a dangerous play meant to shame him and make him jealous, but he notices that the two of them had certainly learned something about delivering a line from his rants on the construction of a good con. As he watches Pike destroy skeletons and Grog swing wildly with less aim than Scanlan has seen from him in a while, his heart warms. Scanlan comes back in a costume because he isn’t sure that he can face the two people who matter most to him. It feels like a mistake, but only when Grog points it out. There’s a part of him that is still frustrated with the fact that he had to come back at all. He had wanted his return to be on his terms, not because he was forced to. He hates that the world is ending, it makes his care seem cheaper.

Everything explodes after those early moments. They fight a Litch, and then a God. Vax dies and comes back and then dies again. Scanlan watches Pike glow with Sarenrae’s gift, as she flies on wings made of pure light. Scanlan watches a shadow fall over Grog’s face and his eyes glow a shining red as he takes up the sword that seeks out the Litch King. He watches for the breaks in Vecna’s spells; the moments when he can throw his magic forward and shatter the enchantments that would take his family from him. He watches as Vecna moves backward, running from his irritating counters, but doesn’t notice as Scanlan glides closer, just close enough, cupped in the palm of Bigby. When Vecna’s sunken face turns toward Pike and Grog, his Pike and Grog, Scanlan is ready. He sinks as much of his power as he dares without wishing into that counter spell. Vecna might win here today, but until he dies Scanlan will protect Pike and Grog.

It turns out that Scanlan can save Team gnome but he can’t save Vax. The half-elf who Scanlan was trying to wish for walks through the Raven Queen's door with snowdrops in his footsteps. After that it feels like time catches up with him again. From returning to his family and killing Vecna it has only been four days, and one of those days was magically erased in the Feywild. The events of the last few days have felt like running at top speed down a hill, and losing Vax is like getting to the bottom and realizing that your lungs are burning and you want to vomit. Losing Vax makes time kick back into gear. Everything slows down, and nothing will ever be the same.

Grog looks at the sword in his hand. He doesn’t want to continue on this path. This whole hunting Vecna stuff was something that they did with Vax. It wasn’t right to let that continue. Besides Pike promised that she would build a house with Goliath sized ceilings, and he wants to see that and live there a bit. He wants to put the sword down, but the voice of Craven Edge still rings in his ears when he has nightmares, and he knows from hard won experience that he’s going to need help with this one. It’s easy then to grab Pike, and then Scanlan. Scanlan gives him an extra chance to fight, and then looks to Pike who burns the sword clean from him with a touch when it tries to make him walk out of the room. After, as they all go to get drinks, he thinks of the deck in his pocket, and Wishes, and Drunkards turning into Lords in alleys. Pike and Scanlan walk with him as Percy and Vex support Keyleth. The cards can save Vax; he’s going to wish Vax back to them. After all, if he lost Pike or Scanlan he would never forgive the others if they didn’t do everything they could to bring them home.

Later Pike will think that the whole Pandemonium debacle was actually good for them. Watching Grog collapse to the ground in a coma and screaming for help until her family came while she cast every spell she could think of to help, was not a series of moments that Pike would ever want to relive. Sill, the trip gave her time to think about Scanlan. Their progress was slow because of the noise, and they spent a lot of time either in the range of Percy’s silence spell or inside the mansion. She and Scanlan hadn’t figured their shit out yet, though she was kind of expecting him to use the opportunity to reconnect with her. However, just like the first time she met Scanlan, the absence of Grog and Scanlan’s worry about that whole situation kept him from drawing nearer to her. Scanlan will stop joking for only two people and Grog is one of them.

They take Grog’s cards. Scanlan asks Pike on a date. Pike was just about to ask Scanlan the same thing.

They go to Vasselheim. Scanlan lifts debris with Bigby’s Hand. Grog just lifts debris. The three of them rent rooms over a tavern down the street because Pike’s housing in the temple is both mostly destroyed and what remains is used for the wounded. Pike goes out with Grog sometimes and blows up the undead that remain. People recognize her and Grog here in Vasselheim. Men and women in their homes may not know Vox Machina on sight, but they do know the two Crucible Champions who parted ways with a handshake. The thing is that fixing everything takes a really long time, and before they all realize it six months have passed and they have been living in shitty tavern rooms like transients for the entire time. She and Scanlan have been grabbing dinners and events together when they can, but the tavern lodgings are starting to cramp even his style.

Surprisingly, its Grog who brooches their living arrangements first, “When are you making us that house Pike? I want to move in.” Scanlan, who is sitting at one of the tavern tables, raises an eyebrow rather quizzically at her. He’s a little rumpled from sleep, and goodness Pike loves him in this moment. She’s probably going to tell him that sometime soon. Not now though.

“I promised Grog that I would make a house that he can live in; I believe the words I used were Goliath sized ceilings.” Scanlan nods as though this is the most normal thing in the world. Gods she loves this stupid gnome. “I’m decent at magic. Maybe I can help out with this whole house thing.” Scanlan says. His voice sounds mild, but Pike has gotten better at reading Scanlan; there is an undercurrent of tension that wasn’t there before. Suddenly she is scared. This was never a plan made without Scanlan, and she needs to make sure that he knows it. Luckily her best buddy gets Scanlan too.

Grog grins at him. “Course you’re going to help you shit, you’re going to be living there after all.” Scanlan’s eyes widen. He is normally too skilled in deception to let anyone see something that obvious, but it’s as though in that moment there is nothing that stops him. His gaze shoots to her, surprised. Pike gives him a wide grin to match Grog’s, “Of course you’re going to live with us Scanlan. Where would we be without you?”

His exhales roughly, but he’s smiling now. “Well alright then.” He says. And that’s that.

So they build a house. (She asks Scanlan a few days after their conversation with Grog if he wants to try facing the future with her as a unit. He calls her his freedom as part of a resounding yes.) There’s a lot of empty houses that were destroyed in the Vecna fight who’s residents have died, so they buy one of those. They start with the bottom floor, and it’s huge. The ceilings are more than comfortable for Grog but he still has to duck through the doorframes in a compromise that left the handles at a manageable gnomish level. Keyleth comes by a lot. She’s good with wood and stone, and the entire construction project would have been far more difficult to complete without her. The entire house ends up with three separate floors even though it only stands at two stories tall. The second floor is gnome sized and the attic where they store all of their unnecessary adventuring equipment is tight even for her and Scanlan.

The entire process takes a while. By the time they are halfway done with the first floor Vex is pregnant. When they finish the second they are days removed from her giving birth. When Keyleth rushes in one day, out of breath with bright eyes, the three of them immediately know what the occasion is.

Pike gets ushered straight into the room where Vex is screaming, while Grog and Scanlan are relegated to the hall. Keyleth stays out there with them, and Percy joins them not to long after, seemingly having been kicked out of the delivery room. It’s sort of strange to sit around while Vex is screaming. It’s not a thing that Vox Machina is accustomed to. Percy isn’t letting off smoke but he looks like he might get there soon, so Keyleth lays a firm hand on his shoulder. And they sit and wait until the screaming stops, and soft high-pitched crying begins. A moment later Pike comes to the door and smiles, gesturing them in.

They rush in as soon as she does, Percy leading the way. Vex is lying in bed and clutched in her arms is a tiny little thing with a single tuft of dark black hair. “Percy darling, get over here.” Vex says, with an almost laugh, as she notices that Percy has gone stock still at the foot of the bed. In that moment she sounds tired, but also the happiest that she’s seemed in a while. Her hair is soaked with sweat, and she looks a little pale, but her grin splits across her face as she looks up at her husband from the baby in her arms.

Grog reaches out with one hand and shoves Percy forward. He wants Percy to get a move on so he can hold the baby. Percy takes her tentatively, as though he might break the little thing just from touching her. There’s something lovely about the tender way that Percy holds the baby in his arms. Vex stares at him for a moment before turning her gaze to her friends, “Her name is Vesper, and I’m telling you she is a perfect human being and I won’t hear any less.” Grog grins at her. “I can already tell she’s way better than you and Percy.”

Scanlan holds the child after Grog. It was nice to watch Grog’s face soften into something approaching sweet. His big friend gives that expression to very few people. This little thing deserves every soft look she gets, he decides when holds her. There is a tiny, barely noticeable point to the tip of her ears, and the single tuft of dark hair begins twisting into a curl as off of the top of her head as it dries. He winds it with one finger while he looks down at the little girl. He feels a slight surge of sadness in the pit of his stomach as he thinks of Vax. There is nothing to be done for it, and it’s not different to the sadness he feels when he sees a Raven or when he walks through the Duskmeadow. It’s a twinge of regret and self loathing, at this point such a familiar feeling that Scanlan would know it a mile away. Vax has only recently joined the list of things that have caused it, but joined it he has. This little girl will not meet him, and there’s nothing to be done for it.

In this moment Scanlan makes up his mind. He’s going to write a book. It’s ging to be silly, ridiculous, and amazing. Some of it might even be true. He is going to mark down everything that has happened to his family so the little ones will at least have some ties to those that they cannot meet.

After Vesper’s birth, Scanlan starts to write. Pike notices because it becomes part of his daily routine. He stops spending so much time at the temple of Sarenrae, and instead spends much more time at the Kobalt Reserve. Once Pike comes home from a day spent healing the sick, and sees Scanlan with a purple eye glowing in the center of his forehead, his eyes silver as he scribbles furiously. She knows what he’s doing because he tells her, but the intensity with which he approaches the problem is a little shocking to say the least. She’s not really used to Scanlan taking things seriously. Then again, she thinks about weekend visits to Kaylie at the Alabaster Lyceum, about grudges that make furniture crime lords, and years spent lavishing compliments, both genuine and lewd, upon her, and she thinks that maybe his dedication isn’t so surprising after all.

What is surprising is the day that Scanlan comes home and remarks that he has spotted Grog getting tutored in reading from that smarmy potion seller that Vex hates, and apparently it’s been going on for quite a while. “What do you mean quite a while?” Pike asks. Scanlan gives her a look that’s half delight, half disbelief as he says, “Apparently since before we started construction on the house.” Pike laughs. “That’s amazing.”

Then as quickly as it comes her delight at the thought of Grog reading fades, “I wonder why he didn’t tell us.” Scanlan gives her a knowing look as her face falls. There is something soft in his face as he says, “I asked, he said he wanted it to be a surprise.” The sinking feeling in Pike’s chest lifts. Scanlan knows her so well, that it’s almost unbelievable. The smile on his face as he sees her reaction is proof enough of that.

And so it goes on. Pike heals the sick and the bleeding. When she’s feeling testy she fights at the Crucible, and when she’s feeling particularly restless, she takes a job or two from the Slayers Take. Grog works at the temple of Kord, and improves his mind as best he can. He seems to be waiting for something, something big enough to really challenge him, but he still comes on adventures with Pike when something moderately difficult needs killing. For that matter Scanlan comes too. He drifts from place to place, writing all the while. He has pages and pages of descriptions and recollections and adventures. He starts taking notes when he goes out with Pike and Grog, and as he helps Vex and Keyleth make the door in the Parchwood that they promised Artegan. It seems to Pike as though he is desperate to recall every single thing he can about the time that Vox Machina spent together.

And so time goes on. Three years later, Pike proposes to Scanlan. He says yes, but does ask Grog for permission, and is given a rare black sapphire for his trouble. Sometimes Pike thinks that Grog has hoarding tendencies that are just as pronounced as Vex’s. Learning from the whole Percy and Vex debacle, which still stings sometimes, Scanlan and Pike decide to throw the party to end all parties. They are heroes of the realm, they are powerful and blessed by the Gods. Both of them love a good time, and really there is nothing more fun to celebrate than a wedding.

The first people that they tell of their engagement are the rest of Vox Machina. With a sending to Keyleth, the entirety of their adventuring family are gathered in the living room of their odd house looking expectant and a little nervous. Pike isn’t sure how to start, but luckily she is marring Scanlan, who has no trouble with letting people know what is going on. As soon as everyone is seated, Vex asks with an expression halfway between worried and excited, “Alright, what is going on?”

