Mollymauk was starting to think that he was never going to catch up with the Mighty Nein.
He reached up and pulled his cloak a bit higher over his horns, trying to stop some of the rain that kept splashing down on his face. He was fairly certain that he was heading in the right direction based on some of the whispers and rumors he'd heard in the last town he passed through, but it was difficult to know for certain. It could just be another dead end.
If he was honest with himself, he was running mostly on hope at this point.
... actually, no. That wasn't quite true. That made it sound like it was something new instead of the status quo. He'd been running mostly on hope for over six months now.
Six months. That's how long it had been since he'd woken up to find himself buried in half-frozen earth. He still remembered the feel of the soil pressing down on him like a weight, holding him under as he gasped for air but only found dirt. He remembered the utter panic that had filled him at the realization that he was buried alive, as well as the certainty that it wasn't something new.
All he'd had were memories that felt almost like dreams, a bloodstained coat, and a damp, torn letter, but he'd made it be enough by sheer force of will. He'd dug himself out of the shallow grave and started moving forward, and he hadn't stopped since. It was—
His mental dialogue cut off abruptly as, without warning, something went sliding out from under his foot. Molly let out a yelp as the ground rushed up to meet him, and the next thing he knew he was sprawled on the cold, muddy road. His tail ached from where he'd landed on it, and he was pretty sure that his entire right side was going to be one big bruise before too long.
"Wonderful," Molly muttered under his breath, grimacing as a bit of mud slipped down onto his lips. It tasted foul, and he quickly reached up to brush it away. "This is turning out to be such a lovely day."
He didn't realize that he was speaking Infernal until the words were already out of his mouth. That said more than he'd like about his current mood.
His eyes darted to a fallen tree branch near his legs. It was broken in half and pressed down into the mud of the road, barely visible even now that he was almost at eye level with it. There wasn't a doubt in his mind that it was what had tripped him.
Shaking his head in annoyance, Molly pushed himself to his feet and tried to brush as much mud as possible off his clothes and coat. His attempt didn't do a lot but, as heavy as the rain was, it really didn't matter that much. He suspected that the mud would be gone within a half hour if it kept pouring like it had been all day.
And if not, well, the river was nearby. It was a little cold for a bath, but he could make due if needed. He'd had worse.
Still, that didn't mean that he had to like it.
Not for the first time, Molly wondered what in the Hells he was doing. He'd spent more time following the Mighty Nein's footsteps and trying to track them down than he'd spent actually with them. He had less than three years' worth of memories, which meant he'd spent a good sixth of his entire life trying to find people he'd only known for a fraction of that time. Most people would probably call him crazy.
Honestly, they'd probably be right. Even he had to question his sanity sometimes.
Molly sighed as he pressed forward down the muddy trail that barely counted as a road. It kept moving in and out of the sparse forest that lined the river it followed, giving the impression that it was wandering aimlessly. Still, the maps that he'd looked at a few towns back had showed him a line of small villages and towns connected by the so-called road, so it presumably had an endpoint. Somewhere. Eventually.
He just had to keep pressing forward. By himself. Again.
Molly couldn't help but make a face as that particular thought crossed his mind. He'd never liked being alone, not in the almost three years of memories that he had. He preferred being in a crowd, where it was easier to both stand out and hide at the same time. Traveling by himself was starting to get to him, whether he wanted to admit it or not.
The first few months hadn't been that bad, all things considered. Well, mostly. Admittedly, those first few days were still a blur, even now. Molly remembered waking up, cold and confused and in pain and not able to breathe. Everything else from around that time were nothing but flashes. Franticly digging. Breaking the surface and gasping for air. Prying a somewhat ragged, half-frozen coat off of a makeshift grave marker. Stumbling down an empty road. Falling.
His next real memory was waking up in a warm bed three days later.
Oh, Molly had pieced together what had happened from stories that the innkeeper had told him, mixed in with some not-so-quiet remarks from some of the regulars at the tavern. A traveler had found him sprawled out unconscious in the middle of the road, half-frozen to death. Not to mention covered in dirt and dried blood and the gods only knew what else. They'd dragged him to the nearest tavern – a small place used more by locals than people passing through – and left enough gold to cover room and board for a week or two before heading on their way.
