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Beau the Betrayer

Chapter Text

The training pits in the Zadash branch of the Cobalt Soul were one of Beauregard’s favorite places to work off some steam.

 

Even when she had hated being here, hated being forced to study things she didn’t want to study, forced to get up at the crack of dawn, and go to bed at curfew, what she did like was learning how to beat the shit out of people.

 

After all, where else could she run along the walls, and lightning punch her mentor into the ground from twenty feet in the air.

 

Beau wiped the blood and the sweat from her face. It was with only half a grin that she helped Dairon up from the ground.

 

It wasn’t the first time that she had defeated her mentor in single combat, but she still felt a tiny bit of a thrill every single time. Made her feel less like the punk-ass kid full of rage and resentment that got snatched from Kamordah all those years ago.

 

‘Well done,’ Dairon said, patting Beau on the shoulder. ‘Your strikes are improving. Your timing is excellent. I’m impressed.’

 

Beau raised an eyebrow. It wasn’t that Dairon refused to say anything positive about Beau’s progress, but she had never quite been particularly free with her compliments.

 

‘The lightning is a...novel touch.’ Beau couldn’t quite tell whether she was impressed or irritated by the lightning. She decided on impressed, because Dairon had always been an advocate of Beau using the tools at her disposal.

 

She grinned. ‘You should see me imbued with radiant energy. It’s fucking awesome.’

 

‘Walk with me.’ Beau was a little confused at the non-sequitur, but followed Dairon’s direction nonetheless.

 

They walked out of the training area, and through courtyard gardens within the Archive. Beau had never spent much time in the gardens; her meditation attempts capped out at about ten minutes. She could never be the monk that sat around in silence for hours.

 

‘I fear I can no longer call you my student,’ Dairon said, after they had been walking in silence for almost ten minutes. Beau’s stomach dropped. Since the day she had met the elven woman, she had feared this moment, feared the day that Dairon would start feeling the same way that Zeenoth had, that her parents had; that she was no longer worth the effort. ‘Because I have nothing left to teach you,’ she finished. Beau felt a wave of relief, but was still thrown by the comment.

 

‘What do you mean you have nothing left to teach me?’ she demanded.

 

‘You have already learned it all,’ Dairon said, simply. ‘At least as much as I can teach you. You are an exceptionally fast learner, Beauregard. What we learn next, we learn together.’

 

Beau was a little thunderstruck. The idea that there were people out there that had more training, more experience than Dairon had never really crossed her mind. The thought that they were now something approaching equals was a daunting one. Beau certainly didn’t feel like she was Dairon’s equal.

 

Perhaps because Dairon was that much older, that much more mature than her. Dairon, certainly, would never embarrass someone by reading their smutty love letters aloud, or get so blackout drunk that she couldn’t remember which room in the inn she was staying in. Maybe once upon a time, if the “I used to be like you” shtick actually held any water, but certainly not now.

 

Beau wondered if she could be the sort of person that would go behind enemy lines, like Dairon had in Xhorhas, and manage to not talk herself into being arrested as an Empire spy. Not that she was really sure that Xhorhas was the enemy anymore. While they hadn’t exactly left the Bright Queen on the best of terms, it wasn’t as though the Cerberus Assembly were handing out hot meals and warm cloaks to the less fortunate.

 

In all senses of the word, they were free agents. Even still, they kept a bit more of a low profile than they had once upon a time, using Seeming, and staggered arrivals and engaging in a little less drunken frivolity than they might have once upon a time.

 

Shit, maybe she was maturing.

 

‘So does this make me actually an Expositor now?’ Beau asked, knowing that the question was perhaps pushing the limits of Dairon’s influence. Whether or not they could make that call, Beau didn’t know.

 

‘Perhaps in time,’ Dairon admitted. ‘That is for those in greater positions of power than me to decide. I will, however, but giving them my recommendations.’

 

‘Which are?’ Beau raised an eyebrow.

 

‘That it would be a waste to have you out in the world ruffling feathers without taking advantage of that.’ Beau grinned a little. “Ruffling feathers” was probably a very tactful way of describing the way the Mighty Nein seemed to operate some days. They had ruffled their way into piracy, into the heart of Xhorhasian territory, and many places besides. It certainly wasn’t subtle, but it got results.

 

‘If you are returning to your party, then perhaps we could travel together for a time,’ Dairon continued, smoothly.

 

Beau stared. Dairon had never offered to travel with her before. Even when they’d met up in the heart of Xhorhasian territory, they had preferred to travel alone. Or perhaps they just hadn’t wanted to travel with six other people. Which, yeah, maybe there was a point. Beau loved her friends dearly, but they weren’t exactly subtle.

 

‘Yeah,’ Beau said eventually, realizing that Dairon probably wanted a response of some sort. ‘I’d like that.’

 

The easy thing to do would be to go to Nicodranis, and strongarm Yussa into Sending a message to Jester. Or find someone to send a message to Jester. Last she’d heard, the party had planned on going down to the Menagerie Coast anyway, Jester wanting to see her mother, and Fjord having a few things to sort out in Port Damali. It had only been three or so weeks since she had last seen them, but knowing how quickly fortunes could change...

 

With any luck, they hadn’t attacked a crew of bandits and stolen another ship. Not that Beau had disliked the sailor life – she had really fucking liked being First Mate. It would just be a lot harder to find them if they were on the open ocean.

 

‘I’m heading south though,’ Beau told them. ‘Out of the Empire.’ Dairon seemed to consider the point.

 

‘I can probably travel with you as far as Trostenwald.’

 

Beau raised an eyebrow. ‘And that’s near where you need to go?’

 

‘It’s in the...general direction,’ Dairon said, and Beau knew that she was lying. In her experience, Dairon had operated more in the North than the South. Any direction away from Xhorhas was the wrong direction. If she was traveling south, it would be either for the purpose of accompanying Beau, or to throw people of the scent of her true destination.

