The morning sun came over reddish rooftops and the smooth cobblestone of the road, while the city woke up from its slumber. Swirling between buildings and doors the stones also found their way to one elegantly crafted door which always amazed visitors and distant travelers. Beyond the hinges and wood, inside the somewhat small yet exceptionally decorated house, the smell of incense blended with a cold breeze from the outside. A pair of sheer, violet curtains moved gently while the air coming through the partly ajar window caressed them slowly.
A hot tea cup had been placed on a small, circular table and the steam coming from it danced on the surface of the still liquid just like an ice skater. The one who prepared it sat on a chair nearby wondering why in the deepest corners of his mind, he couldn't shake away the idea that the steam's movements should be accompanied by a song. He extended his hand towards the ring of the cup and paused again, not because it revealed some sort of metaphysical message – no, only just because the contents of that cup were still too hot to drink - both a blessing and a curse. He'd have more time to think about the upcoming day, plan his errands, plan his meetings. However, this deeply meditative circumstance that he found himself in was surreal. He drew his hand away from the cup and started playing with one of his shiny golden rings. As he was methodically and slowly spinning the ring on his finger, his eye settled on the rug and then moved to the small window with the long curtains he so adored - another silent musical number happening inside his house at this early hour.
He couldn't help but think that the wind creeping in from outside was such a cruel and cold lover to his poor curtains–and yet, they danced. The curtains moved as the wind instructed... and they will be left hanging, lifeless when the wind decides to leave... only... only to welcome it again as soon as he barged inside the house.
"Why is this morning so cold?" he flatly asked himself and the spell was broken. He straightened himself in his chair and took the ring of the cup again, taking a sip of the strong, delightfully aromatic tea. The temperature of the cup suggested he was a bit late with starting the day so he drove his hands through his somewhat curly, dark, shoulder length hair in a frustrated effort to tie it again so that some rebellious locks wouldn't leave the pony tail.
"Serves me right for using silk to tie my hair..." he thought in a semi-amused monologue, while also reaching for his notebook to finally start working. His dark eyes moved faster and faster over his notes. He had to see suppliers today. He had to check the big tome of transactions he kept at the shop. He had a lot of work to do. A business doesn't care that you were abducted and almost turned insane by a god. Thankfully, Vox Machina had been their brilliant selves again. He smiled. He'll have to congratulate them. He'll buy them a present... or make one. Ah, he'd figure it out, but not today. "Certainly not today," he thought and began scribbling in his notebook.
The wind didn't only play with the curtains, it also gently pressed against the robe of Allura Vysoren each step she took on the same cobblestone, her heels were making a sweet, soft sound in perfect dissonance with her heart. Its beats were bitter, heavy and intensified as she gazed upon the sharp and beautiful decorations of the door. Absent mindedly she knocked and just as absent mindedly, the voice on the other side said, "Come in!"
And there she was, going through what seemed to her the unknowing gates of an abyss she was about to create. The curtains moved upwards because of the draft she let in. Ignoring their lavish pleas and attempt to scare her away, she closed the door. They fell back to their position - acceptance.
She saw him writing in the notebook placed on his raised knee. The other extended foot showed off his expensive leather boots. Allura knew Gilmore never had a taste for cheap items if he had a choice. And Gilmore always extended his arms towards the variety and the beauty of life. His robes always expressed the exact same thing, however, today, he wore his signature attire, which was always violet salwar pants and a shirt of the same color tucked into his golden belt.
"Gilmore?" she announced her presence and he raised his eyes unaware of who was speaking. His eyes seemed tired, she thought but smiled while he rose to greet her.
"Dearest Lady Allura!" he approached and took her in his arms for a second, releasing her with a cheeky smile. "Well, now I know the work I planned for today will go to dust. A visit from Lady Allura. I am at your disposal, my friend."
He escorted her in and instead of pouring some tea like he did for himself, he commanded the cup and kettle to do it. He was towering over her as he held her hand and led her to a chair. She sat down calmly and couldn't help but smile politely.
"Tell me... what now? The Council of Emon is giving you a rough time and you need to babysit them again, is that it?" he claimed his chair again and put away the notebook.
"Oh, no. Well, in all frankness I have a meeting set up with the Council later today. That doesn't change much..." she said in the usual, soothing tone.
