When Eris’ hand touched the skull, he was filled with an overwhelming sensation of loss. Anger, sorrow, and envy slammed into him like a tidal wave but all of it paled in comparison to the utter emptiness in his heart. It was like someone reached in with a knife hot off the forge and cut a piece out. An ache that threatened to consume him entirely but also, he’d been living with it for as long as he remembered and he wasn’t quite sure he remembered why it was there. He was only sure it would never fade.
But that moment passed and the world had changed. Vibrant fields swaying with golden stalks of wheat replaced the twisted dead trees, lush grass threatening to overrun the dirt path that replaced the clearing. Clothes fluttered on a line near one of the fields, lots of smaller clothes with a few large shirts and pants thrown in between.The charred ruins of a house littered the end of the path. Only a stone well still stood in front of it. Arguably the most important detail of all though was that the sky was crystal blue because straight above was...
A sheathed blade leaned against the well and a clawed glove hung off the handle. It looked thin and light and the wood scabbard had the skull carved into it. A longbow rested next to it.
A familiar figure sat on the far edge of the well as he stared as the ruins. His red hair was several shades lighter than normal and it was up in a bun. His clothes were still bloodied, even the leather of his full quiver was stained, but he wasn’t concerned. One hand played with a thin chain around his neck and the other hovered over the hilt of one of the knives on his belt. His leg bounced up and down absently as he stared ahead, seemingly lost in thought.
Whatever the emotion was, Eris didn't appreciate it. Everyone had their own issues and being projected someone else's didn't exactly endear them to him. He shuddered, closing his eyes as he waited for the brightness to subdue. When it didn't, the vampire slowly opened one eye. The consistent brightness was jarring, causing him to open both and blink multiple times as he looked around. He rubbed his eyes as he squinted up at the sky, the color of it throwing him off. It must have been an illusion like the sky of stars, but he hadn't ever seen such a hue, not especially in person. His jaw dropped as he noticed the sun right above him, completely dumbstruck by the sight. It made everything look so…different. The shades of color he could see in person gave him an entirely new perspective, a morbid fascination clashing with uncertainty. How mortals could handle the clash between night and day was beyond his understanding. It all looked nice enough, but considering he had over a century of being told that the sun was a literal symbol of death for his kind, he had an awkward discomfort at everything at the moment--but he couldn’t deny that he was in quiet awe at it all.
Well, it was a good thing none of this was real, otherwise his shock would've caused him to burn up immediately. The glint--caused by the sun, how inconvenient--of the sheathed blade had caught Eris' attention, and he took a second to absorb more of his surroundings. He frowned to himself as he approached the well, a hand on his chin as he looked at them. He had no reason not to take everything, but as he was contemplating he noticed the figure on the other side of the well. It looked like Varis had ended up here with him after all. But as far as he could see, there weren’t any opponents for them to take care of. Had Varis already taken care of them? It was hard to believe, but he certainly looked like he had been through a fight. He could speculate more, but there was really only one way to find out.
Once he carefully approached the redhead, he raised his eyebrows. He almost wanted to chuckle at the amount of blood he was caked in, but chose instead to flash a grin, turning the charm on. "Hello there, friend," Eris greeted him. "Something troubling you?"
It took Varis a few minutes to look away from the scene in front of him and quirked his brow in amusement. "A confident little thing, aren't you?" Varis chuckled. "Either you think you'll win if it comes to blows or you're hoping to avoid them all together. Or perhaps it's because I'm one of the few vampires willing to admit you're worth more than a pretty face." Varis immediately grimaced at that last comment.
"My apologies. That silly little human insists I insult, degrade, and demean you before threatening to scar your face permanently." Varis explained with a shake of his head. He toyed with the half of a coin hanging from the chain around his neck. "And that I should draw my blades and be intimidating all around. Do you think we should play that game? It seems unnecessarily tedious in my opinion but, she always did have a twisted sense of humor." Varis sighed, patting the stone work next to him. "The choice is yours. Stand and I'll draw or sit and we can talk."
