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If the Clock Never Broke

Chapter Text

He turned his collar up against the cold as he left the tavern, deciding he would get an early start to the day. Rooting out traitors was a methodical business, and even if his intel was correct, he would prefer to find the opportune moment to dispatch of them.
Be it public or otherwise.

As he wandered the streets, taking in the smells of the freshly baked bread and the forges coming to life, he also evaluated the town. How the people interacted with each other. He enjoyed people watching almost as much as he loved reading.

“Would you like some fresh tarts? Fresh from the oven!” called out an old halfling woman. Her outstretched hand shook as she beckoned him over and he gave a slight smile.

“They do sound delicious. Say, would you happen to know a Gregory Trandon?” He asked, putting on his best smile. He accepted the tart, handing over five copper and blew on it before letting the delicious strawberry taste cover his tongue.

“Ol’ Gregory? He’s the butcher. Just down the street on the left. You a friend of his?” she asked, raising a gray eyebrow.

“No, but I am hoping to become acquainted with him.” He said, and she frowned, looking him up and down, from his traveling boots to his dark black trousers and riding cloak with the gold trim. His buttons that ran up his shirt that bore the Royal crest shimmered in the early morning light. She finally settled her gaze on his bright blue eyes.

“…I see. Well, I hope you find him an amiable man.” She said, and he smiled.

“I do too. Have a good day Madam.” He said and took another bite of his tart. He walked down the street a little further, spotting the butcher sign by the picture of a knife in a pig. He shook his head and opened the door, a little bell jingling to announce his entrance.

The butchery had several cuts of meats already on display, some salted pieces hanging from the ceiling on hooks, while some smaller cuts were displayed on ice. There were even some priced knives and a sharpening block.

“I’ll be right with you! Let me wash my hands!” called a cheery male voice from the other room. After a few moments, a human man entered, wiping his hands on a towel and stood behind the counter.

“Good Morning Sir! How can I help you today? I have some beef I just cut up, but the pork’s on special-“

“No thank you. I am actually here to see you.” He said and gestured to his chest. Gregory looked slightly offended at being cut off mid pitch but let him continue.

“My name is Caleb Widogast, from The Inquiry. I would like to have a word with you. If you don’t mind.” He said. Gregory flashed a smile, but Caleb could see some sweat gathering on his brow.

“Not a problem Sir. Would you care for some tea?”

“Tea would be quite nice.” He said, and Gregory gestured for Caleb to take a seat at one of the tables designated for waiting customers. He disappeared into the back room, bringing out an iron kettle and two cups.

“I made some chamomile this morning, should still be hot.” He said, and Caleb smiled. After Gregory sat down, he sipped from his cup, subtly rolling the herby liquid around on his tongue. He couldn’t detect any flavor of common poisons that he had been taught and he evaluated the man.

Gregory Trandon was awfully nervous for someone who cut up meat for a living. Caleb liked to believe he was a fairly charming man, and even people who recognized the uniform didn’t change their attitude towards him.

Only the guilty ones.

“Mr. Trandon, we received an anonymous tip about you and they said some very unsavory things.”

“Like what? I can’t imagine anyone saying anything bad about me. I’m a pretty normal fellow.”

“Well, for starters, they said you were performing false idol worship…”

“Preposterous. I’m a loyal devotee towards The Dawn father.” He said, rubbing one thumb over his clasped hand. Caleb took note. He also took note of a necklace that was now missing from Gregory’s neck.

“Regardless, false idol worship is one thing, but we both know that talks about undermining the empire and it’s laws are not to be taken lightly.”

“Again, preposterous lies!” He said, but his hands were shaking now. Caleb raised an eyebrow.

“Mr. Trandon, I am sure you understand my concern. So, you must understand my need to search the premises to…put all these claims to rest, ja?” He said, and he stood up. Gregory shot upwards and gave a forced smile.

“I completely understand, but I wouldn’t want you to waste your time!”

“Then don’t.” Caleb said and stepped behind the meat counter and into the next room. Gregory rushed after him and Caleb held up his hand, shooting him a look that could only be described as amusement.

The immediate back room comprised of an iron table that was used for the butchering, with several different knives hanging off of the side. Like Gregory had said, he had most of a cow dismembered on the table, some already wrapped in waxed paper. To the left of the table was a pump and basin, along with a leather apron hanging off of the pump’s handle. Caleb nodded and avoided some of the puddles of congealed blood near the table, noting the broom and mop against the wall, near a cellar door, likely storing the ice. He paused however, and looked towards the cellar door, and now that he noticed, was padlocked.

“Would you mind opening the cellar door? I assume you have the key?” asked Caleb and as Gregory lifted his foot and ran towards the door, Caleb reached out his hand and shot out a blast of fire. Gregory screamed and collapsed on the ground, doing his best to put out the magical flames consuming his head.

He turned his attention back to the cellar door and looked back at the corpse and searched the pockets until he found what he was looking for. The key slid into the lock perfectly and with a click, it came open. Caleb’s nose curled form the stench. Gregory definitely did not store any ice down here.

As he descended the stairs, he frowned, and he felt ash in his throat as anger roiled in his stomach. He congratulated himself on burning the vile man.

Four young women were chained to the wall, all with filthy rags gagging them. Caleb could see the burn marks on them, the source being the brazier in the corner. One halfling girl’s leg was bent the wrong way, and to Caleb’s disgust, they were all naked, with bruising along their body and more specifically, their groins. Caleb was no stranger to torture, but there was a difference between torturing for information, and torturing for fun.

Caleb highly doubted that the girls had any valuable information.

Along the back wall was an altar to The Crawling King, coated in blood. His last victim was still strewn across it, disemboweled while her organs lay neatly in bowls held by the grotesque visage of the man faced worm in one of his three hands. One of the girl’s looked up and what was initially fear quickly transformed into joy. Caleb gave them a smile.

“I will send someone down shortly ladies. I promise.” He said, and she struggled against the restraints. Caleb couldn’t blame her. He wouldn’t want to be stuck any longer that he had to either.

He ascended the stairs and glared down at the ash pile, then left the room to hail down a Crowns guard.

“Ah, right away Inquirer!” He said, and Caleb tapped his foot, waiting until the five Crowns guard arrived, several with simple cloths to drape over the ladies. With that taken care of, Caleb went to the adjacent back room, where it appeared was Gregory’s living quarters.

It was a fairly simple room. There was a dining table with a few chairs surrounding it was in one corner. Across the room was a hearth and a small alcove where food prep could be done, the shelves adorned with spices. Caleb spied the necklace that Gregory had discarded, and it was indeed a depiction of The Crawling King. He turned down into another split off room to the bedroom, where a single bed sat in one corner, a heavy quilt laying upon it, and a bookshelf, sorely lacking any books. Caleb clicked his tongue and turned his attention to the desk. He began rifling through the various papers, flipping through the business ledger and then opened up a drawer that had an unopened letter in it. He took the letter opener and slid it through, withdrawing the note.

He shook his head and placed the letter in his pocket, finding nothing else of use.

“Excuse me, Inquirer Widogast, but we don’t execute people for Idol Worship. Even towards a Betrayer God, the penalty is 200 GP and twenty years in Prison, max.” said the Law Master and Caleb rolled his eyes.

“With all due respect, Lawmaster, He also had four young ladies chained in his cellar, one of which, I recall from the testimony of the guard here, alerted us to his vile acts upon her.” He said, the taste of ash on his tongue. His temper was growing short.

“Another ten years.” He began, and Caleb withdrew the letter.

“In addition to that, this letter gives me the proper authority to execute this man for crimes against the Crown, in any manner I see fit. Including any who would oppose me.” He said, lowering his voice and the Lawmaster paused, holding out his hand. He opened the letter and scanned it and pursed his lips.

“I shall take my leave now.” Said Caleb simply and strode out, feeling their glares against his back.

As Caleb walked back to the tavern, his eyes briefly met the old woman, receiving another glare. Word had traveled quickly that their beloved butcher was killed. He shrugged it off. He often had to. Protecting the Empire didn’t necessarily mean making everyone happy.

He sat down at a corner table, accepting an ale from the bar maid who winked at him.

“Thank you. My sister is back to us because of you.” She whispered, and he waved it away with a smile. She produced a fresh meat pie she had hidden behind her back and set that on the table too.

“Thank you again. On the house.” She said and walked away, and Caleb sipped at the sweet ale and scanned the tavern, seeing its patrons avert their eyes from him and back to their drinks.

Caleb’s eyes settled on a lone figure standing at the bar that accepted a paper bag from the barkeep. He leaned over the table and raised an eyebrow. Despite their dark clothing, Caleb could see through the dim light their hands were too green. Its yellow teeth poked out in crooked intervals past their thin lips. He leaned back in his chair and sipped again at his ale, keeping his eye on them. He watched them drop down from their seat and quietly leave the tavern, and Caleb sighed, grabbing one of the napkins from the table to wrap the pie in. He didn’t imagine they would mind. With that, he placed it in his bag and stood up to follow it.

In the light, Caleb could see more clearly that the figure was mostly bandaged. Their long ears were bandaged, their palms had bandages, and even though their hood was drawn, most of their face was bandaged as well. A poorly cast Disguise spell flickered off of the creature, in an attempt to make them remotely resemble a halfling woman. Caleb smirked.

“Excuse me miss.” He said, and they turned around, their ears lowering slightly.

“Y-yes?” They asked, a slightly feminine but none the less harsh croak, coming from their throat. Their thin lips were pulled back in a forced smile, feigning some innocence, which might have worked if their spell was even half good. But it flickered in and out, and Caleb could see right through it.

“I’m with The Inquiry, we heard about the recent kidnappings and came to investigate. While we caught the mastermind, we believe he was in league with some Goblin clan. Have you noticed any Goblin activity in the area?” He lied. She furrowed her brow and looked down in thought.

“No…I can’t say that I have.” She said and flashed a smile, batting her golden eyes. Caleb frowned and crouched down, looking at her face to face. She flinched at this and he smirked.

“Miss…I suggest you tell me the truth. It’s not smart to lie to The Inquiry…” He said, doing a subtle wave of his fingers. Her eyes went fuzzy for a moment before she blinked and glared at him.

“That wasn’t very nice, Mr. Inquiry. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to leave, or my little boy will begin to worry about me.” She said and turned to leave. As if on cue, however, her spell fizzled out and she flinched.

“Well, I do believe that’s that.” He said and stood up, holding out his hand. She immediately dodged the flame that was aimed at her with uncanny speed and bolted for an alley. Caleb followed behind her, watching her leap over a trash bin and over a fence into the open field. It was difficult to see her through the tall grass with only her black hood occasionally bobbing above into view. He sighed and crossed his arms. He had already finished his mission.

Another time, perhaps.

Chapter Text

The Goblin girl ran until she was deep in the woods, and safely tucked into the small home she had made beneath the dead tree. She tried to steady her breathing, but her heart beat against her chest rapidly, threatening to burst.

Now, she wasn’t the smartest Goblin in the world, but she had overheard the gist of the Inquiry man’s investigation, and it certainly didn’t involve goblins.

“Dammit Nott, you just had to go a little lazy on the spell, didn’t you?” She cursed and curled up into herself, pulling the ratty blanket over her small form. She looked over her shoulder and saw the even tinier bundle behind her move and she gently withdrew it from its mud made cradle, hushing it before it could let out a cry.

“Shh, Shh Basket. We’re hiding right now. We don’t want a mean man to find us.” She said and unwrapped the tiny bundle, revealing the small baby. She dug around in her pack and pulled out the glass jar of milk she had swiped, pouring it into the bottle she kept to the side. She put it to the child’s lips and it immediately latched on.

“There you go. Mama Nott got you some food. We’ll probably have to leave soon, since you’re getting bigger. I can find us a house, maybe something abandoned, and we can live there. I’ll steal us some chickens and we can have eggs every morning. I’ll get you all the shiny stuff you want.” She cooed, rattling off all the things she planned to do, and the baby blinked its blue eyes at her and kept sucking. Nott smiled in spite of herself. Basket was her greatest treasure. And he wasn’t even anything shiny. Well, except for his eyes. They were like those shiny rocks she had seen one time on a lady’s finger. Bright blue. Basket’s hair was a dull brown, but that didn’t bother Nott, it was nicer than her ratty green hair. She waited for Basket to yawn and then she wrapped him back up, nice and tight and curled around him.

She might have to start looking for a better home even before he outgrew this one. She could see her breath at night now, and poor Basket might not be able to survive the winter without something warmer, like an actual bed, or around a fire. She didn’t know much about raising babies, well, non-Goblin babies. But she could tell when she found him, he was very young. His face was still red and scrunched up, and his crying was strained. He was so small too. He couldn’t have been more than a few days old when she found him floating down the river. She bit her lip.

Then there was that man. He had blue eyes too. His were cold, even when he smiled. Nott suspected he had seen through her disguise before it even expired. He was just taunting her. Nott shivered around her little baby. She would move in the morning. She had a knapsack to put everything in and she could easily carry Basket until she found a new temporary house. She gave herself a reassuring nod and closed her eyes.

Nott woke up to the cries of Basket and she reluctantly opened her eyes and reached for the remains of the milk. She frowned and shoved the near frozen bottle down the front of her shirt, shivering as the glass touched her skin.

“Let’s change you while we wait for this to warm up.” She said, and Basket continued to cry.

“Hey, I’m the one calling the shots, little one.” She said and changed him as best as she could. After the milk had sufficiently thawed, she fed him and packed up their things. She peeked into her trinket pouch and sighed.

Basket’s bottle, the empty milk bottle and another full one, six silver and 10 copper, a dead rat wrapped in paper, the cooked chicken from the tavern and of course, her crossbow and ten bolts. She created a sling out of her blanket and after swaddling Basket, placed him in it.

“Off we go! I know it’s cold, but we can find a new place to live.” She said, and Basket just stared up at her. She gave a toothy grin and started walking through the damp and decaying leaves towards the road. She didn’t have a clue as to where it led, but it was a good start.

The dirt road was largely unoccupied, and she only stopped to attend to the baby. She didn’t mind, though. He was company that didn’t complain about her, or fear her. Nott talked to him like she would any other person, telling him about the pockets she’d picked and how she was going to make a nice house for them. When night came, Nott created a small nest for herself and Basket in the grass and hunkered down.

“I would feed you more Basket, but I’m running low on milk. I don’t think you can eat anything solid yet either.” She said, trying to quiet him. He balled his fists and kept crying and Nott herself grew frustrated wishing she was his real mother. Her stomach growled, and she reached into her bag, remembering that she had eaten her rat for breakfast. Besides, the cooked chicken would keep longer. So, she waited, her heart hurting as she listened to Basket crying until he fell asleep.

When morning came, she started off again and once the sun reached its zenith, Her heart skipped a beat when she saw the large caravan coming her way. As they approached the four way stop, she quickly cast a disguise as a halfling girl and gulped, gingerly approaching them. The leader of the caravan, a half elven man with auburn hair raised his eyebrow at her as he passed, watching her trot alongside them.

“Please sir! Do you have any food to spare? Any milk? It’s just me and my little brother and I’m all out.” She begged and gestured towards Basket. He bit his lip but held his hand out, and the rest of his caravan stopped. A muscular half orc from another cart looked at him and then at Nott. The half elf gave a smile.

“We needed a break anyway. Why not break for lunch and spare a little food? I want to see how our other friend is doing too.” He said, and the half orc slowly nodded his head. Nott watched as the Caravan, a total of eight people, exited the various wagons and carts and the man bent down and held his hand out.

“My name is Gustav Fletching of the Fletching and Moondrop Carnival of Curiosities. What’s your name dear?” He asked. Nott gulped and held out her hand.

“My name is Trina, and this is my brother, Bas…ket. I’m Trina Ket.” She stumbled and gave him a smile. He smiled back and took her hand, kissing it.

“Well Miss Ket, let’s get you and your brother fed. Where are your parents anyway? It’s not everyday we come across two children wandering the road.” He said, leading her to the side of the road where the other members of the Carnival had begun setting up lunch.

Nott graciously accepted the milk that a woman with red hair handed her, shooting her a suspicious look as she watched Nott pour it into Basket’s bottle and feed him. Nott looked up when a small dwarven girl, holding the hand of a purple Tiefling and followed by a large green lizard approached Gustav.

“How is that head of yours today?” asked Gustav. He said it almost like a joke.

“The usual, I won’t lie, I can’t wait until we get to…. what’s the word… town! I need some new clothes.” He said, gesturing towards his torn plain shirt and pants and Gustav and the girl laughed.

“I think we can arrange that Molly.”

“The more you say that name, the more I like it.” He said, and the girl tugged on his hand and he gave a mock salute and followed her towards Nott. Nott shuffled over so the three of them could sit down.

“Well hello there, what’s your name?” asked the Tiefling and Nott recoiled a bit, avoiding his red eyes. He looked at the girl and she shrugged.

“My name is Toya, that’s Molly and Kylre. Is that your brother? He’s so small.” She said, and Nott nodded.

“Y-yes…Our mother and Father died a few days ago…during a bandit raid…” lied Nott and sniffed. “I don’t really want to talk about it.” She said, and Toya nodded. The monster contemplated her, and Nott began to sweat. Molly frowned slightly, resting his cheek In his palm.

“I understand. My parents are dead too. If you ask, Gustav might let you join us. Do you have any talents?” asked Toya. Nott shook her head.

“N-no, I’m nothing special. I would just be a burden. I already feel bad about eating your food.” She said and patted Basket’s back as she bit into some bread.

“Well, if you want, I can ask Gustav if you’d like to at least stay with us until the next town. The roads can be dangerous, you know.” She said, and Nott shook her head.
“Oh no, that’s all right. I really don’t want to be any trouble…” She protested, but she felt a hand on her shoulder and jumped.

“It’s no trouble at all!” said Gustav and the red haired woman sighed and walked away, grumbling to herself. Toya smiled at him. Nott felt her heart beating hard against her rib cage, sweat pouring down her face. She had made a mistake. Sure, She had gotten some food for Basket and herself, but if she didn’t leave in the next 30 minutes, they would know she wasn’t the little halfling girl she claimed to be.

They would know Basket wasn’t her brother.

They would take Basket.

They would kill her.

Her hands began to shake as she clutched Basket to her chest.

She had to protect Basket. He was her greatest little treasure. She was going to make sure he grew up big and strong. She couldn’t do that if she were dead.

Chapter Text

Molly looked at the halfling girl clutching her brother for dear life and something felt…wrong. He couldn’t describe it, and he didn’t really want to press, but there was just something off about her. Who would honestly risk the open road with a baby than travel in relative safety in a large group?

He admitted they were weird. He knew that about himself and based off of the simple observations he made since he could form coherent thoughts, it seemed everyone in their little family, as Gustav put it, was weird. His tail thumped against the ground and he continued to think about what was bothering him about the girl.

“You say you don’t have any talents, but I bet you’re real swell at that…uh that, right?” He said, pointing at the weapon strapped to her back. It looked like a weapon.

“Crossbow, Molly.” Supplied Toya and he snapped his fingers in recognition.

She shook her head. The baby began to squirm, and she held out her finger and let him grab onto it, cooing at him. Molly looked up at Gustav and stood up, taking him aside and whispering to him.

“Gustav, I don’t think they’re brother and sister.” He said.

“What do you mean?”

“It’s a weird feeling I got. A hunch? Is that what it’s called?” He explained and looked back over at her. She hadn’t even paid them any mind. Gustav rubbed his chin. Molly gestured towards the crossbow and mimed shooting it with an angry face and Gustav nodded slowly.

“You think she kidnapped him?” He whispered, and Molly put his finger to his lips as he saw her stiffen her back. Molly watched as Gustav mumbled to himself.

“…. She said her name was Trina Ket and his was Bas Ket…” and Molly smirked. Those had to be fake names. Molly turned to look at the two and Gustav shrugged.

“At least let us take you to the next town. We’re heading to Haverfall for a show and it’s a decently sized place. It’s only another two days of travel.” Persuaded Gustav and “Trina” bit her lip. Molly cocked his head as she mumbled something.

“What was that?” he asked, and she turned to look at him.

“I said you wouldn’t want us with you. Nobody would.” She said and stood up. She gave a small head bob.

“Thankyou for the food. Bas and I will be going now.” She said, and she walked away, continuing down the road, passing by the other folks who gave her confused looks. Molly scratched at the base of his horns. Kylre gave a snort and Toya looked at him.

“What is it Kylre?”

“Just that I’ve never seen a Goblin taking care of a baby.” He said in his deep rumbling voice, and Toya looked back at the shrinking figure of “Trina”. Molly looked from Kylre and back at Gustav.

“Well shit.” Murmured Gustav and Molly instinctively ran to the cart he shared with Toya. He didn’t like the way Kylre or Gustav had said that. Something tickled in the back of his head, something he probably knew from before and it made his temples sting.

"If you aren’t good, Goblins will snatch you up in the night!" A woman’s voice echoed. It made his stomach churn.

He grabbed the pair of scimitars that Gustav had found him, shining from the overlay of carnival glass and looked again at the girl. Bo, the half orc had a sword out and gave a nod to Molly.

Molly rushed forward, cutting off the little girl, who gasped, still clutching the baby. Bo stood at her backside and she looked frantically for an opening before staring at Molly with seething hatred.

“You won’t take Basket.” She said, clutching the baby. Molly held out a scimitar and pointed at her neck. She glanced down at it but continued her staring contest with the red eyed Tiefling.

“Hand over the baby and we will let you go.” Persuaded Molly and she hissed.

“Basket is my boy! I won’t let you take him!” She said and ducked under Molly’s legs to run. Molly swiped at her and cut the sling she had made out of a blanket from her back, causing the infant to fall. She gasped and rushed to pick him up, but not before Bo had grabbed him, cradling him in his arm. The baby was crying now, and Molly put his sword to her neck.

“Leave it.” He warned and then paused. She had loaded her crossbow with surprising speed and was holding it shakily, tears streaming down her face.

“No. H-he’s my b-boy. I h-have to take c-care of him!” She said. Molly looked over at Bo who looked down at the wailing baby.

Molly furrowed his brows. The look in her eyes immediately made him feel guilty.

“…. Give her back the baby…” He said hesitantly, and Bo looked alarmed.

“Molly, what the hell are you doing? I’m not gonna do that! She’ll probably eat him!” he exclaimed, and she shot him a glare.

“I…I don’t think she’s gonna hurt him…I think I was wrong.” He said, and the girl looked over at them, still aiming her crossbow at Bo. Bo bit his lip and cursed, gently handing over the crying baby. As soon as he touched into her arms, he stopped crying and a smile dawned on her face.

“That’s right Basket. Mama wouldn’t let those mean men take you.” She cooed and gracefully disarmed her crossbow.

Molly watched curiously as the goblin named Nott cradled the baby, that she had named Basket, and leaned back against the back of the cart. Now that he had a better look at her, he could understand why people saw Goblins as threatening. Nott didn’t strike him as that though. He didn’t doubt she could do some serious damage if she wanted too. But she seemed more concerned with protecting this small halfling baby.

“So, he’s your baby?” asked Molly and Nott nodded.

“Yeah. I found him…maybe a month ago? He was just floating in the river in a basket. That’s why I named him that. He’s going to grow up all big and strong. I know it.” She said proudly, and Molly had to smile at that.

Haverfall was fairly large, like Gustav had promised. The outskirts mainly consisted of farmland, however as they drew nearer, they began to draw eyes from the townsfolk that were near the proper start of the town. Gustav and Desmond had the caravan pull over and called for a brief meeting.

“Now, Molly, you’re on card and flyer duty. I know those stars in your eyes. Hold them back until your flyers are out.” Said Desmond, and Molly nodded, rocking on his heels with his hands in his pockets. Gustav gave him another glance and continued to address the rest of the caravan. They all began to set up the tent and Molly accepted the flyers that Bo handed him. He frowned inwardly. It was a decent sized stack. He accepted the brightly colored blue coat that Bo handed him as well and tied the red scarf around his waist and began to head towards the gates proper with a skip in his step.

When he was done, the first thing he was going to do was go shopping.

“Mama! Please, please, please! There’s a carnival!” Begged two siblings, tugging on their mother’s skirts. Molly was holding out a flyer and flashed a smile at the woman. She pursed her lips and accepted the flyer, quickly scanning it.

“I’ll think about it. Thankyou.” She said and led her children away. Molly gave a wave at the little boy and kept walking, taking note of some of the stores in the area.

“Get the fuck outta my face, ya damn devil!” spat an old man, shoving Molly away, causing him to drop all the flyers. He hastily began to pick them up, dusting off the few that had gotten dirty and bit his lip. That was the third time someone had called him that word. “Devil”. He wasn’t quite sure what it meant, but he didn’t imagine it was a very nice word. He sighed and picked himself up, continuing to meander through the town.

When the flyers were gone, he went to the town square and drew out his cards. They were slightly worn, but in otherwise good shape, and he stuck out his tongue as he bridged them, shuffling and reshuffling them. He was still getting use to the size of them, but he congratulated himself on keeping them wrangled in his hands. He called out to people, calling out the price and there were a few takers. Even a cute half elf girl that tried to flirt her way for a free telling.

“Oh, my dear, I don’t see what you see in some poor fortune teller.” He said, and she giggled, her amber colored hair falling into her eyes before she brushed it back again behind her pointed ears.

“Well, my favorite color just so happens to be purple…” She said and rested her head in her palm. Molly gave her a smirk.

“What a strange coincidence. I must be very lucky to have such a beautiful woman bless me with her presence.” He said back. His family had always told him it was polite to return compliments. She giggled.

“When does the Show end tonight?” She asked and Molly thought.

“Two hours after sunset.” He said, and she patted him on the arm.

“I’ll be waiting for you, Mr. Molly.” She handed him a gold, causing Molly to blink.

A whole gold?

“That is just for you. Our little secret, ok?” She said and gave him a peck on his cheek before walking away towards the circus tent. He quickly pocketed it and continued telling his fortunes, eventually collecting 30 copper for Gustav. As the sun began to set, he shoved the cards back in his pockets and rushed off to the fabric shop he had briefly seen on his way.

Molly pranced back to the caravan with several folds of fabric, thread and a few baubles. Molly returned to Gustav, giving him a chaste kiss on the cheek and handed over the thirty copper. Gustav looked him up and down.

Molly had bought a new shirt in a similar style, a low cut white shirt with sleeves that stopped at his elbows. His pants were black and high waisted, and the only thing Gustav noticed about his boots were that he wiped them down some.

“You didn’t steal that did you? Did you already take your cut?” He asked, looking down at the coin.

“A nice lady gave me a whole gold, just for me. I managed to get all this!” He said proudly and twirled around. The change, two copper, jingled around in his pocket.
“What’s with all the fabric then?” asked Gustav and Molly looked down.

“…I want to make a coat…all the coats I looked at were just…boring. Even these pants are boring. This will give me something to do on the road. The man at the store even gave me a pattern!” He said, clumsily digging out a folded piece of thick paper and Gustav chuckled and placed something in his hand.

“Fair enough. Here, something to suck on.”

Molly slid some of the jewelry up his horns carefully, rolling the hard candy Gustav had given him around in his mouth. It was incredibly sweet, and it made Molly’s teeth hurt, but he didn’t mind. He focused on the taste, which reminded him of one of the fruits they had eaten a few days ago. He couldn’t remember the name though.

He was still getting used to where his horns actually stopped and how they curved, and the mirror could only help so much. He turned his head from side to side and smiled.

“You’re very shiny now.” Commented Nott and he smiled. That was the plan. It had been plaguing him how plain he had been when he finally woke up. The only marks that were left to distinguish him as “unique” were those creepy eye things on his right hand and neck. He still wanted to cover those up. Desmond had suggested tattoos, because make up could only do so much. Until he could though, he was going to dress up this body however he wanted. He planned on growing out his hair too. He didn’t think he liked the way it was shaved on both sides. As if she could read his mind, Nott had scooted over and pulled out some yellow wild flowers and tucked them behind his ear.

“It’s good luck. If a girl gives you flowers, that is.” She said, and Molly smiled.

“Are you flirting with me?” He asked, and Nott stuck her tongue out.

“I can take them back. More for Toya.” She said, and Molly shook his head.

“Thankyou Nott. I’ll keep them as long as I can.” He said. Molly paused and looked again at his reflection.

“Hey…Nott?”

“Mmm?” She asked and looked at him while Basket clutched her finger.

“…. What’s a “devil”?” He asked, and she blinked at him in surprise. Molly watched her eyebrows knit together in a sad expression.

“You’ve never heard the word “devil”?” She asked a bit incredulously and he shook his head.

“Oh…well, they’re evil creatures that come from one of the nine Hells. They don’t always look the same, but they aren’t very nice…did someone call you that?” She asked sadly, and Molly nodded, chewing on his thumbnail. Nott scooted over to him and adjusted one of the flowers.

“…Don’t worry. People have called me mean names before too. Don’t take it too hard.” She said, and Molly tried to nod, but Nott didn’t look to convinced.

He tried to focus on the lady who had given him that gold piece. She had a really nice smile, she was one of the reasons he was dressing up. So were those kids.

He wanted to be pretty not only for himself, but for others too.

He looked out at the stars and at the moons, listening to the sound of the carnival slowly die down until his family returned with smiles and cheers.

“Desmond, I’m going to be away for a bit. Shouldn’t be too long.” He said as Desmond wiped away his face paint.

“What’s up?”

“I’m meeting a rather pretty lady in front of the tent. I should be back in an hour.”

Desmond grinned and shook his head.

“Oh friend, make it sunrise. Have fun.” He said with a final chuckle, and Molly gave him a quizzical look before leaving.

Chapter Text

Nott opened one eye as the wagon creaked as a new weight was added to it. Molly was slinking his way back into the cart, quietly taking off his boots and then carefully stepping over Toya to crawl under the large blanket they all shared.

“Did you have fun?” asked Nott quietly, and Molly jumped, turning to look at her. She was only half awake, still curled up beneath the blanket and he gulped, curling his tail around his feet.

“Yeah, I did. She was really nice…but I’m pretty tired.” He said, and Nott raised an eyebrow as a sly smile formed on his face and he lay down next to her. She could just barely make out small bruises along his neck and collar bone.

“That’s good. I told you the flowers were good luck. Good night.” She said, and yawned, turning over to face the small blanket lined box that Basket slept in. She closed her eyes, smiling to herself. Basket hadn’t woken up at all that night, giving Nott time to actually rest for once. Perhaps it was the warmer covered wagon. She shrugged herself deeper into the blanket as Molly’s body heat radiated next to her and closed her eyes.

“Well, if I’m being honest, I’m a pretty good pickpocket. I once stole two silver from a lady’s purse. I don’t know if that’s the kind of talent you’re looking for… I also know a bit of alchemy.” said Nott and Desmond and Gustav rubbed their chins. Nott’s stomach was churning. While she still wasn’t comfortable around everyone yet, she figured she could trust most of them, and at the very least, travel safely.

“Tell you what. If it’s ok with you, we might be able to use you for an act. I think most people would agree Goblins can be kind of scary, and we are called the Carnival of Curiosity’s for a reason. We might be able to work you into a show. Otherwise, we either leave you here, or you have to pay to travel with us. I’m sorry Nott, but there’s no food without work.” Said Gustav and Desmond nodded solemnly. Nott glanced over her shoulder at Toya and Molly. Toya was holding Basket and singing to him, her beautiful, lilting voice floating up into the air. Molly was sitting beside her, running a piece of chalk across some of the fabric he had bought, concentrating hard on his work.

“What kind of act?”

“Well, Toya sings to soothe the “savage beast” that Kylre plays. There are Mona and Yuli as the Knot sisters, Ornna The Fire Fairy…Bosun is our security and also plays music, Desmond is our Fool and also helps me run the Carnival, excellent with that fiddle. Molly reads fortunes and is learning how to use those scimitars…pretty well actually. We can try to work you in one of those…Maybe you could be part of Toya and Kylre’s act…what do you think Desmond?” he asked, and Desmond scratched one of his scars.

“Maybe…can you sing? You can act like you’re trying to soothe him, but fail and he can “eat” you and that’s when Toya comes in. We can paint you up to look like a halfling or dwarf.” he suggested, and Gustav looked back at Nott.

Desmond patted her shoulder and gave a small smile.

“I’ll bring it up with Kylre and Toya after dinner and see if we can workshop it. If not, we’ll have to leave you and Basket behind. “He said, and Nott nodded hesitantly. She walked back to Molly and Toya and peeked over Molly’s current project. The maroon fabric he had currently drawn over had a piece of blue fabric with next to it with the same pattern. The crescent moons it had on it seemed to almost shine in the light. He frowned and stood up, contemplating it from his full height and scratched his head behind his horns.

“What are you thinking about?” asked Nott. His tail flicked in a way that Nott had come to understand as agitation.

“It’s missing something.”

“You’ve barely begun. You can always add as you go.” Said Toya, standing up with Basket cradled in her arms. Molly nodde
d slowly and began to smile.

“That is a wonderful idea! Alright! Now I just have to cut it out.”

Nott watched as Molly meticulously cut out the fabric and listened to Toya read the hand written directions to him. It was strangely soothing, listening to Toya read in her raspy voice when Molly had finished the current step. Nott dug around in her pack, and fetched Basket’s bottle and began to feed him, watching Molly sew his new coat. As dusk began to set in, Molly had finished sewing the lining to the outer layer, with a green stripe on each tail of the coat. He stood up and dusted off the grass, a wide grin across his face, revealing his dimples and clutched it to his chest. Nott smiled along with Toya.

“Oh, I can’t wait until this is finished! This is going to be so wonderful Toya! What do you think Nott?!” He asked excitedly and with a flourish put it on, twirling around. Nott blinked a few times and nodded.

“It is nice. Are you sure it needs more?”

“Oh, for sure! I think it needs some shapes, and more moons! Definitely more moons. I want some long sleeves there, but I think those need more color and…” he began to babble, and Toya smiled kindly and looked at Nott.

“I’m glad he’s talking.” She said quietly. Nott raised her eyebrow.

“Was he not?” She asked, removing the bottle from Basket’s mouth and patting his back. She shook his head.

“When we found him, he didn’t know how. For two weeks, he didn’t respond to anybody. We all took turns taking care of him. Do you know what the first thing he said to me was?”

“What?”

“you have such a pretty voice.” She said.

“It’s true. You shouldn’t gossip about people who are listening though.” Molly piped up, but he didn’t seem offended. Instead, he scooped up Toya and took one of Nott’s hands and walked over towards the center of the Carnival’s camp, a skip in his step.

Like he promised, Gustav and Desmond brought up incorporating Nott into Toya and Kylre’s act.

“How do I fake eat her?” asked Kylre, leaning back against the wagon, pushing it nearly on it’s side. Nott was still wary around him. He was very big, and while everyone else seemed to get along just fine with him, she wasn’t quite sure.

“Gustav figured that out. If we can attach a pouch of sorts that matches your skin to you, you just open up your mouth and she crawls down the pouch. It’ll require some timing, but from a distance, I don’t think anyone will notice.” Suggested Desmond and Kylre looked at Nott, contemplating her with his intense yellow eyes.

She gulped.

“Might work. We try tomorrow?” he suggested, and Desmond nodded.

“Circus tent after breakfast. I think we have some tarp that will match you.”

Nott wasn’t that fond of being that close to Kylre. Even inside the pocket strapped to Kylre’s stomach, she was unbearably hot, and her feet were slimy from where she had touched his lips. Desmond and Gustav seemed happy though, and from Toya’s height atop the platform, she was able to give advice on where to move.

“Try not to wiggle so much once you’re inside. Remember, you’re “inside” a giant beast.” Coached Gustav and Nott nodded, her head peeking out from the pouch. Her hair was in all sorts of directions and sweat was staining her bandages.

“This pouch is starting to get hot.” Commented Kylre and Nott nodded.

“Sounds like a good stopping point. We can work on it more. I’d say we have a viable act now, what about you all?”

“I think it’s neat.” Said Toya.

When they returned to the wagons, Molly was holding Basket, and looked up immediately with a nervous expression on his face. Basket was crying.

“Oh thank the Gods you’re back. He woke up and started crying, but I don’t know why or what to do, just take him!” said Molly and Nott rushed over and took Basket out of the tiefling’s arm. The stress instantly melted off of him and he watched as Nott evaluated him.

“He needs his diaper changed.”

“I thought he smelled. I’m glad it wasn’t just me.” He said, and Nott shook her head.

“Believe me, you all smell just fine to me.”

-----------------------------------------------

“Mmm Astrid, I am trying to work.” Said Caleb, stretching his neck out so she could rest her head on his shoulder. She pressed a kiss to his neck and Caleb inhaled the smell of parchment paper and Jasmine tea. She deposited his cup of tea, the fine china clinking gently against the desk and he leaned back, allowing her to sit in his lap.

“You can relax for thirty minutes. Drink your tea and entertain me for a moment?” She said and pressed a kiss to his lips. Caleb smiled against her lips and cupped her face with his right hand.

“I don’t know, the tea sounds much more appealing.” He teased, and she feigned offense. He took a sip of the tea, feeling the pleasant liquid slide down his throat and he ran his hand through her blonde hair.

“So, how is your work going? Is Ikithon keeping you busy as well?” she asked, switching to Zemnian.

Caleb loved it when she did that. Her voice sounded so much prettier speaking her Mother language.

“As always. You seem just as busy. You didn’t even say hello when you got back.” She said, and Caleb sighed.

“Yes, well, I thought I would finish the paperwork before I allowed myself some indulgence…” He said and kissed the tips of her hair.

“How did that go, by the way? Just rumors from a jealous farmhand?” She said, and her nose scrunched up as she giggled. Caleb shook his head.

“Far from it, actually. That…butcher, had an altar to the Crawling King.”

“You don’t say.”

“Ja, including four young ladies, raped and tortured, and sacrificed. The real cherry on top was his traitorous correspondence with some individual called “P”. I should have burned the bastard slower.” He huffed, and Astrid ran her fingers through his red hair. She kissed his right temple.

“So, I assume that’s what all this paperwork is?” She asked, gesturing to the various pieces of parchment. Caleb nodded and tapped his temple.

“I was foolish enough to hand the original over to the Lawmaster. But I was smart enough to read it first.” He whispered.

“Don’t let Ikithon hear you say that. In fact, I should just silence you right now.” She said and kissed him.

Caleb returned it, caressing the back of her head and breathing in her scent deeply. Her right hand rested on his chest while her left hand brushed against his leg, her fingers walking towards his belt. Caleb moaned quietly, kissing her deeper. She bit at his lower lip, tugging on it as she separated to take a breath and Caleb licked his lips.

“Mein Schatz, you are going to be the death of me. You are so lucky I have more work to do.” He said, and Astrid winked at him as she stood up, giving a final kiss.

“Well, I have an appointment with a politician getting too many ideas of the wrong variety. I’ll see you later tonight.” She said, switching back to common and Caleb stood up and followed her to the door.

“Ich Liebe dich.” He said.

“Ich liebe dich auch.” She replied, and he watched her walk down the hallway.

It was nice to have soft moments like that with Astrid. The woman was a force of nature to be reckoned with, but by the Gods she knew how to love Caleb.

He begrudgingly sat back down, scooting his chair in as far as he could and rested his hands on the table to avoid Astrid’s work.

She was certainly going to get it tonight.

He returned to transcribing the letter from Trandon’s house and carefully forged the signature, finally rereading it.

-GT
I already have my contacts in the palace, but if you can’t get at least one girl brainwashed, then you’re cut. No more of your Crawling King bullshit. We need girls that can slip into the palace and not run off. I need results. I can’t erase your debt or kill that bastard king if you don’t get me at least one girl.
-P

The P was signed with a flourish and Caleb shook his head. As far as he could tell, there was no code being used. Trandon was too stupid to read code anyway. Couldn’t properly brainwash girls or avoid sacrificing them to his damn god. At least Caleb knew ‘P’ had contacts in the castle. He folded up the letter and put it in his desk and capped his ink.

He had an appointment with a traitor too.

As he walked down the stone halls, the marble floor polished to a shine, he contemplated how he was going to follow up this interrogation. He had deliberately asked the jailors to only give the man water once every two days until he came back. Starvation and slight dehydration, combined with a small, windowless room for a week usually loosened people’s lip. It was a better alternative than pain, at least to Caleb.

Neglect worked just as well. It made people desperate.

The jailors nodded as Caleb approached, gesturing for them to unlock the cell. He produced a single globule of light in his palm and waited. Caleb ignored the smell of human waste as he smiled at the man huddled in the room. His hair hung in greasy tangles down his back and he shielded his eyes from the bright light that Caleb held, wincing as he saw him.

“Good Afternoon. Have we had a change of heart? Or would you prefer to remain in your own squalor for another week?” he asked, that cold smile on his face. The man gulped and stepped forward and Caleb gestured for one of the Jailors, who threw a bucket of water at the man. He sputtered and glared up at Caleb.

“We can’t have you tracking feces everywhere, ja?” he asked as another bucket of water splashed across the man’s face. He slicked back his hair and wiped his face down, holding his wrists out so the jailor could chain him up.

