“Stubborn child is what I would call you if I didn’t know any better.” His voice echoed. A hint of dark and vibrant energies underneath his tone, yet he made no physical appearance within Aranya’s whereabouts. “This reunion, this… coming together of old lover’s was nothing I ever thought myself to try and accomplish, and yet it only brought harm and ache to the both of you.” His voice bounced the walls from one word to the next, seemingly close enough to the even woman, yet feeling so far. “You two were truly meant for each other. But somehow, you’re further apart than you already were. You need to open your eyes, Ver'Sarn. See the bigger picture. See what’s transpiring before you.”
Meant for each other? Aranya thought near-incredulously at Lutero’s audacity to think he was in any position to make such conjectures in her life. Right. Sure. If he said so. “YES, congratulations,” she said, her patience for him non-existent already. “You have once again orchestrated suffering unto your brother through me. Well done.” The arcanist’s smoldering eyes never left her scrutiny upon a splendidly-crafted magical orrery that she had made herself, with resources that had been given to her by none other than Kethron Thorne himself, funnily enough.
It seemed another life ago that the warlock lord had been alive, letting Aranya stay in Rhovin’s suite of rooms in their family estate, caring for little Valeria as if she were his own granddaughter, while still taking the sorceress’ services as an arcanist. The old man’s tasks and requests had ever been “intensive” in their nature at best, straight up perilous at their worst. In his own (extremely) stoic way, he had always seemed appreciative that his faith and his investments in her were not misplaced.
“Now, if you’re not in my sanctum for an arcanist’s service, then I suggest you get to my shop downstairs and buy something, or pike off,” said Aranya tersely, and then muttered, “bigger picture, my ass,” under her breath.
“Clearly, the spark of that conversation still burns as ever vividly, considering how such feelings swung right back to where they once stood, didn’t they?” Lutero had then appeared in his usual dark-hooded appearance, never one to let another actually see his eyes to disentangle his intentions. Deceitful as he may be, obvious hints to what went in that mind of his were never an option. “You can admit it, even to me, that seeing him in such a state didn’t drop any kind of inimate needs for him,” he echoed, even as he stood across from her. His voice, now held that curse of the Void. Something he seemed to relish in, actually. His arms crossed over his chest, a smile played his lips barely visible under his hood. “You really believe that I would coax you there to cause more misery than what was already there?” His head moved, as if to look away, followed by a shrug of disappointment. Even his tone had a sudden shift to follow it. “Any other time before the recent, it would’ve been the case. This, however, was not what I had hoped would come to fruition.”
Upon hearing his question as to whether she honestly thought he had wanted to cause more misery to Rhovin all along, Aranya fixed the shadow master with a look that must have held the most starkly pronounced lift and twist of her eyebrows that had been on her face in a century. Are you EVEN shitting me? the look seemed to say. The history of pettiness and animosity was a long one. He had only initially stopped antagonizing her with a purpose to vex Rhovin because their father demanded it, and he was gone.
“I’m not even going to ask what you did hope for,” said Aranya. “But I suppose you’ll tell me anyway.” She looked back to her orrery, tracking the path of stars, moons, comets, and worlds. “Regardless of what you hoped would happen, what actually happened was I got to see the man who would have been the father of my son, only shadows of the man he used to be - the man that I admired, loved - and once again he pushed me away.” She looked up again, her voice and her look softening just a bit. “Lutero… I can’t keep knocking on a door that we know won’t open.”
The arcanist gave the faintest shrug of one shoulder and commanded an enchanted pen with a wave of her hands to note down one of her celestial observations in a floating journal. “At least he has his daughter with him… And the terms for you staying and not getting thrown out still stand. Will it be goods or services?”
“Have you ever wondered why?” Ignoring her prodding to reason his presence, Lutero scanned his surroundings with each step around the area. Arms at his back, chin slightly up. “Why he pushes you away, I mean. Besides the self-seeking reasons that swim in that big head of yours, there’s always something much larger at play.”
The shadow priest paused and stood behind the sorceress, and in a sudden departure from his usual nature, he lowered his hood. Besides the pale blue skin and matching eyes that now shaped him, the priest was the spitting image of his elder brother, though a much narrow facial outline.
“When Rhovin was sent to Argus, he didn’t expect to stay there for as long as he did. His first step on that planet was so dreadful that even I could feel the fear that beset his soul. Day after day he found himself at the brink of insanity, and not because he thought he would meet his end there. His addiction to such dark and foul magic was never sedated no matter how well he hid it from those he loved.” He approached cautiously, but with no ill-intention. If only to express his desire for her to understand. “He could never grasp his cravings, he labored to find ways to fully control his basic needs and yet he believed there was never going to be a way for him to find any semblance of peace. Not until he did, at least. In his mind, he was lost, Aranya. So lost, that bringing down those that loved him – truly loved him… it was a feeling far worse than he was willing to accept.”
Lutero paused, looking away as his bit his lower lip. Brows then frowned at a thought that crept. “When our mother died, he… well, he never found a way to settle those emotions, but only stifle them instead. Fel was his haven; it numbed the pain and allowed him to do the things he has done. Now it has taken its full effect. Now he’s the physical embodiment of what had built up inside of him for so many years. It’s only a matter of time…”
Aranya listened to all that Lutero had to say, posturing as though she pretended to still be lost in observation, but her stillness belied otherwise. She closed her eyes, breathed slow, deep, and her fists clenched as she focused on keeping herself absolutely composed. It hurt to hear. It hurt worse to know it was all true.
Loving and being loved by Rhovin had never been easy. Yet, feeling for him happened without thought, effortless.
Her eyes opened as the priest’s final sentence hung on the air, as if asking and waiting patiently for her attention. “Matter of time,” she echoed, her own voice having similarly strange harmonics in imitation of the void, disguised as she was to pass for ren'dorei with deep magics. She turned to fix a look at the younger Thorne brother. “What matter of time?” The seething edge in her voice was impossible to miss. It was her own guarded way of vocalizing a sense of dread.
“Oh, you didn’t notice?”
Lutero turned on his boot, away from her with his back turned; his smug demeanor soon returning, though still regal in posture. An all too familiar pose from the men in his family that Rhovin didn’t seem to inherit. “Surely you’ve noticed. The ashen hair, the wrinkles under his dark eyes, the hoarse tone in his voice…” It was then that he approached the arcanist, bursting that personal bubble in his advance. His lips were near her ear. “He’s dying, Aranya.”
He gave her a moment to let the words sink. As much as it pained him – and it did, even through the emotional rollercoaster and attempts to ruin his brother’s life, that innate bond and connection he had deep inside still lingered, which showed itself as time had passed with him worrying less about Rhovin’s downfall.
The priest stepped away, stopping just at the door to look over his shoulder. “It doesn’t surprise me if you didn’t. Love and passion blinds the weak from the truth, especially when it’s in front of them. Neither does it surprise me that he didn’t tell you… or maybe you didn’t give him a chance to. Either way, his body will cave, and all that will remain is a husk of what he used to be until he withers into… nothing.”
Suddenly, the priest was no longer there. Only a spectral cloud of dark energy until it slowly dispersed. Yet his voice still lingered. “If you truly wish to give him any semblance of peace… then go back and say your farewells.”
Aranya stood awhile, still, quiet, but at length she closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and let it go in a sigh.
Would it hurt to go back to Rhovin’s side, only to be not welcome, be pushed away again?
Would she still give it one more try to find some kind of openness between them again? Was it worth going back…?