Istus rarely changes the tapestries she weaves, but there are occasions where she is known to pull strings. It’s a small change. Miniscule, really. Tiny enough that no one will know where her hands have been. She picks a red thread, tugs it, and watches the fate of her future emissaries change.
For no discernable reason, Magnus Burnsides does not put on his shoes. He’s one of many aboard the ship that makes laps in the sky over Faerun. He has spent all evening painting a carving of a duck that resembles his reclusive friend. It’s rough work, but he’s proud of it. There’s no point in waiting until the morning to give it to her, so he pulls his red jacket on over his pajamas, then stares at his lace up boots. He’s a copper tone human who venomously hates having a cold anything, much less feet. He would never be caught walking down the metal and wood hallways of the Starblaster without something to keep them warm, but today he shrugs and leaves without them
It saves him only one single, short minute.
Yet, with those sixty seconds, he opens the door to Lucretia’s room in time to see her standing with a foot on her desk, another on her chair. The green of Fisher’s tank reflects off her dark skin and colors her white hair as she holds a volume of her journals over the fish’s tank. She freezes, eyes wide as she sees him step inside.
Magnus drops the carved duck. He rushes in.
“Lucy!” In a moment, he has his arms wrapped around her waist. Holding her to his chest, he yanks her away from the tank.
Her foot knocks a stack of books and they crash to the ground into a pile of papers and clothes that wouldn’t be there if she was in her proper state of mine. She presses her journal to her chest in a desperate attempt to maintain some semblance of control. “I was just—” She gasps as Magnus heaves her away from the creature that can erase knowledge. “I’m sorry, but I had to. I had to stop it.”
Magnus grunts as he holds her to his chest, trying to decide what to do. The shelves lining half of her room are only half filled with books, the majority being spread in piles throughout the room, leaving him with less options of where to put her. The bed is clear but seems too close to Fisher’s tank, but when Lucretia kicks his thigh and demands to be treated like the adult she is, he decides it’ll have to do. He drops her on her on the mattress. She lands with an undignified thump, neat curls going askew as she looks up at him with a tense stare. The fabric of her red robe engulfs the journal.
He doesn’t think. He’s known for doing that. “The hell were you doing?” he demands. His blood feels hot in his veins. “Drop that in there and we’ve all would’ve forgotten! Everything, gone!” None too gently, he wretches the journal from her. Lucretia cries a protest, but he holds it out of her reach.
Magnus glances back at the tank, his face loosening. He cools. “Did you maybe forget? Fisher eats books and music and stuff. Did you forget—”
“No.” Lucretia shakes her head like she’s trying to knock her brain out. She sounds choked up, but she doesn’t acknowledge the tears leaking down her cheeks. “I… No, Magnus. I didn’t forget. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Magnus.”
Magnus Burnsides does not consider himself a smart man, but he has a set of good ears and a friend crying before him. He lowers himself on the mattress, setting the journal down on one side and pulling Lucretia close on the other. She curls into him immediately, crying into his shirt as he holds her close in his brawny arms. His starts to lean back into the wall until he remembers the paintings of their family she hung by her bedside.
Instead, he curls into her, whispering into her ear, “It’s alright, Luce. You’re alright. What’s wrong? What’s wrong?”
She is willowy and he is burly. He presses his face into her white curls and locks of his auburn hair fall into her face. Her breaths are shuddering and uneasy while his calm and steady belie a frantic heart. They are brother and sister forged by an impossible journey.
Because of an extra minute, Magnus hears everything.
Magnus calls a meeting. It’s the middle of the night, the nocturnal air buffering the ship’s sides as the members of the ship’s crew shuffle into the kitchen. Davenport and Merle are already there, stowing a half-finished bottle of wine in the cooler and collecting a deck of tarot cards. They are small and their feet are light, but their age gives them the presence of giants. Barry and Taako join them a few minutes later—both sunken eyed, front heavy as they drag their limbs onto their respective chair.
Lup’s usual seat is empty. They don’t talk about it.
Only when everyone else arrives does Magnus pull out Lucretia’s chair and beckons her to sit. His feet are still bare, and for the first time he notices how cold they are. He almost asks to steal the blanket he had wrapped around Lucretia’s frame, but she holds it around herself like a hug and he doesn’t think he’s allowed to ask.
