Today was simply not a good day for the members of Vox Machina. A short and brief journey across the plains of Tal'Dorei had morphed into a long and tedious trip. There had been a number of raised voices and a handful of spells had been slugged carelessly around the tense camp. Strained with a mass of silent tension, the quick teleport back home after collecting their gold would've been welcomed, if it hadn't been for the lingering anger at the stubbornness of the council. The soaking wet and muddy clothes didn't help much either.
Vax huffs in disgust as he stares at the dark mud he's tramped from his place midway up the tower stairs. He turns and frowns out the window he's stopped at and there are signs of the once torrential mid-morning rain easing up into to a light afternoon drizzle that's likely to clear completely in the evening.
He shakes his head, feeling his drenched dark hair slide about around his shoulders. There's a twinge of guilt as he continues up the stairs, for the mess they've all left for the maid Laina to clean. His fur hood is soaked and his head is a frustrated mess. Keyleth's words are still bouncing around in his head from earlier as he shoves the door open to his room and slams it shut behind him.
He knows that these bottled feelings had to have come out at some point. It just happened that everyone was feeling a similar level of frustration with the slow processing of evidence from Whitestone. Which had turned into people yelling at some and others simply refusing to say anything at all. Vax was somewhere in the middle of both.
Despite all that has happened, the fact that they, or rather Grog, had quite literally brought back the heads of Lord and Lady Briarwood as evidence, the council was still fussing over details, including what to do with Whitestone itself. So they had sent them on this mission in a bid for time.
After returning from said mission, Percy had immediately excused himself and had headed down to his workshop and most likely wouldn't be seen until much later, furiously crafting at devices for the remaining targets of his past.
Vex, his twin, had strode out, head covered by her hood but held high as she moved towards the target range in their courtyard out front and Trinket, her bear companion, had shaken off part of the mud coating him onto the main foyer's floor and headed out with her. Vax assumed she was still out there, and didn't particularly feel the need to see her just yet. She was angry at him too.
Tiberius, who had almost inexplicably vanished back to the keep during their expedition to Whitestone shortly after they had set off, was in a frustrated set of mind. He hadn't been bothered by the mud much and had almost happily brought it into his arcane laboratory, where he locked himself in to study. He was one of the few people that had enjoyed the weather. But he was distressed by the shouting and after a few too many failed attempts at diffusing the situation he had withdrawn with an irritated huff.
Grog and Scanlan were mostly fine. Grog had gotten to smash some skulls and Scanlan was somewhat normal throughout the miserable adventure. Vax is fairly certain they were currently eating in the dining chamber as normal.
He twists his way out of wet clothes and hangs them up to dry by the window. The rain has already stopped, and the sun was starting to peek out of the clouds. Vax could feel the temperature of his room start to warm immediately. With a bit of luck, his clothes should be dry by the beginning of the evening.
Except that Vax wasn't feeling all that lucky today. There had been more than a few close calls to his life today and both his twin and Keyleth had a lot of things to say about that. Keyleth. Vax wasn't really up to thinking about Keyleth so soon. She'd been heading out back towards her garden to tend it when he'd last seen her, mud and all.
He prods the little scabs on his neck, courtesy of Lord Briarwood a few weeks back. They were almost gone, but the tiny scars that he'd been left with had itched throughout the day. He rubbed at them as he pulled on a spare tunic.
He dozes on his bed for a while but there's no dreams for him except those filled with sharp fanged individuals and bored councilmen. He doesn't really want to sleep yet anyway.
Time passes and his clothes are now dry from the quite warm sun. He pulls his gear on and tries to ignore the start of a headache. No one has come to check up on him, and that's fine. He's not in the mood to talk to anyone from Vox Machina at the moment.
He decides to spend the remainder of the afternoon sharpening his daggers which was normally soothing for him. But today he was too edgy to enjoy it. As the small grindstone slipped out of his trembling fingers for the third time on the first dagger, Vax made a choice.
Picking up the stone from the floor, he kneels down and opens the large wooden chest in front of his bed. After a brief scuffle through the objects he's collected over the years, he pulls out the slightly dusty old bag he 'acquired' in his younger years travelling around and in cities. It's looking a little ragged but it will have to do. He returns the grindstone inside the chest and closes it. In a spur of movement, Vax is going around his room, stuffing small necessaries into the bag; hairbrush, spare daggers and light-grey linen pants. Vax's mind is in a bit of a haze as he hoisters the dark grey bag over his shoulder.
He slips out the door quietly and swiftly descends the stairs back to the first floor. The mud from earlier afternoon has been completely removed and Vax silently thanks Laina's quick work for that.
Vax glances in as he passes by the outside of dining chamber, where he can hear Scanlan practising his flute just beyond his vision for Grog. The goliath appears to have several large plates of roast boar in front of him and is enthusiastically shovelling large chucks of meat into his mouth. He's still covered in blood and mud, both of which appear to have combined, but he knows Grog doesn't mind in the slightest.
The door to the arcane lab appears to be locked tight and Vax has no urge to knock as he goes by. He's also fairly certain that Keyleth's had some words with Tiberius through the door as well, so it's for the best if Vax lets him be.
He hears the muffled sound of a hammer as he passes the armoury and heads into the main foyer. It's empty and Vax strides out the large, open front doors of the keep without a problem.
Outside, the air is still warm and the clouds have all but dispersed. Vax starts to walk down the path, already feeling better as his headache alleviates in the fresh air. A little ways off, he can spy Vex firing arrow after furious arrow into a target dummy some distance from her. As she strides angrily up to collect her ammunition, Vax notices Trinket is currently resting on the grassy ground chewing on what appears to be a head of another dummy. What's left of the body has straw tumbling out of vicious claw marks and Vax decides that it's for the best not to bother either of them.
Vax continues on the gravel path towards the large front gate of the keep. The sound of his sister and her companion now far behind him, he can make out the outline of the two guards keeping watch. One gives a passing nod to Vax while hefting his crossbow up higher and the other calls out and motions for the gate to be opened. There's a grinding of large gears and the gate starts to open up towards the inside. Before it's managed to open halfway, Vax slips through, eager to continue walking. Raising a hand to the guards behind him, he half listens as the gears begin to crank again as he steps onto the cobblestone pavement of Emon.