Caleb walked ahead of him, escorted by one jailor and he led him to a room with a single chair. The man gulped as the Jailor closed the door behind him, leaving just the two of them alone. Caleb gestured towards the chair and watched as he took the seat.

“Now, why don’t you tell me about this little club you have, Ja?” he said and clicked his boots together, fixing his cold blue eyes on him. The man chewed on his lip for a moment. Caleb dismissed the light, the entire room going dark and paced around the room. He listened to the clicking of his own boots echo against the walls and after a minute exactly, lit a small flame in his palm, directly in front of the man’s face. He jumped and rocked back in his chair, barely maintaining his balance.

“I could dry you off if you wish? I understand it is hard to think while you are too cold.” He said, and the man shook his head.

The fear of pain too. That was just as effective.

“No Sir! Uh, it’s just me an’ my wife and some neighbors. We weren’t meanin’ to upset the government, honest! The Lawmaster is just a real bastard, and we were tryin’ to find a way to get him out of ‘ere.” He said, and Caleb tapped his chin with his free hand.

“Really? Because your lovely wife said you wanted more than that. According to her, you wanted the whole district gone, and your neighbor wished to desecrate the local temple to the Lady Ioun, The Knowing Mistress as she is known…” He tutted.

“Although, we did have to remove a finger and flay her back to get that much.” He said, and the man leapt at him. Caleb deftly stepped aside, putting out the flame and engulfing them in total darkness. He listened to the haggard breathes of the man as he tried to get his bearings.

“As for your neighbors, They sold you out immediately. They were released. It’s amazing what talking can do.” He said and produced another light. He was standing next to the man and the man looked up at him with tears in his eyes.

“Where is my wife?” he demanded, and Caleb raised an eyebrow.

“She’s in her cell. I can take her to you if you tell me everything.” The man stared him down for quite a while, his eyes scanning every inch of his face before nodding slowly.

“Wunderbar. Take a seat.”

Lies were one of Caleb's favorites.

Chapter Text

Nott wriggled out of the pouch and slicked her hair back, seeing some of the peach colored face paint smudge onto her wrist and hand. Kylre bent down and offered his hand and she hesitantly gave him a high five, then nearly falling down as Toya ran to hug her.

“That was really great Nott! They all gasped! A real gasp!” She said excitedly, and Nott smiled as the dwarven girl embraced her. They watched as Desmond pranced about the ring, playing his magic fiddle and presenting Gustav to them for the conclusion. She watched from afar as the occasional copper and silver made it’s way into the bowl Molly and Bosun held at the exit labeled ‘tips’, and finally made her way to where Basket’s makeshift cradle was. Ornna was leaning against the cart, carefully detaching sequins with the aid of a mirror.

“Thank you for watching him.”

“Eh, he’s sleeping. It’s not like he’ll walk away.” She said dismissively, and Nott frowned. Ornna stood up and walked past Molly, flipping some coins.

“Here Nott, this is your share.” He said and flicked a silver her way. Nott caught it with both hands and peeked at the silver glimmer.

“My share?”

“Yeah, performers get a cut of the tips. Gustav did some math and that’s your share. I only get a cut from my earning of the fortunes. Everything else goes to Desmond and him so he can feed us all and keep the Carnival up and running. It’s not a perfect system, but it gets you some spending money.” He explained. Nott looked back down at it, feeling the small weight in her hand. Molly cocked his head.

“Do you not want it? I’ll gladly take it off your hands.” He said jokingly, and Nott furiously shook her head.

“No, it’s just…I didn’t do much…I just sat in a stinky pouch beneath Kylre’s belly.” She whispered, curling into herself.

“Hey, That’s still performing. You had to pretend to fight off this crazy beast and lose, then pretend you were eaten. Based off of the crowd, I’d say you did a damn fine job of it. This one lady nearly fainted seeing that!” He said, and Nott looked up at him, sniffling. He nodded reassuringly.

“Keep that little silver piece and keep performing. There’s more where that came from.” He said and ruffled her hair, receiving a half-hearted hiss from her.

----------------------------------------------

Molly plopped six copper into his coin purse and thought he would exchange some of it with Gustav tomorrow. It was starting to get heavy, even though it really only amounted to five silver. Before they left Haverfall in the morning, he wanted to do one final shopping trip.

Just for Nott.

Molly tried to follow Nott’s advice and ignore the slurs that he occasionally heard tossed towards his direction, but it was hard. He didn’t understand what he had done to deserve being called those names.

Maybe the world was just a giant cesspit of hate.

Well then, Molly was just going to have to change that.

He eventually reached the safety of the very same fabric shop he had been a couple days before. Like before, the interior was warmly lit, and the various bolts of fabric lined the walls, some draped on hangers. A very colorful store that Molly was immediately fond of.

“Ah, Mr. Molly! Back again so soon?” asked the half elf man, turning his full attention from his current project to the Tiefling. He gave a quiet whistle when he saw Molly’s coat.

“Not bad for your first coat. Let me see your work.” He said, and Molly smiled eagerly and let him gently run his fingers over the seams.

“You managed to keep it fairly lined up too! Well done.” He said, and Molly’s lavender cheeks deepened to a deep purple at his praise.

“Thank you Umril. I was wondering if you had any small children’s clothes, even for babies.” He said and Umril raised an eyebrow.

“Are you and your girl expecting?”

“No, I don’t have a girl. Actually, my friend has a little baby, and I was hoping to get him something. He’s about two months old.” He said and Umril nodded thoughtfully. He walked over to a shelf and held up two different onesies, a light green one, the color of spring leaves, and a deep, dark blue one. They both had three brown polished buttons up the front of it. Molly thought they looked too big for Basket, but he wasn’t going to complain.

“How much?”

“Well, for the green one, its 8 copper. The blue one is a silver, because it’s made of a thicker fabric. See, feel.” He said and gently took Molly’s fingers to feel the thicker, warmer fabric. Molly chewed on his lip. Even though they were headed south, he knew Winter was coming quickly. The morning air was crisp, and the grass crinkled underneath his feet.

“The blue one. We do travel a lot.” He said and Umril nodded understandingly.

“Ah yes, you mentioned you were with that Carnival.” He said.

“Also, If I could get her an outfit too, that would be nice…She’s a halfling.” He said and Umril tapped his chin in thought.

“Without knowing her size, I can’t say for sure. Babies are easier…Can you give me rough measurements?” He asked, and Molly began describing Nott to him. Umril eventually narrowed it down to three possible premade outfits. Two dresses, and matching tunic and trousers.

One dress was black, with green trimmed pockets on the side and a matching collar. There was a tiny yellow flower embroidered on the right side along the bottom hem. The second dress was a pink that Molly dismissed almost immediately. He knew Nott would hate it. The third outfit was a simple grey tunic with black pants and brown belt. Molly frankly thought it was very boring, but he knew Nott liked to be fairly nondescript and she looked nice in dark colors.

“How much would it be if I got the baby clothes and both the black dress and the matching ensemble?” He asked, his tail flicking behind him. Umril looked at all three outfits and slowly exhaled, contemplating it.

“The baby is a silver…the dress is two silver and, the outfit is two silver as well.” He said, and Molly’s tail dropped. That was all of his money. Umril noticed this and cracked a smile.

“But for you, I’ll cut you a deal and give you the baby outfit for free, with a spare nappy. We gotta keep the kids warm, right?” He said, and Molly flashed him a wide grin. He dug into his coin purse and slapped the four silver on the wood counter, watching Umril put the outfits into a paper sack. He held up a finger and reached below the counter, retrieving a small bracelet and a white swath of cloth.

“For your friend. It ought to go nicely with her new dress.” He said, and Molly pecked his cheek.

“You, sir, are a saint.” He said and waved as he walked back onto the street. He couldn’t help his grin as he returned to the Carnival as they were starting to pack up and immediately finding Nott.

“Did you find more shiny things for your coat?” She asked, spotting the bag he was carrying, and he shook his head.

“No, I got this for you and Basket.” He said, and She glanced at the bag suspiciously, setting Basket aside. She took it from his hands, the bag nearly the same size as her and she pulled out the blue onesie for Basket.

“…Molly…you didn’t have to…” She said and kept pulling from the bag, revealing the dress and outfit. He could see tears pricking in her eyes. Molly’s tail drooped.

Had he made a mistake?

“You don’t like it?” He asked, and Nott shook her head.

“It’s wonderful. But…how much did this cost?” She asked, and Molly shook his head.

“It’s a gift. I won’t let you pay me back.” He said firmly. “Come on, I want to see Basket in his new outfit.” He said, and Nott picked up the boy and started to undress him, deciding to change his diaper while she was at it. She smiled once Basket was in it, showing him off to Toya and Molly. Even he seemed to like it based off of his laugh.
Molly made Nott change into one of her new outfits too. She opted for the muted ensemble, arguing that it was more fit for travel than a dress.

“That’s fair, but I still want to see you in the dress at some point…I don’t want you growing out of it.” He joked.

“I am a fully grown goblin, thank you very much. The only way I’ll grow out of it is if I get too fat.” She said and folded it up neatly into the bag.

“And what makes you fully grown? You’re so small.” He teased, booping her on the nose. She wrinkled her nose up and swatted away his hand.

“I can have babies if I want to! How about you? Can you have babies?”

Molly thought about that for a moment.

“I mean…personally, no. But I imagine I could make them, maybe only with another Tiefling…I’ve never tried.” He pondered, and Toya pulled her knees to her chest, clearly uncomfortable with where the topic was headed.

After they had loaded up all their belongings, ensuring they were tied down and then helping everyone else, Gustav gave the signal to head out.

“We’ll be heading south, towards Felderwin. There are a couple of trading posts along the way.” Announced Gustav and the troupe nodded before taking their respective seats.

Molly shuffled his cards absentmindedly as he watched the scenery go by from the back of the cart. The trees were beginning to change color, which fascinated him. The bright greens that had dominated the trees not a month earlier were slowly being swallowed up by the bright oranges and reds of autumn. The grass that stuck to his boots when they stopped for breaks was a dull brown, and every night, Molly could see his breath.

He could also see how nervous Nott became the closer they came to Felderwin.

“What’s wrong Darling?” He asked her one night, taking a bite of bread that he had dipped in his stew. Nott had opted for a tankard of mead from the barrel that Desmond had in the ration cart. She had finished it in one large gulp and was now clutching the tankard tightly in her hands.

“What do you mean?” she asked, staring at the ground.

“You’ve been really on edge lately. Nobody’s sick and we haven’t run into any bad guys. What’s wrong?” he asked, and Nott chewed on the bottom of her lip, her sharp teeth causing a bit of blood to trickle down. She licked it up and looked at her tankard, frustrated that it hadn’t magically refilled itself.

“I…can you keep a secret?” she whispered, and Molly looked around. Toya was sleeping in Kylre’s arms across the fire, and he was currently focused on his bowl of stew. A mixing bowl really.

“Sure. My lips are sealed. Is it something juicy?” He asked, giving a half smile. Nott shrugged.

“…I’m from around Felderwin…and people don’t really like me there.” She said and set the tankard down, pulling her knees towards her chest.

“Because you’re a goblin? People don’t seem to like me either but-“He began but she shook her head.

“I mean everyone. My clan, the normal people…”

“Normal people? There’re no such thing as normal people. Just boring people.” He said. Nott didn’t reply, and Molly sighed.

“If anyone is mean to you, I’ll protect you. We’re friends…right? Plus, you’re with the Circus now. That means you’re family.” He said with a smile and Nott returned a half-hearted smile. He kissed her on the head and returned to his dinner, hoping that her silence was understanding and not rejection.

-----------------------------------------------

Nott made sure Basket was asleep and then did a walk around the perimeter of the Circus caravan. Bosun gave her a nod as she walked by him, her crossbow hanging by her side.

She believed Molly.

While he told crazy stories to the people who he read fortunes too, or even making up stories on the spot for Toya when she was bored and her throat was hurting, Nott knew that Molly wasn’t lying when he said that.

However, she also knew that this time of year, Goblins liked to steal peoples harvest and anybody that looked like a trading caravan was just another food source.

The moons glow barely penetrated the cloud cover, and as Nott patrolled the outskirts, making almost a full circle back towards her cart, she saw a brief glimpse of movement.

She scanned the area, loading her crossbow and whistling towards Bo, who sat up straighter.

“What’s up Nott?”

“I think someone’s here…” She said, and he lay his hand on the hilt of his sword.

“How many someone’s?”

“I don’t know…but If I had to guess, six.” She said, and Bo looked at her in alarm.

“Wake up Molly.” Commanded Nott and Bo narrowed his eyes at the little goblin’s instructions but walked towards the cart where he was. Nott scanned the grass again and cleared her throat.

“These are my carts! Go away!” She shouted in Goblin, a guttural, shrill language. She was met with silence and the footsteps of Molly and Bo.

“What’s up Nott? I was having the best dream-“yawned Molly.

“I said go away!” She said again in Goblin and Molly and Bo exchanged looks.

“What the Fu-“ began Bo but jumped back when an arrow imbedded itself in the ground a few inches away from his foot. Molly drew his two scimitars, and Nott fired her crossbow at the first figure she saw. It gave out a shrill shriek and fell, and she stepped back as four more figures rushed forward.

“Are those Goblins?!” asked Molly and Nott hissed, firing another bolt at one. Bo rushed forward and slashed at it, blood spurting across his face. Molly charged at another, and with two swipes of his blade, had it on the ground as well. Two arrows whizzed past Nott head and she loaded another bolt, inhaling deeply as a third hit it’s mark in her leg. She stumbled and fired it, seeing it fly into the distance, clear over the heads of the goblins.

Molly was knee deep in the bushes now and Nott could barely see him plunge his swords down, a final shriek piercing the night. Nott stood up, grimacing and Bo raised his eyebrows up in shock as she pulled the arrow from her leg. Molly walked over and knelt down, inspecting her.

“You okay? That looks pretty bad.” He said, frowning at her leg.

“It’ll be fine. Besides, the blood stains give me street cred.” She said with a weak smile and Molly smirked at the joke.

“How the hell did you know about those Goblins?” asked Bo, and Nott looked away.

“I know how goblin clans operate. This time of year, they prey on the farms and on trade caravans.” She said, and Molly patted her head.

“I’m sorry….” He began but she shook her head.

“Don’t. I’m just upset we didn’t get more.” She said bitterly, and Molly took a step back. Nott limped forward and began searching the goblin bodies for anything meager on them, returning with only a copper and her two bolts.

She sat down, staring at the grass where they had come from, a new bolt loaded and ready, but Molly put a hand on her shoulder.

“Why don’t you go to sleep. I’m not tired.” He offered. She looked at him and he winked at her, gently helping her up and pushing her towards the cart.

“Go on. Besides, Once the sun comes up, I want to work on my coat.” He said, and Bo shook his head. Nott left, but returned with his little box of sewing supplies and coat only to have Molly urge her back to bed.

Once the sun peeked over the horizon, Molly unfolded his coat and inspected it. He tapped the needle against his lips thoughtfully and then began threading it with the purple thread.

He took out his chalk and began drawing a crescent moon.

Chapter Text

Caleb woke up in a sweat, clenching the bedsheets tightly. He ran his hands through his mussed up hair and looked at his trembling palms. They were clammy and as he wiped his hands on the thick blanket, he saw from the corner of his eye, Astrid stirring. Her blonde hair was equally as messy, and Caleb brushed it away. She gently grabbed his hand, drawing it to her lips and opened her eyes.

“Mmm, what is it?” She murmured in Zemnian, sitting up. The blanket fell from her shoulders, revealing her bare breasts and Caleb sighed and rubbed his thumb over her cheek.

“Just a nightmare.” He said dismissively, and Astrid lay her head on his bare chest, stroking his faint red chest hair.

“It doesn’t sound like just any nightmare. “ She muttered and looked into his eyes. Caleb sighed and kissed her, then leaned against the headboard.

“It was about the day I killed my parents” he said, and Astrid raised her eyebrow. Caleb rubbed his face and looked up at the ceiling.

“In the nightmare, they were innocent. That I killed innocent people, my parents, no less.” He said and gave a half hearted laugh. He began to comb his fingers through her hair.

“I know they were guilty, but the dream made it seem so real.” He continued, and Astrid nodded.

“I suppose dreams do have a way of running wild.” She agreed and gave him a kiss. He cupped the back of her head and pulled her into an embrace, eliciting a giggle from her. He cupped her right breast and kissed her neck.

“Caleb! We haven’t even had breakfast yet!” She said, but she was already kissing his neck too, tasting the sweat leftover from last night.

“Yes well, I already know what I would like to eat.” He replied sultrily and flipped her onto her back, kissing down her stomach.

 --------------------------------------

Nott woke up, much like the others, to the sound of Molly’s cries. She shook him, and he bolted upright, his chest heaving as sweat dampened his forehead and chest.
“Empty. Empty. Empty, that all I am. Empty.” He cried, and Toya held his hand.

“Shh Molly, you’re not empty. You’re right here.“ She soothed, but he didn’t seem to hear her, still in the grip of whatever nightmare he had. Nott looked at Toya, but she didn’t answer, focusing on trying to soothe Molly.

“She keeps calling me home…but I’m empty.” He whispered, gripping his head in a vice grip. Nott watched Gustav approach and kneel down.

“Mollymauk Tealeaf. Look at me.” He said, and Molly looked at him slowly.

“You there friend?” He asked. Molly blinked, tears falling down his cheeks and he looked around him at the small crowd he had gathered.

“You had a bad dream.” Said Toya, still running her thumb over the palm of his hand and Molly drew it back, pulling it towards his chest. He seemed focused on the eye tattoo on his palm.

“It’s these things.” He growled staring hard at the tattoos. Nott knitted her eyebrows together in confusion.

“What do you mean Molly? Your tattoos?”

He bit down hard on his lip and stood up, leaving the cart to walk towards the outskirts of the camp.

“Breakfast in thirty Molly.” Called out Gustav. Molly didn’t acknowledge him, but everyone nodded and returned to their previous assigned tasks and respective carts.

“Is he going to be ok? That seemed like a bad dream. Like, a really bad dream.” She said, and Toya replied with a shrug.

“I’m sure Molly’ll be fine. He doesn’t seem like the person to focus on the bad things.” She said, and Nott glanced back at the figure of Molly, where he was sitting in the brown grass. She picked up Basket and walked over to him, carefully sitting next to him. The grass crunched under her weight and she looked up at the Tiefling, seeing how his tear tracks glistened in the morning light.

“…Molly…are you okay?” she asked, and Molly nodded.

“Of course. Everyone has a bad dream every now and again, right?” he said, presenting a fake smile at her. She didn’t detect any sarcasm, which somehow made her feel worse.

Nott looked at Basket, and he made a grabbing motions at Molly’s horns.

“That may be true…but I don’t remember having a bad dream so bad I was out of it for almost two minutes.” She said, and Molly sniffed and gave an unenthusiastic laugh.

“I don’t remember…” He replied sardonically, and gently took Basket out of Nott’s arms, gently shaking his head so the light danced off of his horn jewelry. Basket giggled and made more grabbing motions at him. Nott furrowed her brows, watching Basket grasp Molly’s finger and see his tail swish along the grass.

“You…you mean you had amnesia?” She asked, and Molly shrugged.

“I don’t care if I had it or not. What matters is what I have now. I have a family, I have friends and a job…I don’t give a shit about whoever I was before the circus. I hate it when it peeks through though.” He said bitterly. He motioned towards his chest.

“Whoever had this body before me is gone. They deserve to stay that way. I don’t ever want to feel empty.” He said. “So I plan on filling it up.” He said firmly.

-----------------------------------------------

When Nott woke up in the middle of the night, she stayed quiet. She was frozen next to Molly, listening to his light snoring and Toya’s occasional murmur, but Nott was stuck staring at the wooden frame of the wagon.

She tried to move her arms and her legs, but they were stuck in their position, curled up against her body. Her yellow eyes darted furiously around, and she tried to scream for help but was unable to make a sound. It still had to be a part of her dream, right? This also had to be a part of her nightmare.

She closed her eyes tightly, trying to change it. She willed herself to think of Him, imagined every part of his face she could remember, from his deep brown eyes to his dark brown hair, his tanned skin that had paled in that dark pit. The smile he had given her when she had clumsily apologized about how He was being treated.

He didn’t appear though.

She opened her eyes and could feel tears welling up in them.

She breathed out a sigh of relief when she felt her finger twitch, then another. Slowly she uncurled her hands and stretched, deeply inhaling the cold night air. She stared into the distance, in the direction of Felderwin and sighed, looking down at her green four fingered hands.

The outskirts of Felderwin were within their sights by the end of the day and Gustav and Desmond rode ahead to speak to the Lawmaster or mayor or whoever, Nott didn’t care, about setting up a tent and advertising. Molly was working on his coat, like usual, adding the beginning of an elaborate sun to it. She found it sort of funny, because the real sun didn’t have a face, but none the less, he was putting it on the coat.

“Let’s begin setting up the tent everyone! First show is at sundown!” shouted Desmond from across the field and everyone jumped up. Molly hastily put away his sewing materials and threw on his coat, the coat having an unfinished sun on it, and reached into the cart for his tarot cards. He paused and looked at Nott, who was putting Basket into a makeshift sling, so she could help set up camp.

“Did you want to come to town with me?” he asked, and Nott recoiled.

“What?! Why would I do that?!” She asked, and Molly’s tail flicked excitedly.

“You still haven’t worn that pretty dress I got you. Besides, I like to cut loose a little after I’m done working and you look like fun when you actually get to have some.” He said, and Nott frowned.

“Molly, I told you why I don’t want to come here.” She hissed, and Molly gestured towards Desmond.

“We have face paint, a lovely dress and I’m sure there’s a wig around here somewhere. C’mon Nott…for me?” he asked, batting his eyes. Nott rolled hers in response and with a grumble, went into the cart and got dressed.

Molly squealed a little when she emerged. She looked positively adorable to him, and even though it wasn’t a perfect fit, it showed what little feminine curves she had. Barely distinguishable if she were naked, and nigh impossible in her muted traveling clothes. The dress accentuated them, and Molly was so glad he got it for her.

“Let’s get you painted!” He said and pulled her over to Desmond, who looked startled seeing the goblin in the dress.

“She’s coming to town with me! We need to borrow some paint!” said Molly.

“…. alright…” he said slowly, still taken aback but willing to indulge. Like always, Nott sat down on the stool and allowed him to apply the makeup, and then dug around in his box.

“…I have a hat.” He said, presenting a ridiculously bright red and gold top hat. Molly had always liked that one, it had a giant blue feather sticking from the gold ribbon. Nott sighed, but Molly could see she didn’t really mind as he began to braid her hair, sticking the occasional wildflower in the plaits.

Once done, she truly looked like she belonged with the circus. Molly had even blown a little glitter over her face.

“Ok! Let’s go and tell some fortunes!” He said and dragged her towards the town, flyers tucked under her arm.

She hoped Toya wouldn’t mind watching Basket.

Nott kept her eyes lowered, hoping that the townspeople wouldn’t notice her glowing yellow eyes. It wasn’t until she began to hear the comments directed towards Molly that she dared to look up.

“Oh My! Look how flamboyant you are dear!” said a halfling woman, a few laugh lines around her eyes beginning to betray her age and Molly smiled wide.

“You really are too kind! You look like a woman who would love to know her future! I can tell you for two copper if you like?” He asked, and she giggled.

“You couldn’t possibly do that.” She said, and Nott smiled up at Molly.

“How will you know until I tell you? Wouldn’t you like to know what a beautiful woman like yourself to expect?” he asked.

“You should really do it. He’s very good.” Urged Nott and the lady sighed and dug into her purse. She handed over the copper with an amused smile and Molly looked around for a bench. Nott watched him shuffle the cards, bridging them and even twirling them between his fingers, eliciting a delighted gasp from the woman.

He finally set the deck down and placed his hand on the top, drawing the first card with a flourish.

“Oh! The Hanged Man! How interesting.” He said and tapped his chin with the card, setting it down between them.

“You’ll be facing a crossroads soon. A difficult choice. Either choice will impact your life greatly…” He said, and She leaned back into the crook of the benches arm. Molly drew the next card.

“The seven of coins…you’re quite the talented woman, aren’t you?”

“What makes you say that?”

“Well this card says someone will notice your talents soon. What talents are you hiding my dear?” He asked with a wink. He drew the next card.

“The page of cups. How interesting…”

“And what does that one mean?” she asked, the amusement still evident on her face.

“This one is saying to take care of yourself, lest someone take advantage of you…hmm. I’d say that your talents will lead you to a crossroad, a very important one. Either choice, good or bad, will have someone recognize them, but there will still be someone to try to take advantage. Remember to take care of yourself.” He said, and she leaned forward.

“Can I ask the cards one more thing?”

“Well I don’t see why not?”

“Can it tell me which path to look out for?” she asked, and Molly drew the next card with a flourish.

“The Empress. Nurturing and kindness. She encourages the opportunity to share those feelings with everyone.” He replied, and Nott saw her nod and stand up.

“I’ll take that into consideration.” She said, and Nott held up one of the flyers.

“You can see even greater stuff at the carnival!” She said, and She took the flyer and read it over.

“Thank you dear, I think I shall. Do you perform there?”

“I do! I’m Nott the Brave!” she announced, and the lady giggled and tucked the flyer away.

They went through the town and told fortunes, distributing flyers and Nott surprisingly felt more ease with Molly, considering he drew most of the attention.

Unfortunately, this meant Nott’s itchy fingers would go unnoticed if she didn’t get any alcohol. She tugged on Molly’s coat after he finished a fortune.

“Molly can we go to the tavern really quick. My fingers are getting itchy.” She said, and Molly shot her a confused look.

“I didn’t know alcohol fixed itches.” She stood on her tip toes and whispered.

“If I don’t get some booze, I’m going to take something shiny, okay?” She said, and Molly nodded slowly.

“Well we can’t have that, now can we? Alright, Let’s take a lunch break. They don’t need us back until sunset anyway.” He said and looked up at the sun, still high in the sky.
After asking around, they were directed to the tavern, where Nott bought them some beef stew and whiskey.

“I’ve never had whiskey before.” Mused Molly and he watched Nott down the little glass and close her eyes tightly but give a satisfied sound as she licked her lips.

“It’s a good burn. Go ahead and shoot it down.” She said, and Molly obliged her, feeling the burning liquid slide down his throat. He coughed a little but couldn’t deny that the drink settled well in his stomach and made his limbs warm. Nott ordered another shot and then began digging into her stew.

“That should hold me over while we’re in town.”

“Do you often steal things while you’re uh…sober Nott?” asked, patting his pockets subtly.

“…I get this itch…I just really like shiny things. But booze helps me control it. Why, do you need me to steal something?” She asked, and he shook his head.

“As long as you don’t steal from anyone at the carnival, I think we’re good.” He said, and she nodded.

Neither one of them noticed the halfling man giving them a curious look across the room.

------------------------------------------

He knew this was going to be a joint effort. He didn’t mind going incognito, it definitely had it’s perks, however, it also made work harder.

You had to choose when to reveal yourself, if you did at all. It was all a game of strategy.

Caleb loved strategy.

He didn’t love having to babysit a new wizard.

He was a young man of slight frame, much like Caleb had been when he was younger, and had cropped blonde hair. His blue eyes bore a startling similarity to Caleb’s, which is why Trent had thrown him in with Astrid and him for this errand. They were meeting in Astrid’s office, nearly identical to the various other rooms in the large, sprawling building, however, she had a corner dedicated to creating potions and poisons. Caleb had his own personal library, and the final member Aedowulf, who they were still waiting on, had a collection of magical weapons.

“Don’t muck this up, Brandon. We do not tolerate failures here at the Academy.” He had warned, and Astrid gave an almost pitying look to the apprentice. Astrid had looked him up and down, walking around him and tipped up his chin.

“Tell me what Master Ikithon briefed you on.” She commanded.

“We are to be infiltrating the palace during the Ball in one week. Our goal is to find any traitors hiding within the palace and dispatch of them before they have time to act.” He said, and Astrid clicked her tongue.

“Incorrect.” She stated, turning him around to face Caleb.

Caleb smirked.

Astrid had always had quick hands.

“…I’m sorry?” he said, and Astrid shot him a hard glare.

“Our goal is to infiltrate the palace; however, it is solely to gather information. We have already alerted the Emperor’s personal guard of the danger and no one else. Information is best gathered through alive sources, ja?” She asked, and he nodded.

“So why would we dispatch them when we can detain them in secret?” She asked, and he looked down. The door opened then and in strode a tall man, his brown hair slicked back and falling slightly past his shoulders.

“Ah, Hallo Aedowulf. So nice of you to join us.” Said Caleb and Aedowulf rolled his eyes.

“Shut up Caleb, I was busy with paperwork.” He said and glanced over at Brandon.

“Is this our new charge?” He asked, and Brandon nodded, standing up slightly straighter. Aedowulf evaluated him carefully.

“This should be interesting.” He commented. Brandon didn’t know whether to be offended or flattered, and the confusion was clear on his face.

“What year are you?” He asked.

“Two, sir.” He answered, and Wulf looked at Astrid and Caleb.

“What is your preferred interrogation method?” He asked, and Brandon raised his eyebrow.

“Excuse me? I don’t understand…”

“Warum zur Hölle hat Ikithon uns mit ihm arrangiert?” he asked, switching to Zemnian.

“Meister Ikithon hat es immer gemocht, die Leute zuerst in den Kopf zu werfen.” Replied Astrid. Caleb sighed and held up a hand.

“Let’s speak in common for the poor boy. We can teach him basic Zemnian in a week in preparation.” He said, and Wulf sighed and nodded. He turned to Brandon.

“The plan, as Astrid has explained to you is simple. The execution is trickier. The Ball will be filled with Lords and Ladies and thus our goal is to pass as a family. Aedowulf will be my brother, Astrid my wife, and you, our son.” Explained Caleb, and Brandon nodded.

“So, tell us, when presented the opportunity, how will you extract this information in this location?” he said, and they all focused their eyes on the young wizard. Caleb watched him begin to sweat.

“…Well, I suppose I would attempt flattery. People seem to be more willing to give information when they feel comfortable around someone. If that fails, given our pretense, I could always threaten to take their job?” he said, and Aedowulf snorted.

“Oh ‘Neffe’…” he said and before Brandon could react, had his arm twisted behind his back.

“That is amateur work. When shit goes sideways, you can’t always rely on your pretty words to solve problems. Tell me, how will you get out of this situation before I break your arm?” he asked, and Brandon gasped in pain.

Caleb watched as Brandon began to flounder, struggling against his strong grip. Brandon looked at Astrid and Caleb for help, but Caleb just blinked, watching as Wulf had subdued him to his knees.

“The Zemnian word for ‘Help’ is Hilfe.” He said.

Caleb did have to admit, he certainly learned lessons quicker when pain was involved.

“Hilfe…” He choked out, wincing as Wulf twisted his arm, and Caleb knew it was only a few more inches before it either popped out of its socket or he cracked his ulna, depending on where he chose to move it next.

“Your first mistake was not noticing your spell components were missing…A room full of wizards and you didn’t notice Astrid took them. How did you intend to defend yourself?” Caleb began. Brandon looked down at his belt and then at Astrid who held his pouch. Caleb watched as the gears began to move in his head.

“The Zemnian phrase for ‘I am listening’ is ‘ich höre zu’.” Astrid stated, and Brandon nodded and repeated the phrase.

“’Given the situation’, your second mistake is believing that your assumed position would have any bearing on the livelihood of others. We don’t know who the traitors are, so once again, pretty words in an uncontrollable situation hold little weight.” She said.

Caleb rolled that thought around in his head. Not necessarily true, persuasion and intimidation had their uses, he used them all the time, but the young wizard was indeed foolish for believing those were his only options.

“The Zemnian phrase for ‘Let me go’ is ‘Lass mich gehen’.” Wulf prompted, and he obediently repeated the phrase, gasping as Aedowulf released his arm, and he cradled it in his other arm.

“You have one week before the Ball. Every day you will meet us here at eight in the morning, sharp.” Began Wulf and Caleb tapped his temple, Brandon gulping a little. “You will learn basic etiquette, basic Zemnian and appropriate interrogation and information gathering methods.” He said, and Caleb watched Astrid toss Brandon’s pouch back to him.

“If we don’t find you adequate for this mission, you will be left behind, for whatever Master Ikithon can find for you.”

“…Do I have permission to leave, Master Caleb, Astrid and Aedowulf?” He asked nervously, and they nodded.

Brandon scurried out of the room faster than Caleb had ever seen.

“…I don’t think he’s cut out for this job.” Remarked Wulf and Astrid shrugged.

“He’s only a second year student. We’ll see.”

Chapter Text

Over the course of the week, Molly had made seven silver telling his fortunes, and the rest of the troupe fared even better. Every night returned at least two silver per person, and Gustav and Desmond were in high spirits, along with the rest of the troupe. Some townspeople had even left a basket of fresh vegetables in place of coin. The evening of the final show, they had grilled squash, beef and vegetable kababs, and Desmond had bought a barrel of ale for after the show. They had restocked on their rations and medicine and were ready to head out in the morning.

Nott listened inside her pouch, feeling the rhythmic breathing of Kylre, accompanied by his loud heartbeat. It almost drowned out the sound of Toya’s singing, however, her voice filled the tent wholly, overcoming the enraptured crowd.

When their act was done, Nott crawled out of the pouch, smoothing back her hair and accepting a cup of water from one of the twins. She still had trouble distinguishing the two, and they didn’t talk much for her to pick up on their voices. When the show was finally completed, like usual, she returned to her wagon and wiped off the face paint with a rag, checking on Basket.

Molly returned with something different, an unusually excited skip in his step.

“Nott.” He said, trying to keep his hands behind his back, but his eyes were squinted in delight and his tail was swishing so much Nott was sure he would sprain something. She raised her eyebrow and began shucking off her performance clothes, slightly out of sight of him.

“Yes, what is it Molly?” She asked, digging out her tunic.

“No, get in your dress.” He said, and Nott turned, her torso half covered by her tunic.

“Why would I do that?”

“It’s a surprise. A good one, I think.” He said, and she rolled her eyes.

“Molly I’m tired…I already wore it today.”

“We all are. Just put on your dress.” He said, and Nott sighed, taking off the tunic and searching for the bag where she kept it. Molly had that childish mischief about him in that moment that a part of Nott wanted to see where it went.

She smoothed out the dress, tucking the pockets in and let Molly brush and re-braid her hair, being suspiciously careful with it. He did a final wipe down of her face and then grabbed her hand, leading her out of camp and towards the circus tent again. Instead of heading back inside, however, he led her towards the back. There were still a few townsfolk mingling, however no one paid any attention to the two carnies as they rounded the back of the tent.

Nott gulped when she saw the figure of a man. He was short and thin and wore simple farming clothes, stained with dirt. Under the moonlight, and aided by her dark vision, she could see how his dark hair reflected the moon light, cut short in a choppy manner. He turned to look at them and Nott dragged her feet, causing Molly to stumble.

“What is it Nott?” He asked and bent over to look her over. Nott was frozen, and Molly looked from her and then back at the man.

“I thought that was you, friend.” He said quietly and stepped forward.

“…Yeza?” She whispered quietly, and Molly took a quiet step back, allowing a small smile to creep across his face.

“…I’m going to make sure Basket’s ok.” He whispered and walked away.

------------------------------------------

Nott couldn’t take her eyes off of him. It had only been a year at most since she had seen him, but they hadn’t parted under the best circumstances either.
“You’re in the circus now, huh?” he asked in halfling and Nott nodded, smiling.

“Yeah, I uh, I am. They’re good people.” She replied in halfling and sat down, patting the ground beside her. He sat down next to her and folded his hands in his lap. They both looked up at the speckling of stars in the sky and were silent for several minutes.

“…It’s dumb. I…I don’t know what to say to you, now that you’re…you know. Not being tortured…” She said and Yeza surprised her with a laugh.

“Just tell me what you’ve been doing. My life isn’t interesting, but I bet you see all sorts of things. Your Tiefling friend is certainly interesting.” He said, and Nott smiled.

“He is. Well, I really only joined about a month or two ago. Time sort of blurs with them. I had to move because of Basket.”

“Basket? Is that a pet?”

“No…he’s a little halfling baby I found, floating in the river. He was getting too big for the both of us to live in our old home. I met the carnival during the move.” She explained and Yeza nodded.

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The Circus camp was filled with laughter, a hint of exhaustion on the edge of each laugh. Pockets were unusually full, as were their bellies. Molly reclined in the cart, drinking an ale and holding Basket in the crook of his arm, a light blanket draped over them both. Kylre was doing the same to a sleeping Toya. He looked up at the two moons and the curtain of stars surrounding it and couldn’t help but smile.

Gustav had spoken to him about the Moon weaver. He had offhandedly mentioned that they had found Molly a few mornings after a full moon, which according to Gustav, was no coincidence.

Molly frowned at the vague memory, the feeling of dirt falling into his mouth and his frantic scramble for fresh air. He could honestly say he didn’t know when he woke up, what time of day it was, but he took Gustav’s word for it.

Perhaps the Moon weaver had brought him back. Or at the very least, led him to Gustav.

Mollymauk knew nothing of Gods or Goddesses, but as he looked up at the moon, he thought that if something so beautiful as that could exist, then why couldn’t the Moon Weaver?

He looked up as Nott approached the wagon. She didn’t say anything, just pulled the large blanket around herself and watched Molly hold Basket.

“How is your friend?” whispered Molly and Nott curled up into herself, but a smile betrayed her.

“He’s doing good. I didn’t realize how much I missed him.” She said quietly.

“He must be a very good friend.”

“He is very nice…” She said, and Molly raised an eyebrow. He opened his mouth to say more but she sighed heavily, and gently took Basket out of his arms, placing him in his own bed.

“Well, I’m going to go to bed. Good night.” She said and tucked Basket in tightly before crawling under the large blanket. Molly looked up at the moons one last time before joining her, nodding at Kylre as he tucked Toya in beside him.

As the sun crept over the horizon, illuminating the early morning mist that they had grown accustomed to in the past week, it also revealed a light powder that dusted the grass. When Molly had woken up, he had rubbed his eyes several times before touching it, holding it in his hands and watching the unfamiliar material melt in his hands.

“It’s snow silly. Like…when it snows, it’s like winter rain…but it sticks to the ground.” Explained Nott, who, unlike Molly, was still wrapped up next to Toya.

“When there’s more of it, we can have snowball fights.” Said Toya and Molly raised an eyebrow.

“What is that?” he said, his interest peaked.

“The snow has to be just right, but you can ball it up and then you throw it at people. It’s really funny when it gets down their back.” Laughed Toya.

After Breakfast, Gustav and Desmond addressed the troupe.

“Now that Winter is finally closing in on us, it looks like we’re going to have to pack up for the season. That means we go south and towards the Coast.”

“Are we going completely to The Menagerie Coast?” asked Ornna and Desmond shook his head.

“Not this year…as wonderful as we did here in Felderwin, I don’t think we have enough to get through the border. Alas, the sea would be a welcoming sight.”

Ornna clicked her tongue and the twins shrugged, and Nott continued feeding Basket.

As long as she had a safe place for her and Basket, she was content.

-------------------------------------------------

Molly watched from the corner of his eye as Nott stared at the shrinking landscape around Felderwin. She had a sad expression on her face, and so Molly pushed his needle into his coat and scooted next to her, giving a light peck to her head.

“I’m sure we’ll end up back there next year. You can always ask Gustav or Desmond too.” He offered, and Nott shook her head.

“It’s ok. I’m just glad I got to see him…I…I hadn’t seen him in quite a while, and I was worried about him but now I’m not. You know?” She asked, and Molly nodded slowly.

“I think so, yeah.”

As they traveled, Ornna resumed Toya’s “primary education” as she called it.

Molly frowned as he looked over Toya’s shoulder at the book she was reading. Ornna was sitting beside her, occasionally helping her pronounce the words. She had even given her a pencil to write with.

To Molly, It didn’t make any sense.

He knew his letters, Ornna had essentially forced him to at least learn how to spell his name and read out the flyers he so frequently distributed, however Molly still had trouble reading anything else.

He didn’t understand why some letters were just the same shape but backwards, or why the same letter made a different sound when it was in a different place.

It gave him a headache, and Molly wasn’t too fond of headaches.

He was more than happy to listen to Toya read though.

“There was once a …Country-man?... who po-sse-ssed the most ….won-derful… Goose you can…imagine, for every day when he visited the nest, the Goose had laid a beau-tiful, glit-tering, golden egg.” Read Toya and Ornna nodded. Molly had his red eyes focused on the dwarf girl, sounding out the words, her fingers underlining each one. Toya looked up and Nott flashed a smile.

“Go on, you’re doing great.” She encouraged. Molly hummed in agreement.

“The….Country-man took the eggs to market and soon began to get rich. But it was not long before he grew…impatient?... with the Goose be-cause she gave him only a single golden egg a day. He was not get-ting rich fast…enough.” She continued and took a sip of water to soothe her throat.

“Then one day…after he had finished…counting his money, the idea came to him that he could get all the golden eggs at once by killing the Goose and cut-ting it open. But when the deed was done, not a single golden egg did he find, and his…What’s this word?”

