Barry doesn’t get a lot of phone calls — hardly even enough to justify owning a Stone of Farspeech in the first place — so it startles him when it vibrates, and a wave of excess magical energy emanates from him and knocks several maps of the moonbase off his desk.
“Hello?” he answers, immediately chiding himself for forgetting to disguise his voice.
“Hi,” Magnus replies cheerfully on the other side of the line. “Is this the Red Robes?”
The wisest course of action by far, Barry knows, would be to simply hang up and block the number — but he’s been so lonely, and it’s so easy to visualize familiar shit-eating grins on his family’s faces…
“Yes,” he replies slowly, careful to will a rasp back into his voice. “This is indeed ‘the Red Robes,’ as you put it.”
On the other end, he hears Taako wheeze in the background as he struggles to muffle a laugh, while Merle hisses: “This just a phone number you can call!”
“Yeah, uh — how, exactly, did you get this number?” Barry asks. If they share it with Lucretia, she might be able to track him this way unless he immediately puts some highly specific wards on the stone —
“Oh, Merle won this scrying bowl thing in the Fantasy Gashapon,” Magnus explains matter-of-factly. “Or at least, I think that’s what it was? Leon wouldn’t tell us because Taako stole his candy, so we had to look it up ourselves — but the point is, we asked it for your number and it just gave it to us!”
“Okay, so only like half of those words mean anything to me —”
“They made the Relics and you’re talking to them on the phone!” Taako chortles in the background, evidently not realizing Barry can hear him. “Their number was on Fantasy Scrying Google!”
Barry sighs. He can only imagine how much the boys’ shenanigans must confuse normal people, who don’t have inexplicably hazy memories of search engines from other planes of existence.
“Does L — does your Director know about this? Does she endorse you… prank-calling me, at this ungodly hour of the morning?”
“Oh yeah… we weren’t supposed to be talking to you, we were? Shit.” Magnus genuinely sounds just a little bit guilty. “You won’t tell her, right?”
Barry almost laughs, because he and Lucretia currently are about as far away from speaking terms as you can get, but he catches himself.
Think, Barry. You can use this.
“I suppose I can keep your secret, Reclaimers,” he rasps, “but I will need something in return.”
He can practically hear Magnus tense up on the other end of the line. “What do you want?”
“Simply a few pieces of information. A question for Taako, actually — where did you find that Umbra Staff?”
“With a dead guy?” There’s a rustling sound, as Taako presumably moves in closer to Magnus’s Stone of Farspeech. “Or a dead lady, I guess you said it was — I thought we went over that last time, in the lab? You amnesiac or something?”
Barry narrowly holds back a retort of Not right now, I’m not. If he had corporeal hands, they would be trembling.
“Yes, we did go over that last time,” he replies, “but you never told me where physically. Which is why I’m asking you again. Is that understood?”
“Oh, why didn’t you just say so?” Taako asks him. “It was — uh, let’s see, near where the gauntlet was! Wave Echo Cave, right?”
“Of course.” Barry had already guessed as much, but his mind is still sent racing — if her Umbra Staff was there, why wasn’t Lup? Even if Taako and the others couldn’t remember her, why hadn’t she been with them? He’d always speculated that her lich form had been trapped at the site of her death somehow, but he’d personally gone back to Wave Echo Cave after the destruction of Phandalin, and there had been no sign of her there — and if she had been able to leave the cave on her own, surely she would have long since found her way back to them…
“Can you tell us who you are yet?” Magnus asks, his familiar voice yanking Barry back to the conversation. It’s just in the nick of time, too — Barry watches his skeletal hands resolidify, his fingertips having nearly dissolved into stray, formless magical sparks.
“Maybe in like… I dunno, seventeen episodes.”
“You said ten episodes last time.”
“Well, I lied. That’s what you get for talking me behind the Director’s back. See ya!”
The second his Stone of Farspeech disconnects, he collapses down into a kneeling position, running through the self-collecting exercises he’s honed over the years of loneliness — counting to ten, thinking back to happier days aboard the Starblaster, shifting his vision into the spectrum in which he can make out thousands of glowing silver threads attached to his robe, stretching up through the roof of his cave and towards the moon. It takes a few minutes, but he feels his magic coalesce into a much more solid, almost tangible form — it seems that talking to the boys was a net positive for his stability in the end.
“If Taako can find your umbrella after all these years, then we’ll find you too eventually, Lup,” he whispers. “I promise.”
They don’t trust you. How can you get them to trust you, before…
Barry isn’t pacing, exactly, but he is drifting in wide circles around the perimeter of his cave in basically the best way pacing can be approximated by a lich, hoping for an idea to come to him.
Maybe I should have expected it, with all the ominous warnings I gave them, but if I’d acted more cordial, they might’ve started to remember bits and pieces —
On his desk, his Stone of Farspeech buzzes, and Barry just knows exactly who it’s going to be before even he answers.