On the one hand, Eris was delighted that his theory was partially proven right; so someone was watching and adjusting their challenges. Funny, though, it seemed like he was talking to the real Varis, but his comment made him think that this was in fact the clone. They weren't able to get in together, it seemed. On the other hand, the comments were wholly uncalled for. Was there more mind magic at work? He didn't really want to find out, the thought increasing his wariness, but despite the conversation, Eris did take the suggestion. He chose to sit, his eyes briefly flickering to the necklace. Coin. Now he understood. Varis wasn't exactly the fighting type, but hey, maybe he could get away with using some diplomacy to get what he needed. If both Sunny and the kid could do it, why wouldn’t he?
"I'll always jump at a chance to talk to you," Eris admitted, leaning back on his arms as he looked out. Even if he knew he should keep his guard up, he had to admit the sights of daytime still drew his attention. "Who knew the world could be so...vivid." He muttered, a small frown on his face. "I'm sure that's not what you want to talk about, though, is it?"
“Of course you will. You’ll always heel like a dog when I so much as think it. It’d be amusing if it wasn’t so pathetic.” Even as he spoke, Varis was clearly trying to hold himself back. He struggled for a few moments more and his shoulders slumped. “Again, my apologies. She seems quite displeased I’m not capitalizing on your self-esteem issues and the problems revolving around your family. Unfortunately, I do not quite have the strength to reach her yet. All in due time though.” Varis grumbled for a moment but waved it away with a sigh.
“But, I did not have a particular issue in mind. It has been so long since I’ve had a conversation that I believe I’d find satisfaction discussing the pruning techniques Count Achktic spent seven centuries droning on about and frankly, they drive me to stake myself.” Varis cackled. “I did once actually. My sister did not take the interruption kindly. But no matter. I do not believe I am the one with a goal, hm?”
The comment was uncalled for, definitely, but Eris supposed it was deserved. He almost wondered if it was a bit of self-reflection at play, but he didn’t know enough about the magic at hand to make any comment on it. For all he knew, this Varis was just a figure of his imagination. At least at this point Eris definitely considered it--he didn’t understand half the things the other vampire was saying. Varis didn’t have any siblings he was in contact with, let alone any sisters.
Plucking a stray hair out of his view, Eris let himself relax. “Maybe. But I can’t say I’m in any particular rush--the longer I’m here, the longer I keep my eyesight. Can’t say I enjoy being blind very much…”
He scooted a little closer, batting his eyelashes. “If you have nothing better to talk about, I’m perfectly fine talking about you,” He grinned, reaching over as he wiped away a little of the blood on his face. “You feast like you’re constantly on the verge of starving,” He chuckled.
“That’s because I was on the verge of starving for so long.” Varis shrugged and stood, firmly grabbing Eris by the elbow and pulling him a few stews away. A robed figure rose from the well, towering over them, and started speaking. Runes flared to life around Varis. “Is this the Etheld era again?I thought we were past such disrespect.” Varis muttered irritably, the runes shattering with a wave of his hand. The robed figure was suddenly on their knees and Varis pulled the hood off, revealing a pale woman, her eyes wide with terror.
“I believe I’ve been polite this entire time. If you’d done as I asked the first six times your feeble magic attempted to control me, then we wouldn’t be in this situation.” He informed her. She opened her mouth and gasped out a breath, clutching at her throat as Varis stared on. Bruises formed around her throat and she collapsed, unconscious, and faded away. “And now, I won’t have to say such unpleasantries anymore. Humans.”
“There were times when we only ate once every two weeks. Food was difficult to come by.” Varis returned to their previous conversation.“And if I remember correctly, you have an appetite for any sort of blood. Why is that?”
The display was...actually, Eris had very little words for it. Aside from the obvious, it wasn’t that far fetched to think that the other vampire was doing something due to sheer will. It wasn’t the first or last time he had put someone in their place; he had stories that could fill a library on the amount of times he was around to witness it. There was something unsettling about this, however, the second the runes appeared and were dispelled. The robed figure must have been a mage, but even as she vanished, Eris had a hard time believing what he saw. It must have been a part of the exam--if the mage was gone, the entire thing would have fallen apart. This was all in his head.