“Precious.”

Precious…Goose was dead.” She finished, looking up at Ornna with a sad look on her face. Ornna nodded and brushed back her red hair.

“What’s the moral?” asked Ornna.

“Obviously don’t kill the thing that makes you money.” Said Nott and Molly smirked. Ornna shot them both a glare, causing Molly to snicker.

“Don’t get greedy? He already had a steady way to get money.” Thought Toya and Ornna nodded.

“Exactly. Be grateful for what you have. Otherwise, you might lose it all.” She finished and allowed Toya to close the book. She tucked it away in her little box and leaned on Ornna.

“I’m grateful for what I have Ornna.” She whispered and Ornna smiled kindly, a rare sight to Nott.

“I know Toya. I think we all are.” She said.

Chapter Text

Caleb was never particularly fond of social gatherings. He already had a minor distaste for large groups, anything exceeding a group of five was pushing it, and seven was possibly his limit. Balls and Galas were much too lavish and suffocating for his taste.

This was no exception.

Caleb was wearing the traditional war mage uniform. It was a slight deviation from the Inquisitor’s normal garbs, which were more muted. His pants were black, but his shirt was a rich vermillion, a minor decorative cape hanging loosely off his shoulders trimmed in gold, while black gloves finished his ensemble.

Astrid wore a high collared green dress, with long sleeves and skirt. A black sash hung around her waist decorated with gold lace. She had curled her hair and pinned it back. Aedowulf had found it amusing when she had placed a small, perfectly molded lining of fabric beneath her dress, giving the illusion of the early stages of pregnancy.

Aedowulf wore a high ranking soldier’s uniform, the typical vermillion uniform underneath a bronze scale breast plate armor with well-fitting arm plates and greaves, his favorite enchanted sword at his side in a black and gold sheath.

Then there was Brandon.

It was clear that despite the training, which included some pain, humiliation and speaking entirely in Zemnian around him, he would end up playing the fool in the end.
Caleb decided he would just have to make it work to their advantage.

They had him wear his school uniform, freshly cleaned and pressed, his boots polished to a shine. That’s all they could do.

Overall, they looked like nice, loyal citizens to the Empire. A happy high ranking family that had the pleasure of being invited to the Gala, purely to enjoy the festivities of Harvest Close.

The Ball thrummed with low music and pleasant chatter, the majority of the guests wearing similar garbs as the four of them. King Bertrand was currently in conversation near his throne with one noble, and Caleb could tell he was on edge. The Guards to his back were watching everyone like a hawk and once Caleb presented their invitation, one of the intermediaries quietly alerted the personal guard. He watched them give a curt nod as the intermediary then returned to his designated position.

Caleb played his part, doing introductions of his family to the various politicians and other Nobles, remembering each and every face and voice and name. Aedowulf played his part gathering the information about the rising hostilities to the East, that would no doubt turn to conflict. He had always looked more like a soldier than a wizard. Astrid played her part by what she did best. She was subtle and slipped in and out of conversations like a fish in a stream.

Since Brandon had been so keen on using flattery, they decided he would flirt with the Help. See if he could get any gossip from them, any new servants that had entered and their dispositions.

“Flirtest du wieder mit den Dienern, mein Sohn? “asked Caleb, approaching Brandon as one of the girls started looking incredibly uncomfortable. To his surprise, she replied in fluent Zemnian.

“Es ist in Ordnung, mein Herr! Ich will meinen Mann einfach nicht böse auf mich machen!” She said hurriedly, gesturing at another servant who was frowning in their direction. He glanced down at her hand and there was indeed a small silver colored ring that was slightly tarnished. Caleb smiled then frowned at Brandon.

“Ich werde mit meinem Sohn sprechen. So wie du warst. Wie heißen Sie, Miss?” He asked.

“Veronika.” She said, and he kissed her knuckles, She blushed and curtsied, walking away and towards her husband. Caleb glared down at Brandon.

“What did you say to her?” He hissed, and Brandon shrugged. Caleb could feel ash rising up to his throat.

“I told her how beautiful she was, that if she wanted to, she would be fit for the stage.” He said, and Caleb chewed his lip, hoping his next question would be wrong.

Gods he hoped the boy wouldn’t be so stupid to say that to a married woman.

“…did you use the word ‘akt’?” Caleb asked.

“Yes?” he said and Caleb, restrained the urge to choke the boy.

“You do realize that with the body posture you displayed you implied you wanted to draw her nude, ja?” he said through his teeth and Brandon froze. He pulled his eyebrows together and smiled weakly at Caleb and Caleb swatted him on the back of the head.

“Du verdammter Idiot! To a married woman?!” He hissed and gripped Brandon’s arm.

He found Aedowulf, who was currently speaking to a blonde haired general, his temples beginning to go gray and who had been posted near the Menagerie Coast by the looks of his tan, General Gunders if his memory didn’t betray him, and smiled through gritted teeth.

“Ah, Bruder, your nephew has been causing trouble with the servants.” He said, and Wulf raised an eyebrow along with Gunders.

“Is that so? Should we enlist him in the Army as opposed to the school, get some proper discipline in him?” He asked, and the other man laughed, clapping Wulf on the back. Wulf smiled but there was curiosity lingering in his voice.

“Vielleicht, weil er den Unterschied zwischen Handeln und Handeln nicht kennt.” Replied Caleb and Wulf’s eyebrows shot up. The General sipped at his wine, his interest peaked at the language switch.

“Well, boys will be boys.” Chuckled Wulf, and the Gunders gave a small, amused smile but Caleb frowned.

“Zu einer verheirateten Frau.” He said, and Wulf choked on his drink. He cleared his throat.

“…Best not let his mother hear about this…” he warned, and Caleb could see that General had put enough pieces together to gather what they were discussing, especially from Brandon’s expression at the threat.

“Well, it has been a pleasure speaking to you as well, General Wirths. I hope this gets…settled.” He said and walked away, giving a pitying glance at Brandon.

They meandered through the crowd, finding Astrid mingling with another woman, Lady Sumira, congratulating her on her “baby”. Astrid waved it away and smiled when Caleb gave her a chaste kiss on the cheek.

“Ah! There they are! How are you gentlemen?” She asked and saw the look on their faces.

Yes, it truly was going to be a shit show.

“Brandon, did you drink too much wine?” She asked, turning to the Sumira.

“I try to limit him at two glasses when he visits us.” She commented, and her companion nodded.

“We will discuss it later.” Began Wulf and Brandon gulped. “We thought we would simply check in before dinner started. Wouldn’t want to be separated at dinner.”
“Alright, When is dinner, anyway? It should be starting soon, ja?” She asked, and the other woman nodded.

“I should hope so; these small appetizers can only fill us so much.” She said and peeked above the heads of the other guests. She tapped a servant on his shoulder and he smiled.

“Yes Madam?”

“When will dinner be served?”

“In ten minutes, I believe. I can check with the chef if you wish?”

“That’s fine, thank you.” She said, and he nodded and left.

Caleb sat beside Astrid and Wulf, Brandon on the end of the long mahogany table that had been quickly assembled in the hall. He had to admit, after sitting through a speech from the King, the food was worth it. A bonus was that they served the courses in one fell swoop, as opposed to having to wait each time.

Salads with seasonal dressing were presented, along with light soups and accompanied by seasoned fish, steaming bread rolls, glazed with honey. There was several roasted and stuffed pig, and various platters of roasted vegetables in varying sauces. Finally, individual pies were available on trays.

Caleb kept his ears and eyes open, looking for anything overtly suspicious, and he could see Wulf and Astrid doing the same.

Everything seemed in order.

When he turned to Brandon, he was eating his pork, and looked like he couldn’t care less.

Caleb frowned and bit into a bread roll, nudging Astrid gently. She raised an eyebrow and he flickered his eyes over to Brandon.

She looked at him and bit her lip, then furrowed her eyebrows.

“Did you give him that slip of paper…or did Wulf?” She asked, her hot breath in his ear and Caleb looked back at Brandon, a shiver running up his spine.

Tucked into his pocket was indeed a piece of paper, just barely peeking out the top.

“-BP” Was all he could make out.

Caleb squinted his eyes down at his plate and a faint smile dawned on his face.

“There should be a dance after dinner…. Do you think you could get that from him?”

“As long as I have five fingers.” She said and then turned to Wulf, relaying the plan.

After the slow dance, Astrid returned for a glass of water, and slipped Caleb the note.

He discreetly opened it and scanned it, nudging Wulf to alert the Personal Guard.

“Tell them not to drink the last toast.” He said, and Wulf nodded. He handed the note back to Astrid and her lips curled up into a venomous smile.

“Well, he’s certainly has balls.” She muttered.

 

“Aufwachen, Brandon.” Said Astrid, running her fingers through the young man’s hair. He mumbled in response, and blinked his eyes open slowly.

“G’morning Master Astrid…Master Caleb…” He muttered and as he stood to get up, his eyes widened as the sound of chains clanged against his wrists. He fought against the shackles that glowed every time he moved, and Caleb smiled.

“What the…?” He asked, and Astrid tutted, returning to her full height.

“Why am I chained up Master Astrid? What happened?!” He asked and looked around the empty stone room, save for two large boxes. Caleb was sitting on one. The door opened, and Wulf strode in, sighing loudly.

“Well, Master Ikithon was upset, but thought we would be more than happy to handle this.” He said, ignoring the boy chained against the wall.

“What the fuck is going on?!” shouted Brandon and they all turned to look at him.

“We’re going to show you what happens to traitors, Brandon…” said Caleb and stood up. He waved his hand over both boxes and within a few minutes mumbling came from within them.

“…I don’t understand…”

“No? Tell me, until the panicked screams begin anyway, what is your last name?” asked Caleb and Brandon furrowed his brow.

“Patterson…I don’t see what that has to do with anything?”

“Excellent, Oh, here it comes.” He said as a low whine started coming from the box. It rose higher and higher and the boxes shook as pounding came from inside it. The one on the left was more feminine, while the one on the right was masculine.

Astrid strode over to one box and pondered them for a moment before opening the left one, pulling out a haggard looking woman. Brandon’s eyes opened wide. Caleb walked over to the box on the right and opened it, revealing an equally haggard man.

“Veronika?!” exclaimed Brandon.

They both had been blind folded, and their limbs were chained together. Veronika was pushed to the floor, while her husband remained upright.

Veronika struggled against Astrid’s grasp, but was held tight.

“What the fuck!” asked Brandon and Wulf crossed his arms.

“You will tell us, which one of them you kill.”

“What?” asked Veronika’s husband shakily, trying to see what was going on through his blind fold.

“It’s a simple question Brandon. Which one will you kill? Left or the right. Man or woman.” Prompted Wulf.

“Neither! They haven’t done anything wrong?!”

“This note says otherwise.” Said Wulf and produced the note, he unfolded it and began to read.

“-BP. We are going to have to move earlier than planned. Instead of the girl, I will have to present the toast. Meet me before you leave. -V” He read, and Caleb watched the color drain from Veronika and Brandon’s faces.

“I thought it was odd when you were “flirting” with her that you said she should “act”, but now it makes sense…you still used the wrong word though.” pondered Caleb.

“What I don’t understand is why you didn’t cancel plans when you knew we were going?” asked Wulf. Veronika screamed out as her flesh on her shoulder began to fester beneath Astrid’s hands, yellow puss oozing from the wound.

Her husband began to struggle, trying to find his way to her.

“That looks very nasty. So, tell us again. Which one will you kill?” asked Wulf.

They all turned to Brandon, tears already soaking through Veronika’s blind fold.

Brandon was shaking in fury, glaring them down. Astrid’s Inflict Wounds was slowly but surely making its way down through Veronika’s arm, filling the room with a foul stench.

“Me. Kill me.” Said Veronika’s husband and Veronika choked out a sob, either from pain or sorrow, Caleb didn’t care.

“How very noble of you sir. Unfortunately, it’s up to ringmaster Brandon.” Said Wulf and Veronika shook her head.

“He’s not the ringmaster! Lucas here wasn’t even involved! Brandon and I both work under somebody, but Lucas is innocent.” She said, and Astrid raised her eyebrow.

“Is this true, Lucas?” She asked, and Lucas nodded.

“I honestly have no idea what’s going on! You can kill me if it’ll save my wife, that’s all that matters to me.” He said, and after a moment of Astrid looking at every inch of his face she sighed and clicked her tongue.

“I wish that was how this worked. Brandon…Veronika has already confessed to treason, and Lucas here wants you to pick him for death over her.” She said.

“…treason?…” whimpered Lucas, tears falling freely down his face now. He went limp and Caleb let him fall, keeping a steady grip on the back of the innocent man’s neck.

“But you know the right answer, don’t you?” asked Wulf. Brandon bit his lip, and Caleb saw blood bloom from the wound. When Brandon remained silent and the only sound in the room was the whimpers of the married couple.

Astrid held up Veronika’s hand and broke her finger. Brandon winced as another painful hiss came from her.

“It’s so much-“

Snap.

“Easier-“

Snap.

“When you talk.”

Snap.

Caleb looked at Brandon.

“We can do this psychologically if you prefer? Invade your head, have you tell us everything with a smile on your face.” He began to stroke Lucas’s head.
“It feels like spiders inside your skull for only a moment. You go fuzzy for just a second, but real friends tell each other everything.” He said, and Lucas sat up straight.

Brandon looked at Lucas as he nodded.

“I don’t like being blindfolded, but if Brandon talks, I think I can put up with it.” murmured Lucas.

"I know. Hopefully it won't be much longer." Soothed Caleb.

“Please Brandon…just tell them…you’ve met him, right?” whimpered Veronika, saliva dripping down her chin, she attempted to cradle her broken right hand in her left, but the shackles provided little room to do so.

Caleb hadn’t wanted to do this.

“So be it. I do hate killing friends.” He said and with his other hand, drew a dagger, plunging it deep into Lucas’s neck. He coughed, blood spilling out of the wound and filling up his mouth.

“Lucas…?”

After a palpable pause, a hiccup escaped Veronika’s lips and she began to cry harder as she heard the heavy thud of his corpses.

“Brandon?! Why didn’t you save him? He was innocent!” choked out Veronika. She struggled against Astrid, and some of her flesh fell to the floor. Still she attempted to get to her dead husband. Brandon was shaking with rage but remained silent. Veronika seemed to stare at the floor, her body shaking with a variety of emotions. Astrid drug Veronika back over to her box, receiving no protest and she and Caleb sat down on top of it. Wulf stared at Brandon.

“I hope you know that Veronika will remain in that box until you talk. She will run out of air by tomorrow.” Said Wulf.

“Twenty hours and sixteen minutes to be precise.” Caleb interjected, and Astrid patted his leg.

“You’re just going to kill her anyway.” He bit back.

“Actually, we asked you who to kill. By keeping your mouth shut, though, you will have killed both of them by tomorrow.” Said Wulf.

“Why don’t you use those pretty words of yours to tell us what we want to know? I’d say shit has gone sideways, ja?”

Chapter Text

“You want the color to stay, right? Don’t itch it!” scolded Nott as she swatted Molly’s hand. He whined and twiddled his thumbs, trying to ignore the terrible itch the tattooed skin was giving him.

The tattooist had warned him not to itch it, but that’s all that he wanted to do. He wanted to itch his hand until it bled, maybe that would actually get rid of those weird eyes on his hand. After four days of having it, and he imagined that the itch would only get worse. Instead, he had to wait until the tattoo properly healed and hopefully, he would forget that the eyes were something different than the serpent they were incorporated into.

“Will you itch my back? Desmond says that helps.” Molly asked, and Nott sighed and obliged him, gently scratching the base of his neck. Molly sighed and melted into her touch, eventually collapsing onto the goblin.

“Hey! Get offa me!” she shouted, and Molly laughed hard, wiping away a tear as Nott struggled to get out from under him. She squirmed and eventually made her way out from beneath the laughing Tiefling and dropped off the cart into a foot of snow. She balled up a snow ball and Molly’s eyes widened.

“No. Don’t do it. I’m right handed Nott, that’s not fair.” He warned, and Nott launched the snowball, and it contacted his shoulder, the wet snow clumping against his maroon coat. She laughed and ran towards the center of the camp, whispering something to Toya, leaving goblin footprints in the snow.

Molly turned to the cradle where Basket was, heavily swaddled but propped up right and jerked his thumb towards Nott.

“Your mom’s an ass, I hope you know.” He said, and Basket blinked his eyes, and Molly could see now that his eyes were beginning to darken. Ornna had said Babies eyes don’t always stay blue, and Nott had pouted at that, but Molly wagered Nott wasn’t really upset. She was already exited about all the things Basket was able to do now.

Molly found it equally interesting. Basket could hold his bottle on his own now and hold his own head up. Ornna had suggested that Nott let him out of his cradle on warm days, so he could learn to move on his own. A sharp cold feeling against his cheek brought him out of his thoughts and he turned to see one of the Knot twins holding a snowball, while the other was wiping her palm off on her knee.

“Come on guys!” protested Molly.

“You’re the one hiding in the wagon!” pouted the one on the left, Mona, and she launched her snowball. It landed just shy of the wagon.

“Molly is being boring!” called out Yuli and the rest of the carnival collectively gasped and Molly’s hand twitched.

“How dare you slander my name!” He replied and stepped out of the wagon, doing his best to ball up some snow and launch it with his left hand. It arced, but didn’t quite reach Yuli and she laughed, already preparing another ball. Nott and Toya had a small pile already gathered and once Molly was within range, Toya threw one at him, her laugh nearly silent as it exploded against his coat.

Molly could see out of the corner of his eye how Desmond and Gustav watched them with amusement, stoking the fire and drinking something hot. Ornna sat beside them, along with Kylre and watched them get soaking wet.

After perhaps a half an hour, they retired the game and stood by the fire or went back to the wagons, changing clothes and wrapping themselves in their heavy blankets. Molly sat with Nott in his lap, while Basket sat in hers, all wrapped up in the heavy wool lined quilted comforter. Molly listened with his eyes closed as Nott sang a song to Basket that Toya had taught her.

She wasn’t the best singer, however there was always comfort to Molly being surrounded by his friends, even if it stemmed from the amusement of listening to a Goblin singing a baby to sleep.

“And I’ll sing you to sleep and I’ll sing you tomorrow-“ She sang in her croaky voice, and Molly hummed along with her, his tail thumping lazily against the wood.

“Bless you with love, for the road that you may go…” She continued, and Molly continued to hum, snuggling deeper into the blanket.

“May you sail far…to the far fields of fortune…with diamonds and pearls at your head and your feet”

Molly himself began to drift away, letting the lyrics of the song fill up his ears and form images.

“May there always be angels to watch over you…To guide you each step of the way.”

Nott was an angel to Molly. A short, green little angel with sharp teeth.

“To guard you and keep you safe from all harm Loo-li, loo-li, lai-lay”

He thought of Nott with her crossbow, fending off those other Goblins, how she was ready to wait for more even though she was hurt.

“May you bring love, and may you bring happiness. Be loved in return to the end of your days…’” She sang, and Molly smiled sleepily.

He planned to do that. He wanted to make people smile. Everyone in their family did. Each night they all said they loved each other as they went to bed.

“Now fall off to sleep, I'm not meaning to keep you…I'll just sit for a while and sing loo-li, lai-lay”

----------------------------------------------

Nott leaned against Molly’s chest once Basket’s eyes were closed and contemplated moving, but Molly’s arms were holding the blanket and he was a living, breathing campfire. The man radiated heat and Nott didn’t want to leave the warmth of the blanket.

At the same time, She wasn’t fond of sleeping sitting up.

She carefully adjusted herself, so she was curled up in his lap, like a cat, with Basket in her arms. He didn’t seem to notice, he had probably fallen asleep too and so she closed her eyes too.

“Good night Molly and Basket…I love you boys…” she whispered.

In the morning she woke up to something hard in her side and after a moment she groaned and sat up, rubbing her eyes.

She forgot boys did that.

She shook Molly awake and he looked around sleepily before looking down at the Goblin in his blanket fort.

“G’morning Nott...”

“Care to open up the blanket? Your breeches are awake, and I’m not interested in that.” She said and Molly blinked before nodding and letting her and Basket out into the cold Winter air. She Shivered almost immediately and hurriedly wrapped Basket in his cradle.

“Sorry about that. I don’t mean to.”

“I know. Boys are just weird.” She said and hopped off the cart.

“I’m going to stoke up the fire for everyone.” She announced, and walked towards the large pit they had made, picking up the iron poker and shuffling through the coals and finding all the hot ones.

Gustav emerged from his wagon and handed her some of the firewood, watching her stoke it up so they could get breakfast ready.

Nott changed and fed Basket, giving him a small bite of cinnamon flavored mushed carrots from last night. He grimaced at her but eventually swallowed.

“Good boy. One more bite of this and you can have more milk.” She said and pushed another spoonful into his mouth. After he was full, she burped him, and like Ornna had suggested, before they set off down the road, she spent an hour watching him attempt to crawl along the wagon.

It was more of a shuffle, he couldn’t quite prop himself on his arms and legs yet, but he could slightly pull himself forward, which made her just as excited.

They had to stop occasionally, to shovel the rare snow pile off the road, but overall, they made good timing towards the next town towards the South, to a place called Keenriver.

“It’s a plot of land I borrow from a friend. She tends to it while we’re away, but we all have to chip in when we get there.” Explained Desmond.

“How much is it?” asked Nott.

“Including you and Molly, it’s now five copper a person, it used to be seven. It’s nice and warm, and there’s always fresh food. There’s even a small bathhouse in the back, it’s connected to a hotspring, so it’s perfect in the winter.”

“What’s a hot spring?” asked Molly excitedly and Desmond smiled.

“It’s a pool of water from underground that is very hot, like baths. They smell, but they’ll get you clean and relaxed.” He explained, and Nott curled up her nose.

----------------------------------------------

After another few days, Molly could see the roof of a large house in the distance, and surrounding it was a crudely made wooden fence, more than likely meant to deter wild animals more than anything. As they approached, Gustav and Desmond both stood up from their wagon seats, as did Bo.

“What the hell…” Bo murmured, and Molly saw there were three figures on horses leaving the farmhouse. They stopped however, when they saw the approaching caravan.
“That’s not Hatty.” Said Desmond and They approached the riders.

“Can I help you Gentlemen?” Asked Desmond, and one of the men, wearing an eyepatch, raised an eyebrow.

“I should be asking you the same thing. This is our ranch.” He said and the other two nodded. Molly saw Desmond glare at the man and upon seeing this, Bo leapt into action, drawing his sword and cracking the pommel into Eyepatch’s temple. The other two drew their weapons and Molly instinctively drew his scimitars, followed by Nott and her crossbow. Gustav cracked the reigns of his cart and led the others away while his three companions leapt out.

Eyepatch was reeling at the contact of Bo’s sword, and couldn’t resist being pulled to the ground by the large half orc. His other two companions, now that Molly could see closer, was a woman with a mohawk and another man missing an ear.

Molly leapt at Mohawk and she pulled dropped off her horse, drawing a large war axe from her back. She slashed at him but missed and he swiped at her in return. She took a shallow cut to the arm and gritted her teeth.

Nott shot her crossbow at One Ear, embedding itself in his leg.

“Fuckin little shit.” He spat out and pulled out the bolt, dropping down from the horse and hissing in pain as he landed.

He drew his short sword and slashed at Nott, but she rolled out of the way, loading another bolt and firing it at him again. It landed deep into his shoulder and Nott shot at him again, the bolt embedding itself slightly closer to his heart. He glared down at her.

“Fuckin green monster.” He said and slashed at her, and Nott yelped as the sword cut open her arm.

Molly moved quickly around Mohawk and found it delightful how irritated she became the more she missed.

“Enough Devil!” She yelled and with the flat side of her axe, slammed it into the left side of his ribs. Molly grunted as he fell to the ground, dropping both his scimitars. Her heavy breaths made clouds in the cold air and with trembling fingers, Molly reached for a scimitar, the movement causing pain to shoot up his side. He grimaced as the cold carnival glass cut his left palm and Molly watched in disbelief that as soon as he had full hold of his blade, red ice crystals materialized on it.

Well, he wasn’t going to question anything while he was fighting for his life.

He used the iced blade and slashed at her ankles, then rolled to the side as she tried to retaliate. He held out his hand in her direction and his eyes narrowed on her.
“You messed with the wrong people.” He said in Infernal, his mother tongue feeling so strangely comforting to him, despite the natural hiss and grinding sound that it was. Molly watched as Mohawk’s eyes turned red and she screamed, bloody tear tracks running down her face.

“Damn Devil!” She yelled, and Molly took that chance to stand up.

Nott loaded another bolt and fired, smiling in grim satisfaction as it hit his heart. One ear took two more steps forwards before collapsing, driving the bolt even further into his chest. She turned to look at Molly, who had slashed at Mohawk, wholly decapitating the woman, something flying off of his blade and dissolving into the air.

She turned to Bo and he had finished off his opponent as well, stabbing the man through the heart. They collectively looked at each other, gasping for breath and Nott watched Molly look at his left hand.

“What’s wrong?”

“I cut it. It’s no big deal. Just stings a little.” He said, and Bo and Nott walked up to him. Bo frowned and peeled back Molly’s collar a little and wiped his thumb across it.
“Man Molly, We’re all weird, but you’re in a league of your own.” Bo said and showed him the blood. Molly felt his neck and frowned.

“It doesn’t even hurt there…”

“It was coming from one of those eye things.” Said Bo and Nott’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. Molly glared down at the frozen ground, now stained with blood.

“Of course, it did…” He said. He looked at his scimitar, still crusted in the slightest bit of red frost and turned it over, watching it melt slowly under the sun as the carnival glass glittered. He returned the scimitars to their place by his side and nudged Mohawk with his boot.

“…wanna rifle through their pockets?”

“I wasn’t even going to ask.” Said Nott and Molly looked in surprise as the little goblin was already searching through One Ear’s pockets, placing what she wanted to keep in a small pile next to him. Bo rubbed the back of his head and looked over to where Gustav and Desmond had parked the carts.

“…I’m going to see how Desmond’s doing. I think he’s probably put a few things together.” He sighed and walked off, leaving Molly and Nott to collect the spoils.
They returned with 50 gold, ten silver and eight copper, a small flask of whiskey, a single ear ring, and Molly suggested they bring over the three horses and look through the saddle bags later.

Bo suggested they investigate the large farmhouse before allowing anyone in.

Nott agreed and after checking on Basket, who Toya had occupied in her arms, followed Molly and Bo.

The Farmhouse was eerily quiet, and the only signs of life were a banked fire, and the missing possessions the bandits had stolen, most likely in the saddlebags.
Their hearts collectively dropped when they found Desmond’s friend.

It looked like she had been folding laundry at the time but had been interrupted. Bo had turned both Molly and Nott away as soon as they saw her on the floor, her green skirt hiked up past her waist. Nott could hear Bo pull it back down and pick up the dead woman in his arms.

Nott took hold of Molly’s hand and gripped it tight.

“Those people were really evil.” Commented Nott sadly and Molly felt himself nodding, the barest understanding of what happened to Hatty beyond her death.
He didn’t know the word for what had happened to her, but he knew it was wrong and disgusting.

Molly and Nott helped everyone unpack while Bo, Gustav and Desmond handled matters involving the Farmhouse and Hatty. Nott could hear the shaking in Desmond’s voice as they planned an impromptu funeral behind the Farmhouse and not long after Bo had returned upstairs to clean up the master bedroom, they had a funeral for Desmond’s friend.

Desmond didn’t sleep that night, and Molly could hear him shuffling around the rest of the house, likely putting things back where they belonged. It was a somber evening, and Molly rubbed the back of his neck where the other red eye was, the one that Bo had said bled. Somehow, that eye wasn’t a tattoo at all. Maybe none of them truly were.

He still wanted them gone.

Or less noticeable.

He sat up quietly and left the bedroom he shared with Nott, Toya and Basket. Kylre was too large to fit in the house, and he was content to sleep in the stables with the horses. He walked down the hallway, his hand gliding across the wall as if it would aid him more than his dark vision and found Desmond in the kitchen, sitting at the table with a single candle lit.

The kitchen was simple, but large. The counters were long, and the cabinets were no doubt stocked well. There were a number of containers sitting along the counter of white porcelain and in one corner was a door that likely led to the cellar.

Molly approached Desmond, who tensed up as Molly gently lay his hand on his shoulder, but relaxed and sniffed when Molly squeezed his shoulder comfortingly.
“I’m really sorry Desmond.” He whispered, and Desmond nodded.

“…thankyou Molly. I uh…I was hoping you and Nott and Toya would get to meet her. She was such a wonderful woman. She made the best bread I’ve ever had. Such a simple thing too, I don’t know what she did to it, but it tasted like honey.” He said and chuckled. He patted Molly’s hand and Molly removed his hand and sighed.

“Hey…you want to help me design my next tattoo? I want to cover up these eyes, you know?” He asked, and Desmond laughed and nodded.

“Sure, thing buddy. Let me find some parchment and ink.”

Molly kept Desmond company, keeping the grieving man occupied. Desmond suggested flowers.

“What kind of flowers? I haven’t seen many.”

“Hmm…well, obviously you should see them before putting them on your body, but if I remember correctly, they look like this.” He said and began sketching out a rose, how the petals folded out from the middle in a bowl shape. He wrote next to it the different color roses he had seen, and Molly silently sounded out the colors to himself, seeing a small smile from Desmond.

“…What are those wishing flowers called?”

“What?”

“I saw some yellow flowers along the road, but they turn white and Nott said if you completely blow one out your wish is granted.” He said, and Desmond gave him an amused smile, the emotional exhaustion clear on his face, his scars seemed to be deep valley against his sun tanned skin.

“Those are dandelions. Lets put those on the paper too.” He replied and sketched out the yellow weed, showing Molly how tightly stacked they were, along with the white ball that they became towards the summer, its seeds attached to white puffs.

He drew poppies, beautiful flowers that according to him were red and consisted of only a few petals, in the shape of a bowl, with a black center and star shaped flowers with six petals called lilies. He drew tiny little blue flowers with five petals and a yellow center.

“Those are Forget-me-nots.” He said, writing out the name and Molly smirked.

“Is that so?” asked Molly, placing his head in his palm. Desmond nodded and tapped the pen against his lip, beginning another drawing.

It was another flower that was shaped like a thick orange ball, it’s petals stacked tightly together.

“That’s a marigold.” He said, and started on another flower, this one on a long stem. It’s petals didn’t quite look like petals, and when Desmond told Molly, Molly grinned and nodded.

“Oh, I definitely want some snapdragons…what colors?”

“Well they come in a wide variety, reds, oranges, blues and pinks-“

“Yes.” Cut off Molly and Desmond underlined the flower’s name.

Nott carried Basket into the kitchen and found Molly peeking over Desmond’s shoulder while he drew a picture, the pen nib scratching gently against the parchment. Nott could see that it was the third page on the table, and Molly was pointing to it.

“The snake could be coming out of the rose, surrounded by the snapdragons.”

“With a few marigolds and dandelions behind it?”

“Yes! Both kinds of dandelions too! The white one looking like it was blown on!” He said emphatically, gesticulating widely in the air and wincing in pain, likely from the fight from yesterday.

“What are you guys doing?” asked Nott and Desmond gave a tired smile.

“Helping Molly design his next tattoo. It looks like it’s going to be a snake exploding from some flowers.”

“Not exploding, emerging.” Clarified Molly and Nott nodded, looking at the drawings. She recognized some of the flowers, like the dandelions and marigolds, even the poppies. She nodded in approval and set a sleepy Basket in a chair next to Molly, and he wobbled before leaning back in the chair, looking at Molly. He stuck his fingers in his mouth and Molly chuckled, poking the infants nose. Nott found a stool and climbed onto it and began rifling through the cabinets for the beginning of breakfast.

Chapter Text

They were fortunate that he hadn’t choked on his own tongue or drowned in his own blood. Wulf had gone in to interrogate Brandon and had nearly broken the steel door down when he heard the sharp inhales and muffled sound of pain. Wulf was rubbing his brow, Astrid was chewing her lip and Caleb wasn’t quite sure what to do, so he paced in front of Wulf’s desk.

“…Perhaps we didn’t give him enough credit…” murmured Caleb and Astrid’s eyes flickered over to his and then to Wulf.

“Don’t get me wrong, the bastard is ballsy. He is attending the academy while simultaneously trying to undermine the Empire? He has enough talent to become a more than capable wizard, so I don’t understand why he’s so stupid…”

“At least around us…you mean.” Finished Wulf and Caleb nodded.

“Maybe he’s just loyal…he isn’t great at manipulation, but he is strong willed. He would rather chew out his own tongue than talk. Damn Rebels.” Spat Astrid and Caleb stopped pacing.

“Then we’re just going to have to be more creative. Has that Veronika offered up any new information?”

“No. She said the only person she knew that was higher up than her split off from their group because he had no interest pursuing their goals. Didn’t like politics apparently. When I asked if he’d be willing to communicate, she said he couldn’t, because he was dead.” Said Astrid and Wulf frowned.

“We can find someone to talk to the dead. I’ve seen it done. Does she know where he was buried?” Caleb asked.

“I can ask.”

Caleb came with Astrid to Veronika’s cell. Wulf decided he would see if Brandon would be interested in any communication, although they doubted it.

Veronika was huddled in the corner of her plain cell, her eyes swollen from tears. She had her hand bandaged from when Astrid had broken her fingers, and When Veronika saw him approach, she curled up even tighter, a glare forming on her face.

“Veronika, we have more questions. You remember Caleb.” Said Astrid calmly and in a very professional tone.

The professional tone of an Executioner, that is.

Veronika cradled her hand closer to her body and grimaced at Caleb, the man who had murdered her husband. He flashed a smile.

You couldn’t please everyone. Besides, they had given Brandon a choice.

Astrid reached into her pouch and with a quick movement that barely gave time for Veronika to resist, she had swiped honey over her lips and had drawn the spell’s enchantment in the air with the snake’s tongue.

“Veronika, I suggest you tell Caleb and I everything you know regarding this splinter group of your organization.” Commanded Astrid. Veronika’s eyes unfocused and she nodded.

“Of course.”

“Excellent. This other member you mentioned, the one who formed his own organization. What was his name?”

“…They called him The Nonagon…I didn’t know his real name. I only met him briefly through a contact in Shady Creek.” She said quietly and Caleb nodded in thought.
Of course Shady Creek would be involved.

“You said he died? How long ago?” asked Astrid and Veronika nodded.

“Maybe seven or eight months ago. They think someone tricked him so they could kill him.”

“Where is your contact?”

“I haven’t seen her since then. When I tried to reach out to her, even though I knew she didn’t want to help, they had all scattered.”

“Do you know where this Nonagon person was buried?”

“I doubt in a graveyard…most likely where he died.” She said.

“What did he look like?”

“He was a purple Tiefling with red eyes and curved horns. He’s dead though. I don’t understand why you need to know-” She replied.

“Do you have any questions?” cut off Astrid, turning to Caleb. He thought for a moment.

“I think I am satisfied for right now.”

They returned to Wulf’s office and relayed the information.

“I’ve been thinking about this, while you were gone…as far as we aware, Veronika was the only contact in the palace. All of her core contacts followed someone else and after he died, they scattered, presumably ceasing their activities as a group, whatever that even was. Brandon, as far as we know, doesn’t have a communication spell in his repertoire that doesn’t require speech, so he’s helpless. Trandon is dead, and he was supposed to give them a disposable girl to poison the king but failed at that.” He explained.

“What you’re saying is that there would be no point in digging up this Nonagon fellow because his information would be outdated, on the off chance that he actually spoke.” Continued Astrid and Wulf nodded. Caleb chewed on his thumb nail. Wulf had an excellent point.

Unless Brandon spoke, they were at a dead end.

----------------------------------------------------

The hot spring was a large pool nestled against a cliff face. Molly could see a corner of it bubbled high above the surface, and the resulting steam from the water kept the rest of the snow around the pool at bay. Connected to the pool was a small building resting on an incline and Gustav led them into it.

It had a cobblestone floor with a wood bench against the wall. Hooks were attached to the walls that dripped steam and stairs led down into the interior pool. Molly could barely make out the stone benches that had either been sunk into the pool or carved from the ground itself. Molly rubbed some warmth back into his shoulders and after setting down his basket, began stripping, following suit of Ornna and Gustav.

“Horn jewelry too. This kind of water is high in minerals and can make metal rust.” Gustav said and Molly sighed reluctantly. Once he entered the water though, he sighed in content as he slid up to his neck in the hot water, blowing bubbles with his nose. Ornna shook her head with a smile and tossed him his wash cloth and soap.

“You can relax when you wash up.” She said and he frowned and dipped under the water, soaking his hair completely. Once everyone was clean, Gustav tapped Molly on the shoulder.

“Now, I don’t know how long we’ll be staying here, if Desmond wants to leave or take the farm over, but for future reference, this door releases the water into the main river.” He said and showed Molly, pulling on a string that opened a door on the wall. It lowered the water slightly but drew out all the soap and suds that lingered in the water.

He sighed contentedly and leaned against the wall next to Ornna, his tail flicking lazily in the water. All his muscle aches were slowly fading away, and He only wished Nott would have come too. He knew the kids would be making a separate trip, and Nott had promised she would watch them. Molly reluctantly returned to the farmhouse with Ornna and Gustav, the cold winter air freezing his wet hair into rigid curls and saw Nott off with Basket, The Knot twins and Toya.

“Uggh Ornna you’re so loud.” Complained Molly, gently shoving her as she smirked.

“Is that so? How much have you had?” she asked, clearly amused, but her tone was level. She had a slight flush to her dark cheeks, and her red hair seemed to float slightly, but Molly’s cheeks were flushed a deep purple color. He was looking at them all lazily and was swishing his tail gently against the floor.

“Only like…” Molly paused and stared at the empty glass, hoping it would give him an answer. He looked at Nott, who downed another glass of the strong ale they had found in the cellar.

“Easily four. Plus, He had two shots of whiskey.” Said Nott in a matter of fact tone and Desmond took a sip of his ale and jumped a little when Molly tickled the back of his neck with his tail. Molly cackled and rolled his head onto the table. He squinted his eyes as he smiled.

“You guys are really pretty.”

“Who is really pretty, Molly?” asked Desmond. Molly gestured to everyone at the table.

“Everyone…Ornna has nice eyes…. you’re kinda tall…that’s nice…Nott is a nice color…green.” He said and laughed again.

“I think he’s had enough, if he’s gonna be tickling my neck like that.” Said Desmond and Molly pouted. Nott and Ornna nodded their heads.

“Come on champ, let’s get you to bed. You’re gonna have one hell of a headache tomorrow.” Said Desmond and pulled Molly up to his feet. He stumbled a bit but allowed Desmond to lead him to bed.

Chapter Text

Swallows dived at the innumerable insects nesting in the grass as the sun set, casting beautiful shades of pinks, reds and orange tints across the sky. The scene was picturesque, or would have been, if not for the blazing fire in the distance. The flames licked the sky casting its own devilish reds and oranges to intermingle and merge with the sunset.

Sparks traveled into the sky, and screams filled Caleb’s ears.

“Gods help us!” screamed his mother, and it felt like a punch to the gut.

“The door is jammed!” yelled his father and Caleb felt the guilt bring him down to the ground.

“They were innocent.” Whispered a voice beside him. He whipped around and came face to face with himself. This other him had his arms shoved deep into his coat pockets, and he looked at the roaring blaze with indifference.

“They didn’t do anything wrong.” He said again.

“No, they were traitors.” Caleb said firmly, but His form became that of smoke and Caleb coughed as he inhaled it. His lungs burned from the heat and he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“Isn’t it convenient that Astrid and Wulf’s family were also traitors?” he said grimly as Caleb turned to face this doppelganger. The sound of the roof collapsing echoed in Caleb’s ears.

“…it’s a small town…” he replied. He felt red hot chains dropped around his neck, and as he tried to tear them off, his palms burned. He hissed from the pain and met his doppelgangers cold and dead eyes.

“Idiot. Why didn’t you investigate the rest of the town?”

“They were innocent.”

“Your parents were innocent…and you killed them.” He bit out and disappeared. Caleb retched, his stomach turning in on itself. He could hear his parent’s screaming, even though he knew realistically they had long died.

“Caleb, why did you kill us?” echoed his Father, his stern voice now filled with anger. Caleb could imagine him speaking through his teeth, fists clenched in rage.

“I thought I raised you better?” echoed his Mother, her kind voice filled with grief. He could imagine her with her hands over her mouth, dusted with flour from baking, and tears streaming from her eyes.

The weight of the chains refused his attempts to stand, burning his neck and palms. His flesh bubbled and he screamed as he dug his fingers into the dirt.
The chains were too heavy, and feet appeared in his view. He looked up at met the eyes of his Master.

“The Empire is a safer place now. You did your duty, Caleb.” He said, his eyebrows knitted together in feigned sympathy. Caleb’s doppelganger appeared behind Trent and he shook his head.

“Do not trust Trent…” He mouthed as flames began to lick up Caleb’s form.

“They were traitors. You did the right thing.”