 

More than likely, it was the latter, but a little bit of Beau kind of hoped that it was the former.

 

Beau wasn’t sure how she felt about that. Once upon a time, she would have been put upon at the idea of having a chaperone, as though it meant that the Cobalt Soul didn’t trust her to stay alive. Now, she took it for what it was; Dairon wanting to be in her company.

 

It was a strange, but good feeling.

 

‘Trostenwald,’ Beau said, musingly. ‘That’s where we first met.’

 

‘I remember,’ Dairon said. ‘You will, I hope, try not to get arrested this time.’

 

Beau grinned. ‘No promises,’ she said, but knew that the comment had been in jest. ‘I know my rash, intense behavior is going to be my downfall.’

 

Dairon cracked a smile. Two in two days – that had to be some kind of record. ‘Suffice to say, I think your rash, intense behavior has been in a steady decrease since the day we met.’ Beau raised an eyebrow. That was practically a compliment.

 

‘Still think I’m like you?’

 

‘Not as much as I once did,’ Dairon said. ‘Which is no bad thing. I have learned as much from you, as you have from me.’ Beau sincerely doubted that, but did not argue.

 

‘You haven’t learned everything,’ Beau told her. ‘We haven’t done shots together yet.’

 

Dairon put a hand on Beau’s shoulder. ‘Beauregard,’ they said. ‘I could drink you under the table.’

 

Beau wasn’t sure about that, but she let Dairon have it.

 

Their journey was, for the most part, lackluster. Any threat they came across was taken care of with ease, and Beau was enjoying the opportunity to fight along Dairon’s side in the wild. It was certainly different to their forays in training pits, and warehouses, and random bars in the middle of Xhorhas. It was something like the Four Corners fight could have been if they’d been working together.

 

At long last, though, they reached Trostenwald, and Beau found herself once more disappointed at the thought of having to leave Dairon behind. It seemed like separating was all they ever seemed to be doing.

 

Beau couldn’t remember whether or not they’d technically been banned from Trostenwald, so she turned her coat inside-out, and let her hair down. Dairon gave her a sideways glance.

 

Then Beau remembered that they weren’t banned, and they had returned to pay off Gustav’s debt. She was sure she had it all written down somewhere.

 

Even still she got a few looks at the Nestled Nook Inn. It was just as well that they retired early; Dairon was planning on making an early start. Much earlier than Beau, who didn’t plan to rise until the sun was at least a few inches above the horizon. They said their goodbyes over a pub-fare meal, and, to Beau’s surprise, more than a couple of pints of ale.

 

‘Is this the drinking under the table you promised me?’ Beau asked, amused.

 

‘Ah, Beauregard. When you have the control over your body that I have, drunkenness does not come easily.’

 

‘Yeah, pass on that monk ability,’ Beau said, raising her tankard. ‘When I drink, it’s to get good and drunk.’

 

‘Yes, Zeenoth has told me the stories,’ Dairon said, shortly, but not judgmentally.

 

‘Was he crying like a little bitch when he did it?’

 

Dairon smirked, but said nothing. It was somewhat of a legend in the Cobalt Soul now, how, in Beau’s first weeks there, a fresh-faced teenager, had gotten a little too wasted on wine the monks had thought was well hidden, and vomited all over Zeenoth when she was discovered.

 

In hindsight, it had kind of been a shitty thing to do, but still, anything that caused Zeenoth a bit of grief was alright in Beau’s book. It was amazing how much of a turn her training had taken when Dairon had replaced him.

 

There would always be a part of Beau that would pull out all the stops to make sure Dairon stayed safe. She had done in it Xhorhas, and she would do it again. It was why she felt so uneasy when parting with Dairon the next day, knowing they would more than likely be going into some unknown danger once more.

 

‘Be patient,’ Dairon said, setting a hand on Beau’s shoulder. It felt less like a directive, now, and more like a general reminder. ‘Stay alive.’ There was a long pause. ‘Don’t get too close.’

 

Beau considered for a moment what she wanted to say, before settling on, ‘You too.’ Dairon didn’t reject the hug that Beau gave, but nor did she lean into it, which was as much as Beau had expected. Dairon had never been one for close intimate contact.

 

Beau watched out of the corner of her eye as Dairon headed off in a vaguely North-Eastern direction. Not that that said much. Trostenwald was pincered by mountains; if you went west, you hit the Cyrengreen Forest, and you could make your way up to Deastock, and then Kamordah. Not that Beau had been that way in years. Not since she'd been dragged out of the living room by jerkass monks in Cobalt blue robes.

 

The first day of solo travel was quiet.

 

Beau had traveled on her own before plenty of times – after leaving the Cobalt Soul to go to Trostenwald, every time she ever snuck away from home to go to Deastok to parley with the buyers of her stolen wine. It was easier, after all, to tuck yourself away in the hollow of a tree when you were one person, as opposed to seven. When you were human, as opposed to a tiefling, or a firbolg, or whatever Yasha was.

 

A strange group was noticeable. A single person moving at speed, whose feet barely made a whisper was less so.

 

It was easier, too, to make it through the Wyoun Gates. Thanks to the lack of suspicious cart, and the cobalt blue that adorned her, the guards practically waved her through without even looking.

 

In a way, it was refreshing to be out of the Empire. The war, still alternating between bubbling and raging in the north, had not yet come this far south, and Beau doubted that it would. The Menagerie Coast had its own issues caused by the war, though, including the vacuum left by the departure of the Gold Chain Mercenaries.

 

Travel was a little more dangerous, and Beau made sure to keep on guard, sleeping only when necessary, and only well hidden.

 

At around ten a.m on the second day, the first pair of bandits attacked. They were poorly armored, and poorly armed, and probably thought that she – with no armor, and just a stick – looked like an easy target.

