It’s a while before Mollymauk thinks to look for his soulmark.
He can hardly be blamed. He only just decided on a name this morning; he has a few more important things to figure out than who he shares a destiny with. Like, for example, who the fuck he is.
The hand mirror he borrows from Desmond isn’t big, but he manages to get a decent look at most of his skin.
The trouble isn’t that he can’t find a mark. The trouble is, he has no idea which, if any, of his tattoos are the artsy kind, or the fates entwined kind. He pokes and prods at a few, but nothing sets one apart from the others. For all he knows, he doesn’t have a mark at all. Plenty of people don’t. He just thought, for some reason, he would.
He lets out a sigh. Well. It didn’t matter now. If there was some other piece of himself out there, waiting for him to find, they’d just have to get off their ass and do the legwork themselves.
“Are you hurt?”
Nott looks up, startled. The human is looking at her, brow creased just slightly. She still hasn’t asked his name.
“No!” she says, jumping up. “No, I’m fine! Did you want to keep going? I can keep going.”
“Nein,” the human says, settling himself down on the ground. “No. We could both use the rest, I think. I was just curious about--” he motions his hand up beside his head, flapping it a bit, and it takes Nott a moment to catch his meaning.
“Oh!” she says, hands automatically clamping over her bandaged left ear, tugging it down.
A mark? What kind of Goblin has a mark?
Someone to care about. Someone who loves you. You think that makes you special? All it makes you is weak.
You deserve whatever you get out there. You stay here, you’ll betray us all someday, sure as that brand you bear.
“It’s, it’s uhm, my ears, they stick out and they get...cold?”
The human looks at her a moment. Nott holds her breath, heart thundering in her chest, wondering if this is the moment he’ll leave, if this is the moment she’ll go back to being alone.
“We should get you a cloak,” he finally says. “One with a hood. You can tuck your ears inside, try to avoid trouble.”
She lets out a sigh of relief, releasing the ear she’d been twisting in her hand. “A cloak,” she says, “a cloak would be wonderful. That’s such a good idea.”
The human looks away, staring out into the woods around them. He lifts one shoulder, then lets it drop. “It will make it easier to survive if we don’t attract attention.” His lips quirk up, just a bit. “And it’ll keep your ears warm. Ja?”
“Yeah,” Nott says, liking the sound of ‘we.’ She settles to the ground, slow, waiting to see if the human objects.
But he doesn’t. He doesn’t object to one single thing about Nott, and that’s…
That’s good. That’s really, really good.
Her hand slips around her ear as she lays down to sleep, giving the offending bit of cartilage a firm squeeze. If her other half is like this human...well. Maybe being marked won’t be so bad.
The rescue isn’t instantaneous.
He’d thought magic was...well, magical. Wasn’t it supposed to be easy? Wasn’t it supposed to grant wishes with some fancy words and snapping fingers?
He makes a deal with something from the unfathomable deep, and instead of deliverance, he finds himself twenty feet under, lungs burning and a stabbing pain in his chest. But there’s a renewed strength to his limbs, and this time, he knows which way is up.
He makes it to the surface.
Choking, gasping, going under again and again, he makes it to the shore.
Every foot he manages to claw his way up the beach is torture. His fingers sink into wet sand, pull, push, yank his legs out of sinking wet muck, plant them into more muck, push, grab, pull. Waves crashing against his back, heartbeat thudding in his ears, his world is salt and exhaustion and that stabbing sensation that refuses to settle down into a comfortable ache.
He makes it far enough up the beach to avoid being washed out or buried by the tide, and passes out.
He wakes to a still burning chest.
He cranes his head down to see what the fuck hurts so much, and feels his breath catch.
Oh. Oh. His mark. It’s glowing.
He put his hand over it, over his heart, and feels a heat, building under his skin, burning, searing, he pulls his hand away and feels something come with it, something that hurts, that’s sunk barbs into him, tearing, something that shouldn’t be torn but it hurts, stars above it hurts, yanks at it--
it comes free.
He opens his eyes to find a blade in his hand. A falchion, though he’s not sure how he knows that.
Right. Magic shit.
He passes out again.
“Didn’t think you had one of those,” Ornna says.
Yasha puts a hand over the back of her neck, turning to give the performer a look.
“I’m not giving you any shit about it,” Ornna protests.
“I’m not sure why you’re giving me anything about it,” Yasha says.
Ornna rolls her eyes. “I get you have this whole strong silent type thing going on, but you can drop the act behind the curtain, alright? Just us back here.”
