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We’re fucked. Need help. Regroup. Dungeon in cave about one mile north of meeting place. Very dangerous enemies, be careful. Literally gonna die. Please hurry.”

Barry stopped dead in his tracks as he received Lup’s message. He cursed, which prompted Davenport to halt and look up at him apprehensively.

The crew of the IPRE had split up on a mission—rarely a good idea. Barry with Davenport, Magnus with Merle and Lucretia, and Taako with Lup. They had gotten word about a group of very high level warlocks and wizards who had been messing around with some kind of powerful force. The team had gone out in search of the group in hopes that the ‘force’ was the Light of Creation. However, upon reaching the area that they had received intel on, they found there were three separate leads as to the mysterious group’s whereabouts.

Thankfully, those three areas were not very far from each other.

Barry quickly replied to Lup.

“Should be there in thirty minutes. Hold on until then.”

“What’s going on?” Davenport pressed.

“Lup and Taako are in trouble,” Barry explained, pivoting as he spoke to walk in the opposite direction. “We’ve got to head back, quickly.”

They took off, and after about fifteen minutes of running they ran into Lucretia, Merle, and Magnus.

Barry was disheartened to see that in the hour or so they had been split up, Lucretia and Magnus had been injured.

“We ran into one of the warlocks,” Magnus explained. “We didn’t fight. We took one hit and knew we couldn’t win. Lucretia put up a good shield and we ran.”

“Shit,” Barry grumbled. “That strong, huh?”

“All the more reason to get to the twins,” Davenport said. “If Lup says they’re in danger, it must be really bad. Let’s hurry.”

After another ten minutes of running, they found the cave Lup and Taako had been sent to investigate. They searched the perimeter for the entrance, anxious to get to their friends.

Barry heard Davenport utter the incantation for Detect Creature.

“There’s some kind of ward coating this place,” Davenport said. “We won’t be able to find them with magic.”

They turned a corner and saw two openings in the rock structure—two separate tunnels leading downward.

“Shit, there are two entrances,” Magnus griped.

“We have to split up again,” Davenport ordered. “We’ll take the right. Send us a message if you find them; we’ll do the same.”

The captain had not even finished his sentence before Magnus rushed into the left tunnel. Lucretia shook her head and followed him, with Merle in pursuit.

Barry and Davenport moved forward, swiftly and quietly, traversing the dungeon that had been built into the cave. There were plenty of doors and locks, but for now they stayed on the path of what seemed to be a hallway. Barry held out his hand and the soft yellow light of prestidigitation helped him to get a better look at his dimly lit surroundings.

The walls were graffitied with runes and necromancy sigils, very high level spells and arcane coding. Barry would have been absolutely thrilled by it all if he didn’t know his friends were in serious danger—and seeing these powerful writings only augmented his fear of Lup and Taako’s potential fates.

“I’ve tried Sending both of them a message,” Davenport said. “I haven’t heard back from either of them.”

That wasn’t a great sign. Messages from another person’s Sending spell could be answered without expending a spell slot. An ignored message usually indicated unconsciousness or worse.

Barry picked up the pace; running now as quietly as he could—though he figured if the enemy was still in the dungeon, they almost certainly knew by now that they had visitors.

They had to act quickly. Judging by the markings on the walls, this group was quite possibly too high a level for any of the IPRE to handle. Perhaps if the whole crew worked together, they could hold their own—but it would depend on how many arcanists the enemy group had.

Barry skidded to a halt, Davenport bumping into him as they turned a corner.

“Taako! Shit, Lup!” Barry exclaimed.

Taako was guarding Lup, who was lying motionless and bleeding out on the floor. Barry prayed she was just unconscious. Taako, too, was severely injured and only just barely managing to keep himself halfway up. He sat on his knees, nearly doubled over with one eye closed in pain—his wand pointed outward towards Barry and Davenport.

As soon as Taako saw Barry’s face, he lowered his wand in vague recognition.

Barry rushed forward and lowered himself down by them, with Davenport following suit.