Scanlan is practically bouncing with excitement, and he says with a near shout before anyone can say much of anything: “We’re getting married!”

The room erupts. Grog has started tearing up in joy again. Vex and Percy are both talking at Scanlan at once, while Keyleth whips around to face Pike. “Congratulations!” She says, with a grin. There is a sadness that surrounds everything that Keyleth does nowadays, but in this moment there is nothing but genuine joy in her heart for her dear friends; Pike can tell.

So Pike beams back as wide as she can, and says, “We’re going to have a huge party, it’ll be gnomishly theatrical and delightful. Do you guys want to help plan?” Vex looks like she’s about to burst into tears from joy. “Help you guys plan a party, and pick out pretty clothes, and design things; honestly I would love to!”

Every weekend on they plan the party. Scanlan manages to talk them into getting a beautiful open venue near the crucible. It’s a wild garden park on the border of the Quadroads near the Abundant Terrace. It is a glade that grows in the middle of a city, full of large trees and growing grass, but not so lush as to be distracting. Keyleth crafts vines that grow beautiful white blossoms in the shape of stars with tiny dark black centers. They glow softly in the dark. It takes her a week to make the effect, and its subtlety and beauty is a testament to her power. Vex weaves streams of blue and purple ribbon through the vines. Percy, with Grog’s help, builds a small stage and a pathway out of wood. Keyleth’s vines grow down into the stage creating both the sigils of Ioun and Sarenrae out of the softly glowing flowers. These lights seem to be tinted purple and blue, glowing with the blessings of the Godessess.

Scanlan and Pike make sure that there are chairs near the front for everyone important, and then make sure that everyone else knows to come too. The park certainly has room. When the day comes it is a day of festivities, and indeed in that twilight hour as Scanlan sits on Grog’s shoulder before going down the isle it seems as though everyone in Vassleheim has shown up for the event.

Even so he only has eyes for one of them. At the stage stands Pike. She is wearing her full armor, still slightly scratched and dented in places despite being polished to shining. Her white hair falls loose over her shoulders but is pushed out of her face by a crown of bluebells and snowdrops at the crest of her hair, held in place with golden wire or ribbon of some kind that winds in strands through her white mane. In the gaps in the armor, Scanlan can see a light blue tunic embroidered with golden strands, and dark blue leggings touched with silver thread like the midnight sky. She glows in the blues and golds of the Everlight, with her sunlight wings extended behind her, resplendent and blessed for all to see.

It seems that all of Vox Machina has dressed according to Pike’s lead. Keyleth wears her mantle, though the robe beneath is clearly one of occasion not utility, and her hands are wrapped around her spire, glowing with rings of power. Standing next to her is Percy in his blue coat with Cabal’s Ruin draped over his shoulders crackling with lightning. His breeches are the same midnight blue as Pike and the vest over his linen shirt is an opulent light blue velvet with golden threads shaping flowers and vistas. Similarly Keyleth carries touches of blue and gold throughout her clothes, the colors of the bride.

On his side of the stage stands Vex in her White Dragon Scale armor and an embroidered purple and silver cloak in the colors of Ioun. Her skin gives off the light of Pelor and she glows nearly as bright as Pike. Her hand is on Trinket, who in a twist of irony is now standing as part of Scanlan’s wedding party in silver armor with a purple ribbon tied in a bow around his neck. Next to him is Kaylie in the finest clothes she could procure from Ank'harel on a short notice with some help from Keyleth. The robes are purple with silver thread shaping arcane runes into a beauteous work over the cloth with a dark brown leather jerkin and leggings beneath. She looks wild as she grins from her spot on the stage, knife clearly showing from her belt, fiercely arcane and not afraid to represent that, even here.

Grog is not wearing the colors of either for all that he has agreed to be Scanlan’s best man and carry him up the isle. Rather he is in the full adventuring garb of his Vox Machina Days, Titenstone knuckles on full display. He is a rather shocking figure, especially with Scanlan in the soft purples and silvers of Ioun perched on his shoulder. He stands behind Pike after he sets Scanlan down by the alter; he has always loved Pike best. Scanlan knows that he too fits with these powerful beings in this moment. He knows that his forehead bears the glowing mark of Ioun and his irises are pure silver with no pupil. Just like Pike he is chosen, beloved by his Goddess.

As he looks at Pike glowing in the twilight, the black sapphire set in a circle around her finger, it feels perfect. Kima leads the service for them. She’s not the traditional choice of affiliated Cleric, but she is by far their favorite godly person out of everyone else that is left available. She is the only one not in armor. Rather she wears the silver robes traditional of the Platinum Dragon, and holds the ties to bind in one hand, and the paint to mark in the other, rather than her giant maul.

As Scanlan and Pike stand facing each other, Kima talks about family in the face of blood and death. She tells the crowd of a deep dungeon where she was found by Scanlan and Pike. She talks about first impressions, and learning how to like as well as love. All the while Scanlan’s eyes are fixed on Pike’s face. She is staring right back at him, and she looks just as happy as he is. 'You feel it too.' Her eyes seem to say. 'Don’t look away from me.' 'Feel what I feel.' There is nothing but joy in her expression as the ceremony goes on. Grog is weeping behind her, and even Percy looks as though his eyes might be welling up as Kima ties their right hands with scarves of gold and silver. Scanlan then marks Pike’s face with a circle of Purple paint on the center of her forehead, and she draws curving wings of blue over his cheekbones.

And then it is done. They are married. Pike’s hand is tight in his as they kiss to the cheering of the crowd. Behind them the sky lights up with explosions of silver and gold sparklers that Percy had brought. As Scanlan and Pike break apart he looks out over the assembled throngs that have stood witness, “Everyone, there are drinks and refreshments on the other end of the park as well as an open floor, there will be bardic music and dancing. Please join us!”

The people gathered erupt into cheers. Among them Scanlan sees Gilmore in festive golden robes, Allura in a velvet dress. Kash and Zahra are in the front row, her tail wrapped around his waist, red skinned and golden eyed baby boy tucked in the krook of Kash’s arm. There is Cassandra in the lavender of Whitestone with Vesper propped up on her hip, toddler eyes wide; Velora with glowing eyes in elven court dress, her hand tucked into her mother’s. JB is grinning from the front row, and Dranzel is sitting near her in an extremely extravagant hat.

And for a moment, as Scanlan looks to the back where the chairs meet the guests, he thinks he sees something extraordinary. There is an old woman dressed in gauzy shawls of purples and blues hand in hand with a dark skinned beauty in a golden gown, tattoos seeming made out of pure light spreading across her shoulders. The beauty grins at Scanlan and Pike. The old woman gives him a wink, her eyes solid silver, and then he blinks and they are gone. He turns his head and his eyes meet Pike’s, who looks astonished. He feels a smile grow over his face, huge and beaming. He and Pike are beloved by their Goddesses indeed.

No one else seems to have noticed anything except for the two of them. Vex has an arm slung around Percy’s shoulders as they laugh with Keyleth about something. Grog is using his bulk to guide people to the open dancing area with Trinket’s help. While the presence of their goddesses is definitely an interesting development, Scanlan can’t help but think that Grog needs their help now, and he tells Pike so. She laughs. “We should help herd folks. Besides, I want to dance with you Scanlan Shorthalt.” Abruptly a thought strikes Scanlan, “Wait is it still Shorthalt? Do I take your name? You are much cooler than me. ”

Pike is grinning at him before he even gets to the end. “Maybe we combine the two. Like Trickhalt, or Shortfoot.” Gods this woman is perfect for him. “I like Shortfoot.” He says, giving her hand a squeeze. Pike squeezes back harder, she is much stronger than him, “Shortfoot it is.”

And so the two of them progress to the dance floor. Dr. Dranzel and the rest of the troupe are standing at the front of the wide-open area, and they have already struck up a tune, Kaylie leading them on her fiddle. There is no first dance for Pike and Scanlan, rather a small pocket opens up in the center of the dance floor where the two gnomes spin each other in circles and as the music shifts, a joyful jig. Grog has grabbed the hand of another goliath, a female disciple of Kord with heavy tattoos and a shaved head, and the two of them are taking up a significant portion of the dance floor. Near to them are Percy and Vex who are holding each other tight and swaying to the beat of the music. Keyleth is laughing as Gilmore spins her in a flashy dance style that has many eyes on them. Kash and Zahra are standing by the buffet having a conversation with Allura and Kima.

And the night goes on. There are drums and fiddles and flutes, and the spells on the stage keep the noise level high. Scanlan and Pike dance and eat and dance some more. Grog takes a turn for a couple songs, and Pike laughs as Grog gushes his love for her and Scanlan; all the while her feet don’t touch the ground. Scanlan accuses Pike of monopolizing Grog, and dances with him next getting his own share of love. Then he moves on to Vex and Keyleth and Percy and Zahra and even Kash. It feels like he dances with everyone at the party, every stranger, and every friend. All the while a thought beats through his head, Pike is my wife, I have a wife, and it is Pike, this is amazing.

By the time the sun begins to peek up over the horizon, the festivities have winded down. There music ends about a half hour before sunrise, as the troupe vacates the stage, dead tired. The remaining strangers at that point begin to stagger toward the gate, and Pike and Scanlan say goodbye to their friends and allies. In the end Vox Machina sits at the center of a glade together watching the sunrise over Vasselheim. Pike is sitting on Grog’s left, and Scanlan on his right, each tucked under one of his arms. The thing is, Vox Machina hasn’t been together in a while. Vex and Percy have been busy in Whitestone, Keyleth helped rebuild and then went back to Zephra to make sure that nothing untoward happened to her people while she was away. This moment suddenly feels much more meaningful. For the first time since he left after the Raishan fight, Scanlan thinks that he might be forgiven wholly and completely by all of his friends. It’s a nice feeling.

The six of them make their way back to the Pike/Scanlan/Grog household when the sun is really up. Percy and Vex reassure them that Cassandra has agreed to take Vesper for the night, and they’re totally free for a nightcap, or daycap as it stands. Later Scanlan will be grateful for the presence of Vex and Percy, because their avalibility means more drinking and reminiscing, which is why it isn’t just him, Pike, and Grog alone in a room when the invisible assassin stabs him in the back.

Chapter Text

Between the invisibility, (it must be the same beefed up version that Raishan used) and the surprise attack, Scanlan gets stabbed three times and collapses sideways off of his stool before anyone realizes what’s going on. Scanlan’s not entirely sure what happens next—his vision has gone white, and he’s nearly certain from the heartbeat pounding in his ears that he’s been poisoned. He’s seen Vax do this to other people. Scanlan knows how much damage can be done in a single breath from an assassin who knows where to hit. He thinks that this is the worst he’s hurt since Raishan killed him in that mire of an island.

Pike doesn’t realize that anything’s wrong for a second. They’re laughing about something that Vesper did on the dance floor, Percy telling the story with animated hand gestures and an expression of joyful pride in his daughter, when suddenly Scanlan lets out a sudden harsh exhale and then a quiet gurgle before sliding sideways off of the stool. For a moment Pike thinks that he must have choked on his wine even as she looks at his back, covered in blood—even as everyone explodes into motion.

Keyleth moves faster than any of them, and its probably thanks to her that the assassin doesn’t get away, as a mire of vines explode over their floor twisting up and around an invisible figure, holding it in place. Pike can’t really tell what all else is happening. She thinks Grog has pulled an axe and Vex and Percy are moving toward the invisible figure, but Pike notices these things as fragments on the sides of her vision, she only has eyes for Scanlan. He’s breathing, but the stab wounds look deep and Pike can see the creeping black threads of poison surrounding the wounds. This attack would have been fatal to anyone less powerful than Scanlan, and if she wasn’t here to heal him, the poison probably would have killed him too. Well it might have, maybe, probably not actually. Scanlan’s pretty tough. Still, the thought sends a shudder through Pike even as her hands are reaching down to touch Scanlan’s wounds. She doesn’t hold back as she draws on the well of her Lady, pushing as much power as she can into the touch, a true Heal.

