Author's Note: Thank you all for your comments on this story! I never know what's "too much," but I'm glad the needleplay and sounding chapter wasn't it. There's no content warning for this chapter other than to say that this is the chapter I've been waiting for you all to get to :P Enjoy!

After dinner, we head down to the baths as a group. I lead the way while Olbric carries Cancassi down the winding stairs. While the two of them settle into the pool, I sit on the edge and dip my feet in, not wanting to get my bandages wet.

None of us much feel like talking. Cancassi has a haunted look on their beautiful face, and Olbric pulls them into a tight embrace. I take Olbric's hair out of its tie and comb through it with my fingers before I do the same to Cancassi. We all soak in the quiet comfort of each other's company.

It's not too long before Galiva pads down the stairs. She's not wearing her robes, and there's a bit of dried blood on the front of her cotton shirt. It must have been a rough afternoon at the clinic. She looks exhausted, but her face softens to a smile at the sight of us.

"I heard," she says before anyone can ask. She comes over and kisses my neck. "Take the bandages off and come in. The magiline will help them heal."

I don't need to be told twice. I unwrap the bandages that Arlon dressed me with as Galiva pulls off her clinic clothes. I sink in next to Olbric, and Galiva scoots in beside me with a groan.

"Long day?" I ask.

"Long month," she mutters but gives me a grin. "Thanks for your help with those corpimancy spells. Arlon gave them over when I got back."

I kiss her cheek. "You're welcome. It was interesting to conduit for."

Galiva grins knowingly and sinks back, letting her head rest against the lip of the pool. I sink in a little further as well, resting against Olbric's shoulder with a sigh. It's only then I feel him shaking. I look up and see his face darkened with anger.

"I'm going," Olbric says at last, and I hear that same anger in his voice. "I want to see them drop."

His words echo around the quiet bath. I understand his anger, but for some reason, hearing it makes me uncomfortable. When he's casting and laughing and kissing me, it's easy to forget how well acquainted Olbric is with death. Seeing another person die doesn't make him squirm like it does me.

Cancassi swallows and drags their fingers through their loose white hair. "I am, too," they say quietly. "I... need to see that they'll never hurt anyone again."

Olbric takes their hand and brings it to his lips in a gentle kiss. Cancassi gives a wavering smile and buries their face against his neck.

Galiva rubs her tired eyes. "I've had my fill of death these past weeks," she mutters. "I'm not going." I wrap my arms around her and press a kiss against her shoulder.

I've been going back and forth on whether I'd go since Arlon told me this morning. I'm not like Olbric. I can kill and skin a deer without flinching, but I remember all too well what it felt like to sink and arrow through Virico's eye. I still feel sick, even if he deserved it. But Arlon wants a united front.

Besides, I'm a large part of the reason they're facing the hangman's noose. If I hadn't caught Sight of them attacking Olbric, they wouldn't be here. In a way, I feel responsible, and it only seems right to see the end of it.

My sigh feels like resignation. "I'm going, too."


After we're dry, Olbric takes me to his room. As soon as the door is closed, he kisses me like he's afraid I'll disappear. He bites and nips, crushing his mouth against mine as he backs me towards his bed. I can taste his anger, feel his fear as it shivers through him.

Even after all these months, he's never forgotten the helplessness of being overwhelmed outside of the mines. Never forgotten being beaten and drugged and dragged towards an even worse fate. I don't think he can. I don't think anyone could.

I fall onto the bed and pull him with me, deepening the kiss into something softer. My hand drags through his loose hair, stroking, calming. I feel the heat and fear drain out of him as I explore his mouth gently, holding him close.

When we finally part, tears stick to his long eyelashes and wet his cheeks. Arlon was right - I'm needed here tonight. I wrap my arms around Olbric and hold him close. I ease his bathrobe off of him and do the same, feeling the heat of his naked skin against mine. There's nothing I can say, so I just offer my comfort.

It must be enough. Olbric cries himself out. His shuddering breaths even out and slowly fade to the deep breaths of sleep. Only then do I do the same.

I wake at dawn with Virico's sneer just behind my eyes. Olbric's back is snug against my chest, and I let out a quiet sigh as I tighten my arm over his waist. The small bed puts my back against the wall, and I don't want to disturb him. Instead, I stay put, breathing in his scent as I doze.

