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Stammtisch

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In retrospect, a lot of his strange behavior makes sense.

Caleb starts searching bookshops for illustrations of what ship interiors look like. He doesn’t buy any literature on architecture or design, but he definitely gets Jester’s help in stalling the salesman while he skims and memorizes as fast as he can.

“Is there something arcane about it?” Beau asks one day, when she catches Caleb staring at a stained glass window.

“Hmm?” he says distractedly. “Oh. No, it is just… very colorful. Nott,” he raises his voice a little, “do you like it?”

Nott looks over from the other side of the street. “I mean, it’s very pretty,” she calls, “but we’re supposed to be getting horse blankets, and that won’t fit in the cart anyway.”

Caleb chuckles to himself. “I suppose she’s right.”

**

It’s after a bad fight that Fjord finally brings up the spell again:

“I know it must be a pretty complex spell, Caleb, but is there any chance you could make that… that pocket dimension… house… thing? We could use a safe place right now, I don’t think we can be sure another wave of goblins won’t come along sooner or later. We don’t even have anything on the cart worth them stealing.”

“Ja, I…” Caleb gets a look that the team has gotten very familiar with - distant, calculating, like he’s arranging tiny blocks that are both very far away and right in front of his eyes. “It’s not done,” he admits, after a long pause.

Nott steps in. “We’ll make do without it. I can take first watch, and we can use Yasha’s idea and dig into the hill, right? Nobody will see us until they’re right on us, and goblin hoards are noisy.”

Mollymauk watches several expressions flash across Caleb’s face in succession. “I can do it,” he mumbles finally. “It’s not done, but it can be a safe place.”

“When you say ‘not done’,” Jester says slowly, “do you mean, like, there is no roof, and we will be looking out into, um, maybe a spooky empty sky?”

“That actually sounds amazing,” Molly admits, and Beau thinks about it and nods.

“Yeah, actually, Caleb, if it’s like that, let’s do it.”

Let’s do it,” Kiri echoes, feet kicking out excitedly from her spot on the cart.

“There is a roof,” Caleb mutters, blushing. He rummages through his coat and pulls out something small and ivory that he sets on the ground. “A roof, walls, floorboards, a bar, a Stammtisch, I… I haven’t managed to make any people yet, it is such a strange…”

His voice lowers and his mutterings turn into incantations. “Did he say people?” Yasha asks at Molly’s ear, and he gives her a ‘yikes’ face and shrugs.

“I’m happy with whatever is safe, it doesn’t have to be fancy.” Fjord crosses his arms and looks down at Nott, who seems fairly mollified by this statement.

“It will be great,” she agrees with a stubborn tilt of her chin. Yasha and Beau sit watch into the darkness of the forest while the spell is cast. Molly elects to watch Caleb. The man’s fingers are crossing over each other, drawing sigils in the moss, creating a complex world of lines around what appears to be a tiny ivory door.

**

Molly blinks several times a minute later, because when Caleb starts to get to his feet, he is getting to his feet in front of a beautiful oak door that wasn’t there the second before. “Is that it?” he asks, startled. “Did it- it’s only supposed to be a door, right?”

“Here, just a door.” Caleb rubs his chin and looks at it with severe criticism, walking around it twice. “Okay, everyone,” he gestures for them to come in. “Just so we are clear, the door works like a door for us, but only because I have made it with you in mind. So, do not worry, nobody who is not invited can step through here.” His brows come together. “But. I do want to go through first, and make sure everything is okay. If I do not come back out in, say, two minutes? Do not follow me in, that means I stepped into nothingness or something, and you would too.”

Several people are yelling for clarification at the same time, but it’s too late - Caleb has slipped through the door and shut it behind him. There’s the sound of struggling behind Molly and he looks back to see that Fjord and Beau are physically restraining Nott.

“Let me go after him!” She’s yelling, trying to squirm her arm free of Fjord’s grip. Yasha walks over and grabs a flailing limb to help.

“If he really did mess the spell up, there’s nothing any of us can do to help him,” Fjord says tightly. “I’m freaking the fuck out too, if it helps. If I knew it was that risky, I would never have - gods DAMN it-” He flinches back and holds his nose, which Nott managed to throw her elbow into, and Jester has to step in and scoop her up like a raging cat before she gets just within reach of the handle.

“The door looks fine,” Molly points out loudly, reassuring himself as much as the others. “The hinges worked, the handle worked, Caleb’s smart, he definitely remembered to include air and… gravity… and whatever a Stammtisch is… does anyone, hey, does anyone know what a Stammtisch is?”

Everyone is silent for a minute.

We can push some tables together,” Kiri says in Caleb’s voice, seemingly randomly. It makes everyone jump. Jester scowls sadly and shakes her head.

“Kiri, not right now please!”

She tucks her beak down. “Sorry,” she says in Beau’s voice, and Molly gets a sudden flashback to the moment Beau said that, having fumbled her aim and thrown a lit explosive into a pile of hay instead of through a window. The strangeness of the replay is almost enough to pull him out of the grim, heart-in-stomach moment of waiting.

“We could knock, maybe,” Jester says. “Maybe he could yell through the dimension and the door? That he is okay?”

Beau looks like she’s considering it when the knob turns and Caleb reappears in the doorway. A quick gust of unfamiliar air washes out into the forest - wood smoke, ale, and something roasting. Molly is so shocked to see him alive and whole that he doesn’t even think to look past him.

“Caleb!” Nott shouts, and launches herself into his arms. He stumbles back a step as he catches her, holding her up under her arms like one would a child.

“Nott, what happened? Have you been crying?

“Are you okay!?”

“Ja, I’m fine! It worked, the food is here, it seems to work,”

“How could you say something like that and then disappear!?”

“Tut mir Leid, I’ve been so wrapped up in my own head trying to piece all this together, sometimes I lose my head a little, I promise I am fine, it’s…” Caleb gathers himself and sets Nott down, taking a deep breath. “You are all invited to come in.”