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The Fear of Drowning

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Fjord wakes up in a familiar dreamscape. He is standing on a beach of white sand and his feet feel unsteady on the shifting minerals. To the right and left of him, all he can see is a blank slate of sand for as long as he can see. In front of him, there’s a dark ocean. The water moves restlessly, as if there is a storm coming.

The water begins to rise and Fjord takes a step back to avoid the waves licking at his feet, but before he can even blink, the tide is up to his knees — then his chest — until he is completely submerged in an icy bath of saltwater.

After a few moments, he opens his eyes and surveys the area around him. There is nothing but water for miles in every direction he looks, the dark green and blue of the ocean surrounding him completely except for the dim shine of the sun above him. That, too, is extinguished the further he sinks into the depths. The sea goes from blue, to green, to an inky black and he finds that his eyes have to adjust to the lack of light. He blinks a few times, but out of the corner of his eye, he catches a long shadow moving around him. Fjord recognizes this as the familiar serpentine figure of Uk’otoa, circling him with it’s endless body.

WATCHING.

The serpent gets closer, but it does not completely collapse in on Fjord.

DISOBEY.

Suddenly, there is a sharp pain that strikes through his arms. Fjord looks down and finds that two identical versions of the Summer’s Dance falchion have embedded themselves in his biceps, cutting him at different angles. Red wisps of his blood leak into the sea and he can only stare as he feels three more swords enter him. One bites at him between the right side of his neck and shoulder while the other two lock up his legs, both finding a home through his kneecaps.

Air bubbles rush from his lips in a silent scream and he can’t help but flail aimlessly in the water. His hands go to the sword between the meat of his neck and shoulder, but the second he touches the hilt, his hands burn with a cold fire. The frigid brininess of the ocean does nothing to help his wounds, only making them sting further while he falls to the bottom of the sea.

PUNISH.

Fjord stops resisting at this point and instead resigns himself to death. The quicker he dies, the faster he can wake up from this nightmare. He clenches his teeth when two more swords puncture his chest and one slides right next to his heart. The metallic taste of blood fills his mouth and he thinks it is fucking ironic that he’s got more of a chance of dying drowning in his own blood than the water around him.

PUNISH.

He wills himself to succumb to the darkness, but he is terrified when no escape comes. The agony of the blades in his body still burns, his lungs still feel as though they’re about to burst, and his body is growing weaker by the second and yet — he still hasn’t woken up.

No… Fjord thinks and his eyes widen at the realization. He’s stuck here. This was his punishment.

At the same time, a giant golden eye opens up in front of him, narrowed and angry. The water begins vibrate. The voice of Uk’otoa grows louder, the loudest Fjord has ever heard it.

PUNISH.


“Wake up sleepyhead! We’re going back to Zadash today!” Jester hopped over to where Fjord was still asleep, motionless on his bedroll. The group had given him some extra time to rest since he had taken the first watch, but now that they packed up their things and had breakfast, they were ready to move on. She went ahead and poked at his cheek when he didn’t respond, “Fjordddd. Caduceus made some really good porridge this morning and we saved you some. It will get coldddd.”

When nothing happened, Jester tugged on his cheek a bit. “Fjorddd?” Still nothing.

Jester was just about to shout this time, when Caduceus came up, seeming to sense her frustration. “Is there something wrong?” He asked, standing over both her crouched form and Fjord’s slumbering one.

“Fjord isn’t waking up,” she told him with a frown. “I mean, he’s a deep sleeper, but it doesn’t usually take this much effort.”

Caduceus had a troubled look on his face, one that made Jester nervous.

“He’s totally fine, though! He’s probably just really tired, you know?” She made the excuse, but even she knew that it didn't sound real. 

Glancing back at Fjord’s body, he looked the same as ever. Pointed ears, growing tusks, dark hair with that bit of grey in the front. If she examined him closely, she could even see the gentle rise and fall of his chest. He wasn’t dead, she confirmed, and Jester felt a bit silly for jumping to such an idea.