As he walks, the sun starts to bathe the clustered buildings on the sides of the streets in its gold light as it sets. Residents, families and singles alike, begin to turn on the lamps inside their cosy homes. The gentle murmuring of voices quieten around him as Vax finds himself strolling around the Central District.
He watches owners lock up their shops for the night and some of the two storied buildings light up on the second floors. Occasionally he passes by inns, with their welcoming atmosphere and the dull to loud chatter of townsfolk and travellers alike inside, sharing stories and drinking ale inside. Sometimes there's an inn keeper sweeping or tidying the exterior and they begin to warmly invite Vax inside, but he shakes his head with a polite smile, content to stroll on further.
Vax's head is now considerably lighter as an evening breeze rustles through the area, and the effects of the dull pain in his head have all but vanished. The wind also carries a hint of spice with it and Vax follows it absently. There's an almost closed store selling bread, and Vax buys a roll to sate his hunger from missing dinner. He finishes it while passing a late night restaurant and flicks the remaining crumbs from his hands. The people there ignore him as they dine and chatter among themselves and Vax follows that the strangely familiar yet exotic scent further down the street.
There's a slight chill in the air as he rounds the next corner. Vax comes to a halt immediately as a recognisable, strikingly blue building comes into view. Even with the light turning the colours towards a duller shade of dark navy, it still manages to be quite noticeable between the more common brown and orange ones surrounding it. Vax can feel a grin creeping up his face as he strolls towards the draped entrance of the shop.
Vax pushes through the beaded curtains and steps into the long familiar shop of Gilmore's Glorious Goods.
It appears to be closing time for them as well. Devoid of any other potential customers; the glass cases in the centre of the store are now covered in a simple purple or blue cloth acting as a dust cover. The shelves against the walls are also covered in similar material. The ever-burning candles still flicker away in their places on the scones around the walls and there's a dim glow coming from the back of the store. It appears to Vax that all of the employees have headed to their respective homes for the evening.
Vax's instinct for finding cover calls him to crouch by some of the covered cases as he hears the quiet tinkling of beads. The light towards the back is briefly stronger and then dies down again as someone steps out into the main area from the back.
They make their way around the far side of the display cases, nearer to the shelves around the opposite side of where Vax is. They're heading towards the front of the store. In the low light that is still there, as Vax peers cautiously around, he can recognise the purple robes of Gilmore, the owner of the shop; his dear friend, who currently has his back turned, appearing not to have noticed Vax.
Gilmore stops and reaches into his side pocket and Vax can see he's pulled out a sturdy key. It's rather hard to tell, but Vax thinks it's the same gold colour that is also on the edges of Gilmore's robe.
Vax finds that despite it being just Gilmore, he can't call out to him, and quietly, still clinging to the cover he has, he moves back silently to the far shelf on the wall, where he's furthest from the front door.
He hears the double door close and the click of a lock. Vax has to fight the uncomfortable squirm that falls upon him to move again as he notes that the small lights from the candles on the walls are going out one by one, in the direction that Vax can hear Gilmore's footsteps walking in. Vax creeps in the direction Gilmore has gone back in cautiously, and peers around the last row of shelves he's still hidden behind.
The last candle that is on the wall has now gone out. The only source of light remaining is behind the set of beaded curtains that Gilmore had come through. As the man turns to push through the curtains, Vax can no longer keep quiet.
"Gilmore!" he calls out as he stands upright and takes a step away from his hiding spot. Gilmore spins around, half covered by the desk he's behind, instinctually summoning fiery sparks into his now raised hand.
For the briefest of moments, Vax feels like he's standing in his own pocket of time.
Gilmore, normally seen and known as a jovial sort, looks fearsome. His thick black hair and little braided goatee shines in the shimmering orange glow. Normally sparkling blue eyes are tightened with focus and his mouth is pulled into a thin line. Vax remembers that while Gilmore is now a merchant based in the city of Emon, there likely was a time where he also travelled the world, going on adventures and fighting with his arcane skills as a wizard.
Vax raises his hands in surrender and says, "Sorry, it's just me. Didn't mean to startle you Gilmore."
A look of surprise crosses Gilmore's handsome face.
"Vax? Is that you?" asks Gilmore as the hand that is sifting flames around it lowers a little. Vax takes a couple of steps towards him, hands still up. Gilmore's surprised expression morphs into a pleased yet still slightly bemused one and Vax feels his heart start to slow down again.
"Yup, just good old Vax." Vax takes a slightly nervous breath to try and shake the little tremble he's still feeling.
"Why, Vax'ildan! Hasn't anyone warned you about sneaking into shops at night?" chuckles Gilmore, the flames now growing smaller as Gilmore's fingers curl inwards towards his palm. Vax gives a sheepish grin.
"Sorry," Vax couldn't help but allow the grin to curl a little more crooked on his face as he added "Thought you'd welcome me anytime."
"And I most certainly do!" stressed Gilmore having caught the look Vax had given him, "A little more notice when you enter however, might save any unneeded troubles though." he pointed out while smiling coyly back as he snuffed the flames out from his hand.
"Please, come through!" he said, gesturing towards the backlit purple drapes just behind him. Gilmore steps through the drapes and Vax follows behind him, catching the still clinking beads and shoulders his way through.
The back room, which Vax had been in once before, was also Gilmore's room.
It's medium sized, only a little bigger than Vax's room back in Greyskull Keep. In the centre of the room is a light purple rug which Vax recalls is concealing a teleportation sigil that Gilmore uses to return to his main store instantly. There's a single bed tucked away in the corner with a tiny bedside table beside it. There's also a slightly extravagant wardrobe that Vax hadn't seen on his last visit, propped up on the opposite wall from the bed. The light appears to have been coming from a couple of candles that continue to flicker in their scones on the walls.
Vax steps onto the rug and watches Gilmore rummage in the slightly larger-than-average wardrobe, muttering to himself.