As she does Scanlan lets out a long breath under her hands, and his wounds close. They’re still bleeding a little, but the black of the poison is gone. Now the stabs look more like superficial scrapes than anything.

Scanlan rolls over so he’s looking up at her, and says with the grin that used to mark an oncoming leer and now just means that he’s happy, “Thanks for the assist Pikey Pants.” She leans over and wraps her arms around him, pushing her face into his shoulder as they both let out a shaky breath together. Even as she disentangles herself from Scanlan, and helps him to his feet, Pike feels something cold in the center of her chest. It’s been a little while since anything or anybody has seriously tried to kill them, and even longer since an assassin tried to take one of them out in isolate. Whoever this was, they meant business—and not in the fun way where the entire group got to beat up on overpowered creatures with delusions of grandeur. No whoever did this had just very seriously tried to kill Scanlan and Scanlan alone.

As Keyleth catches the invisible person in a mire of vines, Grog feels a rage building in him that threatens to dwarf anything else. Fights always make him angry, but not like this. The feeling inside of him now is the bitter, hateful thing that Craven Edge had cultivated. It makes him want to swing, and keep swinging at anything within reach, not until that thing is dead, but until their head looks like a pancake.

He knows that Pike will get Scanlan up and moving, so instead of going toward his small friend on the floor Grog pulls out the Bloodaxe that has been tucked in the bag of holding he has worn all night, takes two steps toward the area where the vines are writhing the hardest, and swings.

The spray of blood in the air is not covered by the invisibility spell, but after two more wet sounding smacks of axe meeting flesh Grog, who has seen a lot of mages in his time, knows whoever he is hitting has some cool magic thing, or worked with someone else. Concentrating through blows like these was something even Vecna couldn’t do.

Distantly he hears Percy yelling to keep the person alive so they can interrogate them. Grog sees one of their dinner knives flies over his shoulder, thrown by Vex. A small iron ball follows soon after, and Grog watches as the invisible person in front of him is encased from head to toe. It is only then that he lowers his axe. Keyleth steps forward, hand glowing, and Grog feels the rush of magic go by him as a pair of eyes appear through the exoskeleton and the invisibility drops.

The eyes are such a light blue as to be disconcertingly pale, as though some of the color has been leeched away. Even though the person is encased in iron, their gaze is manically active, jumping from person to person. The thing is, Grog is great at reading fear, he induces it in a lot of people, and this person isn’t afraid. They’re curious, excited even, but not afraid. Grog doesn’t really know what to make of that so he looks away.

His roving gaze turns to see Pike helping Scanlan up. She’d taken off her armor about an hour into the dancing, and without it, covered in Scanlan’s blood, she looks smaller than usual. Grog always thinks of her as a Monstah in combat, armored, ferocious, and impossible to hit, so seeing her like this is strange. Still, her face looks like it’s been carved from stone, and her eyes are filled with a blazing rage. Grog knows then that looks can be deceiving, because Pike is certainly as monstrous now as she ever has been.

There’s something about the expression on her face that makes Grog think that she’s going to figure out what this is about and then kill everything and everyone that’s involved. Her fingers on Scanlan’s arm are clenched so tight that her knuckles are turning white. Scanlan looks a little shaky. The grin he’s sporting is clearly pasted on, but there’s no sign of the dead eyed look that had appeared after the Raishan fight, so that’s okay.

As everyone catches their breath a little wide eyed, Grog casts a glance around. No one seems hurt other than Scanlan, though Percy looks a little shaky. His eyes are a little wider than normal, and he’s panting as the adrenaline crashes over him. Grog knows enough about Percy to tell that this isn’t normal; Percy usually gets dead-eyed and laser focused when some new threat faces them. Still there isn’t enough time for him to comment on it before Pike steps forward and said with an icy voice, “Well let’s see what we’ve caught.”

It’s Percy that opens the latch over the mouth. Pike stands to his right as he does. Her heart is full of fury. Whoever this is they just tried to kill Scanlan. She knows that the Everlight favors forgiveness, healing, and second chances, but there is no room in Pike’s heart for the things that threaten to take Scanlan from her. She loves Kaylie, but it took Pike a while to forgive her for making Scanlan want to leave, far longer than it took her to forgive Scanlan for leaving. Whoever just took a shot at Scanlan did it with outside help if the attack resistant invisibility is any indication, and Pike is going to find them all, kill them, and burn their whole operation to the ground.

Usually when she thinks things like that, she feels a heat burn from the holy symbol that hangs around her neck—a tiny recrimination, a slight warning from Sarenrae, reminding her of her better angels that usual end up shouting down the demons within. Now there is nothing, and Pike feels a swell of unease. She is the favored Champion of her Goddess, Sarenrae’s light is never far from her. But now there is nothing, a void, where the voice of her Goddess should be. She hasn’t felt anything like this since Vecna wrapped his hand around the Prime Material and squeezed.

Pike’s reaching for Sarenrae means that she fades out for a moment after Percy steps away from the person in the exoskeleton, but she tunes back in very quickly because whoever they are, they start to laugh. The sound is manic, and extremely unsettling. The voice itself is high pitched, seeming younger then Pike expected, but if anything it is creepier for it. The mirth seems uncontrolled—the emotion behind it totally inappropriate for the situation at hand. There’s something mad about the tone of this person—locked in irons that hide their face—something totally and utterly insane.

Still, nothing could be hurt by a little light interrogation. “Who are you, and what do you want?” Pike asks. Her voice is pitched a little louder than she might have had it otherwise so it can be heard over the laughter. The sound dies down, and two bright blue eyes, slightly lighter in color than any Pike has seen before fix on her.

“Everything falls apart, Chaos will rule. The little man thought he could raise the symbol of Ioun in front of hundreds without repercussions. We are the fingers of our Chained Master in the world. I might not have succeeded now, but we will kill her servants and wipe every trace of that scum Goddess of Libraries off the face of the world.” It’s a female voice Pike realizes, and it is then that she hears the hiccupping laugh return. The idea of murdering Scanlan, of burning the world, is funny to this person.

All of a sudden Pike knows why Sarenrae has gone silent in her mind. This is a servant of insanity, of unmaking all that is and all that will be. This is a servant of the Chained Oblivion, warped by her contact with the vile god, and there is no redemption from that. The Chained Oblivion is not just a force of Evil, or a force of Chaos. It is a force destruction and violation that warps everything it touches. There exists no good or evil to the God, rather it is anathema to all, feeding on pain and unmaking.

The realization of what they face catches in her throat, and for a moment Pike can’t even give voice to the words; The Chained Oblivion after Scanlan is a thought so horrifying that Pike yearns to invoke Scanlan’s power to Wish and make it untrue. As ever though, Scanlan takes over where she can’t.

“So the Chained Oblivion is after me because I reminded everyone that Ioun existed?” Scanlan’s voice doesn’t shake as he says it, if anything he sounds incredulous, like he’s about to laugh. Pike doesn’t understand how he’s managing it. She feels like she’s about to scream. She looks across their small group towards Grog whose hands are clenched tight around his axe. His jaw is clenched, furious. It is Grog’s fury, the fear of losing her husband, and his own seeming lack of care that makes Pike spit out the words, “I can’t believe you think this is funny Scanlan.”

Scanlan doesn’t understand how Pike doesn’t get why he’s about to laugh. He looks around at the group of people that he loves best in the world. Grog looks like he wants to rip something to shreds, and Vex looks like she’d be one step away from joining in—Scanlan hasn’t see her that pissed in a while. Pike looks icy with rage, frozen between crying and lighting something on fire, and Keyleth looks intensely calm, the way she does when she’s about to call down some serious elemental wrath. Percy looks like he’s one step away from shaking apart, but Scanlan doesn’t really care all that much about it because for the first time since Scanlan came back to them there isn’t an undercurrent of tension in Percy’s shoulders. For the first time in a while it seems like Percy isn’t keeping his twelve-step plan for killing Scanlan in the back of his mind.

Seeing their faces makes Scanlan want to laugh, want to sing, want to shape reality around him with his words. The woman wrapped up in Percy’s chains is still laughing with strange manic hiccups, but she really has no idea what she’s unleashed. Fighting Vecna was a necessity that pulled all of them together, but now she’s united Vox Machina with a foe that’s made it personal. So Scanlan throws his head back and laughs. This cultist has no idea what she’s just called down on her head. Pike looks like she’s about to hit him, so he tells them exactly what he thinks about this whole situation.

“Guys this is hilarious. This insane lady stabbed me, and actually thought it would work. Plus, this is just a cult of the Chained Oblivion, it’s not like we have to fight the God. A bunch of insane Paladins just sent us the equivalent of an invitation for us to pay attention to them. They invited us to track them down. That’s hilarious. She just actually said with complete sincerity that her little cult was going to beat us up on the playground.” Scanlan can’t help that he melts into giggles here. Pike still has that icy fury thing going—it’s starting to concern him a little actually—but the corner of Vex’s mouth has ticked up into a smile, and Grog’s hands have relaxed around his axe. Keyleth’s detachment behind the eyes—another thing to be concerned about— has softened, and she actually looks a little amused. Percy’s stopped breathing like a water buffalo, which is a positive development as far as Scanlan is concerned. Best of all, the woman in chains has stopped laughing.

“We are many, you cannot…” is as far as the cultist gets before Percy shuts the lock over her mouth. Scanlan grins at his family. “So who wants to go Cult hunting?” Vex has a bloodthirsty grin fixed to her face, and Keyleth actually looks excited at the prospect

It’s Percy who speaks first though, “I don’t want to kill anyone. I know these people are evil and deserve to die, but I don’t want to kill them. I’ll help you Scanlan; you can always count on me for that, but I don’t know how much of a use I’m going to be. Plus our kid needs someone to take care of her, and if we keep dumping the babysitting on Cassandra she’ll stab me in my sleep.”

Grog see’s a little of the air go out of Vex’s bloodthirsty sails at that last comment. Still if this has been why Percy’s been acting off, that’s fine. “Are you alright with us killing people though?” He asks. Boundaries are important, and if Percy doesn’t want to see any killing at all then he should probably stay home. If he’s alright with some, Grog would rather bring Percy along rather than not. Percy looks a little surprised at the question, which is a good sign.

“I don’t mind you guys killing people!” As he speaks Percy starts to puff up indignantly a bit, “All of us killing people has been a somewhat foundational aspect of our relationship. I’m still coming. I’m not just going to stay home while you guys go off to fight a cult that worships an ancient insane evil.” Scanlan grins at that. “We’d be lost without you Percy.” He gets a small smile for that one, a win for modern Percy-Scanlan relations.

Between Scanlan falling in love with Percy for an evening and making a complete ass of himself, Percy clearly and constantly plotting Scanlan’s murder and feeling guilty about it, and the quiet reveal in Scanlan and Pike’s second month of dating that Pike had been in love with Percy, things have been a bit odd between the two of them. Scanlan will still go anywhere that Percy asks, and help him with anything he wants, but the atmosphere between the two had never really been fixed since Scanlan’s return.

The ball gets rolling after that. With Grog at the helm of the bag of holding, and their long ingrained Vox Machina paranoia, which means they bring all their essential equipment wherever they go just in case, the group armors up. Still Scanlan can’t help but notice that Pike isn’t acting quite right. Her shoulders are still tense, and her jaw is clenched, eyes glittering. Pike is quick to forgiveness, and slow to true anger, it’s rare to see her hold on to fury for as long as she has this evening. So as Keyleth and Percy start making plans for transporting their insane prisoner to Kima so she can do some truth magic and make the assassin talk, Scanlan pulls Pike aside.

“Hey are you okay? I know this is a lot for one night, but I really do think everything is going to be okay. Also, I’m really glad we’re married. I know this isn’t what we had in mind for our honeymoon, but last night was amazing, and I’m just really happy. I guess what I’m trying to say is sorry about all this; please don’t be too upset.”