“Do not trust Trent.”

Caleb was engulfed by the flames.

------------------------------------------

Mollymauk stood in an empty forest, the trees covered in frost and dirt on his clothes. Mist hung above the damp grass, the condensation mixing with his sweat. There wasn’t a single cloud in the gray sky and yet Molly couldn’t shake the feeling that it might start snowing. His fingertips were bloody, pebbles were stuck beneath his nails and the taste of dirt coated his tongue. Fear filled his chest.

Not again.

“Lunch is ready! Come home!” called an unfamiliar woman’s voice. He turned towards the sudden voice. Maybe the forest wasn’t so empty after all.

The voice called again, this time from a different direction, deeper in the trees. He turned to face it. The trees began to creak.

“Darling, It’s getting cold!” she called out again. Molly’s stomach twisted in on itself.

“Darling? My plum, where are you?” She called out again, concern filling her voice. It was farther away now, and Molly’s eyebrows pinched together. He felt something grab his ankles and looked down in horror as two purple hands were protruding from the ground, a tight grip on his ankles. He tried to take a step back, attempting to shake the grip and fell onto the ground. It shook around him, and the trees twisted into buildings, and the hands began to pull on him.

“Please come home.” Called out the woman again, her voice hitching as a sob escaped her throat. He thought he could feel her breath in his ear. Molly struggled against the hands, digging his heels into the ground, biting his lip in concentration.

A head emerged from the ground, it’s face obscured and blurry, like wet ink had smudged on paper.

“You’re never coming back, are you? You’d rather be empty than see me?” she asked, and Molly froze.

Her grip released on his ankles and Molly tumbled back into a vast darkness, and as he fell, he felt it scrub roughly against him. His head was hurting now, he wanted to throw up and all he could think of was one word.

Empty.

Hands pulled at his clothes. Voices melded into one another, passing him by as he fell.

The suffocating darkness swallowed him whole, tearing away at him, scrubbing him clean until he felt like he would bleed.

Empty.

Her words were the only thing that made it through into his mind.

“YoU’d raTHeR bE eMptY?” the darkness distorted her words.

He didn’t want to be empty.

He didn’t have a choice.

That’s all he was though.

Empty.

Chapter Text

Caleb took a deep breath as he entered the cell Brandon was kept in. Like he had suggested, they kept it dark and only gave him water every couple of days.

They had to force it down his throat though.

It was becoming quite clear that Brandon was intent on not talking, however, Trent commanded them to try all their methods before killing him.

He was a waste of resources and time otherwise.

The light from Caleb’s dancing lights made Brandon flinch and he glared at Caleb as he evaluated the young man. They had to keep him chained to the wall, mostly because he had tried to claw out his own throat after drowning in his own blood had failed. Blood stained the front of his shirt, while his pants were thoroughly soiled.

“Brandon, we need you to tell us everything you know.” He said and Brandon only grinned and opened his mouth before closing it again. They had on numerous occasions attempted to cast Suggest, Friends and other similar spells, but Brandon had miraculously overcome them. He flipped Caleb off then and Caleb closed his eyes and restrained himself.

Brandon was ballsy.

“Is that so? Astrid did inform you that if you don’t give us what we want to know, you will die.”

Brandon scoffed.

“Well, I am here to tell you that no one but us know where you are. Master Ikithon has ensured that you are forgotten among any of your comrades here. If any of your friends outside of these walls ask, no one even knows a Brandon Patterson.” He said, as indifferently as possible.

“You will die, forgotten.” He said and he swore he could see some emotion other than morbid amusement cross across Brandon’s face.

“As far as we’re concerned, any of your allies, family or friends outside will simply think you left them. What a shame.” He said. Caleb shook his head when Brandon gave no indication he wanted to communicate and turned to leave.

“Master Ikithon will be the final one to speak to you. Remember, we warned you.” Said Caleb and saw the flash of fear cross Brandon’s face.

Caleb returned to his office, sitting down in his chair with an exhausted thump. He gripped the bridge of his nose and deeply inhaled. He couldn’t wait to go back to his rooms. He just wanted to curl up in bed with a good book. He could already imagine the comforting smell of the parchment and ink that didn’t drip with death sentences or the frustration of traitors who refused to cooperate. He looked out his window and the shadows cast on the sill and stood up.

Yes, a good book and nice drink.

On the morning Veronika was executed, soon followed by Brandon, Trent called them to his quarters.

“Yes, Master Ikithon?” asked Astrid. All three of them had their best uniforms on, their hands tucked neatly behind their backs.

Ikithon was not one to tolerate messes or lackluster presentation.

“I thought I would allow you three a vacation.” He said over steepled hands and they collectively gave each other confused glances.

“Pardon me, Master, but I do not understand. We failed at gathering information from Brandon and Veronika.” Said Astrid and Ikithon smiled.

“Quite the contrary Astrid. We were able to glean some information from Veronika, even though it was lacking. However, despite the interesting implications, it is nothing that can’t wait…oh, I’d say two weeks. I would like the three of you to take a break. Two weeks of vacation, spend it how you’d like.” He said and Wulf opened his mouth for more questions, but Trent held up his hand.

“Have I ever tolerated protests Aedowulf?” He asked and Wulf shook his head.

“Of course not, Master.” He said.

“Now, starting tomorrow, you three are on vacation.” He said and dismissed them. Caleb followed Astrid and Wulf out and when they reached the common room, they collectively broke into a smile.

“Vacation? Gods, I need one.” Said Wulf and Caleb nodded. Astrid sighed holding Caleb’s hand.

“Where did you want to go? It’s the middle of winter. I suggest kicking it off with a visit to the bathhouse.” She said and Caleb quickly pinched her butt cheek. Wulf rolled his eyes.

While Astrid changed in the other room, Wulf pulled Caleb aside.

“What?” asked Caleb in Zemnian.

“When are you finally going to propose?” He replied and Caleb choked a little.

“I'm sorry...w-What do you mean?” he stuttered. His face was flushed red.

“Don’t tell me you haven’t thought about it. You guys have been committed for three years now. Are you seriously telling me the thought never crossed your mind?” He said, folding his clothes and placing them in a wooden locker. Caleb stared down at the stone floor, chewing his lip. Wulf gripped his shoulder.

“Astrid would say no.”

“Caleb, she literally pretended to be pregnant when we went to the Harvest Close ball, while you two were pretending to be husband and wife, I might add.” Wulf said with a deadpan look.

“I don’t know Wulf…” He muttered and Wulf threw his hands up. Caleb closed the locker and sighed. Wulf leaned against the lockers.

“Are you afraid of her saying no, or afraid of actual marriage?” he asked, and Caleb went silent. Wulf stared at him expectantly. Wulf had always been like that.

He wouldn’t leave Caleb alone until he gave him some sort of answer.

“…maybe both…if she says no, then it might be over…but what if she decides she doesn’t want to be married later?...I don’t want to risk that.”

“Aren’t you the one who says you like ‘calculated risks’?” he retorted.

Fuck.

“…That’s not the same thing.”

“Sure it is.” He began but was interrupted by Astrid’s voice.

“What’s taking you so long? Get in here!” She called out and Wulf clapped Caleb on the shoulder and walked out towards the pool. Caleb sighed heavily.

That was the thing.

He had thought about it.

The thought terrified him.

He loved Astrid, but he knew unless one of them transferred or chose another position, Ikithon would immediately shut it down.

Caleb knew Ikithon was aware of their relationship, and he didn’t seem to care, because they were professional about it. However, marriage was another subject altogether.
Ikithon was the deciding factor and Ikithon more than likely had a million calculations involving their relationship filed away.

He pushed the thought to the back of his head and sealed it off. He had a hot bath with his best friends to enjoy.
---------------------------------
Molly smiled as Basket crawled over to the ball Nott had rolled Molly. He picked it up and began chewing on it.

“He’s getting better.” He commented and Nott nodded excitedly. Molly turned Basket back around and gave him a gentle push.

“Go on back to Mama.” He said and Basket looked back over to Nott’s open and expecting arms. Toya watched him from the table and Ornna tapped her shoulder.

“Back to your letters.” She said and Toya sighed reluctantly, turning her attention back to the paper. They heard stomping coming from the entry way and Gustav and Desmond entered, soon followed by Mona and Suli. Their cheeks and noses were a bright red, and everyone was shivering. The twins took off their winter coats, shaking the snow from them and returned to the entryway to pick up the groceries.

“Is the snow still falling?” Asked Ornna and Mona nodded.

“It looks like a blizzard’s going to set in.” She said and walked into the kitchen. Nott chewed on her lip and almost seemed to gather her shawl she had gotten from Hatty’s closet around her. Gustav and Desmond looked over at Molly.

“Mind helping us fetch some wood?” asked Desmond and Molly stood up and stretched. Desmond handed him the winter coat they had bought him, a long blue coat with red trim. It was lined with wool, like everyone else’s and Molly pulled his gloves from the pockets.

“How much do we need?” asked Molly. From the way everyone else had looked, he suspected no one would want to go outside for more anytime soon.

“Quite a bit. Ornna, would you and Toya mind clearing a spot by the fire place?” asked Desmond and the ladies got up and began to tidy up the area, sweeping away errant bark and splinters and tossing them into the fire.

“I’ll get a kettle going.” Suggested Nott and placed Basket in one of the unoccupied chairs and waited a moment before fetching the kettle and heading to the pump.

Molly immediately shivered as he followed them out the door, the biting chill of the wind stinging his face. He could feel goosebumps crawling up his legs and Desmond gave him a sympathetic look.

“Welcome to winter.” He said.

“I thought you said the South was supposed to be warmer?” muttered Molly and held his arms out so the others could load them up. The cold crawled deep into his legs, wrapping around his bones.

“It is. Up North it only gets worse. Imagine waking up in this weather.” He said and Molly shuddered at the thought.

It took them a half an hour before Desmond was satisfied.

“This should last us the next couple of days. I’m going to check on Kylre.” He said, heading towards the stable where Kylre had made his home.

Nott handed Molly a hot cup of cider and they all sat around the fire, warming their numb limbs.

“How long do blizzards last?” asked Molly as he took a large gulp from his mug. He didn’t care that it burned his tongue, he just wanted the warmth to spread down his limbs.

“I’ve seen some that last a whole week. One wiped out a quarter of my clan…more food to go around though.” Said Nott and Ornna nodded thoughtfully. Toya looked a little perturbed but didn’t say anything.

“…Gustav…Desmond?” asked Nott and they looked up from their dinner. Everyone else glanced over at Nott.

“What is it Nott?”

“…I want to thank you…I know Basket wouldn’t have survived the winter this young…and you didn’t have to take us in…but I appreciate it.” She said and Gustav chuckled, placing his hand across the table on Nott’s green one.

“You don’t have to Thank us. I’m sure we have all come to love each other over these past…what, six months? You can stay with us as long as you wish.” He said and Nott smiled and nodded.

“…still, thank you. I want Basket to grow up big and strong, and I think being around a lot of people will do that.” She said and everyone raised their tankard in a light cheer.
“Basket and Molly can grow up together.” said Toya cheerfully and Molly smirked.

“I look forward to it. I suspect I’ll remember more than he does.” He said and everyone laughed.

Nott watched through the window as the wind whipped snowflakes past the window, tearing the snow from the trees and roof, and piling it against the outer walls. The world was an expanse of gray and white and as the wind howled outside, she tucked herself inside of her warm shawl, adjusting Basket in her lap.

The baby was gnawing on his fingers, coating them in slobber and he looked up at her and cracked a smile, patted her cheeks with his saliva coated hand. Nott didn’t budge, choosing to ruffle his brown hair instead.

“You’re so silly Basket. I told you I’d get us a farm house. And we eat eggs in the morning too, huh? Mama wouldn’t lie to you.” She said and pressed a kiss to his forehead. He leaned into her and Nott pulled the shawl around him, sighing.

This was nice.

Nott watched Molly flip his tarot cards for Toya at the table, dancing the cards along the table before laying them down. Gustav and Desmond were seated next to the fire, drinking ale. Gustav leaned over and threw another log into the fireplace, sending a small flurry of sparks into the chimney.

No one was arguing over food.

Ornna entered the room, yawning loudly and announcing how lovely a nap she had. Molly clapped gently and commented that she could always use more beauty sleep. Ornna shot him a hard glare but didn’t comment.

Any jabs anyone made weren’t serious. It was all in good fun.

Hatty’s farmhouse in the countryside was the perfect place to spend the winter. Even though the wind howled, and the snow piled up, it was nice.

Part of her felt sorry for her fellow Goblins. She knew what blizzards felt like if you didn’t have much shelter.

The other part of her didn’t care, because what she had now was a better family than they had ever been.

Chapter Text

Molly had never had the chance to properly explore the town. Winter had deterred him somewhat from his natural curiosity. As they all rode into town on the slightly chilly morning, Molly got his first real look at the town.

Despite the large rushing river the town was named after, overall Keen River was surprisingly small. The town was a scattered one, flanking both sides of the rushing river. The town center was scarcely a hundred feet across and as the town largely relied on itself, thriving on a few farms and the fish, there was only the faintest presence of The Crowns guard. What few Molly saw all looked bored as they stood on the street corners or walked the streets. However, as they neared the small town square Molly marveled at the large pole that was being set up in the town’s square.

It wasn’t that he wasn’t used to them, the Circus tent had the large center pole, Toya sat on the platform and performed, and Mona and Yuli wrapped themselves around it, performing their complex act.

It was that people were decorating this one, in bright blue, green, and pink ribbons and laughing as they danced around it.

“It’s the Renewal Dance.” Explained Ornna, avoiding a puddle in the street. Molly gazed up at the colorful pole, and at the dancers, who weaved in and out of each other, ducking beneath the long ribbons, while the outer circle clapped, banged drums or shook their tambourines.

“We always do a performance, right at sundown. Without the tent though.” Said Gustav and Nott raised her eyebrow.

“Why without the tent?” she asked, tugging Basket out of the way of a puddle he seemed intent on splashing in.

“So we can enjoy the festivities as well. The tent takes hours to set up, and it’s only for tonight. There’s a large stage that’s probably being set up right now.” He explained. Molly nodded thoughtfully and looked down at Nott and Toya.

“Do you ladies want to grab something to eat?” he asked and jangled his coin purse. Toya’s eyes lit up and Nott’s lips turned up slightly. Molly swiftly picked up Basket and set him on his shoulders, Basket laughing as he gripped the Tiefling’s horns.

“Molls up!” he said excitedly, and Molly nodded.

“Up indeed, friend.” He said and they ran off towards the town center, following their noses.

“Stay out of trouble!” called out Ornna, but Molly was already finding his way to the nearest food stand.

There were hot steaming pasties, made from crabapples, sugar dusting the top to combat the sour taste and fried bread accompanied with fruit preserves from the summer before. Sausages hot out of the pan were laid out and Molly and Nott treated Toya and Basket to the various sweets and meats available.

There were miniature Renewal Poles set up, small enough for Toya and Nott to dance around and Molly watched with a smile on his face, as the girls danced, twisting the ribbons around the wooden pole and Basket got himself covered in jam. Molly found himself dancing around one as well, winking at a gentleman that caught his attention. He found a dry spot on the grass and lay his coat down, calling over people for fortunes, and telling what they could expect for the coming spring and summer.

No charge, just for the fun of it. He didn’t deny any tips though.

---------------------------------

Nott sat behind Molly, letting Basket nap on her lap. She ran her fingers through his hair, gently wiping off the remains of his lunch and listened to Molly tell fortunes and flirt with the pretty people.

It occurred to her that Molly didn’t really mind who they were. After they left, he would always whisper with a grin what he liked about them.

“She had really nice eyes, didn’t she?”

“Did you see how tall he was? I’d have to stand on my toes to kiss him!”

“Did you know he feeds the stray dogs? He’s nice AND has a nice ass!”

“Do you find everyone pretty?” asked Nott, and Molly looked a little startled.

“Well mostly, yeah. I’d probably sleep or…be with anyone…with anyone if they gave me a chance…well, that’s not true, I do have some standards.” He said and nodded as he shuffled his tarot cards. He always did that while he thought, so Nott waited.

“I don’t sleep with assholes. I mean the really terrible people, cause I’ll admit I can be an asshole too. There are just some people who are mean for the sake of it…those people I have no interest in.” He said and Nott nodded. Molly gave a mischievous smile.

“Why, are you interested?” he said, and Nott made a face.

“No, I was just curious about your preference is all.” She said and Molly laughed.

“Well, let me know if you change your mind. You are a very lovely lady.” He said and Nott just rolled her eyes.

---------------------------------------

After the sun had set, Desmond tapped Molly on the shoulder, his sweat beginning to smudge his face paint.

“Hey Molly, I got you an appointment with the local tattooist, Moltria, for tomorrow.” He whispered, almost conspiratorially. Molly’s heart skipped a beat and his tail began to swish back and forth.

“Really!”

“Yes. I showed her the design and she said she’d do it for three gold.” He said and Molly’s heart dropped.

“Desmond…I don’t have that much…” he said, his tail drooping. He had spent at least a gold during the festivities, spoiling the girls and Basket.

“You can always pay me back later. She only tattoos in the spring and summer.” He said and placed the coin in his lavender hands. He curled Molly’s fingers into their palm and patted them. Molly stared down at his closed hand and back at Desmond who gave him a smile. There was sadness behind his eyes and Molly gave Desmond a tight hug, surprising the man.

“Thank you.”

She was a quiet woman, but Molly liked her, because she didn’t mind listening to him talk. As she cleaned his arm and applied a gentle dye to his skin, she commented quietly that she would have to readjust the colors to accommodate his skin tone. As Molly spoke, she would just nod or hum in reply as she tapped the needle in his skin, occasionally stepping back to glance at her progress.

She allowed Molly to stretch and even provided lunch for him.

Molly rolled his shoulders, and stretched out his arm, feeling the phantom pricks of the needle near his elbow. He was surprised how quickly she had completed it, and he marveled at the grace of her art.

The roses looked perfectly formed near the pink and yellow snapdragons that were framed by the marigolds. The poppies sat next to the dandelion, which Moltria had suggested being halfway from a normal gold, transforming into the autumn bloom. Forget-me-nots trailed along the snake and the piece was completed at his elbow with only the occasional rose on the inside of his arm.

“It looks positively wonderful, Darling.” Complemented Molly, turning his arm over a few times. She smiled and applied the cool salve to it.

“Leave this on for the rest of the day. If you have to wash it, rinse it only. Do not scratch it.” She said quietly and Molly nodded, remembering the way Nott had swatted his hand.

“I wouldn’t dream of it.” He said and she sent him on his way.

Chapter Text

Caleb drunkenly placed the crown of spring flowers and ribbons upon Astrid’s head and bowed to her.

“You are so beautiful Astrid…” He sang, and Astrid laughed, her face flushed a deep shade of pink, a mixture of drunkenness and laughter. Wulf nodded in agreement, his own flower crown slipping from his head slightly. Caleb took another draft of his drink and then placed the tankard on the grass, where it had made an indent already. The park that part of the festival was being held was full of empty tankards, picnic blankets and other revelers equally as drunk.

“Dance with me?” He asked and Astrid giggled, the school girl laughter Caleb had first fallen in love with. She took his hand and they ran over to the Renewal pole and began to dance beside it, where some had already formed their own dance circles near the decorated pole. They twirled around each other, keeping hold of each other’s hands as they skipped and embraced, and eventually Astrid collapsed on him, still giggling.

Astrid always laughed when she was drunk, and if you kept her laughing, she would start to snort, which made her laugh harder.

Caleb loved her laugh.

He could see Wulf from the corner of his eyes talking to a young woman, equally as drunk as him. Wulf was the flirt in their group. He would say the dumbest lines, the kind that would make you cringe, yet he always managed to leave a tavern with a girl if that was his goal.

“Oh Astrid, the light of my life…” sang out Caleb and kissed her with a smile on their faces. He intertwined his fingers in her straw blonde hair and couldn’t help the laugh as he felt her smile against his.

“Mmmm…ich liebe dich…” she murmured and rested her head on his chest.

“ich liebe dich auch.” He replied and they lay like that in the slightly damp grass under the clear blue sky, now fading into a bright canvas of oranges and pinks and listened to the nearby music that filled the air. He saw Wulf’s boots in his peripheral and turned to look at his friend with a girl on his arm.

“I’m going to find some…dinner for me and Ella here…” He said slowly, and Ella smiled lazily at him, gently poking his cheek.

“…I really like sausage…” she said, and Astrid and Caleb’s eyes raised at the suggestion.

“Oh, I have no doubt…something hearty then?” he asked and led her off, sticking out his tongue at the couple on the ground as he did so.

“He acts as though…I can’t get sausage whenever I want…” slurred Astrid and Caleb grinned.

“Anytime you want?” he asked and they both burst out laughing. Caleb scooted out from under her and wobbled as he stood up, then pulled her up.

“Let’s find something to eat too. I think all this booze is uh…not good…sitting in my stomach.” Suggested Astrid and Caleb agreed.

“Some bread to soak it up…hell, maybe a sausage. The spicy kind.” Suggested Caleb and she nodded, leading him to a nearby stall where there were indeed sausages, the frying pan still popping from fat and oil. Astrid gave the man a gold and walked away as he balked at the amount. Caleb just waved it away and bobbed his head in thanks as he took two sausages with a side of steaming bread.

Astrid had already found the fruit stand they had encountered earlier and collected a small handful of crab apples, and Caleb met her back over in the grass so they could eat in peace.

“Who’s rooms are we going to…tonight?” burped Caleb and he leaned back on his elbows, briefly adjusting his flower crown. Astrid hummed as she ripped a chunk of bread from the loaf.

“My place tonight? It’s near the courtyard…less distance to travel…” She murmured.

“Liebling?”

“Ja, Perle?”

“I uh…I’ve been thinking about pursuing the office of Alchemy…” She said and Caleb raised an eyebrow.

“Really? You’d make a wonderful Archmage…why though? Did you want a change of pace?” he asked, genuinely concerned now. She shrugged and looked at the sky and the dusting of stars now visible.

“I think it would allow me to focus more on my potions and poisons…I could still help you and Wulf too, just from the sidelines. Remember when I slipped that truth serum into your drink when we were students?”

“I do. Ikithon was very impressed that he didn’t even notice."

" They thought it was funny when you confessed your undying love to me.” She said, batting her eyes at Caleb. He playfully shoved her and tore off a chunk of bread.

“Ja, but I learned to always check my drink. So did Wulf.” He said and kissed her on the cheek.

“I will support you, no matter what Liebling. I don’t doubt you could whip up some incredible solutions and train some equally fine individuals.” He said and she leaned her head on his shoulder.

“…Can I admit something to you? One of the reasons I want to do this?”

“Mmm?” hummed Caleb.

“I…I don’t want the same thing to happen with Brandon. He was a damn student…but we teach students things none of the common folk know! Who knows what he told his friends? I want to nip it in the bud if it happens again.” She said and Caleb looked at her and saw fury in her eyes.

Righteous fury.

“That is why I love you. You are a noble, ambitious woman. You are stronger than Wulf and I, I know this for sure.” He whispered and Astrid smiled, blushing profusely.

“It’s true…Ask Wulf, he’ll agree.” He urged and kissed her until he couldn’t breathe.

After this mission Ikithon mentioned, and after Astrid obtained that Archmage position, and Caleb knew she could get it, maybe he would follow Wulf’s advice.
Once again though, Trent was still there.

Caleb would have to ask for his blessing…it was just a given.

*Do not trust Trent.*

He pushed that dream to the back of his head and instead focused on the stars twinkling in the clear sky and the beautiful woman sitting next to him.

Chapter Text

Nott played Patty Cake with Basket while Desmond visited Hatty’s grave one last time and ensured the house was properly locked. They had already sold her farm animals, just a cow and two chickens, along with her horse and Gustav had tucked the deed of the farm into Desmond’s personal chest, along with the key.

“Momma, rhyme.” Said Basket and Nott smiled and obliged.

“Patty cake, Patty cake, Baker’s man.” She said and Molly shuffled his cards beside her, joining the chant.

“Bake me a cake as fast as you can.” he continued, flipping a card and smiling at the answer to whatever question he asked. Nott was so proud of Basket as he kept time with her, his tiny hands tapping into her palms with surprising coordination. He was such a quick learner.

“Pat it and prick it….” she prompted.

“Mark it with a B!” shouted Basket.

“Put it in the oven for Basket and me.” She said and Basket threw his hands up in the air and Molly, Nott and Toya, who had been watching from the side lines all cheered. Nott watched Basket’s round cheeks turn rosy from the praise and Nott gave him a tight hug.

“You are such a good boy.” She said and kissed him on his forehead. His brown hair was starting to curl.

Desmond came back from around the house and nodded to Gustav and everyone climbed into their wagons, Basket hopping up and down.

“Moving, Moving!” he said excitedly.

“That’s right Basket. We’re moving again.” Replied Nott, ruffling Baskets hair.

“Molls, can I have a story?” asked Basket as he sat down next to Toya, leaning against the dwarven girl. Molly pondered for a moment and nodded.

“Sure. Let’s see…Ok, this one time, I was walking along the road, and I saw these two rabbits. One was reeeeally big, almost as big as you!”

“What?”

“Oh yes, the other one was just a normal sized rabbit. They were hopping along, even hopping onto each other, when one slipped, and fell into a hole.” He continued and Basket looked a little worried. Nott smiled and kept listening.

Molly had a knack for telling stories. He always made each story utterly ridiculous, but insisted they were true.

It rarely fooled adults, but they were perfect for children.

“Well, when the small rabbit came out of the hole, an angry groundhog followed him. He was chittering and growling, just furious that this rabbit had invaded it’s home. The End.” He said and Basket laughed.

The trip along the south of Wildemount was mostly uneventful, with only the occasional wolf attack. Molly easily dispatched of them, and gradually accumulated small scars along his torso. Nott found it incredibly unnerving.

She didn’t like pain, so she didn’t understand how Molly could stand to give himself tiny cuts or tattoos, especially his newest one, a green and blue bird, with long tail feathers that covered his neck and disappeared into his hairline. One of the feathers disguised the red eye on his neck, but only just. It was becoming clear that no amount of ink would hide the marks.

It was like they were an organ, not just blemishes or another tattoo. Which Nott knew bothered Molly.

“Are you planning to cover them all?” asked Nott as Basket napped. Toya herself was nodding off and Molly chewed his lip while he thought.

“That’s the plan. Even the one’s I can’t see…They…whenever I think about them, I get this weird feeling. I don’t like it and…I can feel something in the back of my head. By the Moon Weaver it’s not pleasant.” He replied. Nott nodded, looking at the passing scenery.

“Well, I’ll help you cover them all.” She said and Molly raised his eyebrows in surprise.

“Really?”

“Of course,…we’re friends. If something makes you uncomfortable, I want to help…How many are left?”

“…I’ve covered four. Desmond says I have nine total.” He said bitterly.

“Yeah, you have a couple on your back.” She confirmed.

“Well, I don’t mind the extra color. If I can see the pictures on my body instead of those eyes, I’ll be satisfied.” He said firmly and looked out at the passing scenery.

---------------------------------------------------

Caleb stood beside Wulf in front of Ikithon and waited for him to close his book, a large heavy tome strapped in dark leather, well worn from the years. After a few moments, Trent finally looked up and steepled his hands.

“The task I spoke to you about two weeks ago starts today. Wulf, I need you to go to the North, to Shady Creek Run. I have a teleportation sigil near there. I expect it should take you no more than two days to reach this alleged grave of The Nonagon.” He said and Wulf gave him a confused look. Trent leaned back in his chair.

“I had a Divination expert look into Veronika’s description of this Nonagon. His information may be outdated, but even his corpse could point us in some direction. She detected a faint signal coming south east of the cesspit of criminals, she called it ‘residual magic’.” He said.

“…Does this mean he could be alive?” asked Caleb and Trent looked at him.

“I am getting to that. Some powerful magic was used there. Someone might have already tried to raise him, but the job I have for you, Caleb, is to track down what the Diviner detected.” He said and Caleb gulped.

“To the South, the signal was even stronger. They strongly believed this Nonagon person was alive. Divination is not a perfect artform, however, it has it’s uses. The Diviner said the person we seek was heading to a town called Clarebridge.” He said and Caleb nodded.

He briefly recalled seeing it on a regional map in the library.

“So, Wulf, You are heading North, investigate this grave and report back immediately. I already have a map. Caleb, head to Clarebridge and search for this individual.” He said and handed Wulf a map with a marked area.

“Should I detain him, Master?”

“Only if he seems to be hiding something or gets violent. His information is most likely outdated, and if Veronika was correct, he had no interest in any of their plans. Shady Creek is outside of The Empire, so I suspect any involvement would be limited to smuggling. Nothing too terrible.” He said with a shrug. Caleb nodded.

“There is a teleportation sigil three days from Clarebridge. Nonagon should arrive by the end of the week.” Said Trent finally and they both nodded. As they turned to leave Trent cleared his throat.

“Ah, Caleb, wait a moment. Let us speak in private.” He said and Caleb paused and turned back to face his Master. Trent waited until Wulf was a good distance away and cracked a smile. Caleb had never liked being alone with Trent. None of them did. ‘Private lessons’ meant you came back with scars, some you were afraid to show, or ask about.
“Astrid asked my opinion on pursuing the position of Archmage of Alchemical Research and Applications.” He said and Caleb nodded.

“Yes sir. She told me as well.” He confirmed and Trent nodded thoughtfully.

“What are your thoughts?”

Caleb gulped.

“I know I am biased in this matter, Master. However, it is my belief that Astrid is a calculating and intelligent individual. The reasons she provided me seem sound. I don’t doubt she could still assist us.” He said and Trent leaned back in his chair.

“Caleb, you know that isn’t what I was asking. I am not a fool, am I?” he asked, and Caleb looked down, hoping Trent couldn’t see his hands shaking.

“Of course not, Master…I…have taken into consideration her obtaining the position…I do hope she gets it, of course, she seemed eager. I still do not know how that will change our relationship…in the immediate future.” Caleb said carefully and Trent evaluated him.

“Very well. I do hope you will tell me as your feelings change. It is my job as a teacher to guide his pupils along the best course of action.” He said and Caleb nodded.

“I understand.”

“Wonderful. Have a safe trip to Clarebridge.” He said finally and dismissed Caleb.

When Caleb reached his dormitory, he leaned against the headboard of his bed and pulled at his hair. The headboard creaked against his weight and Caleb sharply inhaled as he tugged at his locks.

Trent did not miss anything.

Astrid had probably received a similar conversation. Knowing Astrid, she was much more eloquent in her delivery. He looked outside and sighed, standing up to grab his travel bag.

Early to bed, early to rise.

Chapter Text

Clarebridge was utterly miserable.

The fair weather they had enjoyed along the road for the week with only the disturbances from the wolves instantly disappeared when they reached the town. Barely a mile away from the boundaries, a downpour began, filling up potholes and creating mud for the horses to trek through. Molly hopped down from the cart, shucking off his coat and helped pull their two horses through the mud as Kylre heaved up the rear of the wagon to free it from the pothole.

Once they reached the outskirts of town, the grumbling ensued as Gustav and Desmond rode in to request the allotted time, and Ornna bitterly muttered if it was even worth it to set up the tent.

Molly liked to stay positive, but she had a point. Not many people wanted to leave their homes during a spring downpour. When Gustav and Desmond returned, they began the process of setting up the tent and Toya took care of Basket while Molly and Nott went to town.

“Tavern first?” asked Molly and Nott nodded, adjusting the rose tinted glasses they had made in Keen river before they left to hide her eyes slightly.

“Your cards will get wet if you bring them out. Besides, people will want to be inside.” She agreed.

------------------------------

The tavern was full of patrons, seeking a reprieve from the downpour now pelting the roof of the bustling establishment. Caleb sat near the back, like he often did, where he could observe people or read relatively undisturbed.

AS Caleb ate, he heard a familiar voice cut through the chatter into his head.

“Caleb, the grave is empty. It looks like animals have disturbed the site recently, but someone was definitely buried there.” Said Wulf and Caleb chewed on his lip.

“Thank you Wulf I arrived last night. Hopefully I can find him.” He replied. He rubbed his face and inhaled.

So he was alive.

Caleb turned to his breakfast as he thought.

His breakfast plate had only a few bites left, but as the tavern door opened a flash of color brought Caleb’s attention to a new target.

The two figures who walked through the door, pulling down the hoods of their cloaks immediately caught his attention. They were both colorful individuals’, in more than one sense. He had seen the circus tent go up, and he could reasonably assume they belonged to the troupe.

One was a small halfling, dressed in a black ensemble, however her face was dusted with glitter, wearing rose lensed glasses and she was flipping through a stack of papers, frowning at some of them before speaking to her taller companion. They rubbed the bridge of their nose and led her to the bar.

Caleb squinted his eyes at them.

He couldn’t quite tell the gender of the lavender Tiefling; however, their height and lack of visible breasts suggested a man. He had plum colored hair that hung down in wet tangles from the rain. His ram shaped horns were pierced and decorated in jewelry. From what Caleb could see, he had a tattoo curling up his neck, but he couldn’t tell what of. His cloak was ridiculously colorful, but in the tiny details. It was mainly maroon, but it was lined in blue and had speckles of color, while his sleeves were a patchwork of different fabrics.

The two individuals settled themselves at the bar while they waited, and Caleb watched them while leaning back in his chair. They chatted amongst themselves, gesturing towards the flyers, which appeared to be wet from the rain. The Tiefling pulled something out of his coat and Caleb realized it was a deck of cards. He shuffled them and continued to talk.

Caleb chewed on his lip as he pondered what to do.

The Tiefling resembled the description of this Nonagon fellow Veronika had described.

In a vague sense.

She hadn’t mentioned tattoos or his fashion sense, which would have helped significantly. Caleb supposed if one had survived a possible assassination, they would run and change their appearance to hide.

Except he couldn’t hide looking like that.

After a while, the two stepped from the bar and began speaking to the other patrons, holding up his deck of cards, the other holding the dry flyers. They were turned down at nearly every table and Caleb bit his lip.

Well, might as well take a risk.

“Excuse me!” he called out and the two figures turned their attention to him.

“Are you from the circus?” he asked, and they walked over. The halfling woman was now clutching the back of her friend.

“Why yes we are good sir! A wonderful show indeed, you’ll see sights you’ve never seen before, feel emotions you didn’t know you had, and people will be buying you drinks just to hear what you saw at our Carnival tonight!” He said with a smile and looked down at his friend, his eyes furrowing together.

“Nott? The flyer…” He said and the girl presented the flyer with a shaking hand. He gave a last look at his friend before smiling again.

Caleb was reading over the flyer. He glanced back at the man, and now that he could see, his coat had nearly every symbol of every known God and Goddess, even some forbidden.

“I suppose you are the one telling the fortunes?” He asked, gesturing towards the cards he still had in his hands.

“Right you are! Would you care for a reading? It’s a steal, at only two copper!” He declared, sitting down at the table. Caleb blinked at the way he invited himself to the table, shuffling the cards between his hands, twirling them between his fingers and he winked at Caleb. Caleb breathed in sharply.

---------------------------------

Molly watched the red headed man recoil a bit at him. Molly couldn’t help the wink. He was a handsome man. The beard he had was visibly prickly, indicating he most likely shaved. Molly wanted to reach out and touch it, feel it rub against his neck. He had to restrain himself though. The man surprised him by nodding.

“Why not? Here.” he said and pulled out two copper. Molly flashed a smile and kept shuffling.

“What kind of reading would you like? A life story, a future telling, perhaps just an answered question?” he asked, and he squinted his brilliant blue eyes at him.

“Why don’t you tell me my life story, something about my past?” he said skeptically, and Molly nodded. He held out his hand.

“I would love to, my name is Mollymauk Tealeaf, Molly to my friends.” He said and the man gingerly took his.

“Caleb Widogast…” he said slowly.

“Well, let’s begin, shall we?” He said and fanned out the cards.

“Draw three. Face them down on the table.” He said and he did as he was instructed.

Molly set the rest of the deck aside and took a deep breath, flipping over the first card. He raised an eyebrow and looked back at Caleb.

The card showed a woman, crying as she sat in bed, as nine swords were displayed on her wall.

“The nine of swords…there was something in your past that scared you. Parts of it still haunt you to this day. This card symbolizes the fears that hide in our mind.” He said and Caleb did not show any sign of acknowledgment.

Molly flipped the next card and blew out a breath.

“The five of swords…” He said, gesturing towards the figure of a man collecting swords from a battlefield. It was reversed.

“Normally, this card represents our conflicts and disagreements with others, however, this is reversed. This is about conflicts you had with yourself…there is something in your past that you resent, but you aren’t sure if it’s justified or not.” Molly continued, still searching for any sign of emotion on Caleb’s face. He flipped over the next card.

“Judgement. Interesting.” He muttered, showing the figures of men and women kneeling before another figure.

“Once again, reversed…” He said and a shiver went down his spine.

“The cards seem to be telling me-“

*He has regrets about his past*-said a voice, soft bells echoing beneath it.

“You have regrets about your past, perhaps someone hurt you-“

*He hurt someone, many people.* -it was sad now.

“Or worse, you hurt someone, and you regret it. You’re still fighting yourself about it though…was it right to push them away? It keeps you up at night, even though it shouldn’t.”

*He is trying to ignore it.*

“You are trying to ignore it though…this Judgement card, you are trying to ignore these…fears. To you, they aren’t worth your time, because they are foolish, but you still think about them.” Molly finished and he looked Caleb straight in his blue eyes, looking over every inch of the man’s face. He could feel the tight grip of Nott on his coat, and the small voice that had passed through his mind urged him to confront him.

“I for one, suggest you confront these fears. Whatever haunts you, you can’t run from it. Go to the person or people you hurt and talk to them, ask for forgiveness. Search for a way to make amends.” Molly said.

“I will take that into consideration, although it is simply a foolish little card game.” He said, dismissing it completely and Molly frowned.

“Well, some people have called me the King of Fools, however, what isn’t foolish are the sights you’ll see at our Carnival. Stop by, we start at Sunset.” He said and stood up, turning with a flourish. Nott ran ahead of him and as soon as the tavern door closed behind them, Nott heaved a heavy sigh.

“Nott, what’s wrong?” He asked, crouching down.

“I’ll tell you when we get back. C’mon, it’s raining really hard.” She said and grabbed his hand, pulling him through the rain.

Chapter Text

Nott drug Molly through the downpour, running through the puddles and past the rest of their family. She climbed into the wagon and Toya smiled at her. Basket clumsily walked over, and she picked him up, hugging him tightly.

She couldn’t let that man find Basket.

“Ok Nott, we’re back. Why were you freaking out in there?” he asked, wringing out his coat before crawling into the cart as well. Nott rubbed her thumb across Basket’s cheek.

“Momma sad?” asked Basket and Nott kissed his forehead.

“No, sweetie.”

Nott turned to Molly.

“He is the reason I was running away along the road when I met you all. He is a mean man. He is one of the Inquiry men, the ones who find people who do reaaally bad things…or things the Empire doesn’t like.”

“How is he mean?”

“…before I met everyone, I lived on the outskirts of a town, and had gone in to get some food that Basket could eat…He was there, and he found this man who had been kidnapping ladies and sacrificing them or whatever. He saw me though, through my disguise spell, and lied about goblins being involved. He even tried to cast a spell on me! Then he tried to kill me.” She said and Basket clutched her leg tightly. Molly chewed on his lip. Nott’s brow furrowed.

“But he didn’t look like he was focused on me today…” She said and Molly’s eyebrows shot up in surprise.

“I’m very colorful.” He said with a smile, silently wishing for a more positive and interesting outcome.

“Molly, he’s a dangerous man. I saw the way you were looking at him.”

“Molls likes pretty.” Commented Basket and Molly smiled and patted his shoulder. Nott huffed and they all turned when they saw the red head in question approach Gustav.
“Shit!” said Nott and Basket frowned.

“Bad word.”

“I know.”

Nott glanced in the mirror to check her face paint and tried to respread the parts that had begun to run and looked back at Gustav, who seemed to be debating Caleb. Caleb pulled out something from his coat and Desmond took it and looked at Gustav. They lead him over to their cart and Gustav gave a pained smile. Nott picked up Basket and he leaned his head on her shoulder, putting his thumb in his mouth.

--------------------------------------
“Ah, Molly, this man would like to ask some questions…shouldn’t take long.” He said through his teeth and Nott bit her lip.

“Why? Another fortune telling?” he joked, and Desmond shook his head rapidly.

Molly tapped his finger against his thigh.

“…I want one of my Father’s to come with.” he said, and Caleb raised an eyebrow.

“One of your Fathers?” he asked, looking around.

“Desmond or Gustav…they adopted me, obviously.” Said Molly sarcastically and Caleb narrowed his eyes at him.

“I’m sorry, but you don’t have a choice Mr. Tealeaf. If it pleases you, we can remain here in this wagon, but it will be a private questioning.” He said and Molly’s lips curled into a smile.

“Private?” he asked, his tail swishing and he leaned against the walls of the wagon.