He partially pulls out what appears to be a large wooden table with no apparent legs.
'How'd that fit in there?' Vax wonders as Gilmore seemingly conjures his wand from the air, and taps it once on the wood he's holding. Vax watches as Gilmore, still murmuring under his breath, pulls the wood out fully from the wardrobe and flips it horizontally, as if it's weightless. Another tap of the wand, and Gilmore releases it, motioning with his now free hand towards Vax, and it floats over, stopping to rest roughly at waist height.
"A magic table?" asks Vax, prodding it cautiously with a finger. It seems solid enough.
Gilmore glances over at him with a grin, seemingly finished with his incantation. "Hm-hm, not quite. Merely a small spell of telekinesis. Quite handy at times. Certainly makes it easier to pack away everything afterwards. The legs are folded underneath."
He's also pulled two small wooden chairs and was heading towards Vax. Vax takes the one Gilmore's holding out to him and sets it down.
There's a moment's pause while Vax peers under the table and tugs at the folded wood tucked in at the side to face the ground and it gently lands on the rug. As Vax pulls himself back up into a sitting position, he sees that Gilmore has placed an intricately designed bottle on the table, and has set a goblet in front of each of them.
Vax glances up, surprised, and Gilmore merely smiles. "Seems like something is on your mind." He gestures to the bag that Vax is still wearing on his shoulder. Vax huffs with a grin, and unshoulders it, setting it on the floor beside him. "I figured that a drink might be necessary." He taps the bottle with his wand, and the cork pops out quietly.
Vax hesitates for the briefest of moments before sliding his goblet towards the bottle. "Please."
It's quiet in the room as Gilmore pours. Vax sits down after he accepts the goblet, and sighs into it.
"...My week hasn't been good. It's been long and...well, painful." Vax takes a sip to prepare himself for the retelling. It's quite sweet, and has a pinch of some sort of exotic berry flavouring to it. He likes it.
Gilmore joins him and nods as he pours himself a cup, and sets the bottle down in the middle, waiting quietly for Vax to continue.
Vax leans back against the chair he's in. With the occasional pause to sip his wine, he slowly fills Gilmore in on the situation, starting with the events that occurred at the council dinner with the Briarwoods, the long and arduous trip up to Whitestone to clear their names to the rather painful townsfolk mission they had taken on a day ago. Gilmore was mostly quiet during the telling, but as Vax spoke of his knee-jerk reaction of breaking and entering into the room of the Briarwoods at the castle, Vax caught the furrowed and concerned brow that was directed at him.
He took a slightly larger drink after that.
He found his voice had been rising in anger as he spoke of Uriel, who had refused to listen to them concerning their actions from that night on the following morning, and had revoked their membership into the Cloud district and had placed them on probation. He took a deep breath to steady himself.
He spoke of how Seeker Assum had come to them, offering ideas of how this problem could be worked on. How they had decided to journey to Whitestone to bring back physical proof that the Briarwoods were malicious creatures, instead of the friendly folk that they claimed to be.
The events of Whitestone felt still far to fresh for him, but he ploughed on anyway. He spoke of how troubling that trip had truly been for many members of Vox Machina, for their own various reasons.
They had headed back to Greyskull keep after their council meeting with their fresh proof and were given a small job to pass the time, while the council inferred amongst themselves for a while. They would be summoned back to discuss any further inquires.
"And that job went to shit." Vax was slowly twirling the edge of his goblet on the table in small circles with a finger. It was almost empty. He let the goblet stand and ran a hand across his hair, while the other hand had been holding up his face by resting under his chin.
"That...sounds like quite the ordeal, Vax." Vax wasn't sure how long he'd been talking, but the bottle was nearing half empty. Gilmore had topped both of their goblets up halfway through.
Vax nods tiredly. "And if that wasn't enough..." he started, and paused to think about what he was going to say. "...There's a rather high stress level in our group at the moment. I think some of us thought that maybe, this little mission might help that stress to go down, but..." Vax half-heartedly shrugs.
"It didn't work out so well." Gilmore finished for him, and Vax responded with another nod.
"I needed to...I don't know, have a bit of space. Some quiet time, maybe? And I couldn't do that in the keep. " He motions to the bag on the side of him, "So I stuffed some things into a bag and headed out for the night. You know, stay at an inn and return in the morning, or something." Vax shuts his eyes and takes a moment to breathe the spice in the air around him, "But, here I am. In your shop. After hours..." The goblet now most certainly empty, Vax glances away from Gilmore as he opens his eyes, feeling slightly flushed. Perhaps that last thing could've been left unsaid.
Gilmore seemed intent on investigating further into Vax's previous line of thoughts however.
"And are you terribly upset with anyone of Vox Machina at the moment Vax?" Gilmore asked, his hands folded over on the table. Vax glances over at him and sees the concern in his eyes.
"Not...Not exactly." Vax returns to spinning the goblet with his finger. "It's more...complicated." Vax manages to see Gilmore nod in front of him, "I'm not angry at anyone per say, but..." Vax lets out a quiet sigh. "...Things happened." Vax was tempted to leave it there, but he trusted Gilmore. He could keep a secret.
"I, uh, may have..." He stops spinning again and starts picking at the edge of the cup with his fingers, "...grown fond of...a certain person during the last couple of weeks." He shook his head in slight disbelief. "And...things went poorly. They got angry at a lot of things, myself included, which was probably justified if I'm being honest." He kept his gaze directed at the goblet in front of him.
"I...thought that maybe, once things were calmer, I...might talk to them about...well..." he gestured to himself, "what I was feeling about them." His hands stilled and he placed them on the table. The next words he said were much quieter. "In short, they said they saw me as a friend and I was like a brother to them, but nothing more."
Gilmore silently picked up the bottle and refilled Vax's goblet for the third time that evening. He accepted it with a nod. "And then, they had a shouting match with someone else that almost got out of hand, which ended up setting a few more people off, which brought me to the conclusion that I needed to be somewhere else tonight." Vax took a large gulp of wine. "Besides that, no, I'm not upset or angry with anyone." He let out a ghost of a chuckle and sat the cup down again.