Pike can’t help but gape openmouthed at Scanlan. She’s furiously, righteously angry, but not at him, and it’s clear that underneath the apologies about honeymoons and the effusively happy statements about their wedding, Scanlan—in a classic Scanlan avoidance way—is worrying that she regrets him. It stuns her silent for a moment. The fact that Scanlan thinks that Pike is mad at him, that she regrets him, is a misconception that she cannot let stand. Pike has watched Scanlan walk away from her before, and she’s lived without him before, and she’s learned that Scanlan makes her life brighter, and happier, and better. There might be a world in the multiverse where Pike regrets Scanlan, but it sure as shit isn’t this one.

So Pike lets her shoulders drop and takes a breath. She reaches out and touches Scanlan’s cheek; her eyes lock with his and she can feel the hitch in his breath as she touches him. Even now Scanlan doesn’t quite believe he deserves her touch. Even now he is in awe of it.

“Scanlan, I’m not angry at you or angry about the Honeymoon. Our wedding was the most awesome night of my entire life, so please, never doubt that I’m happy about that. A little bit of faith in me if you would.” With those words something tight behind Scanlan’s eyes loosens, and his hand lifts to cover hers where it is cupping his cheek. Main mission accomplished, Pike continues, “What is making me angry is that I’m scared. Someone just snuck into our house and stabbed you. If Keyleth hadn’t grabbed the asshole they might have gotten away. The thought of losing you makes me physically sick, and threats to you aren’t something that I forgive easily, so that’s why I’m angry. I’m afraid for you, and I want to kill everything and everyone that’s ever looked at you wrong.”

Scanlan beams at her. It’s the only word for the expression that comes over his face. He looks at her like she has given him the biggest gift in the world. After all this time Scanlan is still surprised and delighted by the fact that Pike loves him. There is a small part of her that wants to be offended by it. The fact that Scanlan is so shocked by her care is borderline offensive, but the majority of Pike glows with the regard.

She knows he has reason to be surprised that she returns his affections; he thought that his years of gross persistence had ruined any friendly affection that she could maintain, let alone romantic inclination. Scanlan’s blatant adoration of her, no longer obscured by the slimy, provocative, defenses against true emotion that his life on the road had created, makes Pike feel small. When Scanlan looks at her like this it makes Pike remember that she owns him; there is nothing that Scanlan wouldn’t do for her. It makes her want to be very careful with his heart.

Pike let’s her fingers trail across Scanlan’s cheek as he grins stupidly before she pulls away. She turns toward Grog who is standing by the door with the Blood Axe in hand. Keyleth is standing just outside the threshold, and Percy and Vex have already vacated their space; they’re standing outside with Trinket, the assassin being strapped to the back of the bear. Grog gives Pike a smile as she moves toward him. As she draws closer, Grog quietly asks, “Are you a’right? You looked a bit upset.” Pike smiles wider at that. She feels a though she has been cleansed by Scanlan’s love and her best buddy’s care. Her rage is still there, oh it is still present, but she has tucked it away for a later time.

“I’m much better now. This whole thing had me a bit worried, but Scanlan put it in perspective for me.” Grog stretches out his hand for a fist bump, which Pike happily gives. “Don’t worry Pike,” Grog says, his low voice rumbling, “We’re awesome, and everything’ll be fine.” As Pike nods in agreement she senses more than sees Scanlan come up beside her and slip his hand into hers.

It takes them longer than usual to make their way to the Sanctuary of the Platinum Dragon. This is mostly due to the fact the person encased in irons on Trinket’s back slows him down, and the stairs that lead to the temple have always been egregiously steep. When they reach the top the bear is puffing his breaths out so hard that Vex looks concerned. Scanlan likes it. It’s always fun when Trinket is actually helpful without also freaking everyone in a hundred foot radius out. The heaving breaths of exertion from the armored bear are so pathetic though that Grog steps forward and pulls the figure off of Trinket’s back.

Trinket isn’t the only one looking rough. Keyleth has started to sweat—red hair plastered on her cheeks and against her circlet, and Percy actually has his coat tied around his waist. They all look wrecked, and Scanlan knows that to top off the exhaustion they’re all still a little drunk. Considering everything that went on last night Kima’s probably not up, but still, the sooner they interrogate this servant, the sooner they can all sleep and adventure, so the Sanctuary it is. Even if Kima’s not around, the Highbearer almost certainly will be.

Vex stumbles over a crack in the cobblestones as she leads the way toward the gateway of the sanctuary, at which Keyleth lets out a little giggle. They make a sorry bunch. But still, Scanlan thinks, they took down an invisible assassin drunk and unprepared. They’re totally awesome.

As usual, the splendor of the Platinum Dragon’s sanctuary is impressive, but displays like this have always made Grog a little uncomfortable. To make matters worse, the last time that all of them were here Vax walked into the arms of the Raven Queen. There are still snowdrops peeking through the cracks in the stones near the doors of the sanctuary. Gog notices the way that Vex’s eyes catch on the small white flowers, and the way that Keyleth’s shoulders hitch a little with tension. There are little reminders of Vax scattered throughout their lives. Grog isn’t as aware of them as Vex or Keyleth might be, but they make him feel funny all the same. Grog misses the smarmy half elf so much it physically hurts sometimes.

Still enough people in this group are probably dwelling on Vax because of the appearance of these small white flowers that Grog thinks it’s probably better just to continue forward and not be one of them. He trudges on, Percy’s prison heavy between his hands.

There are always disciples inside the Sanctuary, but how they look at Vox Machina now has changed from way back when. Now when the ragtag band is armored up, they are some of the most recognizable people in the city. Surely everyone has heard the tales of the Pelor’s champion with ebony hair in white armor, glowing with the light of his grace, shooting arrows tipped with points of sunshine. Or of Sarenrae’s daughter soaring on wings made of light, imbuing the very air around her with life. Or perhaps they preferred whispering about the Archdruid of the Ashari, a force of primal elemental power taking to the sky to save this fair city. Definitely everyone knows Ioun’s beloved, who so brought Vecna to his knees with the power of his words alone.

Grog knows that eyes and whispers follow him where he walks. He hears how they call him touched by Kord, even though he isn’t quite. He knows that he and Percy bear more of the speculation and fear than the veneration lavished upon the others. He’s heard some people call Percy the Pact-Maker with the vicious scorn of the devout, and he knows some cross the street to avoid him and Percy both, eyeing the Titanstone Knuckles nervously. Grog is used to people being afraid of him, he’s a Goliath from the Herd of Storms, how could he not. It’s actually the hero-worship that makes Grog the most uncomfortable.

When people like these sliver robed disciples look at his family and only take in the armor and power radiating off of them with blind adoration in their eyes, Grog knows that there is almost no way for them to get past it. They will never be able to see the bags underneath everyone’s eyes, or the way Vex’s gaze keeps darting to the snowdrops at the door. They’ll miss how a slightly tipsy Keyleth has stumbled over smooth ground twice. Even the blood damping the back of Scanlan’s shirt won’t really be a subject of notice for these Vox Machina fanatics.

The chained assassin in the middle of the room however get’s one of the young devotee’s to run for Highbearer Vord. Grog likes Highbearer Vord. He’s never stopped looking slightly scandalized by their behavior, and no amount of city saving will make him forget how often they’ve come in front of him drunk, disastrous messes, or both.

“What on earth is going on here?” The Highbearer shouts as he enters the room. He honestly looks like they just woke him up. For the first time in the entire time that Pike has known him, his usually immaculate white robes are rumpled. Pike abruptly remembers the Highbearer leading her in a sedate waltz at what would have been at least one in the morning during the wedding last night. He’s had a late night as well.

Vex takes the lead. “The person in the prison thing attacked Scanlan last night. They said they were a servant of the Chained Oblivion. There were implications of a cult, which I personally did not love, because the last cultists we fought ended up raising a God.” Highbearer Vord pales at her words.

“I was going to send someone over in the morning to tell you that there would probably be some need to worry about reprisal from groups that are very against Ioun, but I didn’t think they would move that fast. It’s good that you captured this hateful entity; we rarely manage to capture the servants of the Chained Oblivion for questioning. However this is not for you to worry about; the Platinum Dragon will take it from here.”

His words bring a swath of dark expressions over the faces of Scanlan’s compatriots. Sometimes the condescension of Highbearer Vord overtakes his sensibility in truly mind-blowing fashion. Before Scanlan can think of how exactly to tell the Highbearer that under no uncertain circumstances would their little family let this one go, Pike steps in—the anger that has been boiling under the surface since the initial attack exploding outward.

“This fucker stabbed Scanlan in the back, and he had help to do it. You can interrogate this crazy person, but we are going to be here for it, and when you’re done we get first crack at whatever shakes up. Under no circumstances are we going to let you take it from here. You can try to fight us, but I highly doubt that you will win.” Pike’s breathing remains steady throughout her speech, and she isn’t shouting, but there’s something deadly about her tone nonetheless. She isn’t hysterical or raving, rather Pike sounds deliberate. Her voice leaves no room for argument. If Vord tries to make her leave, she will not go, and if he tries to throw them out physically Pike will kill him.

There’s a sudden hush after Pike’s words. There are at least twenty guards surrounding them and the Highbearer himself in front of them, but all of them look apprehensive. There is a primordial Titan casting a shadow over Vasselheim to remind everyone, every day, that Vox Machina defeated a God. Grog has little doubt that they could triumph over a collection of guards even with the Highbearer among them. What the silence makes clear is that everyone else in the room thinks so too.

The Highbearer’s mouth is pinched at the corners. For the life of her Pike can’t tell if he’s angry with them, angry with himself, or assessing his odds. Still the Highbearer is no fool. With a hard huff of air the leader of The Order of Bahamut gives in.

“Peace, Daughter of Sarenrae. I never intended to shut you or your friends out of this investigation; rather I assumed incorrectly that you were done with your days of adventuring as a unit. I thought that without one of your number you would not continue, and that you would be happier to let others hunt the twisted scum that haunt this earth. I should have known that you would never take an action against one of your own lying down. That was my mistake, and I ask forgiveness for any slight I might have offered.”

Mollified, the wind goes out of Pike’s sails and the tension in her frame drops. Bringing up Vax is a mixed bag for eliciting a positive reaction from Vox Machina; still in this incident it appears to have worked in Vord’s favor.

“Alright,” Vex says, “we’ll work with you. We want these people gone, but like Pike said we want first crack at these fanatics, and we want them dead.” The Highbearer nods in response to her statement. “Alright. We’re going to have some clerics interrogate her with truth spells, and compulsion spells to get answers. Honestly I would prefer that we do it later today when there are more people available to make sure that this person cannot escape, and that the magic is sound. This will also give you all some time to sleep. I was at that party last night, I know you didn’t get very much. If you want you can give me some questions that you would like to be asked I can message you this afternoon whenever we are done getting the answers.”

Scanlan exchanges a doubtful look with Vex that Highbearer Vord must see, because he continues with, “I vow on the Platinum Dragon that you will not be left out of any planning, assault, or information that we learn in the interrogation.” Before Scanlan can voice his thoughts on the matter Keyleth cuts in.

“I know you would be honest and true with us Highbearer Vord, and I think you are right, we could all use some sleep. However this prisoner is ours, and I do think that someone from Vox Machina should oversee their transport and interrogation. I can stay with the prisoner as a Minxie so I won’t be underfoot, and then when the interrogation takes place I’ll be present. It’ll also help me if I need to scry on anything that they mention.”

Rather than addressing her plan directly to the Highbearer, Keyleth turns to look at Pike and the others first. Pike can’t think of anything wrong with the plan itself. Honestly she doesn’t want to spend half her day in a temple with no beds waiting around when she could be sleeping in her own house, but the idea of not having someone present with the prisoner bothers Pike, particularly after Highbearer Vord’s thoughtless dismissal. Keyleth’s plan actually maximizes what Pike wants without sacrificing Vox Machina’s right to the prisoner, and as she looks around she can see that the others agree.

Vord seems to see that acquiescence as well, and with a clap of his hands says, “Well, that works. So I guess that’s all settled then. Our Scribe Maurice will take down your questions.” before turning and walking out of the room in a swirl of white robes.

Grog sees the rest of Vox Machina exchange looks before cacophony breaks out.