“And when are you going to drop your act?” Yasha asks.
Ornna narrows her eyes. “Fine,” she says. “Keep it to yourself, I don’t give a fuck.” She storms out of the tent, but Yasha can still hear a muttered “Bitch” carried on the wind.
Yasha stares after her, letting her palm rest against the back of her neck a moment longer before slowly lowering it to her side.
Jester’s mother blinks, focusing again on Jester, mouth curving into a smile. “Yes dear?”
“Is there something you’re not telling me?” The question is quiet. Jester regrets asking it immediately. But her mom keeps staring at her, like she’s looking right through her. And Jester...Jester would very much like to be seen.
“What could I be keeping from you?” her mother asks, voice light as she resumes finger-combing through Jester’s hair.
“I don’t know,” Jester answers. “A lot of stuff, probably.”
Her mother gives a throaty laugh, resting one hand on Jester’s shoulderblade, thumb tracing a pattern on her back again and again. “The Ruby of the Sea keeps many secrets,” she intones. “But the most precious of all is my little sapphire.” She leans forward, planting a kiss to the crown of Jester’s head before wrapping her in a hug. Jester giggles, leaning back into the embrace.
“My little sapphire,” her mother repeats, squeezing Jester to her chest. “My hidden treasure.”
Her mother’s breath is warm against her ear, and Jester lets herself pretend, just for a while, that this is enough.
The barkeep is staring at Beau.
Her hair’s different. Her clothes are a different style. She doesn’t speak like she’s Cobalt, doesn’t walk like it, sure as hell doesn’t act like it.
But she’s three ales deep, and the barkeep won’t stop staring at her.
She waves them over. “Thinking of doing some traveling,” she says. “Seeing a bit of the world before I settle down. Got any suggestions? Places I should visit?”
The barkeep gives her a slow, appraising look--but not the fun kind. “That’s an interesting mark you’ve got,” they say, and Beau freezes. “Not many people take the trouble to show one off, ‘specially in such a tricky spot.”
Her mark. Her fucking mark.
Not for the first time, Beau regrets the cockiness of her past actions. Brazenly showing off a soulmark was all well and good when you wanted to buck decorum, but a little less good when you were on the fucking run.
“What’s it to you?” Beau demands, standing so suddenly she knocks her stool over with a clatter. The murmur of conversation dies down, and she gets the feeling she just drew a whole lot more attention. Shit.
“Just making conversation,” the barkeep says, hands up.
“Right,” Beau says, letting her shoulders drop. “Touchy subject. Kind of personal.”
The barkeep gives her a slow nod, and the tension in the room seems to ratchet down a notch. “So, traveling,” they say, swiping a rag across the bar. “I hear Zadash is nice.”
She pauses in the middle of picking up her knocked over stool, sees the barkeep peering at her over the bar, looking for her reaction. She glances over at the door, and suppresses a groan when she sees some big and burly blocking the way.
She comes up with the stool in hand and launches it straight at the barkeep. They drop, seeming to anticipate her move, and yell “Grab her!”
Well. She wasn’t looking for a fight, but she’ll take one, if they insist.
But next time? Next time, she’s going to cover up that fucking mark.
Something they don’t tell you in books: The smell of human flesh burning isn’t worse than any other meat.
Something else: Your mouth will still water at the idea of food, real food, even as your stomach heaves.
Caleb bites down on the bit of cloth in his mouth, clenching his teeth against the scream that wants to boil its way out of him, against the bile that wants to follow. He is no stranger to fire, Caleb Widowgast, but even after all the things he’s seen, been in the thick of, he has rarely felt more than the tender lick of flames in his palm before turning it outward, turning it into a weapon.
Fire is a force of nature with no alignment. It is only mortals who try to channel it into a killer.
He bites down on his bit of cloth and presses his hand to the front of his thigh and does not scream, not where they still might hear him, not where they might find him still and drag him to the front and he might give in because it is so, so much easier not to think. To go where they tell him, burn what they tell him, and not think.
He tries not to think about what he is doing, now. Tries not to think about another person out there, somewhere, with a mark just like his was, under the skin gone shiny and twisted like melted wax, a mark that promised their destinies were linked, fates entwined.
Would they thank him, if they knew? Would they be glad, to have mourned what could have been, instead of meeting what was? What is?
What he is. What he is, is a fugitive. What he is, is on the run. He cannot afford to have identifying marks. Cannot afford to have connections he won’t shed, like so much unwanted clothing. He will cloak himself in grime and stink and scars if he has to. He will not go back.
And he will not drag someone there with him.