When Vax finally looked over towards Gilmore he saw that he'd shut his eyes and had steepled his fingers together in thought.
"There are many people you'll meet in this world Vax. There will be people who frustrate you, people who you'll want to be friends with and people," Gilmore's blue eyes opened and Vax found himself breathing in sharply at what he saw, "Who you'll most certainly become fond of, and perhaps, they of you." Vax feels like Gilmore is trying to work his words into Vax's very being, "Those people you will want to trust with your life, your heart and your soul. People who, may or may not return those particularly strong feelings in their entirety, but perhaps as a brother, or as a very dear friend." Gilmore leans towards Vax and there's a deep shadow in his eyes. Something haunting. "Hold onto those people Vax. Hold onto those feelings. Both are precious."
Vax has to remember to keep breathing. Gilmore's shoulder seem to droop down a little as he returns to his previous position in the chair. As Vax watches Gilmore raise a tired hand to rub his forehead, he is filled with an uncomfortable amount of shame.
"I...yes." Vax leans forward as far as he can, and catches the hand that's still on the table. Gilmore looks over at him, partially obscured by the other hand that's still splayed across his face.
"I think I can do that." He squeezes the hand hard, still trying to get his head around just how entirely serious Gilmore had been with him just then. Gilmore places his other hand on top of Vax's and holds it tightly. His eyes are looking much warmer, but still fairly serious.
"I know you can, Vax." It was strange to hear someone say that they believed in him. It wasn't strange when Vex or Tiberius or even Scanlan said it occasionally to him. They'd been through adventures that would've costed them their lives if trust wasn't there. But to hear it from someone else, someone that Vax felt...connected to on a rather strong level...
Vax felt heat rise up around his neck, and did his best to hold Gilmore's steady gaze.
"Thank yuuuh--"Vax covers his mouth with the back of his free hand in a futile attempt to stop the yawn escaping. He was slightly overwhelmed by how suddenly tired he felt. Except it had been during the middle of a serious conversation and he immediately went to apologise. Gilmore smiled warmly and shook his head.
"Bedtime, I think." Vax sleepily nods his head, and it's an effort not to let his head simply rest on the table.
"It's been a long day for you. Longer then you originally intended, I believe." Vax feels a firm yet gentle grip on his arm tug him upwards, and is steadily guided to sit on the edge of the single bed in the room.
"What about you, though? This is your bed isn't it?" mumbles Vax, speaking to the top of Gilmore's head as he kneels to tug off Vax's long boots. He tries to help, but the wine has slowed him down quite a bit. Gilmore placed the boots over against the wall, just beside the little bedside table with a lit candle on it.
"You need a proper rest, Vax. Least I can do is keep you comfortable."
"Oh, well..." Practised hands begin to unbuckle one of the two silver clasps that hold the hooded cape up. One is undone and partially pushed over the back of his shoulder and Vax blurts out a thought as Gilmore works on the second one.
"Why don't you just sleep with me?" Gilmore's hands still and Vax immediately stumbles over his words while mentally berating himself for the slip. "Beside me, I mean. It could work. I don't mind --" Vax stops midway and feels faintly mortified with himself as Gilmore's shoulders shake with his low chuckling. Vax reaches out and swats at him lightly, feeling his face turn red.
"I know what you mean, Vax." Gilmore raises a hand to try and smooth out the large smile he has, "It could work, it just might be a little cramped though." The other hand has unclasped the remaining buckle and Vax shrugs off his cape, grinning as he does. Gilmore plucks up the cape and moves to hang it over the back of one of the chairs still set up and Vax removes his gloves, setting them on the little table.
"That's fine. Makes it nice and cosy." He manages to catch the heated look that Gilmore gives him over his shoulder.
Vax pulls off the long black socks he has and flicks them in the general direction of his boots. He brings his feet up on the bed, hands resting behind his head. It's a fairly comfy bed, and Vax grins lazily as Gilmore turns and heads to the most likely enchanted wardrobe.
"You're being awfully suggestive at me, Vax'ildan." Vax would've been lying to himself if he said that his name hadn't sent a small tingle down his spine. He's left only wearing his blue tunic, black skivvy and red belt, but that doesn't seem to affect how warm he's feeling at the moment. Gilmore has opened the doors again and Vax is fairly certain the inside of wardrobe is actually roughly the size of the room he's in. Gilmore's back blocks the view, but Vax can still hear the sounds of drawers opening and closing as he searches.
"Ah, here they are..." Gilmore pulls out a deep purple pair of pants and closes the wardrobe doors.
Vax watches him turn back to the bed, and he removes a hand from behind his head and crooks a finger at him, silently calling him over. It's the second heated look he's gotten tonight from Gilmore, and Vax wonders what might happen if he were to try and go for a third.
"Vax..." Gilmore very nearly growls out his name and Vax finds that he quite enjoys it. Gilmore starts to walk towards the bed.
"Yes Gilmore?" Responds Vax innocently, keeping his eyes on Gilmore's, which have darkened again, but for a different reason this time. Gilmore is now standing beside Vax on the bed, looking down at him. There's a large hand beside his head that's against the headrest suddenly, and Vax does his utmost not to move from the suddenly constricted space. Gilmore's little braided goatee is faintly tickling his pointed ear as he leans down to whisper.
"Quite the tease tonight, aren't you?" Vax lets out a shaky breath, feeling the heat spread from his neck all the way up and across his face. He hadn't felt like this in a while.
"Just a tad." Vax swallows somewhat on instinct. He could feel Gilmore's breath on the side of his head. "Should I stop?" he can only just whisper back at him. It feels like his voice slipped away from him once Gilmore had partially enclosed on him.
"Well, that depends, doesn't it?" Vax moves his head a fraction to catch Gilmore's eyes again. They seem to smoulder in such a manner that causes Vax to forget what he'd been going to say.