“Molly, don’t.” said Gustav firmly. He could see Nott was adjusting the small hood over Basket’s head, avoiding eye contact with everyone. Kylre had already moved away from the wagon with Toya tucked securely in his arms and Caleb had his attention focused solely on Molly.

“Fine. As long as it doesn’t take long.” He said and Caleb smiled. Nott scurried out of the wagon under the legs of Gustav and over towards Kylre. Caleb didn’t seem to care and instead waved everyone else off. Molly let him into the wagon and tidied up the floor of it so Caleb could sit.

“So, what do you want to know? Didn’t like what I told you?” asked Molly.

“I actually have some questions about a place and some people you may know.” He said and Molly turned his head with a quizzical look.

“A place called Shady Creek Run? You are familiar with it, ja?”

Molly furrowed his brow. It sounded familiar, but only just.

“Not really. Desmond and Gustav say they found me around there, shortly after I was born. The circus raised me.” He said.

It wasn’t a lie. Caleb didn’t look convinced.

“I have sources that say they saw you there about a year ago.” He said flatly. Molly’s tail twitched.

“You have sources? May I ask who? They don’t sound that reliable, considering I don’t remember being there.” He retorted.

----------------------------------------------------
Caleb looked at the Tiefling that went by Mollymauk. He looked for any sign of a lie, even his tail didn’t give him away. He looked more annoyed than anything. It was possible this was a completely different Tiefling than what the Diviner had seen, but then again, how many lavender Tieflings with ram horns and red eyes were there in Wildemount?

Or he was really good at lying.

“So the name Nonagon doesn’t ring a bell?”

“I can honestly say it does not. Sounds like some sketchy person.” He said, crossing his arms.

“…indeed…you know, Mr. Tealeaf, I don’t like it when people lie to me.”

“We have a lot in common. I don’t like it when people don’t tell me why they’re questioning a poor fortune teller.” He retorted with a glare. Caleb thought he could see Molly roll his eyes, despite the lack of a visible iris.

“Very well. My sources say that an individual going by ‘The Nonagon’ would possibly have information useful in tracking down a larger organization, even be willing to. However, they died. You fit their description.”

“Last time I checked I’m alive.” Molly said, putting his fingers to his neck to check his pulse. He flashed a smile at Caleb, revealing his sharp canines. He put his head in his palm and leveled his gaze at Caleb.

“Are we done here? I am obviously not the person you’re looking for. Check a graveyard.” Said Molly and Caleb smiled.

“That’s the thing, though. My fellow Inquisitor did. They found a rather empty grave near Shady Creek, which leads me to my next question. How did you come back?” asked Caleb and Molly glared at him, clenching his fists against his thighs.

“I am not this Nonagon person! My name is Mollymauk Tealeaf! I have traveled with the carnival my whole life!” He said and stood up.

“This body is mine!” He said, placing a hand on his scarred chest. He pulled at his wet, colorful coat that clung to his form.

“This coat is mine!” He said, tugging his dripping purple hair.

“This hair Is mine!” And then he pulled up his coat sleeve, revealing a sleeve of tattoos, bright against his purple complexion.

“And all these tattoos are mine! I. am. Molly.” He finished and threw open the wagon door.

“I hope you have a lovely day.” He said.

------------------------------------------------------------------
Molly turned to leave when Caleb didn’t move and just as the drops of rain touched his skull, he felt a sharp pain travel up from his tailbone and up his spine. He fell, pain spreading across his forehead as it cracked against the ground. Molly curled his tail around his legs and wiped the blood trickling from his forehead, glaring at Caleb, who was descending the wagon.

The bastard had pulled his tail.

“Who the fuck do you think you are?” hissed out Molly, clenching his fists.

Molly could see the rest of the circus was focused on them, he could see Nott looking at them in anger, her hand hovering above her crossbow.

“I do not appreciate lying.”

“I don’t appreciate bastards pulling my tail without buying me a drink first!” hissed Molly in Infernal, holding out his hand. He watched Caleb close his eyes in pain, taking a step back and pinching the bridge of his nose.

“Arschloch!” he cursed, and Molly saw fire kindle in his hand. Molly stood up quickly and looked around for his scimitars.

They were in the wagon.

He saw an arrow impact Caleb in his left shoulder, blood staining his dark shirt. Caleb tossed the firebolt he had in his hand and Molly dodged out of the way and ran into the wagon. He took hold of his scimitars and looked at them.

The Bastard had pulled his tail, after all.

He drew one blade across his chest and watched his blood turn to ice against the blade, red mist coming from the red crystals that clung to the carnival glass. He took a slash at Caleb and hit his arm. The shards of ice exploded, disappearing into the rain and Caleb recoiled.

Everyone was frozen in abject horror as Molly swiped at Caleb again. Caleb took a few steps back and fired another firebolt and it hit Molly. He cried out as the magical flame burned against his left shoulder, burning through his coat and bubbling his skin then turned to steam as the rain put it out. He dropped his previously iced scimitar and thrashed his tail in anger, wiping the rain from his eyes. Again, another bolt whistled through the air, going wide, and as Caleb whipped around, Molly slashed at his arm with his other scimitar.

Chapter Text

Caleb held out his hand, blinking against the dizziness threatening to consume him and a flame kindled, and he released it, aiming towards the woman with her crossbow. She rolled out of the way and loaded another bolt, and then turned as a cry ripped through the air.

It was shrill, tearing through the rain and mist, completely freezing everyone in their places. Caleb’s heart stopped. His eyes darted around frantically for the source of the cry. The woman had dropped her crossbow and was on her knees.

Caleb cursed as the back of his head met the ground and he met the red eyes of Molly, full of malice. His scimitar was at his throat, a small trickle of blood being washed away from the rain.

“I have no idea what your FUCKING problem is, but we are done here! Now you have one more person to apologize to!” Molly said through his teeth, every word dripping venom.

“…this is treason…” choked out Caleb and Molly scoffed.

“I didn’t realize an innocent person defending themselves was treason. You’ve royally fucked up now.” He sneered, looking towards his companions, concern consuming his face. As Gustav and Desmond approached, Desmond placed a hand on his shoulder. Molly flipped the hair out of his eyes and stood up and hunched his way towards the source of the crying.

Caleb glared at the rest of the carnival troupe, and then grunted as he pulled out the crossbow bolts and shakily stood up. He could easily arrest them all, he supposed the Crowns guard would be more than cooperative.

“Please forgive him…he uh…he uh…Gods…I’m sorry.” Gustav stuttered, shaking, his attention shifting from Caleb to the crying sound and back again. Desmond gulped and muttered something under his breath and Caleb huffed, shaking off their help. His head was throbbing from whatever the hell Molly had done, and his pants were sticky with blood.

His heart wouldn’t stop beating like it was going to burst.

Why was that crying so loud and distinct?

“Your ‘son’…is under…” he said, and then his knees buckled underneath him. He felt wet grass against his face, with hard stone jabbing his cheekbone and then his eyes fluttered shut.

----------------------------------------

Molly approached Nott carefully, trying to soothe the crying boy in her arms. Toya was clutching Kylre, and Molly wasn’t sure anymore if it was tears or rain on everyone’s faces.

Molly retched as soon as he saw Basket.

The poor boy had a burn running down the left side of his face and onto his neck. Molly could see his neck had received the worst of it and swore he could see the white bone of his chin peeking out beneath the blackened flesh. Basket was crying out in strangled cries and Nott was trying to shield him from the rain while simultaneously keeping him from touching the injury.

Molly’s mind went blank.

Caleb had gone from crossing the line, to flying hundreds of miles across it, and he knew the only thing keeping Nott from ripping his throat out was Basket in her lap.

“There’s a doctor in town…right?” asked Molly shakily, the words barely leaving his throat.

“…probably…” replied Nott quietly. Her entire body was shaking as she clutched to the toddler.

“Let’s get him to a doctor. Maybe they have a magic one!” urged Molly and helped Nott up, running as fast as they could towards town.

-------------------------------------

Nott knocked on the wagon door and then peeked her head in, seeing the Tiefling sitting in the corner. His knees were curled up to his chest and his forehead was resting on them, while his tail was wrapped around one leg. Nott saw the charred bits of his collar and holes from stray sparks.

She collapsed near him, wiping her swollen yellow eyes, now turning red. She lightly placed her hands on his coat, and he recoiled from her touch.

“Molly, Why didn’t you say anything? Let’s get you out of that coat…we don’t want the cloth sticking to your skin…” She croaked out and Molly didn’t respond as she gently pulled off his soaking coat and grimaced at the way the white shirt clung to the wound.

“Sorry Molly…” She said and used a dagger to slice the shirt, then ripped it down his back. He visibly flinched at the sound of the cloth ripping and sucked in a pained breath as she pulled it back.

“We need to rinse off your shoulder…” She said gently and Molly only nodded and followed her onto the wagon steps where she poured her canteen on the burn, slowly rinsing it with water like she had seen the town Cleric do. Molly hissed in pain, but Nott waved her hand over it to help it dry.

“Molly…what did he want to know?” she asked quietly and sniffled, and Molly didn’t respond.

“Molly tell me…If his people come looking for him, we need to tell them something. We all need to know.” She urged, the pain evident in her voice and he looked down at his shoulder. It would be a nasty scar.

She hiccupped as more tears streamed down her face.

It could have been much worse.

“He…he wanted to know…about a place called…Shady Creek run. He’s apparently…looking for someone…that looks like me…and he’s from there.” He said and shuddered, wiping his nose with the remains of his shirt.

“He didn’t believe me…when I told him I didn’t know. I got angry and when I left the wagon, he yanked on my tail.”

“That was very rude of him.” Nott agreed. “Do you think…?”

“Don’t finish that thought. I don’t care who that person is. He’s not me. I don’t deserve to have his baggage, I shouldn’t have to pay for his GODDAMN sins!” Molly yelled.
“Least of all Basket…” He said and rubbed his eyes with the heel of his hands.

“Speaking of?...” asked Molly and Nott nodded.

“My paint was beginning to run…and I told the Cleric I went to… grab some of Basket’s things…He’s uh…he’s not doing well…” She said and Molly pulled her into an embrace, ignoring the stinging pain as he stroked the sobbing goblin.

----------------------------------------

It was a distant sound, muffled and accompanied by the ringing in his ears.

“We’re just going to set him here?”

“I don’t think we’ll be doing a show tonight. Not until this bastard is gone.” Said another voice solemnly.

Caleb felt slightly warm, like a blanket had been thrown over him, however he was restrained. His heart began to speed up, reminded briefly of when he was a student, but a deep breath quickly remedied that.

These were circus people. They weren’t interested in experimental means of improving their students abilities.

He forced himself to open his eyes and immediately could see he was in one of the tents in the camp and sitting opposite him was a half orc with a well-groomed handle bar mustache.

“Hello.” He simply said and crossed his muscular arms.

“Who are you?”

“Bosun, they call me Bo the Breaker though.” He said and Caleb gave a halfhearted laugh. Bo shifted in his chair and leaned forward.

“Do you Inquiry folks find It funny to attack random people?”

“No, I prefer not to. However, I wasn’t done talking to him.” He replied and Bo shook his head.

Caleb looked at Bo and chewed his lip. He looked quite strong, and Caleb had no doubt he earned his title. However, Caleb doubted he was there to interrogate Caleb, more than likely he was to keep him from leaving.

Maybe Bo would tell him something Molly wouldn’t.

“Maybe you could tell me-“

“I am not telling you shit.” He said through his teeth, and Caleb frowned. He understood no one liked to fight, but he didn’t understand the complete and utter malice towards him.

“Why are you even talking to this asshole?” asked Molly as he entered the tent. He had his coat draped over him but was lacking his shirt. Caleb felt a little blush rise to his cheeks, like when he had seen Astrid nude for the first time, however the glare that he gave Caleb bored into his soul and It made Caleb’s stomach churn.

Caleb tried to meet his eyes but faltered. He had an imposing presence now, compared to when he met him in the tavern. His eyes were no longer filled with what Caleb could now recognize as childlike wonder, masked behind the jovial fortune teller persona. His had his tail carefully wrapped around his leg, but his clenched purple fist covered in tattoos betrayed his anger, as well as his restraint.

Without his shirt, Caleb could see how intricate his tattoos really were. The phases of the moon were on his knuckles, while a serpent emerged from a floral pattern onto his hand. Somewhere along his body was a peacock, part of its wing covered his pectoral, because it’s tail feathers ran up his neck and disappeared into his hairline.

Veronika hadn’t mentioned the tattoos because Nonagon hadn’t had any.

This man was Mollymauk Tealeaf.

Caleb closed his eyes and bit his lip.

“I…am sorry…Mr. Mollymauk. It was wrong of me to injure you…” He said and when he opened his eyes was immediately met by Molly’s red ones.

Caleb yelped and Molly grabbed his shoulder to steady him. His horn jewelry jingled as he cocked his head and Caleb winced as his nails dug into his shoulder.

“Oh, I don’t fucking care that you burned me, I’ve noticed I’m fairly resistant. I’m here cause you burned a Goddamn one year old.” Molly hissed out and Caleb gulped, pushing down a surge of bile. Bo closed his eyes tightly and his bottom lip began to bleed.

“Oh yeah, you fucking monster.” He spat out.

“…I’m sorry…” whispered Caleb and Bo stood up, the chair falling to the ground and punched Caleb square in the jaw. Caleb let out a pained gasp, his vision going black for a moment.

“You can tell that to the damn Lawmaster. They’re cleaning out a cell just for you.” Said Molly, a sadistic smile on his face. Molly released his grip on Caleb and walked over to Caleb’s coin purse that was sitting in the corner, weighing it in his hand, seeming to count something to himself.

“Take it all…” he choked out, pain surging through his jaw as he spoke and looked down.

“I think I shall. Excuse me while I keep his Mother from ripping you to shreds.” Replied Molly and Caleb felt like his heart had been torn from his chest as he heard the tent flap open and close again.

He stared down at the ground, counting the blades of trampled grass between one corner of his boot to the next while he waited.

It kept him distracted, listening to the patter of the rain upon the tent and the mind numbing task of counting the grass. It didn’t take long, Caleb was on the fifty fourth blade when three crowns guard entered the tent, each with a grim expression. The one in the front, judging by the stars on his shoulders, was the captain. His hair was graying on the sides, and he had an old scar that ran along his chin. He stepped forward and looked at Caleb then at Bo.

“He’s the one who burned the child?” he asked gruffly, and Bo nodded.

“Yes sir. He came under pretenses of just asking questions, attacked my Tiefling companion and a stray fireball hit the child.”

“It was a firebolt.” Corrected Caleb and the Captain shot him a glare. Caleb clamped his mouth shut.

“Where are his personal effects?” he asked, and Bo gestured towards the corner.

“He gave us his money.” Said Bo and the Captain nodded again gruffly.

“Very well. Johal, chain him up. We’ll send a letter to…” he began, and Caleb cut him off.

“Rexxentrom, although I suspect I’ll receive a message tonight or tomorrow, where I can inform them-“

“Did I say you could speak?” said the Captain and Caleb bit his lip. This man reminded him of Trent. He was all business, and his subordinates seemed if not equally professional, at the very least not intent on stepping on his toes.

He felt the hard clamp of the shackles around his wrists and then they untied him.

“I hope the child makes a full recovery.” Said the Captain and Bo nodded. He turned to Caleb.

“Especially if you expect to live.” he said and Caleb bobbed his head, portraying the same sentiment but felt nothing but hard steely glares from the entire troupe as he was led away.

He followed the Captain through the muck, a guard on each shoulder and kept his eyes down.

“As much as I would love to put you out on display in the rain, we do have to maintain some level of…courtesy…towards you wizards from the capital.” Said the Captain and Caleb nodded as they locked up his belongings and patted him down for any other magical items. As they locked the cell behind him, Caleb heard Wulf’s voice in his head, and he sighed.

“Caleb, did you find Nonagon? How soon will you be back?”

“It would be easier to explain if you came to Clare bridge…I’m also in jail.” He said, “Don’t tell Astrid.” He added quickly and then leaned against the wall, looking down at his palms. His stomach kept churning. After a few minutes, Wulf’s voice ran through his head again.

“I’m sorry, you’re in jail? Gods, Caleb. I’ll be there. Trent will not be happy.” He said and Caleb shuddered, his hand cuffs clanking as he rubbed the scars beneath his sleeves.

“I know.” He said quietly, unsure if Wulf even heard it.

Chapter Text

“You already held the trial?” he asked in disbelief, throwing his hands up in the air.

“Yes. The party involved runs on a strict schedule, and Mr. Widogast already admitted fault.” Replied the Lawmaster, her Guard Captain nodding. Wulf sighed and tapped his foot, some caked on mud falling to the tile.

“Where is Widogast? What’s his sentence and bail?” asked Wulf and the Lawmaster huffed and began to grumble as she pulled out a ring of keys to a locked cabinet. She retrieved a thick looking book and leafed through it, settling her finger on a page.

“Two years for unintentional injury to a minor and a 50 Gold fine paid to the party. Or a 200 Gold bail. He already paid the fine…and allowed them to keep the rest of his coin purse.” She said and looked back up at Wulf. Wulf crossed his arms and sighed.

“You are aware you are holding an Inquisitor in those cells? He helps to protect this empire. He can’t very well do that in one of those cells.”

“I have already explained to you his charges and admission of guilt. I would think someone of your position would understand the law.” She replied with a smug expression and leaned back in her chair. Wulf narrowed his eyes at her. Despite her attitude, he at least had to give credit to her commitment towards her job. He retrieved a copper wire from his pouch and rubbed it between his fingers, watching the other two in the room bristle. He rolled his eyes at them and continued.

“Master Ikithon, the sentence is two years or 200 Gold. Caleb already paid the due fine out of his own funds.” He said and waited for a response. The Lawmaster waited expectantly and Wulf perked up.

“I expect him in my quarters within five days.” Came Ikithon’s sharp voice. A simple order. Wulf chewed on his lip.

Caleb had already anticipated repercussions from Ikithon, Wulf knew that. Well, Wulf only brought 100 gold, and his spell components. He withdrew honey and a snake’s tongue from his pouch.

“I Suggest you erase Caleb Widogast’s name from your log books, including his corresponding sentence and charges. He will be leaving with me.” He said and the Lawmaster opened her mouth to protest but she only nodded and began scrambling for her paper. A quick wash of white out and the Captain reached for his keys with a scowl, Wulf gathered that was just his normal face, and led him down to the cells.

Wulf was pleasantly surprised to see the state of their jail.

Despite consisting of only four cells, two on each side, it was well kept, with fresh straw in each cell. There was a chamber pot in each cell and at the end of the hall, a large pump, most likely for drinking water or the occasional bath.

Caleb was at the far end, leaning against the wall and looking positively miserable wearing dark bags under his eyes. He had his wrists shackled and had his hair messily combed back, the grease keeping it in place. He scratched at his beard that was growing back in, and beneath that, Wulf could see a yellowing bruise. There were several blood stains in his uniform and even cut marks. Wulf sighed.

Gods, What had Caleb done?

“Guten Morgen Caleb.” Said Wulf and Caleb gave a weak smile.

The Captain unlocked Caleb’s cell. Wulf helped him up and he winced, a pained groan escaping his lips.

Caleb followed Wulf out and mounted his horse, following silently behind him until they got outside city limits.

“Okay, what the fuck happened Caleb? ‘unintentional injury to a minor’? Did you attack a man who resembled Nonagon who happened to be a child?” he asked and when Caleb didn’t respond Wulf pulled his horse in front of him.

“Caleb, I promise I won’t tell Astrid, if Ikithon hasn’t already told her, but you owe it to me to tell me.” Said Wulf and Caleb chewed on his bottom lip.

“…The man who I thought was Nonagon was just some circus performer…he looked like him, but he gave no indication that he knew what I was talking about. I…I crossed the line and a fight broke out. One of the performer’s children was burned by a stray firebolt.” He said and Wulf frowned, his heart clenching.

“What line, Caleb? Did you jump ahead of yourself?” he asked, and Caleb retreated inside of his traveling coat.

“…I may have pulled his tail…” He murmured and Wulf’s hands gripped the reigns tighter.

“Caleb…That’s…” he said in disbelief.

“I know, it was stupid of me. It was rude and uncalled for and I have no excuse when he retaliated. Even less when I hurt that poor child. Their security punched me when I apologized, that’s how angry they were.” He said, and Wulf could see the guilt in his eyes.

Wulf took a deep breath, calming himself.

“The child didn’t die, did it?” he asked, and Caleb shook his head.

“He survived, thank the Gods…I…I…” He began and pressed his head to the horses neck, taking in shaking breaths. Wulf placed a hand on Caleb’s back.

“…he was only a baby, Wulf. They said he was one!” cried out Caleb and Wulf opened his mouth to speak, but promptly closed it again.

“Come on. Master Ikithon wants you back in five days.” He said, tugging Caleb back into a riding position and ushering his horse forward.

Chapter Text

Standing by the tree, she looked up towards the dark clouds, roiling with lightning waiting to be unleashed. The rain was only just now starting to fall, small drops that speckled her pale cheeks. She closed her eyes and breathed in the fresh smell and when she opened them, saw the lightning strike, perhaps two miles away. The thunder that followed reverberated through her body like a drum.

“Go. Wait for them.” Said a booming voice in her head and she took a deep breath and began to run. Every rock and grass formed knot in her path threatened to twist her ankles, and send her sprawling, but she was a determined woman.

She sat down next to the singed ground, taking in the lingering smell of ozone and took some of the charred earth in her fingers and rubbed them together. The spot was perhaps 100 feet from the road in a clearing and several spots indicated it was a common stop along the road. There was a small path leading from the road and the remains of several campfires, along with logs that had been overturned to form rudimentary benches. There was a single lean to shelter of wood that had a small bed roll inside it, although it looked abandoned.

The sky opened up above her, freezing cold rain falling down and soaking her through. Lightning flashed in the distance and the thunder claps she took into her soul. She unrolled the bedroll and curled under the shelter, tucking under it as best as she could, before falling asleep to the comforting sound of the rain.

The skies were clear in the morning, with the grass heavy with last night’s rain, and she carefully gathered the water from a puddle and drank. Her stomach growled, but she pushed it down. She wouldn’t be able to start a proper fire with the ground as soaked as it was.

So she sat and she waited.

She listened to the occasional cry of a passing bird and watched a rabbit approach her warily before hopping away. It was a peaceful day, and she smiled in spite of the nervous feeling in her gut.

She remained sitting as the caravan approached and stopped, pulling off the road to surround the clearing. A half elf man dropped down and gave a slight bow.
“I hope we aren’t intruding upon you?” he asked, and she shook her head.

“Ah…no, I was just…no.” She said quietly and he smiled courteously at her before he returned to unpacking their caravan.

The group that piled out of the colorful wagons were just as colorful themselves. She flickered her eyes over each one, watching them laugh and stretch from an undoubtedly long journey.

“Do we have a new friend Gustav?” asked a purple Tiefling, dressed to the nines in various colors and jewelry and he placed his hand on the other man’s shoulder. He smiled down at her and whistled.

“Woah! I love your eyes! I’ve never seen one’s that are two different colors!” He said and she looked away.

“Molly, Why don’t you cut back on the flirting…” said Gustav, and Molly pouted.

“I wasn’t flirting! That was a genuine compliment!” He protested.

“It’s fine…” She replied and inhaled slightly as the Tiefling sat down next to her, immediately flashing her a smile.

“My name is Mollymauk Tealeaf! What’s yours?” He asked, extending his hand. She glanced down at it and gingerly extended her own.

“…Yasha…” She said quietly and Molly smiled. Her lips quirked up slightly. Molly turned his head as a hooded figure approached, wearing glasses with rose colored lenses. They were holding the hand of a small child and Yasha furrowed her eyebrows. The child had quite the nasty scar along his face. It warped his skin and she instantly identified it as a burn mark.

“Molly, who is this?” asked the figure, and Yasha guessed that it was probably a woman. Despite the croaky voice, there was a feminine tone to it.

“This is Yasha. Pure charm, I can tell.” He said and the toddler released her hand and wobbled over to Molly. Molly embraced him and the toddler looked over at Yasha with curiosity.

Yasha smiled slightly at him and the hooded figure stood at the sidelines, before walking away.

“Nott? Where are you going?”

“I’m painting my face…” She said.

“Momma!” cried out the baby and she turned around.

“Green is pretty.” He said and Molly nodded with a smile, causing the toddler to reach for his horns as they jangled. Yasha raised an eyebrow. Nott rubbed one arm and sighed, pulling down her hood. Yasha’s fingers twitched.

A goblin?

However, the child clapped as Nott picked him up out of Molly’s arms and touched his forehead to hers. Nott glanced at Yasha.

“What?” She asked and Yasha shook her head with a small smile.

“It’s nothing.”

It wasn’t long before the troupe had a large campfire set up and preparing dinner. Yasha watched as Nott and two others practiced an act a few yards away, while Molly kept the child, apparently named Basket, interested with his cards, appearing to tell a story with them.

For the most part, they moved around her, which Yasha didn’t mind. If this was where she was supposed to be, she should see how they acted when they ignored her.

It was when Molly stood up with the baby, now asleep in Molly’s arms, and held out his other hand to her that surprised her.

“Come on, Dinner’s ready.” He said and she furrowed her eyebrows in confusion.

“…dinner?” she asked.

Nott walked over and Molly gently shook Basket awake and passed him to Nott so she could take his hand and walk him over to the dinner line that had formed near the fire.

“Yeah, I bet they made extra tonight anyway.” He urged and grabbed her hand and pulled her up, having to exert a little effort to pull up the muscular woman. Yasha hesitantly followed him and waited at the back of the line where she was handed a wooden plate with cooked potatoes, carrots and formerly salted pork with a side of bread. Molly handed her some watered down ale and she and him sat next to Nott and Basket and ate.

“Potatoes gross.” Pouted Basket and Nott raised an eyebrow.

“Really? They were your favorite last night.” She said skeptically, the fork still outstretched, and Basket stuck his tongue out. Yasha smiled slightly.

“Basket, I don’t want to send you to bed hungry.” She said and as Basket tried to protest, she shoved the potato in and clamped her hand over his mouth. He pouted and chewed, eventually swallowing.

“Never mess with Mom.” Whispered Molly and Yasha nodded.

While everyone returned to their wagons for the night, Yasha stayed up, glancing around at the camp. She noticed that Mollymauk was doing the same.

“Keep watch with me?” he asked as he withdrew two beautifully crafted scimitars from his wagon. Instead of immediately putting them at his side, he looked around. He walked over to a spot of moon light and lay them down, before glancing up at the moon and closing his eyes. Yasha watched him curiously until he picked them back up and settled them at his side and found a comfortable spot at the campfire.

“…were you praying?” she asked, and Molly smiled.

“I suppose you could call it that. My swords are special. See how shiny they are?” he said and Yasha nodded, remembering how they had glinted in the moonlight.

“The blades were made in a special forge, only activated by the moon. I have to speak special words over them once a week to keep them magic.” He said and Yasha raised an eyebrow. He was looking around now, surveying the perimeter, but a smile was still on his face.

“I did not know swords like that existed. Where is this forge? I would like to have something like that.” She asked.

“Oh, it’s far up North. Gustav got them for me.” He said with another smile and Yasha laughed quietly.

“I am sure he did.” She replied.

After a moment of silence, Molly piped up.

“So, where are you headed?” he asked, putting his head in his palm. Yasha chewed on her lip, evaluating the Tiefling. The way the firelight danced across his features illuminated his face in almost a sinister way, however there was nothing but curiosity in his eyes. Yasha looked up at the stars and sighed.

“I do not know yet…I was told to come here…and wait for someone.” She replied and he nodded, waiting for her to continue.

“However, I think that they meant a group of people.” She said.

“We’re a group of people.” Responded Molly playfully and Yasha leaned back.

They sat in relative silence until another member of the troupe, Bosun, woke, ushering Molly to bed. Surprisingly Molly gave a quick hug to Yasha and then pranced off to his wagon, gently closing the door to it.

“…Is he always like that…?” asked Yasha and the half orc nodded.

“He’s a pretty friendly fellow. He’s taken a shine to you, that’s for sure.”

Chapter Text

The half orc hadn’t been lying when he had said Molly had taken a shine to Yasha. Whenever they stopped along the road to break for lunch or make camp for the evening, Molly was practically clinging to her side.

“You can sleep in a wagon, you know.” Said Molly one day, reclining in the grass and watching her pick flowers.

“…I am alright…I do not mind the cold.” Yasha said and watched Nott and Basket teeter up, the latter carrying flowers with stems broken in different places, with a few petals missing.

“Thank you little one.” She said as Basket practically shoved his handful of flowers at her. Basket waddled over to Molly and he giggled as he dusted Molly with a few stray grass blades.

These people were good.

“The show starts at Sundown?” she asked, crossing her arms.

“Yes, but we’ll need you before hand to keep an eye on the people entering and leaving…it’s rather fortunate you happened along us.” Said Bosun, grooming his mustache.
“Why is that?” She asked and he looked carefully in the mirror.

“Because apparently one person isn’t enough security…an incident happened last town over and Molly and Basket got hurt.” He said and Yasha chewed on her lip. She waited for him to speak more but when he didn’t Yasha only nodded.

“So roughly an hour before sundown?” She asked and Bosun nodded. Molly skipped up just then and clung to her arm, practically bouncing up and down.

“Come on Yasha, Nott and I are going into town and we’d love for you to come.” He said. Yasha saw from the corner of her eye a pale skinned Nott with the same rose colored glasses and a giant red hat. She had flyers tucked under her arm.

“I uh…I do not like crowds very much…” She said and Molly waved it off.

“All you have to do is follow along! I’ll tell my fortunes, Nott will give them flyers, and You can stand there being your beautiful self!” He said. Bo smiled encouragingly and so Yasha nodded and allowed Molly to grab her hand.

As they walked, Molly offered fortunes to anyone who would give him the time of day, while Nott passed around the flyers.

“Oh Molly! There’s the tavern!” said Nott, pointing at a depiction of a lantern and a tankard of foaming ale.

“The Gray Lamp Tavern…”Nott read out and Yasha followed them in a few steps back.

She briefly wondered how a goblin knew to read, but dismissed it.

The tavern was surprisingly empty, only a few patrons sat inside, nursing their drinks. The barkeep looked up and gave a smile and Yasha followed Nott and Molly to the bar.
“Good Afternoon Good Sir! I hope we aren’t intruding on your place of business.” Said Molly and the barkeep chuckled.

“Have at it, Here, hand me a flyer, I’ll post it.” He said and Yasha raised an eyebrow as Nott passed one over.

“Fan of the Circus?”

“I used to run in a circus ten years or so…till I met my wife. Settled down here. Circus life is tough, I get it.” He said sympathetically and gestured towards the rest of the tavern, giving Molly free reign of the floor.

Molly carefully counted the copper in his hand and then fished around in his pockets.

“Nott, do you think I’ll have time to get a tattoo?” he asked, and Nott took a swig of her ale, her small stature more obvious next to the taller woman.

“We have all week. Are there any parlors here anyway?” She asked and Molly tapped his fingers on the table.

“We can ask…Say, Yasha, do you have any tattoos?” he asked and Yasha gave him a curious look before pointing to the marking on her lip and chin.

“Other than that.” Molly smiled, raising his eyebrows suggestively.

“…no.” She said and Nott shrugged. Molly stood up and finished his ale, skipping back over to the barkeep, And before long Molly threw down some money and was out the door in a flash.

Nott tapped the flyers into a neat pile and climbed down from her seat.

“Did you want to chase after him or head back?” Asked Nott, and Yasha twiddled her thumbs.

“I do not know…actually, since he isn’t here, can I ask you something?”

“Go ahead.”

“He is very nice to me, but he hasn’t known me for three days…he isn’t flirting, is he?” asked Yasha and Nott blinked and thought for a moment.

“I don’t think so. I mean, Molly finds everyone pretty, but I’m pretty sure that’s just Molly being friendly. Is he making you uncomfortable? I can ask him to stop?” asked Nott, her eyebrows coming together in concern.

“Ah, no…I was just wondering if I should tell him I wasn’t interested or not.” She explained and Nott patted her muscular arm.

“Don’t worry, if Molly was interested, he would make it very obvious.” Said Nott and Yasha nodded and stood up.

“Alright. I think I want to go to the tent.” She said and Nott nodded, following Yasha out of the tavern and into the crowded streets. People parted as Yasha moved through them and Nott stuck close to her heels, and eventually saw a shiny pair of horns among some heads.

“There you ladies are! I have an appointment!” he sang out and Nott sighed dramatically.

“What one are you getting covered up this time?”

“The one on my neck, the one that narrowly missed being burned by that Bastard back in Clarebridge. I’m thinking of turning it into a sun! Like the one on my coat, but colored. Cover it up in plain sight. The artist even gave me a picture he drew. Told me to make some adjustments if I wanted.” He said and flashed a folded piece of paper.

“That’s a lot of ink Molly.” Said Nott carefully. “Besides, isn’t the flesh still tender…”

“If it hides the ugly thing, I don’t give a damn.” He said with finality and Nott seemed to smile in understanding.

Yasha wasn’t quite sure if they were referring to a former tattoo, or the burn mark, but Mollymauk seemed adamant about covering it up, so Yasha kept quiet, silently agreeing with Nott.

----------------------------------------

Nott tucked Basket into his bed and grabbed her crossbow, joining Yasha for watch around the camp. Nott walked around the perimeter, shifting in and out of the tall grass before returning to the center of camp. Yasha met her there and sat down on one of the logs, her great sword at her side.

They sat in silence for ages, each of them occasionally glancing to the side to check for other people, when Nott’s attention was caught by something scurrying in the grass. She jumped up and leaped at it, capturing the small creature in her hands and presenting it like a trophy.

“A rat! And it’s all mine!” Said Nott and Yasha seemed to perk up. Nott quickly twisted the rat’s neck and then skipped back over to the fire, taking a large bite of the rodent.
“…I did not know you liked rats as well.” Said Yasha and Nott paused.

“I used to eat them all the time, now they’re really only a snack.” She said and took another bite.

“Eating them raw doesn’t seem as appealing though. I definitely prefer them cooked.” Replied Yasha and Nott finished her rat and looked back over to the grass.

“I’ll go catch you one.” Nott said and before Yasha had a chance to protest, she hopped back down from her log and began to rustle through the grass.

She wanted to find a large one for her. She doubted Yasha would like a rat she could just pop into her mouth like a blueberry.

She needed one that took more than two bites.

She found one soon enough, nibbling on what Nott could only assume had once been a beetle at some point. It looked up at Nott and she reached out and snatched it before it could leave.

She presented it to Yasha like it was wrapped in a bow and watched a small smile bloom on her face.

“Thank you, Nott.” She said and briefly disappeared to the dining wagon to gut and skin the rat before returning to roast it. Nott watched her with interest as she dutifully turned the rat over to give it a careful roast.

The crickets chirped in the grass as they sat, occasionally stoking the fire and each occasionally standing up to do a pass around the perimeter.

“Nott?” asked Yasha and Nott perked up, looking over at the tall woman. She was quiet for a few moments.

“…I’ve seen Mollymauk carry scimitars around…is he any good or are they decorative?”

“Oh! He’s very good at them! I’ve seen him decapitate wolves, people, he can do this really neat ice trick-“

“Wake him up.” She said and Nott frowned at being interrupted but flicked her eyes around.

“….alright. His shift is coming up soon anyway.” She said and Yasha nodded, tightening her grip on her greatsword. Nott crept quietly over to the wagon, carefully opening the door and shaking her head at how Molly was sprawled across the floor, Toya across his chest. Nott shook his foot and he sat up, rubbing his eyes.

“mmm, my turn already?” He asked, stifling a yawn and began pulling on his boots.

“I think we may have company, Yasha wanted me to wake you.” And Molly reached for his scimitars and followed Nott out.

Nott walked back over to the fire and could see Yasha’s hunched shoulders. Once again she glanced around and saw nothing.

“Yasha, what is it Darling?” asked Molly, stifling another yawn.

“There are four people in the grass a few yards away…” She whispered and Nott and Molly looked around in alarm.

“We’re literally on the outskirts of the city!” hissed out Molly, and Nott placed her hand on her crossbow.

“They’ve just been watching us. What do you normally do?” she asked.

Chapter Text

Molly chewed on his lip as Yasha gripped her sword. He looked at Nott who already had her crossbow loaded.

“I say we invite them. They haven’t attacked us yet, and being this close to the city, I doubt they are bandits.” He said and stepped over towards the grass. He waded through the tall grass and rested his hands on the pommel of his scimitars, finally laying his eyes on the four individuals hiding in the grass. They all warily looked up at him and he flashed a smile.

“It’s warmer around the fire folks. Let’s talk a moment.” He said and grabbed the hood of one of the figures and dragged him along. He struggled against Molly, but Molly kept a tight hold of him until he was to the campfire.

“Well come on out! We aren’t going to hurt you.” He said again and Yasha readjusted her blade still casting a suspicious look towards the huddled forms. Molly watched the man’s three other companions follow reluctantly from their cover and stand a safe distance away from the Tiefling and his odd companions.

Molly could see now that they were all human, all clad in dark clothing. The one Molly had drug from the grass appeared to be the younger of the group and he nervously twiddled his thumbs and looked at his troupe.

“So, why were you watching us?” asked Nott, pointing her crossbow at the young man and he held up his arm.

“We uh…we ‘eard about what ‘appened in Clare bridge an’ ‘ow you got that Capital nut locked up. We were jus’ wonderin’ if you’d be interested in uh…helping do more good…” he murmured.

“We wanted to watch you all first…see if you were the right kind of stuff…”

“Stop right there.” Interjected Molly and he watched Yasha silently nod.

“The only reason he got thrown in jail was because he hurt Molly and my boy.” Said Nott and they did a double take at Nott before returning their attention back at Molly.

“What she said. I’m not interested, and I can tell you no one else in our troupe is either.” He said.

“But…everyone knows the Crowns guard abuse their power, ‘specially the big wigs from the Capital-“

“The ones in Clare bridge handled that situation very well, I think. But I’m currently working with my family. I’m the kind of guy that goes with the flow. I address problems as I find them.” He said and took a seat and began stoking the fire. The small group murmured amongst themselves.

“Fine, but if you’re interested in actively doing some good, go the Leaky Tap in Zadash.” Said one of them bitterly and Molly nodded in acknowledgment. When they didn’t move, Yasha cracked her knuckles.

“Go.” She said and they nodded quickly, running off and back the way they came. Yasha took a seat next to Molly and he leaned his head against her arm.

“can I just fall asleep here?” he asked, and Nott pinched his arm.

“No, you have second watch.”

Molly huffed but nodded against Yasha’s arm. He sat up as a thought occurred to him.

“Nott, do you think those were the people He was looking for?” he asked, and Nott froze in the middle of disarming her crossbow. He saw Yasha’s normally passive face show a hint of curiosity and Nott slowly shook her head.

“…no. I don’t think they would send someone that high up to find some…vigilantes. You said he was just looking for someone who looked like you? That seemed more important.” She said and continued. “They should be more careful about recruiting people though. We could just as easily turn them in for some coin, they even told us where to find them.” She said and Molly shook his head.

“Let’s not.” He said and Nott shrugged and slung her crossbow back to it’s resting place on her back.

------------------------------------------

The walls that were lined with books, spell components and various curiosities that Ikithon had collected over his many years seemed to press in on Caleb. The room always seemed to be smaller to Caleb whenever he was around Ikithon with an impending lecture.

“Aedowulf tells me you were in the Clare bridge jail, Caleb.” Ikithon said as he flipped through a spell book absentmindedly. The turning pages were deafening in the dead silence of the room and Caleb gulped.

“…Yes, Master Ikithon…I made a mistake.”

Admitting mistakes were better than hiding them.

“What mistake was that?” he asked. Caleb tightened his grip on his hands that were folded neatly behind his back.

“…The man I believed was The Nonagon was just a fortune teller for the Carnival. He didn’t know anything, and I was extremely rude and accidently burned one of the performer’s child.” He said and Ikithon closed the book hard, causing Caleb to flinch.

“Rude? Do enlighten me.” He said and fixed Caleb with a hard stare.

“…He became frustrated that I insisted he knew something…When he excused himself, I pulled his tail and we fought.” Caleb said. Ikithon clucked his tongue and stood up, walking over to his window. He looked out towards the courtyard and Caleb wished he would say something.

Continue the conversation, Anything to fill the agonizingly painful silence.

“I do not tolerate mistakes.” He said sharply.

“I understand, Master.” Caleb replied, hoping his voice was level.

“Why do I not tolerate mistakes?”

“…mistakes are flaws that weaken the Empire. You cannot guide people if you are flawed.” Caleb responded and Ikithon nodded.

“Correct. Do you remember what I told you before you left for Clare bridge?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. Caleb gulped.

“It is the job of a Master to guide his pupils along the best course of action.” Said Caleb. He could feel the sting of held back tears. Ikithon nodded.

“Precisely. It seems I must do that again.” He said and gestured towards a cabinet and Caleb gulped, nodding his head.

Caleb hissed as he struggled to pull his shirt off and stared at his arms, five new marks on each arm.