For now, he put it out of his mind, looking back at the redhead. Some of his shock wore off as he was asked the same question he had been asked a million times, a small chuckle helping him regain his bearings. “It must be one of your greatest puzzles, isn’t it?” He couldn’t help but joke, although he frowned. “Needing blood is just another weakness we have. If I find something I’m partial to, that would become something I’m dependent on. I can’t have that now, can I?” He responded airily.
“Ah, I’ve asked this before. My memories are… not quite in order. The transition was far too jarring for a proper acclimation.” Varis concentrated for a moment, his head cocking as he thought. “Right, right, I remember. I’ve decided I want to find you something nice. Though, I am far more interested in your thoughts on the matter. You’ve proven yourself capable of surviving on anything. If you decide to enjoy a particular type, are you afraid you won’t be able to deny yourself it or you’ll be unable to return to drinking anything else? In either case, I believe you give yourself far too little credit. You haven’t made it as far as you have without a healthy dose of determination and discipline, even if you deny the second.”
“Blood is a necessity but you dictate the weakness. Find something you enjoy, make it known, and watch someone try and unravel you with it. It’s quite amusing, in my opinion. Honey pots were always my favorite.” Varis laughed. “But if it is weakness you’re concerned about, what about the glaring one? You profess to hate your condition but you willingly submit to it at other times. Don’t you think that is a greater weakness than a glass of blood?”
Eris’ expression remained blank as he turned his face away from Varis just a touch. It was interesting commentary--the moon knew how many conversations and arguments they had about this very topic, some more composed than others--but he wasn’t entirely sure about one part of what Varis spoke of. Jumbled memories? How could the mage mess up a projection?
“My condition is a weakness,” He slowly repeated. “Why do you say that? Everyone interprets weakness differently.”
Varis sighed at Eris’ expression. “Another misstep on my part. Clearly, I’m not doing very well, am I?” Varis took a seat back on the edge of the well. “Blindness in most is a weakness, even you profess it an issue, and yet there are times you submit to it willingly. Specifically, when Varis asks. I won’t insult your intelligence to presume to explain to you why giving control up is a dangerous decision. And yet you do it. Why is that not a weakness?”
Yeah, physical blindness is always going to be an issue! Who in their right mind wouldn’t think that? Eris’ left hand flexed for a second before he raised it to his head. This was all in his head, why did he let himself believe any of this was real? What he needed to do was get the coin and get this over with.
Once he dropped his arms, he sauntered over to Varis, bending down as he placed his hands on either side of the seated vampire. “The person most in control is the person who can give up control,” Eris offered the advice, a small smile on his face. “If you want real control, drop the illusion of control. Let life live you…
His eyes flickered downwards, landing on Varis’ weapons. There was a chance he’d get swiped at if he went directly for the coin. He should probably disarm him first. Eris leaned in close, his hands closing in and touching the other’s hips. “Now, who are you, really?” He asked him, hoping to distract with the question for a moment.
Varis wrapped his arms around Eris’ neck, a flirty smirk on his face as he opened his mouth, closed it, blinked, and frowned at Eris. “I’m… I seem to have forgotten my name.” Varis said slowly. Varis’ foot slammed hard against Eris’ and he flipped them, the pair moving like lightning, so Varis was stadling Eris’ legs while he sat. He moved efficiently, like he’d been trained to do this, and was far stronger than Varis ever showed as he locked Eris’ arms around his waist.
“Unfortunately, you’ll have to behave for a second. This is a rather alarming turn of events. I was prepared for you to take this necklace because I thought you were being rather endearing but this is more than a bit distressing. And since it is your fault,” Varis spoke slowly until he beamed at Eris as an idea popped into his head. “You’ll help me along the way! Who am I right now? Describe my personality.”
