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After the disbelief and the pleading, the desperation and the shouting, there is only cold resolve as they ride back, pushing the horses as fast as they dare because there is so little time, so little time to make this right.

“I have seen it done before,” Caleb says, after the bargaining with gods that will not listen “There was a man, a traitor, and we…we got a bit sloppy with him.  Uh, he died, before he could tell us anything, and Trent was furious that he had to call in a cleric.  The man was already dead a week before the cleric got there, but she told us that for the right materials, as long as not ten days have passed, a person can be brought back,”

“You know that’s deeply fucked up, right?” Beau says “So ten days?”

“And a diamond.  Worth 500 gold, at least,”

Beau exhales.  Nott’s fingers twitch.

“Ten days.  A diamond.  A cleric,”

There’s really only one place they can go.

They ride, hard and fast, starting with the sunrise and stopping only when the moon cannot light their path any longer and the horses are close on collapse.  If there are any tears, quick hands furiously brush them aside, or they water the ground where they sleep.  It takes too much time to set up and take down the tents, so they sleep-

They try to sleep, pressed side to side, whoever is not on watch, and everyone pretends that the figure nearby wound up in a brightly coloured tapestry just wants some restful sleep away from all the snoring.

In the light of day, it’s harder to pretend.  Harder to pretend when they have to secure it, the body, Molly to the back of Beau’s horse, like so much baggage.  Harder to pretend when every jolt of the road sends it, the body, Molly bouncing against Beau’s back, or a greying, limp tail slips out of the fabric into view.  Harder to pretend when the silence is broken only by the pounding of horse hooves and not a cheerful prattling voice spouting seven directions of bullshit.

On the eighth day, they reach Zadash.

They leave Keg to secure lodgings at the Leaky Tap.  She’s eager enough to help any way she can, but where they need to go and what they need done now is precarious enough without bringing a stranger into the mix, no matter how well-intentioned.

“Take this,” she insists, pressing a pouch into Beau’s hands as they leave “There’s 50 gold there.  I know it’s not much next to what you need, but maybe it can help,”

Beau nods, her mouth a firm slash on her face.  Nott graciously waits until Keg’s out of sight to scoff.

“We don’t need that for the diamond,” she says, her yellow eyes darting around the crowd, pausing on the most richly dressed, the ones that jangle the most as they walk, the grump- “There are a lot of grumpy people here I could get twice that amount from,”

“It’s a nice gesture,” Beau says.  Dammit, Fjord should be here, saying that “She doesn’t know what we’re going to do,”

“The gold will be good for finding a cart,” Caleb says “We cannot walk around Zadash carrying…carrying Mollymauk around like that.  If we can find a small handcart or something, that will be the best cover, I think,”

“We should put some things on top…some equipment, y’know, make it look like we’re workers or traders so we don’t stand out too much,” Beau says “I can figure some shit out.  I know merchants, I know how they talk,”

An hour later finds them parking a wheelbarrow piled with hay, the briefest bit of coloured tapestry just visible under the golden strands, in an alley near the Evening Nip.  Caleb takes out his silver thread from his pocket, starts winding it around the barrow, as Nott hops up on a nearby barrel, crossbow resting in the folds of her cloak.

“You stay here as guard, ja?” Caleb murmurs to her “Stay hidden, but do not let anyone take our friend.  We will be out as soon as we are finished our business.  Send us a Message if there is anything suspicious, or you are in danger,”

“Are we sure this is the best idea, leaving Nott here?” Beau says “I’m less conspicuous, and no one will shoot me on sight,”

“I’m fine,” Nott says, and she doesn’t sound even the least bit drunk “If something happens down there, you can protect Caleb better,”

Beau purses her lips, but acknowledges Nott’s words with a raised chin.  

“I’ll keep him safe,” she says “And we’re coming out with what we need,”

The Gentleman is, predictably, not particularly amused that they haven’t completed their second task.  Neither Caleb nor Beau are anywhere near the mood for amusement though, so they’re all on the same ground for talking business without the nonsense of pleasantries.

“The mission to Labenda Swamp was completed, as our cleric sent to you,” Caleb says, with a cool steel in his voice and a confidence never heard before “The agreed upon reward for that was an advance of 250 gold pieces with an additional 1750 gold when all was done.  The mission to Shady Creek Run, the terms of the contract were an advance of 500 gold and an additional 4500 gold after.  That mission was not completed, so we owe you the 500 gold advance,”

“As well as time lost,”

“As well as time lost,” Caleb concedes “But the mission to Labenda Swamp was fulfilled, and so there is the gold from that which is ours by agreement.  So here, let us agree on the appropriate restitution from both sides.  The 500 gold advance for Shady Creek Run, let that be taken from the 1750 gold we are owed.  100 gold also, for time lost, and we walk away with 1150 gold, and everyone satisfied,”

The Gentleman leans forward, interlocking his fingers and resting his chin on them.

“And if I am not satisfied?” he says.  Caleb smiles, a close-lipped smile, the corners of his mouth just barely turned up.  It sends chills down Beau’s spine.