“Where is their base—”

“How many of them— ”

“Who’s the leader—”

“Why attack Scanlan now—”

“What’s their weakness—”

Pike hides a smile behind her hand as the scribe draws in a deep breath and sighs as their pen begins to move across the page in front of them.

In the end Vox Machina gets a full list of questions that they want asked. Most are tactical. Pike is the only one who doesn’t ask after numbers, or bases, or leaders. Something has been bothering her about the quickness of the assassin’s response. Vord was going to tell them that there was a potential threat to their number, but he didn’t think that he needed to do it right away. The delay wasn’t worrisome to him, which meant that either the group was entrenched in Vasselheim so heavily that they could hear about the symbol of Ioun being raised and move to assassinate the bearer only hours after, or they were already watching Scanlan, ready to do terminal harm. Pike wants to know which.

As Pike muses, she watches as Keyleth launches herself forward in a single smooth move and in midair, shifts to the form of a saber-toothed tiger, which then moves forward to curl up at the foot of the figure encased in exoskeleton. Vex turns to Pike then, “Percy and I are going to go back to the house where Vesper is with Cassandra. Pike, will you send us a message when Vord sends word about the interrogation?”

Pike offers a wan smile, “Of course.” Pike feels like she weighs one hundred pounds. Her entire body feels heavy with exhaustion, and her heart is aching from the emotional rollercoaster of the day. All she wants right now is to curl up in a blanket fort with Scanlan and Grog—her husband with his arms wrapped around her, and Grog defending the both of them, warding off the threats in the shadows. As Pike watches Vex and Percy walk to the door, toward their daughter, a heavy weight claps down on her shoulder as Grog pulls up beside her, Scanlan in tow. “How do you feel about a blanket fort?” He asks, low voice rumbling. Scanlan’s eyes go wide, “I’m into it!” he says, and Pike can’t help but grin. Blanket forts have always been predominantly Pike and Grog’s thing; Scanlan is rarely invited along. His glee at being introduced now, even with circumstances being what they are, is palpable. “Alright then, blanket fort it is!” Pike says. Together the three of them make their way back to the house.

In the end they don’t get that much time to sleep. Walking back and making the blanket fort takes an hour, and the moment the three of them lie down in it, it is clear that this will not be one of Pike and Grog’s chatty times. Exhaustion slams into the three of them, and it feels as though the moment that Pike wraps her arms around Scanlan with Grog at her back she falls asleep. It feels as though she has only just closed her eyes when she suddenly feels a buzz of magic tickle her hand. Pike shoots up with a gasp. The sun is still up, but the light coming through the windows is orangey-red, rather than the bright white of morning, and though Pike still feels heavy with sleep, she does feel less hopeless about the world in general. At Pike’s side there is a glittering silver specter in the shape of a letter. If it had resorted to lightly shocking her, it probably had been floating there for a little while.

With a curse Pike shakes Scanlan and Grog roughly and rolls upright. When she sits up, she extends her hand toward the letter. As she does, the voice of the Highbearer rings out in her mind. “The interrogation is done. I think you’ll be interested in what we found out. If you and your compatriots could make your way to the Sanctuary of Bahamut, we can make a strategy for taking down this cult.”

Behind her, Pike hears a garbled groan as Scanlan rolls over and covers his eyes with his arm. Grog doesn’t appear to notice that Pike touched him at all. So with a sigh, Pike reaches over and brings her open hand down on Grog’s shoulder with as much force as she can. The resulting smack rings out in the quiet of their home. Grog stirs a little as the noise has Scanlan bolting upright. “I’m up, I’m up. Don’t smack me.”

Pike grins at her boys. “Get ready, we’ve got to go over to the Platinum Sanctuary. I’m going to message Vex and Percy, and put on a pot of coffee.” With grumbles they start to move as Pike sits cross-legged and begins to cast.

It always warms Pike to the tips of her toes when she uses her magic. Her magic is a wick that pulls the power of Sarenrae to her, and as she does she is filled by it. She knows that Scanlan’s power comes from a place deep within him, the seed of magic within every person that he has cultivated into a wild and lush forest of power, but her magic is different. For Pike, every spell requires her to reach out to the Dawnflower. Every spell she casts feels different. For little ones such as this, it often seems as though Pike’s fingertips are merely brushing against her Lady’s. Other spells are a blazing embrace, where Sarenrae steps forward and gives Pike her power, her hands becoming one with Pike’s. This time though, something is different.

As Pike goes to draw that fine thread of power from her Lady’s fingertips, a hand reaches out from that strange, vast, darkness that Pike reaches into, and wraps around hers. It is so unexpected that Pike stiffens with a slight intake of air, and she can feel the way that Scanlan’s eyes fall on her back even as Grog keeps on excavating armor and weapons from the bag of holding. Scanlan’s focus heartens her, but there isn’t even time to speak a word of warning to him before the hand yanks Pike’s spirit forward, out of her body and into the astral plane.

Chapter Text

Pike isn’t unfamiliar with the Astral Plane. The Dawnflower allows Pike to travel through it when she needs, but only with long hours of prayer and meditation to guide her. This time Sarenrae all but heaves Pike into the void where their communication is purest, the space that Pike reaches through to find her. Nothing like this has ever happened before, so Pike can’t help the little exclamation of surprise that she blurts out as she hits the silvery sands beneath her.

The dynamics of the Astral Plane always confuse Pike. Everything turns to faded shades without color, yet there is no gray here, only silvers. Whenever she arrives, Pike expects there to be a certain physical presence to her, yet when she enters this realm she feels no pain or sensation. As she hits the sand gravity goes just wonky enough that she rebounds gently up as though she had just jumped onto a feather bed.

Standing before her is Sarenrae, and the sight of her Lady has Pike jumping to her feet as quickly as she can manage. The Dawnflower doesn’t look angry, but there is something not quite right about her expression, a hint of worry perhaps, that has Pike somewhat off balance. This isn’t normal.

“My Lady, what’s wrong?” Pike asks. She’s not quite sure how else to begin.

“My dear Pike, I know that you recently had an encounter with a servant of that chained beast. Ioun’s chosen are prone to drawing focus for many of the darker elements of the world, but the Cult of the Chained are by far the most dedicated to their perusal of the Knowing Mistress. Where you any other cleric of mine, I would probably have simply sent a vision or more likely not asked about this at all, but you were reaching toward me and I felt as though it was important to explain what I am asking of you.”

Here Sarenrae pauses. It’s strangely human gesture for someone so powerful, and Pike can’t help the frown that tugs at her lips at the thought of something hurting the Dawnflower. If there is something that she can do for her lady, she’ll do it without reservation. Even as Pike thinks it a smile ghosts across the divine being’s face, as though Pike’s devotion heartens her, just as Scanlan’s love emboldens Pike.

“The cult that pursues you is powerful and old. A cleric of mine a long time ago once found herself hunting them, however she was tricked by a cleric of the Chained Oblivion who took her, twisted her, tortured her, and made her one of them. While she is a devout follower of his teachings, she is still connected to me, and I can always feel her pain. Her name used to be Kaini Seabelt, though I don’t know if she still answers to it.

“When she was a follower of mine, she wasn’t all that powerful, not nearly as strong as you, though I believe now she stands as one of his most beloved toys. The cult that you are moving to dismantle is the one that took her. The members of this organization are diseased with his insanity, and there is only one cure for it on your earth, but I would still ask you to try and save this one. I still believe there to be good in her, and perhaps if she is reminded of her love for me once as well as my love for her, she can be saved.”

As she speaks, Sarenrae’s tone never wavers. To Pike’s ears she sounds slightly sad. As though she is remembering something dear to her that she has lost but will never be able to truly forget. Sarenrae loves her clerics, and she is not one to ever think that redemption is out of reach. A cleric that has been stolen from her is not something that Sarenrae would ever forget or let go.

Pike looks up at her goddess then, “I’ll do my best. I don’t know if I’ll succeed My Lady, but I’ll try.” Sarenrae smiles at Pike. As she does, Pike realizes that though everything around her glows in shades of silver, her Lady stands in full color, untouched by the power of the Astral Sea, never anything less than her full and true self. Even here, her smile makes Pike feel like the sun has emerged and is shining down on her face. Her lady brings her hand up to touch the side of Pike’s cheek. All at once Sarenrae is Pike’s size, yet still so immeasurably bigger.

With her fingers gently touching Pike’s cheek, Sarenrae says, “You trying your best is all I would ever ask from you. Her name was Kaini once; you will know her face when the time comes. And Pike, I have full faith in you.”

When Sarenrae finishes speaking she leans forward and presses a kiss to Pike’s brow. As she does the world fragments, and as Pike blinks she is finds herself back in her body once more.

As her awareness returns she realizes that Scanlan is squatting in front of her cupping her face with his hands. “You okay?” He asks. His voice isn’t shaking, and he doesn’t sound scared, but there is a seriousness to his tone that Pike so rarely hears from him. Usually Scanlan’s tone is not reflective of how he actually feels, his face or voice rarely reflective of what lies beneath the surface. Scanlan must have been very concerned for him to betray himself in this way. His entire being is focused on her.

Pike gives him a small smile and says, “I’m fine, Sarenrae needed to tell me something about the cult. It was urgent so she just yanked me into the Astral Sea for a brief jaunt. Everything is totally okay.” Then she leans forward and wraps her arms around Scanlan before planting a kiss on his cheek. He melts into her touch, and brings his arms tight around her waist.

“Shit Pike. That was freaky.” She laughs a little at that. “You stiffened up and were staring at nothing. I wasn’t sure what to do.”

Pike lets out a shuddering breath. It feels sort of wet and comes out a little like a sob. Still with her face tucked into the crook of Scanlan’s neck there’s no way for anyone to prove it. She holds Scanlan tight, and he grips her tighter.

From the other room there comes a shout of, “Do you guys want coffee?” The moment between the two of them settles with the question from Grog. His booming voice pulls them back into the present. There’s something about Grog that settles both Pike and Scanlan. He’s so firmly rooted in the present, and so solid in the belief that they can face and defeat anything that comes. His confidence makes Pike straighten up with some iron in her spine.

`From over her shoulder Scanlan yells back, “That’d be good Grog.” Pike sits back a little after that, letting Scanlan go. His hands linger on her waist as he pulls away, and he gives her a tentative grin as he goes. “Let’s take care of this whole cult thing, and once we’re done how do you feel about heading to the Bay of Gifts? Vex told me all about your trip while I was gone. She said it was awesome, long beaches, glittering water, the whole shebang.” Pike nods, “I’d like that.”

Scanlan’s grin expands into a genuinely sunny smile. “Alright it’s settled then. Honeymoon in the Bay of Gifts. Better get going with this whole cult defeating thing then.” And with that Scanlan pivots off the balls of his feet and moves toward the kitchen shouting, “Grog how’s that coffee coming?”

Pike gives herself a moment to smile goofily after him before she crafts the message telling Vex and Percy to meet them in the Sanctuary of the Platinum Dragon, an begins to don her plate mail.

It takes them about forty minutes to get over to the Highbearer. Between Grog making coffee, and the walk, Scanlan thinks they did pretty well on that time. He keeps an eye on Pike as they get ready. Seeing her go squeak and go stiff, staring at something that he couldn’t see or fight wasn’t something Scanlan particularly enjoyed, even if it was to commune with Sarenrae.

Besides, Scanlan can’t help but notice that Pike seems a little preoccupied after that conversation. It’s a look that Scanlan knows. It’s is the same distant focus that comes over him when he thinks about his book, or when Vex muses on the Feywild. The look on Pike’s face is the one of someone who has been burdened with a purpose, a quest, a task. Sarenrae has given Pike something to do, that’s fine, but since it’s Scanlan’s job to protect Pike, this task from Sarenrae means that he would have to be on the alert.