At least they both agreed on the same thing. Distressed was the main emotion, though shock was a close second. Eris should’ve went for the necklace when he had the chance, but no, he went for the damn daggers like an idiot. There were still stars in his vision when he blinked rapidly, unappreciative of the reversal. When the fuck did he--no, once again, Eris was so wrapped up in how alike they were that he completely fell for it. This was all part of the challenge, how could he let his guard down so easily? Good thing no one else was around to see it, at least he could lie and say they were fighting the entire time.
That said, this Varis was freakishly strong. If he were...well, literally any other vampire, Eris wouldn’t have been as surprised, but as far as he was aware the redhead loathed anything physical. Alright, he needed to stay calm as he was clearly overpowered. He came into this assuming he could talk his way into getting the necklace, and he was sticking to it.
“For starters. your domineering ways stole my heart from day one,” He joked as he made an attempt to wriggle out, making sure he kept talking. “You’re stubborn, but determined. You have a passion, a drive in getting what you want exactly how you want it.”
“I’ll be honest, creativity on that part is not my strong suit.” Varis admitted sheepishly, holding onto Eris tighter as he wiggled but otherwise paying no mind. “It’s just so much easier to have a unifying personality trait and in the positions I’m put into, it’s helpful! Okay. That… narrows it down to… everyone. Okay, different idea. Have the Astorio’s threatened Ralmevik Marivaldi yet or are they making plans to overthrow the Noilas? I think we’re at one of those two points.”
Ralmevik? Why Varis decided to use the former Marivaldi lord as a point in time to refer to was beyond him, but Eris was temporarily distracted. He didn’t know which got him more, the fact that Varis looked adorably sheepish or that he was referring to something that happened three centuries ago. Nope, the answer was neither, what really got him was that the grip on him was freakishly strong; he would have to eat his words and properly talk his way out.
Eris shook his head, weary that the vampire would react poorly with the truth, but he decided to go ahead with it. “Neither--Lord Ralmevik has passed, he was succeeded by Lord Salazar,” He corrected him, making sure to keep himself relaxed, shifting his hips slightly to make himself more comfortable.
“Ralmevik… is dead? That wasn’t part of the plan.” Varis muttered to himself. He peered at Eris suspiciously but it was gone as quickly as it appeared, replaced by concern. “Ralmevik is dead so he couldn’t be threatened. That knocks out Greta and… and… Damn, what was his name? Donovan! That’s right! Oh, he was one of my favorites! Did you know he helped introduce watermelons as a staple for royal meals? Some crazy vampire was obsessed with them and when I had one, I couldn’t resist because I absolutely knew my sister would hate it!” He giggled at the memory. “It’s one of my favorite foods, next to cake.”
“Okay, well. I’ll adjust the clock for Ralmevik. That puts his daughter in to play earlier than I’d like. I think I still own his favorite mage so I should…” Varis rambled as he thought out loud. “Okay, so. Clearly, I don’t remember that well. Why couldn’t they do something right for once. That's what I get for having to patch up shoddy magic. Though, I’m sure you prefer this to the monstrosity that is my mother’s son.” Varis pretended to gag at the thought. “That one is a monster and I’m not proud of him. But, desperate times call for desperate measures. I must be one of the villagers I pretended to be for a while. What was this one called again? I have to say though, I took you for a high society type. Guess I was wrong if you’re dallying with some commoner.”
Eris had to admit that this was definitely harder than any acting job. He did his best to remain as neutral as possible, quietly nodding along despite having absolutely no idea what the hell Varis was talking about. Ralmevik’s daughter was the badly dressed Marivaldi, but Varis was speaking as if he was a mage. That couldn’t possibly be right. Whoever was in charge had messed something up and made everything completely incomprehensible. Not that Eris knew everything about Varis, but this was all unfamiliar territory. He was talking as if he was centuries older! Varis was only barely over a century in age!
Even so, Eris pursed his lips, seeing an opportunity. All he needed to do was connect the moment to an actual memory with him in it. And then maybe things would start making sense, hopefully. “You really think I wouldn’t notice you?” He asked him, raising a single eyebrow. “You’ve eyed me all night.”