“Then we negotiate,” he says, and for a moment, there seems another person in his place, a confidant, callous youth with cold eyes and bright hands.  Even the Gentleman seems to feel it, though his only response is a quick blink, so fast as though it never happened.

“Very well,” the Gentleman leans back in his seat “Let us negotiate,”

In the end, despite Caleb’s best efforts, the Gentleman bargains them down to 800 gold and a favour owed.  It’s not even the money that’s a concern -all they need is 500 gold, that’s all, anything else is extra- but in debt to a crime lord for a favour isn’t a great place to be, again.

For Molly.  Anything for Molly.

“A pleasure doing business with you,” Caleb says, smoothly switching into an easy smile and an amiable tone the moment the contract is signed, because he’s not Fjord and good faith is never enough when there is ink and parchment and words to seal the deal that has to save Molly.  The Gentleman takes it all in stride, anyways.  Not much fazes him.  Well, Nott has fazed him.  That’s why she’s not in here right now.  No chances.

Nott and the barrow are still there when they emerge from the Evening Nip, 800 gold stowed away in Jester’s bag.  The silver thread has not been disturbed, although what look suspiciously like tiny rodent bones litter the ground beneath the cart, and Nott gives a guilty belch.

“We got it,” Beau says “Wait here, I can take care of this,”

She’s been around enough rich assholes that she knows some stuff about how to get your money’s worth of jewels, and she wants to do this.  She doesn’t have Caleb’s way with words and people, but she can do this much for Molly.  Getting into the Trispire isn’t a problem with the whole Victory Pit champions thing - the guards recognize her after a few minutes and she hunts down a high-end enough jeweller after that.  One diamond for now, that’s what they agreed on, and if it works, when it works, they’ll plan for more.

They take Molly to the temple of the Platinum Dragon first.  They’ve got that tapestry after all, and Molly makes- Molly made enough of a big show about worshipping him.  They don’t give them the full story, of course not, but they have enough of a reputation after that blessed fucking Victory Pit that they’re not immediately tossed out on their ears.

“We ran into some unpleasant company on the road,” Caleb says to the cleric that greets them “They took some of our friends captive, and when we tried to rescue them, our friend here, they…”

He trails off, and the act drops for a moment.  Nott squeezes his hand.  Beau steps up.

“Can you help us?” she says.

The woman is nice enough, but apparently, the head cleric’s gone to some convention in Rexxentrum, and the next highest cleric left hasn’t learned any spells to bring back the dea-

Any spells to bring back Molly.

There are other temples though, she says with enough apology that Beau doesn’t really want to strangle her with her own robes now.  They could probably try the Matron of Ravens.  She deals with the moment of death, so the clerics there are more likely to be experienced in this sort of situation.  Although, of course, it’s said that she’s also a stickler for rightful deaths or whathaveyou, and none of them really care about that right now.

If they have to fight a god, they’ll put it on the list.  What have they got left to lose?

Fortunately, they don’t have to fight a god, because the head cleric at the temple with the really creepy statue that looks like it took a few hints from Nott about facial adornment is satisfied to help after they fumble out more or less the same story they gave at the Platinum Dragon.  There is something immensely unsettling about that giant fucking statue that makes you want to say more than you should, but hell, whatever needs to be done.

“I will do what I can on your behalf,” the cleric, a tall elven woman with a shaved head and dark eyes says, her voice low and rich “I cannot promise anything, but I sense there is a perhaps a greater destiny here that has yet to be fulfilled.  There will, of course, be a cost-”

“We have a diamond,” Caleb interrupts “For the ritual.  And gold.  We can pay-“

She stops him with a shake of her head.

“The diamond will be needed,” she says “Gold, it is of little concern to our goddess, though should you choose to make a donation to her temple, it would be much appreciated.  But bringing back a soul from the dead, there are many things that could happen.  You may not find your friend the same as before,”

“We just want Molly back,” Beau says, ironing out the tremble in her voice “Anything else, we’ll take care of it,”

The head cleric inclines her chin.

“Perhaps,” she says “Yet I do not think you fully understand what it is to call a soul back from the brink.  Our matron guards the souls of the departed from the moment of death until they pass on, and to relinquish one back in the world is a serious matter.  I can intercede with her on your friend’s behalf, but my lady may yet call upon you to answer for this plea,”

“A favour,” Beau says flatly.  She looks at Caleb.  Caleb blinks, long and slow.

“We already owe one favour,” he says “What is one more?”

“For Molly,” Nott says.

“For Molly,” Beau repeats, and looks back at the cleric “That’s fine.  Whatever she wants.  Just bring Molly back,”

A few acolytes lend her a hand in carrying Molly up the steps of the temple, into a private room beside the main sanctuary.  They unfurl the tapestry, bundling it away quickly and laying Molly out before a small altar which the head cleric is kneeling in front of.  Molly doesn’t look asleep, not anymore.  Skin pale and greying, bright tattoos dull and lifeless.  Eyes a glassy, empty red, head lolling limply to the side.