 

They ran away screaming, after the first few blows.

 

At the time, it didn’t seem like much of a significant event. Later, she wondered if it was the first sign of something amiss, that it had been a deliberate set-up from someone watching at a distance.

 

If it had been, they waited a long time before striking. The sun was starting to edge below the horizon, and Beau crawled in between two large boulders to bed down for the night. She was chewing on some trail rations she had picked up in Zadash.

 

It was another few days or so to Nicodranis by her reckoning. She was a faster traveler on foot than most people, but not as fast as a horse or their moorbounders had been. Still, she’d made good time coming south, and if the weather held, the rest of the journey would go smoothly.

 

It was while mulling over this that she heard the sound.

 

It wasn’t much. The edge of a boot on a rock, maybe. But after over a week of solo travel, Beau’s ears were fine-tuned to pick up sounds that were out of place.

 

Slowly, silently, cautiously, Beau grabbed her staff and stood. She lowered her Darkvision goggles down over her eyes. Out of the corner of them, she saw movement. A single humanoid, creeping towards her.

 

Another flash of movement. Another person.

 

A quick look around, Beau counted six of them.

 

Six of them, one of her.

 

Easy peasy, right?

 

Beau swore.

 

She should have stayed in Zadash.

Chapter Text

When Beau woke up, she was tied up in the back of moving cart. At least, as far as she could tell, from her experiences of being in the back of carts.

 

Weirdly enough, it wasn’t the worst place she’d woken up, or the worst condition she’d woken up in. Fortunately, adrenaline was pretty good at keeping her mind focused. At least it would for a little while.

 

It hadn’t gone too badly at first. Beau was much faster than they had expected, and definitely not as easy to hit as they had hoped. Six against one, though, had been a tall order, even for her, and her odds had gone downhill once they realized they needed to pull back and use their ranged attacks.

 

She was pretty good at catching arrows, but not six at once good.

 

One had hit her mid-thigh, which had provided enough of a distraction for a couple of the others to close the distance and take her down. A second had grazed her shoulder, but Beau had gotten worse paper cuts. Her head and her body and her limbs all throbbed with the pain of their blows.

 

All in all, not the most auspicious of starts to Beau’s journey.

 

She ran through the list of suspects in her head.

 

Kryn Dynasty? Possible, but not likely. None of her assailants had been Kryn, and the room she was being held in didn’t look particularly Xhorhasian. While they hadn’t left Xhorhas on the best of terms, Beau wouldn’t have considered it kidnapping territory. Especially not this far south.

 

Cerberus Assembly? Again, possible, but not likely. First of all, none of the thugs had been particularly high-class magic users. Secondly, she couldn’t think of any reason that they would have gone after her specifically, rather than Caleb or Fjord or literally any other member of the party that could use magic. Unless they were going to use her as a way to get to them. Still, pretty low on the list.

 

Her father? This didn’t seem his style. Not that he hadn’t sent people to kidnap her before. No, he was arrogant enough that he’d want her to know what he was doing.

 

The list went on a little longer, including all of the people that the Mighty Nein had betrayed, or attacked, or humiliated. It was a worryingly long list, but the fact that Beau couldn’t definitively say yes to any of them was even more worrying. If she knew who it was, then she’d be able to figure out what they wanted.

 

More problematically, they hadn’t bothered to heal her wounds, which said a lot for the condition that they needed her in. The bandages wrapped around her leg where the arrow had struck was soaked with blood, and as far as she could tell, was still bleeding through.

 

They’d done the nice, honorable thing and ripped the arrow out, though, which had probably caused most of the bleeding. That was one of the first lessons Beau had learned the hard way in battle. Don’t rip out a projectile unless you’ve got a healer handy. If you have to, push the shaft through, and snap off the head. Ripping an arrowhead back through an entry wound was a good way to bleed to death. Judging by the state of healing, she’d been out for a while. Like “days” a while.

 

Another worrying thing was the fact that they hadn’t blindfolded her. They didn’t care whether or not she saw their faces. It didn’t bode well for long-term survival.

 

She had her clothes, but was missing her staff and her gloves and her bracers; anything she could have used to attack or defend. She imagined if she was the type of person to wear armor, they would have taken that too.

 

With tied hands, Beau dragged herself to the back of the cart. Maybe if she could kick through the wooden slats, and throw herself out the back of it, she wouldn’t break too many bones. Just as she started moving, started thinking that they really should have left someone back here with her, she realized that her restraints were further secured to a long iron bar that ran the length of the cart. Pain radiated through her, as the top half of her body moved, and the lower half stayed in place.

 

Fuck,’ she muttered. Okay, well that exit wasn’t happening. No exits would be happening unless she managed to get out of the restraints, which was a tall order. This wasn’t something that she could sit and meditate her way through and just break her way out. Not yet, anyway.

 

Wherever Beau was being taken, it seemed to take a long time to get there. She tried craning her head to get some kind of a peak at where she was, to see if she recognized any landmarks or features of the scenery. It was no use. There were no gaps in between the planks of the wood that made up the cart, and not a single window to speak of.

 

The adrenaline was starting to wear a little thin, and Beau found herself drifting off back to unconsciousness once more. Once upon a time, she would have fought to stay awake, to keep searching for a way out that wasn’t there, but at this point, the ball was in someone else’s court. There was nothing that Beau could do until her captors’ showed their cards, save maybe injure herself a little more.

 

Instead, she let herself drift off, knowing that the rest would help her body heal. A cleric would have been better, but she’d take what she could get.

 

The next time Beau woke, it was in a room. She was loathe to call it a cell, because it was surprisingly comfortable. Not particularly well-decorated, and utilitarian more than anything. There was a bed, and a table, and a pretty clean chamberpot. There were only two indications that she was a prisoner; one, that the door was locked, and two, that her wrists were still tied together.