Gilmore seems to search for something in Vax's eyes, before finally leaning back up, giving Vax some room to try and calm himself. "It might be in the interest of you getting some good sleep that you stop, Vax." His voice was still quite low, low enough to send a slightly longer shiver down Vax. He has a pretty good idea of what a not-so-good sleep would involve, and nods, if a tad shaky and tries to quell the urge to be even more reckless.
Gilmore turns and sits himself down on the edge of the bed, bending over to pull off his own boots. Vax takes a moment to take a deep breath in and out in order to collect himself. It was an interesting experience to say the least. Vax glances towards the robed back and blinks as Gilmore starts to tug at the collar of the robe. It loosens and starts to slip down and Vax, still flustered from what had just happened, rolls onto his stomach and faced the wall. He listens to the sounds of ruffling fabric for a little while as Gilmore changes, continuing to watch the wall in the hopes that the heat in his cheeks would lessen.
He felt the bed shift and Vax rolls back over. As Gilmore was leaning over again to neatly place his clothes beside both of their boots, Vax views Gilmore's bare back and his breath catches again.
There are marks and scars covering it.
There are a variety of small and medium ones. Some look like bite marks from animals, or possibly from the sharp spikes of traps. What Vax is mostly concerned about is that just below his left shoulder to his hip and expanding from the centre of his back seems to be a fairly widespread pinkish white patch of skin that hasn't seemed to have been healed properly.
In the dip of his back rising diagonally towards the same shoulder is an almost two-finger, possibly three, wide set of three scars. It almost looks like Gilmore's fought...
"A dragon?" muttered Vax, as he unthinkingly runs two fingers down the length of one of the scars, which he's almost certain are claw marks. Gilmore stiffens, which Vax doesn't entirely take notice of and is surprised when one of his hands comes around and catches his own, holding it a little away from him.
"Vax." There's a note of seriousness in Gilmore's voice again, and Vax peers up at him. Gilmore gives him a tired smile, "Please don't." There's a gentle squeeze of his hand and he lets go. Vax nodded in agreement, but had to ask about it anyway.
"Could you tell me what happened?" Vax inquires, and Gilmore, once again looks thoughtful.
"Well..." he pauses and watches Vax for a moment, slightly indecisive. He nods eventually though, and turns back away from Vax, his hands settling on his lap.
"This will need a little bit of context however. " He pauses again, and Vax is suddenly reminded of what he spoke to Gilmore of, not merely an hour or so ago. It felt like it had been years.
"I was once a part of a guild, Vax. One of the smaller guilds for magic users. I spent my time around books, learning what I could about my particular interests in the aspects of magic. And, as one does at a guild, you make friends. At the time I had a rather peaked interest in collecting artefacts from across the land."
"Sounds like someone else I know..."Vax murmurs, thinking about a particular red dragonborn in Vox Machina. Gilmore chuckled.
"It's a popular thing to do you know. Back then though, I was more interested in collecting then selling though, and quite a number of friends were also interested in that. And being a guild of magic, we were composed entirely of magic wielders. A cleric, two brother sorcerers, two warlocks, a druid and myself."
Vax lets out a low whistle. "That's impressive. And sounds kind of dangerous." Vax says with a grin, but Gilmore didn't see it with his head still turned away. He must've heard the grin in his voice, because he chuckles briefly.
"Similar to your own people of Vox Machina, actually. They all had their quirks and personalities." Gilmore takes a moment to gather himself.
"So we formed our own little group and, with permission from the headmaster, we headed off, in search of treasures spoken in riddles and ancient books, that hadn't been recorded as found by the guild."
"Did you find any?" Asks Vax, now with his arms folded across his stomach. He had never heard Gilmore talk about these past adventures before. Only what he had heard on whispers around the town about him, but even then it wasn't much to go on.
"Oh, we found plenty. Some were not as well kept as we had hoped. Some had been smashed, or had lost their power. Some had functions that were simply not spoken of. And some..." Gilmore seemed to lose himself in a memory, looking away from his hands and towards the wall. Vax could see his eyes move with a memory of some kind.
"Were not good artefacts at all. The disastrous sort. The kind that could summon entities for one-sided bargains against you." His voice had taken a bitter note, and Vax raised himself up on his elbow.
Gilmore answered Vax's question before he could ask it, "I didn't make any of those deals. I felt that it was far too dangerous. Most of my group agreed with me..." His voice trailed off and Vax felt his stomach plummet.
"But not everyone felt that way." Said Vax and Gilmore turned his head back to his hands and nodded.
"We hadn't noticed it, but one of our members had been growing in a great amount of strength. It had happened far too fast to have been natural, but too quick for us to understand that it was occurring either..." There was a silence as Gilmore seemed to struggle with something.
"We were on an expedition towards an old cave that was described by the townsfolk as mysterious at best. We had read about the mystical artefact it was said to contain much earlier on, it had been brought to our attention by one of the sorcerer brothers."
"...Our cleric was the first go. None of us made note of his disappearance. We were told that the preparations for his spells were taking some time and that he would join us later, and he was the sort who spent a great deal of time perfecting incantations and spells, to such a degree that he would boast about it in every town we visited." Gilmore sighed fondly.
"We didn't notice anything was off until our druid had also mysteriously vanished the day later...He left us a note explaining that he had to go back to the nearby town for supplies, but one of the warlocks was quite a note taker, who liked making sure she knew the actual excuses from the forged ones when it come to journeys like these. She immediately saw the note had been written by someone else's hand." Gilmore let out another, sadder sigh and Vax fought an urge to place his hand on his shoulder.
"We were told that there was little we could do, and that we should press on. The other warlock was certain that both our cleric and our druid were waiting for us back in the town. But I and the female warlock were not quite convinced, but it was turn around with only half the party left to explore or push onwards together. And being the rather proud people we are, we continued on into the cave itself, past the traps, through the rooms."
Gilmore seems to remember something and lets out a small laugh, "The two sorcerer brothers were the sort to play off their own power. If one worked in water, the other flowed electricity through it. Their combined strengths made facing the ancient creatures down there a breeze. Except there were times when they'd stop fighting foes and argue with each other on the middle of the battlefield." Gilmore chuckles fondly at the memory.
