“The blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.”
Out of nowhere, Nott goes missing to Caleb's utter dismay. He doesn't know what happened, or how long his damn nose was buried in his stupid new book. All he knows is she's not here and no one knows where she went.
Panic takes a hold of him quickly. He picks up his things and announces he's off to get her. A wall of half-orc suddenly blocks his way and, in his haste, he almost runs straight into him.
"Move," he demands, voice low and hand resting on one of his books.
"Can't let ya go on your own," Fjord declares, voice calm and firm.
Caleb shakes. "I'm not gonna fucking stay here while she's out there all alone!"
"Chill, man," Beau is on her feet already, staff in hand. Okay, if this is how they want it to go.
"He means we come with you, that is all," Jester shrugs, on her feet too.
"What?" He stumbles and his accent slips, thicker than usual.
"She's our friend too, dummy," Jester rolls her eyes.
The others are getting ready too and he gives them what's probably a lost look.
"She's one of us. We take care of our own," Fjord says firmly.
It doesn't take them long to find her, unharmed but a little scared in the unfamiliar woods. It takes a while for Caleb to shake off the scare, and way more to shake off the shock of the realization that they are not alone anymore.
Beau wakes up to Jester and Fjord's worried faces. Her first attempt to speak fails, cut short by the sharp pain in her ribs.
"Hold on," Jester says gently, "I still got to cure you a bit, yes?"
"You gave us quite a scare back there," Fjord huffs. "Passed out in the middle of battle."
She remembers suddenly. The monster, whatever it was, the sharpness of its claws ripping through her skin, everything going black except for the pain.
"W'happened?" She manages to get out as they sit her up, finds the rest of the party staring too. They all look beaten up like shit.
"We managed, alright," Fjord assures her. "Caleb and Molly kept it busy while we got you out of range. Yasha killed it."
Her eyes find the wizard, laying a few feet away, with Nott sitting by his feet. Her face must betray her, because the little goblin quickly raises her hands reassuringly.
"He's fine. He's fine. He's just tired. Those spells take a toll of him, they do. He just needs to sleep it off for a little while!"
Relived, she looks at the others. Yasha looks alright, but it doesn't take much to know Molly took the brunt of it. He is beaten, his weight mainly on his left leg, his silk shirt tainted with blood that is probably mostly his own. He looks uncomfortable when her eyes meet his. She decides against thanking him, sure it would just be salt in the wound.
When Yasha offers to carry her for a while, she's finally able to crack a joke and lighten the mood.
"I'm not going to talk with that thing here," the witness spits, eyes on Jester.
It's a shock to everyone, so much that none of them find a thing to say. She shrugs it off.
"Fine, I just wait outside with the others," she says before walking out of the shop, a little skip to her pace as if nothing had happened.
Fjord grabs Beau's shoulder tightly when he finally feels her react. He would too, gladly, but they need this man's information right now. There's too much in the balance.
Outside, they find her hanging out with Molly and Nott. Fjord notices her hood is drawn up over her head, which seems unusual, though she might only be trying to lay low. He tries not to think much of it, until Molly catches up to him back at the inn. He nods towards Jester, sitting on a nearby table and murmurs: "That one's been awfully quiet today."
He's right, probably, but Fjord's been too busy thinking of their next step to pay attention. Quietly, he describes to him what happened earlier. He expects anger or offense, but not the way Molly's face falls, as if he'd been slapped. Without a word, he moves to her table. Fjord follows.
"From tiefling to tiefling," he hears Molly saying as he sits next to Jester, "that guy from the shoe shop was the biggest dick I've seen in my life, and I've seen my fair share of'em."
She laughs, half heartedly, which coming from her is heartbreaking. "Yes, I know this," she murmurs, pulling her hood a bit tighter around her head.
"Jester?" Fjord says, voice as gentle as he can manage, crouching next to her chair until they are eye to eye. She looks up at him, puts on a smile. "Y'know how you're always tellin' me I look handsome?"
"You are very handsome," she nods energetically.
"Well, I don't think I tell ya this enough, darlin’, but you're very beautiful too."