"Politics... Ha! They should crown you queen and get it over with." He said jokingly and she shot him a disapproving smile. "Now, now... I know you don't attend these meetings out of pleasure. You're concerned with the fate of the people, I know." He shifted in his chair. "But I would rather know that you're in that chamber with them when decisions are made. If not, the fools would be placing a buffoon in charge of the capital." He let out a short laugh, interrupted by Allura's facial expression. Her eyebrows curled on her forehead, her eyes lowered, her lips sealed in a saddened arc.
"What happened, Allura?" his tone lost all its flavor and his voice echoed in search of an answer that did not come. With the not-so-distant attacks, he found his mind wandering towards the worst. He thought. "Allura, is it Kima? Is Kima alright?" he insisted.
"Yes. Yes. Kima is in Vasselheim... I..." she broke off unsure of what she wanted to say.
"You miss her, don't you?" Gilmore was more than relieved that Allura's companion and now wife was safe. It was like all the conversations they had while working together in Whitestone came back to him. He refused to let Allura's preoccupied mind and broken spirit at that time miss another opportunity of showing Kima how much she loved her. He silently grew proud remembering that he could be of help in the tumultuous times. Over those weeks at Whitestone, Allura became one of his most beloved friends. They worked a lot until the last drop of arcane energy faded from them for the day and then they would just enjoy some cheap wine while talking about anything else but the Conclave of Dragons. That's how they started exchanging stories. That's how he learned of Allura's feelings for Kima... That's how she learned about his feelings... for... "Ahem," he straightened his voice "Is everything alright with you two?"
"Do you remember when you told me love will still exist even if I choose to ignore it?" she said raising her eyes, looking at him merciful as the kindest of goddesses.
Gilmore rose from his chair, suddenly intrigued. He paced towards the window and touched the breathing curtains then swiftly turned to her again. Why did her golden hair immediately look like a halo? 'What's wrong,' he wondered. "Yes. We were in Whitestone. We were having a glass of wine..."
--As you constantly played with one of Vax's fallen, black feathers – her thoughts cut off his sentence, but only in her mind. She didn't dare speak them.
She inhaled slowly, as he continued. "I kept telling you... Love... is easy to find. I fall in love daily" he resumed his flirtatious tone. "Finding someone who loves you... well..." he broke off shrugging theatrically.
"That is a dance of minds and hearts that only those two people know the beginning and the end to..." she continued as she observed the so-called memory loss of his own piece of advice.
It was Gilmore's turn to look at his boots, smiling yet wondering what was going through Allura's head. She was happily married now. Those times are ancient. There is no more despair in her heart, no more confusion.
"It still exists for you, isn't that right?" she rose from the chair and Gilmore looked at her puzzled. "Even if you choose to ignore it." He continued staring at her stupidly, unsure where she wanted to lead the discussion. Her tone was more determined, almost commanding "I need to tell you something horrible. But first, I need to know how much this will shatter you because I know you, Shaun Gilmore. You'll put on your best act to hide it and even I might get deceived."
"Allura... I can assure you... I don't know exactly where you're aiming at..." he said with a smile as she came closer and unapologetically began searching a hidden pocket near his chest. He thought about protesting but he didn't know what was happening. Allura never behaved this way towards him, she was never so worried.
She took out a single, torn, yet still jet black feather and her eyes flooded with tears that rapidly began running down her cheeks. She looked at him and his expression was so vulnerable she put the feather back, her fingers shaking. She had to sit down again. Needed to sit down again. Gilmore's face disarmed her of any courage. He had the expression of an embarrassed child while he stood there stoic, letting her invade some dark corridors of his soul.
"I'm sorry, Gilmore. I know my books, I know the arcane, yet no master taught what you've taught me." He simply stood there. Unmoved. The exuberant Gilmore. Reduced to stone. She continued, "You preached to me about love... and you always practiced what you preached. That was always the tragedy of your splendor. "
She spoke fast as if images and words were passing rapidly through her mind and she needed to convey them all in detail. "I remember the night after Hotis' attack on Vax. The second it was only you and me at that table, you burst into an angry fit that he had to live with an image, a fake image but an image nonetheless, of you, stabbing him. I remember your nervous gestures and how you wanted to go to the Nine Hells and kill everything in your path. I remember the afternoon when he descended with you in his arms from that cliff. When he put his hands on your face, we vanished in some other plane of existence. I've rarely seen that smile on you. I remember you telling me about his visits, how you spoke about uplifting his spirits when he thought the dragons are going to be his end and how grandiosely you'd fall when he stopped showing up. You loved him – unconditionally. Wherever he was in this world, you loved him. You weren't like me. You didn't need to think things through. You didn't need time. You needed him and somehow, you pushed yourself away all the time, for everybody's sake. You still harbor the same love for him. Not the love of a child, but that of an adult, understanding the consequences. Understanding that late night or early morning talks were all you were going to get. You probably shoved all this in an unmarked drawer that you never open, yet here I am. Opening a scar, again." She stopped as she felt she was losing her purpose. She wept... reasons for her actions mingled.
