The item that comes tumbling out of the Fantasy Gachapon looks... different than the rest. It’s relatively small, maybe just a little bigger than the containers that had held their rings. It also appears to be glowing intensely, but not, as any reasonable being might assume, glowing with light... glowing with dark if that’s even a thing.
It’s decidedly not a black light which Taako can appreciate in its own way, but literally shining blackness and shadows from inside of the plastic container, to the point where Taako can’t rightfully identify what IT is even with his naturally enhanced sight AND dark vision. Either Taako’s archanae check was really low or he’s never even heard of anything like this before. That is more than slightly infuriating, so he pops open the lid and pours the thing into his palm.
It’s a slightly irregular round shape, smooth, flat on one side kind of like a stone, and just the right size to fit into his palm. He would say it’s probably made of glass from the feel, but he still can’t see it. “Yo, little man,” he demands, eyes not leaving the space where his hand fucking isn’t anymore, “what is this thing?”
There's only silence in return, not even the flipping of the book, and Taako looks up to see Leon frozen, completely still and ashen faced. “I think you broke him,” Magnus whispers, sounding awed.
“Well fuck, one of you then, look in that book and try to find weird ass darkness stone or whatever before it explodes or turns into a dragon and kills us all.”
Merle steps right up and pries the book out of Leon’s hands who is still frozen completely still. “You’d think this guy was dead or something.” Merle jokes and then a pause before he puts his hand to Leon’s chest to check. “Nope still ticking. Whew what a relief I don’t want to know the paperwork we’d have to fill out for accidentally killing a bureau employee.”
Taako shoots Merle a pointed glare that reads ‘get the fuck on with it old man before I hurl this stupid rock thing at your head and see if it kills you' and Merle hurriedly flips open the book. “Okay stones... stones... stones.... ah yes here we go.” He squints at the sections subheadings. “Now… would you say it’s more round or jagged? Smooth or rough? Color?”
Taako rolls his eyes. “Round, smooth and I can’t fucking see it, you absolute dingus.”
Merle nods unperturbed and flips to a section about three quarters of the way through and then starts skimming his way down the list, muttering under his breath, “No no... hey that one looks cool... no no.. it does what?? no no....” After a few long moments he stops, jabbing a finger triumphantly at an entry. “Here we are! Hmmm,” he reads further, “well this doesn’t bode well kid.”
“What? What is it?” Magnus asks, peering around the still frozen figure of Leon to look at the book himself.
“Well it says here that stone thing is... uh...”
“The Heart of Death,” Leon’s voice interrupts, tremulous and afraid. “You are literally holding Death’s Heart .”
“Huh,” Taako says, eyes turning back to the unviewable stone before tossing it up in the air to catch it with his other hand. “Coolio beans. How much gold you think it’s worth?”
This question is met with half a beat of dead quiet (hah dead, Taako chuckles to himself) and then three voices yelling in unison, “You want to sell Death’s Heart???”
[Image Description: A bird's eye view of Taako, Merle and Magnus looking at a black stone in Taako's hand. The faces of each can only partially be seen from the extreme angle. Magnus is muscular and tanned with a spiked pauldron. Merle has darker skin, and grey hair tied into a bun with leaves sticking out of it. An ornate black hat with flowers and crystals covers all of Taako's face and most of his body. End Description.]
Taako carries the stone with him because what else is he supposed to do? The book didn’t really have much information on it, just that it was from the collection of some necromancer. They don’t even know what it does just that it’s an extremely powerful magical item and according to the necromancer’s notes is, in no uncertain terms, the actual literal Heart of Death. (Taako doesn't understand why it wound up in the gachapon if they don't even know what it can do, but hey, he doesn't make the rules.)
Taako gets the original notes from the Bureau’s library himself and finds them infuriatingly verbose and lacking of any useful information. After an hour reading, he slams the book shut in frustration, ignoring the sour look that earns from the librarian, and mutters, “Goddamn necromancers with your stupid academic jargon and talking in circles and dumb-ass glasses and-” He cuts himself off, blinking rapidly in confusion. He doesn’t actually know any necromancers, let alone this one in particular, so where did that come from? He’d ponder it for longer, but he’s interrupted by Magnus crashing in to the library. Taako watches amused as the librarian glares at him and Magnus, sheepishly, proceeds to very carefully tiptoe over to his table.
“Taako! Hey!” Magnus tries, and utterly fails, to whisper. “Killian wants to know if you want to train with us tonight!”
Taako rolls the cricks out of his neck then shrugs. “Yeah sure. Not much to do on the moon anyway.”’
He throws himself into training that night, and the necromancer is put thoroughly out of his mind.
Taako uses the stone-heart-whatever as a paper weight mostly or to practice his juggling or just to feel because it is a really nice smooth texture and cool to the touch, and gods he wishes he could see into the darkness. He does realize, after staring at it for a good long while, that it’s not total nothingness like he’d first assumed. The longer he looks at it, the more he can see faint sparkles and glints, like staring deep into the void of a dark night sky and realizing with a start that there’s actually stars.
When it consistently doesn’t explode or summon a legion of the undead or anything even remotely interesting, the others gradually get used to it too. Well, mostly. Merle still eyes it suspiciously from time to time, but to be fair he does that with pudding in the cafeteria, so Taako’s learned to ignore it.
The meeting isn’t actually boring per se, but Kravitz has sat through more than he can even count over the ages, and they’re rarely too interesting any more. He and the Raven Queen are currently discussing a recent rash of necromancers in Neverwinter—nothing too alarming but it’s always good to jump in before it spreads.
He’s really only got half his concentration on the meeting; the other half is trying to recreate a composition he’d heard a few dozen or so years ago, fingers silently twitching to a half remembered beat, when he sits bolt upright. All of his attention is suddenly hyper focused as a force he hasn’t felt in many years begins tugging at him.
The Raven Queen breaks herself off mid sentence and Kravitz can imagine she looks at him fondly—she can take many forms at will, but when she’s ‘at home’ as she likes to say, she prefers not to bother, instead remaining a shifting mass of shadows and feathers within which occasionally a wing or a dress or a glimpse of a face can be seen for a moment. “Ah, it’s back is it?”
Kravitz nods distracted. The force is getting stronger, like it’s coming even closer, the longer he sits here. “Yeah," he breathes and then hurriedly, remembering who he's talking to, "Uh, yes. Yes, my Queen.”
She laughs, a cackly croaking sound, and waves to dismiss him. “Go, go.”
Kravitz stands and bows hastily. “Thank you.”
She laughs again and with another wave the table and tea set they’d been using vanish in a swirl of shadows, fading back into the energy of the astral plane. “Don’t thank me quite yet,” she says cryptically—a hazard of the job really—and with another bow, Kraviz turns to cut his way through to his office, excitement tingling in his bones. He has work to do.
It’s a while before they leave the moon base and touch the surface again and not even for an artifact this time, just for some stupid corporate retreat bullshit. Taako was already plotting his escape from mandatory team building exercises (gods know he doesn’t trust these knumbskulls with making coffee let alone catching him falling backwards) when… he doesn’t have to anymore, because suddenly he’s not there anymore.
He blinks and looks around him. Where once Magnus and Merle had been standing, arguing over who was going to be carrying the bags while Avi and the Director looked on with exasperation, he sees nothing but grass and trees. Apparently, he’s now standing in the middle of an empty clearing in an entirely different forest. He doesn’t have his bag which is a bummer, but he does still have the umbra staff which is a plus. But he’s still in an empty clearing which is certainly not.
Well, not entirely empty, he amends when a figure appears on the other side of the clearing. It blinks into reality in a swirl of darkness and a long black cloak that settles around the still obscured humanoid shape.
“Yo! My dude!” Taako yells. “Mad points for the entrance. Like seriously, the only thing that would have made that better would have been some eerie mood music because these birds chirping? Kind of undercut the drama of the moment, just saying. Maybe consider it for next time.”
The figure looked disgruntled, as much as an obscured cloaked figure can look like anything anyway. There’s silence for a long moment where Taako assumes the figure had planned some appropriately menacing or cryptic introduction but hadn’t anticipated Taako’s... Taako-ness. He smirks to himself; nobody ever does. Taako is seriously just considering blasting them (he’d prefer waiting till he knows at least why he was brought here but he’s really not in the mood today...) when they finally speak up.
“You... you’re not supposed to react like that,” the figure says, clearly frustrated, in a nice voice. Another blink, and they’re just a few steps in front of Taako, and pulling back the hood and— well hello there. The most handsome man Taako has ever seen (aside from himself natch) is standing in front of him, all dark skin and ridiculously chiseled jawline and sharp cheekbones and piercing red eyes that kind of look like they’re on fire which should probably be off putting but like, isn’t, at all.