The crew is quiet. Magnus lets the screeching of her chair being pushed in call the meeting to order. All eyes turn to Lucretia, then flicker to him. Taako crosses his legs and sticks his hand under his chin. “So.” Beneath his exhaustion, there’s a sharp venom. “What’s crackin’ big guy?”
Magnus thumps the journal on the table, startling Lucretia. She blinks as though she’s tuning her brain to this reality.
Merle hops out of his seat. A few unfortunate flowers fall out of his beard and hair. “Coffee,” he says, shuffling to the pantry. Along the way, he crushes the few wayward plants under his socks-and-sandals combo. “We need coffee.”
Davenport almost sighs, but twirls a finger in his ginger moustache instead. “So what couldn’t wait until morning?”
Magnus squeezes Lucretia’s shoulder. “Go on, tell them,” he says.
She hesitates, then she talks like she’s never talked before. Her voice wavers and shakes, but unlike the horrible cycle where she was left alone, she holds back the wretched sobs that fight up her throat. Merle places a cup of coffee in front of her, but she doesn’t acknowledge it as she confesses her guilt. The radiuses of black glasses, the mangled vines, the illusions made real—the horrors their artefacts have inadvertently wrought upon this plane.
The crew listens. Davenport never takes his eyes off her and Merle pats her arm. Barry clasps his hands and presses them to his mouth, stone-faced but nodding. Taako stares at the opposite corner of the room and drums his fingers on his thigh.
Lucretia talks. She explains how one becomes immune to Fisher’s magic. She says how she was going to feed her journal to him—
Taako slams his hand on the table. “Fuck!”
Lucretia winces, and Magnus takes a protective step forward.
“Taako!” Davenport admonishes, but the elf is still staring at the opposite corner. His eyes want to glare at Lucretia, but he flickers them away each time. His forehead is grooved in a scowl as the slammed hand tightens into a fist.
“Now c’mon,” Merle says, trying to keep his tone even. He tries a loose smile. “You’re a grown elf. Use your words.”
Taako turns his face away. “Don’t mind me. I’m just the only fucker on this ship who remembers Lup.” His voice cracks.
Barry finally reacts, wiping sweat off his face as he groans. He places his hand on the table near Taako—not on him, but close if he wants it. Taako ignores it. “Look, Lucretia—I get what you’re doing, but between our mission and details of our home world, you’d be erasing the majority of our lives. Who knows what that could have done to us psychologically.” He glances at Taako before leaning in closer to her. “Lup—she could still be out there. If you’d erase everything tonight, she’d have lost everything and no one would’ve been there for her. Did you think about that?”
Lucretia shakes her head before bursting into tears. “I’m sorry! I’m so sorry. I just wanted it to be better. I couldn’t stand it. I just wanted this to be better.”
Magnus envelopes her again, hushing her as she turns her head and cries into the fabric of his red jacket once again. Merle joins him. “We understand,” the dwarf says. “Pan knows we do. I just wish you talked to us about it.”
Davenport turns to Barry. “Take a pitcher and go to her room,” he orders. “I want us inoculated from that thing’s magic.”
Barry stares at him for a moment before nodding. His chair screeches as he pushes it back.
“Wait.” Everyone pauses, then looks at Taako. He moves stiffly, his joints mechanical as he uncrosses a leg and turns back to his family. His eyes are red, but no one mentions it. He holds his hands out like two parallel lines. “Listen—it’s not a bad idea. Like, the whole erasing our memories and leaving us in the woods like Air Bud is shit, but everything else. Not the barrier thing, just almost everything else.”
“Taako, the point,” Davenport says.
“This plan will work as long as our shit is out there being wanted. Doesn’t mean that shitheads have to know about it.”
Barry braces his hands at the edge of the table, mouth agape as he thinks it through. “Oh my gods… you could be right.”
Taako nods. “I am right.”
“Catch me up,” Magnus says.
“Everyone down there is fighting over the Light stuff because they gossip about it over a steaming cup of Fantasy Folgers and say, hey, this sounds cool as fuck. But if we inoculate ourselves and then erase all information about them, then they’d just forget what they were fighting over.”