Whoever that random traveler been, they'd saved his life. And the only thing the innkeeper had been able to tell him about them was that she thought the voice had sounded somewhat masculine. She couldn't even tell Molly what race they'd been because they'd apparently kept their cloak up the entire time she'd spoken with them.
Then he'd made the mistake of asking the date, only to find out that he'd lost six months in the blink of an eye. Time had passed without him yet again, except this time his memories had stayed with him. Mostly. There were a few that were blurry from time to time, that felt almost like they'd happened to someone else, but they were fairly few and far between. Enough that he didn't worry about them. Much.
Molly shook his head, pulling himself back to the present. There wasn't any point in dwelling on something that had already happened. He'd known for three years now that there wasn't any changing the past, only moving forward. And somewhere ahead of him was a motley group of assholes who he really fucking missed a surprising amount.
He just had to find them.
There was a crash of thunder somewhere off in the distance, and Molly couldn't help but smile despite the fact that he was soaking well and pretty damn cold just then. If Yasha was somewhere out in this storm, she was probably thrilled. She'd always been drawn to this type of weather, ever since he known her. It didn't matter how much time had passed; he knew without a shadow of a doubt that hadn't changed.
It was kind of a relief, knowing that something was a constant.
Molly puckered his lips and tried to whistle. It took a few tries, the chill from the rain making it more difficult than it normally was, but he finally managed to get a few bars out. The silence around him seemed to swallow the sound.
Gods, he really hated traveling by himself. And he wished more than anything that the group of merchants he'd been riding with the past week hadn't been heading in a different direction than him. He missed the company, even if he'd done his best not to get too attached to any of them. Just like he'd done with every other group of travelers that he'd traveled with over the past several months.
Getting attached led to, well, whatever it was that he doing. Spending months of his life searching for people who probably didn't even remember him. It may have been six months for him, but it had been a year for them. Over a year. And from their perspective, he was long dead. They'd probably forgotten all about him by now.
In the distance, probably a good mile or two away, something exploded.
Molly froze in place, his eyes darting in that direction. He couldn't see much, just the faint outline of smoke rising far in the distance, but the sound had been loud enough to cover the distance. It probably wasn't them. He knew that the odds were against it. But... well, the Mighty Nein tended to draw attention to themselves. That much couldn't have changed. It was part of their nature, almost as much of a constant as Yasha's love of storms.
He had to at least take a look.
He picked up his pace, trying not to get his hopes up. Molly had made that mistake before, and it always made it hurt more when it inevitably turned out to be someone or something other than his friends. It was better if he didn't have any expectations, not until he knew more.
The road twisted and turned through the trees, just as it had been. After a few more minutes of following it, Molly stopped and glanced towards the river before letting his gaze dart in the direction the sound had come from. There hadn't been any more explosions, and the smoke was already disappearing thanks to the heavy rain.
It might be a better idea to take the more direct path rather than the road's circuitous one.
Molly immediately turned off the road, making a beeline for the mostly flat ground that ran alongside the river instead. He could always pick the road up again. He doubted it strayed too far from the main source of water in the area.
Time seemed almost distorted as he picked up his pace, hurrying to follow the river. There was a part of him that felt as if all he'd done was blink, and suddenly he was a good mile or more from where he'd started, while another part of him couldn't help but despair at just how much further he had to go.
Ahead of him, the flat river valley was slowly giving way to something steeper. Not steep enough to be considered mountains, at least he didn't think so, but they seemed too large to merely call hills.
And that's when he saw the flash of color in the river.
It took a long moment for Molly to realize just what he was seeing. Then it clicked, and he could make out that the hints of color he could see coming up out of the water every few seconds was a person. It wasn't one of his friends, that much he could instantly tell. Whoever it was, they were too large. Not to mention the coloring was all wrong, a mixture of pinks and greens.