 

The bandage on her wounded thigh had been changed, and there was only a small reddish-brown stain that looked as though it could have been a few days old. The pain, too, was lessened, though when Beau tried to walk, it arced through her with renewed vigor. Not fully healed, then.

 

Beau wondered, vaguely, if they’d used a potion of some sort to knock her out. She was in better condition than she had been the last time she was awake. If not a healing draught, then they must have given her something to keep her asleep. She was a heavy sleeper, sometimes, but not so heavy that she would have slept through something like this.

 

She was standing at the door, examining the lock, and wondering if she could find anything to pick it, when it swung open, knocking her to the ground.

 

Head spinning, Beau looked upwards. There were two brutes standing there– human, but almost as tall as Caduceus, and heavily muscled. They both wore leather armor, and had maces hanging from their hips. It looked almost comical. Less comical when they dragged her to her feet, paying no mind to her injuries.

 

Get your fucking hands off me,’ she snapped. ‘I will fuck you up.’ The first brute laughed, and Beau could get why. She didn’t look she was in a position to fuck anyone up. She looked like maybe she could punch her way out of a wet paper bag, and that was about it. Good thing she’d always been one to defy expectations.

 

You hear that, Tig?’ the first brute laughed. ‘This one’s got a fighting spirit.’

 

Shut up, Rig,’ the other one said. Beau rolled her eyes. Great. Big and stupid.

 

They dragged her up the stairs – fucking ow – to a lavish hallway with a lot of lavish rooms that peeled off it. Definitely not the sort of place Beau had been expecting to end up after getting ambushed on the road to Nicodranis. It was certainly nothing like the Sour Nest, where the Iron Shepherds had held Fjord, Jester and Yasha. With high ceilings, and polished wooden bannisters, and embroidered cushion covers, this seemed more the sort of place where one would have a fancy ball.

 

Who the fuck had taken her?

 

They reached a long room at the end of the hallway, which looked like the largest room there. Even, it, though, had more doors branching off it, and the only bits of furniture were a large, fancy desk, and a large, fancy couch. A tall, dark-haired man was standing there. Human. Fancy clothes. Fancy shoes. Fancy stick up the ass.

 

Tig – or was it Rig? – kicked the back of Beau’s leg, and she fell to her knees, screaming through clenched teeth.

 

My name is Thaddeus the Tyrant,’ the man told her, as though it was supposed to mean something.

 

Beau snorted. ‘You know, I had a bird named Thaddeus once. He was a fucktrumpet, too.’ Thaddeus gave an almost imperceptible twitch of the fingers, and the brute holding Beau’s left side kicked her in the still-bleeding arrow wound.

 

There was a flash of white, and a world of pain, and Beau was on the ground, having pitched forward out of her captors’ grip. The next few words out of Thaddeus’s mouth were blurred, as Beau’s mind struggled to reorient to the world.

 

‘—will have you know that insolence will be punished,’ he was saying, when everything stopped spinning. They pulled her back to her knees, and one of the brutes grabbed her hair. Beau made to pull away, but his grip was too strong. The other asshole clipped a solid iron collar around her neck. ‘Like so,’ Thaddeus finished, and with a wave of his hand, Beau felt a long, sharp shock arc through her body. Through gritted teeth, she barely managed to stay upright. ‘Just a taste,’ he promised her. ‘Any act of disobedience, and you will see its full power.’

 

Disobedience? Beau snorted. This guy didn’t know how disobedient she could get. ‘What exactly am I supposed to be disobedient about?’ she asked. The whole point of this bullshit charade seemed a little unclear to her. She wasn’t exactly the best candidate to sell into slavery, but then, perhaps, like the Iron Shepherds, these guys broke their merchandise before shipping it off.

 

Going places you aren’t supposed to go, doing things you aren’t supposed to do.’ Thaddeus paused. ‘Refusing to fight.’

 

Refusing to fight? What the fuck? She noticed, then, that one of the brutes was holding her gloves, and her bracers, and her staff. He must have picked them up while she was convulsing on the floor. It suddenly dawned on Beau what sort of place she had ended up in. What she would be expected to do.

 

More severe transgressions, will, of course, be dealt with in the appropriate manner,’ Thaddeus continued. He said a bunch more waffle that Beau didn’t quite catch. Her mind was drifting off, and her body was aching from spending so long on her knees (man, if only Jester had heard that thought). She jerked to awareness just as Thaddeus turned to leave.

 

You know, I think I’ve seen this play before,’ Beau said, sardonically. ‘Kidnapping wayward assholes for illegal gladiator rings. Not very fucking original,’ she yelled after the retreating back of Thaddeus the Tyrant.

 

The brutes dragged Beau back down the long, spiral staircase. After her leg bumping against the first four steps, Beau insisted on standing, and, well...hopping down the rest of the stairs, a muscled arm “escorting” her each step of the way.

 

How was she supposed to fight like this? Beau wondered. Not that she hadn’t fought with worse injuries, but still. It was the principle of the thing.

 

They reached a large room at the bottom of the stairs. More rough and ready tha n the Tyrant’s chambers. There were rows of wooden benches where a half dozen or so scattered individuals were sitting. Every single one of them wore the same iron collar. These, Beau realized, were the other fighters.

 

Tig threw her the bracers, and the gloves, and the staff that he’d been holding . ‘Suit up,’ he told her.

 

Now?’ Beau asked, so alarmed that she forgot to be abrasive.

 

Don’t tell me you’re suddenly not interested in fighting,’ Tig said, smirking. Beau swallowed. Maybe this was related to that “patience” thing that Dairon kept going on about. If she were less patient, she would have slammed his head against the wall. ‘Yeah, that’s what I thought.’