“Can you walk?” Davenport questioned.

Barry examined Lup—she was still breathing, thank all the gods—but very much unconscious and injured to the point that Barry was afraid to try to move her at all. Her IPRE robe was folded under her head. Barry ripped a piece of cloth off of his shirt and pressed it against one of her wounds, trying to stop the bleeding.

Taako murmured something in between breaths, but Barry couldn’t quite make out what it was.

“I don’t wanna move her, Dav,” Barry said. “This isn’t the safest spot but I’m gonna Send a message to Merle and tell him to head over here.”

“Save your spell slots,” Davenport countered. “I’ll do it. Your magic packs more of a punch than mine. Hey, Taako—it’s okay now, we’re here. Lie down and save your strength, we’ve got you.”

Taako again whispered something barely audible, and Barry turned to get a better look at him.

It was miraculous that he was still conscious. His injuries were just about the same as Lup’s—Barry guessed that Lup had simply been hit first and had more time to bleed out. What stood out, however, was something about Taako’s eye. It was hard to tell in the low lighting, and Barry’s eyesight wasn’t that great to begin with, but Taako’s eye seemed to almost be clouded over.

Taako’s breathing was ragged, and his body faltered slightly as he tried to speak again. He struggled to push himself up more as he looked at Barry, perturbed, and quietly said something in between harsh breaths that Barry could not understand.

Boe de nestad.”

“Lie down, Taako, it’s okay,” Davenport soothed, a hand on his shoulder. “Rest.”

Taako began to cough and doubled over in pain. One hand covered his mouth, and the other gripped at a wound near his heart that Barry hadn’t even noticed. Barry froze in fear as Taako coughed out blood. Davenport rubbed his back, his face creased with worry, and tried to gently guide him down—but Taako weakly batted his hand away.

Nîdh, nîdh…” Taako coughed a few more times and tried to catch his breath. “Prestad. Lup.

“I can’t understand him at all,” Barry said, looking to Davenport. “Think he’s delirious?”

“He’s mumbling, I can’t quite make it out, but,” Davenport spoke slowly, trying to think. “I think he’s speaking Elvish.”

“Huh?” Barry was taken aback.

De…nathathog,” Taako whispered.

“In fifteen years, I’ve literally never heard either of them speak Elvish before,” Barry shook his head. “What the hell’s going on?”

“I’ve heard them use it when the rest of us weren’t around a couple of times,” Davenport shrugged. “He must not be thinking straight. Taako, Ú-bedin edhellen, we don’t speak Elvish. Can you try Common?”

Taako deflated. He looked up at Davenport and blinked, searching his face with exasperation.

 “Shit,” Barry cursed. “You don’t speak Elvish either?”

“Not really. Just a few phrases. Lucretia does, though,” Davenport noted. “And actually I think Magnus does, too.”

Barry reluctantly let go of Lup, and motioned for Davenport to switch with him. He obliged, putting pressure on one of Lup’s injuries while Barry drew in closer to Taako.

“C’mon, Taako,” Barry comforted, guiding Taako’s body downward.

Man—” Taako coughed, covering his mouth and wincing as he did so. Blood trickled from his mouth down his chin, and his exhaustion began to overcome him. “Nîdh…man cerig? Lup…prestad…”

Barry had Taako lying down with his head in his lap, against Taako’s apparent protests.

“Lup’s gonna be okay, Taako,” Barry consoled softly. “Merle’s coming. He’ll be here in a few minutes, they weren’t too far behind us. Try to relax, you’re hurt.”

Taako seemed at least to understand “Merle” and the name’s implications. He looked somewhat relieved, though still disturbed by something he could not seem to communicate. He struggled to keep his eyes open, and now that Barry was closer he could tell there was definitely something strange about them.

“Dav, his eyes are all clouded,” Barry said. “Any ideas?”

Davenport looked over apprehensively. “Shit,” he started. “Hope he wasn’t blinded by something.”