“Caleb, may I come in?” came Astrid’s voice from the door and Caleb winced at the concern interlaced with every word. He resisted the urge to pick at the tender flesh and focused on wrapping up his arms when another knock came from the door.

“Caleb? I’m coming in.” She said more firmly, and he heard the door creak open and the light clicking of her boots against the tile. He closed his eyes tightly as she embraced him from behind and pressed a kiss just below his ear.

“Schatz…you’re wrapping it wrong.” She said quietly and walked around, taking the bandages into her hands.

She wrapped his arms in silence, and Caleb was grateful for it, despite how uncomfortable it was. Astrid kissed his wrists when she was done and met his blue eyes with her brown ones, causing Caleb to look away.

“What happened?” she asked, and Caleb chewed on his lip.

It was an unspoken rule between the three of them that no one mention punishments.

Why did she want to break it?

“It is nothing, Perle.” He replied and Astrid sighed and took his face in her hands. He felt tears stinging his eyes as she brushed away some of his hair from his face.

“It doesn’t look like just nothing. You can’t even look me in the eyes…” She said sorrowfully and Caleb’s heart wrenched.

What was he supposed to tell her?

“I…ah…I cannot tell you. I’m sorry.” He decided on and Astrid leaned back and tapped her fingers on her thighs. She frowned and Caleb could see her fingers occasionally twitch.

“I can’t Astrid…please understand…” Caleb said, and he thought he saw understanding flash across her face, but he might have imagined it.

“Fine, move over. You look like you need a shoulder rub.” She said.

“I am fine Schatz…” He began, but Astrid shoved her way past him onto the couch and began working his muscles with her delicate fingers. He sighed, some stress melting away.

The guilt of hiding it from her still wriggled around in his stomach, and despite her attempts to make him relax, it lingered there spitefully. She kissed the back of his neck and he sighed, enjoying the feeling of her lips against his neck. Her breath sent shivers down his spine and every time her perfectly manicured nails glided over his skin, they left goosebumps in their wake.

He knew what she was trying to do.

If there was one thing that Astrid knew how to do was slip past a person’s defenses, usually through conversation. She knew Caleb well enough to know that he wasn’t going to talk through casual means.

Then again, Caleb was Hell bent on not speaking despite her pulling out her usual tricks.

He inhaled slightly as she nipped at his earlobe, still deeply massaging his shoulders and Caleb bit his lip hard.

“Astrid, please, I can’t tell you.” He said again, and she sucked a mark just below his hairline, where it would be hidden below his collar.

He wanted to tell her, and every time he felt her hot breath in his ear or her nails against his skin, he felt like he was betraying her. She may be doing this out of a small sense of bitterness or immaturity, but he wished he could tell her.

“Astrid, please stop.” He said and grabbed her hands, gripping them tightly. He looked up and saw her pouting, her eyes slightly red.

“Perle, understand, if I could tell you, I would.” He whispered and she tapped her forehead to his.

“…will you at least tell me why?” she asked quietly, it could hardly be qualified as a whisper it was so quiet. Caleb smiled guiltily.

“It is my burden to bear.” He said and leaned up slightly to kiss her. She smiled slightly against his lips.

“If you aren’t going to tell me, you can at least return the favor. Bending over a desk and documenting confidential potions and the applications there of has been awful on my neck.” She said and Caleb gave a halfhearted laugh.

“It is only fair. I am afraid It will be rather lackluster tonight though.” He joked, already feeling the ache in his forearms.

Chapter Text

He shuffled his cards mindlessly, staring out at the ever changing landscape and blew out a heavy breath. Yasha always came back, but he missed her fiercely when she was gone. He wondered how she was fairing in the heatwave that had suddenly descended upon Wildemount. The past month had Molly shirtless most days, which he didn’t mind in the slightest, it was the sweat he hated. He would bitterly have Nott rinse and pat dry his newest tattoo, a moon that lay right next to the sun, and hope the scab wouldn’t prematurely peel. Meanwhile Nott wore her muted traveling ensemble, but wore a white tank top, and grumbled because Basket had a hard time sleeping in the heat.

Molly felt tiny hands on his cheek, and they drew him out of his thoughts. He looked down at Basket, who had begun chewing on his fingers.

“What is it Darling?” he asked, quirking a smile. Basket reached for one of Molly’s cards and Molly quickly held it out of his way.

“Ah! I’ve told you before, you can’t touch these with wet fingers. You have to be gentle.” Molly scolded gently and found their leather case to tuck them back into. Basket frowned at Molly and Molly frowned back.

“Up.” He said firmly and Molly chuckled.

“Not right now. I got a new picture; my back is sore.” He said and Basket stomped his foot. Molly raised an eyebrow.

“meanie.” Pouted Basket.

“I’m mean? You’ve got quite the attitude mister. Where is your Mother?” asked Molly, smiling and pretending to look around. He could see Nott having a heated discussion with Desmond about the face paint. He stood up and stretched, and as he contemplated pulling on his boots, Basket yanked on his tail.

“Hey! Basket!” He said and knelt down, taking Basket’s hands in his own and looking him in his eyes.

“You cannot yank on people’s tails. It hurts and is very rude. I don’t care how upset you are, that is something you don’t do.” Molly said firmly. He saw Nott approach from the corner of his eye and could already feel the Motherly energy radiating from her.

“What’s going on?”

“I told Basket he couldn’t touch my cards with slobbery fingers, and my back was sore, so I wouldn’t pick him up, and he pulled my tail.” Said Molly and Nott turned her attention to Basket, who was still glaring at Molly. Nott took Basket’s hands from Molly’s and turned his face towards hers.

“Basket, apologize to Molly.”

“No.” he said, and Nott frowned.

“Basket. Tell Molly you’re sorry for pulling his tail.” She said firmly and when Basket stayed silent, Nott turned him around.

“Corner of the wagon.” She said and Basket reluctantly turned to face the corner.

“Terrible two’s a little early?” asked Ornna as she approached.

“He’s in time out. Another minute or so.” She said and looked back. Basket was still staring at the wood of the wagon, his arms crossed.

“You’re surprisingly good at raising kids.” Commented Ornna and Nott chewed her lip.

“I…have raised them before…”She said quietly and Molly cocked his head, and when Nott didn’t elaborate, he left it alone.

Everyone had things they didn’t like to talk about.

After another minute or so, Basket mumbled out an apology and hugged Molly’s leg.

“Just don’t do it again, alright, friend?” said Molly, patting the curly locks of the toddler.

-------------------------------------------------

Yasha found the Carnival again easily enough, stopped near a pool that branched from one of the smaller rivers in the area. She found Molly quickly, swimming lazily in the cool water, his wildly colorful body giving him away. Nott sat on the banks, holding Basket’s hand as he jumped in a puddle, her hair pulled into a crown of braids.

“There she is.” Said Ornna, kicking her feet in the water, slightly hidden by laundry that had been set out to dry and Yasha gave a small wave.

“Hello. Just a short errand.” She replied and Ornna shrugged and splashed some water at Molly. He returned it and stuck his tongue out. Yasha sat down beside Nott and watched Toya take a running start, wearing a simple blue dress and a similar hairstyle as Nott, and cannonball into the water.

“Where are the Knot sisters?” asked Yasha quietly, spotting a tiny posy and pocketing it for later.

“In their wagon. Yuli’s got a cold, so Mona’s taking care of her.” Said Nott and let Basket sit down in the puddle, giggling as he dug his hands into the mud.

“Yasha! Come on in!” called Molly and laughed as Toya clung on to his back, dragging him down a bit. After a moment of contemplation, and the devilish yet somehow childlike grin from Molly, she stripped down to the barest minimum to keep some modesty and walked in to the cool water. Molly grinned as she waded over to him.

“Are you having fun, Mollymauk?”

“Always Darling.” He replied.

“Nott, why don’t you come in?” asked Yasha and Nott furiously shook her head, almost scooting further up the bank.

“I am fine right here.” She said and Yasha cocked her head.

She supposed everyone had their own fears.

As the sun slowly descended in the sky, Yasha sat next to Molly and sharpened her sword while Molly leaned against her arm and shuffled his cards.

“Did you want to sharpen your swords too?” she asked quietly, and Molly paused.

“I could try…I don’t know if I can sharpen magic swords…”He said and Yasha just shook her head.

“You know, Nott told me about your little ice trick…” She said and Molly looked offended.

“Oh yes. I can show you how to sharpen your “magic” swords.” She said and handed him the whetstone. His tail flicked and Yasha assumed it meant he was happy, she was still getting used to everyone’s different personalities, but Molly seemed fairly easy to read.

He liked to tell stories to people, especially strangers, but he didn’t get angry when people called him out. Just shrugged and continued on his way.

He was strange, but pleasant.

Yasha watched him as he sharpened his swords with surprising dedication and when he was done, Yasha went to fetch a small tree branch.

“Slice at it like you would a foe.” She said and stuck it in the ground, taking a step back. She smiled as Molly sliced the branch clean through with his right sword, and before it could fall to the ground, his left sliced through it again. He gave her a wide smile, looking down at the sharp glass overlay.

“That is quite impressive Darling.” He said.

“A sharp blade is much deadlier and easier to handle. It is difficult to kill things with a dull blade.” She said and Molly raised his eyebrows.

“Yes well…”He began and flipped his swords upside down, balancing the tips carefully on his index fingers.

“I suppose blunt blades don’t carve up my fingers when I do this, either.” He said and then swiftly righted the blades.

“That is quite impressive, Mollymauk.”

“I keep telling you to call me Molly.” He insisted and Yasha couldn’t help but smile at this ridiculous contrast to herself.

She supposed that made them friends then.

---------------------------------
Caleb carefully tucked the pouch full of gold into his bed side drawer, pushing it towards the back. He chewed on his thumb as he leaned against his head board and took a heavy breath.

312 gold.

312 gold that he had to decide how to use.

*If there is a ring on her finger before I say so, that Archmage position will be gone so fast her neck will break.* and Caleb winced at the memory, feeling the electricity run through his blood.

*If you tell her, that position will be gone. Do you understand?* and he put his head in his hands.

312 gold.

A ring for later or…

Caleb dug the heel of his hands into his eyes and took a heavy breath.

No, that would be treason.

Caleb was not a treacherous individual. He was a loyal citizen. He uprooted traitors and dissidents, stopped false idol worship and…

And Caleb was trying to convince himself to stay.

*Do not trust Trent.* That voiceless command and simultaneous warning from the doppelganger in his dream sent a shiver up his spine.

He was well beyond trusting Trent.

*Whatever haunts you, you can’t run from it. Go to the person or people you hurt and talk to them, ask for forgiveness. Search for a way to make amends.* Mollymauk’s encouraging and sure voice made Caleb’s heart clench and throat close up.

How do you ask for forgiveness from the people you killed?

Caleb stood up and walked over to a chest, waving a hand over it and muttering an incantation and opened it, peering down into its contents.

There it contained a few of his childhood possessions, from what he had brought with him when he first became a student.

There was a Zemnian fairy tale book, the spine worn with use and age with one of the pages ripped and poorly mended.

Beside it was a stack of bound letters from his parents over the years, telling him how proud they were of him and how excited they were for him to visit. Even after he discovered their betrayal, he couldn’t bear to part with the letters. He could tell how much effort his Mother and Father had gone to writing them. His Mother wasn’t as literate as his Father, so while her script was neat, there were several misspellings. In contrast, Father’s script was virtually chicken scratch.

In one corner was a stuffed toy cat. It was an orange one and he had had it since he could walk. Somedays he would pull it out and hold it, still able to smell the fading scent of dried herbs his Mother had placed in the stuffing to help him sleep. It closely resembled the barn cat they had, the one that had run away after the fire, Frumpkin.
Make amends.

Caleb replaced the cat and locked the chest, then stood up and headed towards town.

Chapter Text

Caleb carefully cleaned the fabric, finding the small stains from years of being dragged around by a child and threw away it’s stuffing while it dried. He examined the sprigs of dried lavender and chose one, clipping the stem and set it aside. When it was finally dry, he stuffed it with fresh wool and placed the lavender inside, and carefully sewed the toy cat back together. When he was done, he set it in front of himself and leaned back in his chair, pondering the renewed toy.

There was a sense of joy at the result, and sadness with why he was doing it.

He had made a mental list of what he could do. It was a long list, and he knew that nothing physical like money or toys could fix what reckless behavior he wrought on the boy or Molly, but he thought he might be able to unbend some of the dents he had made to these strangers.

Now he just had to find them.

Ikithon had restricted him to paperwork. Monotonous research and signing of death warrants of traitors that no one else knew about. Wulf consistently brought back news of tensions in the East near Xhorhas and while Caleb silently endured Ikithon’s now passive aggressive punishment, he listened to Wulf scribble away at ways to keep the public out of the loop.

The two of them had taken to working in the same office. Despite few words aside from the occasional-“Shit, where’s the blotter.”- and –“Caleb, what time is it?”-, they worked in silent companionship. Caleb rubbed his face and blew out a breath, sliding down in his chair. Wulf looked up from his work, returning his quill to it’s stand and gently blew on the drying ink.

“Caleb, what’s wrong? Are you still upset about Clare bridge?” he asked and crossed his arms. Caleb evaluated his friend and debated telling him his fears. It had been over a month now, and it surprised Caleb that Wulf had even brought it up.

“I will admit I am still…wallowing in some guilt, but that is not the only thing on my mind.” He said carefully.

Knowing Ikithon, he probably would have Astrid and Wulf keep an eye on him.

“Have you considered what I told you? About Astrid?” he asked, and Caleb sighed heavily.

“Why are you so insistent on it? Why can’t it wait, oh, a year or so? I want her to be…settled into her new office…besides, if what your intel on the border is correct, than any of us could very well be going to war or-“ he said, an edge to his voice as he began to ramble defensively.

“Gods Caleb. I’ve only asked you twice now, and that’s only because I want my friend to be happy. You look like you love her, and she looks the same, so I thought you should propose. That’s it.” He said and Caleb avoided his eyes.

He didn’t need Wulf’s sincere concern about himself and Astrid’s relationship status, versus Ikithon’s explicit restriction on that status hovering over Astrid’s newly gained Office. He didn’t want Wulf to think badly of him, but Caleb already had his hands full.

“…Just please…drop it. I’m not ready for marriage…and Astrid…just forget about it.” he said, and Wulf watched him for a moment before nodding his head slightly and returning to his respective paperwork.

If Wulf was keeping an eye on Caleb, hopefully that was within Ikithon’s satisfactory responses.

-------------

Nott rubbed her eyes, sitting alongside Molly and Yasha and took a deep draft of her tankard, trying to drown out the bickering of Gustav and Ornna.

Nott hadn’t remembered passing through the next few towns the first time, but apparently Ornna was dead set on not going the second time. She supposed she could have been more focused on tending to Basket and disguising herself than keeping track. Molly had no commentary on the subject, and Yasha carefully placed some scavenged flowers into her book. Nott watched idly as Toya lay in the crook of Kylre’s arm, looking uncomfortable at the tension within the troupe.

Nott briefly looked back at the wagon, seeing if Basket had roused from his nap and then took another drink.

“What’s the town called again?” Nott asked and Molly flipped a card, looking up at the bickering carnies.

“I think it was called Trostenwald? I don’t pay attention.” He said and shrugged. Yasha raised an eyebrow.

“Why don’t you pay attention? I would think that would be important.”

“I can hardly read a map Dear. I’m not going to keep track of the hundreds of towns we pass through.” He said and Nott snorted.

“He has a terrible memory anyway.” She said and when Molly shot her a look she snorted again and took another drink, finishing off the ale.

“Sorry, I couldn’t pass it up. It was too easy.” She said and Molly sighed.

“Alright, that’s fair. I’ll give you that one” He conceded. He flipped another card and Nott glanced over.

“What stories are they telling you today?” she asked.

“I asked them why we shouldn’t go to Trostenwald…It gave me the Reversed Hierophant. So, I thought I’d ask for clarification. I got the Wheel of Fortune…also reversed.”
Nott raised her eyebrow and Molly stared down at the cards. He tapped the Wheel card on his chin.

“It’s saying that someone’s personal beliefs will cause bad luck…or something will break a cycle. There will be some resistance to some sort of change…but freedom? I don’t get it…” He said, scratching at the base of his horns.

Molly quickly flipped another card and chewed on his lip.

“An anvil? That’s something to do with destiny, right?” asked Nott and Molly nodded.

-----------------------------

“Someone’s destiny will be wrapped up in it, that’s for damn sure.” He said matter of factly. He looked back at Ornna and Gustav, who had separated to fume several yards from each other. He looked at Kylre and Toya, Toya chatting with the large lizard man. He looked at Nott and Yasha, and furrowed his brows looking down at the cards lying on the bright green grass.

The Reversed Hierophant, the Wheel of Fortune, also reversed…and the Anvil.

When Molly didn’t continue the conversation, Nott stood up and stretched and went to the wagon to check on Basket.

Normally, the answers came easily enough to him.

He may have asked mundane things in the past, and made up wild stories for his customers, but none the less, the answers came easily.

For some reason, this one stumped him.

By all means, this looked relatively positive, if slightly odd. A little bad luck happened on occasion, and Molly wasn’t opposed to a little change of status quo. Why was it bad to go there then?

Maybe it spelled disaster for the circus, or maybe someone might get hurt?

Someone’s destiny would be kickstarted though.

He huffed, and reshuffled the cards, then paused, a third question popping into his head.

He did a final shuffle, closed his eyes and held his breath before flipping the card. His breath hitched.

The image of a man and woman kneeling before another figure was reflected in his crimson eyes.

Chapter Text

“Forat, that flame is too hot, you might be able to save it if you turn it down.” She said as she passed by the Dwarf. He nodded and focused, rechanneling the weak flame. She turned to the student to his left and nodded.

“Excellent work Tonya.” She said, seeing the progress the young woman had made. Tonya seemed to stand up a little straighter at the praise and removed it from the flame. Astrid continued walking and observing her class of fifteen students, taking note of the prodigious ones. There were only two at the top of the class, and Astrid had yet to determine the tie breaker, then another three right behind them. The other ten were average and she really only cared that they pass her class.

There was one student in particular that caught her eye though, and it wasn’t because he excelled or was exceedingly poor in the subject. He often eyed her with suspicion and whenever she lay her eyes on him, he challenged it.

Astrid had asked about his qualifications with the Acceptance Department, and he passed with mediocre scores and an interest in evocation. He had just barely made it into the start of the first semester too.

An aspiring War mage then. Most war mages focused on their primary study, usually evocation with a secondary, typically abjuration or transmutation. Which didn’t explain why he was taking an alchemy class.

She did teach basic health potions, however most war mages relied on the suppliers and Clerics for them.

Suspicious.

Perhaps she would talk to him over a cup of tea.

“There, this should be steeped well enough.” She said and moved her vermillion sleeves slightly out of the way as she poured the tea.

“Mmm, thank you, Master Astrid.” He said as he took a tentative sip. Astrid did the same and then set her cup in her saucer.

“Now, I wanted to talk to you about your studies. I am curious as to why someone interested in Evocation magic would pursue studies in Alchemy. Do not get me wrong, I find it a fascinating subject-“ She laughed, and he smiled in response. “But it strikes me as odd.” She said and sipped her tea again.

“To be honest, I wanted to watch you.” He said and then paused, furrowing his brow.

“Why did you want to watch me?” She asked, suppressing the smile that threatened to break across her face.

“Because you used to be an Inquisitor and a colleague of mine went-“ He coughed and clamped his mouth shut. He looked down at his drink in confusion, and as the realization dawned on him, Astrid quickly drew a piece of iron from her sleeve and said the spell. He quickly froze and stared at her in wide eyed horror. She stood up and walked over to his side of the table, resting her hand on his dirty blonde hair and tapping her fingers on his head.

“Was your colleague named Brandon perchance?” She asked and he opened his mouth but clamped it shut. He made a small choking sound.

“You can’t lie to me Den. I made the tea extra special.” She said and his eyes flickered from the porcelain cup to her face, his lips trembling. Astrid tutted and leaned down, speaking in just a whisper.

“I think you and I need to have a more private chat.” She said and he whimpered in response.

She waved a hand and two of the Assembly guards entered the room, moving to stand on either side of Den.

“Please take him below to the right wing. Any free cell will do. I’ll be there once I finish cleaning up.” She said and the guards nodded and pulled the paralyzed man up by his arms. She could see him trying to resist the spell, to no avail and she simply raised her tea cup and drank from it.

Why let a nice cup of tea and an Elixir go to waste?

The guards stepped aside from the cell door as Astrid approached, her Inquisitor garb swishing slightly as she moved. As the door locked behind her, Den looked up with tear tracks lining his face.

Pathetic.

“Now Den, you are going to tell me the truth, because I like hearing the truth. If I think you’re lying to me, I will do you things you definitely won’t like. Do you understand?” She asked and Den nodded furiously.

She didn’t feel like using magic today. She figured Den would be easier than Brandon or Veronika. She wouldn’t need to do much.

“The colleague you mentioned, his name was Brandon Patterson, Ja?” she asked, and Den paused for a moment then nodded, sniffling.

“Why did you come to Soltryce?”

“My Leader sent me to track down Brandon. He hadn’t reported back for over a month, so he sent me. Even when I asked around, no one knew who I was talking about.” Responded Den and Astrid nodded.

“Why are you still here after a year then? Isn’t it possible he ran away?” She asked innocently, looking at the stone wall.

“Brandon wouldn’t do that. He’s too loyal. Besides, you clearly know about Brandon.” He said firmly.

“You’re not wrong. Brandon was quite loyal.” She said casually, glancing back at Den. He gulped, seeming to sense her following statement.

“We tried starving and dehydrating him…kept him in a small dark room…broke his friend’s hand, killed her husband…we tried several spells too. He ended up chewing out his own tongue before we executed him.” She said, shrugging and watched Den’s face pale.

“I hope we don’t have to do that to you too. I have work I have to do, and I do hate to waste time.” She said and then gripped his chin, allowing her nails to dig into his skin.

“So, I expect to hear everything about your friends up top…I want to know who they are. I want to know where they are and why they think undermining the Empire was a smart decision.” She said and watched as tears welled up in Den’s eyes.

Chapter Text

Caleb brushed the hair from Astrid’s face, watching her chest slowly rise and fall as she slept.

Again, the money in his bedside drawer flickered to the forefront of his mind. He had enough to buy a beautiful ring and when he had been out shopping for the various material to repair the stuffed cat, his eyes had settled on one.

It was a rose gold, with the smallest rose he had ever seen made of opal and the leaves were made of silver. The lady who owned the shop was a Dwarven jeweler, so he had no doubts whatsoever to the integrity of the craftmanship of the ring. She had told him it was 275 gold, with the matching ring for him, the rose and leaves engraved, included.

An amazing deal indeed.

So much conflicting emotions filled his entire being. His fear of Astrid rejecting him had been replaced by Ikithon’s threat. A single word from Ikithon and somehow, he would rip away everything she had worked hard for. It may have only been a few months, but she had worked hard to distinguish herself among the other wizards competing for the vacated position. Her plan had even worked, she had found someone that was in league with Brandon. She hadn’t told him all the details, but it must have gone well if she had gone right back to her classes the next day.

He couldn’t let Ikithon rip that from her.

He could always hide the ring away. Keep it until the time was right.

No. Caleb could admit he was filled to the brim with fears stemming by wild dreams justified only by a cheap card reading. He could admit he was feeling guilt over hurting some innocent people to prove a point to a traitor or strictly by accident. Ikithon had always taught the three of them to endure pain. It made you stronger, after all. Caleb may not like it, but If that meant playing by Ikithon’s rules to prove he was strong and reap the rewards, then he would do it. It was twisted logic, but Caleb knew doing so would show Ikithon he hadn’t gotten completely under his skin. Caleb had to lie to Ikithon.

If Astrid could juggle being an Archmage and help them and Wulf could go to the frontlines and still report back, then Caleb could handle some guilt and set Ikithon’s threats aside. He was just acting like a child.

Astrid shifted in her sleep and rolled onto her side, snuggling deeper into her blankets. Caleb smiled at her and pressed a kiss to her temple before leaving the bed and running a bath. She hadn’t been pampered in a while.

Ikithon called Caleb to his office and Caleb repressed the heavy sigh and surge of reflexive bile that had become more frequent than in the twenty years Caleb had known him. He had to give a stone face and listen to Ikithon. That’s all he had to do. Ikithon left you alone when you didn’t make mistakes and when you listened and only punished you when you failed, and you had to earn your way back up.

It would be an easy task.

“It’s nothing urgent, just a series of small checkups. Ultimately I need you in Felderwin.” Said Ikithon and Caleb nodded.

“What do you need me to check in on?”

“There are several towns along the way. Zedash, Alfield, Trostenwald, a few hamlets and then Felderwin. All I need is for you to assert the Empire’s presence. I have Wulf doing the same in the North, as he’s going along the border and to Blade Garden. The people must know that the Empire is strong and more importantly, the Cerberus Assembly is strong. Even the Cobalt Soul is peeking their head out from their library.” Said Ikithon.

“So, I am to go from these towns, address the law masters and move on?”

“Yes, provide ransoms for dissidents and false idol worship, opportunities for people to search for traitors themselves. Gold is no object, control and use their fear. Suggest people to enlist in the army. Finally, in Felderwin, I have an object they are researching. I just need you to check on its progress and bring Astrid back a sample a local Alchemist we enlisted should have. I doubt it’s complete, but none the less, I would like to see it’s progress. You should be able to do that?” asked Ikithon, a hint of mockery in his voice. Caleb nodded, ignoring the insult.

Play by his rules. Be his little errand boy.

“Understood. I will depart tomorrow then.” He said and Ikithon dismissed him.

Travel would be a nice change of pace. He wasn’t overly fond of camping, but he had a spell that made it significantly easier. Besides, Ikithon had him doing this alone. So, he had loosened the leash a little. He supposed it was a better alternative than what Wulf was doing.

A quick trip through a Transport Sigil into the Trispires in Zedash and then he would be gone for nearly two months, provided he only stayed for two or three days in each town. He rubbed his face. Gods, he would have to report to Ikithon every time he reached a town and update him. If he left tomorrow, he should reach Trostenwald by the 16th. Then it would be over a week before he reached Felderwin, which didn’t have a sigil.

He looked over to his desk and saw the stuffed cat sitting there. It’s black button eyes reflected the candle light and almost seemed to plead with Caleb. He stood up and picked up the toy, holding it with great care in his calloused hands and then began to pack.

----------------------

Yasha helped Bosun fold the enormous tent and placed it neatly within it’s cart, following it up with it’s large support beams and collapsible center pole.

“We’re going to Trostenwald after all?” she asked and Bosun nodded, wiping his forehead.

“Yeah, Gustav and Desmond have the final say, after all. Should be there in a week or so. The Lawmaster there wasn’t keen on having us the first time, and Ornna doesn’t think we should tempt fate, but business is business.” He said and Yasha nodded. She had a gut feeling that it wouldn’t be a good idea. Ornna’s protests mixed with Molly’s unusual responses to his cards made Yasha uneasy. Yasha had seen enough of Molly to know he sometimes fudged the readings for customers, but when he was alone, he seemed to take it very seriously. She didn’t know if it was a reliable way to ask questions, but maybe his Deity communicated to him through them like the Stormlord did for her when it rained.

She looked around for the Tiefling and found him balancing his swords on his fingertips and making Basket and Toya clap for him. He did an exaggerated bow and when he saw Yasha looking at him, winked. Yasha crossed her arms but smiled at him anyway.

After a quick lunch of sandwiches, they left the town and Yasha felt that nervousness settle back into her stomach. She ran her fingers across her belt to where her symbol of the Stormlord lay and looked to the clear skies. She couldn’t even smell the scent of rain she had learned to detect.

Maybe it was just foolishness that had Ornna on edge.

“What are you thinking about Yasha?” asked Molly, sidling up next to her in the wagon.

“I was wondering if it was going to rain…I think not.” She said and Molly raised an eyebrow, following her gaze into the clear sky. Not a single cloud crossed the bright blue canvas above them.

“Have you thought about what you’re cards were telling you?” she asked next, and Molly blew out a heavy breath and leaned against the muscular woman. She had learned that Molly was also a very tactile person. He sometimes fell asleep cuddling the toddler, which Nott found adorable. While Nott didn’t hold his hand like he did with Basket, she didn’t protest when he lay his head in her lap, allowing her to put flowers in his hair. He just liked to be touched. Nott had whispered that he might have a fear of being alone for too long. They were like their own family inside of the Carnival family.

“Yes, and I’m not sure if I like it…I did a reading for a man in Clarebridge, the same one who gave Basket that burn.” He said bitterly and Yasha nodded, seeing the little boy in Nott’s arms, both of them dozing off in the noonday sun. While the burn was healed, the scar would remain. It might fade a little with age, but it would remain.

“…one of his cards was the Judgement card, and I pulled it when I asked the cards if he was going to be there…now, in his reading it was reversed, so I’m not sure if I’m right there…” He said and Yasha watched him twiddle his thumbs.

“You think we may see him there, though?”

“Yeah. Why would he be there though? We had him locked up in Clare bridge. If Nott sees him, I have no doubt she’ll try to kill him. Hell, I wanted to kill him.” He said and sighed heavily. Yasha patted his hand.

“If he is there, I think we can handle him. I’m pretty strong, you know.” She said and Molly smiled.

“I have seen you cleave a log in half.” He conceded.

“I have cleaved many people in half as well.” Replied Yasha and Molly chuckled.

“I trust you. I know I wouldn’t want to be on the other end of that sword Dear.”

-----------------

Nott had gotten tired of the arguing.

Ornna would throw a sharp word at Gustav or Desmond, and the Twins would sit together in their own personal space, and only speak in hushed whispers. Like always, Toya sat in Kylre’s arms and slept in the same wagon as Molly, Nott and Basket, but what few words Kylre said were now only reserved for Toya. Toya didn’t speak unless someone else spoke to her. Yasha was still very quiet, but she still seemed put off by the troupe’s charged atmosphere.

Even Molly seemed affected by it, the ever positive Mollymauk would stare at the passing scenery while he shuffled his cards absent mindedly. Nott wouldn’t have taken notice, because Molly loved looking at new things, except that his tail twitched nervously the closer they got to Trostenwald.

“Molly, why is everyone so nervous about Trostenwald? Ornna’s feisty, I get that, but it’s spread now.” She asked as she placed her crossbow over her back and settled in for watch with him. Molly stoked the fire and adjusted his swords.

“…I don’t know Dear. I think it’s just that Ornna’s negativity has spread. It’ll be fine.” He said and Nott narrowed her eyes at him. She thought she saw Molly avert his eyes from her.

“…Then why are you nervous about going? Have your cards told you anything else?” she asked, and Molly slowly moved his tail behind him.

“No. I’ve just been trying to interpret the last reading. It’s still puzzling me.” He said and Nott’s lip twitch and her frown deepened as she studied the Tiefling from across the fire. He wasn’t letting on that he knew anything beyond the general group’s attitude, but Nott couldn’t help but feel like he wasn’t telling her something. Embers rose up into the sky as Molly stoked the fire and then stood up, doing a quick pass around the perimeter.

She wondered if Molly had figured out what the cards had told him, but he didn’t want to tell anyone else.

No. She knew he wasn’t telling her something. She wasn’t stupid. He hid his tail, and while his eyes were a solid red, in the time she knew him she knew that his head slightly moved, similar to a person avoiding eye contact.

She just didn’t know what.

Chapter Text

She messily pulled her hair into its bun and checked the mirror, squinting at her reflection then shrugging and ran her hands over the prickly sides of her head, where she had shaved it. Her makeup hadn’t smudged that terribly in her sleep. She looked across the room at the blue Tiefling companion she had made last night and shrugged, getting down onto the floor and starting her morning routine. If she woke her up, she wouldn’t apologize. She didn’t mind an early morning sweat, and she heard her companion begin to stir as she finished her 50th pushup and began her crunches.

“What are you doing?” she asked sleepily, blinking her eyes open. She had an accent that she couldn’t quite place, although she knew it was from the Menagerie coast.
“My morning…routine…Jester….you should…try it.” She said between crunches, enjoying the burn of her abs as the sweat dripped down her stomach and forehead. Jester stuck her tongue out.

“I’m already pretty strong, Beau. I don’t need to work out.” She said and then flexed her arms. Beau had to admit Jester had impressive arm muscles, Even through her night gown, Beau could see their definition. She wondered how she had gotten them if she didn’t work out. She also noted that Jester had a nice figure, and although Beau preferred ladies with more muscle, she could appreciate a nice skinny frame.

“Suit yourself.” She panted and then did a somersault, balancing on her arms and stretching her body as straight as she could.

“Oooh, that’s reeeeally cool!” admired Jester, sitting down and reaching into her pack. Her tail flicked excitedly as she took out her sketchbook, well-worn and nearly filled to the brim as Beau had seen and began sketching the monk.

“Don’t move…I’m almost done….”She scolded as Beau began to shake and Beau bit her lip and hardened her muscles. She hadn’t put her bracers on yet, so the wood floor dug deep into her bones. She obliged Jester though and when Jester announced the drawing was done, she returned to a normal sitting position and sighed in relief. She looked at the drawing and whistled and Jester sat up straighter, doing a tiny dance where she sat.

It was incredible for a drawing that was finished in less than five minutes. It looked anatomically correct and Jester had even included some shading.

“I’m gonna go to the washroom and wipe myself off.” Said Beau and then heaved herself up, groaning slightly.

“Good idea, you do smell kind of stinky.” She said, her nose scrunching up, the freckles dotting her cheeks moving as well, and Beau smiled in response. Jester then began to add some festival poppers to the corners of the page, shooting confetti over the figure of Beau.

Jester was adorable.

“Why don’t you go check on Fjord? I’m sure he’s awake by now.” She suggested.

“Ooh good idea! Maybe he changed his mind about the circus!” She said, referring to the semblance of a colorful tent being put up last night, and quickly got dressed into her dress, pulling on her boots and armor and then her horn jewelry along with the other various accessories she wore. Beau internally thanked herself for wearing such simple clothing. Jester briefly looked in the mirror and then skipped down to the next door and knocked. Beau shook her head and walked the opposite direction towards the small washroom.

There was still a bruise on her leg from that giant snake they had fought yesterday, but Jester had healed her pretty well. Most of the healers she had met were serious Clerics that worked with the equally serious monks and Beau frowned at the thought as she ran a wet rag over her body. The only thing she really liked about that monastery was that they had no problem letting her punch things into the ground.

So, having a happy go lucky cleric who half-heartedly scolded you with a smile on her face was a nice change of pace.

As she left, she could hear the low drawl of Fjord talking to Jester. Another accent from the Menagerie Coast.

“I’ll meet ya’ll downstairs for breakfast, just lemme get dressed.” Said the green and scarred half orc, running his hands through his hair, passing over the small gray streak that ran through it. That satisfied Jester, and she smiled at Beau as she skipped down the stairs to order whatever the tavern served for breakfast. She could smell it wafting up from the kitchen, the scent of fried meats and possibly fresh bread awaited her stomach as it growled.

---------------------------------

Fjord closed the door as Jester skipped away, and then began to buckle his armor. It was comforting to have it on, despite being in a town. Even Jester seemed to have a similar ideology as she had put hers on too. He stood in front of the small mirror and pulled down his lip, looking at his tusks. They still hadn’t grown past his lip, so he would leave them alone for now. His tongue ran over a particular deep groove in the left one and it lingered there for a moment before he reached for his sword and slung that across his back. A quick glance around the room for any belongings he wanted to bring down with him and he walked down the stairs to join the ladies.

When he jogged downstairs, he found Beau leaning back in the wood chair, chewing on a particularly fatty piece of bacon and listening to Jester speaking emphatically about the circus. Jester perked up as soon as she saw him and grinned wider, her tail swishing happily as he sat down.

“So, Fjord, Beau said she’ll come with me to the Circus, but I think you should come too.” She said and Fjord sighed. He wasn’t keen on sitting still for too long. He really wanted to get back on the road to Rexxentrom. He wasn’t exactly sure how to get in, but he doubted anyone on the outskirts knew.

The sooner he could get to Rexxentrom, the sooner he could find out about his powers.

“I bet it’ll be reeeeallly fun Fjord! Like, they’ll probably have dancers, ooh maybe a lion! That would be totally cool.” She said and took a bite of a bear claw, then quickly took a drink of her milk. Fjord thought for a moment, chewing on a nail then sighed heavily.

“Fine, I’ll come with. It can’t be that expensive.” He said.

“I will totally get us in if we don’t have enough. My momma gave me looootttts of money.” Said Jester confidently and Beau snagged another piece of bacon and jammed it in her vest pocket.

“What the…?” asked Fjord.

“What, you’ve never had pocket bacon before?” she asked defensively, and Fjord raised an eyebrow.

“Can’t say that I have…” he said slowly, and Beau shrugged. Jester didn’t seem to notice, so Fjord looked away, focusing instead on the plate Jester had reserved for him, a healthy helping of hash and fried ham and bacon and a bear claw she had spared from her pack.

“Thank you, Jester.” He said and picked up his fork and began eating. It wasn’t the best thing he had ever eaten, but it was certainly better than the road rations they had been eating for the past week.

It wasn’t long before a man approached their table, his hat in his hands and giving them a nervous, but cheerful look. Fjord sat up straighter, as did Beau and Jester.

It was the man they helped yesterday, Rinaldo, if his memory served him correctly.

“Might I sit, Please?” He asked, fiddling with his hat.

“Of course, take a seat!” said Jester, gesturing to the empty fourth chair at the table. He bobbed his head and scooted his chair out, nervously fiddling with the brim.
“I want to thank you for your time, Fjord and uh, I apologize, I forget your names…” He said, glancing over at the ladies.

“Beauregard.” Smiled Beau, and Fjord shivered. She needed to work on that. He barely knew her, but he could tell she wasn’t used to doing any sort of smiling.

“Beauregard…and?” He asked.

“Jester!” she replied eagerly.

“Jester, thank you. You all came when no one else would yesterday, and because of you my… daughter is still alive.” He said, choking up a bit as he looked at them all.

“Oh yeah, sorry for being a pessimistic asshole, by the way, when we first came in to town-“ Began Beau.

“Oh, that’s ok.”

“-I’m not used to things turning out good…so…” She said and Jester snorted. He nodded.

“You’ll do well this side of the Empire. Anyway…I won’t keep you, but I-We spoke yesterday and…I didn’t have much to give you…Sent you away with nothing but my gratitude…But I’ve been asking around the other fishermen, lochs men, and we’ve put together a little bit of coin for your troubles…” He said and Jester gasped, looking at Fjord and Beau. Fjord blinked in surprise as Rinaldo turned his cap over onto the table, dumping coins onto the hard wooden surface. It looked like it was mostly copper and silver, but Fjord could see some gold pieces lying amidst the small pile. A few people in the tavern turned their heads, the clattering of the coins catching their attention. With his hands, calloused from hard work, He pushed the coin pile towards them all.

“I hope it’s helpful…but thank you.” He said, tugging his hat back on to his head.

“Yeah, yeah…oh wait.” Began Beau, seeming to catch herself mid excitement and turned towards Fjord.

“We can’t accept this right? I mean it’s too much.” He said, turning back towards Rinaldo, who looked confused.

“We’re supposed to at least say that, right? And then still accept it, right?” she asked.

“I think you’re supposed to do it if you say it…” He said carefully.

They had helped Rinaldo out without even knowing if there would be a reward. Fjord could admit he had been hoping for something, but he wasn’t unhappy that he walked away with nothing.

Now there was all this coin on the table and he couldn’t help but be flustered by it.

------------------------------------

Jester looked seriously at all of them, a thoughtful frown on her face.

“Well, I mean, He did go around to a bunch of people. That was a lot of work on his part. I would hate to make him go back to all of those people and give it back to each individual person.” She said, rolling her eyes and gesturing towards the coin and then to Rinaldo, and Beau held her arms up, surrendering. Fjord did the same.

“Fine, Fine.” Finished Fjord. Jester pushed a blue lock behind her ear and nodded, glad that that was settled.

“If he didn’t keep a ledger, you know. We wouldn’t want to do that. It’s rude not to accept a gift, right? It’s rude not to accept a gift, right?” she asked, looking around at the three of them for some sort of confirmation. Jester nodded.

“I would hope that is the case, Anyway…Thankyou very much. I am sorry for getting in your way.” Finished Rinaldo and stood up, slightly straightening his jacket, giving a final nod before leaving the tavern.

“Beau, Beau, Divide it up.” Urged Jester, pointing towards the coin pile. Beau nodded and scooped them towards her, pushing her breakfast plate away and began sorting out the coins. Jester bit in to her pastry again and watched Beau sort, occasionally glancing around at the tavern occupants. Most of them had returned back to their food and drink, the distraction that Rinaldo had unintentionally caused now gone. Beau was counting on her fingers and frowning.

“How do you split up four gold? We have four gold and there’s only three of us.” Said Beau.