Varis tilted his head as he considered this information. “You are certainly my type but I shouldn’t have been that open if I’m a villager. Though if Greta was anything to go by…” Varis admitted sheepishly but horror flashed across his face. “Please tell me you aren’t just messing around. Have you met my sisters yet? One has like three inches on me, red hair like me, and a general I-will-murder-you aura? The other one has brown hair, normally done up with butterflies, a little chubby, makes your mind bend when she decides she’s done with you? Oh moon and stars save me.” Varis panicked.
“Okay, I have to figure this out now. First time we met, go! Your life and my freedom are kind of on the line now.” Varis said, panicked.
That did something, just not the something he had hoped for. Fine, if Varis wanted details, then he was going to paint the whole picture for him. “You don’t remember?” Eris feigned a question before he continued, “For one, no sisters. No siblings. You wanted a night to get away from everyone and everything. There was a party you had heard of that would be happening. You had no invitation, but it was the party of a lifetime, how could you resist?”
Eris’ eyes went to the sky, the memory a fond one. “You got in easily. The place was packed--there was a dazzling display by a light mage, the brilliance of the chandelier glimmering. Once the show ended, it felt like the entire place got darker. As you moved through the crowd, there I was. You struck up a conversation, do you remember what you said to me?”
“What… I… said…” Varis bit his lip as he thought about it. The scene did ring a bell. It was crowded. He wanted something. He wanted… influence? An introduction? He… planned for it. He knew what he was doing and he waited. She was well known for being a socialite and being great at it. She was… new money. Only a few connections outside of her purview, he knew she’d be the perfect target. But she wasn’t what he wanted. Varis closed his eyes as he thought, scrunching up his nose.
There was a prettier target, someone ambitious, someone interested in more than the limelight and he wanted him in his pocket.
“I said… What brings someone like you to one of these things, anyway?” Varis said slowly.
Eris nodded in confirmation, a small laugh escaping him. “You walked in there like you owned the place, struck up a conversation with the host’s son, and asked him what he was doing there,” He reminded him. “To anyone else, it would have been seen as an offense. But not to me.”
Returning his gaze to Varis’, he lowered his voice. “I don’t think I’ll ever forget that night,” He whispered.
Varis just stared at Eris for a long time, mouth opening and closing without any sound ever coming out. “Varis. I’m Varis right now.” Varis all but whispered, horror leaking into his tone. “I made Varis unlovable. I took every horrible piece of myself and welded it together and you… you have feelings for him?’ Shock, disbelief, and horror warred on his face and his grip tightened around Eris slowly but steadily.
“I didn’t give him the ability to love, Eris. He… he can’t feel anything for you.” Varis said, almost desperately. His voice was rising and he was on the verge of shouting. “What are you hoping for out of this? What do you even see in him?”
Eris’ eyes widened, staring at him. What was he talking about? He was speaking as if he was someone else entirely. His mouth opened, as if to retort, but he didn’t understand. Was this all an elaborate ruse? Was the mage in control just surprised? Maybe he didn’t make his feelings as obvious or just convinced himself he liked getting pushed away, but he was sincere in his admission. But there was a small part of him that wasn’t at all surprised by anything being said right now.
Even so… “I guess that says a lot about me. I always thought we were kindred spirits,” He slowly admitted. “Finding solace in that, I…” He trailed off, snapping his mouth shut.
“Oh, stars and sun, give me patience. Unbelievable! How could she let that happen!” He shoved off Eris, pacing angrily in front of him for a few moments, until he stopped and ran a hand down his face with a groan. “Okay. I can deal with this.” He turned to Eris, looked him over once, and came to some sort of decision. He took the chain off his neck, curling the necklace into his fist.
“So, let’s make a deal. You need the coin to escape and I happen to know if I throw myself down the well with it, you lose.” Varis explained. “I’ll give you the coin on two conditions: First, there should be a woman in Varis’ life. Not in charge of a noble family but powerful. She has a close relationship with him, generally work related. Find her and tell her Cydril says it's okay but he’s disappointed in her slip up. Second, you have to tell me what you would expect if someone was to sweep you off your feet, romantically speaking.”