As the three of them reach the stairs towards the sanctuary, Pike spots Vex and Percy standing in wait at the bottom of the stairs. Vex has washed her hair and stands resplendent in her white armor holding Fenthras loose at her side. Percy in his blue coat stands as her shadow his fingers wrapped tight around hers. Vex manages to make the promise of blood and violence that runs beneath her skin beautiful, and she always has. That fact used to bite at Pike. It was always clear that Percy loved Vex best out of all of them, and Pike never begrudged him that, even as her gaze would sometimes linger on him. Still, sometimes back then when Pike looked at Vex, the beautiful violence—quietly and precisely delivered from a distance so that the her porcelain skin didn’t get spattered with blood—made Pike furious. Vex existed with the same rage running through her that Percy had. She wouldn’t be able to help him free himself from the vengeful shadow that threatened to strangle him.

Later on Pike finds out of how Vex grabbed Percy’s hand and got him to remove his smoke filled mask. When she does it makes Pike burn with shame at her earlier thoughts, jealous as they were. Vex loves Percy as much as he loves her. Percy never needed Pike’s holy light in order to be saved from the shadows; he just needed Vex to take his hand.

The burn Pike feels in her chest at the thought of Percy and Vex together lessens over time. Scanlan actually helps a lot with that as he sends her into states of greater and greater romantic confusion. Still there are some times like now when Pike looks at Vex and can’t help but feel small. Pike knows she just appears as slightly less than she could be when compared to this woman who she holds in her heart as a sister. Still Scanlan wraps his hand around hers as Vox Machina sets up the stairs, and those feelings drop away. Vex shines bright and wild, and is the only one to capture Percy’s gaze, but Pike has Sarenrae’s guidance and Scanlan’s love. Scanlan may have swooned over many in his time, but once they met his eyes never strayed far from her.

As they reach the top of the stairs Scanlan can’t help but note with a little pride that they all look much better than they did this past morning. Vex’s hair is shiny, and Percy is starting to look a little bit like a smug bastard again, rather than a homeless aristocrat. Grog has a spring in his step and Pike’s hand is gripped tight in his. Despite the fear from this morning, it feels like everything is coming together.

As they walk, Scanlan isn’t sure if he should say anything about the task from Sarenrae. Pike hasn’t, and he feels like that’s probably far more up to her, but he still feels a little strange about it. He worries about Pike, he can’t help it, and there’s no one he’d rather have help from than his adventuring family when this all inevitably goes sideways. Still it’s Pike’s right to ask for help if she wants it, so until she does silent Scanlan will stay.

Standing at the top of the stairs as they ascend is the Highbearer with Keyleth to his left. They both look as smug as the cat that got the cream. Keyleth starts before the Highbearer can get a word out.

“We found the cult, they have a base just outside Vasselheim. The protections in the Sanctuary are strong enough to cut off her communication with the Chained Oblivion. They have no idea we know where they are.” The grin on Keyleth’s face grows wider as she talks. Scanlan can’t help but take a moment to think that this is the most lively that he’s seen Keyleth in a while.

Vord continues when Keyleth pauses, “We also got the names of some of their informants in Vasselheim, though not all. They have the city very well observed as it turns out. If you come in we can debrief you on the numbers and names more specifically.” Without pausing for any response Vord turns and sweeps toward the doors of the Platinum Sanctuary.

Keyleth turns her smile on Vox Machina as they draw in close. Grog likes it. “Guys we have the opportunity to gut the followers of the Chained Oblivion. This could work out really well. Vord was saying that he wanted us to go in first, as sort of a strike team, see if there was any information that we didn’t already have that we could gather. Maybe like some papers or meeting schedules or something.” Something about the ultimate followers of Chaos having shipping schedules strikes Grog as a little strange, but he doesn’t really question it.

As Keyleth gestures them all into the sanctuary, Grog notices that Pike looks a little upset. Not a lot upset, not ‘Scanlan just left us upset’, or ‘Vax just died’ upset, but it’s definitely not something so trivial as ‘Grog forgot to wash the blood out of these gloves’ upset, or ‘Scanlan spilled barbeque sauce on my shirt’ upset. If anything, this looks like the grim focus of ‘Vax just made an untenable deal with the Raven Queen that Gods damn moron’ upset, which Grog finds concerning. As they walk into the tiled space of the Platinum Dragon, Grog lays a hand on Pike’s shoulder and pulls her back away from Scanlan and the group.

“You alright Pike?” He asks, as quietly as he can manage. Pike gives him a tense grin that is no less genuine for whatever is obviously weighing her down.

“I’m fine Grog. I just had a vision from Sarenrae this morning that I found concerning. I’m honestly putting too much thought into it.” Grog gives Pike a considering look. He knows Pike, she’s his best buddy in the whole world, and he’s certain that this is the most that she will tell him for now. So instead he gives her a firm nod, as solid as he can make it, and says, “Let me know if you need anything, I’v’ got your back.” As he says this, something in Pike’s shoulders loosens and he punches his arm with an affectionate, “All right Grog.”

The two of them rejoin the group. A warm feeling lights in Grog’s stomach, like when he jokes with Scanlan or tells Vex that she looks good. It’s the feeling of doing something right, and nice.

They all reconvene in the main room of the sanctuary. The Highbearer’s hands are folded in front of him, but despite his regal form he seems almost excited to Grog. His eyes are sharp and he looks almost like someone that Grog would take seriously. Almost. Okay not really, but certainly more seriously than usual. Which is to say that this time Grog’ll wait for him to finish talking before interrupting him or totally tuning him out.

The Highbearer clears his throat and then begins, “Our information session went well. We have discovered that in the caves of the nearby mountain region Servents of the Chained Oblivion have made a base of operations, which is to say, they house members of their networks when they get in trouble with the local law. The only people that are in permanent residence in the hills are the high priests who have been, well, changed through their contact with the God. Currently there is next to nobody there except for one High Priestess and a few guards. Apparently there are documents and other important legers which can give those hunting the Chained Oblivion’s servants a major advantage, which I am loathe to say we have never really had before.”

At this he pauses and looks to Keyleth standing to his left, “I believe The Voice of the Tempest had a semblance of a plan.”

Keyleth gives him a smile that Scanlan notices only possesses the slightest hint of her of her former cheerful grin before starting, “I think we should go through the cave networks, stealth, and kill everyone we see. The informant gave us enough of a map that I can get us to the area where they keep their documents. There was no information on any of organizational system, I guess the followers of the embodiment of chaos without morals aren’t too fussed with document organization. Who would have guessed it” At this Keyleth gives a little shrug and a slight widening of the eyes.

It’s honestly more animated than Scanlan has seen her since Vax died with the exception of the Pandemonium trip and the wedding. Keyleth has been tied between two states for a while now, detached and stately, and detached and tired, with a few brief bursts of detached and amused to mix things up. Despite how fucked up this whole situation is, Scanlan is glad to see her being a little more punchy.

“Anyway once we’ve got what we went in for and get out, I was thinking that Pike and I could shake down their cave hidey hole, you know, like we did with Vecna’s tower? The Platinum Sanctuary said that they would post some Paladins with some Monks of the Cobalt Way to catch anyone who tries to use the caves after that.”

Pike finds herself nodding. It’s a good plan. Still, she can’t help but feel uneasy. She knows that she needs to tell them about Sarenrae’s request. Everyone’s eyes are on her after what Keyleth has said, waiting for confirmation of the plan, so Pike speaks.

“I think that’s a really good plan Kiki. There is something I should tell you guys though. Sarenrae has sent me a vision, and there’s something that I have to keep an eye out for when I get there. One of Sarenrae’s clerics was kidnapped by this cult some time ago. Her name was Kaini They tortured her and made her into a creature that devoutly follows the Chained Oblivion.” Pike pauses her for a moment, Sarenrae’s words coming to the forefront of her mind.

“My Lady says that she is still connected to Kaini, and can feel her pain. She asked me to try and save her, give her a path back into the light.” Pike looks up at her friends, her family through choice and blood spilled, “I have to try.”

There’s a moment of silence after her words, and then Vex speaks. “Of course you do darling, and we will help you every step of the way.” Keyleth nods as she talks.

“Of course we’ll help Pike. If anyone can get this girl back it’s us.” Percy gives her a grin in agreement. Grog and Scanlan haven’t said anything, but they don’t have to. Pike always knows where they stand with her. Scanlan reaches forward and grips her hand tight. Keyleth ha s turned to Percy and the two are talking about tactics, and the best way to get into the caves without making too much of a disturbance while Vex listens and chimes in when appropriate. Grog has turned toward them, so there is no one else paying enough attention to hear Scanlan as he says quietly, “I’m going to protect you Pike. You get the girl, and I’ll get you.”

Pike squeezes his hand and doesn’t say much of anything back.

Things move rather fast after that. Honestly physical distance isn’t much of a barrier for entry as long as Keyleth is with them, and it’s not like there’s anyone else that they need to wait for in order to leave.

The group is decked out in their full battle gear. It looks so very close to their wedding garb except somehow it’s entirely different. While Cabal’s is still crackling around Percy’s shoulders, he’s wearing none of the embroidered velvet of the other night. Instead his shirt is the stained heavy white cotton that he wears when tinkering. His trousers are the burnished, abused leather that he’s always worn in the field with them.

Vex looks much the same as the other night, except that she has none of the sunlit aura that she did then. She’s also in stained leather boots and a deep brown cloak that wraps twice around her shoulders. When it falls closed her armor is entirely covered, and she looks every inch the filthy ranger of the woods. Keyleth is similar. Her mantle pulls the eye, tucked over her arms, but under it she’s wearing what Scanlan likes to think of as her battle robes. The crisscrossing pieces of red fabric reveal fawn boots and heavily tattooed shoulders in tribal swirls.

Pike is wearing her usual padding under her armor rather than her embroidered wedding clothes, but other than that much is the same. As it turns out, full plate mail is very covering. Grog looks exactly the same.

Scanlan knows that he is the only one who looks completely different. Rather than the beautiful linens in the colors of Ioun, he’s donned a brown leather jerkin over a simple white linen shirt, and blooming purple pants in the Marquisian style tucked into brown leather boots. They’re his fighting boots, which, despite having been cleaned recently, are still stained from years of trooping through blood, muck, and on one memorable occasion, kicking his way out of a dragon.

Vox Machina looks just as magical as they did at the wedding, but, at least in Scanlan’s opinion, significantly more dangerous. Considering what Vord said, it’s not even a problem that they used their blessings the day before. They’re not going to need them for this fight.

In the space of about fifteen minutes Vox Machina goes from standing in the Platinum Sanctuary to standing in front of the open mouth of a cave. The cave mouth looks like the beginning of every early adventure of theirs. Caves generally aren’t the homes of the most hospitable creatures. That which is hunted flees into the dark. Of course it’s not entirely a matter of causality. More often than not what is getting driven into the darkness deserves to be there.

It’s easy to fall into old tactics as they stand at the mouth of insanity’s lair. Vex’s hands move through the air in a familiar pattern. Arms held out wide, then gliding up, her palms come together at their base, the contact shifting, rolling upwards toward her fingertips as Vex draws her hands down the center line of her body. She releases the contact when her elbows are perfectly at ninety degrees, her palms twisting up toward the sky, held forward. Inky green pulses down the lines of her palms, and her eyes flash a shining iridescent white as the magic settles over them.

Scanlan still remembers when the magic that rolled over her eyes was the same shade of green as her palms. It stopped when Pelor put his hand on her. Not worth mentioning. They all changed in their attempt to save the world. In fact the touch of Pelor on Vex’s magic doesn’t really rate in terms of things gained and lost.

Scanlan’s magic is different from Vex’s or Pike’s. It doesn’t change no matter who he worships. He pulls his power from the well deep inside of him where he resonates in time with the universe around him. It feels like plucking the string of a lute whenever he casts. The world around him ripples at its most basic level.

He feels that reaction happen when Allura casts too, except she’s more of a knife slicing through The Weave itself. Allura’s magic doesn’t work through convincing or charisma, it doesn’t need to. Allura channels the power within her through focus and the knowledge of how magic best likes to move. The world doesn’t ripple when she casts, it snaps.