“It’ll end the war down there,” Davenport muses out loud. “Without direct knowledge of what our artefacts are, it’ll stem back instances of them being used.”
“And it’ll be alright for Lup too since she’d wouldn’t forget about us,” Barry adds. “Since she probably went planetside to do something about her gauntlet, she wouldn’t have any reason to stay down there any longer and come home.”
Merle huffs. “So this is the perfect plan?”
“I mean, there’s always the possibility that making everyone forget might result in no one wanting any of the artefacts, which might have the horrific result of the Light being detected by the Hunger,” Barry says, “but it’s slim enough for me to chance it.”
Davenport turns to Lucretia. “Well, what do you think? Is it a good plan?”
She stares at them, wordless for a long moment. She doesn’t smile, but she does bob her head. “Yes. Let’s try it.”
Magnus squeezes her shoulder again, beaming as Barry rushes to get a pitcher of Fisher’s ichor.
Merle takes a long sip of his coffee. “And this is why we talk things through like a real functional family.”
She snorts and ignores the pang of painful guilt that still vibrates in her ribcage, leaving her feeling more hollow than before.
Seven things happen to seven birds.
The six remaining members of the Starblaster’s crew inoculate themselves against Fisher’s magic. All but Lucretia mix the ichor with martini syrup and gag when concentrated lime does nothing to curb the awful taste. Taako says it tastes like gogurt and cackles at their groans. Then they write out all the information they want the world to forget. They debate how much of the war they want to erase, going deep into the early morning hours as compromise after comprise is made. When all is agreed upon, Davenport feeds the packet to Fisher. And they wait.
By the end of five weeks, Barry declares it a success. He presents charts tracking the sharp decline of mass destruction in Faerun. They see parts of the land mending as refugees find places to settle and families rebuild homes. For the first time in a long time, there is hope.
For Taako, hope is gone as quickly as it comes. He prowls the Starblaster’s deck as he waits for some sign that Lup is out there. He goes to every major city as asks if anyone has seen a woman with his face. No one has. He despairs. He finally breaks down in a bar on the coast, crying in a bathroom stall as he thinks for the first time that his sister might truly be gone. As fast as the thought comes, he pushes it away. He fixes his makeup, adjusts his red robe and jacket, and makes a plan.
Three leagues away, Lup’s being swims inside an umbrella as she struggles to stay conscious.
To rest of his family, Taako all but disappears. Barry and Merle find him a week later a few towns away, interrogating an adventuring group with reckless spells. “I’m not going back,” he snaps as he fires a thoughtless spell at his brother-in-law. “I’m not going back there until I find her!” They fight and argue some more until Merle pushes Barry back. Taako is his own person. If his mind is made, they can’t change it.
Once Taako leaves, the remaining five realize for the first time in a century that they have lives they get to live once again.
Seven birds migrate.
Lucretia leaves first.
“There’s a painter’s guild in Raven’s Root,” she tells her family over breakfast. “It’s not going to be much, but it’s a nice town and I haven’t gotten to do much painting these past few cycles. It’ll be a good change of pace.”
While the majority of her family stares at her in shock, Merle nods sagely. “Sounds good to me.”
Davenport tries to object, but Merle cuts him off. “She’s not a prisoner, Dav. If she wants to paint, let her.”
A week later, she packs up her things and goes planetside. That night, Magnus sits in the common room, carving a new duck for Fisher as Merle trims a plant and Barry reads. Davenport sleeps in an armchair, curled on the cushion like a child.
The silence is painful.
A week later, while sweeping the deck, Barry breaks down in tears. “I’m never going to find her,” he says, pressing his sobbing face into the deck. Davenport pats his back, sympathetic but nonetheless uncomfortable with the display of emotions. “She’s gone, gone, gone and I’m never going to find her.”
They have a funeral, but before Merle can get through the rites of burial, Barry stops it. “It doesn’t…” He never finishes the thought, but it’s not one that can be properly spoken in the first place.
Sildar Hallwinter, known as Barry Bluejeans to anyone from a two-sunned planet, decides that he needs to start fresh. With each passing minute, being where his gentle love with Lup started brings him more and more pain. He attempt to find a position at the Neverwinter University for Magics ends with him learning that necromancy is not only heavily frowned upon on this plane, but supposedly regulated by the Raven Queen. He doesn’t risk it.