The sun brightens his window, and I feel Olbric jerk under my arm. He groans, low and quiet as I feel him tense. Apparently I'm not the only one having bad dreams. He's had enough nightmares in the past months that I recognize the signs.

"You're safe," I murmur. "You're okay." It sometimes works, but not today. Olbric wakes with a jolt, and I immediately lift my arm from his waist, not wanting him to feel trapped. He breathes like he's been running before he pushes his tangled hair out of his face.

"Are you alright?" I ask quietly.

"Just a bad dream."

I press a kiss between his shoulder blades, and for a few long moments, we just lay there. I don't have to ask what his dream was about, and he doesn't need to tell me. In the months since the cave, he only wakes like this for one reason.

"Are you ready?" I ask at last.

Olbric lets out a long sigh. "As ready as I'll ever be."

We get up and get dressed before heading down to breakfast. There are others awake as well. Allisande and Margeurite talk quietly while Cancassi and Alix sit shoulder to shoulder. I grab a handful of nuts and dried fruit, though I don't have much of an appetite.

I take a seat next to Alix, and though he catches my eye, he doesn't smile. There are bags under his eyes, and I can tell he hasn't slept at all. "How are you faring?" I ask quietly. I can't imagine how hard this must be for him.

He swallows, and I see tears shine his eyes. "Not great," he admits. He takes a steadying breath, though I hear it shudder out of him. "Allis, Iona and Marvin are all going but... I don't think I can do this. I-I can't face them again. Not after everything-" His voice breaks, and he rests his head in his hands.

Looking at him is like looking at a raw wound. Cancassi eyes meet mine in a silent plea for help, as if I'll have something to say that will make it better. I don't. Instead, I say, "No one will blame you. You have to do what's best for you."

Alix shakes his head. "I know," he says. He gives a small, humorless laugh. "I don't conduit often, but before Lucien was kicked out of the Crux, I did for him. I thought I trusted him." His fingers slide through his short hair and pull tight. "After all he did to me, it's fucked that a part of me is going to miss him."


The early afternoon air is cold. Flakes of snow ride on the breeze that cuts through my cloak like it's not even there. I shiver and stand a little closer to Olbric. On my other side, Allisande looks up at the gallows, her face pale, lips drawn into a thin line.

About thirty of us made the trek into the city center of Straetham. We make an impressive group. We wear our robes under our cloaks, but keep our spell necklaces displayed proudly. Everyone who sees us immediately knows who we are, and plenty of them stare.

Some look curious. Some look angry. Others, however, come up to talk to us. A handful of well dressed people walk over to Arlon, and he seems pleased to see them. Mabel's even stepped away from her pie shop, and she makes her way through the crowd to pull Olbric into a tight hug. I even catch sight of Katarine of the merchant's guild as she weaves through the crowd to stand next to us in silent solidarity. Chatter murmurs throughout the crowd, and it seems like half of Straetham has showed up to watch the execution.

I hear the clatter of wheels and horse hooves approaching over the cobblestone. The crowd starts to jeer, though they part to let the prison cart through. It rolls to a stop by the gallows, and someone steps from the front to walk up the stairs and onto the platform. He looks official, dressed in a black cloak with the royal crest of a rearing gold griffin on his lapel. The crowd falls quiet.

I swallow as Jaret and Lucien are led up next, their hands bound in front of them. Six months in a dungeon hasn't done them any favors. They look worn thin, pale and haggard, like they've already put one foot into Quietus.

A hooded woman follows them up. A priestess of Quietus, I realize. As she secures the noose around Lucien's neck, I have to look away.

"Jaret Voss and Lucien Carter," the official says, and what little chatter remains dies. "By your own admission, you have both been found guilty of the crimes of practicing magic outside of the Crux's jurisdiction, assault, kidnapping, torture and rape. These crimes were committed against members of the magical community and the royal family."

Jeers and boos rise from the crowd once more. I don't want to look at the platform. Don't want to see Jaret and Lucien's expression and they face their death. Instead, I scan the crowd, seeing an almost gleeful kind of excitement at the prospect of watching two people drop. It makes me feel a little sick.

Among the sea of people, a flash of grey skin catches my eye. Brown hair hangs unevenly around his face, and he moves half-stooped, like he's trying not to be noticed. A hard task for someone as tall as he is. He stops right at the base of the gallows, on the opposite side from us. With his braid gone, he's almost hard to recognize.