Barry ripped off another piece of cloth and put pressure on the wound in Taako’s chest. Taako’s ragged breathing grew weaker, and his eyelids fell shut.

Before Taako passed out he spoke again, almost inaudibly: “Prestad.”

Barry swallowed hard, his heart racing with anxiety. Normally he would be begging Taako to stay awake, to not let himself black out—but he figured with Merle coming it didn’t really matter, there was no sense in letting him suffer if he didn’t need to.

“I wonder if he got charmed or something,” Barry mused.

“Elves have fey ancestry,” Davenport clarified. “They can’t be charmed. Whatever it is, hopefully it’s nothing our cleric can’t fix.”

Barry looked over the twins’ wounds a little closer.

“Whatever this was really did a number on them,” he said quietly. “This is…really bad.”

“Yeah, Merle better have spell slots left or we’re fucked.”

Both Taako and Lup were incredibly powerful wizards—but for the life of them, neither could take a hit. It usually wasn’t a problem, as they would tend to strike first and knock things out in one hit, or Magnus or would throw himself in front of them before they got hit. Whenever they went off on their own, it was always a gamble. Still, Barry wasn’t sure he had ever seen them hurt quite this badly before. He hoped they wouldn’t die in the time it would take Merle to catch up.

They waited anxiously in silence for a little while before the captain spoke again.

“Shit, shit, shit, shit,” Davenport chanted in a panic, suddenly placing both hands over Lup’s heart. “C’mon, Lup, hang in there. Just a few more minutes.”

Barry felt his blood run cold, but was relieved to hear the cluttered sound of footsteps approaching.

“Merle, thank god, quickly—” Davenport ordered, backing off from Lup.

Merle hurried forward and practically slid on his knees into Lup without hesitation. He pulled out his holy symbol and spoke an incantation as Lucretia and Magnus trailed behind him. Their own injuries were apparently slowing them down now, but they were still standing. Merle continued to speak and motioned with his head for them to come closer.

White light bloomed from Merle’s book and curled around the room, spreading out into the hearts of all seven of them. The light warmed Barry and felt invigorating, but he hadn’t been hurt so it didn’t do much else for him.

He looked over his shoulder, relieved to see Lup stir as the gashes all over her body began to knit themselves closed.

Barry felt Taako’s head move slightly in his lap, so he brought his attention back to him.

Taako’s eyelids clenched tighter before slowly opening—his eyes still clouded with something. They closed again briefly as his injuries healed, and when they reopened they were back to normal, cleared of whatever magic had been there.

Taako draped his arm over his face, and buried his eyes its crook.

Barry wanted to say something, but could tell both twins were still in immense pain. He gave them a few moments to collect themselves.

“I’ll cast another,” Merle assured. “I just need a few minutes to prepare it.”

“Thanks,” Lup murmured. “Ah…fuck…that hurt.”

Taako’s wounds were still gruesome. Barry brought the cloth back and resumed putting pressure on his chest injury. Taako winced at the sensation, but to Barry’s surprise he did not protest. He did not have the energy.

Barry gave him a few more moments to adjust before speaking.

“Hey, Taako,” he said quietly. “Can you, uh…can you understand me?”

Taako peaked out from under his arm, taken aback and dazed.

“Yeah?” He said incredulously. “Why wouldn’t I?”

Barry breathed a sigh of relief, and gave a little smile in spite of his worry.

“You were speaking Elvish before you passed out,” Davenport said. “It didn’t seem like you understood Common at all, actually.”

Taako tore his eyes away from Barry, looking down in confusion.

“I don’t—really? That’s…weird.”

“You got hit with Feeblemind, broski,” Lup muttered. “Right before I beefed it.”

Barry’s eyes widened in shock, his jaw dropped.

Feeblemind?” Magnus repeated, fishing for clarification.

“It’s a crazy powerful spell,” Davenport explained. “I thought elves can’t be charmed?”

“’S not a charm,” Lup slurred. “S’an enchantment…ugh, fuck…works different.”