He means it, wholeheartedly, but when she blinks he doubts for a second if it was the right thing to say. Then, her face crumbles and she launches forward, hugging him around the neck, quietly crying on his shoulder.
"Quite a beauty," Molly agrees softly, a hand on her back.
"The most beautiful, really," Nott says, appearing out of nowhere as if she'd always been there. Maybe she has. She's getting sneakier. "I wish I was as pretty as you!"
"You are very pretty too," Jester says between sobs as the little goblin joins the hug. Fjord considers moving away to give her more space, but he can't bring himself to let go.
It's not the first time Molly comes back from the death, but it is the first he wakes up to a hoard of friendly worried faces. He blinks a couple times, trying to understand what happened. His head, he realizes, is laying on Jester's lap and her face is the first he sees, wet tear tracks on her blue cheeks and a shaky smile.
He felt her. In the darkness of death, her energy had woken him, her distant voice mixed with the mischievous chuckle of her god.
"You brought me back," he says, disbelief clear in his voice. He's too tired to hide it right now.
"Of course," she replies, trying hard to sound nonchalant. “Well, the others helped me too."
As he sits up, he sees it. Along with the usual ritual things, there's one of Yasha's pendants. He remembers, now, feeling her too. No words, just a surprisingly warm and steady presence.
Nott's mask is there too, and her words echo clearly in his memory: "I haven't used this in a very long time, and I never told you but it's thanks to you. You showed me that I could be proud of who I am, and to be brave in more ways than I ever thought I could. Please come back."
In his memory, though, there's another voice, even clearer and louder despite her hesitancy. "C'mon, dude, please..." Beauregard. Her hand gabbing his and pulling him back to this world.
He looks down at his own hand, feels the sticky warmth of blood smeared on it. Red blood, instead of the dark purple he's so very familiar with. His eyes find the monk just in time to see her bloodied fingers and the deep cut in her palm before she hides it away.
"Thank you," he finally says, looking at all of them. "I don't owe you anything, but thank you." He tries to keep a straight face while he snarks but his voice is still a little shaky to pull it off.
Fjord lets out a warm hearty laugh as he offers him a hand to get up. "It's good to have you back."
"Surprisingly, it's good to be back," he admits, accepting the offered help.
“Dude, this is bullshit!” Beau snaps, and for once she means it. After traveling for so long and surviving so much to get here, it just can’t be possible that Fjord got rejected from the Academy. Bull. Shit.
“My decision is final,” the know-it-all headmistress repeats, unfaced.
“But you have to let him in!” Nott intercedes, clearly trying to ignore the disgusted look the woman sends her. “He’s very good! He’s great! And he studies a lot. Caleb has been teaching him and he works very hard and is very smart! He has killed many monsters, he has, and saved a whole town and a carnival and-”
“If I may,” Caleb steps forward, putting a hand on the girl’s shoulder, “what my friend says here is all true. I have been studying magic almost my entire life, I have met many people with arcane inclinations, and none of them were as talented or as dedicated as this young man. If you turn him away now, you’ll be losing a valuable and excellent student.”
“My decision is final.”
“But you have to let him in!” Jester snaps, shaking. Her fists are clenched by her sides and her eyes shine. The windows in the hall open and close loudly, like an angered crowd echoing her demand.
“Jester.” Fjord finally seems to snap out of his initial shock, just enough to try and calm the tiefling down, though his face is still distant. “S'alright.”
“But it’s not!” She insists.
“This is fucking bullshit,” Beau repeats.
“I hate to say it, but I agree,” Mollymauk mutters grimly, hands hovering by his blade. "I know bullshit when I see it, I made a living of it, as a matter of fact."
“It’s fine, y'all. Just- let’s get outta here,” Fjord says, his voice almost pleading. It breaks Beau’s heart to see him like this, desperate to retreat when he’s usually so breave and strong. He looks broken.
“Yeah, this place wasn’t even worth your time. They probably only teach shit and charge you tons of money for it. Bunch of scammers,” she mutters and is glad to catch a glimpse of offense in the headmistress eyes. She’d like to do a lot more damage than harsh words can, but for now she just puts a hand on Fjord’s back and guides him to the gates.