He teaches basic arcana for a year until he meets Maureen Miller. She offers him a chance to use his specialized knowledge to help her study the planes of existence, and that is that.
Merle and Davenport are playing cards one night, caught in a comfortable silence, when Merle speaks. “Y’know, there’s like this alternate reality version of my family down there. The good old Rockseeker clan. Followers of Pan and everything.”
Davenport plays his card on the table, pauses, then reaches for his wine. “That so?”
“Yeah, but—” He swats an imaginary fly away. “—who needs them? I got the best family in the world right here.”
Davenport starts to smile before remembering himself. He tries to hold it back, and the fact that Merle guffaws at his red face only makes it worst. “S-s-so.” He clears his throat and regains some shred of his dignity. “I was actually thinking. Not that I don’t think all the time, but.” He takes a deep breath and starts over. “There’s no point in just circling the world anymore, but I don’t feel comfortable leaving the Starblaster behind.”
Merle hums and places a card on the table, though any pretense of this being just a game of fantasy yooker is long gone. “Understandably.”
“Right. So, what if we land somewhere? Maybe in a harbor, by the beach.”
The dwarf pretends to think about it for a long moment, picking at one of the flowers woven into his beard as he considers the thought. “Well, we’re both a tad too young to retire, but I think we both deserve it for dealing with all the crap we’ve been dealt.”
Davenport smiles and drinks more wine.
And that is that.
Magnus doesn’t stay to find out what the Starblaster would be like with only him and the two old guys. He shoves the bare minimum of his belongings in a sack, gets Merle to promise to care for Fisher until he gets a place of his own, and joins his family on solid ground. He wanders the land for a few months, gets in a few fights and makes a few enemies, before finding himself in Raven’s Roost.
He stays with Lucretia—now an apprentice for an aging painter— for a month until, early that spring, she tells him about the Waxmans. “They’re really nice and Steven’s work is incredible,” she says as she practices sketching. Her skill is beyond that of any apprentice (has been for decades), but training is a formality she’s willing to wait through. At least guilting Magnus into posing is an efficient way to force him to stay still long enough to lecture. “Julia, though. He’s given up trying to teach her. She’s actually a pretty great blacksmith, but that’s not the point. There’s an apprenticeship opportunity with him. It’ll be good for you and keep your back straight please.”
He does so with a grumble. “Already want me out of your hair?”
She doesn’t look up from her pad. “You’re bored and you need something to do with your life beyond crying over every dog you see.”
“They’re good dogs, Lucy.”
He meets the Waxmans a week later. Steven greets Magnus with a firm pat on the back, and it’s all he needs to feel welcomed into his shop.
The months passes him by as the skills he learned at the conservatory are refined into perfection. Magnus makes a point of seeing Lucretia as often as possible. Sometimes they get dinner or see a show, but most often than not he brings a block of wood to fiddle as he watches her paint. At first they talk about the past and wonder aloud how their friends are doing.
Then one day, Magnus brings up Julia. He tells Lucretia how strong Julia is, how she prefers metal working to carpentry. Then he stops himself, smiles, and asks about the painting once more.
A month is no short amount of time, but to Lucretia it feels like a moment. An exhale, in and out, and the last of the spring snow is gone. All Magnus ever talks about is Julia. They meet for coffee, and Magnus says, “Julia always asks for extra whip.” They sit at the edge of one of Raven Roost’s many cliffs and he says, “I should take Julia here for, like, a picnic.” Always, always Julia.
Lucretia prides herself in knowing people, especially her family. She couldn’t have written journal after rigorous journal about their odyssey and not gleam something about the human condition. She knows that this is how love is like, yet she sees less of the Magnus Burnsides she knew for a century day after day. It’s not Magnus barreling into danger for the thrill of it. It’s Magnus and Julia. It’s always Julia.
Maybe she’s jealous.
Julia meets her for coffee. Lucretia sits on an old anvil with a steaming mug as Julia sits opposite to her, polishing a steal sword as she talks. “Magnus told me about your adventures,” she says, white teeth bright against her soot-smeared face. No amount of grime can conceal her dimples and smile lines. “I almost don’t believe any of them, but he’s also the guy who admits to doing anything wrong just because he doesn’t believe in lying.”