“Well, I actually did pretty good at that card game, so you can have mine.” Suggested Fjord and Beau and Jester nodded in unison and Beau returned to dividing up the gold, occasionally stopping and having to scoot a coin over to another pile as she corrected herself. Jester giggled as she watched the monk, seemingly so intent on ensuring everyone got their fair share of the spoils. Fjord seemed to be scanning the room and then he perked up. He nudged Beau and she looked up.

“What?”

“Those are the same colors as those Crowns Guards, right?” he asked and jerked his head over towards a red headed man sitting at the table adjacent to them sipping his drink and looking casually over at them. Beau raised an eyebrow. Jester turned to look as well.

The ginger was wearing black traveling clothes, but had a cloak draped over his chair with gold trim and a vermillion lining, while black gloves rested on the table. His buttons seemed to be engraved with a symbol of some kind, and Jester could only assume it was a crest of some sort. He had a dimple on his chin and the most striking blue eyes she had ever seen, almost matching her skin tone.

“Yeah, looks like one of those mages though…let’s see, twelve…”She said after staring for a moment, then resuming her counting and Jester watched Fjord’s eyes light up.
“Are you staying here?” asked Jester quickly, leaning over the table before Fjord could get a word out and the ginger leaned back a little, clearly startled. She saw Fjord smile a little at her and Jester smiled back.

“Ja, uh yes…I am staying here…Can I help you?” He asked, setting his tankard down. Jester nodded furiously.

“Yeah! You’re a mage, right? I have like, a question, for my friend.” She said, and Fjord smiled at him. He raised an eyebrow.

“Ok…”

“We were like, wondering if you knew anything about the Soltryce Academy?” she asked, her tail flicking and Fjord had to hold his hand up to keep it from hitting him in the face. He nodded slowly.

“Ah yes…I attended there and work in conjunction with them. What can I do for you?” He asked and Jester stood up and skipped over to his table. Fjord seemed to hold his hand out almost to stop her, but Jester was already sitting next to the mage and smoothing out her dress.

“Ok, so my friend wants to attend the Academy, but he isn’t sure how to like, get in. So, we were wondering if you could tell us or like, help us…” She said. He furrowed his brows at her, seeming confused by the question.

“Well…umm…That depends on what you wish to study…we have many different classes on the schools of magic. Do you have any particular talents at all?” He asked, turning from Jester and focusing on Fjord.

“I’m sorry, how rude of me. I’m Fjord.” Fjord apologized and extended his hand.

“That is alright. I am Caleb Widogast.” He said and shook it firmly. “Anyway, back to the topic at hand.” He said.

“Well, I discovered a few months ago I could do some magic…I didn’t know of anyone else with similar powers as myself, so I thought I’d come lookin’ for the Academy. It’s famous for magic.” He explained with a smile, trying to read the man’s expression. His eyes had narrowed a bit, but it didn’t seem to be a glare.

More like he was studying Fjord.

---------------------------------

Caleb looked over Fjord, from his eager yellow eyes to his scarred face and piece mail armor. He looked more like a mercenary than a spellcaster. Then again, Wulf looked more like a soldier than a wizard, so he shouldn’t be too surprised.

A brief puzzle would be healthy before visiting the local Law master.

“Well, perhaps we can figure it out now. Does magic run in your family?” he asked, going into Inquisitor mode. Fjord shrugged.

“I wouldn’t know…” He said and he nodded, rubbing his chin.

A possible orphan then, unless his parents valued physical combat over magic.

“Does your magic manifest typically in combat, like Evocation or Abjuration, or are you able to Enchant people? What are your powers specifically?” he asked, and the human woman narrowed her eyes at him. Now that he noticed, she was wearing blue and grey monk robes.

Perhaps she was escorting him?

“Why so curious? Can’t just tell him how to get into the Academy?” she asked, a hint of condescension in her voice. Caleb leaned back.

Maybe not escorting him.

“He asked and I am offering help. It is very difficult to get into the Academy and a very long trip, so perhaps giving you a step in the right direction and through some book learning, you may be able to find some answers.” He said and Fjord held out a hand, trying to soothe his companion.

“Now, Now Beau, it’s fine. I can do a decent amount of damage with it, if that helps…” He said and Caleb thought for a moment. Most Sorcerers that Caleb had heard of relied solely on their bloodline, and it wasn’t unusual for their magic to manifest randomly.

Wizards studied magic, craved that knowledge and frankly were bookworms through and through. Even the War Mages that went to the front lines or patrolled the Cerberus Assembly’s grounds and worked at the Academy as a form of law enforcement were quite eager about their books and spells.

Their talent for magic came from learning their spells, not as a fluke. He would have mentioned learning more spells rather than about his powers…

“You Bastard.” Said someone in disbelief, their voice lightly accented and Caleb’s heart dropped. His hands went clammy and he felt his throat close up. Fjord and his companions turned towards the voice and Caleb stared at the wood table, feeling nothing but the seething hatred emanating from the colorful figure not fifteen feet away from him.

Chapter Text

Molly had left the camp that morning with only Yasha, Nott promising to catch up after a brief meeting between all the performers. Gustav had wanted to try something different, and since Molly and Yasha weren’t technically performers, they skipped out. Gustav had asked them to be back within two hours though, after the flyers were gone.
Molly had gone into that Tavern with his normal jovial, carefree attitude, ready to tell some fortunes, hand out flyers and maybe flirt a little.

He had wished he had stayed behind.

Widogast was staring at the wood of his table, frozen as whoever he had been talking to now had their attention on Molly and Yasha, and to Molly, he looked scared.
“How did you get out of there?” he asked, restraining the urge to make a scene. If Ornna already had her misgivings about returning here, he wasn’t going to get them kicked out the same day.

“I take it you two know each other?” asked a green half orc, and Molly grimaced, pushing down bile and turning to look at the group. There was a human woman and a blue Tiefling with him, whose eyes were wide with wonder. He’d be able to play with that later.

“Is he bothering you? I’ll be more than happy find my friend, she’ll have a lovely time removing him…” he said and heard Yasha crack her knuckles.

“I can do that too.” She added and Widogast visibly gulped. The group looked from Caleb back to Molly and Yasha and Caleb seemed to shake off whatever shock had hit him when Molly had first strode in.

“Hello again, Mr. Tealeaf…” He said hesitantly his accent seemingly thicker and Molly narrowed his eyes. Caleb held up his hands.

“I’m uh…this sounds…strange but I’m actually glad I ran into you here…” he said, and Molly raised an eyebrow, trying to discern what Caleb meant. The human woman seemed amused by the scenario.

“Why is that? I thought We made it very clear we never wanted to see you.” He said and ignored the whispers to his side.

“Ah…Because…I have something…for that little boy…I can go get it.” He said and immediately stood up, navigating through the chairs and tables filled with patrons and heading up the stairs towards what Molly assumed were the bedrooms for rent. Molly sighed and turned to look at the group, putting on a smile.

“Sorry about that folks! Anyway, you all look like you need some fun, I think we all do in fact after that, So!-“ He said and pulled out one of the many flyers, handing it to the half Orc in the armor.

“My name is Mollymauk Tealeaf…of The Fletching and Moondrop Traveling Carnival of Curiosities! If you want to see sights you’ve never seen, feel things you’d never felt, and by Gods, hear tales you’ve never heard before, you should come to the Carnival tonight!” He said, watching them pass the flyer around.

“We saw your tent going up last night!” announced the blue Tiefling.

“We were gonna go without the flyer, but like, now we also have a flyer.” Said the human, and Molly wasn’t quite sure if she was being sarcastic.

“It’s a steal, only 5 Copper, at 5 Silver it would be a steal, Hell, 5 Gold would be a steal! Worth every penny. If you’ve got the coin to spend, we would happily have you all tonight. He announced and the blue one turned to him.

“Do you perform?” she asked.

“Ah, I’m less of a performer and more of an…intermediary for these parts…I do on occasion perform…I can read fortunes.” He offered and flashed his tarot cards. She gasped.

“I was just going to ask if you read fortunes! Can you do one now?” She said excitedly, quirking up an eyebrow in curiosity. Molly smiled.

“I knew you were going to ask that.” He said, playing along and she clapped.

“Oh my gosh, you’re so smart. Look at this guy he knows everything.” She said to her friends. Her human friend seemed to protest but Molly ignored her. Then the half orc piped up.

“Ah, your friend is back.” He announced and Molly sighed heavily, turning towards Caleb, who looked slightly disheveled. Molly was about to say something snarky, but then his eyes landed on the thing in Caleb’s hands.

He was holding it so reverently, like he was almost afraid it would disintegrate if it moved too much, and when Molly looked at his eyes, he looked like a small kid, like Basket when he asked for sweets after dinner.

“I…it used to be mine, when I was a child…but I fixed it up, My mutter used to put lavender in it to help me sleep so I did as well…” He said in one long breath and Molly didn’t know how to respond.

It was just a toy.

Caleb was treating it like it was more important than that.

The way Caleb’s shoulder’s dropped lower every moment Molly failed to respond struck a chord in him, driving harder that thought.

He shouldn’t be feeling bad. Caleb had hurt him and Basket. He had somehow gotten out of jail, and the Judge had been very firm on her sentencing. One of his friends bailed him out, then.

Molly didn’t think Caleb was lying when he had said it was his. The toy looked slightly rough around the edges, so while it looked clean, there were some places where the seams were puckered more so than the others.

“….I understand if you don’t want to give it to him…but I had hoped…I want to follow your advice, as a way to apologize…which means I need to do this.” He said and Molly was taken aback.

“I…” He looked nervously around him at the group that Molly had been addressing, and at the few patrons that cared enough to pay attention and bit his lip.

“I don’t have very many people in my life left I can ask for forgiveness from…however you and that little boy I can. You don’t have to, but I do ask that you take this to him, and tell him I’m very, very sorry…” He said and sat the cat on the table next to Molly before twisting his hands around and heading back upstairs. The half orc whistled after a moment of awkward silence and turned to look at his companions.

“…What did he do…?”

“That is a secret.” Said Yasha and Molly was grateful for her interference.

He wanted to let the whole world know how awful Caleb was. How he had insisted Molly was someone else, that he had attacked him and injured Basket in the process. That despite going to jail, his friends up top still bailed him out.

Molly felt bad though…

He liked to think he was fairly good at reading people, he relied on it for his fortunes. So, when Caleb hadn’t reacted to his fortune telling, he had been a bit put off. He was almost certain he was right, because he hadn’t fudged that one, there was no slight of hand, the cards pulled were pulled by Caleb alone, and Molly hadn’t lied about the meanings.

Caleb had called it silly.

Was Basket the reason he wanted to make amends, or possibly the cherry on top?

So many questions flooded Molly’s head, it was dizzying. He stared at that stuffed toy cat and with every thought that filled his head, he couldn’t help but believe him.

He hated it.

But Molly didn’t want to stop someone from bettering their life either.

That wasn’t fair.

He felt a large hand on his shoulder and looked up at Yasha, who was furrowing her brows.

“Are you alright Molly?” she asked, and he gulped and nodded.

“…yeah…I think we ought to get back…we have a gift to deliver.” He said and she stood up straighter.

“Alright then.” She said and Molly scooped up the toy and bowed to the misfits.

“We look forward to seeing you tonight, the show starts at Sundown!” He said and left the Tavern with the toy stuffed in one of his many coat pockets.

----------------------------------

Nott waved Molly over as he and Yasha approached and eyed the flyers still in Molly’s hands.

“Nobody wanted our flyers?” she asked and Yasha rubbed the back of her head.

“Ah no, that’s not it.” She said and Molly chewed on her lip. Nott’s gut clenched and she looked at the rest of the troupe, getting ready for the small parade through town Gustav wanted to try. Yasha’s face was as stoic as ever but Molly seemed like he was fighting over something.

“…ah fuck it. We saw Widogast in the tavern.” He started and Nott clenched her fists and bared her teeth.

“What?!”

“Hey, Nott, I think it’s ok…he got Basket this.” said Molly, attempting to soothe the goblin.

“It used to be his.” Added Yasha and Molly held out an orange cat doll. Nott glared at it and snatched it, turning it over and looking for any sign of a trap on it.

All that she could smell was lavender.

“I won’t let him near Basket!” she shouted, and Molly knelt down and put his hands on her shoulders, trying to steady her.

“Hey, hey. That’s why he gave me the toy. He wanted to apologize but thought that words weren’t good enough. So, he gave us one of his old toys. It was one of his favorites, I think. Right Yasha?” He asked and after a moment Yasha nodded.

“I think so.” She said simply and Nott looked from Molly to Yasha and then to the toy in her hands.

She felt like it wasn’t good enough.

No apology or gift would be good enough to undo Basket’s hurt.

Undo her hurt.

He had hurt her two boys, and no amount of words or toy cats was going to fix that.

Molly gently took the toy from her hands, uncurling her clawed digits and ruffled her hair with a sympathetic smile.

“Let’s give it to Basket.” He said and Nott glared at the Tiefling but led him anyway to the cart where Toya was brushing her long blonde hair out, keeping an eye on Basket as she did so. She perked up and smiled when Nott climbed into the wagon.

“Mama.” Said Basket simply and she let him sidle up next to her and lean against her side.

“Hey Basket, guess what I got you.” Said Molly, sitting on the edge of the cart. Basket’s eyes lit up and Molly handed over the toy. Basket turned it over in his small hands before squeezing it and immediately began chewing on the soft fabric the ear was made of.

Nott brushed some of Basket’s curls from his eyes, revealing the burn mark that marred his cheek, chin and neck. It was healed, still pink and discolored, but he didn’t wince if you touched it anymore.

“Do you think he was really sorry?” asked Nott, not bothering to hide the edge in her voice. Molly was silent for a moment before he nodded.

“I think so. I’m willing to let him have a second chance…He’s apologized to me and he gave up something he loved for Basket. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like an apology.” He said and Nott stared at Basket’s scar, the toddler blissfully unaware of the conversation as he chewed on his new toy.

“Come on you three! We have a parade to do! Molly juggle those fancy swords of yours!” called out Gustav in a jovial, but commanding tone and Nott kissed Basket on the forehead.

“We won’t be gone long, ok? Stay in the cart and enjoy your toy.” She said and Basket gave her a hug.

“I’ll stay with him. I’m just the muscle anyway.” Said Yasha and Nott smiled crookedly as Yasha sat next to him and kept her sword out of reach.

Chapter Text

“Well that was mighty interestin’.” Said Fjord and Jester sighed, placing her cheek in her palm.

“She was awesome.” Commented Beau, referring to Mollymauk’s tall female companion as she leaned back in her chair.

“She didn’t say much…” said Jester, furrowing her brows as she looked at her and Beau nodded.

“Yeah, that’s why I liked her.” She replied.

“Did you see that thing on her chin?” asked Jester and she drew a line with her finger down her bottom lip and down her chin and Beau smiled, tapping Jester on the shoulder and nodded.

Fjord just listened to the girls talk and read through the flyer. It listed ‘fantastic sights’, ‘brilliant stories’ and ‘unforgettable experiences’.

No sick or elderly were permitted though.

“So, what did you want to do until Dusk?” cut in Beau and Jester looked expectantly at Fjord.

“Oh uh…I still was hoping to talk more to that mage...despite that whole debacle.” Said Fjord, crossing his arms. As if on cue, He saw from the corner of his eye the Capital War mage descend the stairs with some letters in his hand and he briefly glanced at them before continuing out the door. Jester seemed to notice and stood up.

“Did you want to follow after him?” She asked and Fjord rubbed the back of his head, thinking.

He could really use some more advice and possibly a letter of recommendation.

“Sure, let’s see if we can flag him down.” He settled on and Beau nodded and stood up, letting Fjord lead the charge.

The streets were still fairly empty, and it was a simple task to follow Widogast to the Northern end of town, towards the Lawmaster’s Hall. Now that Fjord was paying closer attention to him, he walked with an easy air of confidence, his black and vermillion cloak trailing slightly behind him.

It seemed like he had shaken off the encounter with that Mollymauk character easily.

Caleb opened the door and then gave them a sort of perplexed look before holding the door open for them.

“Do you have business with the Lawmaster as well?” He asked, and Beau crossed her arms.

“Nah man, Fjord just is suuper interested in that school.” She said and Fjord smiled, attempting to downplay the annoyance in Beau’s tone.

Why was she acting so standoffish?

“Ah, well, let me attend to my business and then we can hopefully get you taken care of.” He said and turned around towards the clerk. He seemed to immediately recognize him, or at the very least, the robes and immediately stopped whatever they were doing to help him.

“Ja, these just need to be reviewed and posted. Courtesy of the Cerberus Assembly and of course King Bertrand Dwendal.” He said and the clerk nodded, accepting the letter and pieces of parchment. Beau grimaced.

“I will be sure she gets them once the court hearing is done.” They said and Caleb smiled and then turned to Fjord and gestured for him to follow.

---------------------

Caleb waited for Fjord to follow him outside and slightly around the corner so the few guards wouldn’t hear. He was a little annoyed that the monk kept giving him the stink eye, but Fjord didn’t seem to mind, so he could push it away too.

“Now, I have thought a little about your…curiosity regarding your abilities. If you did not discover them through book learning, or you do not have a significant relation to magic in your family, then that only leaves one other option.” He said carefully. Fjord raised his scarred eyebrow and waited expectantly.

“The simple answer is that The Academy will not be able to help you…we do have a library that is exclusive to students that may help, but that would be in the history section I suspect.” He said and after a palpable pause he sighed heavily.

He had better things to do than indulge warlocks.

“If you are so intent on understanding your powers, speak to your patron, Mr. Fjord. My warning is that they will no doubt try to trick you though. The Soltryce Academy will not be able to help you.”

“Or refuses to.” Scoffed the monk and Caleb bit back a comment. Fjord looked back at his friend and it was the Tiefling who piped up.

“That was really helpful Mr. Caleb! I hope you have a great day!” She said and took Fjord’s arm and dragged him away.

“Yeah, uh Thanks!” he called out and the monk eyed him for a little longer before following behind them.

*Even the Cobalt Soul is peeking their head out from their library.* came Ikithon’s voice from the back of his head.

Caleb ran his fingers through his ginger hair, then took out a copper wire and muttered under his breath.

“Astrid, would you remind me the primary reasons the spy students gave for attending? I think we need to add another filter.” He said and waited.

“Both had an interest in Evocation, Den took Alchemy to watch me. What filter do you suggest?” replied Astrid, her voice peaked in interest.

Caleb weaved his hands around the wire again.

“Anyone who displays interest in…ancient powers, please have the historical department be very selective.” He said and pocketed the wire and stepped back onto the streets.

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Beau kept at least one eye open for Caleb as they toured through the town, Fjord seeming amicable to her suggestion of touring some of local breweries, minus Baumbach, of course.

She had never liked authority, and Caleb practically interrogating Fjord, then outright refusing him any help into getting in to the Academy. It made her blood boil, knowing that a War mage out here in the middle of nowhere could deny Fjord any help. It also pissed her off because He seemed suspicious of Them.

The various ales and meads of the different brewery’s helped set that aside though.

When the three of them stepped outside, and the cool air hit her face, she briefly grabbed the door frame and then looked up as she heard the sound of a fiddle coming from down the street. The source of it was a procession of bright colored individuals, most with smiles on their faces, led by a man in a long tail coat.

Jester was visibly excited, tugging on Beau.

“The Circus people!” She said and Beau nodded, trying to placate the jumpy Tiefling by patting her hand.

Two halflings in bright purple and green body suits handed out flowers to the children in the growing crowd, and flyers to the adults, one of them even winking.

A bald man in face paint played the fiddle, accompanied by a half orc with an impressive and well groomed handle bar mustache beating a drum in an upbeat duet.

She spotted the Tiefling, Mollymauk, juggling some scimitars, balancing them on his fingers and twirling them, pretending to drop them but catching them. Jester clapped as she watched, and Beau huffed.

Behind Mollymauk was a dark skinned woman with almost impossibly bright red hair doing an almost out of place dance, elegantly moving to the beat of the music, before she displayed a candle that roared up in her hands. People were clapping and pointing in awe at the troupe and following behind was the tall woman that had accompanied Mollymauk, her arms crossed with a scowl on her face as she looked over the crowd.

The townsfolk of Trostenwald followed them towards their large, blue tent as the sun began to set.

“Didn’t He say the show started at Sundown?” asked Fjord and Jester nodded.

“Yeah, but like, they usually have like, stuff to do before the actual show sooo…” She said.

None the less, they followed, Beau unadmittedly just as eager as Jester to follow.

They wound through the fishing district around the Ustaloch, some Crownsguard trying to keep some semblance of order through the surge of people drawn towards the fresh excitement.

The closer she got, she could see white streamers adorning the tent, flapping gently in the breeze and suddenly, it was just the townspeople crowding the area around the tent. The performers had all seemingly vanished into thin air, save for one, grinning lavender Tiefling and that Tall, muscular woman walking towards them.

“Molly! Molly! Molly! Hey!” called out Beau, and Fjord covered one ear at her shouting.

“Oh, it’s my favorites, hello.” He said and put his hands on the pommels of each of his scimitars.

“We came!” announced Jester, waving at him with a bright smile.

-----------------

“I’m so glad you came to see the show tonight, it’s going to be great.” Molly said, looking them all over. They looked mildly buzzed, from the redness of their cheeks, and he had to admit, the half orc had a winning grin.

“It’s going to blow you away. You’re going to love it.” Yasha said, completely deadpanned.

“Yasha is pure charm.” He said, looking up at her and his tail flicked happily. He noticed the human in blue seemed particularly focused on Yasha.

Who wouldn’t be?

“First show of a round’s always the best, without fail.” Molly asserted and Yasha nodded.

“Where are the best seats?” asked the woman.

“Well, I’m always partial to the front,” Molly said, gesturing to himself. “Then you’re right in it if something goes wrong, then there’s nothing between you and whatever terrible, bloody mess is going to happen. Oh, it’s just the best.” He said, waving his hands and nearly hitting Yasha in the nose. She deftly dodged out of the way, barely flinching.

That’s what Molly loved about her. Nothing caught her off guard.

“Wait what?” she asked.

“Nothing, nothing, you’re fine.” Soothed Molly with a wicked smile on his face.

“It’s going to be great, but before you go in, I do have to give you all a pat down, ‘cause you can’t go in with any weapons.” Said Yasha, crossing her arms.

Chapter Text

They all looked at Molly and Yasha with confusion and disbelief and Molly shrugged.

It was policy.

Molly turned his head as Gustav’s head peeked out from one of the tent flaps and he pointed at Molly and Yasha, his hat flopping to one side.

“You two, skip ahead quick. We need to go ahead and set up. Looks like we’re already having quite a few people excited to come here, so at the door! Interior to set up!” He said, pointing to Molly and Yasha respectively and rubbed his hands together, then paused.

“Actually, you know what? You’ll be on card duty. We need a little extra change on the side.” Said Gustav, subtly moving his chin towards the camp. “Alright folks! we are excited for your patronage! Enjoy the night air, we just need another few short minutes to set up!” he finished as he addressed the whole crowd.

“Card duty it is.” Sighed Molly and walked over to the blue blanket on the grass Gustav had pulled out and sat himself down. He had hoped he wouldn’t have to get right back to work so soon. He never even got to do a reading for the band of misfits, who honestly looked like they belonged in a carnival themselves, all because of Caleb.

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Caleb walked among the crowd, enjoying some of the privacy his Disguise spell provided him. The illusion he had weaved was of him with Brown hair pulled back in a short ponytail, with brown eyes and a slightly suntanned appearance over his normal form. His clothes shifted to normal street clothes, with a little wear along the ankles of the trousers.

No more Inquisitor, now he was just a civilian going to a carnival. Besides, He imagined he would be turned away at best if they saw him, and he admitted he was curious to see the show. He spotted Mollymauk on a blanket, flipping cards for someone who appeared to be a farmer.

“…some sort of physician, perhaps…” said the fortune teller unenthusiastically and Caleb stifled a laugh.

“Right! of course! Oh of course, thank you so much!” said the farmer who placed a hand on Mollymauk who grimaced slightly as the Farmer coughed.

“Platinum Dragon be with you, thank you.” He said, subtly wiping his hand on the blanket and shuffling his cards.

He watched the monk, Beauregard, now with a slightly ruddier hue to her cheeks stand off to the side and cross her arms.

“What happened to ‘no sick people?’” She asked and Caleb raised an eyebrow.

“This is outside the tent.” Mollymauk replied smarmily and gestured to the ground, and Caleb imagined him rolling his eyes. His tail thumped against the blanket and he shuffled his cards.

“Fair.” She admitted, scanning the crowd.

“It’s good to see you all here, though.” He said, his lips quirking up to form a slight grin. The blue Tiefling leaned over to him.

“Here’s the thing. Some of us have weapons that we don’t want to pass away to other people, so how much of a chance is it that we could get through without having to do that, you know?” She said through her teeth, conspiratorially.

To no avail, as the tall woman that had accompanied him piped up.

“Well, you can’t see the show if you have a weapon on you.” She said flatly.

“Right, and we reeeally want to see the show. But, you know, we are really good at security, like, all of us are really strong, and we could fight things that came up, too, so like, maybe it would be best if you don’t take our weapons, and then we could help.” She said, gesticulating as she talked and Mollymauk nodded and smiled, like he was humoring a child. Caleb had seen that look on Ikithon’s face a few times. There wasn’t any threat, it was just times when he wanted you to think through your reasons, however wrong they were.

Mollymauk was clearly amused.

“Actually, here’s a deal! We’ll make you a good deal! You waive our entry fee, and if anyone needs to be kicked out, or any security needs to happen, we’ll help you out.” Urged Beau.

“Well see, the funny thing about that though is, that’s my job. So.” Said Yasha, crossing her arms. Caleb saw a little blush rise to her cheeks as Yasha’s muscles flexed slightly. Her different colored eyes were both focused on Beau, narrowed slightly. It was slightly between a challenge and complete indifference.

“So, you do want to hire us?” asked Jester with a cheeky grin on her blue freckled face, brushing some of her hair behind her ear.

“No.” deadpanned Yasha, her eyes flickering over to Jester and Molly snickered.

“You would be like our boss! Have you ever wanted to be a boss, like, in charge?” asked Beau, and she crossed her arms too, trying to match Yasha.

“Well, I am.” She countered, glancing at Molly, who nodded in affirmation. Caleb could see Beau was getting frustrated.

“We could ask you for days off sometimes-“ began Jester and Molly began laughing again, looking up from his cards, just as a large hand appeared on her shoulder. Caleb instinctually flinched, his jaw aching for a split second as she turned to look at the figure behind her, a tall and muscular half orc with a handlebar mustache.

“I’m terribly sorry, but…we’ve got it taken care of. If you wish to pay entry, you can, but rules are rules. So sorry.” He said and Beau furrowed her brows as Molly smiled that shit eating grin and Yasha nodded in agreement. He stepped away and he and Yasha returned to the tent entrance, resuming their inspection of the Carnival guests.

It wasn’t invasive, they just had people open their coats and hand over any weapons to be returned at the end.

“Do they get stored in some sort of locker or something?” asked Caleb, as he approached the line of bickering misfits. Molly blinked a little at his approach but seemed to dismiss it.

“I hold them. And If you want, I can stand right next to you guys. You can keep your eye on me the whole time.” Explained Yasha.

“She’s very trustworthy.” Added Molly, standing up and pocketing his cards. Bosun played with his mustache.

“Yasha…does that seem…alright.” He began but Yasha lowered her eyes at him and he simply nodded.

“Well, anyway, if you wish to get in, you must pay up, there is quite a long line behind you.” He said and gestured to the still growing crowd forming a messy line behind Caleb and the group from the tavern.

Caleb reached into his boot and withdrew a dagger and handed it to Yasha, along with his five coppers.

“Well, I trust her.” He said simply and she nodded, eyeing the others expectantly. Molly chewed on his lip.

“I have a staff, but I also use it as a walking stick, so I like to keep it on me.” Said Beau and Caleb rolled his eyes and Molly furrowed his brows.

“Can…Can you not walk without it or something?” he asked, and Jester piped up.

“She has a really bad limp!”

“Sometimes I get a little twinge, a little disc issue.” She said, hovering her hand around her lower back and Caleb looked at Beau incredulously.

She was pouring it on thick.

“Can you hand me your staff so I can watch this? I want to see this limp of yours.” He said, crossing his arms and raising an eyebrow. “Purely for my own entertainment.” He added and it was Beau’s turn to act offended.

“Are you patronizing me, Mollymauk?”

“No, I was hoping you were going to patronize us!” He said and Caleb saw a tiny smile escape Yasha. Jester smirked as well.

Caleb didn’t know why he stood there for another five minutes listening to the others go back and forth regarding the weapons but was pleasantly relieved when they were finally pushed through the tent, Mollymauk clapping as Yasha carried Beau over her shoulder into the tent.

The interior of the tent was a rocky ground floor, interspersed with grass and already people were packing in to guided seats upon the floor into a relatively neat semicircle. The center of the tent sported a large central support pillar, appearing to be one solid piece of wood, although Caleb thought it probably could be disassembled for easy travel. Four lanterns hung around the entrance, giving a consistent light, and Caleb had to give them some credit for even the minor enchantments.

“Did you want to sit in the front row?” prompted Yasha and after a resounding chorus from the group Caleb had (hopefully) mingled seamlessly with, followed them to the front.

Caleb found himself on the right side of Mollymauk and in front of Fjord and as they other’s chatted idly about the lack of chairs, he felt a spaded tail rest of his wrist, and a shiver ran up his back.

“Yank on it again, pretty boy. Those five coppers bought my dinner.” He said darkly and Caleb pursed his lips and after a few moments, Molly clicked his tongue.

“You’ll get to see Basket’s mom if you behave yourself. It’s my favorite act.” He said and leaned against Yasha, releasing his grip on Caleb’s wrist. He let out a breath he didn’t know he had been holding in and looked to see if Molly was still focused on him, but now he was chatting with his friends. He could feel Fjord’s eyes on him though and he ducked away.

The magical lights dimmed and a slight sound of a fiddle, in a similar tune to the one heard earlier in town. He tried to discern the source, but it seemed to come from no single direction.

“Look!” a few hushed patrons gasped out and directed attention to the center pole where the bald man previously dressed in the colors of the setting sun, seemed to appear from the tent itself, now in a dark blue ensemble. Caleb watched as he dangled by a rope by his foot, playing his fiddle slowly as he descends before he jumped and landed on his feet, not a single note going amiss.

He slowly turned as the Ringleader approached the center from a flap towards the back, extending his hands in an extravagant bow, taking his loose floppy hat in one hand and an entertainer’s smile across his elven features.

“Ladies and Gentlemen of Trostenwald, I am Carnival Master Gustav Fletching, and allow me to welcome you, to the Fletching and Moondrop Traveling Carnival of Curiosities!”

Chapter Text

The Ringmaster smiled mischievously as he made eye contact with every audience member, throwing an occasional wink into the crowd. Some children giggled at his attention and he only smiled wider.

“Grant us your attention this eve, but a trifle of time, and allow us to reveal a realm of laughter, mystery, danger and beauty.” He said, punctuating each word with a flourish of his hands. “I see you’ve already met Desmond.” He continued and gestured over to the man in blue with the fiddle, playing a soft melody. He nodded in acknowledgement and Gustav returned to address the audience.

“He’ll be part of our story tonight, so keep an eye for the wily fool. But first, I tell you a tale of two sisters of the Fey.” He said and Desmond slowly left the tent, his bowstring never leaving his fiddle, and passing by some Crowns guard on his way.

“Lost without form into the mazes of the underworld. There, where body would break, they found a teacher in a mystical serpent, and the gift they received was the ability to bend with this maze that captured them and slither their way back to the surface to reclaim their place in the world…May I present to you Mona and Yuli, the Knot Sisters…” He said and with a flourish, bowed and backed away.

The two halflings Beau had seen earlier in the parade emerged, their full body suits glimmering in the faint lantern light and Beau noticed that even their faces were painted to resemble scales. Sequins were attached near their eyes and on their arms, in green and purple for each sister and they approached the center pole. The sister in purple immediately jumped onto her green sister’s back, leaping impossibly high for a halfling and seemed to form a living sculpture.

She cringed, imagining the strain it would cause on her shoulders, but it didn’t seem to show any wear on them as they began to move, fluidly as one to the source less music.

“It’s like that serpent we fought you guys!” said Jester excitedly and Fjord quickly hushed her.

The figure on top, the purple one, suddenly slammed onto the ground, dust billowing up around her and her companion as they began to writhe and tangle in on each other. They didn’t seem like halflings anymore, but like the snakes they were representing, in a vicious battle. They twirled violently and seamlessly around the center pole, the lights dimming and changing and casting dramatic shadows over them.

Then they slowly began to wrap and climb up the pole, slithering up out of this make believe underworld towards the height of the pole. Beau couldn’t help being entranced and could only see from the corner of her eye the other’s similar reactions.

The lights glowed brighter as they climbed until at the zenith, they held each other’s limbs and began to spin down, the music coming to a loud crescendo as they tumbled, landing on the ground flawlessly with their arms held up in final presentation.

The crowd cheered and applauded, Beau feeling compelled as well. It was artistic but she knew the physical prowess it must have taken to achieve such a flawless act. As Mona and Yuli exited, smiles on their faces, Gustav reentered followed by Desmond the Fool, now playing an ominous tune.

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Jester watched with her knees bouncing excitedly as Gustav once again introduced the next act.

“In a flash, beyond the ash, the gods all went and gone, the darkness came to grasp, reclaim, and suffocate the dawn.” He hissed through gritted teeth, clenching a fist as Desmond’s fiddle played a low and dangerous tune.

A burst of flame erupted from behind him and illuminated the room, and neither of them flinched.

“But from that night, a burning light doth keep back shadow’s bane. The strength to fight will set alight, the morning sun again.” He said and held his hand out.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you Ornna the Fire Fairy.” He said and Jester scooted closer as Gustav left the tent again.

The dark skinned, red headed woman entered, bearing metallic fans lit with fire. Her face had red sequins dotting it and she began to spin, dipping her fans to the ground to dance hypnotically. Her red and gold dress shared the same brightness of the flames but did not impede her.

She twirled her fans around in her hands, flames forming circles around her, sending sparks into the air and she pushed the flames outward. She truly looked like she was battling against the darkness, with a stoic and simultaneous graceful expression as she sent the shadows to hide as each flame, she sent out seemed to glow brighter and hotter. Her dance matched the music that resonated within the tent as she pushed away the shadows, the lights from above gradually lighting up.

She leapt up and through the air turned like a barrel before landing in a striking and powerful pose, her fans alight and the lights blazing brightly above her. Jester gasped in delight and rapidly applauded, elbowing Fjord and Beau and turning towards Molly to tap on his arm.

“This is really different than most carnival’s I’ve gone too!” She said and Molly smiled at her.

“I told you.” He whispered back. Ornna took a bow, the fire on her fans flickering out and Gustav entered clapping, nodding with a smile at her. A low drumbeat accompanied his entrance this time and once again, the fiddle grew tense.

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“Even as the sun sets and would rise anew, bellowing roars will quake the lands of Xhorhas and beyond. Terrible beasts, now freed from their dark masters, scattered in our world…” began Gustav and from behind him a guttural roar, loud and bellowing called out. An enormous beast, covered in green scales, wet with mucous leaped out, held back by chains being held by Bo the Breaker and Desmond the Fool. It dragged them along and eyed each member of the crowd hungrily. It fought against the chains, drool landing in puddles beside its feet.

Caleb raised his eyebrows in surprise while other audience members gasped. The start of some children beginning to cry only to be muffled by their parents in the awe of the next act.

“The Devil Toad crawls hungrily into the land of the free folk and lording over nightmares as they say…Only one should be Brave enough to slay such a terrible Beast…Monster after Monster, Beast after Beast the Hero has triumphed…I present to you, Nott the Brave and Toya…Versus the Devil Toad.” He said and from the shadows emerged a pale halfling woman, her hair hanging over her eyes. She wore tattered black clothes, a gold chain glinting at her hip and covered in what was presumably blood and drew a sword, as she began to pace around the large, rotund creature. Desmond and Bo dropped the chains and exited, leaving the halfling and the Devil toad alone.

It watched her hungrily, following her every movement as she walked around it. Then, Nott the Brave leapt at it, her sword hitting it’s flesh and it cried out. The crowd applauded as Nott struck again, then deftly dodged out of the way of its large fist. The music filled the room with tension, heavy drum beats resonating off the tent walls. Much like the other acts, The music seemed to emulate the battle versus the other way around, and the battle between this Beast and Halfling Hero continued, leaping over the Beast, blocking its fists and bites until the Creature made contact and suddenly grabbed the Hero. The audience gasped and they watched as she dangled helplessly from its hand as it’s maw opened.

Nott the Brave struggled against it and they saw her dig around in her pockets, producing a glass bottle. She smashed it on the ground of the tent, white smoke erupting in a large plume from the bottle. The Beast swallowed her whole and once again the crowd gasped, the screech of the fiddle sending shivers up everyone’s spine. Caleb felt his heart drop instinctually, and he tried to remind himself it was an act.

He had seen the large “Devil Toad” when he had first met Molly. It was only an act and Molly was right in it being fantastic.

The lanterns flared and where the smoke drifted up, was now a young dwarven girl in a white dress. She clasped her hands together and softly she began to sing.
Her voice carried through the tent, light and lilting as she sang, and her voice visibly relaxed the crowd, some clasping their hands to their chests as they saw the Devil toad relax too. It looked up at her, this girl seemingly summoned from a bottle, and was enraptured by her voice. Slowly, it approached the base of the pole and sat with a faint smile on its lips.

Along with the audience, Caleb was drawn to her soft voice. Her white dress hid her feet and she sang clearly and beautifully as her voice filled the tent. It was surprisingly mature sounding, despite it coming from a dwarven girl, no older than thirteen. He felt tears prick his eyes as she sang, then one slid down his left cheek. He blinked at it and looked at Beau and even Fjord. They all had faint tear tracks down their cheeks. Molly and Yasha wore calm smiles, still entranced by the music, but perhaps not nearly as affected.
Caleb saw an older man stand up from the audience on the far left, his arm outstretched. He reached out towards Toya and his dirty cloak fell from his scrawny shoulders. His face was mostly wrinkling, and tears freely flowed down his cheeks.

“Ah!” He exclaimed, in surprise and awe, attempting to reach this lofty angel. He then gripped his chest and grimaced doubling over.

“Ahh!” he exclaimed again, this time in pain, and some other patrons scooted away from him as he began to shake. The skin on his arms tore open, bones shattering outward and forming a spine like protrusion. Dust flecked off of him and blood poured from his wounds and he grew slightly larger, a twisted and pained look upon his elderly face.
Screams erupted from the gathered crowd, pointing in fear at the sudden monstrosity and standing to run for the exit. Toya cut her song short and stared down at the man in fear and the Devil Toad broken from his trance and glanced about worriedly. Bo and Desmond burst into the tent and looked at their surroundings, of the swelling crowd and Caleb’s hand hovered over his component pouch.

“Everyone! Leave the tent now! Kylre!-“ Bo shouted and within a moment, Nott burst from the pouch, scrambling on the ground to her feet.

“get her to safety!” he finished, pointing up at Toya. Kylre, the Devil toad leapt up at an impossible height and landed on the platform, securely grabbing Toya and then leapt back down. Caleb could see Toya clutching on to him and glancing over at Nott.

“Kylre move! Get Toya out!” shouted Nott in an…oddly familiar gravelly voice.

He had never heard Basket’s mother speak before, but he couldn’t place where he knew the voice.

Caleb turned his attention back to the monster as a flash of blue light revealed a second Jester.

“Yasha? We’re going to need those weapons back.” Commanded Fjord as Yasha stood up to her full height, soon followed by Molly, gripping his scimitars.

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“Man, I thought this was kind of lame at first, but this is awesome!” said Beau, clapping and Molly rolled his eyes.

“Everyone, get out, right now.” Commanded Molly and he watched Beau startle for a second.

“This isn’t part of the show?” she asked, and Fjord shook his head. Molly saw the old man’s body stop quaking and come to a still, his once pale and wrinkled skin now a sickly gray. He turned, revealing red and bulging eyes and began to salivate from a wide and heinous grimace. Molly watched as the two Crowns guard tried to make their way through the panicking crowd but were beaten back by the swarm of fleeing townsfolk.

He looked behind him at Caleb, who had dropped his disguise and had fire kindled in his hands. He looked equally perturbed and Molly briefly shoved the thought of Caleb being responsible to the back of his mind.

He would handle that after this mess.

He turned to Jester and watched from her outstretched hand a flash of bright light streak towards the monster, causing him to stumble back. Jester then ran the opposite direction along the side of the tent as the monster snarled at her, his body now glowing faintly with this unusual light. The monster suddenly reached out and swiped at a fleeing woman, narrowly missing her as she managed to duck out of the way. She fell to the ground, screaming and kicking as he drug her towards him, swiping again, tearing open her chest.

Her terrified screams stopped as blood soaked her rosy dress and the monster bit into her neck, and then turned to them again with a mouth full of gore, what looked like her trachea just past his lips. It began to stalk forward, his eyes focused on a man frozen and staring at the dead woman.
Molly pushed down a surge of bile.