His gaze darted off in the direction he'd seen the explosion and smoke earlier. Any sign of it was gone, and he knew – he just knew – that he needed to keep pressing forward if he was going to catch up with the Mighty Nein. If it had even been them in the first place and not just another dead end.
His gaze moved back towards the river.
Molly muttered a few choice words under his breath before sprinting to catch up with the bedraggled figure that was already being swept past him in the river's current. He didn't know who they were or how they'd ended up in the water. He didn't even know if they were still alive. If they were, though, they wouldn't be for much longer unless he did something.
Even he wasn't quite that selfish.
His eyes darted towards some boulders along the edge of the river up ahead, and he picked up his pace so that he could get past them and move into the water. They broke the current enough that he'd have a chance of grabbing the unlucky soul he was after without getting pulled in himself – at least, that's what he hoped. Of course, strategy had never exactly been his strong suit.
The water was frigid, but Molly pointedly ignored it as he waded into the river. The current was still strong even with the rocks breaking it somewhat, and he couldn't help but get the sinking feeling that this was one of the worst ideas he'd ever had. And that was saying quite a lot. It wasn't like he could back down now, though.
Molly took a deep breath and sent up a quick prayer to any passing deity who might be listening. Then, as the sodden form went past rushing past him, pulled along by the fast-moving current, he reached out and grabbed at what he hoped was their chest.
It took every bit of willpower he had to keep from being yanked along with them further down the river. They weren't that heavy, but they were significantly taller than he'd realized, and that caught him by surprise. If it wasn't for the boulders breaking the current at least somewhat, he was fairly certain he would have been swept away in an instant. As it was, he was able to plant his feet in the muck along the river's edge just long enough to put all of his strength into a solid yank.
And then, just like that, he was halfway out of the water, pulling his waterlogged prize up onto the shore. Someone had to have been watching out for him. Well, him, or whoever it was that he was trying to rescue.
As soon as they were out of the water, Molly took a good look at just who it was he'd pulled out of the river. The first thing that he noticed was that they were breathing. Barely. The next was that they were a firbolg with hair a surprisingly vibrant shade of pink, almost like rose petals. Anything else he might have picked up on came screeching to a halt as his new half-drowned friend's eyes shot open, followed almost immediately by them rolling over and coughing up approximately half of the river.
Not dead then. At least Molly hadn't given up on potentially catching up with the Mighty Nein for no reason. That was something.
"Just cough it up," Molly said, trying to keep his voice as reassuring as possible as he reached out and rubbed the firbolg's back. "Better out than in, and all that."
The firbolg nodded but didn't say anything, too busy coughing to waste any breath on words. Not that Molly could blame them. He still woke up some mornings convinced he could feel dirt in his throat.
Almost unconsciously, Molly leaned forward a bit to help keep at least some of the rain from pouring down on top of the poor firbolg's head. Considering how wet they both were at that point, he doubted it helped much, but it was the thought that counted. And they – he? it was difficult to know for certain, but Molly was pretty sure that he was getting a masculine vibe from the firbolg – apparently agreed, considering the weak smile that Molly suddenly found himself on the receiving end of.
"Thank you," the firbolg said, his – and, yeah, Molly was going with "he" unless he was told otherwise – voice rough from coughing. He pushed himself upwards a bit, more into an actual sitting position rather than simply being sprawled on the ground, and Molly shifted backwards to give him some room.
"Anytime," Molly replied with a grin. "You looked like you could use some help."
The firbolg ducked his head, the tips of his ears bending back in a way that all but screamed embarrassment. "Yeah," he said, reaching up to rub the back of his neck. "I appreciate it. That could have been bad."
The small bit of Molly that had still been regretting stopping to help instead of pressing onward fizzled and died at that complete understatement. He might be an asshole, but he wasn't a complete asshole. "Well, I'm just glad that I was in the right place at the right time," Molly said, holding out his hand. "Mollymauk Tealeaf. Call me Molly."
Something flickered across the firbolg's face for just a moment, a mix of surprise and what looked almost like recognition. "Huh," he said, tilting his head and blinking a few times. Then he reached out and took Molly's hand. "Caduceus Clay. Nice to meet you."