Taako shrugs and firmly tells himself to keep it in his fucking pants before saying out loud, “Sorry boychik. How do most people react to your whole…” he waggles his fingers to encompass the man’s cape and the clearing, “schtick?”
The most handsome guy replies mildly, eyeing Taako with just a hint of curiosity and amusement in his eyes, “Fear, usually.”
Taako considers this, and then, with all of his considerable acting talent, gives his best approximation of a terrified scream and points a finger at the cloaked man, yelling tremulously, “Oh no! It’s some random guy in a black robe and we’re in some random bit of forest that… given my knowledge of this part of the world is like… just on the other side of Neverwinter? Three miles that way and you hit the main road! Oh no this is so frightening!” Then he straightens and cocks his head with a shit eating grin, “Is that what you had in mind?”
Handsome man looks unimpressed. “Something like that I suppose, but let me clear up one thing.” Then he smiles. A nice smile that starts small but grows wider and wider and then Taako realizes it’s not him smiling, it’s his skin stretching and falling off to reveal a skeletal face. His eyes are replaced with two small balls of flame, and then a skeletal hand extends and a scythe appears in another swirl of darkness. “I’m not some ‘random guy’,” he says nonchalantly. “I’m Death and I believe you have something of mine.”
Taako can feel the stone weighing down in his pocket right now and he thinks over his options for a split second before he says, “Death? Really? Please tell me that’s an alias or something because jeeeeez what a lame ass name.”
He thinks Death’s eyes would have widened in surprise if they were able to in a skull form and his smile would have faltered but, as it is, only the flames get brighter for a split second. There’s another few moments of silence while Death looks Taako over and then he’s saying, slow and almost cautiously, “Kravitz. My name is Kravitz.”
“Well, Kravitz, I’m Taako though I get the feeling you already knew that and I can't say it’s nice to meet you given the, uhh, circumstances of ya know kidnapping me or… elfnapping? Semantics, really. And also the troubling implications of Death himself showing up, but uh... this hasn’t been my worst day yet, so there’s that!”
Death/Kravitz tilts his head and Taako can almost see his brow furrow. “What is actually wrong with you?” he mutters and Taako thinks it’s mostly to himself or some deity (hey who does Death pray to anyway? Taako’d never been one for even disorganized religion but probably he should know some of this stuff). “I’ve waited so long without a trace, and this is what I get?”
Taako takes a little pity on him. Obviously, this guy’s day is going about as unexpected as his has been. “So I guess you’re here about your—” finger quotes “—‘Heart’ thingamajig, right?”
Kravitz looks relieved—if it’s possible for a skull to even look relieved—and nods. “Of course. I’m here to retrieve it, and you are the first one to hold it for many years.”
“Just my luck,” Taako mutters under his breath, then louder he says, “well I’m sure we can make some kind of deal? Because I sense fighting Death won’t turn out well for me and I’d much rather be alive and heartless than dead and... also heartless.”
Kravitz snorts which is an interesting thing for a skeleton to do. “Believe me, if I could have killed you and taken my Heart back I wouldn’t have done this whole… production,” he gestures around the clearing. “Unfortunately… it can only be freely given.”
“So…" Taako drags out, "you’re telling me that you can’t actually kill me if you want this? Then why am I even here?”
“To negotiate,” Kravitz says and, then all of a sudden, his very handsome face is back on, and his cloak swirls to reveal a body impeccably clad in a three piece suit. “What can Death do for you, Taako Tacco?”
Taako’s mouth splits into a wide grin, “Oh skullduggery, my man, we’re going to be here for a long while.”
[Image Description: An illustration of Taako and Kravitz. Kravitz is standing in front of Taako, looking down at him with a stern disgruntled expression, his arms crossed. He is a wood elf with dark skin and vitiligo. His dark blueish hair is in dreads that are decorated with jewelry, and he is wearing a dark purple suit and a feathered cloak. Taako is standing his back to the viewer. He has long ears and is wearing a red and lilac gradient hat with a decorated rim. The background shows the field they are standing on and a forest on the edge of it. End Description]
The “Rules” as far as Kravitz has put together, don’t have a real origin. Kravitz has had to piece them together for himself through legend and myth and a little bit of trial and error. There may have been a purpose at one point, or a curse, or a bet gone wrong who knows—whichever, it would seem that anyone involved has either long gone or forgotten long before Kravitz’s time. As far as he can figure, there’s four main points:
- Once undead, a Reaper’s Heart becomes a physical commodity
- This can take many forms from stones to ribbons to crowns to weapons
- All of these are exceedingly dangerous and powerful (See 3)
- Reaper Hearts can only be freely given
- They cannot be bought or traded for
- They cannot be stolen*
- *unless the owner is killed and it is removed from their possession post mortem
- Note this cannot be done by the reaper themselves OR by anyone on behalf of said reaper
- They can be lost though who would lose it?
- Owner’s cannot be threatened or pressured into giving them up
- You get it now? Freely given under their own volition
- Reaper Hearts are extremely powerful
- They draw upon the power of the astral plane and can thus be used as a focus or a substitute in many spells and practices
- Possession of a Heart (either theirs or anothers) does not make a Reaper more or less powerful, as spells that would require a Reaper Heart are ones that require no extra effort from their part
- (observational) Some reapers care about where their Heart is, who has it, how to get it back. Some really don’t.
- Kravitz Does
Kravitz has been trying to get back his Heart since he learned what actually happened to it. So far, he has been resoundingly unsuccessful. Turns out, people who want to own a reaper’s Heart aren’t too keen on giving it back, especially since Intimidation can’t work on it’s own.
But… Kravitz has been working out a loophole that if he doesn’t SAY what he’s there for first of all, doesn’t actually say ‘hey give me my fucking Heart or I’ll drag you to the astral plane to suffer for eternity,’ then it still counts as free will if they give it over. Unfortunately, Kravitz hasn’t really had a chance to test this out as the past few ‘owner’s’ circumstances of meeting were… less than ideal. That and then it somehow went off the map entirely for a long enough time that Kravitz idly wondered if he’d know if it’d been destroyed or not.
(He thinks he would.)
Kravitz has been searching for his Heart for a long time, long enough that, when he gives Taako the number, his eyebrows jump up involuntarily, and he whistles and says, “Damn that’s a long ass time.”
They’re sitting cross legged across from each other on a nice picnic blanket Kravitz had summoned because Taako’s first wish in this negotiation (“I’m not a genie,” Kravitz says amused and Taako waves a hand dismissively) is to know the Whole Story and he hadn’t eaten since breakfast. “Okay but like I’m confused. How did you lose it in the first place? I mean, excuse me for the obvious pun, but isn’t it the kind of thing you would want to keep close to the chest?”
Kravitz hesitates and when he speaks, Taako can tell he’s holding something back. “I didn’t really… have a choice in the matter,” he says carefully. Taako raises an eyebrow, frankly unimpressed, and Kravitz sighs in frustration. “Okay listen, this isn’t the kind of stuff I just tell people and especially not the same people I’m trying to get it back from, you understand?”
“Well, you gotta tell me something , my man,” Taako says pragmatically. “I’m still not sure what this thing even is, let alone why I should give a shit.” Kravitz looks wary, so Taako switches to his most convincing (wheedling) tone, “Come on, just give cha’boy one little thing.”
Kravitz studies him for a second and then nods once, firmly to himself. “When I took this job—when I died,” he explains, “there were certain things I didn’t know about. One such thing is that relationships and emotions continue to have a tangible effect. Unbeknownst to me, that meant the person I loved at the time received my Heart, that Heart,” he nods at the stone that Taako had removed from his pocket and placed on the blanket between them. “And well, I can’t especially blame them since I didn’t really try to make the relationship work after I became a reaper, and since I didn’t even know about it till long after they died, but they gave it away, and well, now I’m stuck chasing it down.
Taako considers this as he drinks some wine. “So what are we doing here then? Because you can’t kill me to get it or I’m assuming intimidate me into giving it to you. Either that or you’re really bad at this job. And freely given… does that mean you can’t pay me for this? You have to convince me to return it? Because no offense but like I’d rather have some treasure, my dude.”
Kravitz sighs. “So would everyone I’m afraid. While I’m not prohibited from gifting things TO you, you will find that absolutely nothing can be offered in payment or trade for my Heart directly, by me or anyone else for that matter.”
“It’s real creepy this you keep referring to it as your Heart, honey bunch. So… you have to get me to like you enough to just give it to you.” Kravitz shrugs and Taako screws up his face sympathetically. “Everything would have been much simpler if Magnus had gotten that stupid gachapon. Because sorry not sorry? But I’m not really in the business of giving shit away, even to the people I do like.”
“Even when it’s their rightful property?”
“I would say especially then bubbeleh.” Taako inclines his head sympathetically. “This picnic was a nice start to endearing yourself to me I suppose.”