“It’s all true,” Lucretia says as she watches the orange glow of the hearth highlight Julia’s dark skin. She’s lighter than Lucretia, but shades darker than Magnus. A midway between the two. “Some parts are probably grossly over exaggerated.”
Julia’s eyes sparkled. “So he didn’t fight a giant bear.”
“Actually that happened.”
She laughs. Lucretia can’t help but to join her.
Julia straightens her back, presses her lips, before pushing a loose curl back into her bun. “I think you can answer a question for me then. If I wanted to free Raven’s Roost, how would I do it?”
Lucretia stays for the rebellion. She’s glad to, especially when it sparks a light of heroism in Magnus. He does the storming, Julia the planning, and Lucretia the protecting. Together, with the rest of Raven’s Roost, they overthrow Governor Kalen. Magnus kisses Julia long and hard on the lips as they celebrate. His fingers knot themselves in the tight coils of her hair as she in turn casts aside her sword and swoon in his arms.
Lucretia spends the next week in the makeshift infirmary, helping clerics bandage and heal. She wraps white cloth around the bleeding wounds of bakers forced to rise up. She soothes an injured child whose parents died in the rebellion. Magnus and Julia are better suited to help repair the burned down homes, but Lucretia stays with the people. She sees the stitches and splints being made, the mass heal being cast, and wonders how much worse the land was after the war.
Painting helps no one but herself, and she’s not the one in need of saving.
Lucretia stays for the wedding and, of course, the whole family arrives. Davenport and Merle arrive in the Starblaster—Davenport amazed to see Magnus settle down, Merle happy to get Fisher out of his beard and into Magnus’s. Barry comes at the nick of time, a little fatter and a little older, and complaining about being held up by an experiment. The twins are still missing and it hurts, but none of them try to talk about it.
Taako is out there somewhere. Lup, no one knows.
Barry cries during the ceremony, but they don’t ask why. The answer is in the ring he twists on his finger.
That night, Magnus takes a moment away from the merriment to step aside with Lucretia. “You’re quiet,” he says. When she shrugs and says nothing, he takes her arm and guides her away from the dance floor and to the gazebo. He carved it by hand, and she painted flowers onto the wood. “The portrait you made us? It’s incredible Lucy. We both cried when we saw it.”
Lucretia smiles. “It’s your wedding present, so I’m glad you like it.” She sits on one of the benches. “I think it’ll be my last one my last one for a while.”
“Art block?” He takes the spot next to her.
She shakes her head. “I’m thinking of a career change. There’s a lot of people in the world who need help. I’m sure there’s a few churches or schools who could teach me how.”
Magnus frowns. “You’re leaving Raven’s Roost.”
“They have the Burnsides to help them. There might be some place out there that needs a Lucretia.”
Magnus takes her hand in his. He swipes a calloused thumb over her knuckles, but says nothing. The night air is warm with summer. Fireflies dance inches from their faces. “Yeah,” he says at last. “I get it.” He kisses her forehead. “I’ll miss you, Lucy.”
She smiles. “It’s not forever.” She means it to be comforting, but it stings.
They once had forever to make every mistake, to take every chance offered to them. A repeated century is stifling in its own way, and she will be the first to admit that she breathes easier now than she ever did traversing the fabric of reality with her family. But now, this is their last chance to get it right. She’s not sure she knows what that is—what looms so great above them that demands they give everything but their failure. She can’t say what it is. She doesn’t even think Barry or Merle or even Taako knows.
But they’re here, they’re living, and it’s all permanent.
Their last chance for life.
When Lucretia leaves, she swears she’ll make it a good one.
And that is that.
I saw all of existence all at once. I saw a dark storm—a living hunger eating it from within. But I saw a brilliant light dissevered by seven birds hiding from the storm. Then I saw seven birds migrating.
The twins, captive from each other.
The lover, destroyed by his own heart.
The protector, a rebel and father.
The lonely journal keeper, now the lonely healer.
The peacemaker, at peace.
And standing beside him, the wordless one.
Then I saw a string being pulled, and the birds return north. I saw the storm follow and the hunger meet them.
There were seven birds.