Claude Os, Aperi Oculos!

Silence. The only thing that made sound was the gentle breeze and light crackle of the dying fire. Rouge, bard, cleric, wizard… they were all asleep or in their species’ equivalent. Roy Greenhilt was sitting next to the fire, sipping a warm mug of coffee and watching the night with a quiet yet wary gaze.

A little halfling crept silently through the camp, indistinguishable from the world around them. He was only wearing thin sleeping clothes, a green traveling cloak tossed haphazardly on his back to keep the night chill from touching him. His feet were bare and negotiated the grassy ground easily, used to far more painful terrains.

Belkar grinned when Roy did not notice him slipping into Vaarsuvius’s tent. The party had all set up the temporary shelters in anticipation of rain during the night, but the sky had yet to make good on its promise.

The elf was in a trance, sitting slightly levitated off the ground with thin lavender night robes on and a peaceful close-eyed expression. Belkar hesitated, creeping forward slowly to look at V’s face closely.

It was still delicate and smooth. Wasn’t contorted in thought and annoyance lines for once. It took decades off the elf’s complexion.

Belkar reached forward on impulse, placing his thumb on the elf’s lips very lightly. In his experience, Vaarsuvius was a very deep sleeper so he wasn’t worried about the mage waking up and blasting him with a fireball.

The lips were soft—the same as he remembered. He took a deep breath, smelling the mixture of fine wine, dahlia, and jasmine flowers that made up the elf’s individual scent. The halfling only allowed himself a short moment before he drew his hand away and smirked. If he kept this up, he would become a sappy romantic like Elan—albeit a sappy romantic that was into killing things. And he wouldn’t ever let himself get like that over someone. Especially a pompous androgynous wretch that wasn’t even interested.

But now he was playing along with a game. Vaarsuvius obviously was furious about the kiss on New Years, and Belkar had the scars and bruises to prove it. And this was when the halfling was pretending to not remember the whole thing at all. So, obviously, to keep up with the masquerade, he would need to retaliate, because, you know, the elf was just ‘attacking him because he couldn’t fight back with the Mark of Justice.’ Not retaliating would be out of character. The elf would wonder.

Besides, no matter how attracted he was to someone, Belkar would always get a kick out of a potentially dangerous practical joke. It wasn’t like he ever did something that actually could kill someone (if he was going to cause someone’s death he might as well do it intentionally).

Belkar gently flipped Vaarsuvius upside down, placing a jar with dissolvable glass and containing a small colony of fire ants on the new surface the elf’s crossed legs made. With quick, nimble fingers, the halfling tied a string to one of the foundation poles of the wizard’s tent, tying the other end to the elf’s thin, bony, fragile wrist.

The halfling smirked in a self-satisfied manner. There was no doubt that Vaarsuvius anticipated a repeat of the ‘hornets in the jar on him upside down’ trick, so in the morning, the first thing the elf would do once the whole upside-down thing was noticed would be to reach up to get the jar safely. This would make the tent fall, the elf would get pretty beat up and would go right side up out of shock, and the jar would shatter and the ants would attack. If the mage found a way to wiggle out of the trap, the glass was dissolvable and would break or melt at the slightest provocation. A crude but effective continuation of their game.

Belkar hesitated again, and he had to resist the urge to touch the elf’s face. He turned sharply and left.

He’d need to kill something soon. All this drama crap was going to seriously cut into his ‘sexy, shoeless god of war’ shtick. Getting hung up on people never made them like you more. Least of all when they were like a certain androgynous pointy-eared bastard.

“Resourceful, ain’t he?” Durkon smiled sympathetically as he placed a hand on Vaarsuvius’s arm, red with sores and burns from fire ants. “Cure light wounds.”

The elf smoothed out the purple hair that had been displaced during that morning’s… eventful awakening. Keen elven senses brought the vague smell of loam, badger, and an undertone of lingering blood to the mage’s attention. The scent of a certain halfling. “Thank you. You are correct. He is cleverer than I had anticipated, though I had expected such a violent reaction. It is only a sign that my plan is working.”

“Are ye absolutely sure that ye know th’ way Belkar’s mind works? ‘E’s hard ta predict.”

“Mr. Thundershield, I highly doubt that my constant abuse could do anything but ensure his hatred,” the elf stated dryly, smoothing out the purple travel robes that had been thrown on. Vaarsuvius was slowly and meticulously neatening until the immaculateness that elven pride required was reached again.

“But maybe it’s not all tha’ necessary. ‘E doesn’t remember a thing aboot it, and ‘e hasn’t tried anything. Maybe the ki—” he stopped himself at the small glare he received from the elf, “—incident was jus’ b’cause ‘e was drunk as only a thirty-pound halfling who ‘ad ten mugs o’ ale in as many seconds can be. Maybe it wasn’t reflective o’ anythin’. Maybe it meant nothin’.”

Durkon stood up, glancing at the rest of the camp as dawn slowly broke. Luckily, Vaarsuvius’s early morning adventure hadn’t woken anyone else. “So maybe this whole thing with Belkar is jus’ a bunch o’ needless bickering.”

Durkon trotted away into the night, optimistic that he may have avoided further fights, but if he had taken the time to look back he would have noticed an odd expression on Vaarsuvius’s face.

The elf was still for a long moment, the only movement being the gentle waving of loose strands of hair in the wind. Vaarsuvius moved a pale, delicate hand to the circlet crowning the elf’s head, touching it lightly. “The incident may have been reflective of nothing… simply a mistake made while inebriated…” The hand dropped and the elf turned vaguely confused eyes to the dawn. “Why do I find the prospect… distressing?”

Vaarsuvius sighed, frowning. “Thought and emotions are such odd and troublesome things. I suppose it is only to be expected. After all, would life truly be as stimulating with predictability?” Shoving the confusion away until further information could be gathered, the elf set about putting away the remains of the tent.

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