Kravitz nods and fills up how own glass with wine. “That’s better than its been for a while anyway.” He chugs the glass and Taako is mildly impressed. “Anything else I can do for you while we’re here?”
Taako reluctantly thinks back to his team who are probably worried sick over his sudden disappearance (or more realistically still arguing and haven’t noticed at all) and sighs. “No thanks, hot stuff. I should probably head back to my rag tag team of misfits before they, ya know, get themselves killed or something because Pan fucking forbid our cleric actually cast a healing spell for once in his miserable goddamn life.”
Kravitz laughs at that. Taako looks up in surprise to see Kravitz also looking surprised like he hadn’t intended to do that out loud and a dark flush rises to his cheeks. He coughs awkwardly and stands, straightening his still perfect suit to hide his embarrassment and Taako just watches with a grin. Adorable.
(“Where were you really ?” Magnus pesters later that night. Taako rolls his eyes and doesn’t look up from his nail file.
“Cha’boy needed two seconds to himself away from secret moon based organizations. Drop it. ”
Magnus scoffs disbelievingly but changes the subject. Taako lets the ramble—something about dogs—wash over him, and he holds out his arm to examine his nails critically. Maybe it’s time to change the color… he’s really feeling red lately... )
Kravitz had lost the tug of his Heart a few days after he’d found it again. He can’t figure out where Taako goes that is so heavily protected that he can’t sense it at all, but he’s not terribly worried about it now that he has a name.
He is worried about how this will continue though, now that he has time to think it over. His initial plan of action had failed, and though Taako had seemed amenable to continuing contact, he’s unsure what he can really do from there. Become his friend? Convince him to give it over willingly?
He leans back in his office chair and sighs, scrubbing a hand down his face. He won’t figure this out thinking about it, he’ll just have to cross that bridge when he comes to it.
“Now these three,” the Raven Queen says, moving on to the next scroll, “ somehow they’ve slipped under our radar for a long time.” She frowns and taps on the page. “Ridiculous,” she mutters, “57. That just doesn’t happen.”
Kravitz eyebrows shoot up sharply. “57?”
“A high bounty for you.” She frowns again at the scroll before waving a hand, summoning Kravitz’s ledger onto the desk. Another wave and three new lines of shining red ink are added. “However, it seems they haven’t committed any crimes in over 10 years, not ones relevant to us anyway. So consider them low priority… for now at least.” She nods once sharply before pushing the ledger over to Kravitz.
Kravitz leans forward to read the new entries, Merle Highchurch—57, ridiculously high for him not to be on the list yet. Magnus Burnsides—19, still impressively high. And… his stomach drops. Taako Tacco—8. Yep, that fucking tracks. He’d thought he’d finally had a chance and Taako hadn’t seemed like a necromancer and yet...
Kravitz sighs and taps on the line. “When I tracked down my Heart last, it was to Taako.” He frowns at the name and then closes the ledger. “It won’t affect my work, I assure you,” he says truthfully. It hasn’t before and it won’t now, even if he thought Taako was, well, different.
The Raven Queen nods and moves on to their next order of business.
Kravitz is busy preparing for the collection of the Miller’s, enough so that he doesn’t notice the tug until he’s at the lab and there. And well, he was here for two bounties but if he can get five, that’d be a pretty feather in his cap.
It is a shame, he thinks as he forms a body from the pink crystal—that seems strange but what does Kravitz know about interior decorating nowadays?—but at least now I’ll know where my Heart is left so I can keep a track on it for next time.
But… they seem sincere in their confusion, and they do defeat the Legion (the hell that would’ve rained down on Kravitz if that had gone any farther isn’t worth thinking about). So he let’s them off with a warning and a leniency, and escorts Maureen back to the astral plane. It’s certainly not the last he’ll see of them, he’s sure of it.
The next time Taako sees Kravitz, he’s a pink crystal golem and trying to kill him, so, as far as second meetings go, it’s not great. They don’t really talk; no aghast yelling of “but I thought you said!” Nothing like that, but when Kravitz explains their bounties and death counts his eyes flash to Taako and there’s… something there. And when Magnus tries to cheat him at a card game for their souls, Taako gets the distinct impression that Kravitz is aware and lets them win anyway.
They roll out of Lucas’s lab with the grand relic, their souls, and hardly any casualties at all. They spend the ride back up to the base debating whether Boyland counts on their official ‘unofficial death toll’ and ultimately decide that, no, he brought it on his own damn self. Merle insists his arm should count, but Taako prefers the wooden one anyway so he doesn’t mark it down.
Taako’s kind of expecting a visit from Kravitz soon after that or at least some sort of message to… explain more? Or try and cozy back up because like fuck number one thing to put yourself on Taako’s shit list is to try and kill him and his companions (friends still seems like… too much sometimes and still not enough and that scares the shit out of him so he avoids it entirely). But Kravitz doesn’t show up so he guesses their debt or whatever really was settled with the Raven Queen.
Refuge was a LOT, and, sure, technically he was only gone from the base for a little over an hour, but he felt so much. He trudges back through to the reclaimer's quarters, already tugging his braid loose, only wanting to drop face first on his bed and sleep (elves don’t even need sleep but he’s so tired). He hangs up his cloak—still haven’t found a use for it but goddamn is it pretty—and when he turns, he notices a figure sitting on the couch. There all tall, dark and extremely handsome is Kravitz. He looks at Taako expectantly and says, “We need to talk.”
Taako blinks at him for a moment and then sighs heavily before heading across the room. He gestures for Kravitz to follow which he does. Whatever coolness he’d gotten from that intro is immediately undone by him trailing awkwardly after Taako to his room. In his room, Taako closes the door and casts a small noise obscuring spell because the last thing he needs right now is one of the other two idiots to hear him talking to the grim reaper who tried to murder them just a couple weeks ago.
Only when he’s sure they won’t be interrupted or spied on does he turn back to Kravitz. “Yeah I think we do.” As Kravitz leans forward, Taako breezes right past to the closet. “Later though, boychik, because right now? I’m fucking exhausted and I don’t even have any diamonds to show for this whole mess.” He starts undressing and there’s a startled noise from behind him and he turns his head to see Kravitz very deliberately Not looking at him and… blushing? Interesting.
“I don’t think this conversation can wait,” Kravitz points out. “Last time we saw each other, I said there’d be no second chances.”
“Then why are you even here? Why not just reap me or whatever and be done with it.”
Kravitz’s face pulls into a frown, troubled. “Because there’s a story here, and I want to know it before I make any decisions.”
“Fine. You, sit,” Taako commands. Kravitz looks at the only chair in the room then raises an eyebrow because it’s covered with clothes. Taako sucks his teeth and casts Mage Hand to move it all out of the way. “Go on, settle down. This is going to be a long night.”
Kravitz isn’t sure how everything got like this. A follow-up meeting with Taako to conclude his investigation into Refuge spiraling into maybe something more. Kravitz hadn’t planned for this, hadn’t seriously even considered the possibility (there might’ve been some unserious thoughts there after their first meeting—and after the second if Kravitz is being totally honest—but those amounted to nothing more than feeling slightly guilty), and now that it seems to be unfolding this way, he’s more than a little lost.
On their second ‘maybe a date’ (Kravitz feels justified in being unsure since he hasn’t been on a date any time even remotely recently), they meet in Neverwinter in a hole-in-the-wall restaurant Kravitz probably wouldn’t have been able to find if he didn’t have the constant tug of his Heart guiding him. That reminds him of something else he’d noticed at their last meeting, and when the conversation inevitably turns to what exactly Taako’s work entails, he shares it.
A secret moon base, Kravitz honestly hadn’t expected. And though he had no trouble getting there once he made an effort, it’s clear that the numerous wards and spells shielding the place are part of what’s been hiding his Heart when it’s not on the ground. When he shares these thoughts, however, Taako latches onto a different aspect…
“Seriously? You didn’t notice a whole ass second moon suddenly appearing in the sky?” Taako asks, head cocked curiously.
Kravitz shrugs, somewhat abashed. “I don’t spend much time on this plane and almost none at all studying the astronomical features. I suppose I thought I just… forgot about it.”
Taako folds his features into a look like he’s trying his hardest not to laugh. “You thought you just forgot about it.”
Kravitz arches an eyebrow. “Tell me again how you died and came back 9 times?”
It’s Taako’s turn to look abashed, but he steadfastly refuses to play by those rules. Instead, he shrugs and drinks some wine. “Okay bone man, but at least I know how many moons we have.”
Kravitz laughs into his own glass and is about to reply when suddenly there’s a low croak from nearby and a waiter yelling in surprise, “How did a bloody raven get in here?”
Kravitz turns in his seat and locks eyes with the bird who flaps his wings and caws at him directly. He sighs as he turns back and Taako’s peering around him to look at the commotion. “Your boss isn’t exactly subtle is she?” he asks, and Kravitz chuckles. The Raven Queen’s birds are much larger, darker, sleeker than any ravens on this plane. Products of the astral plane with the ability (however limited) to travel between. Their eyes also have a tendency to glow red which makes them much more unsettling to the people on this plane.