“But—you’re not supposed to be able to communicate at all if you get hit with that,” Barry said.

“Taako’s a pretty smart guy,” Lucretia noted. “He probably would have saved if he hadn’t been hurt so badly. You got lucky. That could have been a lot worse.”

“How you feeling, buddy?” Merle asked, charging up a spell with his bible.

“Not…great…m’dude.” Taako’s voice was hoarse, and his speech quickly gave way to another coughing fit. Barry moved his hand off of Taako’s chest to give him some space, but bit his lip when he saw that his friend had coughed out blood again. Taako’s hand dropped from his mouth and rested on his chest, his eyes closed and his head fell slightly to the side.

“Hey, hey, Taako,” Barry pleaded as calmly as he could. He gently placed a hand on his head. “Still with us?”

Taako didn’t answer. His ragged breaths had become steadier—if Barry didn’t know it was impossible, he would have thought Taako was sleeping.

Lucretia pursed her lips and drew in closer, lowering herself down next to them.

“A spell that strong would take a lot of healing, even if his body didn’t take any damage.” Lucretia said.

“He’ll be alright,” Merle said. “Let him rest for now. I’m almost charged up.”

“It’s really incredible he was still able to speak under Feeblemind,” Lucretia mused. “Could he get full sentences out? Or just words?”

“Uh…well neither of us speak Elvish,” Davenport admitted. “I think it was just words. I caught…prestad?

Lup’s ears perked, her brow furrowed in thought.

Prestad?” Lucretia repeated. “Means ‘trouble.’”

“Makes sense,” Davenport said. “He was really worried about Lup. He calmed down when we said Merle was coming, so I guess he understood that part. Could have been a little more worried about himself, though. Looks like you’re both equally bad off.”

“This one’s the worst,” Barry pointed at the wound in Taako’s chest. “Looks like it barely missed his heart. Must have got a lung, though. He keeps coughing out blood.”

“These guys were…not fucking around,” Lup stammered, her condition worsening again as her remaining wounds continued to bleed. “Arcane Sword…we were back to back…it ran through both of us.” She weakly lifted her hand and placed it over a wound on her chest that mirrored Taako’s. “We…didn’t kill them…” As she spoke, she evidently began to remember events of the battle, and she grew panicked. “Prestad! Fuck, we…we can’t stay here. We…didn’t kill them.”

Davenport rose and pulled out his wand, facing down the tunnel with determination.

“Do they have the Light?” He asked.

“Yeah,” Lup replied, weary.

“Fightin’s not a good idea right now, Cap’n,” Merle warned. “We’ve all used a lotta spell slots already. And I don’t think I can get them back to good health without using the rest of mine.”

Davenport nodded.

“Just get them up and moving and we’ll get out of here,” Davenport commanded. “We’ll come back another day. All together.”

Merle spoke another incantation and healing magic again flowed into Taako’s and Lup’s bodies. Their wounds closed more, and though they still looked grisly they were no longer in danger of dying.

Taako sat up, cradling his head in his hands. Lup, too, brought herself to her knees and sat back on them, rubbing her eyes.

Now that he was up, Barry could see that the stab wound on Taako’s chest did in fact go all the way through his body—the injury was smaller in diameter now but very much still open, blood seeped slowly into his torn shirt from the exit wound on his back.

“Take a second to breathe,” Magnus said. “But then we gotta go. We’re definitely gonna be in trouble if we run into anyone.”

Taako shook his head slightly, then said: “Lup?”

“Yeah?”

“…Nothing.”

Lup smiled and tried to stand. Magnus went over and helped her up, then kept her steady with his arm wrapped around her.

“How are you feeling?” Lucretia questioned Taako.

“…Fuzzy,” Taako muttered.

“I bet,” Lucretia replied.

“That should go away once you get a good rest in,” Merle said. “Bear with it, for now. I don’t wanna cast anything else until we’re definitely safe.”

