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Rise, children of the lost

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The Feywild was a changing place. What had been a sunset could become high noon, what had been a rock could become grassland. The Feywild was a changing place.

The Shademurk Bog was not.

It looked the same now as it had years ago, before Throdak, when they'd left without Vex. There was still the dark rot of corruption seeping into the plantlife, the slow leeching decay under the marshland, like the disease beneath Raishan's skin.

Keyleth shook her head. No more Raishan. No more Thordak. No more dragons. No more dragons. No more Vox Machina, but no more dragons, either.

She set Venthras down at the edge of the swamp. Removed her antler crown and set it beside the Vestige. She undressed. Against her feet, the grass was wet with morning dew. It was night time, the moon flickering in the sky between waxing and waning.

She put a hand in the bog itself. She could feel the soft pull of ruin, something like the edge of apotheosis.

She changed.

Transformation came easily to her, especially here, especially now. Arch-druid was not far from arch-fey, even arch-druids who were also the clerics of damned gods.

She became a sea otter, something cute with grasping paws.

She hoped it would remind Vex of Trinket, at least a little. She had wanted to take Trinket, but Pike had been adamant that Trinket was too old for this. And they loved him too much to risk losing him.

"Vox Machina can be a woman and a bear," Pike had said. "Vox Machina cannot be a woman alone."

Keyleth hadn't had the heart go tell Pike that Vox Machina was no more, women or woman, bear or not. Sarenrae had taken Pike back, after everything, and while Keyleth was grateful for her friend, she thought Pike maybe didn't realise that miracles did not come as easily to others.

Keyleth knew Pike thought this was a miracle mission. She hadn't been there when Vex had left. She didn't know. She couldn't know.

Keyleth hadn't told Pike, but it was nothing of the sort. There was no absolution for the likes of her, not with the stain of Raishan's godhood on her skin, on her soul.

Keyleth had reached the tree. The trees. From beneath, the two trees were so entangled that they looked just as Saundor's single tree had looked the first time she'd seen it from this angle, but Vex's tree was there two, at the center of the consumption running through the muck.

Keyleth emerged within the tree, Venthras held tight in her paws.

By the time she had finished changing back to her elven self, Vex and Saundor had manifested out of the trees. Up close, Vex's tree had a slightly bluer colour than Saundor's and so did Vex's plant flesh. Half her torso rose from her tree, from hip to opposite shoulder she was alive and alone. Beyond that she fused with the wood and Saundor beyond. Her hair was fine as spider silk and attached to the same way. A passel of flowers grew behind her ear, blue like her feathers had been.

"Keyleth," Vex rasped.

"You've returned," Saundor said. "You brought Venthras. There was no need, your business here is done and has always been done. There is no place for a Voice of the Tempest within these woods."

Keyleth held up the Vestige. "Once, long ago, I traded my best friend for this weapon."

"You traded nothing," Vex said. Her voice still rasped and echoed, more forest elemental than half-elf. "I sacrificed."

"So did I," Keyleth said. She tore at the flesh of her cheek, exposing the scales beneath the skin. The mark of Raishan, the newest god of a pantheon who rejected her, damned even before she died and damned further after (and oh, how the Briarwoods had laughed at this).

Vex's silence and Saundor's were one and the same.

"It is easier for a dracolich to become a god than for a dragon to become a dracolich," Keyleth said. "To defeat Thordak, to save Exandria... it has not been without sacrifices. We needed a god on our side so we made one."

"Foolish." It was Vex's voice, but it was Saundor's thought.

"A lie." The reverse, now.

"You weren't there, neither of you. You don't get to judge." Keyleth breathed out. Rebuild her flesh. Hid the dead, damned god she belonged to. "All this to say I know what the midpoint of apotheosis looks like."

"You think this us, halfway to godhood?" They laughed like the forest might laugh, ancient, powerful and at her expense. "No."

"Yes." Keyleth ran a hand through her hair and held out the muck stained hand. The corruped muck stained hand. "What is this but the rot of your domain? The sacrifice of all that you are?"

She spread the rotting mud on Venthras. It glowed, softly, slowly, beating like a heart. It was a gamble. Deification was always a gamble.

She broke it.

She took one of the Vestiges of the Calamity and broke it against her knee as though it were a twig. A dracolich had been close to godhood. So was an archdruid.

The glow blasted out from Venthras.

The mud and muck, the swamp and marshland beyond, all of them were caught in the burst of energy, drying out in the process. The woods of the Feywild screamed. And then, the power discharge came collapsing in on itself, smaller and smaller, tighter and tigher, until there stood two stars in front of Keyleth.

One was green. Raishan Raishan Raishan raishanraishanraishan went the beat of Keyleth's heart. But no. This was not the green of poison or disease. This was the green of ferns and algae, live things thriving in the damp.

The other was a blue edged in the grey of the Hunt. Vex began taking form. Her eyes burned like the moon, silver-bright and unyielding, but she was herself. The shadow of a bear hung around her shoulders, draped over her like a cloak. In her hands she held a bow. Not Venthras, but an organic, living branch of plantlife that looked like Vex's preferred style. Not the longbow Venthras had been, but a recurve bow that fitted in her hand like it was meant to be there.

Like it grew from there. Keyleth averted her eyes.

She opened her heart. She would wash Raishan from her skin. Become the cleric of a living god. There stood before her the god of loves lost and the goddess of the wild hunt.

The choice was easy and had always been. The Huntsmistress. Vex'ahlia. Her best friend.

Raishan fell from Keyleth as the scales fell from her eyes. For an instant she was tethered on the brink of unfaith. Following gods was not in Keyleth's nature; the Voice of the Tempest was not made to be tamed. Following her leader, following Vex? That was friendship and that was Keyleth's nature.

She rose to the occasion gladly.