“I am sorry,” he says, standing even as he hears the waiter cursing as they try and usher the raven out. “Rain check on desert?”
Taako looks up at him with a smile slowly forming on his face, and something about his expression makes Kravitz flush. The raven is making a fuss, cawing and flying and generally interfering with everyone else’s dinners; Kravitz honestly couldn’t care less. “Rain check,” Taako agrees.
Taako isn’t sure what to call what he and Kravitz are doing. They’ve been on three kind-of dates so far, including that first one which Taako thinks should maybe be only counted as a half. They still feel vaguely businesslike—though there’s definitely more overt flirting than even Taako would consider business appropriate—because Kravitz has had to run out early on the last two on urgent summons of the Raven Queen, before Taako could even suggest any tomfoolery. He seems genuinely regretful both times though, and before he disappears, he does promise to call Taako the next day.
Whatever their relationship is though, he’s starting to feel a little weird with just carrying around Kravitz’s Heart loose in his pocket. But he also doesn’t want to just leave it laying around in his room. He knows Kravitz says it couldn’t be stolen (unless Taako died first in which case he’s got more to worry about than that) but Taako feels… better carrying it.
He finds the solution when he’s down shopping with Angus in Neverwinter. They’re on a little field trip gathering magical supplies for Angus’s studies, and also, Taako is taking slight advantage by having Angus carry bags while he tries stuff on. Hey, he gets Ango a new hat and one of those dumb books he’s always raving about, so he doesn’t feel too bad about it.
They’ve wandered into a jewelry store, and while Angus sits and gets absorbed in his new book, Taako browses the earrings. He doesn’t find anything that piques his interest though, so after a few minutes he’s ready to leave. He's turning to gather Angus and head out when something catches his eye.
He steps closer to the necklace display and eyes the fine chain, carrying a small, intricately woven circular cage. Studying it, he finds a small mechanism almost like a locket that would allow things to be stored inside. He feels the stone in his pocket, eyeballs the measurements, and then impulsively takes it down to bring to the half-elf shopkeeper.
After the shopping is done, Taako gives in to Angus’s longing looks and they stop to get ice cream. Once they’re seated, Taako pulls out the necklace from his bag and then the stone, and with just a little fiddling, he’s wearing the necklace. The cage rests on his chest, the design was beautiful but it’s almost entirely obscured now by the darkness coming from the stone.
Angus cocks his head across the table. “Sir? Are you sure it’s wise to so prominently display such a mysterious and dangerous magical artifact?”
Taako shrugs. “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”
Angus’s eyebrows furrow. “That doesn’t make any sense,” he points out, and Taako waves a hand dismissively before slipping the necklace into the folds of the tunic he’s wearing. He might tease Angus but the kid has a point.
“Life rarely makes sense, kiddo,” Taako says. He can see Angus raring up for a heated discussion—after all being a detective means making sense of life—and he hides a smile behind his own cone. Overall, this shopping trip was a resounding success.
Kravitz doesn’t remember much of his life. He did for a while, but, as the years passed and as he spent more and more time in the astral plane where time feels and moves differently, he’d lost all ties to the material plane. The memories followed shortly after.
The town where he grew up? Nada. His family? A vague notion. He tries to think of his brother’s face and he can’t quite get there which makes him sad in an abstract fashion. It’s difficult to be sad about somebody you barely remember, he learns.
He keeps some things, some aspects. Though he is capable of creating any kind of form for himself, he prefers the one he had in life. It’s like an anchor, the only anchor to a people that are long dead and forgotten.
He knows who his Heart went to because he keeps a ledger of when it’s changed hands, but he’s forgotten almost everything about them. All he recalls now, if he tries very, very hard is a nice laugh, honey colored eyes and the smell of cinnamon. He doesn’t even know why he loved them but he knows he did; they wouldn’t have received his Heart otherwise.
He remembers music most specifically. Long after faces and names start to disappear, he can hum a bar of some old, old drinking song. He’d always had a head for music (and even that feels like something someone else said, though the circumstances are missing), and he knows he would’ve become a conductor if his life had been a bit longer.
He remembers his death in every gruesome detail. Watching as his blood spills across cold, dark stone. The stench, the altar smells like rotting meat and he’s not the first person to be sacrificed here. The knives across his back, carving sigils and runes while he screamed and begged. His ribs breaking, sickening snaps that’d make him throw up if he’d still had the capacity. Sweat and tears mingling and trickling down his face till even he can’t tell the difference. Choking on his tongue, on the air, on new blood that comes spilling out. Darkness, blessed darkness… Then an offer, a deal, a split second decision stretching over millennia. His first act as a reaper is turning right around and gutting the cult who had killed him.
Sometimes he wishes he could forget that, and other times he’s glad he hasn’t. It was a decision made in a tough spot that has affected every moment of his continued existence. It was terrible and reliving it as he must on occasion (time might have marched forward but cults rely on traditions) does make him want to throw up, but it’s helpful. A reminder of why he chose this path, this job. An understanding of the true evil even the most inconspicuous of people can achieve.
Emotions are dumb—Taako
The thing is, when Taako actually stops and thinks about him and Kravitz, it doesn’t make sense.
He can’t decide if it’s Kravitz pretending, taking advantage to get his Heart back. OR if it’s Taako who’s taking advantage—if by having Kravitz’s heart he feels pressured to go along with whatever Taako wants. He feels sick thinking about it either way, especially after their last date which had ended with a trip to the pocket spa and some fooling around that—if it had gone any further and not been totally consensual—would make Taako an even worse person than he ever thought he was.
Obviously, he’ll have to put this whole farce to an end. This would probably have been a better realization to have when he wasn’t in the Chug N Squeeze sitting with Kravitz.
“I think we’re done,” Taako says abruptly.
Kravitz looks between his own half formed pot and Taako’s, puzzled. “I think we’ve just begun?”
“Not that.” He waves a hand, gesturing between the two of them. “This. We’re done.”
Taako can see from the corner of his eye, Kravitz blinking in astonishment. “I—really?” Taako nods, and a moment later, Kravitz asks quietly, an indecipherable emotion and underlying coldness, “May I ask why? I thought… things were going quite well.”
“Conflict of interest,” Taako says, keeping his voice as plain and unemotionally as he can. “I was on your boss’s shit list remember?”
“I do, but your bounty was cleared,” Kravitz says, obviously still confused, and Taako wishes he’d just let it go. He doesn’t feel good about any of this. Why hadn’t he gotten up and stormed out already?
“And what? Your boss wasn’t the least bit suspicious that we got out scotch free and I just happened to have your Heart?” Taako laughs a little bitterly, ducking his head to concentrate on his pottery wheel.
“Taako,” Kravitz says, voice serious enough that Taako looks up to meet his gaze in spite of himself. Taako sees the realization click in Kravitz’s eyes and knows he finally gets what Taako is worried about. Kravitz makes sure he’s holding Taako’s gaze for a moment before continuing, “I have been doing this job for a long time, and in that time my Heart has been owned by wizards, sorcerers, necromancers, the kind of people that I’m tasked to tracking down. Do you really think that if I could be influenced or used by whoever holds my Heart, the Raven Queen would trust me with this job? Do you really think that she would be naive enough to send me out on your bounties, knowing this, knowing you?” Kravitz sits back and Taako hadn’t really realized how close he’d leaned in, too focused on Kravitz’s eyes. “Taako, I’ve collected bounties on those people before with no remorse. You’re not different because you have my Heart; you’re different because you’re you, and ultimately I know that you’re a good person.”
“Not so good of a person,” Taako whispers, eyes finally darting away as he feels tears threaten. Taako is an idiot, Kravitz obviously thinks Taako has some hidden Heart of gold but he doesn’t. He’d told him about what he’d seen in the Chalice but he’d brushed past how relieved he’d felt, how, absolved from the guilt, he really hadn’t given two thoughts to saving them or even Fandolin. It doesn’t even matter that Kravitz might actually like Taako regardless of the whole Heart thing because Kravitz expects Taako to be good and he’s not and this whole thing, whatever it is, is ruined.
And then Kravitz is close again, one hand covering Taako’s own and when Taako automatically looks down he sees that Kravitz is helping him reshape his pot that had admittedly gone a little sideways in his distraction. He doesn’t say anything just hums a little tune under his breath as the pot takes form again. When he leans back to his own pot, Taako misses the coolness of his skin. “But really, I kill people for a living, who am I as a moral judge?” He shoots a half smile at Taako, inviting him to laugh since really, Kravitz is a judge, jury and executioner sanctioned by the Raven Queen. Taako obliges with a small chuckle and Kravitz’s smile widens.