It's Garrett.

But it's not just his crudely shorn hair that makes him look... off. I can't place it, but something isn't right. I keep an eye on him as I slide past Allisande, Margeurite and Cancassi to tug on Arlon's sleeve.

"Sir," I start, but before I can even point, Garrett reaches for a spell.

There's a crash of breaking wood and screams of alarm. The sounds of panic only swell when another spell is released. Even from here, I feel the wave of force radiate out from Garrett. It topples the people closest to the gallows, and even as far away as I am, it feels like a gale trying to shove me over.

Chaos breaks out. The crowd starts running like panicked cattle, all trying to get away from the square. For a second, I'm lost in the mob, surrounded by unfamiliar faces, overwhelmed by the sounds of panic. Bodies crash into me, nearly sending me sprawling, and for a breathless moment, I wonder what it's like to be trampled to death.

But then a hand grabs me and yanks me close. I breathe in Arlon's familiar scent and feel the tingle of abjuration cover us. People still run into us, but they bounce off like we're a pillar instead of more bodies in the surging sea of them. I blink dust out of my eyes and look up at the grandmaster.

"Stay behind me," he orders. Around us, I start to hear the familiar whoosh of spells being released as the others work on crowd control. Arlon releases another spell and holds it in front of him like a shield as he stands over a downed woman, forcing the crowd to part around him like water.

I swear and help her to her feet. She's dirtied, but doesn't look hurt. "Are you alright?"

She's obviously shaken, but she nods. "Thank you," she says before disappearing into the crowd. I follow behind Arlon as he pushes back towards the gallows. We break through, and I see that the wooden platform has been destroyed. The royal official and executioner are buried in the rubble, but I see Jaret lift the noose from his neck and haul Lucien to his feet.

Garret walks towards them, his movements stiff. The two rogue wizards cower back from him, yet when he opens his hand, two charged focuses rest in his palm. Jaret looks at him, his eyes widening with dawning comprehension. He laughs and snatches the focuses from the half-orc before pushing one into Lucien's bound hands. "What did I fucking tell you?" Jaret crows. "Diran's not leavin' us to die."

Arlon doesn't hesitate. He shoots off an abjuration, but Garrett intercepts it with one of his own. Lucien throws his arms up before looking at the half-orc in disbelief, as if trying to figure out why he's protecting them.

I'm trying to figure out the same. But looking at Garrett is like looking at a stranger. There's not a lick of recognition on the half-orc's face as he stands, crouched and ready for a fight. Arlon shoots off another spell but it's too late. Jaret grabs Lucien and they both release their spells. In a blink, they vanish.

"Garrett!" Arlon snarls, but the half-orc doesn't respond. Instead, he returns the attack - evocation judging by the rain of ice that shoots from his hand. I flinch and throw my arms up on instinct, but Arlon does the smart thing and counters it with a shield. The ice storm crashes against it like so much breaking glass. Behind Garrett, I see the city and royal guards rallying as they make their way through the remains of the crowd, closing in.

"Arlon," I gasp.

"I see them," he growls. "Make us a door, Dom. I'll get him through it."

I don't question him. There's no time. With the way the guards are raising their bows, they're not going to give Garrett a chance to surrender. Arlon moves in, circling the half-orc carefully. Garrett doesn't pay me any attention as I break off and go the opposite direction, trying to get behind him.

Garrett keeps his grey eyes focused on Arlon, loosing spell after spell from his substantial necklace. Arlon dodges and blocks before shooting off a flashy evocation that erupts into a storm of fire against Garrett's shield. It gives the advancing guards pause, and I grab my conjuration before letting it loose.

The tear in the sky appears, and I grab the corner of it, pulling the door open as wide as I can. It resists, like trying to pull a wet blanket off of a clothes line. "Ready!" I shout and hope Arlon can hear me over the roar of his spell.

He must, because a second later, he bursts through the flames, skin glowing with abjuration. He looses another spell that cracks through Garrett's defenses like shattering a window before he tackles him around the waist.

It's the same way he did to me in the dungeon, except this time, he's not holding back. Arlon roars, and his momentum carries them both back and straight through the door of my spell. I follow them in and slam the door behind us, shutting us all into my conjuration.