Barry stood and offered Taako a hand. He helped him to his feet, then slung Taako’s arm over his shoulder to support him. Taako leaned into him more than he ever had on the rare occasion when Barry had to help him walk—Barry felt his friend’s body trembling, and he wondered if he was really okay to travel. He looked back at Lup, supported by Magnus, and saw that her condition was now only slightly better than her brother’s. 

As the team walked, Barry tried to keep Taako talking—but his answers were one-worded and slurred.

They made it out of the dungeon without encountering the warlocks. Once they were a safe distance from the cave, Lup tried to lighten the mood in spite of her pain.

“So…you don’t speak Elvish, huh?” Lup asked Barry, voice shaking slightly. “Surprised.”

“Not really. Dwarvish, Halfling, and Infernal. I know a couple of Elvish words, but—”

“Barry Bluejeans, you do not speak fucking Infernal.”

“I do.”

Lup laughed, cringing slightly as she did. “Of course you do,” she shook her head, amused. “Well…we’ve got nothing but time on our hands. We can teach you Elvish, if you want.”

Barry blushed slightly, happy to take any opportunity to spend more time with Lup.

“Yeah, that…that sounds nice,” Barry smiled. “Y’know, it sounds silly but I didn’t even think about you guys speaking Elvish. Do you use it when we’re not around?”

“Not really,” Taako mumbled.

“Now and then,” Lup replied, out of breath. “But even when we were kids…ow, fuck…we mostly spoke Common.”

Lup paused a moment to press down on a gash on her abdomen, closing her eyes in pain. Magnus stopped for a moment to allow her to take a short breather before they continued.

“Mmph…I don’t think either of us would just revert to Elvish randomly…that was all Feeblemind.”

“Again, you got lucky,” Lucretia said. “Hanging in there, Taako?”

“…M’fine.”

Barry got a good look at Taako’s face and saw that he was still fighting to just stay conscious.

Lup’s façade of cheer faltered briefly. She shook her head.

“Gods. That was scary,” she admitted, voice quivering. “That was…definitely the closest we’ve ever come to kicking it.”

Barry felt Taako’s body tense.

“I guess it doesn’t really matter anymore if we die or not,” Lup reflected. “Silly to be scared, huh?”

“Not silly at all,” Davenport reassured.

“We’re almost home,” Merle said. “We’ll get you back on the ship, I’ll heal you up real good, and then you can take a good long rest.”

The rest of the walk was spent in silence.

When they arrived back on the ship, Merle used the last of his spell slots to heal Lup and Taako more—but their condition was still less than ideal. Barry and Lucretia helped them to dress the rest of their wounds, then guided them back to their cabins to rest.

When Taako realized that they were being led in different directions, he froze and looked back at Lup with something Barry could not quite place—something along the lines of reluctance and desperation.

Lup took the hint, equally wary to separate. “Actually, we’ll, uh…I’m gonna chill in Taako’s room.”

So Lucretia brought her into Taako’s room with him and helped her sit down on the bed before heading off. Barry guided Taako to his place, but hesitated to leave.

Taako fished for Lup’s hand, then laid back on the bed and closed his eyes without a word. Lup gave him a sympathetic glance before locking eyes with Barry, concerned.

It was very unlike Taako to be so vulnerable in front of others. He had grown closer to Barry, yes, but even in front of him this was very out of the ordinary. Feeblemind had clearly done a number on him.

“We’ll be alright, Barr,” Lup promised. “See you in the morning.”

Barry nodded. “I’m gonna check in on you later,” he said. “Don’t mind me. But, uh, speak up if you need anything.”

Lup nodded and leaned back, and instantly Taako cuddled in closer to her. She pet his hair before giving one last look at Barry, a sad but reassuring smile to confirm he should give them some space.

With that, Barry flicked off the light switch and went back to his own room.

The next morning, it was almost as if nothing had happened. Both Taako and Lup were back to their spunky, snarky selves. They didn’t bring up their battle again, and no one pressed them for details. Lup did, however, remind Barry that he was welcome to Elvish lessons whenever he wanted—much to Barry’s delight.