[Image Description: An illustration of Taako and Kravitz doing pottery in a warm light of candles. Taako is a chubby elf with freckled brown skin and big elven ears. He has white hair that is pulled into braids on one side and left fluffy and cloud-like on the other, covering one eye. He has the same kind of tuft of hair at end of his tail. He is wearing a white shirt, a long red sweater cardigan, and many golden necklaces. Both of his hands are stained by the light brown clay. Kravitz is a wood elf with dark skin and vitiligo. He has pointed ears and dark blueish hair that is in dreads tied to one side with a decorative gold string. His hands are also covered in clay as he helps Taako. They both have soft expressions on their faces. End Description.]
Taako half wants to invite Kravitz back to his room tonight and he thinks Kravitz would say yes but... that other half of him is still worrying. Because yes his worries about—and gods there’s no decent way to phrase it—forcing himself on Kravitz may have been unfounded but that doesn’t change the fact that he was fairly panicking about it not even half an hour ago, and even Taako realizes that jumping from that right into bed might not be a good idea, mental health wise. This realization, and the fact that he actually doesn’t want to fuck this up anymore, keeps him back.
So instead, he walks Kravitz to the edge of the moon (Kravitz could make a portal literally anywhere but since he can’t walk Taako back to his rooms without almost certainly running into Tweedle Dee or Tweedle Dumb and Taako can’t really walk him back to the astral plane, they’ve compromised) while they talk quietly about really nothing important. Before Kravitz steps through his portal though, he takes Taako’s hand and gently, brushes a kiss to the back of it. He holds Taako’s gaze for a moment, two and then he steps through the portal and is gone. Taako lets out a loud whoosh of breath he’d been holding. He’s got goosebumps and it has almost nothing to do with the temperature of Kravitz’s skin and everything to do with the pure Intimacy of the gesture.
[Image Description: A scene set on the moon with Kravitz leaning down to kiss the back of Taako's hand. Kravitz is a dark-skinned man with curly black-brown hair pulled back. He's wearing a fancy suit with a feather motif and looking up at Taako in front of him. His portal to the Astral Plane behind him illuminates them both. Taako is a green-skinned elf with long, braided blonde hair. He's wearing ornate mulberry robes, and though his face is partially obscured by the fringe of his hat, he appears to be blushing. End Description.]
It's a few dates later as they’re leaving the restaurant when Taako takes Kravitz’s hand in his own. “I know you usually just disappear,” here he makes a sound effect and waves his arm mimicking Kravitz’s scythe and Kravitz laughs, “but I have more wine back in my quarters. We could keep this party going?” Taako tries to make the invitation sound casual but he’s tense. This whole thing is so new. He actually likes Kravitz and not just in a “wanna get that hot bod in my bed” kind of way and that scares the absolute bejeezus out of him. Maybe Taako even just last year would’ve run as fast and far from this situation as he could but now, well…
Kravitz is quiet for a moment, almost long enough to make Taako worry, then he squeezes Taako’s hand. “I’d like that. Do you want to take the,” he mimics the sound effect Taako just did, “shortcut?”
“Oh yes absolutely. Nothing quite ruins the mood like walking in on Magnus clipping his toenails or Merle sweet talking his plants,” Taako gives an exaggerated shudder and Kravitz laughs.
Taako waits while Kravitz materializes his scythe, and he’s surprised when Kravitz wraps his other arm around him, pulling him in close. Taako shivers definitely in a good way when Kravitz nuzzles his hair and says low in his ear, “Your room then?” It’s never going to stop affecting Taako how Kraviz can switch so easily from total gentleman to outrageously filthy in an instant, just with the tone of his voice. Taako nods, throat tight with want, and Kravitz slices through the air in front of them, and they step though into Taako’s room.
As soon as they’re in and the portals closed behind them, Taako’s twisting under Kravitz arm to kiss him. Taako doesn’t see the scythe disappear but he knows when it does because suddenly he’s got both of Kravitz’s hands on his hips. His shirt is cropped and where Kravitz’s skin brushes against his, he gets goosebumps and what the hell he actually likes it. He presses closer into Kravitz, encouraging more contact by running his own hands over Kravitz’s shoulders, through his braids, cupping the back of his head. Kravitz makes a noise and slides one hand up Taako’s back, causing him to shiver and whine under his breath. When they break apart, Kravitz’s pupils are blown a little wide and Taako needs to catch his breath. “So, about this whole you being undead thing…” Taako says leadingly with a quick look down. “How’s your dick, bud?”
Kravitz chokes out a laugh. “If you’re asking if everything ‘works’ the answer is resoundingly yes,” he replies but before Taako can make some quip back, Kravitz leans down and starts kissing at Taako’s neck till he finds Taako’s pulse point, and then he bites hard but not hard enough to break the skin. Taako muffles his groan by burying his head into Kravitz’s suit covered shoulder, and then decides that standing up is for dummies who don’t have perfectly good beds right behind them.
“Well that’s good to know,” Taako says as he pushes away, walking backwards a few steps till his knees hit the back of his bed. He grins wickedly as he falls backward, knowing exactly how he looks, leaning on his elbows, hair loose and curing, skirt pulling up over his knees. “You’re a bard right? How good’s your Zone of Silence?”
Kravitz laughs and steps forward, running one hand gently over Taako’s knees and he’s not even going out of “safe” range but Taako finds himself arching into his touch already. “I guess we’ll find out.” As Kravitz casts the spell, Taako reaches up, wraps one hand around Kravitz’s tie and pulls him down into a biting kiss.
They burn all of Kravitz’s 4th level spell slots that night.
The Raven Queen interrupts while Kravitz is giving a report. “Did you have a good night?”
Kravitz stutters and breaks off. “Uh, excuse me?”
“It must’ve been very good. You’re practically glowing!”
Kravitz can feel himself start to flush. “Um, I don’t…”
She cackles and reaches forward to brush his cheek gently. “Oh Kravitz please. We’ve known each other more than long enough to talk about your love life.”
“You’re my boss,” Kravitz makes a last-ditch attempt towards normality.
“Eh.” She waves dismissively. “Come now, you’ve been absorbed in work for far too long. Even I take a day off every now and then, it’s high time you’ve started to live a little. I’m glad you’ve found someone that makes you happy.” She eyes him sharply. “They do make you happy right?”
Kravitz ducks his head embarrassed but nods. He knows she won’t stop pestering till he gives her something.
“Good,” she says smugly. “If they didn’t, I might’ve had to have a word with them.” Kravitz looks up aghast and her cackles echo through the chamber.
Kravitz notices his Heart right away. After all, how can he miss it when it’s resting on a stripping Taako’s bare chest? His breath catches momentarily and Taako’s eyes flicker down, following his gaze. “Oh yeah, I decided to dress it up a little you know, add a little flair.” He raises an eyebrow at Kravitz. “You’re not terribly offended or something are you?”
Kravitz shakes his head and answers, breathier than he’d really like. “Not offended, no.”
Taako’s face breaks into a wide and slightly wicked smile. “Well that is very good to know.”
It’s an… interesting feeling, seeing Taako wearing his Heart. Usually when he sees somebody else with it he feels slightly disgusted, definitely disgruntled and angry about it. But now… something wells up in Kravitz, something ancient and sacred that looks at Taako sprawled all over the bed in a wild spread of limbs wearing his Heart—wearing only his Heart—and it says, “Yes, correct, good. Mine.”
This feels too Big and Important for how quickly their relationship is developing but Kravitz isn’t about to argue with it right now, especially not with Taako giving him ‘come hither’ eyes. So, he just pushes it to the side in a box labeled ‘open in a couple months, maybe,’ and follows Taako onto the bed.
Kravitz answers the Raven Queen’s summon almost instantly, but when he walks into her chambers, she and Istus are sharing a pot of tea. He stops and bows to them, respectfully. “My Queen. Lady Istus.”
Istus laughs. “Oh, come up here Kravitz.” She waves him forward till he’s close enough for her to take his hand in both of her own in welcome. “How are you doing, my dear?”
The Raven Queen summons another chair and gestures till Kravitz sits at the table between them. “I am well,” he answers politely. “And yourself?”
Istus waves and for a moment Kravitz catches a brief glimpse of an infinite multi-colored tapestry before it’s gone again. “Oh, life goes on, you know.” Istus shares a look with The Raven Queen before looking back to Kravitz with sparkling eyes. “Now Kravitz, a little birdie told me you were more than well.”
Kravitz glances accusingly at the Raven Queen and she cackles. “Is this all you summoned me for?”
The Raven Queen shrugs. “Kravitz, you are officially off the clock. Now,” she waves and a cup appears before him, and with another wave, the tea is replaced with several dark bottles, “come, let down your hair, and tell us all about your new paramour.”