It’s not Molly.  It’s not.  This lifeless thing, this husk.  What made Molly Molly is gone.  The brilliant, too-wide smile, the wondrous eyes marvelling at every new thing, the smooth-talking, words-juggling voice that enchants and annoys at the same breath.  This is just a body.  Empty.

Caleb stares at nothing.  Nott turns away.  Beau watches every second of it.

Religious sigils are drawn on the floor, the scent of herbs fills the air.  The cleric takes the diamond, places it on the altar, and begins chanting a prayer that’s half melody, half plaintive cry.  If there are words, no one is listening to them.  The diamond glows with a dark energy, not ominous, but eerie in how it beckons, and the jewel melts away in a dark plume as the energy starts swirling around Molly.  The cleric stops chanting, a bead of sweat on her brow.

“If anyone would like to contribute to the ritual, now is the time,” she says, still calm and steady despite the tight lines on her face “Something to tie your friend to this world, an item, perhaps, that meant something important in life, or words to convince a soul to return,”

There is a moment’s pause, then Nott takes a hesitant step forward, creeping up to the body, Molly, with her flask gripped knuckle-white in her hands.  She clears her throat.

“I know we’ve had our…our differences in the past,” she says “We haven’t always gotten along.  But even though we’ve only known each other for such a short time -a month, I think?- it’s been one of the best times of my life, with this, with all of us.  I think Beau, she called us ‘family’ earlier, and I’ve never really had one, you know, but if this it what it is, it’s not really one without you,”

Nott unscrews the lid off her flask and takes a big swig before continuing.

“So we need you to come back, because we’re going to steal the rest of our family back from that grumpy motherfucker, and you need…you need to help us.  You need to swan about fighting with Beau and making Caleb smile and lecturing me about how you know best.  We need you and you need us, and there are so many more grumpy people out there that need you and me and all of us to teach them a lesson,” 

Nott lowers the flask to Molly’s lips, dribbles a little bit of alcohol into Molly’s mouth.

“Here,” she says “I always feel better after a drink, and I think that’s something we can agree on,”

Nott backs away.  The dark energy around Molly pulses for a moment.  No one knows what that means.  There is a brief flutter of wings as a large raven swoops down from the rafters and lands on the altar, perching on the edge as if somehow presiding over everything.  

Caleb shuffles forward next, hands working the hem of his shirt nervously.  He kneels down beside Molly, and his voice, when he starts talking, is soft and gentle.

“Eh, Mister Mollymauk, I do not know what are the right words to say here,” he says, hesitant and unsure “You never have any problem with that, you always have so many words even if most of them are complete bullshit, ja?  Ja.  I do not understand you, you know?  You are colourful, a rainbow, so bold, and you, you dive into everything headfirst without thinking.  You are so confidant and fearless and I do not…I cannot understand that.  You are an enigma to me, and you know, I don’t know what to think because I do and I don’t what to figure out this mystery.  Your business is your business, and yet I think I would be lying if I said there wasn’t some part of me that is curious about…about you,”

Caleb stumbles to a halt there, looking stunned by his own words.  He stares at Molly for a minute, eyes seeing everything and nothing, then of his own accord, takes a deep breath and sighs.  

Ja, well, that is my piece, that is what I have to say.  Come back to us, Mollymauk Tealeaf.  The past is the past and the present, it is not so good right now, but I like to think the future, our future, can only be better if you are in it,”

Caleb leans over, presses a light kiss to Molly’s forehead, and a pulse of that dark energy radiates out where his lips meet skin.  The raven on the altar caws.  If ravens were people, it might almost sound encouraging.

Last-

“So, uh, hey,” Beau coughs, leaning on her staff “You know, you’re an asshole.  Don’t get me wrong, I know I’m an asshole too.  You’re also a fucking idiot who’s too brave and generous for your own fucking good.  What the fuck were you thinking?  Jumping in front of that bastard like that.  What makes you think you’ve any right to be anyone’s shield, as if any of us are more important than you?  Typical.  Newsflash, you’re just as valuable as any one of us, you dick.  Your life is-“

Something gets stuck in her throat then, and Beau has to give several loud coughs before she can continue.

“Your life is worth more than that,” she says “At least 500 gold and several questionable favours to questionable individuals, and that’s just to start.  I mean, what the hell gives you the right to presume otherwise?  It’s like the biggest dick move you’ve ever pulled, and that’s saying something.  C’mon.  Tell me I’m wrong.  Argue with me.  You fucker.  I’m waiting, yeah?  I’m sure you have a passable comeback ready somewhere, and I’m sure it sucks, but I’ve been learning how to be a nice person, I’ll let you get a few words in.  C’mon.  C’mon, Molly, you’re not just gonna lie here and take that, are you?  C’mon,”

Beau half slides down her staff until she’s crouched near Molly’s head, and delivers a resounding slap to the cheek.  It echoes, even in the small chamber, and Beau definitely doesn’t sniffle as she stands back up.  The energy pulses again, and Molly’s body…Molly is lifted up a foot off the floor, floating aloft on the swirling tendrils around him.  The raven caws again, somehow sounding sad and laughing at the same time, stupid fucking bird.