 

Quietly, calmly, introspectively, Beau put on her gloves and her bracers. While she did, she looked over the rest of the fighters, waiting, she assumed, for their names to be called. Dotted around the place were well-armored guards – the sort that would cut her down if she thought about doing anything untoward with her newly reacquired lightning gloves.

 

The fighters were a rag-tag sort of bunch. Some looked haggard and broken, some looked as though they were ready to eat glass for breakfast. Beau couldn’t help but notice that most of them were sporting half-healed injuries – a broken nose, or a black eye, or, most troublingly, an arm that had been amputated at the elbow, an inexpertly treated.

 

Beau looked down at her thigh, and the freshly bloody bandage . Well that explained one thing. Healing was definitely not a priority.

 

New kid,’ said an orc in a battered breastplate. It took Beau a few moments to realize he was talking to her. He was missing more than a few fingers, and walked with a limp. He didn’t seem to have a weapon on him, and Beau got the impression he was an organizer of some sort, rather than a fighter.

 

Great , she thought. Opportunities for promotion .

 

Beau stood, and limped her way over to him. ‘Yeah?’

 

You’re up,’ he said.

 

It was with an uncharacteristic trepidation that Beau stepped out into the sand-covered arena. The sand, at least, was a familiar terrain. The training pits at the Archive were filled with sand; it was easier to clean up the blood when you could just scoop it out and put new sand in. Plus, it didn’t hurt as much when you got knocked on your ass.

 

There was a commentator somewhere, high in the stands. Ears strained to hear his words, Beau barely managed to pick up the sound of her own name. The full name – Beauregard – which was both interesting, and a little disconcerting. She certainly hadn’t told any of her shithead captors what her name was. There might have been some scrap of paper in her belongings with her name scrawled on it, but the truth that Beau suspected was much more worrying. The idea that they had been following her, watching her, listening to her for much longer than she had previously thought.

 

The figure that stepped out from the other side of the ring – her opponent – was humanoid, but not human. Half-elven, she would have guessed, judging by the lithe figure, and the shape of the ears. He wielded two swords, like Mollymauk had. Unlike Mollymauk, he was wearing faded leather armor, complete with slash scars. His hair was shorn to the scalp, and he looked like a man that didn’t fear death.

 

Beau readied her staff.

 

He looked fast. She could deal with fast.

 

He looked strong. She could deal with strong.

 

An enormous bell rung, and Beau was moving before it had finished reverberating. Not towards the half-elf, but strafing to the side, never taking her eyes off him. Clearly, he did not have the same moral compunctions that she did, and that in itself was laughable. Even five years ago, Beau could not imagine having thought of herself as moral . Practical, perhaps, but never moral.

 

He announced his moves with way too much flourish. Not so much as a single feint. Beau almost rolled her eyes. He came at her with both swords, swinging the first wildly, and the second carelessly.

 

Beau parried with her staff, and then rolled off to the side. He struck again, and this time she easily dodged. She retaliated with two swift punches, fists crackling with lightning. Thank Ioun they’d let her keep her gloves. Not that she was necessarily a great deal worse without them. She just really liked punching things with lightning.

 

He sliced across her thigh – probably hit an artery – but she was too hyped on adrenaline to even really notice. Nothing like a good fight to get her going.

 

Seeing her blood splatter across the dirt seemed to flip a switch. He didn’t care whether she lived or died. If Beau wanted to abide by Dairon’s direction, then she would have to act the same way. This time, when she slammed him with her staff, she didn’t hold back, and when she followed with the punches, more red splashed the sand .

 

She was half a dozen punches in before she realized that the half-elf was unconscious. The entire battle had lasted probably less than twenty seconds.

 

The blood pounded in her ears. The crowd was screaming. It took her a few moments to realize exactly what they were screaming.

 

They were screaming her name.

 

Beauregard.

Chapter Text

Beau limped back into the waiting area, leaving her last opponent to be dealt with by the clerics that ran out into the P it. She didn’t even need to ask to know that for her, healing wasn’t going to be forthcoming.

 

After the half-elf, she fought a couple of gnomes, and after them, a shitty sorcerer that could barely even manage a Magic Missile . After that, they decided she was done for the day.

 

What was forthcoming, though, was the frosty pint of beer that the orc in the breastplate handed to her when she slumped onto the wooden bench.

 

Y’know, not a lot of people make it through the first day,’ the orc commented. ‘It’s the Tyrant’s way of weeding out the weaklings.’

 

Yeah, that’s not fucked up at all,’ Beau muttered. She took a long, refreshing sip of the beer. It wasn’t good beer, but Beau had always found that the more tired she was, the better shitty beer tasted. It made it much cheaper to get drunk after long days of traveling and fighting.

 

She noticed, too, that the orc had a collar around his neck, the same way she did. Whoever he was, he probably didn’t work directly for the top dog. He was deep in the shit-show just like the rest of them. ‘What’s your name?’

 

Emerson,’ he told her. ‘I used to be a fighter, but...well...The crowd stopped caring after a while, so they thought I could be put to better use as a…let’s say “helper.” Make sure things don’t get too out of hand amongst the riff-raff.’ They were the riff-raff, Beau realized. It made sense; people like Thaddeus the Tedious wouldn’t want to waste his time in people management. He just wanted to reap the profits.

 

How long have you been here?’ Beau asked him. He didn’t answer straight away, which told her it was probably a long time.

 

Few years,’ he said. ‘Long enough to see a lot of fighters come and go.’

 

Uh huh,’ Beau said. ‘Let me guess, by “go,” you mean “die,” right?’

 

Emerson shrugged. In a dark sort of way, Beau could see why the orc hadn’t been popular with the crowds. It wasn’t that he was wimpish, he just seemed...a bit non-committal. But, she reasoned, he was the first person that had shown her any modicum of kindness so far, and that counted for something.