Caduceus bent down and pressed a hand against Fjord’s forehead. His brows furrowed, “He’s extremely cold…”

“Maybe it was just chilly last night?” Jester tried. She really wouldn’t have known. The cold was normal to her.

“Perhaps we should call the others over as well,” said Caduceus after a few moments.

Panic began to spread through Jester’s gut and she watched Caduceus rise to get the rest of the Nein. She had touched Fjord’s cheek earlier and hadn’t noticed anything, but she was used to the cold. Jester slowly brought her hand to rest on the side of Fjord’s face and was disappointed that Caduceus was right. She wouldn’t have felt it at first, but compared to her own warmth, Fjord’s was barely there.

What’s going on? Jester thought worriedly as the others began to gather around.

“We may have a bit of a problem…” Caduceus started. “Fjord hasn’t woken up.”

Nott shrugged, “So? Just splash some water in his face — actually, don’t do that… But Beau can just punch him awake, right?”

“Is that even necessary?” Beau had her arms folded and raised a brow and looked between Nott and Caduceus. Her gaze narrowed and settled on the latter. “I feel like there’s something you’re not telling us.”

“Why would you think that?”

“Why else would we be making such a big deal out of Fjord sleeping? You think something’s wrong,” Beau stated, but it came out a bit accusatory. Having sensed this, she tried again, taking some of the tension from her tone. “What’s going on?”

The rest of the group turned their attention towards Caduceus, waiting intently. Jester noticed that Yasha had come up behind her and began to examine Fjord’s form quietly.

With everyone else's’ attention on him, Caduceus started gingerly, “I don’t think Fjord is just sleeping. Him being cold to the touch is… unsettling.”

Beau asked, “What the hell does that mean?

Caduceus was hesitant to reply, “It’s a lot of speculation — I can’t be sure.”

Caleb spoke up, “Speculation is okay. We can work with speculation.”

There was a slight pause in the conversation and Jester hated the silence that had spread through the group. She forced herself to be patient for the answers, but that panic from before was rising with each second.

“... I think Fjord’s dreams have finally become a bit more dire. As you all know, his last dream with his… higher power didn’t end well. We had talked about it being a possibility that it can hurt him beyond his dreams…” Caduceus trailed off.

Jester’s head snapped up, “You think it can kill him in his dreams?!” She put her hands protectively over Fjord’s chest. “Should I be healing him? What do we do?”

“It’s just a theory,” Caduceus reminded. “But it wouldn’t hurt to try.”

Beau held up a hand as if to physically interject in the conversation, “Hold up, you think that Uk’otoa is keeping Fjord asleep? It can do that?”

“That is part of the problem. We don’t know what it can do,” Caleb said, mulling over Caduceus’ words. “We need more information, otherwise we are just throwing darts blindly.”

“What do you suppose we do, Caleb? You’re smart; you must know of something that can help.” Nott said, now starting to look nervous.

Caleb ran a hand down his face and Jester could see the concentration in his eyes. “Well, it might help to eliminate some options. There is a low chance that he could truly just be sleeping. Beauregard, perhaps if you could just give him a tap on the face…?”

Beau sighed, but stepped forward, “We’re really doin’ this?”

Caduceus nodded, “It would help.”

“Fine,” Beau said, and knelt down next to Fjord opposite of Jester. There was a moment of hesitation, and Jester could have sworn that she heard her whisper, “Sorry, man,” right before she brought back her hand and sent a loud crack through the clearing as she smacked Fjord in the face.

Everyone waited for something to happen, but for the first twenty seconds there was no other sound. The only thing that changed was the darkening skin on Fjord’s cheek where Beau’s palm had made contact. He remained unmoved besides that.

“Well, he’s definitely not sleeping,” Beau said, and her voice came out a bit harsh as she moved away quickly. Jester could tell that hitting their friend, despite it being with good intentions, had bothered her. She sent Beau a reassuring smile and the other woman simply nodded and in her peripheral vision she could see Beau’s shoulders begin to relax.