The energy wraps around Molly’s entire body, outlining it for a moment in some kind of dark halo.  Then slowly, it fades, lowering Molly to the ground as it does, and there is silence, stillness.  A minute passes.  Molly doesn’t breathe.  Another minute.  Molly doesn’t breathe.  Caleb stares at nothing.  Nott looks away.  Beau watches every second of it.

“Hghhhhhh…!”

There’s a harsh breathing filling the room that is not Caleb hyperventilating.  Beau falls to her knees as Molly sits straight up, eyes wide and panicked, chest heaving, but breathing and alive.

“Empty,” Molly mouths, and there’s a dread look on Beau’s face and a shocked look on Nott’s and a grieved look on Caleb’s before the red, pupil-less eyes dart in their direction and Molly breathes out a shaky “What?”

Nott buries her face in Caleb’s coat.  A tear runs down Caleb’s cheek.

“Mollymauk,” he says, the dangerous beginnings of hope in his voice “Mister Mollymauk.  Is that you?”

Molly blinks, and mouths Caleb’s words silently.

“Molly?” Molly -yes, it is Molly, it has to be Molly- says, not without a note of wonder.

“Yes,” Caleb swallows hard “You are Mollymauk Tealeaf.  Do you remember?  You are a member of the Mighty Nein.  There are not actually nine of us, there are seven.  Eight, including Frumpkin.  Do you remember him?  Do you remember us?  I am Caleb, and this is Nott, and Beauregard, and there are some…some who are not with us right now,”

“Yasha,” Beau says, voice hoarse “Yasha, and she’s your best friend in the whole world.  Jester, she’s a tiefling like you, she’s absolutely perfect and we’re a complete bunch of fuck-ups without her.  Fjord, you two always share a room, except when you have fruit and company, and you still have to get him back for messing around with that freaky teleporting thing of his,”

Molly’s lips move soundlessly, mouthing something that might be ‘Yasha’ again and again.

“Resurrections can be difficult,” the high cleric says when Molly doesn’t speak “The soul may be willing to return, but the process can be traumatic.  Your friend-“

She is cut off as Molly suddenly bounds up, right to Beau’s face, and grabs her by the arms.

I remember,” Molly says, harsh and hoarse “I remember.  Lucien,”

Beau pales.  Caleb chokes.  Nott takes her face out of Caleb’s coat and steps forward.

“Thank you very much for your help!” she says shrilly to the high cleric “We’re very grateful, anything you need, just ask, we’ll be on our way now!”

Nott yanks at Caleb’s arm, scuttles up and pulls Beau back the hem of her cloak, Molly still holding on to her, stumbling after her.  Maybe the cleric calls after them, but it doesn’t register except for Nott tossing a whole pouch of coins in her general direction.

“A donation!” Nott shouts, somehow managing to drag the three of them out the door despite her thin little arms “Keep the change!”

Then they’re out in the open, Molly still gripping on to Beau in a vice, everyone shaken and speechless except for Nott, who takes another large swig from her flask and shakes her head furiously.

“We need to get out of town,” she announces, tugging at Beau’s cloak “Before they tell anyone about us.  Beau, give Molly your cloak, he’s too obvious,”

Beau looks at Molly.  Quite besides the whole purple tattooed tiefling with jewelry and piercings and a motherfucking rainbow disaster of a coat, the bloodstained shirt and the poleaxed expression are not the most inconspicuous things in the world.  Without a word, she shrugs off Molly’s grip, takes off her cloak, and wraps it around Molly instead, pulling the hood as low as she can over the horns.

“We can’t-“ Caleb stumbles, regains his wording “We need to stay here the night at least.  Mollymauk isn’t in any kind of state to travel right now,”

With Beau shaken free, Molly is swaying in place, red eyes wide with something that might be shock, might be horror.  Beau grimaces.

“Yeah, I see your point,”

“The Leaky Tap then,” Nott says “We take him back, we stay the night, and we leave, first thing in the morning.  I don’t trust those temple people not to tell the guards about us, and we’ve got enough to worry about already without the Empire all over our business,”

Caleb flinches.  Beau spares a little bit of her loathing, lately occupied with Lorenzo and the fucking Iron Shepherds, for a silent curse at Trent Ikithon.  

“Sounds like a plan,” she says out loud “Come on, let’s get back, and we’ll figure things out there,”

With Beau and Nott each on either side of Molly, and Caleb leading the way, they get back to the Leaky Tap without any major incident.  Keg meets them in the common area, the look of relief on her face upon seeing four them replaced with a look of trepidation at the expressions on their faces.

“What happened?” she asks.

“Not here,” Caleb says shortly.  Keg nods.

“Alright.  I got us some rooms.  Follow me,”

She got them three rooms on the second floor, but they all pile into one anyways, sitting Molly down on one of the beds and everyone else standing or sitting around him.  Caleb looks about a hairsbreadth from getting lost in his own head again, so Beau explains as brief as she can.