Getting drunk with your boss and her (best friend? lover? he’s never gotten the full story there and honestly he’s scared to ask) and talking about his sex life probably isn’t very professional but, well, it’s not actually the first time he’s gotten drunk with her and Istus. He decides to just go with it, taking up his new glass, pouring himself a large amount, and taking a healthy drink. “Alright then,” he says finally. “What do you want to know?”
Kravitz is in the middle of fighting a necromancer in the far Northern reaches of Faerûn when his stone of far speech crackles to life. “Hellooooo,” Taako’s familiar voice comes through and Kravitz swipes his scythe through one of the necromancer’s undead minions. It makes some kind of final death croak and Taako asks mildly, “Oh is this a bad time?” Kravitz can imagine him, painting his nails with one hand just completely and totally bored with Kravitz’s work and it makes him smile—or it would if he wasn’t currently in skeleton mode.
He dodges out of the way of one of the necromancers spells and replies, just a little out of breath. “No no you’re fine. You just caught me in the middle of a job.” He ducks under the arm of some animated stone thing (not nearly as cool as the crystal golem he’d inhabited in the lab, he thinks wistfully) then hits it in the back with a blast. “What’s up Taako?” The stone monster roars and turns back to him and he readies another spell.
“I was just thinking about our date tonight. Instead of that place in Neverwinter, I know this place on the beach, real cute makes the Best crab cakes you’ll ever eat. Well, that aren’t made by yours truly of course,” he corrects himself immediately.
“Of course,” Kravitz agrees as he finally downs the stone monster. Now just two more minions and the necromancer to deal with, unless any more come running out. Gods he hates the ones who make an army of minions. It’s just so tedious. There’s never more than one or two that are actually powerful, and the rest are just canon fodder like they’ll think he’ll be overrun. Idiots.
“Mhmmm,” Taako continues and Kravitz imagines him twisting a strand of hair around a finger. “Also great margaritas, you’re gonna love it.”
“On your recommendation, I’m sure I will.” Kravitz dispatches the last two minions with one swipe of his scythe and then stalks towards the necromancer, who’s cowering in the corner of his lab. Looks like he hadn’t had much defenses beyond his minions then, so Kravitz takes his time, drags his scythe along the ground just for the drama of it.
“Yeah,” Taako continues, “and since it’s on the beach I thought we could get you out of those stuffy suits of yours. Don’t get me wrong I adore the aesthetic but do you own anything shortsleeved maybe? Show off those arms babe.”
Kravitz chuckles. “My material form is entirely constructed, I can wear whatever you want.”
Taako drops immediately into a sexual purr. “Oh really? Whatever I want?”
The necromancer looks less terrified and more offended at this point. “I’m sorry? Am I interrupting your date planning?” he asks incredulously. “I mean come on. I don’t want to be here either but show a little respect!”
“You weren’t interrupting till now,” Kravitz answers mildly and Taako’s giggle floats through the stone of farspeech. “And really why should I show respect to a necromancer who doesn’t even have a last Hail Mary plan to kill me?”
He raises his arms, giving clear opportunity for an attack, but the necromancer just mutters under his breath, “I burned all my spell slots.”
“Krav?” Taako asks. “You going to be much longer? I’d love to get there before sunset, there’s a very nice view.”
“I won’t be long,” Kravitz promises. “I’ll meet you there.”
Taako hums in acknowledgment and then the stone crackles and dies down once again. Kravitz raises his scythe towards the necromancer and asks, “Now are you going to come along quietly or are you going to make me a liar?” Before he really has time to think it over, Kravitz adds, “Keep in mind, I can decide how and where you’ll be punished and I can make it very, very bad.”
The necromancer sighs. “Fine then. I surrender just fucking kill me already Gods.”
“She’s working us to the bone,” Taako whines over the stone of farspeech and Kravitz grins affectionately. “Seriously, I barely had time today to do my hair! That’s a necessity! She can’t deprive me of that for one of her insane training exercises. I’m all out of spell slots and simply covered in bruises by noon! It’s completely ridiculous.”
Kravitz hums in agreement and quickly corrects one of the forms he’s looking over. “Am I boring you?” Taako asks and maybe at one point Kravitz would’ve worried but now that he knows Taako better, he can tell he’s not actually mad about it.
Kravitz chuckles. “Of course not. I like hearing you talk about your day. It’s much more interesting than mine.” His eyes catch on another mistake and he frowns at the paper before scratching it out.
“Oh yeah I bet, being a Reaper, the most boring job in the entire planar system,” Taako teases.
Kravitz shrugs even though Taako can’t see him. “You’d be surprised,” he says dryly. “My job is mostly paperwork when I don’t have a bounty and even then I hadn’t had one as interesting as you all in quite some time.”
“Of course not cuz nobody is as interesting as me,” Taako says, sounding pleased. “Soooooo, do you want to come over tonight? I can show you just how interesting I am.”
Kravitz flushes. He’s still not sure he’s completely recovered from last night when Taako had brought up his (threat? invitation?) from their second meeting, and his form may just be a material construct, but that kind of thing sticks with you. “I absolutely do,” he says earnestly, “but The Raven Queen asked to see me after I finished with these reports, so I might not be able. Rain check?”
“Mmhmm,” Taako hums thoughtfully. “Hey, do you think telling the Director I was just too fucked out to walk would get me out of practice?”
Kravitz laughs. “Probably not. Though if you’re still sore from training next time I come over, I can give you a massage.”
“A sexy massage?” Taako half teases—the other half, Kravitz knows, is deadly serious.
“I suppose we’ll have to see.” At that moment a raven swoops into Kravitz’s office and caws at him significantly. “Ah, I’m being summoned. I’ll talk to you later, Taako.”
“See ya around, my dude.”
“Oh!” Lydia says, darting far too close for Taako’s comfort but he grits his teeth and doesn’t lash out like he wants to (it won’t do any good anyways and will just get them more ‘penalties’ or whatever). “I do like your necklace, darling, where did you get it?”
Taako glances down, only just now realizing that the necklace that he keeps Kravitz’s Heart in, that he usually keeps tucked under his clothes, has found its way out. He notices Magnus and Merle noticing too and quickly glancing at each other, but he focuses his attention back on Lydia. Her eyes are sparkling with interest and intensity, and if half the shit he’s learned about how powerful Reaper Hearts are is true, these are definitely the kind of elves who would exploit them to the worst end. “Oh, this old thing?” he says airily, tugging a the chain to spin it without a care in the world. “Now, what was his name—Gareth? Gavin?” he shrugs. “Who can even remember? Great taste in jewelry but otherwise wholly unremarkable.” Taako prays to Istus and Pan and hell the Raven Queen herself that his deception roll is high enough.
“Hmmm.” Lydia considers it for another long moment before returning to Edgar’s side. “Okay!” She claps her hands and a lot of neon lights shaped like arrows appear on the wall behind her, pointing to the door. “Who’s ready for another round?!”
He’s glad he doesn’t land on the sacrifice option because if the way Lydia continues to eye him is any indication, she doesn’t quite believe that the necklace means nothing to him. He’s not sure how the Rules would work then, if sacrificing it to win a game would count or not, and Lydia can’t steal it… unless she just kills him, which given his current hit points and inability to heal, would not be difficult at all.
It’s early in the morning, before the sun has even begun to consider rising, but Taako’s meditated and even slept a little and he’s recovered enough to start out again once the sun rises. He’s sitting in front of their dwindling fire when Magnus, or the Mannequin currently known as Magnus rather, sits beside him. He’s twisting his necklace again but now without the forced casualness of early, it’s solely a gesture of anxiety. If the gods are cut off, there’s no telling what might be going on in the other planes, and he feels sick to his stomach thinking about Kravitz. He wonders if anything happens to Kravitz if it will… reflect back through the stone somehow. If maybe it will break or stop glowing darkness entirely. But for right now, it’s staying steady and Taako clings to that little scrap of hope. (He’d know somehow if Kravitz was gone, he’s sure of it. He doesn’t know how but he does.)
“How’re you doing?” Magnus asks after a few moments of silence and staring into the fire.
Taako looks askance at him, skeptical. “Shouldn’t I be asking you that? Your body was like disintegrated.”
The Magnus Mannequin shrugs. “Yeah maybe, but we both know you’re not going to.”
Taako can’t argue with that and instead looks back into the fire. It’s been a wild couple of months and he can feel something humming in the air, anticipatory. Something is going to happen before the day is through. Taako doesn’t have the time to be any less than perfectly okay, so he takes a breath and scoffs with the flair and confidence he’s so used to slipping into. “Don’t you worry about me, boychik,” Taako says, waving a hand dismissively. “Old Taako’s got his hit points back and he’s doing A-okay over here.”
Taako isn’t sure if Magnus believes him or not—normally he’s extremely easy to read, so expressive, but the mannequin face is featureless and blank—but either way he nods and doesn’t argue.