"Is that like anyone you know?" Gilmore turns his head towards Vax and he shrugs.
"We're not exactly like that...But I do occasionally pull pranks on one member of Vox Machina, does that count?"
"Well, they might've tried to pull pranks on each other in their younger years, but they'd grown out of that. Well, mostly, I think. " The expression of humour fades from Gilmore's face though and his eyes start to look shadowed in pain again.
"...One was crushed underneath a large boulder that had been sent flying our way. The other never fully recovered from that loss." The muscles jumps in Gilmore's shoulders as his hands ball into fists. Vax finds himself clutching the bed sheets in anger.
"I know how they might've felt, Gilmore. I don't like being forced to split from my sister either. But to think that she might..." Vax couldn't get the words out from his mouth and struggled with the images instead. There had been some close calls with the Briarwoods that Vax would rather never think about again anytime soon. Gilmore shifts one of his hands until it's lightly resting on Vax's arm in an unspoken form of comfort. Vax appreciates the warmth and tries to shake the images that are rising in his mind.
"It was around that time that the unconcerned warlock from before started to get close to him. They were whispering all the time. Perhaps it was words of comfort, but we never had a chance to find out. We were quite deep at this point and we were starting to see the inscriptions on the walls we had read about. We were close."
"After a final, brutal clash, almost losing one of our warlocks in the process, we found our artefact. Seemingly untouched, not dusty at all. Our confident warlock went to claim it..." Gilmore broke off and his hands moved to hold his face. Vax sat up, suddenly wary about where this story was going. After a moment, Gilmore spoke sounding quite detached.
"Before anything else could've happened, the living sorcerer brother brought up his staff and blasted the warlock beside me. The shockwave ripped her body into pieces and I took some damage as well. That boy had the vacant look of someone no longer in control of themselves, in someone else's holding."
Gilmore looked back up to the wall, no longer seeing it, but a scene only he could see from the past.
"The artefact had a summoning effect. A great dragon-like creature made of pure shadow had emerged from it, seemingly to be under the warlocks control. That creature's first action was to laugh and the second to devour the charmed sorcerer. He didn't even scream."
Gilmore half-turned to Vax, his eyes both sad and frustrated at the same time. And something in Vax's memory clicked. He'd known the pain in Gilmore's eyes before and dearly wished that it wasn't what he thought it was.
"This warlock had been my first friend in that guild. It was he who helped create our group, he was our unspoken leader. He..." And Gilmore seems to see the mix of pity and grief for him in Vax's eyes, and he lets out another sigh. In a much more sedated tone he continues, "He gave me this," and Gilmore twists himself around fully, and Vax can see the long, thin scar that runs right across the top of his right shoulder, "Because I refused to join him by his side that day."
Vax reaches out a hand and presses his fingers against it, rubbing his thumb lightly on the end. Gilmore's hand reaches up to grab it but Vax starts to draw away, suddenly mindful of what Gilmore asked him earlier. But Gilmore merely presses Vax's hand to the old scar and holds it there briefly, seeming to want the contact to be there. Vax quietly resumes his careful prodding.
"...I defeated him in a magic battle. But not before his dragon managed to melt part of my back and take a chuck of my skin in its claws..." he shudders, something so quite unlike Gilmore, that Vax wrapped his arms around him and pulled him close. He held him there for a while, until Vax felt the beating heart against his chest slow. One of Gilmore's hands was carefully holding him in place from the middle of his back.
"So this warlock's dead then?" Vax inquires quietly, and the hand on his back tightens. He feels Gilmore's head nod from his shoulder.
"Most definitely." Gilmore pulls gently away, and Vax allows his hands to slip back and rest lightly on Gilmore's shoulders. There's a tired but warm smile on his dear friend's face and still a hint of old sorrow in his eyes.
"And the artefact? Were you supposed to take it back to the guild?" Vax asked, keeping his voice on the same quiet level as he searches in Gilmore's eyes. He wasn't entirely sure how to help him. But he wanted to, in whatever way he could.
Gilmore thumbs the purple pants he's wearing with a faint frown.
"Technically I was. The aim was to increase the guild's understanding of all kinds of magic and suchlike. But something like that..." He breaks off and his mouth thins into a line, head shaking in irritation. "I tore it apart with my own telekinesis, then burned what was left." His eyes have turned icy in memory as he looks away, and Vax squeezes his shoulders, both the scarred and the non-scarred gently.
"I managed to perform a minor cure wounds on myself before I set about crafting a teleportation circle back to the guild." He releases a shaky breath, "I was still quite the mess. Covered in both my blood and my once friend's...I made my report back to the headmaster, dutifully recalling that my friends had been lost to me within the cave, and the artefact had been destroyed. The grief hit me later in the night back in what was once my shared room." Gilmore caresses one of Vax's wrists. Vax waits for Gilmore to finish before saying anything.
"After that, I never had the heart to go back on an expedition like that ever again. I kept to reading and eventually came to the decision that I might make a name for myself instead by selling rather than collecting artefacts among other things." He lifts his shoulders somewhat half-heartedly. "And here I am, several years later. Owner of Gilmore's Glorious Goods in Emon with a second branch nearing completion over in Westrun. Surrounded by interested customers and very good friends."
His hand shifts from Vax's wrist to the side of his face, ghosting his fingers across it. Vax tilts his head a fraction towards the touch, letting his eyes slide shut. He was starting to feel drowsy again, now that the story had been told.
"Thank you for telling me all this Gilmore," he manages to get out in a whisper, and Vax's hands fall back to his side on the bed. "That must've taken a lot out of you." The fingers on his cheek still and Vax lets out a near silent sigh.
"You've spoken of your own adventures in the past to me, Vax. I figured it was only fair I speak of some of my own in return..." There's a shuffle in front of him, and Vax feels a light pressure on the centre of his forehead. "Despite the years, it still feels painful to speak about." He can feel the movement of his mouth against his head as he mutters, almost to himself. Vax opened his eyes to see Gilmore leaning back and drawing himself more fully onto the bed. Vax was right about it being cosy with two people.