“They brought Molly back,” she says “But there were some complications.  Some things to do with stuff that happened in the past.  Lot of crazy shit to process.  Just needs some time.  That’s all.  Process it, you know,”

Keg nods, not looking entirely convinced, but with enough tact not to pry.

“We need to leave first thing tomorrow,” Nott says, taking Caleb’s hand in her own small one “We should go back to Trostenwald,”

“Trostenwald?” Beau blinks “Why the hell are we going back there?  We need to get back on fuckin’ Lorenzo’s trail before it gets cold,”

“You saw what happened!” Nott bursts out before glancing at Caleb and lowering her voice back again “We’re no match for them, and Molly can’t fight, not like this!  There’s still someone from the circus at Trostenwald, right?  That Gustav guy.  Molly knows him, he could help make Molly better,”

“If I remember correctly, he’s a prisoner there working off a debt,” Beau says flatly “If he even wants to help, what can he do?  What we need to do is head back north before Lorenzo and his crew decide it’s time to start breaking our friends,”

“And what are we going to do when we get there?” Nott hisses “Get all of us killed this time?  We’re not strong enough to fight them!”

“We’re not leaving them!”

“I think,” Caleb says suddenly, slow and hesitant “I think we need to take care of Mollymauk right now.  We are not going to leave Fjord and Jester and Yasha, but we need to make sure that we are all at full strength before we make another go at rescuing them, so Mollymauk has to be our top priority right now,”

Beau hisses in displeasure and crosses her arms.

“If we’re doing that, we’re not going back to Trostenwald,” she says “I don’t care if we don’t stay in Zadash, but we’re not going back, we’re not going further away,”

“That is a good point,” Caleb says “Does anyone have any suggestions?”

“It’s Hupperdook or Labenda,” Nott says “I vote Hupperdook,”

“Yeah, no, fuck Labenda,” Beau says “I’ll take Empire town over swamp shithole any day,”

“Mollymauk would like it there,” Caleb says “It is very like him, that place,”

“Hupperdook it is then,” Keg says.  There’s something in her tone that sounds unhappy about it, but she doesn’t say anything.  Like hell are they up to facing the Iron Shepherds again, not when what happened last time is sitting blankly on the bed in front of them, saying nothing, acknowledging no one.

They iron out a few more questions than details -where will they go in Hupperdook, who can help them, what they need for the journey- before Keg makes a tactful retreat to her own room, leaving the four of them alone.  The moment the door closes behind her, Caleb sinks onto the bed beside Molly, looking almost as catatonic.  Nott scrambles quickly up on the bed beside him, and after a moment, Beau sits down on Molly’s other side, squishing the four of them together on the edge of the bed.

“Molly?” Beau says, a sudden lump in her throat “Molly, you with us?”

Molly keeps staring at the wall, eyes wide, no response.  Nott swears softly.

“Fuck this,” she declares, and clambers over Caleb’s lap to squeeze in between Molly and Caleb “Molly, stop messing around, it’s us.  You can talk to us.  Just say something,”

Reaching her fingers up, she grabs hold of one of the shiny chains dangling from Molly’s horns and yanks it with enough strength that Molly’s head is pulled down.  Beau almost moves to intercept, except that at that moment, a purple hand comes shooting up to grab at Nott’s wrist.

“Hey,” Molly says, and it is Molly, it is, not that horrible empty voice in the temple or the terrified voice that whispered of Lucien “What…?  No, nope.  Stop that!”

Nott freezes.  Caleb’s eyes grow suspiciously wet.  Beau grabs Molly’s other arm and buries her face in it.

“Thank fuck,” she says, any tremor in her voice easily excusable by the muffling effect of the coat “Thank fuck,”

“What?” Molly looks this way and that as much as possible with a goblin hanging on to one horn “What are you all…?”

“You’re back,” Caleb says, his accent sounding thicker than ever “Do you know who you are?”

There’s a pause.

“Of course I do!” Molly says, with a touch too much cheer “What are you talking about?  I’m Mollymauk Tealeaf.  That’s who I am.  It’s who I am,”

It would be a lot more convincing if Molly weren’t such a shit liar that even Nott can see through the crap.

“Prove it,” Nott says, not letting go of his jewelry “Prove you’re our Molly, and not Lucien or anyone else.  Tell us…tell us something only Molly would know,”

No one misses the wince that follows ‘Lucien.’

“Lucien is dead,” Molly says, losing the cheer for vehemence “Whoever had this body before me is gone.  The only one here is me, and no one else,”

“You said you remember,” Caleb says quietly “You remember Lucien.  That is what you said, earlier,”

“I don’t,” Molly snaps, before taking a deep breath “I don’t.  I don’t want to,”

Beau and Caleb share a look over Molly’s head.  