Vex and Keyleth are different. Nothing originates in them when they cast. It’s like watching the edge of the ocean when the two of them cast spells. Power pulls in toward them from the outside environment and then goes rushing outward. Not every spell requires the same size pull. Vex’s mostly don’t need all that much in the way of energy, but Scanlan has seen the green life around Keyleth physically wilt sometimes as she draws on them.

They’re both clearly from two different magical traditions however, even if the method to their madness is similar. Keyleth’s movements as she casts are sharp and rhythmic, often moving to a beat. Vex’s tend to be more fluid. Scanlan once asked Vex about it, and was told that Keyleth’s training was drawn out of the Druidic ways, centered around traditions of learning that had been going on for thousands of years. Vex’s magic worked just as well, but it came from a meditative personal mindset as she communed with nature.

“It’s why my movements are the way they are. My magic comes from the peace I feel when I’m out in the woods by myself. It comes from my understanding of the earth and embracing of the natural world. I could never cast like Keyleth does though, my connection to natural magic is far too weak. Keyleth’s power comes from her innate, elemental ties to the land and the Druidic training that lets her become unanchored to her form.” Still despite their natural ties to the world around them, every time the two cast it was the same motion.

Scanlan never cast a spell the same way twice. He figured most Bards didn’t. When you have to convince the universe to do what you want, you have to get creative.

Pike didn’t really either. Magic moved through Pike but it always tasted of something else. Allura’s magic felt like a knife, Scanlan’s sang like a lute, Vex’s smelled of wet earth and growing mulch, and Keyleth’s looked like a carpet of creeping vines or the crushing peak of an oncoming wave. Pike’s was the only one that didn’t make Scanlan feel something external. Pike’s magic made Scanlan taste sweet fruit and sunlight. So did praying during that year away. Scanlan will never tell Pike about this fact because it sounds dumb.

As the group stands in front of the cave Vex’s magic settles over them. It’s like standing behind a veil of shadows. Pike always knows when pass without a trace has been cast on her because the edges of the air tint purple.

It’s easy then to fall in behind Vex. Scanlan has a brief moment of unsettling distortion where he thinks for a moment that he should see a figure clad in black and raven feathers standing next to Vex, a little ahead, nearly imperceptible through these sheets of darkness cloaking them. It vanishes after a moment as Vex pulls the folds of her cloak tight over her shoulders and leads them forward.

The tunnels wind for a little as Keyleth gives them quiet words of advice on how to proceed. The first encounter happens early on at one of the tunnel breaks. Two arrows from Vex sink into the throat and in-between the eyes of one, while Grog’s Bloodaxe crushes the skull of the other. The only sounds are the two thwips of a bowstring and a crunching thwack, then a beat, before the bodies hit the ground near simultaneously with a thump.

It’s a familiar series of noises, and it almost makes Pike want to cry. Grog’s breathing a little harder and there’s a deep grey flush to his normally paler skin as he rages to himself. It makes her miss Vax so much. She normally doesn’t let herself dwell on it, but them killing people in his signature fashion makes him feel more present than usual. She closes her eyes for a moment as tears well up in the corner of her eyes.

He’s still here, he’s just stealthed that’s all. The reason he isn’t standing right beside Vex isn’t because he’s not around, its just because Pike can’t see him. When she opens her eyes the thought keeps her upright.

Vex looks a little wet around the edges too. Keyleth strangely doesn’t. She seems absent, her face flat and expressionless. Pike knows that this is how Keyleth gets by, but she’s a little concerned that the strange apathy that Keyleth pulls around her like a cloak is starting to become involuntary. It’s been longer than Pike likes to admit since she’s seen Keyleth really let loose and feel something.

The group moves down the tunnel to the right where Keyleth points. After fifty feet, they can see the torch lit opening to a cave mouth. There are at least six people that Pike can see counting the two guards at the door. Through the earrings Keyleth’s voice rings out.

“That’s the room with the documents. Kill the two at the door, then Jenga?” She asks. Pike nods as a collective yes whispers in her mind. Vex and Grog ready themselves, and then as one they move.

The one on the right collapses, and as he does brambles shoot out over his body, the beginnings of an oak tree growing out of the arrow shaft in his shoulder. They eyes just below the arrow in his head are glassy and blank. Grog’s axe bites into the neck and clavicle of the man on the left, but a last minute twitch before the axe came down leaves him upright and shouting as he stumbles into the cave wall.

Pike always finds it so hard to move when the fights start. It’s just that she gets shocked every time. Shocked and worried. If anyone lands a serious hit on her compatriots she needs to be there to help them. Also there’s no real point in trying to hit someone far away when they could just come to her. This time however, her friends don’t really need her help with this, and her Lady has appointed her with a task.

Four figures are rushing through the door, one is hanging back by the alter in the center of the room. It’s a hideous black iron construction. Every line of it seems to invoke the idea of agony, as thin interlocking pieces of bent medal twist and seize around it. The woman that remaining behind is kneeling at the front of the alter. Her head is thrown back as if in rapture, and her eyes are closed.

Every inch of the woman’s skin is pale, and her hair is white except for some darkness near the roots. It’s also curly and wild. The white strands are matted in white tangles down her back. It’s held out of her face by a black circlet with what looks like spikes sticking out of it. Percy’s gun cracks, one of the men in robes falls to his knees sparking with arcane lightning. Scanlan’s voice rings out and another man goes flying, smacked by a giant purple hand. The woman’s eyes open then, and her head turns so she is looking directly at Pike.

The iron crown of thorns, Pike realizes, is dug into the woman’s skin. There is blood matting the roots of her hair causing the darkness Pike had noticed and plastering to the sides of her face. More than that, the crown warps her. It’s as though the dimensions of her face are being tugged upward and sideways—twisting, scarred, out of place. The woman’s face cracks open into an awful, horrifying smile. Pike’s soul is shaking. This woman is evil, perverted. Her soul resonates. This woman is her kin.

“Hello daughter of Sarenrae. Shall we dance?”

And then an explosion of sickly green light comes flying at Pike’s face.

Chapter Text

She barely gets up her shield in time as she dives to her left. One of the Cultists taking advantage of her distraction. Still Pike only has eyes for one. Spinning on one knee, Pike orients herself toward the woman and starts simple; a cracking bolt of glittering fire and a sparkling Vorpal sword made of radiant energy cutting through the air.

Most of her oomph goes into the sword strike, but now that Pike’s got the spiritual weapon up, it won’t take her any effort at all to use it. The sword cuts through Kaini with a hiss that gets followed up with a sizzle as the guiding bolt explodes in a hanging shower of sparks on the front of Kaini’s blue robes. The impact of the one-two punch knocks Kaini back onto her heels, and her head snaps up toward Pike with a snarl. Pike isn’t sure what Kaini was expecting to see but a charging four foot six gnome in full plate mail, shouting out a roar probably wasn’t it.

Pike knows that a lot of spells get less effective when they're attempted in melee, but as Kaini throws herself toward Pike, clamping her hands down onto Pike’s shoulder’s, Pike begins to think she might of miscalculated Kaini’s spellcasting wheelhouse.

As her hands grip Pike’s shoulders pain blazes through her. She thinks she screams. It feels as though all her vitality and power is being ripped away from her. Pike goes to her knees. Above her Kaini’s face twisted in vicious, vicious, satisfaction. It’s not enough to get Pike down, but it’s far more hurt than anything has managed to inflict on Pike in one go in a while.

Then several things happen seemingly at once. A thunderous dragon roar shakes the cavern. The magician who Pike thinks shot the disintegration spell falls under two arrows, which appears to do the trick after Scanlan’s assault. Another cultist collapses after three blows from Grog. Kaini’s eyes widen. Then five gunshots ring out it a brief but powerful burst of noise as electricity crackles over Kaini’s body, and she falls prone in front of Pike. In less then ten seconds they have thoroughly demolished this group of cultists.

Kaini, the woman the Dawnflower wanted her to save is unconscious in front of Pike as she slowly but surely bleeds out.

“No!” Pike shouts. The action has stilled and her family watches as Pike sinks a healing spell, just enough of one to staunch the bleeding, into the woman who just tried to kill her.

Kaini’s eye’s flicker open.

Before she can move a single muscle, Pike leans down and wraps her arms around her. It’s both a restraint and an embrace. “I’m so sorry this happened to you. I’m so very sorry. I can heal you. Make this right. The Dawnflower loves you, please come home.”

There’s a long pause. Pike isn’t sure that Kaini knows where she is. Her family stands behind her, silent, waiting. A voice whispers softly in her ear, “I don’t think I can. I don’t think I know how.” It sounds like the voice of a child, and it echoes outward in the silence of this blood drenched cave.

“I can heal you.” Pike says again, with all the conviction she has in her heart. She knows, as sure as she knows that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, that she can. “I can help you. You can live without pain again. You can walk in the sun with the Dawnflower and come home to Vasselheim.”

There’s another pause. A breath, and then an exhale as Kaini, once a healer, once a Daughter of Sarenrae turns and tucks her face into Pike’s neck. The pointed tips of her circlet poke up into the tender skin under Pike’s jaw. Her lips move against Pike’s throat, a twisted kiss.

“I don’t think I want to.”

And that blazing fire, that soul-wrenching pain that had seared through Pike moments before comes again, and everything goes dark.

As soon as Scanlan sees Pike go to her knees screaming the first time, he decides that he’s just about done with this bitch. Unfortunately Percy gets there first, sinking what appears to be five rounds into the cult leader who’s got a death grip on Pike’s shoulders. Shit like that doesn’t make Scanlan feel too much better. He killed a cultist with a giant hand, but there’s not much point to if it means someone else is getting to hit Pike with massive spells. Counterspell is what he’s here for.

Still they’ve all take harder hits. There’s no point in getting freaked out now. Besides, as far as fights go this was pretty much as easy as it gets. The cultists almost all went down like glass. Of the five that had rushed them, Percy had dispatched the wounded one, before killing another who had run it right behind him. Then he hit one with a pretty beastly bigby’s hand, when the guy went down hard, Vex finished the job with a couple well placed arrows. The Wizard in the back had managed to get a single spell of that Pike had rolled out of the way of but Grog had finished him in two axe strokes before turning and with a surging flurry of blows taken out the final guard. Behind them Dragon Keyleth roared, denied of fun.

Then Pike screamed, Percy shot the bitch, and now they’re here, with Pike gently healing this warped mirror version of her.

Scanlan is not a fan. He does not like the look of this High Priestess. It’s not just the circlet that’s twisting her face in weird ways, although that doesn’t help. The very air feels oily around this woman, slipping and sliding in ways that make Scanlan feel ill. She’s a perversion of the weave. A thing that should not be.

Still as Pike leans over her, the woman doesn’t immediately start fighting, which Scanlan guesses is a point in her favor. Still there’s a sinking feeling in his gut. He has a bad feeling about where this is going. Pike is holding the woman, gently saying that she could be helped. When the woman responds, Scanlan is surprised, she sounds like a child.

So Pike gathers the woman closer, trying to hold her tighter than the forces pulling her away, and Scanlan watches as Kaini’s head turns gently into Pike’s neck. He sees her lips curve upward as she begins to whisper, and Scanlan knows what’s going to happen before it does.

He’s moving even as Pike is screaming. Dark energy crackles up Pike’s neck from where the High Priestess of the Chained Oblivion kissed her, and her entire body seizes as she crumples backwards, completely unconscious. Mythcarver is through Kaini’s head before Pike’s body hits the floor.

Scanlan feels frozen for one long moment. He should have stopped that spell. He killed the threat so she couldn’t strike again because he didn’t think she could hit Pike hard enough to actually hurt her. A critical mistake. When he turns around Grog and Vex are bending over Pike’s still body, Vex’s hands cradling the side of her face, as light pulses out of her palms.

Pike is breathing; her eyes flutter open, and Scanlan let’s out the breath that he didn’t realize he had been holding. Grog puts one of his giant hands on Pike’s back and helps her sit up. There’s wet blood crusted around her nose and in the corners of her mouth; she’s popped a blood vessel in her eye. Pike looks over toward him and Scanlan can see the moment where she actually realizes what happened. He can see as she takes in the slumped body of Kaini with a hole in her head, and him standing over her, Mythcarver held loose at his side. Scanlan waits for her reaction.