“It is good to make sure,” Caleb said lightly, seeming to have also picked up on Beau’s discomfort. “We now know that he is not in a normal state of sleep. This could also mean that he cannot be woken by any normal means either – especially if it is as Caduceus believes and this is the work of Uk'otoa.”

“But we don’t know that for sure, right?” Nott asked. “What if this is some sort of spell or magic?”

Caleb suggested, “We could always try to dispel any magic around him. Even then, it would take a powerful caster to be able to use such a spell–.”

“You guys,” Yasha suddenly interrupted, but instead of her usual soft tone, this time her words were urgent. “He’s bleeding.”

They all brought their attention back down to Fjord and sure enough, Yasha was right. Beneath his dark tunic, Fjord had begun to bleed near his shoulder and, strangely, on his arms. Jester pulled back the collar of his shirt and was shocked when she saw a fresh wound, probably a few inches long if she had to guess. However, it was the depth of it and how much blood it was spilling that nearly made her scream.

“What’s happening to him?” Jester asked frantically, immediately putting her hands on his chest and sending healing magic into his body. Even as she did this, she spotted more spots of blood beginning to appear. Two more on his legs, one over the left side of his abdomen, and another right next to his heart.

Caduceus seemed just as disturbed, “I-I’m not sure,” but despite the confusion, he knelt down hurriedly where Beau had once been and rested his hands on top of hers. While she was focusing on casting her cure, she could still hear Nott and Beau in the background.

“You made him bleed?!”

“What the fuck?! I didn’t do that!”

Jester ignored the others in favor of checking on Fjord’s injuries. She looked back at the one on his bicep, as it was the easiest to access, and couldn’t help but be disappointed. The gash had stopped bleeding, but the flesh was still raw. She placed her hands over him again and weaved another healing spell around him, this time sending a prayer to her god as well.

Please help him, Traveler.

There was but a second before she could feel another presence beside her. The moment she opened her eyes, she caught a flash of a billowing cloak and green, and then it was gone. Jester checked on Fjord’s wounds again and she was relieved to find that they had mostly healed. His skin had stitched itself back together and only faint marks remained. She gazed up and saw Caduceus looking back at her, still appearing puzzled by the whole ordeal.

“Okay, so what the fuck was that?” Beau asked, standing behind Caduceus, her eyes wide. “He was perfectly fine one minute, then the next he looks like he was used as a pin cushion for swords!”

“This magic beyond anything I’ve ever heard of,” Caleb said darkly. “And that is if we still want to call it that. I would say that this is beyond spells. This is transcending realms and planes – perhaps even the boundaries of reality.”

“Is there someone we can ask?” Yasha wondered softly, her eyes darting between the rest of them and Fjord. “Someone who would know about… this?”

Beau said, “If we went back to Zadash, we could see Pumat. His magic is pretty advanced. Or maybe I could get us back into the library and there could be a book about,” she gestured to Fjord. “This shit.”

“That’s not a bad idea; I only fear what will happen to Fjord in the meantime,” Caduceus said, his hands still on top of Fjord’s chest.

Jester shook her head, “I don’t understand. It’s seems so sudden. He was fine just yesterday…”

“I’m afraid Uk’otoa doesn’t care much for time as long as Fjord is using his to free it,” Caduceus looked down at their friend sadly.

Despite the usual bickering between the two, Nott seemed just as upset for Fjord as the rest of them. They may not get along well, but there was no denying that they at least cared for one another. “So that’s our plan? We go to Zadash and figure out something to help Fjord?”

The group all glanced at one another, but it was Caleb who confirmed, “Let’s get ready to leave.”