“No,” Beau says, making an executive decision there and then.  Gods, making those suck.  Fjord should be here, doing that, keeping them all in line, making sure all these personal conversations don’t get out of hand.  Too fucking bad he’s not, and there’s only the clusterfuck that is the four of them “Nope, you don’t get a free pass just because you fucking died.  We’re in the biggest pile of shit there is and we all gotta take out a shovel if we wanna get out of it, so if you have any to contribute, just add it to the pile because it literally can’t get any worse,”

There’s a pause.

“Was that supposed to be a metaphor or something, because it doesn’t make any sense,” Nott says.  There’s a slightly hysterical giggle from Molly.  Caleb coughs into his elbow.

“Beauregard is right,” Caleb says “We are all in this shit together, and I would rather we get it over with now than later.  Me, I do not care who this Lucien person is, but he is clearly having some impact on you, Mollymauk Tealeaf, and I do not like to see you in distress,”

Molly lets out another hysterical giggle.

“I…really do not want to talk about this.  Again,” Molly says, managing, with some difficulty, to finally swallow back the giggling “I said all I had to say about it before,”

“Well, it’s now, not before,” Nott says, which is sufficiently confusing enough to give everyone pause “And you literally came back to life and said you remembered things, and you didn’t remember them before, and we all heard you say it so you can’t take it back.

Molly scowls at her.

“You’re too clever for your own good,” Molly says, sounding so Molly-ish that for a moment, it could be just any other night with nothing wrong at all “Alright, fine.  If it’ll stop you all asking.  There are things in my head that weren’t there before.  Not proper memories.  Just little bits.  Pictures.  Impressions.  Sounds.  They’re in my head, they’re nothing that I ever lived through, and I want them gone, I want them out, I don’t want them in there,”

Lying is really not Molly’s forte.  The next time they need someone to spew believable crap, they should probably go with Caleb.  There’s something Molly’s still holding back, but baby steps here.  

“I can respect that,” Beau says “I’ll say what I said before, I remember things that happened to me in the past, but I don’t feel anything about them, I’m not beholden to them.  Yeah, you can remember stuff now too.  Doesn’t mean you have to give them any power over you,”

“But now that you do remember some things, we’re ready to support you through them,” Nott chimes in after a glance at Beau “When you’re ready.  Because we’re your friends, and we care,”

“We care about you, Mollymauk Tealeaf,” Caleb says “About you.  And if you do not like this Lucien person and whatever he has done, we will try our best to make sure he is not a bother to you again.  And you know, sometimes I find it difficult to distinguish the past from the present, sometimes I get lost in my head between the two.  You have helped me before when that has happened, so has Beauregard here, so has Nott, because I find it very difficult to snap out of it myself when it is all happening in my own head.  So if there is something in your head that is bothering you, I have found that it is very helpful to have a, a friend to get you out of the bad place,”

“That was good,” Beau says, looking over Molly’s head to give Caleb a surprised nod of approval “You sounded like a functioning person there.  That was good,”

“Very good,” Nott agrees, finally letting go of Molly’s head to pat Caleb’s hand “Nicely said.  You’re very good with words, you know?”

“I just want to be me,” Molly says, looking back and forth at them all “I like who I am.  I never wanted any of this, and I don’t like it now that there’s even more of him in here.  It’s not just remembering things.  I can hear him, his voice, saying things in my head, thoughts that aren’t mine, and I just want him out, I don’t want him in here, I want my head to be my own again!”

“Well shit,” Beau says in the silence that follows that outburst “That sounds fucking terrible.  Ok, yeah, that’s a problem.  And this didn’t happen last time?  When you were in the grave?”

No,” Molly says miserably “There was nothing last time.  At least, nothing like this.  Sometimes, there were flashes, I think, but he wasn’t in here, not like this,”

Nott bites back some kind of comment about hearing voices in your head.  Caleb shifts uncomfortably.

“It is not the full person though, is it?” he says “There is not a bodiless spirit trying to take over your body?”

“I don’t- I don’t think so,” Molly frowns “I don’t feel possessed or anything like that.  There’s just this voice there that’s talking and it keeps whispering things it would do if it were me, what it thinks about different things, and I can’t get it to stop,”

“That is definitely not a good thing,” Caleb says “If we could find you a healer, maybe, a powerful cleric, they could maybe try some kind of healing or, or banishment spell to get him out,”

“I think we’ve already exhausted all our options for healing and clerics,” Beau says “This isn’t shit your local clinic can deal with either.  What does he want?  What is he saying?”

“He really didn’t like your suggestion,” Molly says flatly to Caleb “He thinks I should deal with you all and make a run for it,”

“Yeah, ok, definitely not a good guy,” Beau draws her hands down her face “Shit.  Ok.  Look.  Guy’s a dickhead, that’s clear enough, no good guy sneaks around other people’s heads telling them to kill people.  But y’know what?  He’s also a dumb fuck, because he just told us he doesn’t fancy his chances against a good cleric.  So at least we know that’s one option for maybe dealing with him,”

Molly is silent for a moment before shooting a wicked, familiar grin at her.