“Hey, is this the Red Robes?” Magnus’s voice is quieter this time despite his greeting being almost exactly the same, and there isn’t any muffled laughter in the background either.
“Just the Red Robe,” Barry corrects. “There’s only one of me.”
“I opened the tube,” Magnus whispers.
“Oh.” Barry mentally kicks himself — he’d been so focused on trying to get Magnus to trust him that he forgot all about the tube. “Right. I should have known you would.”
He lets the rasp in his voice dissipate as he goes on — Tres Horny Boys haven’t spoken to his living form in about a year now, anyways. Magnus shouldn’t recognize him. “Do you see now why I asked you not to open it?”
“Can you understand it? I know what I saw — hell, I’m looking at it right now and I can see it just fine, but… I know I’m in a red robe like you, but I can’t think anything else about it. It just all turns to — to static. I can’t think.”
“That’s what I was afraid of.”
“Do you know why I was in Refuge?”
Barry sighs. “I don’t know if I can tell you. Not ‘cause I’m trying to hide things, but just physically.”
“Is it because of the Voidfish?”
Barry doesn’t say anything.
“I swam in its tank.”
That gets a reaction out of him. “You what?!”
“It showed me there were other voidfish — and then there was a boat, and a — a bunch of moving circles, I think they were supposed to be planes, with a light and this big darker plane —”
“Shit. Magnus, you need — you can’t think about that. You can’t think about what it showed you. If — if certain people find out that you know, then everything — everything we’ve been working for will fall apart —”
“Everything we’ve been working for?” Magnus echoes. It sounds like he’s struggling to form the words — whether due to the static filling his mind, or simply out of sheer disbelief, Barry isn’t sure.
“Oh, no — no, I didn’t mean — ah, fuck, Magnus, it’s gonna seriously damage your brain if you keep up the questions like this. You need to push this all to the back of your mind, and just —”
“Just trust you?”
Magnus still doesn’t trust you. He’ll never trust you — none of them ever will. You’ve ruined everything already, just cut your losses and hang up. Block the number.
He can feel the despair corrupting his form, red sparks leaping down his robed arms — but he can’t hang up, he can’t cut off this line, this lifeline, this bond connecting the two of them, he just can’t. He can only cling to it, and put his faith in his family like always — no matter how little they reciprocate it.
What would Lup do? She’d remember he isn’t in his right mind, but she wouldn’t give up on him, either.
Magnus doesn’t say anything for what feels like an eternity — is he oblivious to Barry’s breakdown? On the verge of a breakdown of his own?
“What do you think about me?” he finally asks.
“Excuse me?” Barry chokes out. His voice has that low hiss in it again — involuntarily this time.
“Like, what kind of person am I? You… you know things about me that I don’t, even I can tell that much, so… what do you think I’m like?”
Barry answers slowly, afraid of saying something that would get blocked by static — or worse, making another slip-up that Magnus can actually process. He doesn’t want to know how Magnus would react to hearing that the Red Robe thinks of him like a brother, no matter how sincere that sentiment is.
“I think that you can be impulsive in ways that are sometimes… frustrating, but you’re also incredibly dedicated to protecting people, and I admire that. That impulsivity and that dedication, they spring from the same well of — the same well of willfulness, I think, that same well that makes you such a fighter. I don’t know if I could have kept going after something like Raven’s Roost —”
The second he hears the words Raven’s Roost out loud, he immediately regrets them. It’s completely true, that losing a loved one and knowing beyond any doubt that he could never get them back would destroy him, both figuratively and literally — but he shouldn’t know about what happened to Magnus, not in that much detail. Nor should he bring up a painful subject like that, especially given what Magnus thinks of him at the moment —
“I will see Julia again one day,” Magnus assures him in a low, confident voice, as if having read his mind. “In the Astral Plane.”
Barry doesn’t let out a literal breath of relief, but is met with a similar sensation as a wave of stability washes over his spectral form. It’s a far better reaction than he’d dared to hope for.
(Should he tell Magnus that Governor Kalen was long dead, quickly and quietly killed by a crimson lightning bolt that neither he nor any of his mercenaries had seen coming before being tossed in a secluded river, body never to be seen again?)
(No. He’ll save that story for if — when — Magnus can remember who he is, when they’ll all be safe and able to finally rest after eleven long, grueling decades. It still feels far away, that day of relaxation, of freedom — but it also seems tantalizingly closer than it did just a few minutes ago, when the familiarity of Magnus’s voice and the stubbornly persistent hope of finding Lup were the only things holding Barry together, and just barely at that.)
“Well, hopefully you won’t end up in the Astral Plane too soon,” he says eventually.
“Yeah, I —” Magnus’s voice is genuinely warm for a moment, but it cuts off quickly. “Shit, I think I woke someone up. I’ll be seeing you again whether I want to or not, won’t I?”
“Take care, Magnus.” Before anyone on the other end of the line can overhear anything incriminating, Barry switches his Stone of Farspeech off.