 

You’ve had a few requests from patrons,’ Emerson continued, completely skirting Beau’s question. ‘They liked what you did today. Usually healing isn’t allowed, but special dispensations are made if you’re meeting with a patron. They like you looking your best.’

 

I don’t know what a patron is,’ Beau breathed, ‘But if it gets me a Cure Wounds, then yeah, I’ll go see a godsdamned patron.’ She normally wouldn’t have rolled over so easily, but after three fights on two wounded legs, there were a lot of unwise things she would have done for a healing spell. The only time she’d heard the word “Patron” was in reference to Warlocks. She closed her eyes and imagined having a one-on-one dinner date with Uk’otoa. Definitely not what she wanted out of this situation.

 

Emerson laid a gentle hand on her arm, and Beau felt the magic pulse through. Almost immediately, she felt better. Not full health better, but better nonetheless.

 

So what exactly is a patron?’ Beau asked. There was almost definitely a catch that came along with uncharacteristic healing. Like what she’d have to do when she met them.

 

Think of them like a sponsor,’ Emerson told her. ‘For a cut of your purse, they give you...perks. Saves having to deal with the volatility of the Ladder.’

 

And what’s “The Ladder?”’

 

Anyone ever told you you ask a lot of questions?’ Emerson’s tone was amused, but Beau caught the underlying meaning that excessive questions were frowned upon around these parts.

 

Every single day of my fucking life,’ Beau told him. She burped loudly, as she finished off the beer. ‘Any more of this?’

 

Win a few more fights, or meet with a patron,’ he told her. ‘Then you’ll get as much beer as you like.’

 

This time, instead of directing Beau to a shitty room at the back of the complex, the guard grunted, and pointed towards the second floor. He slapped a key into her hand.

 

It was an enormous building, all told. Beau hadn’t had the time, or the freedom to explore it, but even being dragged down its hallways, it had been obvious. The second floor had fewer doors, which Beau took to mean that the rooms were bigger.

 

Nicer, too, she discovered, on opening the door to Room 201. Pretty swanky. Not Pillow Trove swanky, which was about where Beau’s “swanky” bar was set, but nice enough. Big bed, nicely decorated, and, best of all, a fruit platter. The absurdity of that was a bit much. This morning she had been dragged in front of a cuntwaffle and told she was going to fight in his stupid arena, and now she had a fucking fruit platter.

 

Beyond all that, though, she couldn’t fail to notice the clothes that had been laid out on the bed, waiting for her.

 

The clothes were clean and new, to the point where Beau wondered if they had been made just that day. They were not monk vestments, but a finely made shirt and breeches, the shirt a deep, royal blue, darker than her cobalt, and the pants coal black. There were even boots, of fine tan leather, and woolen socks. Beau was not particularly enthused at the idea of wearing them; she knew how conversations starting with “please wear these nice clothes I had made for you” tended to go. H er own clothes, though, were torn and soaked with blood, to the point where she wasn’t sure they were even salvageable. Usually, Jester used Mending for her any time her clothes got sliced through, or bitten through, or torn through in battle, which was often. Their laundry system was questionable at best, and Beau would be the first to admit that, yeah, it had been a few days (weeks?) since she’d had a proper bath.

 

The bath attached to the room was small, but not any less nice for it. Beau had a very long soak, knowing she was expected at eight o’clock, and not particularly caring what time it actually was. The heat of the water soothed her aching muscles. She could have stayed in there all night, but decided against it. She didn’t know if Emerson was the kind of guy that would march on up here and stab her in the leg again for reneging on her agreement. Probably not, but then, she’d been wrong about people before.

 

The wound on her left leg wasn’t quite fully healed, but it had stopped bleeding. The wound on her right leg was scarred over, and looked like it had happened weeks ago. All the other cuts and bruises were in various stages of healing. She wasn’t in the best shape, but neither was she on death’s doors.

 

The open wounds, she dried carefully and bandaged with the Healer’s Kit that Emerson had left her, before pulling on the clothes.

 

Beau had to admit, they were comfortable clothes. They weren’t really her style, but then, her style was pretty much a crop top and baggy pants, which didn’t get her into a lot of fancy parties, even when she framed it as being an envoy of the Cobalt Soul. She hadn’t dressed up like this in a long time; even when her parents had forced her to go to things, she’d always had to wear a dress, and ribbons, and ridiculous straps. She kind of looked like a pirate. Or a pirate in one of Jester’s smut novels, which, now she considered it, was a pretty awesome look. All she needed was a rapier and a hat.

 

Should’ve stolen them from Avantika .

 

Ah well. Didn’t matter anyway, considering that her swordplay was worse than shit. As a child, she’d begged her father more than once to let her have fencing lessons. He hadn’t even dignified her with an explanation when he said no. Which made it all the more ridiculous when, ten years later, he’d handed her over to a group of deadly ninjas.

 

Somehow, Beau was more concerned about this than she had been about stepping into the ring. Or the Pit, Emerson had called it. Fighting, she could deal with. That was something that came naturally to her. Having to talk to someone?

 

She wished Fjord were here. Or even a little voice in her head that sounded like him, telling her what to do and what to say, lest she stick her foot in it, as she was wont to do. Of course, over the years, she had gotten better (hadn’t tried to strangle any small children with her staff in a while), but she wasn’t quite at the stage where she could turn it on and off at will. She had to actively prepare for any kind of conversation where she had to convince someone of something.

 

Hopefully whatever this bullshit was with a patron would be over quickly, and she could come back to sleep. As far as kidnapping accommodations went, it wasn’t too bad. She’d slept in much nicer places (The aforementioned Pillow Trove, The Lavish Chateau, the Xhorhouse), but she’d also slept in worse (on the side of the road, in a rat-filled cellar, in a human stable in the City of Beasts).