“He thinks you’re a bitch, and I shouldn’t listen to you,” Molly says “You are a bitch, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I should absolutely listen to you on this one instance concerning this one thing,”

“Fuck you, Molly,”

“Fuck you!”

Molly is so genuinely cheerful at that exclamation that Beau cracks a smile.

“Yeah, sounds about right,” she says “There we go.  See, you’re still you, despite him.  And yeah, he’s a problem we’ll have to deal with preferably sooner rather than later, but you don’t seem to have any problem telling him to go fuck himself, so I think we’ll be just fine,”

“You can’t know that,” Molly says, dropping the cheer for a return to the grimdark “You don’t know that at any moment, he’ll suddenly get stronger and take over, or he’ll figure out some way of tricking me into thinking his thoughts are my thoughts, and he’s not a nice person, he thinks I should get rid of you when I have the chance,”

“Come on, give us a little credi-“

“I killed my parents,” Caleb says suddenly, cutting Beau off.  Molly whips round to look at him, eyes wide with probably shock, disbelief, horror “When I was a young man.  I went to study magic, and my teacher, he taught me all kinds of things besides that.  How to hurt people, how to make them suffer and talk, how to kill them slowly or quickly, all for the sake of the Empire.  I was…very good at it.  The last test I had to pass, I was supposed to execute my parents, for treason.  And I didn’t hesitate.  I was blind to anything other than the glory of the Empire,”

“You were brainwashed-“ Nott begins, and Caleb shakes his head.

Nein, nein, I had a choice to make, and I made the wrong ones, over and over again.  I wish…I wish I could look back now and say that man was not me, the one who tortured and killed people.  Sometimes I even think he is gone for good.  But the truth is, he is always in my head, talking, you see.  Telling me I need to kill all of you, because you are traitors to the crown, disloyal, criminals.  Telling me that I will always be him and he will always be me, and there is nothing different about us except for the years,”

“He’s fucking wrong,” Beau says “The fact that you know he’s wrong means you’re not the same,”

“I want to believe that,” Caleb says, looking Molly in the eyes “Ja, I know what he says is wrong now, I can see it.  But, that does not mean that he is not me.  What he has done is what I have done, what he thinks is what I have thought before.  And you know, I am not a brave man, I am not a strong man, and I can’t shut him up because he is not some past me that survives by some arcane means, he is a part of me and he always will be.  But you are very brave, Mister Mollymauk, much braver than I am, and if I can think these horrible things but I do not do them, not anymore, I think you are stronger than this Lucien person, and…I do not believe that you will fail against him,”

Molly is still staring wordlessly at Caleb.  Nott whips her head back and forth between the two of them, and reaches one hand back to grab Caleb’s and the other to grab Molly’s.

“I don’t think everything Caleb just said is right,” she says “But I think he’s right that you’re better than this Lucien person, you’re stronger than him.  And if you’re not, Beau’s right, we can handle him just fine, knock him out until he gives you back,”

“Three on one right now, four with Keg,” Beau says “I don’t like Lucien’s chances against that.  Maybe even five on one, because if it turns out he can actually try shit like that, you can probably do that right back to him.  And once we get Fjord and Jester and Yasha back, that’s the whole Mighty fucking Nein he’s got to deal with.  Between all of us, fucker doesn’t stand a chance,”

To prove the point, Beau gives Molly a light punch in the arm, which also serves the effect of breaking Molly’s uncomprehending stare at Caleb.

“Hey,” Molly complains, without real heat “Bitch,”

“Dick,” Beau flops down backwards on the bed, head and arms dangling off the edge “Yeah, like I said, Lucien tries to pull any shit, we’ll kick his ass to the Nine Hells and back.  Now, are we done with this moping and worrying shit, because it’s been a really long fucking day.  It’s been a really long fucking couple of weeks, and we got an early morning tomorrow, so unless anyone has anything else they’d like to get off their chest, we should all go to bed,”

“I’d like to point out that you were the ones that wanted to talk about this,” Molly points out, the facetious bastard “I was perfectly happy to have a drink and go to bed,”

“Smartass,” Beau scowls, only half meaning it “And do you feel reassured now that Lucien better watch his step if he’s listening because we’re out for his ass?”

“I didn’t think you swung that way,” Molly deflects, and Beau kicks her leg sideways.

“Whatever team you’re on, I definitely don’t play for it,” she says “Or his.  Y’know what, just shut up and sleep, ok?”

“There isn’t a lot of room,” Molly says, eyebrows waggling.

“It’s too bad there isn’t another room,” Nott lies through her teeth.  Fortunately, Molly’s too distracted at the moment to realize it, because holy shit, Nott should also never lie, she’s terrible at it “Looks like we have to share,”

It takes some rearranging, and if they weren’t all selfish assholes, Molly should probably get one of the beds to himself with the rest of them to fight between the remaining one and the floor, but what the hell.  No one’s about to admit it, but they all need the reassurance of warm breath against your neck and haphazard limbs cutting off your circulation, a tangible reminder that they’re all here, they’re all alive, no one is going anywhere.  