It’s a few more minutes before Magnus speaks again. “You remember in Refuge, when Istus said you were already on a path?” he asks. “What do you think she meant?”
(Taako remembers alright, but that’s not quite what she’d said. He can recall it vividly: Istus pausing, right before she sends them back, studying him intently, and then beaming happily. “Oh good! You’ve found your way to that path then!” She didn’t give any explanation, just continued smiling and then they’d been back in the loop and there hadn’t been time to dwell.
Now, Taako rolls the Heart in its necklace between his fingers and he thinks about coming home and finding Kravitz waiting there. Maybe it’s silly to think of fate or destiny in the randomness of the gachapon, but maybe that’s all the gachapon is, workings of fate.)
He shrugs at Magnus again. “Who knows? Maybe she’d liked the hair color I’d decided on.” He means there to be some humor in it, but it falls flat. Magnus doesn’t even dignify that with a response, rightfully so, and Taako sighs bitterly. “It doesn’t matter anyway with the plane cut off, what would she know?” He grips the cage so tight he thinks the chain might actually break.
The Magnus Mannequin puts a hand on his arm, and he loosens his grip just a little. They sit like that till there’s enough light for them to continue through the forest, blindly following the Red Robe wherever he’s leading them. Taako takes the time to rebuild himself, resolidifying his walls and strength. Today’s going to be a long day.
Kravitz has finally managed to crawl out of the tar like ocean that’s swallowed the astral plane, and now he’s relatively safe in the Stockade. He can’t reach the Raven Queen or any gods, and when he tries to cut through to the material plane, nothing happens. He doesn’t know where the rest of the astral emissaries are right now—hopefully they were on the material plane or managed to escape or hide in time and aren’t stuck in the tar like he was—doesn’t know where the Raven Queen is, if she’s even still alive. The only connection outside is the small force he can still feel from his Heart and he clings to it. It hasn’t been destroyed which means he hopes that Taako is still alive, still has it and he wraps himself up in that little sliver of hope. He collapses back against the door, trying to recover from his escape of the waves and find some way to escape.
Kravitz is still in that position crowded against the door, holding off the sickening black waves—”the hunger” his mind is suddenly able to supply—when he hears it, the most wonderful story. There’s Taako and Magnus and Merle and finally their death counts make sense and there’s years and years—running fighting living—and Kravitz didn’t realize he was crying till he feels the drops hit his hands.
He needs… he needs a way out. A way to get out of the fucking astral plane and find Taako. Help him and the rest of the crew to fight back against the hunger. Because if what he thinks is right, then everyone in the planar system just received the same message the same story the same song. They know what awaits if the hunger wins—they’ve seen the other systems fall into it, seen the crew die too—so they’re going to try their damn hardest not to let it.
Kravitz hauls himself up and composes himself, thinking critically about what resources he has at his disposal in the stockade to escape the astral plane. He ponders this for a moment and then a smile slowly starts to form. Well, isn’t it lucky that he happens too know some souls who managed just that and wouldn’t you know it they’re being punished in the stockade right now.
Taako is a child, following behind the caravan, they mostly ignore him and he’s lonely and alone and “Hey knucklehead,” a tiny sharp elbow in his side and he turns to see Lup smiling gap-toothed back at him. “We’re gonna fall behind come on!” She grabs his hand and drags him into a run, till they’re both laughing and out of breath.
He’s working on his grandfather’s farm (not really his grandfather but the tangle of distant relations is too complicated to unpiece) and he’s distracted enough to fuck up stirring the cream and he’s on the edge of an epiphany and Boom! There’s a large puff of flames and smoke on the edge of the property and then Lup’s familiar whoop of excitement. He smiles to himself, she’d been working on that spell all summer.
Memories. Memories. Swirl and invade and shift everything just slightly to the left.
Taako and Lup on the road. Taako and Lup cooking together, a well oiled machine. Taako and Lup learning magic, self taught and hard won. Taako and Lup applying to the Institute and getting on the mission. And then more and more and more and it’s not just “Taako and Lup” anymore; it’s “Taako and Lup and Magnus and Barry and Merle and Lucretia and Davenport” and all the combinations there above. It’s years of fighting and living and laughing together. It’s love, reserved and hoarded for so long, growing and spreading and tangling them all together. Bonds.
It’s being sad and feeling lonely but always having another shoulder to cry on. It’s a year spent surfing. It’s one absolutely perfect day. It’s tasting new and different foods, always in search of something more.
It’s black eyes and jellyfish and journals. It’s harrowing near misses and escapes. It’s death and destruction. It’s guilt and a loss felt deep and profound in his soul.
It’s betrayal and hurt and pain, so so much pain.
Taako can barely breathe, his mind a jumble of memories and emotions, too dense and tangled to view in more than snapshots. (Luci carefully drawing a diagram not noticing the smudge of ink on her cheek; Cap’n Port tearing up at the new chess pieces Magnus carved him; Barry falling asleep on his notes; Merle laughing at the start of a cycle “so what’d I miss?”; Magnus jumping from a high point just because he can; Lup cooking beside him, all smiles and sharp elbows.) He struggles against the overwhelming desire to fall, to clutch at his head, to cry, to scream. He doesn’t have time for that, not with the Hunger outside their door. (Darkness, darkness, always chasing, always destroying, so many planes, so many beings, taken, obliterated.)
He breathes out, and he raises the Umbra staff.
[Image Description: An illustration of Taako holding the Umbra staff. He is a chubby, dark complexioned elf with freckles and curly hair in a blonde ombre. He is wearing a white shirt, a blue sparkly skirt and a wizard hat patterned with constellations. Around his neck is the necklace holding Kravitz's Heart. Behind his head are the many multi-colored eyes of the Hunger watching him. Surrounding him are slightly out of focus memories of the rest of the IPRE crew. He is grimacing and crying. End Description.]
Taako is abnormally quiet afterwards, though you probably wouldn’t be able to tell during the impromptu “holy shit we actually saved the world” party they throw on the base. Kravitz is invited along after he finally manages to check in with the Raven Queen, and she magnanimously gives him the rest of the day off. After a few moments of awkwardness with Magnus and Merle—he gets it, he did try to kill them once—he just blends right into the chaos. He sticks by Taako’s side for the most part though he is dragged away a few times by others for drinks or to share stories (“This guy,” Killian says with a heavy clap on his shoulder that actually pushes him forward a little, “has got a way with a scythe.”).
At one point, Taako’s been diverted by Avi and Angus, and Kravitz meets Barry and Lup, officially, now that they’re not in the middle of a battle to save all of creation. Kravitz has had more than the normal amount of interactions with liches and in a skeletal form himself, so he thinks he can tell even with the bare skull that she’s glaring at him suspiciously. Barry shakes his hand and kind of apologizes—but not really—for his countless necromantic lawbreaking. Barry shrugs nonchalantly and says, “You know, it all worked out in the end.”
Kravitz raises one eyebrow but doesn’t argue the point, just nods and sips at his drink. The thing about Barry, Kravitz muses, is how utterly deceptive his appearance is. He’s is the most unassuming man Kravitz has ever met and yet he’s heard the story and more importantly seen all the stuff he’s done over the past 10 years and he’d still managed to evade the Raven Queen. He might look like a middle aged fantasy accountant but he is scarily powerful.
“I suppose it did,” he agrees, looking between the two of them. He hadn’t had much time earlier to talk to the Raven Queen, but she’d made sure to cover this part (“Really Kravitz, I don’t want you to get on your in-laws bad sides,” she’d cackled and brushed his cheeks with a touch of feathers when he flushed.) “Normally, the Raven Queen wouldn’t allow liches to roam free, but,” he continues before they can so much as tense at the notion, “nothing about this situation is ‘normal.’ How would you two like a job?” Barry looks intrigued and though he can’t see Lup’s face, she also seems interested.
Nothing is set in stone, he assures them, and obviously nothing will be official till after they meet with the Raven Queen herself. And, before they even have that meeting the astral plane might turn a blind eye to one more little piece of necromancy—he raises an eyebrow significantly and looks between them. Lup has draped her lich form over Barry’s back and has been watching him intently this whole time though only murmuring to Barry and not addressing Kravitz at all, but now she floats closer. “Listen up death man,” she says, poking one astral finger into his face. “Taako seems to trust you and you did kick ass out on the field today but let me just say if you hurt him at all, I will hunt you down and you will regret the day you ever became a reaper, capice?”
Kravitz meets her gaze and says, seriously, “I will sincerely do everything in my power to not have that happen.”
“Hmmm.” Lup considers him for a moment but Kravitz keeps his chin up and his gaze steady and finally she nods and floats back to Barry’s side.
Barry smiles benignly looking between them and says, “I guess we’ll let you know about that job then.” He takes another swig of his drink before clapping Kravitz on the arm. “Welcome to the family, man.” And then he just… walks away. Lup laughs at Kravitz’s shocked face and floats after him, still laughing (her laugh reminds him of the Raven Queen and he thinks fuck they’re going to get along so well).