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Yasha tore the groups weapons from her back, throwing them to each individual and then staring at this abhorrent creature. She saw the half orc, Fjord, run up to the creature, passing through the illusory blueish figure of Jester and took a swipe at it. His falchion met the arm and black blood smattered across his face and scarred piece mail armor as the monster growled at him, revealing that the former old man’s teeth had sharpened as well, protruding in uneven intervals.

A shock of cold whizzed past her and frost crept along the creature, sparkling in the lantern light. She turned and blinked in confusion at the Capital Warmage standing beside Molly, in his hand a hovering diamond and fingers lightly dusted with frost.

How did he get in?

Nott appeared in her peripheral as she dashed around and aimed her crossbow, knocking an arrow and shooting. She cursed as it whizzed past and instead implanted itself deep into the ground.

“Open the tent wide!” called out Molly, glancing back at the surging crowd and ran up to the creature, drawing his scimitar and drawing it across his scarred chest. Blood blossomed from the wound and red ice frosted across the edge of the blade, glistening in the lantern light. He sliced at him, and where the wound was, it froze, it’s organs iced over and steaming.

“No guys, It’s part of the show! Molly said that people died, She was just a claque” said Beau from beside her and Yasha looked at her in confusion as her blood began to boil. She watched as Beau ran up and attempted to throw herself onto the creature. It threw her off however and glared her down, salivating over her form.

“Oh, fuck that, I don’t know if that’s true.” She said with wide eyes and pushed up from the ground, immediately kicking it in it’s already broken and battered chest, following it up with a heavy blow to its chin, dislocating it. It wobbled but remained standing and it’s chin snapped back into place and her eyes went wide.

The screams of the crowd rang in her ears as it surged behind her, attempting to escape through the entrance of the tent. Her blood continued to boil, and her skin prickled, adrenalin rushing through her veins.

A new sound broke through though, as the fallen, broken woman rolled over, her bones cracking as they broke through her skin, leaving it in grey ribbons.

“Dude, are you here? Because this is like, the coolest shit I’ve ever seen!” announced Jester, looking around and Yasha couldn’t help but look around as well, despite her vision gradually going tunnel. Jester raised her arms up then and slammed them together as two enormous spectral bells materialized above the creature and rung out with a deep sound, like that of a temple bell. It flinched at the sound, growling at it and stumbling back again. Her blue duplicate ran over to the center pole and got into a fighting stance.

The monster angrily swiped at Beau, slashing at her chest and then swiping again at her abdomen, unhinging it’s jaw and unleashing an inhuman scream, scattering spittle across her face.

“I’m not a claque, this show is bullshit!” She yelled at Fjord and Fjord furrowed his brows at her.

The woman monster ran over towards Mollymauk and Molly glared at her and held out his hand, hissing something in infernal. Her eyes went black and she swung wide as he ducked out of the way. She growled at him and skirted around him, and Fjord slashed at her, striking her back and casting more of the black blood into the air. It wasn’t enough to fell her as Molly turned with a flourish and her fist hit his jaw hard, and he blinked and groaned in pain.

That was it, the final straw.

She let her anger surge up as she pulled her great sword from her back, relishing the weight of it in her hands.

“Get the FUCK out of my tent!” She roared and brought her blade down, carving through it’s form, Molly’s ice dissipating into the air bones cracking. She could see the flesh pulse but she pushed against the monstrous corpse and let it fall to the ground, black blood soaking into the untainted ground and going still. She growled through her teeth and Molly nodded at her, still rubbing his jaw.

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Fjord startled as the previously pale woman, her face now flushed red in anger cleave the undead man in half and then turned towards the previously beautiful woman and bit at his lip, holding his hand out.

It was worth a shot.

He concentrated and commanded the shadows around her, snaking them around her body and clinging to her. She growled in protest and Fjord smirked and swiped in a large arc across her chest, cleaving into her chest. Her organs pulsed and writhed like worms and Fjord grimaced at the image, watching a burst of liquid jet past her and sizzle across the ground. He turned back towards the source and his breath caught as the Caleb cursed in some language. Something else whizzed into his peripheral and a crossbow bolt imbedded itself in the creature’s jaw, cracking through it and emerging from her eye. He saw Nott crouching on the ground and she gulped as it cocked it’s head to look at her.

A flourish of color next as the Tiefling Mollymauk swiped three times in quick succession, slicing her across her arms and torso, ice freezing her dress and wound. Her body carved briefly in half before sickeningly crunching back together. Fjord saw the spinal column as Molly disemboweled her, her intestines falling across the ground, and she stumbled back, still maintaining her form.

Fjord inhaled in shock, and the full putridness of the rotten woman hit his nose, making him go dizzy.

“Someone? Anyone?” asked Molly incredulously, to no one in particular and wiped blood from his face.

“I thought. You said. You didn’t let in the sick!” responded Beau angrily and gestured towards the creature.

“Oh just kill it!” Molly shouted back, pointing at the creature with his iced scimitar. Fjord watched as Beau bit her lip and rushed up, leaping and punching it square in the face, her nose crunching. As Beau stepped back, flicking her fist and scattering blood onto the ground, Fjord saw that she managed to catch some teeth into her knuckles as well.
“Oh come on. You were so pretty too.” Beau said, grimacing and then using the same fist to punch her in her temple. Her neck snapped to the right and hissed, swiping at Beau, however Beau’s fist kept going and the woman’s head caved in, covering Beau’s already bloodied fist in what had originally been an intact skull. The monster fell to the ground, a breath leaving it’s body and oozing out the remainder of her sickly black blood. Fjord gave a nod to Beau and looked at Molly who raised an eyebrow and smirked.

“You! You! Stay where you are!” commanded a loud male voice as through the still rushing crowd, two crown’s guard pushed through the crowd and pointed at the group of bloodied individuals.

Chapter Text

Gustav pushed his way back through the crowd, huffing, his impeccable costume a rumpled mess and his hair tangled to match.

“Dear Gods…What’s happened here?” He asked frantically and looked over towards Bo, who ran his hands through his hair.

“Sir I don’t know how he got in here.” He said, looking helplessly at the group gathered together. Nott looked up at Molly and Yasha and pushed her hair back, scooting slightly behind the blood stained coat of Molly. It smelled terrible.

He wouldn’t be happy about cleaning it.

“What happened?!” asked Gustav again, his gaze focusing on the Tiefling and he shook his head.

“One of them turned. I don’t know what happened.” Molly said helplessly, pointing at the ruined corpses of the former patrons. Nott shielded her face as Molly’s tail swept nervously in front of her, and she looked up at Yasha, the faintest show of concern on her passive face.

“There was a sick guy! There was an old sick guy and he turned into a zombie!” said a blue Tiefling, one of the crowd members who had leapt into the battle. Gustav chewed on his lip, glancing over everyone. She then ran over to her friend and Nott watched her hand glow briefly before her friend sighed pleasantly.

“Oh, thank you Jester. I’m really down.” She said.

“Are you sick too? Did you get hurt?” She asked Molly and Nott looked up at him.

“A little, I’m a bit bloodied up…” he said quietly, touching his chin, where a deep purple bruise was forming.

“Hold on two seconds and I’m going to cure her and then I’ll come over to you too.” Jester said and Molly blinked in surprise as did Nott. This stranger was offering to heal him at no charge?

“Yasha, have you ever seen anything like this before?” asked a half orc with scars on his face. Nott frowned.

Of course not. This was insane.

“No. Never.” Yasha said firmly and Nott nodded into Molly’s coat and now glared at Caleb Widogast, who had his arms crossed. Molly looked down at her and curled his tail around her arm, and the blood ice evaporated from his still drawn scimitars.

The two Crowns Guard that had called out moments ago finally approached, sweat covering their faces with wide eyed expressions. She could tell they were trying to stay calm.

“S-Stay where you are! Don’t g-go anywhere.” Said one, pointing to them.

“Wherever will I go?” asked Molly sarcastically under his breath and Yasha shot him a look.

“Uh Sivelman, find someone. Bring the rest of the guard. Please!” he said and then Caleb stepped forward, holding a hand up.

“That won’t be necessary.” He said and Nott glared harder at him. The guard looked him up and down, still trying to catch his breath.

“You’re that War mage that delivered those statements this morning?” he asked, and Caleb nodded, smiling. It looked like a fake smile though, and Nott’s stomach churned. She didn’t think that man was capable of anything but fake smiles.

“Correct. I think we can solve this quickly.”

“I’m t-terribly sorry! This has n-never h-happened…” stuttered Gustav breathlessly shooting a look at Molly and Yasha again. “What happened.” He hissed and Molly held up his hands.

“We’ve never seen anything like it before. He just- gripped his heart and fell and turned into that thing.” He defended, once again gesturing towards the two bodies. Yasha nodded along with everyone else.

“It was when Toya started singing…” She muttered.

“Yeah, what’s with the dwarven girl?” asked the human woman and Caleb held up his hand, interrupting her.

“I suggest we all sheathe our weapons and sit down to talk. I’m sure we can clear this all up. Like these good people have said and I can confirm-“ He said with a smile and Nott wrinkled her nose.

She really didn’t like him.

“-The old man stood up when the young dwarf girl started singing, gripped his chest and suddenly transformed. Everyone standing before you stepped in and slew these two monsters. I doubt any of them caused this.” he explained calmly, and an awkward silence fell upon them all as Caleb looked at the guard’s expectantly.

“Then what caused this?” demanded one and Caleb raised an eyebrow.

“Well, we’ll just have to find out.” He said. Nott turned as Ornna entered, stormed in really, and stood beside Yasha, nervously tapping her foot.

“I’m sorry, what has happened here?” she asked, and Jester piped up.

“Your little dwarf girl was singing, and she turns people into zombies.” She said.

“I feel like that was purely coincidental. I’m not really sure the two are related. Something was just wrong with this man.” Molly asserted.

“Yeah, She just sings!” Nott said and saw from the corner of her eye Caleb straighten up.

“We will investigate, of course, but I find it odd that he transformed when she was singing…” He said. Molly scoffed.

Nott watched the guards exchange glances.

“I suggest to start, you let me ask the questions and you simply keep the perimeter. No member of the Carnival leaves their camp without direct supervision. This will all be resolved soon.” He said sternly. The guards grumbled.

“Are we free to go then?” asked the human woman in an annoyed tone and Caleb frowned.

“Everyone except the circus. You do remember the signs I posted? If any of you would like to help outside of the circus boundaries, or have any special talents to offer, there will be a gold reward.” He said and they quickly looked at each other. Caleb then looked at the Carnival members.

“I’ll be over in a moment. Get changed and hopefully we can have this settled quickly.”

Molly scoffed again.

“wonderful, I’ll put on my best shirt.” He said and pulled at his stained shirt before walking off with Yasha and Nott trailing behind him. Nott felt Caleb’s eyes on her back, and she gulped.

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“At least Caleb got us off the hook.” Sighed Beau, rubbing her hands and Fjord nodded at her. Jester frowned and then perked up, skipping over towards Caleb, ignoring Beau’s protest. Caleb was busy examining the bodies, pushing gore around with his boot and then carefully lifting up the soiled and torn clothes before he looked behind him to notice her.

“So like, I have a trick I can do, just not tonight, because I didn’t prepare it so…” she began. She smiled wider and waggled her fingers and Caleb stood up, raising his eyebrows in curiosity.

“What trick?” he asked, crossing his arms.

“Well, If there was something like, totally evil doing this, I could just beep beep and find it.” She said and extended her fingers from her head and moved them. Caleb raised an eyebrow but nodded slowly.

“I see. I’ll do some preliminary investigation tonight, and then tomorrow we can return. I do believe it was some sort of spell, but there could be a cursed object or creature.” He said thoughtfully and she smiled. He looked kind of nice when he thought like that, even though it was rude of him to not help fjord.

She wondered what he had actually done to make Molly and Yasha so angry. Neither of them had elaborated, just that he had hurt someone, but Jester was very curious.
“Great! I’ll see you tomorrow!” she said happily and skipped over to her friends who were standing by the tent entrance. Beau gave her a look of confusion as the guards parted before them, going over to where Caleb was, and he proceeded to direct them.

The Innkeeper gasped when they returned to the inn and Fjord gave a weak smile.

“Is it possible to get a bath or is there only that closet upstairs?” he asked, and she gulped and shook her head.

“I’m sorry, we only have that water closet…I can send up some extra towels though…I take it you were at that Carnival?” she asked, and Jester nodded.
Word traveled fast.

“Yeah, this one old guy transformed into an evil zombie and killed this one lady and she totally turned evil too and-“

“I get it. Anyway, You should get washed up.” She said grimacing and Jester watched her nose curl up. Jester looked at Fjord and Beau, both covered in black blood and reeking of death, each with a similar expression.

Jester waited in her room for Beau, drawing the zombies in her sketchbook along with a picture of Molly’s bedazzled horns. Beau sighed heavily as she fell back onto the bed and then rolled onto her side.

“Jester, why did you offer to help Widogast? He seems like a freaking jerk.”

“Those zombie things looked totally evil, and I don’t think Molly and Yasha did anything. Besides! He said there would be some gold too and all those jobs on the board looked terrible!” she said and blew on the paper to dry the ink before closing her journal. Beau gave a halfhearted shrug and crawled under her covers and before long, Jester could hear her soft breathing. Jester pulled her own covers up and closed her eyes.

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Caleb woke up to furious pounding on his door and he scrambled out of bed and opened the door, enough to peek his head out, hoping to the Gods there wasn’t another zombie attack. He had hoped the warning he had given to the Carnival last night, along with his suspicions, was enough to prevent any suspects from trying anything.

Instead he met the eyes of Jester, and he watched her jump on the balls of her feet.

“Good Morning! Are you ready?!” she asked, and Caleb blinked his eyes at her, and looked back at the barely rising sun though his window to double check.

It was 6:07 in the morning. He normally didn’t wake until 7 and she was incredibly chipper to boot.

“Good Morning to you too, uh, let me get dressed and eat, and then we can go back to the Carnival…ja?” he asked, and she cocked her head.

“Ooh, you’re just like Fjord! You don’t sleep with a shirt on!” she said and pointed to his barely visible pale and freckled shoulders.

“Excuse me Jester.” He said and closed the door in her face, hearing her giggle as she moved down the hall. He groaned and rubbed the remainder of sleep from his eyes, pulling on his spare change of clothes and smoothing them out. He rubbed his chin, and debated for a moment shaving off the stubble, but shrugged and sat back down, doing a quick review of his spells for the day.

Usually before bed was enough, but he thought he might as well double check.

He met them downstairs, sitting around the same table as the day prior, Fjord and Beauregard with dark bags under their eyes. Fjord gestured towards an empty chair and Caleb thanked him, flagging down one of the ladies for breakfast.

“So, we talked it over with Jester last night. She suggested she go with you and search for anything evil, and Beau and I will look into the victims and see if they were actin’ suspicious before last night. Sound good?” drawled Fjord and Caleb nodded, impressed.

“Ja, I think that is a good plan. I normally work alone, but I am on a schedule, so a team would help. I would be happy to offer fifty gold each for your help.” He said and Beau inhaled deeply through her nose. Caleb continued.

“I’ll notify the Lawmaster and once the investigation concludes, you’ll receive your payment.” He said and they all looked at each other.

“Deal.” Said Fjord and held out his hand. Caleb took it and then waited for his meal.

Chapter Text

“So, like, did you wanna play like, good cop bad cop?! I can be the good cop, ‘cause like, I’m super sweet.” Said Jester as she walked next to Caleb and he gave a halfhearted laugh.
“I’m afraid I am already the “bad cop”. No, I think it will suffice to have you walk the perimeter and through out their camp, and do your…”beep beep”, as you called it. Come and find me with your results, ja?” he asked, and Jester nodded, flicking her tail.

“Oh totally. I can be like super discreet about it too.” She whispered and Caleb seemed to give a pained smile. Caleb adjusted his collar and Jester followed suit, fluffing out her skirts and trying to look serious, following him up to the guards.

“Anything to report?” he asked one guard and Jester closed her eyes and concentrated, clasping her holy symbol before finally opening her eyes to survey the perimeter.
Nothing yet.

“Ah, two things actually…the tall woman tried to run last night after you left, but we detained her.”

“She tried to run?” he asked, and Jester furrowed her eyebrows.

“Aye, we locked her up. Secondly, the Carnival master wishes to speak to you, everyone else has clammed up.” He said and Jester just nodded to Caleb and pointed in the direction she was going to walk towards. He nodded and continued speaking with the guard, allowing him to lead him towards another tent.

Jester walked slowly around the camp, looking at every individual she could spot. They were all quietly eating their breakfast or talking amongst themselves. She spotted Molly and skipped over towards him. He looked up, mid jewelry adornment and gave a sleepy sort of look. His plum colored locks were still sleep tangled and Jester could smell the bucket of vinegar his shirt from last night was soaking in.

Unfortunately, the blood seemed quite insistent on staying on his shirt.

“I didn’t realize they gave us visitation. What can I do for you Dear?” he asked and then capped his horns and placed his cheek in his palm.

“I told Mr. Caleb I would see if there was anything like, evil, messing up your circus. He went to go talk to Gustav.” She said and he leaned back against the wagon.

“And how pray tell, would you accomplish that?” he asked. Jester danced her fingers around her head.

“Molls…” came a small voice from the wagon and Molly perked up and Jester watched as a halfling toddler walked out, rubbing his eyes and carrying an orange cat toy. Jester cocked her head.

It was the same one Caleb had given Molly.

The boy also had a bad burn on the left side of his face.

“Ah hey there buddy. Good morning…” he said and ran his long nails gently through the boy’s curly brown hair. The boy put his thumb in his mouth and nestled into Molly’s neck.

“He’s so cute! Is he your baby, or like, your brother?” she asked, her tail flicking excitedly, and Molly chuckled.

“Not by blood, but I guess you could say he’s my brother…Nott is his Mom. Basket, say hi to Jester.” He said and Basket blinked his brown eyes at Jester and waved timidly. Jester waved back, a large grin on her face.

“Well, I have to go see if anything evil is around. Maybe I’ll see you later? Bye Basket!” she said cheerily, and the boy just blinked at her as she skipped away.

Jester paused as a shiver ran up her spine and she turned to face the large tent she was now in front of. A huge wave of energy passed over her, and from within the tent, a fiendish aura encompassed a large individual. She squealed in delight, hopping for a moment before she walked into the tent, waving.

“Hello!” She greeted and the large toad like creature turned to look at her, his breathing coming out as a natural growl, cradling the dwarf girl in his arms. She sat up and gave a small smile, as Jester sat in front of them cross legged.

Now that she was closer, she could see just how massive he actually was. Even bigger than the Minotaur that guarded her mom. He scowled at her, narrowing his yellow eyes and some of his pointed teeth poked out from between his lips.

“What. You. Want?” asked the giant lizard man, Kylre. Jester folded her hands in her lap and twiddled her thumbs.

Stay cool.

“I’m here to talk to Toya.” She answered. Toya smiled shyly and clutched her braids to her chest.

“Do you recognize me from the other night?” asked Jester. Toya shook her head.

“I don’t remember, I got scared…” She said quietly, her voice incredibly raspy.

“It was scary. You have a really pretty voice though!” said Jester and a faint blush crept up Toya’s cheeks.

“Thankyou.”

“So um…did you notice how when you sang, that dude turned into a zombie?”

Toya laughed uncomfortably, and Kylre laughed too, a deep rumbling laugh.

“I did. It was really scary. I didn’t like it at all. I didn’t do that, did I?” she asked, and Jester shook her head.

“Probably not. Has that happened before?” She soothed, trying to speak past the overwhelming energy coming from Kylre.

That was the downside to the spell, the energy became TOO noticeable.

“No! The guards are saying that I probably did that, they’re saying I might have done that.” She said and curled up into herself.

“Do you sing a lot Toya? Is that the same song you always sing?” she asked next.

“Yeah, It’s the one song I know.” She replied and Jester put her head in her palm, looking at this tiny dwarf girl.

She highly doubted Toya was responsible. The girl looked far too innocent, even if she was being manipulated, shouldn’t there still be Fiendish energy on her?

“How did you and Kylre meet?”

“Oh, they brought me into the circus…I was up in a city north of here, far north in the Marrow Valley and I was just in the streets singing. And then this carnival came by and I met Gustav and he invited me to join and I met Kylre and all these wonderful people.

“Has anyone new come…and asked you to do anything strange?” she asked hesitantly.

“No. The newest people we’ve had are Mollymauk, Nott and Yasha.”

“They’re new?” she asked, slightly surprised. Molly had looked so…comfortable with them already. She hadn’t had a real chance to talk to Nott though, just saw her baby.

“Comparatively. Nott and Molly have been with the circus for almost two years now.”

“Oh ok.” Sighed Jester. She liked Molly, she hoped he wasn’t responsible.

“He came after I did. We both found our voice together. I was very scared, and he wasn’t talking and together we helped each other learn to have fun again…Nott sort of became our Mom too. ” She said and laughed at that. Jester smiled.

“Alright, well, thankyou for talking to me. I know this is like, totally upsetting, but we just want to help.” Said Jester and Toya gave a weak smile.

Once Jester left the tent, she quickly looked around for Caleb, spotting a red head disappearing into a tent and tried to casually walk towards him.

------------------------

Nott just barely avoided the silver wire that spanned the entrance of the door and breathed a sigh of relief when she looked back and saw it undisturbed, although her illusory dress made it seem otherwise. She turned her attention back to the room and scanned it.

It was like any Inn room, simple and fairly well kept. His items were still in their luggage, a large brown leather pack. It was high quality leather too, it was polished and had barely any wear on it, except where the buckles rubbed against it.

She quietly crept up to it and looked carefully at it, feeling her fingers twitch.

He was a wizard, and one from the Capital too. It would stand to reason that his things might be trapped.

Surprisingly though, she couldn’t see anything trapped, no hidden runes or under the buckles, no intricate locks that she would have expected, and that puzzled her. She tentatively unlatched one buckle and waited a few breaths before undoing the second and then opened the pack and began investigating the contents.

Neatly folded inside were a spare change of traveling clothes, a large bundle of warrants for the Law Masters to post all tied together, an odd collection of various items, most likely spare spell components, and a pack of road rations. She grumbled and untied the stack of various missives, seeing how they were all sealed with an image of three diamonds pointed towards the center.

Not the royal seal then.

She contemplated shoving them in her cloak, so she could read them and see if there was anything directly related to the Carnival or its members but thought better of it. Molly had already warned her that if she was going to go, she should look, but not take anything that would go missed.

She sighed, knowing the letters would definitely be missed.

She placed them back in their spot and neatly closed the pack and tapped her claws on her chin, thinking of any other places where he would keep secrets.

She looked under the bed.

Nothing.

She poked around for loose floorboards.

Nothing.

She even looked under his pillow, because Molly sometimes hid her buttons under her own pillow, saying that she had misplaced them.

There was nothing.

Nott carefully and as quietly as she could, left the room, scooting back down to the tavern below and before her spell ran out, bought herself a shot of whiskey.

Sneaking back into camp was just as tricky as leaving it.

She saw that now there were two Crowns guard posted at the main entrance of the tent, unlike when she had left just after sunup. They both looked bored, but none the less, present. One of them shielded his eyes from the sun as it creeped up towards the sun and sneezed.

Nott cursed and tried to remember how long she had left on her spell and thought she would risk it anyway.

She quickly skirted along the edge of the tent, avoiding the bored looking guards and hid in the shadow of the tent, until she could see the wagon she slept in. Molly was sitting on its steps, handing cut up apple pieces to Basket. She looked around and ducked into the shade of the tent again, dropping her disguise and then discreetly headed over to the wagon. It looked like everyone else was still in their tents and wagons, with the exception of the patrolling guards.

“Mama!” said Basket excitedly as soon as she approached and she quickly hushed him, pecking his cheek.

“Shh sweetie. Thank you, Molly, for watching him.” She said and Molly nodded.

“Did you find anything?” he whispered conspiratorially, and she shook her head.

“No, just letters for other towns. They didn’t have the royal crest on them though…” She replied and Molly furrowed his brow.

“Meaning?” he asked. She sometimes forgot Molly knew nothing about politics. She didn’t know much either, but she at least knew the Royal Crest.

“Meaning that the King isn’t actually asking people to search for bad guys. Widogast’s friends are searching for “Bad Guys”.” She said, emphasizing the air quotes.

“But nothing on the Circus?”

Nott shook her head.

“Well, apparently that Widogast asked that other Tiefling, Jester, to “Search for anything evil”.” He said. Nott nodded and gasped as she watched Crowns guard lead away Gustav in chains. Molly noticed too and stood up, and Gustav gave everyone a wan smile.

“It’ll be fine everyone.” He said simply and was led away. Nott saw Caleb across the way and watched him walk into the tent Ornna and the Twins shared.

----------------------------------

Beau kicked a rock as they walked out of The Mud Hole Tavern and rubbed the back of her head.

“Did you want to ask around the Lochward then? Go talk to uhh…Rinaldo?” asked Beau and Fjord crossed his arms and nodded.

“Yeah, if Enon was picking up odd jobs movin’ fish, maybe Rinaldo would know… man was a fisherman, right?” Fjord said and they began heading past the shops and over towards the Loch. Fjord couldn’t help smiling slightly at the sight of the boats on the water. With the way the sun glinted off the Loch’s surface combined with the small fishing boats, it almost reminded him of home.

They walked over to the ruined house of Rinaldo, the carnage from the day before yesterday still evident, and passed by a red headed kid with a knife a little too big for his scrawny self to be wielding as he carved the long green and blue scaled snake. Fjord waved, sidestepping the large pile of ruined furniture that had been pulled from the structure and Rinaldo perked up, standing up straight from his perch on the roof. After wiping sweat off his brow, he set down the hammer and climbed down the ladder, giving a weary, but warm face.

“Hey, I didn’t know you were coming! What can I do for you?” he asked, looking at the two of them.

“Sorry for dropping in.” Beau said with a smile, her eyebrows pulling up into a pained attempt at a smile and Fjord cringed slightly.

Yeah, she definitely needed to work on that.

“Well, Rinaldo, this snake is not the only strange occurrence that’s been happenin’.” Said Fjord, and Rinaldo turned back to the half orc. “We’re tryin’ to find the cause of it. Have you seen anything else like this in the time that’s passed?” and Rinaldo scratched his chin.

“No. We’ve just been doing repairs on the house and getting everything underway…This is the first thing that’s come on this side. Most of them live towards the center of the lake and keep underwater.” Explained Rinaldo, gesturing towards the Loch.

“It’s been two in the last few months that have come up, been a real nuisance. Why? More snakes?”

Beau shook her head and Fjord began to explain the incident with the zombies. He watched Rinaldo’s helpful curiosity turn to one of slight sorrow. He scratched his head.
“Well, other than the circus coming to town, nothing else weird happened.” He said.

“Why is the circus coming to town weird?” asked Beau, sticking her thumb back in the general direction of the big blue tent.

“Because there’s a circus in town.” He said very plainly. “We don’t get very many shows and traveling folk. Last time it was here, a year ago, it came and went in a week.” He explained and Beau pursed her lips in thought.

“Well, if you think of anything else weird, you can find us at the Nestled Nook Inn. We thought we’d help out the Guard while we were here too.” Fjord said and Rinaldo gave a smile.

“’Course. Let me finish up here with the roof and I’ll ask around, see if anything comes up.” He said and they thanked him and left.

“I don’t think following Enon’s story is going to get us anywhere…He just seems like a random victim.” Thought Beau out loud. Fjord sighed heavily.

She was probably right. If he was healthy, even for an old guy, and didn’t exactly have any enemies, then that left the circus, didn’t it?

“Well, I guess that means we have to go talk to Caleb, don’t we? We still get paid even if we don’t find anything, right?” grumbled Beau, shoving her hands in her pockets.

“He said once the investigation closes, we get paid.” Confirmed Fjord as they walked along the Ustaloch towards the Circus, the gravelly sand crunching beneath their feet.

Chapter Text

Hostile wasn’t quite the right word, but polite certainly wasn’t either. The fire dancer, Ornna, was a sour looking woman, and Caleb hardly blamed her. She eyed him from her hand mirror as she brushed out her hair that was brighter than Caleb’s. She didn’t acknowledge him other than the occasional glance while he waited patiently for her to be done.
Mona and Yuli, The Knot Sisters, as they had been introduced as, gave him a similar look and he tried to keep a polite smile, despite the nervousness roiling in his gut.

His last encounter with them had ended badly, and he was determined to not repeat that.

Eventually Ornna sighed and turned to face him, setting her brush down and crossing her arms, the loose sleeping shirt she wore slipping slightly from her dark shoulders.
“Well, ask your damn questions, I see you’ve already hauled off Gustav.” She said and Caleb nodded.

“Ja. He offered himself up, according to him, his carnival, his failure. However, I do not see why I should stop an investigation, just like that.” He said and Ornna rolled her eyes.

“Gustav’s an idiot. Always has been. A bleeding heart idiot. I doubt he’s responsible for this fucking disaster though.” She said.

“Why do you say that?”

“It’s his damn carnival! Why would he bring it down? Don’t get me wrong, I think this is some sort of karma for something he did, but I don’t think he killed those people.” She spat out and Caleb thought briefly on casting suggestion.

Ornna seemed pretty vehement in her current opinion of Gustav, so maybe a little prying could get the job done.

“Who do you think would, though?”

“Honestly?” She asked sarcastically, raising an eyebrow. She held out her hand in front of her.

“Gustav is an idiot. Plain and simple.” She began and started marking each point on a finger. She was evidently prepared to give a character study.

“The Knot sisters-“ She said, jabbing her thumb at the twins watching this from the sidelines, interest peaked. “They’re cunts, but they wouldn’t kill anyone.” She said. One of them smirked.

“Toya, absolute doll, wouldn’t hurt a fly.” She said next, her eyes going soft for a brief second at the mention of the girl.

“You’ve met Molly, little fucker wouldn’t do this. This is all he’s ever known.” She said. Caleb nodded thoughtfully.

“Aw, even when she’s being mean she still cares.” And Caleb sighed, turning towards the entrance of the tent, watching as Mollymauk walked in. He was wearing a smug expression as Ornna rolled her eyes flipped him off, Molly returning it with a smile.

“Continue, I’m thoroughly fascinated.” He replied. His crimson eyes seemed to twinkle and along with his smarmy grin, small dimples appeared near the corners of his mouth. Ornna looked back at Caleb.

“Yasha, that one who booked it into the woods? I’ve never seen her do a lick of magic. She disappears now and again, but I don’t think she would hurt any one of us.”
“Definitely not. Unless we deserved it.” Molly added and Caleb nodded.

“Desmond. Well, he’s a weird fellow. There’s something in his past haunting him. You can see it in his melancholy.” And Molly nodded slightly, seeming to agree with her.
“Nott cares more about raising Basket than destroying a circus. The only magic I’ve seen her do is finish a bottle of whiskey in ten minutes.”

“Five. Remember she out drank me on my birthday?” Chirped Molly and Caleb gulped.

“Bosun’s a dick, but a standup guy. Takes care of us all…”She said and then frowned.

“Now Kylre…I don’t trust him…there’s something weirdly intelligent behind those yellow eyes of his…Takes care of Toya just fine, but-“ She said, and Caleb turned as Molly gave a startled yelp as Jester brushed past him.

“Caleb, Caleb! I found it!”

“Found what?” asked Ornna and Molly straightened out his coat, dusting it off. Jester bounced over to Caleb and looked around smirking. Caleb sighed in relief and focused on her. She had her hands on her lips and her tail was swinging excitedly. Overall looking very victorious.

“It’s the devil toad!” She said victoriously. “I got a very evil kind of vibe off of him.” Jester continued.

“What do you mean evil kind of vibe?” asked Molly, straightening up. Ornna raised an eyebrow too, and The Knot sisters looked at each other.

“Well I mean he’s a fiend.” Said Jester and Caleb inhaled sharply, directing his attention at Ornna then at Molly.

“Wha-he’s a what?” asked Molly.

“He’s a fiend.” She said again.

“No, it’s not…that’s -j-just a name. That’s not actually like a r-real thing it’s just….” Said Molly, stuttering slightly.

“You guys know he’s a fiend, right?” asked Jester, her tail drooping and Caleb looked at Ornna and Molly for confirmation.

“He’s supposed to be lizard folk.” said Ornna, looking nervously at everyone else. The Knot Sisters had scooted back slightly, Molly scratched his head behind his horns and Jester twiddled her thumbs like she had been scolded.

Had they seriously been harboring a fiend without knowing it?

“Hey! Where do you think you’re going?!” shouted a male voice that Caleb recognized as one of the guards. Caleb pushed past Molly and Jester and saw the hulking figure of Kylre. The guard who had spoken suddenly froze, halfway from drawing his sword and grunted against whatever force was holding him and then crumpled to the ground, his sword making an alarming clatter against the ground. Caleb watched several of the performers peek out of their tents and wagons, or guards draw their swords as well. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Beau and Fjord enter the area, concern at the shouting all over their faces.

Another guard ran over, putting his fingers to the man’s neck.

“Damon?! Damon?!” he asked, pulling off his helmet, tossing it aside and then froze up as well, the looming form of Kylre blotting out the sun. He clutched his chest and choked on whatever words he was about to speak before falling onto his back with a heavy thud, eyes wide open in horror.

“What the fuck?!” asked Beau from across the camp, holding onto Fjord’s arm and his hand hovered over the hilt of his sword. Caleb watched as Kylre then jumped, bounding away from the camp like an enormous frog Northward.

----------------------

Molly stood frozen next to Caleb, watching as Beau rushed up to the one named Damon on the ground, and his red eyes went wide as the man moved, his neck splitting wide open. Beau took a step back and ran over towards their tent as the sickening crunch of bones forming the familiar spines emerged. Unlike last night, where black blood dripped from their wounds, now it was dust and sand pouring from them. The second guard shuddered, and his armor bulged, sand pouring from beneath the breast plate and greaves.
He gulped and drew his scimitars, seeing from the corner of his eye Ornna take a step back towards the twins.

Their horses, stabled over near a wagon, whinnied nervously, shying away as best as they could. Both of the fresh corpses lumbered over towards them, ignoring Fjord. Molly noticed a smaller green figure clamber out of the wagon, clutching a crossbow and hastily loading it.

“Son of a bitch.” Cursed Fjord.

Molly couldn’t agree more.

“Should we kill the Crownsguard, even if their zombies? Should we go after the toad?” Beau asked, and Molly gave her a confused look at the ridiculous question and Jester did the same.

“We should probably kill the zombies because anybody that gets bitten by a zombie turns into another zombie!” shouted Jester, her tail flicking anxiously.

“Well, I don’t want to be a guard killer!” Protested Beau getting into a fighting stance.

“Well I don’t want to be a zombie!” retorted Molly, gesturing with his right scimitar towards the lumbering corpse.

Beau drew her staff and swung low at the Guard’s knees, making a loud clanging sound as it hit its greaves. The Zombie growled in protest but didn’t fall and it’s red eyes turned from them to her, dust falling from its mouth. She looked down at her staff briefly.

“Aw you fucking broke my stick!” She said and struck it’s chin with her elbow, dislocating it. She swung again, but it caught it instead, and she tried to pull back, but it held tight, an unnatural growl coming from its torn throat while it’s jaw hung crookedly to the side.

Molly watched as Caleb withdrew a small diamond from the pouch at his side and like a top, spun it in the air, frost covering it’s sides as a small orb formed above it. He grabbed the arcane orb and launched it at the zombie engaged with Beau, currently trying to bite her in retaliation. The orb struck it’s shoulder, ice shards embedding themselves between the bronze colored armor. Molly gulped and rushed forward towards Beau, seeing the ice from Caleb’s magic creep up its armor.

Avoiding fire this time around, eh?

Molly twirled his blades and then in an exaggerated V, sliced deep into the creature’s sides, the scimitars meeting together at the base of the spine. The torso separated and fell onto the ground, releasing Beau’s fist in the process. He smiled smugly at her.

“Thanks.” She said with a little hesitation. Molly turned and looked for the next one. The guard formerly known as Damon lurched towards him, but Molly held out his hand and glared hard at it, the familiar twinge of the eye tattoo on his neck bursting as black ichor leaked from Damon’s eyes. It swung at him and Molly easily ducked but then felt a burst of pain as it still managed to hit his shoulder, making him stumble into the monk behind him.

“Ow!’ Molly complained and heard what could only be described as a sarcastic huff in his ear as Beau caught him.

--------------------------

“Shit! Shit! Shit!” cursed Nott as she ran across the camp towards a food crate and looking at the zombie that had caused Molly to fall into a woman in blue, and fired, watching the bolt pierce through its armor.

A burst of flame shot out of Ornna’s tent, almost greenish blue, barely missing the zombie as it managed to shift to the side and a curse followed it. She saw the half orc from last night charge up, drawing his sword and flipping it. The pommel began glowing a dark black and purple color as a burst of energy ripped from it, shooting out towards the zombie and impacting it. The creature rocked onto one foot, but remained standing, glaring at him.

“We need to drop this fucker.” He said and she saw Molly do the familiar head tilt that meant he was rolling his eyes. The blue clad woman she had heard them call Beau vaulted over the fallen corpse, holding her staff and with both hands slammed down hard on it and Nott could hear the wood on metal ringing sound encompass the entire camp. It was an eerie sound, despite the successful hit that had caused it to stumble, it sent shivers up her spine.

“Ugh, Die!” She said and leaning off her staff, kicked it against the side of its head. It’s head snapped to the side and through its choking, Beau looked at Molly.
“Molly.” She just said, uselessly shrugging her shoulders. Molly shrugged in response, then as he glanced off towards Caleb, Nott’s stomach fell as she saw Caleb’s hand begin to char, what looked like flakes of charcoal falling from his palms.

“Duck Mollymauk!” he shouted as he launched the fire bolt and as Molly ducked, grapping Beau’s head along with him, it struck the temple of the zombie and snapped it’s neck back into place. Small embers flew into the air and singed the zombies hair, but it remained standing.

“You undid my work!” complained Blue and pushed Molly off as she pointed at Caleb. Molly once again swung at it, his first swipe missing, while his second impacting its abdomen. Nott watched his eyes widen as he tried to withdraw the blade, but it appeared stuck. He grunted helplessly and then groaned in pain as the Zombie punched him in the temple. Nott watched Molly spit up blood and try to shake his head to steady himself as another swipe at his chin knocked him out. Molly dropped his swords and fell at its feet, his red eyes fluttering shut.

Nott glared and bared her sharp teeth at it, running out from behind the crate and loaded another bolt, quickly firing it. The bolt hit it directly behind the kneecap, emerging from the other side and it stumbled back into the fire pit, falling into the coals as the zombie snarled in pain, then going quiet.

She watched as a blue Tiefling, presumably Jester, run out from Ornna’s tent and fall down next to Molly.

“Molly! Oh shit, oh no!” She said and placed her hands on his chest and forehead. A quick glow of light and his chest rose, and he coughed but didn’t move, blood mixed with spittle dotting his lips. Jester began digging around in her bag as Nott rushed up, watching as donuts were tossed to the ground and Beau crossed her arms.

“You have a six pack of donuts, but you don’t have a healer’s kit? I thought you were a cleric?” asked Beau accusatorily.

“I’m a cleric who didn’t think she’d be traveling with a bunch of people that would be dying in front of me! I’ve never needed a healer’s kit before!” she said in defense. Nott approached Molly as Beau pulled out a wad of bandages and handed them to Jester.

Nott knelt next to Molly and pulled his head into her lap, watching suspiciously as Jester carefully dabbed at his wounds with a wet rag, wrapping his shoulder as best as she could without stripping him and wiping off the blood from his face and neck. She could hear the rest of the Carnival emerging from their tents, slowly at first but eventually gathering around them. She looked around and couldn’t spot Toya among them.

She had seen Kylre run away, and almost immediately the guards turned into zombies.

No.

“Where’s Toya?!” asked Nott and they all looked around, and she watched Bosun walk quickly over to the tent Kylre and Toya shared.

“She’s not here!” he called back.

“Did anyone see where that…toad went?” asked a half orc and Jester piped up.

“It went that way Fjord.” She said, pointing towards the northern side of the loch.

“Where are the guards…Are more coming or is this all of them?” whispered Mona and Caleb looked down at the halfling woman and she looked away, averting her eyes. Nott looked down at Molly and gently slapped his cheek, eliciting a quiet snore from him. She breathed a sigh of relief and looked up as Desmond approached with Basket on his hip.

“Mama!” he cried out and he reached for her. She transferred Molly’s head to Jester’s lap, who gently began to tap Molly’s cheek and tightly hugged Basket, nuzzling into his neck.

He was such a smart boy, listening to her to stay in the wagon.

Caleb grunted as he pulled out Molly’s scimitar from the Zombie that had fallen into the fire and set it next to him.

“He is alright then?” he asked timidly, dusting his blackened hand off on his pants and Jester nodded.

“Looks like you didn’t hurt anyone else this time.” Said Nott bitterly, running her hands through Basket’s hair and Caleb visibly winced at her retort.

Good. He should feel bad.