"I don't need more, Allura..." he said on a serious tone, devoid of all warmth. "Late nights. Talking. That's all I would ever expect. He is but a shadow. Always with me and I sometimes catch a glimpse of his heart, when he allows me to do so. " Allura sobbed again and since her crying didn't seem to stop, Gilmore approached her chair slowly and knelt in front of it.
"Allura, I don't understand why you are so worried and so distressed, my dear... I knew what I was signing up for. A young boy, sharp wits and sharper blades, curiously beautiful and broken... My fault is that I realized how much of myself I had surrendered to him when it was beyond too late when I couldn't fight for him anymore. He's with Keyleth now and I wouldn't compromise that happiness for the world. If that is to be my tragedy, so be it..." he smiled and it was honest. The silk ribbon around his locks must have moved downwards again as it always did. The ribbon didn't know... the ribbon didn't care...
"Vax is dead, Gilmore."
A world ended...
Allura drove her palm over the top of his head, caressing his hair. "They didn't tell you. When you saw Vax in that tower before the fight, when you told me his hands felt so cold on your face. I hoped your heart forgot him just a bit, that I wouldn't need to tell you he made a pact with the Raven Queen. He was nothing more than a revenant. He had to leave with her as soon as the battle was... oh... Shaun... I am so sorry. They are all suffering."
Shaun Gilmore seemed lost in the sky blue of Allura's robes...
"You glorious, magnificent bastard...!" he heard Vax's voice echo from a painting locked in his mind. Vax, raven wings unleashed, with his long black hair messy; his lips smiling at him as the rogue had his palms on Gilmore's face.
Then another image but this time of Vax's bloody hands, with Gilmore's own blood, crying over him as he felt the life leaving his body. His whispers..."Hey... Hey... Gil'..."
"Shaun, I love you... as a dear, dear friend." said another Vax in his house in Whitestone, on a morning just like this.
"Now you're just being a tease..." he heard his own voice in the back of his head...
His own voice?
Allura had stopped crying but a few uncontrollable tears must have escaped his lashes. He felt the cold wooden floor under his legs, he wasn't kneeling anymore – he just sat on the floor. Allura was sitting down next to him, her hands caressing his face, the side of her forehead resting on his and the slow rocking back and forth they shared. He looked at her. He had to speak... did he even have a voice? He did. He just heard it, not seconds ago... 'Vax'ildan is dead.' The audible sentence wouldn't even form in his mind.
He had to see them. He had to visit a temple. He had to speak to Keyleth. He had so many things to do... maybe, at some point, he'll think about his pain, but not today. "Certainly, not today."
He got up. Allura helped him, although it was completely unnecessary. He also caressed her face. "Lady Allura, my dearest friend... I despise the fact that you are still here right now, yet I must thank you from all my heart that you are. Thank you for being the one who told me. It means the world to me. That it was you. Here, in my home and not anyone else... anywhere else. I am going to Whitestone. Are you going to accompany...?"
"There is no way you can even dream of it differently." She answered.
He knew he had to change for travel and he excused himself for a brief minute to change clothes. He thought just for a moment if his attire should be somber but immediately decided against it. He'd wear his best violet and golden traveling attire. When he moved the feather, he knew Vax had seen too much darkness, he wouldn't want to see him in mourner's clothes. Let the feather reside in the most expensive, colorful fabric. He smiled.
Allura was waiting on the doorstep, and he observed that she had closed the window so that the curtain would stop blowing in the wind. He suddenly needed a bit of liquid down his throat so that he could find his proper voice. He went straight to the table, picked up the unfinished tea, holding the cup with his entire hand... and he realized:
"Lonely is the ring of a cold teacup"
He felt bitter but knew how to fix that. He opened the window and the curtain started blowing again in the wind. He looked at Allura. "Let them dance, my dear" he whispered and stepped outside. Magic carvings sealed the door. The cobblestone was the same as always, the street was the same, buildings – the same. But the air...
"It smells like... snow."