“I meant what I said in there,” Caleb says. “You are a damn talented man and, if you want, I’d be honored to keep teaching you. My books may not be exactly made for your area, but I’m sure we can find some more accurate elsewhere. I’m an expert self-starter.”
“I’d really appreciate that,” Fjord says with a thin smile. It’ll take a while for him to recover, but they’ll get him there.
It’s not often that Yasha flinches. She’s usually an steady presence in an otherwise excitable group. So the day Jester sees her face fall at some idiots insult is the day she snaps. She’s had enough of rude people.
She throws a punch square to his jaw. No tricks, no illusions, no magic, just an old plain punch. Though she rarely fights physically, Jester is much stronger than she looks (as proven a few weeks ago when she won an arm wrestling contest against the boys). The man drops unconscious, before another word can escape his lips.
A stunned silence spreads through the party. Fjord sighs heavily, pinching the bridge of his nose, but Jester can see the smile he’s trying to hide.
“Nice,” Beau says under her breath.
“I could’ve done that,” Yasha points out in her usual deadpan tone, though her eyes are still wide open and locked on the knocked out guy.
“We know,” Molly smiles, patting her softly in the arms, “but it’s funnier when she does it.”
Jester sends him a sharp grin, then looks up to the barbarian. “I can rage too.”
Yasha smiles a little, which is a lot coming from her. “Cute.”
“Let’s keep moving and see if we can find someone in this damn town that isn’t an asshole,” Caleb sighs.
Caleb has spent most of his life on the run. After so many years, he’d almost forgotten why he was running. Finding himself in a prison cell and with a death sentence is a stark reminder of everything he’s been trying to avoid. Too late to run now, he thinks grimly. A part of him is tired of running.
At least Nott won’t be alone. The strange little family they’ve found is the best thing this sad life has ever given him. They will look out for her in his place. He reassures this to himself as he falls asleep on the cold prison floor, hoping to waste away the few hours he has left in this world. If only he had his books to read… They took those too when they caught him. If he had them, maybe things would be diffetent.
“This place smells worse than you did when we met,” a voice wakes him up. Jester is standing outside the cell.
“What are you doing here?”
“Getting you out. You can thank me later with cookies,” Jester replies. Her hands shine and the lock of the cell clicks open. “Let’s go. No tine for laying around.”
Shocked, he stands, just as Nott emerges from the shadows. He hadn’t seen her. She’s become quite stealthy the past months.
“Caleb!” She smiles, running towards him.
On instinct, he opens his arms to hug her, holds her close. “Nott, what are you doing here? You shouldn’t be here, someone could see you! This is too dangerous!”
“No one saw me! I’m very sneaky,” she smiles up at him. “I was getting your stuff.”
From her cloak, she pulls out his two old books. His heart skips a beat as he grabs his only family heirloom. “T- Thank you, Nott. Thank you.”
“This is all very cute but we have to hurry up,” Jester says. “Fjord can’t keep those dudes frozen forever. Though, it would be very funny. I bet He would like that.”
They rush down the corridor and, indeed, find two guards frozen in place, midway through pulling out their swords. Fjord stands in front if them, an arcane symbol shining in his hand, his eyes shining a soft shade of red. Molly and Beau are both on the door, keeping guard.
“Let’s go,” Fjord says, moving to the door without dropping the spell.
“What are you doing?” Caleb breathes out. “You realize what this will do? This is getting on the Empire’s bad side, there is no coming back from it. You’ll become fugitives, the whole Crown’s Guard will be after you!”
“Yeah,” Fjord says, dismissively.
“I have the funny feeling it was gonna happen eventually, anyway,” Molly snorts.
“Yeah, we are not really great at staying out of trouble,” Beau points out. “Still hate jails, though so let’s get moving.”
Five minutes later they are out and Caleb is still in shock. Nott hasn’t left his side at all and her firm hold of his hand is the only thing real enough to convince him he isn’t still dreaming.
“I don’t understand,” he admits, mostly to himself.
“Nothin’ to understand,” Fjord says, squeezing his shoulder. “I told ya, we take care of our own.”