Kravitz finds Taako intently mixing a virgin daiquiri—at least, Kravitz hopes it’s virgin—for a wide eyed Angus. He presents it with a flourish and then looks up to Kravitz with a smile. “Hey bone man, need a drink?” Kravitz nods and while Taako is mixing, he moves to stand beside him and rests a hand on the small of his back, encouraging, supporting just there. Taako shivers but some of the tension leaks from his frame and when he’s done making the drink, he settles back against Kravitz’s side.
Lup gives Taako as much of a hug as she’s capable of at the moment, but since she still isn’t corporeal, it’s more like hugging a ghost than anything. The makeshift party’s winding down and people are splintering back to their own rooms or falling asleep in the living room wherever they can find space. Magnus had offered his room to Barry and Lup with a lot of suggestive eyebrow wiggling which was entirely unnecessary—Tako wants to reerase the parts of his memory that now let him know that Actually they had figured out to have sex human/lich—and they’d taken him up on it.
Taako pouts and Lup shrugs. “Sorry bro, I just want… I could feel you, at least, nearer the end you know. I knew you were mostly doing okay. I didn’t know if Barry… I just need to spend some time with him.” Taako nods and Lup looks around the room once before conspiratorially leaning in close and whispering, “Don’t tell him I said this because I’m trying to keep up this intimidating older sister thing but dayum you got a cute one.” Taako glances to the side where he knows Kravitz is talking to Avi. Taako has been acutely aware of where Kravitz is since they were reunited. Kravitz looks up at that moment too to meet Taako’s eyes—connected and Taako shivers in a good way—and shoots him a little smile before nodding and saying something to Avi.
When Taako drags his eyes back to Lup, he knows that if she was corporeal she’d just straight up tackle him but she contends with a mocking, yet sincere, “Awwwwwww .” Taako rolls his eyes and shoos her and Barry down the hall already.
Taako gets that they need privacy, a Real reunion now that it’s quieted down, but his chest aches when she leaves the room again. He swallows hard around the tightening of his throat and quietly fights the urge to totally ignore her request of privacy and run in after them. That is absolutely a no go so he has two options here it seems. He can either one: lock himself in his room to deal with All of the panic, anxiety, and nightmare inducing episodes of the past, goddamn, century and change his brain is going to be dragging out for review, or two: … Not.
He tracks Kravitz to the kitchen where there’s a few other people still milling around, about to head back out. Taako leans against the counter beside Kravitz and lets himself droop against his shoulder while the other Bureau employees (former? he’ll have to ask Luci later—Lucretia he forcibly corrects himself since he still has to figure out how angry he is with her and just how to resolve it, maybe not forgiveness and certainly not anytime soon, but it’s probably best to… keep a distance till he’s worked that out) quietly make their goodbyes.
Kravitz turns his head and Taako can feel chilly lips against his forehead in a gentle kiss. “All right?”
Taako shrugs and drains the last of his cup. “Well my object permanence is fucked as all get out, but other than that, pretty good.”
Kravitz nods and presses another kiss to his forehead. “Let’s go to bed.” Any other day, Taako wouldn’t have passed up this opportunity for innuendo, so it’s a true sign of his exhaustion that he let it slide, simply nodding and following Kravitz out of the kitchen.
As they pass through the living room, Taako pauses, eyes drawn to the couch. Angus is laying there, sprawled out across Lucretia and Magnus, both with their own eyes closed and with one hand settled comfortingly on Angus’s shoulder and ankles, respectively. Taako’s chest aches again for an entirely different reason: his heart suddenly so full to bursting of emotions that he can finally put names to, explain, old family, new family, and as he looks at them, peaceful, serene, he wants to cry. Kravitz stops with him and puts an arm around his shoulder so Taako can lean back against him. They stay like that for a moment just absorbing the quietness of the room before Kravitz gingerly leads him back to the hallway.
They change into the comfiest pajamas Taako owns (Kravitz’s are covered in little ravens and it’s adorable) and when he drops his appearance spell, Kravitz drops a kiss high on his cheek. It actually makes him feel marginally better.
They climb into bed but Taako can’t sleep, even though he’s bone deep exhausted, his blood still thrumming from the action of the day and his mind still racing, stitching his memories back into place. Kravitz doesn’t need sleep either so they just hold each other.
“Yeah babe?” Taako asks, tilting his head up slightly, and then, because it’s there and he can, he kisses the underside of Kravitz’s jaw.
“Taako,” Kravitz says, half chiding and half laughing. “A lot happened today which is… the understatement of the millennia.” Taako presses his laughter into Kravitz’s shoulder. “I know I just wanted to say I—I’m here you know whatever you need.”
It was minuscule but there was a pause, a hesitation and Taako is sure Kravitz was about to say something else then. He’s strangely… disappointed? Did he want Kravitz to say the L word? It’s far, far too soon for any of that. No, he decides, he’s glad Kravitz decided not to because he has too many other things to process right now without tacking that onto it. Taako lays silently for a little while, head pressed against Kravitz’s chest where he can almost imagine a heartbeat, and he thinks of his necklace—tossed into his bag of holding before the fight in hopes of protecting it—with a Heart safely ensconced inside.
“I know.” He snuggles in as close as he can get to Kravitz. “Thank you.” They don’t talk after that but Taako does eventually fall asleep curled as he is on top of Kravitz.
It’s Candlenights, the year after the Hunger, and Kravitz and Taako are back home after spending the day celebrating with the crew, their family. They’d exchanged gifts earlier at the big party, and now they’re back, surprisingly mostly sober and not wanting to change that status. They’re not quite ready for bed yet, still reveling in the gentle quiet mood of the night.
Taako is lazily heating up the milk for the hot chocolate on the stove, when Kravitz wraps his arms around Taako’s midsection, dropping his head to press a kiss to Taako’s neck. Taako shivers but presses back against Kravitz’s chest with a happy hum. They stay like that for a minute, Taako stirring the milk and Kravitz just holding him.
Then Taako perks up, ears first which Kravitz finds, and probably will always find, absolutely adorable. “Oh wait! Here stir this!” He slips out of Kravitz’s hold and passes the spoon to him, and then darts out of the kitchen while Kravitz watches amused. A moment or two later, Taako comes back in and, with one hand behind his back, bumps Kravitz out of the way to remove the milk from the heat. Kravitz has already gotten down the mugs—one from Magnus that’s carved like a duck and one from Angus made at the Chug n Squeeze that’s a little lumpy but well loved—and in no time the hot chocolate is done, Taako dropping in several marshmallows with a small flourish.
“Here,” Taako says after Kravitz takes a first sip and hums approvingly, and he holds out a small wrapped box. “This is yours.”
“Taako,” Kravitz chides with a small grin. “I thought we agreed to not get anything extra.”
Taako sticks out his tongue. “Oh, like i don’t know about that recipe book hidden in your office?” Kravitz blushes lightly and Taako grins. “That’s right, I’ve got spies everywhere. But anyways, just Open it already.”
Kravitz takes the box with a laugh and unwraps it as Taako bounces on his toes excitedly. He gets off the lid and looks down and— “Well?” Taako asks. “Do you like it?” Kravitz doesn’t answer just reaches in hesitantly and pulls out a pitch black stone. “I couldn’t exactly give you my heart though you know you already own it, but I thought you’d like, you know, the gesture.”
Kravitz cuts off Taako’s ramble by wrapping his arms around him, pulling him close and burying his face in Taako’s neck. “I love you Taako.”
Taako returns the embrace. “Love you too Krav. Now come on, before our drinks get cold.”
Kravitz laughs and pulls back, taking his mug and passing the other to Taako. “Like neither of us can do a heating spell, sure.”
Taako knocks his arm. “You know they affect the taste! We’ve had this argument before!” They bicker goodnaturedly and retreat to the living room to cuddle on the couch. A happy Candlenights indeed.
It become a tradition—they pass the Heart back and forth for anniversaries, birthdays, Candlenights, just because. But it doesn’t matter which one of them technically “has” it because Kravitz still always feels the pull—leading him to his Heart, leading him always to Taako, leading him home.
The Fantasy Gachapon knows all. It waits quietly with Leon and collects innumerable magical artifacts and when a hero comes along with a token, it delivers an item just for them. What do you need? it asks the adventurers and then it delivers: a suit of armor here, a battle ax there, a magic ring to make drinks cold because they all deserve a break every now and then. It has a method, you see, a bard will never get a fighter's sword, a wizard will never get a bard's harp, and no one will ever get a few of the items… until. A token is inserted and the dial is turned and the machine thinks what do you need? and the answer they receive is one of loneliness and longing and oh if it could grin it would as a certain ball falls out of place. I’ve got just the thing for you.