Vax stares at him for a moment in mute surprise before he settles down beside him, the left part of his body was lightly brushing against Gilmore's right. His forehead was tingling, and Vax told himself not to rub at it.
"Oh, yes...almost forgot..." Gilmore's pushed himself up once more, gazing at the table. Vax peers over him and watches as Gilmore holds his hand out towards it, chanting quietly again before lowering it gently. The legs fold back under and it descends between the chairs, one of which has Vax's cape resting over it, until it's resting on the floor. Vax can spy the bottle of wine from where he is, and there's a little bit left. Maybe enough for two drinks.
Another hand wave, and the candles braced against the wall go out, leaving the small flickering candle on the bedside remaining. Gilmore tugs out his hair tie and places it on the side table beside Vax's gloves. His thick black hair falls around his shoulders. Vax idly wonders what it might feel like to run his hand through it.
He lets himself fall back into the pillow as the last light winks out. There's a ruffle of fabric as Gilmore joins him. Vax wasn't sure if it was the sudden darkness that descended around them or the wine he could faintly taste still, but he found that his eyes were closing, and he felt the whisper of fingers lightly stroking his forehead, lulling him to sleep.
When Vax finds the strength to open his eyes again, the room is considerably brighter, not from the candles, but from daylight, stemming from the currently open curtains that leads to the shop. Vax sits up, rubbing sleep from his eyes. He's alone, but he can hear what sounds like running water from somewhere nearby.
He stands and stretches a little, glancing around him. He notices that Gilmore's boots and clothes from yesterday have been taken, while Vax's are lying where he mostly left them. He plucks the little hair tie from the table and slips it around his wrist impulsively. He pads over barefoot to the open curtains and peers around them through the doorway. The shop itself seems shut and locked still if the closed doors are any indicators. It's a little distant, but Vax can see outside from where he is currently. It seems that the world outside is still a hazy, there's a light dew on the windows, and the light outside is turning from a lightest blue to a gorgeous orange-gold, bathing houses in it. Sunrise in Emon.
There's a noise of a door opening somewhere to his side and Vax turns towards it. And almost immediately turns back, face flushed.
"...Sorry." He leans against the doorframe, arms crossing over as he struggles to ignore his heated cheeks. Gilmore had been only clad in a thick purple towel around his waist, and some water was beading on his shoulders and over the scar. His hair was still damp and hung around his neck. He looked quite attractive actually. He heard the wardrobe doors open and what sounded like coat hangers sliding across. Vax's face felt warmer as Gilmore chuckled happily.
"No harm done, Vax. Sleep well?" Gilmore inquired, and Vax told himself that he shouldn't turn around. Not yet, anyway. There's some ruffling of fabrics behind him as Vax finds the words for his answer.
"I...I slept well, thank you." Vax cleared his throat and went on, "You're preparing to open up shop right?" Vax hears the creaking of the wardrobe doors and turns back around, fairly confident that he's no longer red in the face. Gilmore's dressed in his usual mauve robe with its gold trimmed edges. The towel from earlier was currently being trapped between the door of the wardrobe as Gilmore glances around for something. His fingers are tugging his hair towards the back of his head.
"Mmm, Yes...We're normally open in an hour, but it takes some time to prepare everything, see to any packages that have arrived...Most of the staff arrive thirty minutes prior to opening..." His gaze lands on the end table and he walks over to check it, but appears to not find what he's looking for. Vax glances down at the hair tie on his wrist.
"Hang on Gilmore..." Vax heads over to stand behind him, slipping one hand beside Gilmore's in his still wet hair. His hands stops moving. "Let me get that for you..." Vax slips the hair tie from his wrist to between his teeth and Gilmore's own hands fall to his side. He tugs at the strands in precise motions of someone who's had to do his own hair for many years. His hair is smoother from the water and Vax can't help but run his fingers down it a little more than necessary. With one hand holding it all in place, the other snags the tie and twists it around the gathered hair near the base of Gilmore's head, forming the familiar ponytail he normally wears. Vax steps back to admire his handiwork and Gilmore turns partially towards him. There's a twinkle in his eye.
"So, how do I look, Vax?" He asks with one hand resting on his hip and a shrewd grin on his face. Vax smiles back at him.
"Fabulous as always, Gilmore." He laughs and then brings his hands together, cracking his knuckles.
"Most kind of you! Now, If you can excuse me, I have a shop to start setting up." Vax nods and Gilmore gestures towards an open door that Vax hadn't seen earlier.
"There's a bathroom in there, so feel free to freshen up." Gilmore walks past Vax and pauses with his hands resting on either side of the curtained doorway, looking back at him over his shoulder. "I'll be preparing the shop for opening. My wonderful staff should be here in approximately twenty minutes."
"That should be plenty of time. I'll see you out there, Gilmore." Vax winks at him and begins to scout out his discarded garments. He catches Gilmore stepping out. The curtains fall behind him in place and are accompanied by the sound of clinking beads. Gathering his things, Vax heads over to the previously hidden door and walks in. It's a quaint, light-blue tiled room with a toilet, sink and bath tub. There are a couple of large towels stacked up beside the bath and some smaller ones by the sink.
Vax splashes some water on his face to remove any lingering effects of sleep and dabs it dry with one of the small towels. He quietly slips out and shuts the door behind him as he finishes pulling on the last pieces of gear. He can hear the somewhat muffled noises of Gilmore preparing his shop as he slips into his socks and boots.
Vax steps out from behind the curtains and surveys his surroundings. The interior is steadily coming together to receive the first wave customers. He must've taken longer than he thought as the staff, one of which he recognised as the half-elven women Sherry, were in the process of folding the large covers from the bookshelves that were on the borders of the room. The candles on the walls had already been lit for the day and Gilmore was nowhere in sight. More importantly, the double doors at the front of the shop were already wide open and a there was a light morning breeze drifting in.