Pike looks at Scanlan, standing over Kaini’s body, and feels a wave of emotion flow over her. She gives him a tired smile. Her lip cracks as she does. She feels dehydrated, and every inch of her hurts. She’s not really sure how she feels. She wanted to save Kaini, but no part of her blames Scanlan for what he did. It was absolutely the correct reaction to Kaini trying to kill her.

“I’m alright.” She grunts to a concerned Vex, and gives her a smile too. From the hot liquid dripping down her chin, she can only assume that she just made her split lip considerably worse. “Darling, you have blood all over your teeth, and I think you’re bleeding from your eyes. Now that you’re awake, give yourself a bit of a better heal will you?”

Grog has gotten up and is walking over to Scanlan. Pike sighs and reaches out. Her Lady’s warmth immediately suffuses her, and abruptly Pike feels like she’s about to start crying. I’m so sorry Sarenrae, she whispers in her mind. I tried, I really did.

The warmth intensifies. It’s like being wrapped in love. Sarenrae’s arms are around her, and she knows Pike’s heart. Pike is not forgiven, she knows, because there is nothing to forgive. “I’m so proud of you. Thank you for trying.” Sarenrae whispers, her far off breath hot in Pike’s ear. “Now it’s my turn to fight for her.”

Pike buries her face in her hands. She feels her lip heal, and the full body cramp that is her every muscle eases. She can feel Vex’s hand on her shoulder. “Vex I’m just, I need to sit here for a bit, can you guys look for the papers, I,” and Pike is ashamed of the way her voice wavers, “I need a second.”

“Take all the time you need darling, we’ll take care of everything, you just take your time.” Pike can feel Vex kissing the top of her head, before the touch is gone. Pike drops her hands to the ground, and drags herself over to the cave wall where she can wrap her arms around her legs. She can hear her breaths coming in ragged pants as she tucks her face into her knees.

A hand ghosts over her hair as someone walks into the main chamber. Keyleth. Another person stops in front of her somewhat awkwardly before continuing on. Percy. Pike can’t help but think that Vax would have called her Pickle and sat with her, one hand on her back. And then the floodgates are loosed and Pike is sobbing.

She isn’t sure if she’s actually done that before now. Surely in the days after they lost Vax she cried, she sure of it, but for some reason right now all she can think is that she would literally kill or die to hear that elven accent call her Pickle one more time.

A hand gently comes down on her back. It’s about the size of her torso and she knows its Grog. On her other side a weight presses into her, someone leaning against her. It’s her boys. Pike sits there and cries her eyes out as Scanlan and Grog bracket her in warmth.

Grog hates it when Pike cries. It always seems so much worse than other people crying. Pike is supposed to be happy, especially when he’s around. He knows it’s not his fault that she’s crying, and he doesn’t think it’s Scanlan’s. She’s probably sad that she couldn’t do what Sarenrae asked. That always makes Pike sad.

So he grabs Scanlan’s arm and drags him over to where Pike’s sitting tipped forward, butt pressed against the cave wall. One can’t let Scanlan run away or be left alone when he thinks he’s done something wrong. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Grog plops himself down on Pike’s right and gently places his hand on her back. Under his insistent gaze Scanlan lowers himself slowly to the ground. He doesn’t reach out to touch Pike. Instead he mirrors her position, pulling his knees up, but then he tips to the side, leaning his weight on her. Grog can’t help but think that it must be super uncomfortable with Pike in plate mail and all, but he doesn’t say anything. The three of them sit there while Percy, Vex, and Keyleth go through the bodies and the stuff in the other room.

Eventually Pike’s sobs taper off. She sits up. Grog looks down at her. Her eyes are red and her face is pretty bloody, but she looks better for having cried. She seems lighter somehow. Keyleth is standing out the mouth of the tunnel keeping watch, just in case. She has a bag full of papers and loot slung over one shoulder. Vex and Percy had migrated to sit together on the other side of the tunnel. Pike looks up taking them all in before looking left to Scanlan. The two of them make eye contact for a moment, two, before Pike abruptly turns to face forward. “Let’s get the fuck out of here.” She says. So they do

It seems easier than it should for her and Keyleth to shake closed the tunnel to the base. Honestly, Pike feels better for crying. The grief that had been haunting her from their very first steps into the cave has let up. Scanlan doesn’t look too needlessly guilty either. Pike knows that as soon as they all get home she’s going to have to talk to him about it, but for now they’ve looked at each other, and Scanlan’s given her a smile, so she’s feeling alright about everything.

The cave comes down as she and Keyleth shake the foundations of the mountain. As soon as they’re done, Vex reaches out and grabs Keyleth’s shoulder. “Kiki, darling, would you mind sending us back to Whitestone from here? Gilmore took Cassandra and Vesper home today, and honestly if we leave Vesper with just Cassandra any longer, she might commit a fratricidal coup when we get back.”

Keyleth gives Percy and Vex a half smile and a little nod. “Give her all my love,” She says before stepping forward to embrace the both of them. It sets off a round of hugs as the group says goodbye to Vex and Percy.

“Thanks for coming to fight a cult with me,” Scanlan says to the two of them with a grin. Vex gives him wink, “Wouldn’t miss it for the world. Congrats on your wedding. Have fun in the Bay of Gifts.” Percy just grins at him while Vex talks.

“You know”, Percy says as Vex walks over to Grog, “I actually had a fun trip.” He looks tense for a moment. “I killed one of the Cultists today. I said I was going to stop doing that.” There’s a long pause as Scanlan stares at Percy. He’s not sure what Percy wants, a confessional? It’s not really Scanlan’s best thing. Percy sighs. “I don’t even feel too bad about it.”

Scanlan reaches out and pats Percy’s arm twice. “Hey Percy, buddy, I think you’ve got those adventuring instincts you know. So, maybe if you don’t want to kill people, you shouldn’t come on trips that specifically about killing people, ya know? Just a thought.” He gives Percy’s arm another pat before saying, “Give Vesper my love,” and walks over to the other side of the glade.

Percy still manages to make Scanlan twitchy. Scanlan is aware of the irony that would arise from him calling anyone else self-centered, so he doesn’t, but the thought is still there. Still, this is the best that he and Percy have gotten along in ages, so Scanlan will take it.

As he walks over to Pike he can’t help but notice an odd expression on Keyleth’s face. It’s a wistful sadness as Vex and Percy step through her door. Scanlan suddenly is struck with a desire to make sure that Keyleth knows that he thinks of her as more than just a tree-taxi service.

“Hey Kiki, want to come stay with us. We haven’t seen you in a while, and it would be really cool to get some more time with you.” Her eyes widen a little as he asks. It looks, for a moment, like the Keyleth of old, eyes almost too wide for her face.

“I mean that sounds really fun, but well, I’ve already been away from the village for a couple days, and well I’m not sure, what brought this on anyway?” She stumbles through, nearly stuttering, and it’s such a goddamn joyful sight to Scanlan’s eyes that he can’t help the smile blooming across his face.

Grog cuts to the chase, “You’v’ been acting a bit treelike kiki. It’s a mite unsettlin’. You do that thing where you get all, blank faced and ughh-like. Anyway we’v’ been a bit concerned you know.” Pike nods from her position next to him.

“I miss you a lot, and we want you to stay just cause of that, but I’m also worried. You seem like you’ve only had people to be stately around lately. I’m worried that you’re accelerating that thing where you turn into a tree cause you think that you need to be leader-ly and you miss Vax. We don’t like seeing you turn yourself off. Come and stay for a while. Come with Scanlan, Grog, and me to the Bay of Gifts. We’ll get sloppy drunk, swim some. It’ll be fun.” Pike grins after she’s done talking. There’s still blood on her teeth, so it’s not as compelling as she probably wanted it to be.

Keyleth looks frankly a little overwhelmed at everything they’re saying. But she’s nodding a little through the shellshock, and Scanlan will take that as a win.

When they get back to the house, Grog grabs Keyleth to show her where the guest bedroom is, despite the fact that she literally helped them build the house. She’s laughing a little so Scanlan lets it go.

Scanlan reaches out for Pike’s hand. He thinks he might have a thing for holding her hand; it always feels so good. The two of them make their way to their bedroom on the second floor. It’s always a process post-battle to get all the armor off. Scanlan reaches out to Pike and helps her undo her Plate-Mail. Having two people to do it makes the process run much smoother and faster.

As soon as the two of them have stripped down, Scanlan goes into their adjoining bathroom and begins to fill the tub. It’s one of the few things that they really splurged on when they built the house. The tub is huge, it has benches at gnome height around the sides and at its deepest point in the center the water comes up over Pike’s head.

“You know that I’m not mad at you right?” Pike calls from the other room. Scanlan’s hand stills on the faucet before he responds. “I know that Pike. You know that I would kill anyone threatening you in a hot second with no regrets no matter what Sarenrae says if they pose a threat to you?” There’s another pause, and then Pike appears at the door naked.

“I know Scanlan. I’d do the same for you.” Pike looks like shit. Her shoulders are a swollen mass of blue and purple, with angry green lines ridging out from where Kaini put her hands on her. Thin spider webs of black lines drive down her neck where they reach the scars from the galezbru. They’re centered around a single point on her throat that is standing up from the skin. There’s still dried blood all over her chin and around her nose.

Scanlan quietly looks away. They chose to be adventurers. Moments like this come with the territory. Still, looking at Pike now makes something swell up in this throat. Maybe because of all of them she is the only one that looks like she just fought a mountain and lost. Still it’s not like Scanlan to be unfair.

He strips off his shirt and pants. He’s not bruised like Pike, but as always her eyes go to the three huge purple and red scars that slash across his torso. His stomach doesn’t even have definable claw marks at the bottom, it’s just a mess of purpling scar tissue. His scars take up most of his chest. Raishan’s claws will never leave him. These scars are angry, they are raised off of his flesh.

It’s a surprisingly unsexy moment as the two of them look at each other. They’ve made love in a lot of ways, laughing, fast, slow, but right now all Scanlan wants to do is clean the blood off of Pike and hug her as tight as he can. The bath fills. The two of them slip into the steaming water.

Scanlan grabs a washcloth and looks at Pike, hands out, offering. She nods. He begins to wash the blood off of her face. It’s slow going because Scanlan refuses to be rough about it. He’s methodological though, and it doesn’t take to long before Pike’s face is free of blood. He floats in the middle of the tub, pulling Pike into the deeper water with him.

He wraps his arms around her, gently touching his lips to her right shoulder. “I love you,” he whispers into her skin. He lets his magic infuse his words as the bruises fade under his mouth. “I love you,” he whispers again. His magic pulses again. The Weave ripples gently. It is wrong that Pike is hurt isn’t it, reality itself agrees.

Pike pushes him gently, “Scanlan, you don’t have to—”

“But I want to. Please.” He says. She looks at him. She nods.

“I love you.” He says. This time to her face. His magic pulses again, fades.

He’s not half, or even a quarter the healer Pike is. His healing spells are best used for triage. If someone’s bleeding out in front of him, Scanlan can usually sing them shut. It’s not going to make someone feel all that much better, but they won’t die. This kind of healing is not the easiest use of his magic. Each time he pushes his magic outward though, her bruises fade a little bit, the black lines in her neck reach a little less far. It will take quite a bit of time and effort, but that’s okay.

Scanlan has magic to give.

Pike lets Scanlan wipe the signs of the fight off of her skin inch by painstakingly won inch. She can feel his magical energy getting more and more powerful, healing a little more each time he tells her he loves her. A rest would have done just as well for pains like this, but she honestly prefers Scanlan’s form of triage. The two of them float in the center of the tub until the water gets cold.

“I love you.” Scanlan whispers against her throat.

“Yes.” Pike says, as the purple fingerprints on her shoulders fade.

“Do you love me?” He asks, lips against her collarbone.

“Yes.” She says, fingers tangled in his hair.

“Do you feel what I feel?”

“Yes.”