 

Still, it was curiosity that drove up the spiral staircase and along another fucking hallway to the tower Emerson had described. He had offered to escort her there, but Beau got the impression that this was the sort of thing she needed to do alone.

 

Beau wasn’t sure if there were any enormous structures with towers like this on the Menagerie Coast, but then, her experience of the Menagerie Coast was limited to Nicodranis, and the road to Nicodranis. There could have been entire cities around the places that she had no idea of, secret slave-fighting compounds wasn’t exactly a stretch of the imagination.

 

The ornate door at the end of the hallway was as pretentious as Beau had thought it would be, all carved wood and shit. Unlike the other rooms, it didn’t have a number.

 

Wondering if this was all a big fucking mistake, Beau knocked on the door.

 

Come in,’ said a voice, after a few seconds, and Beau was surprised to hear that it was a woman’s voice. For some insane reason, she’d gotten it into her head that the patron was a man. She would have put in a little more effort if she’d realized. Beau opened the door, and stepped inside.

 

It was pretty fucking nice.

 

Nicer than her room at least, and ten times bigger. There were fancy lights hanging from the ceiling, of the sort that had been in her parents’ house back in Kamordah. In the main living area, which Beau had walked right into, there was expensive looking furniture in the same wood as the staircase bannisters. They had all been intricately carved, whether by hand or by magic, Beau couldn’t quite tell. What drew her eye, though, was the enormous bay window, and the figure facing it.

 

There were lights outside, which Beau found curious. Then, she heard a scream and a cheer, and realized that the fights were still going on.

 

I saw you fight today,’ the woman continued. She still hadn’t turned away from the wide bay window, where, presumably, the slaughterfest continued. Beau wondered if they had managed to clean up all of her blood yet.

 

You and three hundred other people,’ Beau said. She hadn’t really meant to give a sarcastic retort, but seeing as how this was clearly a woman in a position of some power, she didn’t particularly mind.

 

True,’ the woman admitted. ‘But they don’t hold your fate in their hands.’ It sounded like a threat.

 

Was that a threat?’ Beau had never been one to beat around the bushes.

 

Yes.’

 

The woman turned, and Beau couldn’t help but let out a breath. She was human, and she was tall – at least as tall as Yasha, and had long copper-colored hair. Her charcoal grey dress hugged her figure tightly, and it was as nice of a figure as Beau had ever seen. She stared at the woman a few more seconds than was polite, but then tore her gaze away.

 

My name is Amaril Elahorn,’ she said, in a voice that oozed charisma. Beau didn’t let herself get taken in by it.

 

Beau,’ she said, shortly.

 

Yes, the three-hundred people in the crowd were chanting it earlier today,’ Amaril said, wryly. They were chanting Beauregard, technically, but the distinction wasn’t that important.

 

Amaril,’ Beau mused. ‘That’s an Elvish name. You’re not an elf.’

 

Are you an expert on Elvish history?’ Beau was a little thrown by the question. It sounded strangely accusatory.

 

I’ve been known to crack a book in my time.’ Something of an understatement. But not exactly a secret; after all, she did walk around Wildemount carrying a quarterstaff and wearing bright blue monk clothes. She didn’t necessarily advertise it all the time, but it didn’t take a genius to figure out that she spent a non-zero amount of time in a library.

 

And do you speak Elvish?’ Amaril said, only she said it in Elvish. Beau kept her impassive face up. She didn’t want to play all of her cards too soon.

 

I have no idea what you just said.’ Amaril seemed somewhat satisfied with the response, and gestured for Beau to come and sit down.

 

Can I offer you some wine?’ Beau stared at her. This was not how she had expected the conversation to go. She had expected….She wasn’t sure what she had expected. Torture, maybe? But then, most tortures didn’t start with your torturer telling you to wear the nice little red number. That was more like a…more like a seduction. Oh shit, was this a seduction?

 

Sure,’ she said, slowly. Then, feeling slightly more daring. ‘Mind if I make the selection?’

 

By all means.’ Amaril gestured towards what was clearly a bar, behind which there was a modest selection of fine wine. No doubt, Beau thought, there was a properly stocked cellar somewhere else on the premises.

 

Beau eyed the labels on the bottles – there was no wine from the Lionett family winery. Beau wasn’t surprised. Not that it was bad wine; it was pretty good wine, but not the kind of wine that the mysterious, sexy member of an illegal Pit-fighting ring would drink. There was , however, a bottle of Thistle Branch Dark Blood wine that Beau had always wanted to try, so she chose that one. It seemed like the sort of bottle she should decant, so she did, pouring it slowly into one of the glass carafes on the bar.

 

Are you a wine connoisseur?

 

I like to drink, if that’s what you’re asking.’ She wasn’t, and Beau knew that she wasn’t. But she didn’t want to show this hand any time soon either. Or at all, if this woman was her way out of this godsdamned fighting pit.

 

Wonderful. So do I.’ Amaril joined Beau at the bar, and poured out two glasses of the dark wine – so dark, it looked almost black. She hadn’t even waited for it to finish decanting properly.

 

Beau cast her eye over the rest of the suite. It was lavish, for sure, but every now and then, her eyes picked up a sign of wear and tear; a slight chip in a fine crystal glass, a fray in the table runner. Her eyes darted back to Amaril, and she noticed something else; a fine gold chain around the woman’s neck.

 

She moved her hands the way Caleb did sometimes; with flourish, as though about to cast a spell, but Beau had seen no signs of magic in her time here so far.

 

Beau took a long sip of the wine. In recent years, she had become more accustomed to ale, but her first forays into alcoholism had been sneaked sips from oaken barrels in the winery cellar. The Dark Blood wine had a deep, rich flavor that was cut nicely by the thistle branch. The thistle they used was grown in Kamordah, not far from her family’s estate.