Vax found himself quietly walking past the busy employees, although he did manage to catch Sherry's gaze. The brown haired and bespectacled lady was wearing her blue and purple robes, watching him walk past with a hint of curiosity in her face. She was in the process of folding several of the large cloths into a neat pile but had paused for a moment as Vax passed. He waved at her briefly before heading out the front entrance.
The slight change in temperature doesn't bother him as he steps onto the cobbled street outside. The air around him seems to be slowly warming as the sun steadily climbs higher, lighting up the area.
"THERE HE IS!" Vax jerks back into focus as a loud voice echoes from the close buildings. What appears to be a swarm of brown, black and a hint of blue collide into him, causing him to stagger several steps back and crushes his arms to his side. The familiar scent of pine and animal fur hit him as the person clings to him for dear life.
"I was so worried about you," they babble, "When we didn't see you again last night, we thought you'd gone to bed, but then we never saw you for breakfast, and Laina said that she never saw you this morning--!" Vax manages to tug one arm out of the hard grip and wrap it tightly around his sister's shoulders as she starts to beat his chest in an angry frustration.
"See, I told you he was alright. He'd just ran off for the night, right Vax?" Vax looks up from Vex's brown mop of plaited hair and sees the rest of Vox Machina approach.
"Hey guys." He said simply as he cradles Vex with one hand, who's just starting to calm down. Keyleth waves at him, looking relieved. Something in Vax's chest tightens just briefly. Gilmore's words about holding onto his friends slipped into his head and he smiles at her. The tightness abates.
"Vax! I'll have you know that it's customary to inform us if you're going to stay somewhere else for the night! We were all quite concerned, you know." That was from Tiberius, the red dragonborn sorcerer from Draconia. He huffed a little unhappily, and a little bit of smoke floated up from his scaly nostrils.
"Well yeah, but not everyone here has magic teleportation parchment at their disposal, you know." prodded Scanlan, grinning sideways at Vax, eyes flashing with...something.
"So, have fun at Gilmore's?" he asked innocently, which wasn't saying much, as it was Scanlan. Vax stared coolly back at him over his sister, who had finally pulled back a little to peer at him closely.
"Why wouldn't Vax have fun with Gilmore?" questioned Keyleth, ignoring or not catching the particular tone Scanlan had asked his question in. The orc goliath slaps a hand on her shoulder and Vax winces along with her.
"Well, he looks good to go and that's what matters, right?" 'Good to go where?' wonders Vax as Percy, with his not-so-strikingly white hair compared with the other colourful members of the group steps up to Vax.
"We received summons back to the council about our evidence this morning." There's a serious expression on his face and Vax can't blame him. "We're heading there now since we've found you. Are you ready?"
"Ready as anything, Percival." Vax grins at them all and starts to untangle out his sister's grasp.
"Hang on a sec. Vex?" Scanlan calls out and Vax is suddenly wary of the slanted grin on the gnome's face. "Check his neck for me, will you?"
"What? He wouldn't have been attacked by vampires again, right?" There's an edge of panic in the red-haired druid's voice, "You wouldn't have been attacked, right?" Vax feels the skivvy's neck tug downwards as Vex examines him.
"There's no marks, Scanlan."
"What, none at all?" There's a whine of disappointment and Vax suddenly understands why Scanlan was asking about that. Heat creeps up his neck and he can perceive Vex's neat inquiring eyebrow.
"Yeah, no, I'm all good here." He coughs and steps around his sister, who releases him. Ruffling Trinket's head fur who's padded up quietly to his place beside Vex as he passes, he clasps Percy on the shoulder and turns him to towards the cloud district. "Let's go and get this over with, shall we everyone?" There's a shout of enthusiasm from Grog and a fair share of firm nods from everyone else. It seems to Vax that things have gone back to normal during the night.
"Thanks for looking after Vax for us, Gilmore!" Keyleth's voice causes Vax to spin his head around so fast towards her that his neck cricks. He looks back towards the blue exterior of the shop while he rubs his neck and Gilmore's quietly standing there, arms folded, watching them all crowd around. Vax isn't sure just how long he had been surveying them, but he wouldn't be surprised if he'd seen all of it. His hand continues to rub his neck, suddenly feeling quite warm again. Scanlan's double-meaning inquiry is suddenly ringing in the back of his head.
"Yes Gilmore, thank you so much for that." Vex politely tells him, and he graciously nods his head at her. "I'm always happy to help." He looks over the group for a moment and Vax feels a clawed hand settle comfortably on his shoulder. "Seems like things have settled between you all, I hope?" Vax can see various affirmative nods from his friends as they go to stand beside him. There's no questions from the others about how Gilmore knows about it, and that's fine. He's Gilmore and he's always good with things like that. He's a businessman after all.
"Marvellous! I must bid you all a fond farewell and wish you all luck with whatever and wherever your paths lead you towards, my friends." As Gilmore bids them farewell and turns back to go through the entrance's beaded drapes, Vax feels Tiberius lean into and whisper in his ear.
"Speaking of which, did you perhaps thank Gilmore? For letting you stay the night?" Vax blinks, no he hadn't. But he should.
Vax slips out of Tiberius' hold, ignoring the inquisitive look from Vex as he goes past her and runs up to Gilmore, catching him on the arm just as he's about to go through into his shop. As he turns back towards him, Vax, before he loses his courage, leans up on his tiptoes and kisses his cheek.
"Thank you." He simply tells him, not knowing what else to say while trying his hardest to ignore the catcall and the partially muffled gasps from behind. There's a flash of surprise across Gilmore's face that is quickly replaced with a rather pleased grin.
"You're most welcome Vax. Come back anytime, I'll be happy to open another bottle with you." Vax steps back and ducks his head, a little warm but quite pleased with that prospect.
"Until next time then, Gilmore." Vax turns back to the group, snags Vex's hand as he passes, pulling her along with Trinket padding at her side. He slaps a hand on Percy's shoulder and lightly pushes him forward, deliberately not looking at Scanlan's shit-eating grin as everyone starts to fall into step beside him. Vax feels greatly at ease with everyone around him.
"Let's go get this over with guys." There's another chorus of agreements from everyone in Vox Machina as they set off together for the Central District.