Garrett crashes against the floor, but his fist slams into Arlon's face, sending him sprawling. Garrett staggers back to his feet but as the half-orc reaches for his spells, Arlon tackles him again, wrestling his hand away from the necklace. He tries to tear the spell necklace off, but Garrett yanks back. After Olbric was captured, we all reinforced our necklaces with wire, and there's blood where it cuts into Arlon's fingers.

It's like watching giants clash. They're equally matched in size and strength, and I realize that this is who Arlon usually spars with on the mat in the dungeon.

I'm frozen to the spot. My thoughts grind to a halt. I don't have my bow. I don't know what to do. How to help.

Garrett's fist connects hard with the side of Arlon's head, and the fight goes out of him. Oh gods, he's losing. Garrett grabs Arlon by the throat before tripping him over his leg. Arlon goes down hard, and the half-orc helps him along, cracking his head against the ground before he tightens his grip, tusks bared in a snarl. Arlon chokes and grabs his hand, slamming down on Garrett's forearm with his own to try and break his grip. Garrett holds, and Arlon gags as fingers dig into his neck.

I step towards them before I can remember all the reasons not to. "STOP," I shout, and a spell fizzles out around my neck.

Garrett jerks to a halt like he's run into a wall, but I see him fighting the command. There's got to be something else. I fumble for my necklace, the panic ebbing just enough for me to remember it's there. I feel the hum of each spell as I seek out the right one, and pray to the gods it'll work.

Arlon snatches Garrett's necklace from around his neck and tosses it to my feet as my command wears off. Garrett goes to strike again as I find it. The enchantment that Arlon and I made that night he stopped us. I release it the second before his fist connects with Arlon's face.

Garrett jerks like he's just waking up. Like he's been doused with cold water. He blinks, and I see him again.

"Oh gods," he whispers. "What's happened?"

Arlon groans as he goes limp underneath him. "You broke my winning streak."

Garrett looks at Arlon as if just seeing him. The grandmaster's face is bloodied, cheek already starting to swell. As Garrett pulls his hand from his neck, there's a copy of it left in bruises on Arlon's skin. The half-orc staggers off of him, looking horrified. "And what else?" He winces and puts a hand over his eyes, like he's trying to block out the light. "Ah, fucking hell."

"Nothing short of public mayhem," Arlon says. He sits up slow and grabs his ribs with a wince. Garrett sinks to the ground, resting his back against the wooden tub. He buries his face in his hands. "Though it appears you were doing it under enchantment. What happened?"

Garrett moans and pushes his shorn hair away from his face. "Diran happened. He caught up to me on the road." He reaches for his neck, and his head jerks up. "Where is it?"

"Here." I grab his spells and offer them back, but Garrett scoots away from me.

"No. There's an active one on there," he says. "Reinforcement in case the spells he cast on me failed."

Arlon quickly grabs the necklace away from me before he finds the focus in question. It's not quick-tied on, so Arlon has to unstring the whole damn thing to get to it. Focuses spill across the floor, but I stop them before they can roll far.

"His cutthroat was pretending to rob me," Garrett says. "Put on a good act of it, too. Dirty dress, using a fucking kitchen knife. I thought she was more desperate than dangerous. Never imagined I'd have to use a spell. Thought I'd just send her on with some coin. Didn't realize it was Isa until Diran stunned me from behind."

Arlon finally finds the focus and rips it from the necklace like tearing off a wart. "Fuck me," he gasps and drops it. It starts to roll, but I reach to stop it. "Don't! Don't touch it."

I freeze, and the sickly yellow focus looks up at me like an eye. I shiver and get the distinct feeling it's watching us. I pull my scarf from my neck and toss it over the evil looking thing.

"What the hell is that?" Arlon asks, and I'm a little surprised that he doesn't know.

"Enchantment and divination," Garrett says hollowly. "He spell stacked a few different enchantments to soften me up, and added that to enforce his own will over mine. I-I'm not sure, but I think it lets him watch." I look uneasily at my scarf and kick it a little closer to be sure the whole focus is covered.

Garrett's broken laugh sounds closer to a sob. "He turned me into a fucking puppet. And I walked myself right into it."

Arlon scoots towards him to grab the back of Garrett's neck. He pulls him until their foreheads touch, noses almost brushing each other. I suddenly feel like I'm intruding on a private moment. "No, you were giving a ragged thief the benefit of the doubt," Arlon says. "You were being kind. And Diran used that kindness against you."