Fjord cracks his eyes open just a bit and he is still met with the vision of the endless abyss of the sea. The glowing eye has faded into the shadows, and he can see now that he has drifted far below the surface, almost to the point where he can see something that resembles the ocean floor. However, it’s not just a floor, but concrete. And although he doesn’t dare to move his body in fear of the pain that will shoot through him when he does, he can’t help but crane his neck downwards.

He waits a few seconds, minutes, until his feet hit the ground and he is forced to hold his own weight. The swords embedded in him send the expected burning sensation through every wound on his person, and it brings him to his knees. Fjord wants to die – wishes to die – as he lets the pressure of the sea drag him down to the floor. His head is pressed against the stone, and Fjord can feel ridges and patterns underneath his open palm. He opens his eyes once again and moves with great difficulty until he can see where exactly he was.

There’s a moment of recognition and Fjord glances around further to confirm his suspicions: Uk’otoa has brought him to another temple.

There’s crumbling ruins surrounding him, leaving faint figures in the dark. He can also see the strange archaic symbols carved into the stone under him, similar to the ones he had seen in the previous shrines. And finally, his eyes fall upon a moderately sized divet in the ground, just like the one Avantika had placed her hand on and just large enough for the orb on his falchion.

Suddenly, the Sword of Fathoms is in his hand and he can feel a strange force moving his arm unwillingly towards the small crater.

REWARD.

The voice of Uk'otoa causes the water to hum with energy, and the ruins all around him shake as tremors run through them.

POTENTIAL.

Fjord fights hard to resist the pull, but this only makes the serpent angrier. The swords in his body dig deeper, twisting and pushing further into his flesh and he can’t do anything except scream through the agony. However, he still grips the falchion, his hands trembling from the effort.

PUNISH.

He waits for another wave of pain, but it never comes. Instead, the swords break and the blades shatter into pieces of glass until they melt into nothing in the water. The cuts and gouges in his skin repair itself at an alarming rate, and Fjord knows instantly that it had nothing to do with the will of Uk’otoa.

There is a brief moment where he is too shocked to do anything, and in that moment, a green ethereal figure appears before him, brightens the depths. Uk’otoa growls, and Fjord can feel the rumble shake him to his core, but the darkness and the leviathan’s presence falls away when the light approaches. Whoever it is, they seem to at least be humanoid, as their arms and legs fill out an endless cloak. Fjord catches something resembling a face covered by a hood, but it is difficult to tell. There is something strange that happens when he tries to inspect the person closer. It is as if he is looking through a kaleidoscope, just barely seeing enough to make out an image, but there’s too much to focus on.

They hold out an arm, and at first Fjord thinks that they are offering him a hand, but then he sees the point of a slender finger.

They then speak in a voice that is neutral and light. “Your friends are searching for you, Fjord. However, they need a little guidance... I’m sorry I cannot help more.” The hand flips and they flick their finger upwards. “Go.

Fjord watches the being dissolve into nothingness at the same time he feels a powerful current lifting him up through the water. The jet pushes him upward and beyond the shadows, reminding him of the time Caduceus brought them up from the Diver’s Grave. He dares a glance back down at the hell he was in and is horrified to see black tendrils snaking up out of the darkness and moving towards him. Hundreds of yellow eyes of varying sizes pop up, all staring directly at him and a bitter thought tells him that he won’t be free for very long.

— but he is so close to the top! He can see the sun shining through the top of the waves and the bright blue of the sky.

Fjord reaches his hand out and the tips of his fingers break the surface —.


The road to Zadash was a lot longer than Jester remembered. And bumpy.

Granted, it had been a long time since they ventured back North, both in fear of getting too close to the Empire, and also the Soltryce Academy. Caleb had not said much else about his past since then, but they had all kept Trent Ikithon and the Empire in consideration when making plans to travel. But given the fact that they were trekking across the whole bottom half of Wildemount, she supposed it was reasonable.