Eris slowly picked himself up, surprised that he was so calm. No, that wasn’t true, he had a million things running through his head and a thousand questions that he knew wouldn’t get answered. If the emotion he felt was some kind of indication for the future, then it hit the nail on the head. Empty was definitely one emotion he felt right now, albeit the lack of understanding was starting to sour his mood. The blonde stared at the coin, looking up at the redhead as he spoke. Yeah, he needed to get the hell out of here.
He didn’t have much to say about the first request, only nodding slightly to show that he would keep his word. At the second, his gaze dropped to the ground. At any other time he would have a million different ideas, but right now he felt strangely empty. He did open his mouth once or twice, but he seemed at a loss.
“...yeah, I’ll see to it that it’s done,” Eris replied quietly. “And uh...just…” He squeezed his eyes shut as he let out a little, sad laugh. “Sorry, sorry, I’m usually better at this sort of thing.”
Running a hand through his hair, he put on a more convincing grin. “Spontaneous acts are always a delight. Who doesn’t love a surprise getaway?” He said.
Varis just blinked at him in confusion. “I’m sorry but what exactly is a getaway? Get away from what?”
Eris had to stop himself from laughing, instead lightly waving his hand. “It’s...something like a date,” He replied. “Though flowers are a close second.”
“Oh! I know what those are!” Varis said excitedly. “A get away date and flowers? I should probably start planning then. Oh, coin, right.” He walked up to Eris, mirroring his early pose as he slid his hands over Eris’ legs and settled them on his hips, looking at him for a few moments.
Seeing him come closer and mention the coin seemed to snap Eris out of his confusion, if only for a second. As he stared at the redhead, he felt compelled to get one last word in. "Before you end this, tell me who you are," He said.
“Where’s the fun in telling you?” Varis bopped Eris on the nose and laughed. “Let’s make it into a game. I quite like them! Nothing better than passing eternity with a challenge, hm? Lets see… If you puzzle it out, you’ll have me in quite a bind. Literally undeath and death sort of issues. If I wake up before you figure it out… I’m sure I’ll think of something then. Good luck, Eris.” Varis smirked and grabbed his hand, bringing it up for a kiss but biting into his wrist instead, and then shoving him down the well, the coin left in Eris’ hand. The world rushed away and when it came back, Eris was standing in the clearing again.
He had chosen to stand in time, his hand reaching out and feeling nothing as the illusion slipped through his fingers. The brightness of the day eclipsed back into the familiar shadows of nighttime, facing both Sunny and Max. Eris blinked slowly a few times, confusion scribbled all over his face as he looked around. He could feel his half of the coin in his hand, squeezing it until he felt the metal poking into his skin. Glancing at his hand, he tensed up immensely as a spot of bruising peeked out from his sleeve. Bringing his hands close to himself and turning his back on the mages, his eyes widened as he pulled his sleeve down ever so slightly, the image causing him to freeze up entirely. The bruise was in the shape of a crescent moon and what looked like a pair of fangs--this wasn’t any ordinary injury, that was for sure.
As quickly as it all happened, Eris straightened up, fixing his sleeve. It was already obvious how shaken up he was after everything was said and done, but he didn’t need any unneeded attention to that. The task given to him rang in his mind, but he would have to deal with that later. After running his free hand through his hair, he realized he had come back first, relaxing just a bit. He opened his palm to stare at the half coin in his hand, resisting the urge to chuck it into the forest before walking towards the duo.
“As soon as the count returns and the challenge is marked as complete, we’re leaving,” There wasn’t any hint of his usual playfulness as he stood in front of them--if anything, his tone seemed angry. There was no effort put into maintaining his composure, an empty expression on his face as he held onto the chain and turned his hand, letting the coin hang in front of him. “Do the two halves make a whole on their own, or do you think you can do something with them?” He asked Max directly.