As it is, they shove the two beds together, plant Molly squarely in the middle across the two widths of the beds, and eventually scuffle their way into some kind of sleeping arrangement with Beau and Caleb huddled up at the respective head and foot of the combined beds and Nott protectively curled between Caleb and Molly, since the latter has yet to say a word to the former.  Nott extinguishes the the lights with her invisible hand and is snoring within five minutes.  There is heavy, shaking breathing from Caleb’s end, still wound up with everything, vainly meditative breaths from Beau, and-

“Hey,” Molly’s voice says softly in the darkness, and a hand pokes at Beau’s ribs “Unpleasant one,”

“Yeah?” Beau doesn’t bother pretending she was anywhere close to sleep.

“There was a lot going on, where I was, when I was dead,” Molly says.  There is a very audible swallow from Beau, Caleb’s breathing stills “It’s…I can’t describe it, it was pretty weird, and there was a lot there I don’t understand.  It’s nothing like I ever imagined, I mean, I always thought death would be like it was before, all darkness and dirt pressing in on all sides and everything just empty, but it wasn’t like that,”

Beau shifts round, turning onto her side to face Molly, even though the room is dark and she can’t see a thing.

“You weren’t buried this time,” she says “And you didn’t come back by yourself.  Makes sense it’d be different,”

“It was dark, y’know,” Molly continues, ignoring her “I thought it was oblivion, at first.  Just a kind of…emptiness, and there’s only me there.  But it wasn’t terrible.  It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t unbearable either.  I thought it would be, but it wasn’t.  I don’t know.  There were…it was strange.  Sometimes it was like I could hear people talking.  Some of them were people I’ve known, some of them weren’t, and it was a quiet sort of talking, like when people mumble and you know they’re saying something but you can’t hear what it is, exactly,”

Molly falls silent for a moment.  There is the sound of Caleb shifting over onto his back, giving up the pretence of sleep.  Nott’s snoring falters.  Beau waits.

“I don’t know what I’m trying to say here,” Molly says “I could hear you too, all of you.  You were a lot clearer than everyone else.  He said it was because we were all tied together by fate or destiny or something like that, that there were greater things we still had to do,”

“He?” Caleb finally breaks his silence “You are speaking of Lucien?”

Molly shudders.

“Gods no.  No, it wasn’t him.  Someone else.  Y’know what, I…” Molly trails off “Yeah, no, usually I’d kiss and tell, but I don’t think…nope, forget I went there, it was just me,”

“So you’re saying that while we were busting our balls racing back to this fucking city in the middle of a war to make shady deals with criminals and gods so that we could bring you back to life, you were getting your rocks off with a mysterious death guy,” Beau sums up.  No one sees it in the dark, but everyone awake can perfectly visualize Molly’s suggestive wink at that statement.

“Long may I reign,” Molly says, just as grandiose as the first time “Ow!”

“Whoops,” Nott’s tired and very slightly irritated voice says in the darkness “Sorry, did I get you there?  I’ve been told I have very pointy elbows,”

“She really does,” Caleb says, an honest statement born of harsh experience delivered in a poor disguise of levity.

“Anyways,” Molly says a little louder “Anyways, I guess I just wanted to say thanks.  For bringing me back.  Death wasn’t…it wasn’t what I expected, it wasn’t so bad, but…it’s good to be back.  With all of you,”

“’S’nothing,” Beau says gruffly, contradicting her own earlier words “I’d do it for any one of you.  And you literally died protecting us, so it’s the least we could do,”

“Yeah, no, actually dying is not fun, would not recommend,” Molly says “I mean, I’ll do it again if I need to-“

“Don’t you fucking dare,” Beau and Nott say in complete unison.

“-but it’s not a fun experience.  1 out of 10, I’d give it, just because it was quick.  But thank you.  For whatever you did to bring me back, and after.  This whole Lucien thing.  I appreciate it.  The effort.  And I think…I think you’re all good people, even if you don’t think so yourself.  I’ve known bad people before, and none of you are like them in the least,”

A shaky exhale that belongs to Caleb, a sharp intake that belongs to Nott.  If the lights were on, there would be something wet glistening in Beau’s eyes.

“You’re a good person,” Beau says gruffly “There aren’t many good people in this world.  It’d be a real shame to deprive it of one of them.  And that’s it on the compliments, ok?  You’ve got enough feathers in that plumage of yours already,”

Molly laughs.

“That’s fair,” Molly says “I’ll take it, that’s fair.  Good night, one and all,”

“Good night!” Nott says, and launches into a series of exaggerated snores.

“Good night, Mister Mollymauk,” Caleb whispers, so quietly it almost gets drowned out by Nott’s truly atrocious acting.

“Good night, Molly,” Beau says softly, scooching over just close enough that Molly’s arm brushes hers “See you in the morning,”

The darkness falls silent as fake snores turn real, heavy breathing settles down, calm and rest comes at last.

“Unpleasant one?”

“Hrgh?”

“I’m too brave and generous for my own good, huh?  Ow!”

Beau has really pointy elbows too.