Jester was sitting in the back of the cart with Yasha, Caleb, and Beau, while Nott and Caduceus drove the horses. Fjord had been moved to the cart by Yasha and was now sleeping peacefully next to her knee, still just as unresponsive as that morning. Jester kept shooting glances over at him, hoping that she would see some kind of movement and everything would go back to normal – or at least their version of normal. Each time she did, she would just feel more upset.

“He’s gonna be okay, Jess,” Beau told her, seeming to have noticed Jester’s anxiousness. “We’re gonna find a way to kick that sea worm’s ass and we’ll get him back.”

“I do not think that we could fight a creature like Uk’otoa,” Caleb interjected. “Or we could, but it would not end well. Our best chances lie in breaking the bond between it and Fjord, but it will most likely be very difficult without him here to guide us.”

Beau deadpanned, “Come on, man, really? I know it sounds like bullshit, but I’m trying to stay positive here.”

Without any warning, Fjord shot up, coughing and sputtering loudly from beside Yasha. No one was given a chance to react before he turned over and began to vomit up water and foam, both tinged red. The rest of the group besides Yasha was too stunned to do anything but watch as he gasped for breath. Fjord began to take shuddering breaths and Yasha grabbed him firmly, but gently, propping him up against her while patting his back.

“Fjord!” Jester rushed over to him, never being happier to see his eyes open again. “Are you okay? Are you hurt?” The cart had stopped and she could feel the attention of Caduceus and Nott on her and the rest of the Nein as they gathered around their friend.

“Can you tell us what happened?” Caleb asked, a cold calmness steadying his voice.

Instead of answering right away, Fjord shook his head vigorously. His eyes were wide and it took him a few more coughs until he could speak. “I-It’s Uk’otoa. It’s wants the other orb.”

Varying looks of concern were shared between each other and Jester specifically caught Caduceus’ eye, not surprised when his lips were pulled down by a grimace. She knew that he had been hoping that he was wrong. A spell or poison was real and tangible. They could deal with magic, maybe they might run into a bit of trouble along the way, but it wasn’t impossible. Finding a counterspell and facing down with a demigod were two very different things, and she knew that Caduceus had been thinking the same thing.

If Fjord was in the hands of a lesser god, what could they possibly do?

Jester chewed on her bottom lip in worry, but instead of voicing these thoughts, she grabbed Fjord’s hand and gave it a small squeeze. She gave him a weak smile when his gaze met hers, but his eyes didn’t hold the same joy. All she saw was fear.

“I-I don’t know if I have much time,” Fjord told them, his voice shaking.

“What do you mean?” Beau asked. “What else happened?”

Fjord took in a couple more deep breaths with a bit of effort. “I was there – underwater, I mean. It stabbed me with my own sword, dozens of them… It’s angry with me and I c-can’t—.” More coughs shook his frame and Jester looked back at Caduceus and saw the same concern reflected from his expression. “It’s not gonna let me go…”

Jester watched Fjord’s eyes begin to droop and she surged forward along with shouts of protest from the others as well. “Fjord! Fjord, stay awake!”

“He’s getting pulled back,” Caduceus stated grimly.

“Can’t you do something?!” Nott looked around from Caleb to Jester, but the former shook his head.

“Fjord, you need to tell us what else you remember. It’s the only way we can try to find you,” Caleb said, kneeling down and grabbing one of his shoulders. “Where were you in your dream?”

Fjord was struggling to keep his eyes opened, careening to one side, his body wilting. “I-It brought me to the l-last temple. I don’t know how…” The wide-eyed panic that had initially woken with him was completely gone, a drowsy sluggishness replacing it.

“What? But you’ve been here the entire time,” Beau told him.

He shook his head, “If I – If I don’t…” His words drifted off and the second he closed his eyes, he slumped over, only saved from crashing to the floor by Beau and Yasha’s hands catching him.

The cart was quiet afterwards, the words of Fjord still echoing around them. Yasha lowered him back down to the ground slowly, and they glanced at one another. Eventually, Beau broke the silence.

“So, we’re going back to the coast?”