 

It was good wine, yes, but it wasn’t luxury wine. It was the sort of wine you drank when you wanted to seem more important than you actually were. Those sorts of people Beau had a lot of experience with.

 

That told Beau two things, one, that Amaril had reasonably decent taste, and two, that she wasn’t in the leadership gang around here. Not even close. Being a patron, s he was some variety of important, but that was about it.

 

So,’ Amaril drawled. Her accent was hard to place. Not from Wildemount, Beau was pretty sure. It was sort of polished and clipped in a way that no Wildemount accent sounded. Possibly, she was from somewhere in Tal’Dorei. The woman leaned forward against the bar, in what was clearly supposed to be a sultry pose. ‘Tell me about yourself, Beauregard.’

 

Beau stared at her. No matter how hot, she wasn’t exactly about to start spouting off her inner-most secrets to a woman that she’d just met.

 

Where to start,’ Beau said, drily. ‘Oh yeah, let’s start with the fact that I got kidnapped by you shitheads while walking to Nicodranis.’ Though they had been meant to throw Amaril off the scent, Beau was surprised to see the other woman looked a little discomfited by the words.

 

Believe me when I say that I had nothing to do with that,’ Amaril told Beau. Beau raised an eyebrow.

 

So is this how you woo all your fighters?’ Beau asked. She stood her ground, as though about to be set upon by a legion of monsters. ‘Fancy wine, and denial?’

 

Well,’ Amaril said, with a tiny smirk on her face. She was starting, Beau thought, to get an idea that Beau was being a dick on purpose, and looked like she approved. ‘There’s also dinner.’

 

It was a nice meal, but not an extravagant meal – steak, and scallops and vegetables, in a rich, garlicly sauce. It went well with the wine, but it was the sort of meal you could probably get in any decent inn on the Menagerie Coast.

 

Begrudgingly, Beau sat down to eat, but did not take her eyes off of Amaril Elahorn.

 

She reminded Beau of Captain Avantika a little bit – in the hair, and the eyes, and the vaguely threatening nature. But, Amaril wasn’t an elf, wasn’t a pirate, and, as far as Beau could tell, wasn’t banging Fjord like a wooden door in a typhoon. Thank Ioun for that.

 

Once they had finished dinner, and finished dessert (more fruit), and damn near finished the wine, Amaril brought the conversation (or rather, started the conversation) around to the topic of her patronage.

 

The question is,’ Beau said. ‘What can you offer me that I can’t get anywhere else?’

 

I can offer you a room that’s much nicer than the Pit bunks,’ Amaril said. ‘I can offer you better food that they get, and better facilities. In return, you wear my colors, and give me fifty percent of your pocket.’

 

Beau raised an eyebrow. Fifty percent was a lot. She’d earned a measly hundred gold for today’s fights, and the stupid thing was, she had nothing to spend it on. By the time they’d garnished her for the crappy food, the crappy bed, and the crappy everything else, she had four gold left. Admittedly, then, fifty percent didn’t sound like that bad a deal.

 

Twenty-five percent,’ she countered.

 

You are going to get a lot of offers over the next few days,’ Amaril told Beau. ‘Once they see you fight a few more battles. I’ll admit, a lot of them will be a lot nicer offers than mine, but they will want to take seventy-five or a hundred percent. All I ask is that you keep me in mind. You certainly won’t get food like this at the bottom of the Ladder, I can tell you that much.’

 

You’re assuming I’ll stay at the bottom,’ Beau said, and there was an innuendo in there that she was hoping Amaril would pick up on, but for the moment, the other woman was strictly business.

 

Whether you stay at the bottom isn’t the issue. The issue is that no-one stays at the top. There’s always someone there to knock you down.’

 

Beau was curious at the phrasing, and decided to poke at button where she wasn’t quite sure what the response would be. A very Fjord thing to do.

 

I have a question.’

 

By all means,’ Amaril said, raising her glass, and nodding.

 

Did you start off in the Pit?’

 

There was a choked silence. Amaril was clearly thrown by the question, and for the first time, she looked like the human she was. A desperate, broken sort of woman held prisoner in a gilded tower. Definitely not as powerful as she wanted people to believe. ‘Yes,’ she said, finally.

 

And this,’ Beau continued, tugging at the collar around her own neck. ‘Stops you from casting any spells.’

 

Amaril stared at her. ‘You’re very observant, for a brawler,’ she said.

 

I like people to underestimate me,’ Beau said, plainly. ‘I get the feeling that’s a sentiment you share.’

 

Indeed,’ Amaril agreed. ‘Though I’ll admit, it hasn’t always worked out in my favor.’ She gestured to her surroundings. ‘A gilded cage is still a cage. I can sponsor fighters, but I cannot leave this tower. My chance of escaping has long since left me. The least I can do is give others a chance.’

 

Beau wasn’t sure whether she believed Amaril, but decided that the only way to find out more was to play along. She stood, and walked over to the windows of the room. ‘A chance to leave this place? Do you really think that’s possible without murdering every last one of the fuckers in charge?’

 

There was a long pause. ‘I don’t know,’ Amaril admitted. ‘But you’re certainly not going to find out at the bottom of the scrap heap.’

 

Beau looked out the window. Down below was the Pit, but beyond that, Beau realized she could see beyond the boundaries of the compound.

 

There was enough of a view of the surrounding landscape that she might get an idea of where the hell she actually was.

 

It looked horrifyingly familiar. Jagged cliffs, bare of any sort of plantlife. Beau recalled the ominous few days they had spent in a place like this, rain lashing dangerously against rock as they climbed higher and higher. ‘Are we on Darktow Isle?’ she asked, almost disbelievingly, and Beau winced as she realized how much she’d let down her guard with those words. Amaril stared at her.

 

No,’ she said, eventually, evidently surprised by the question. Beau imagined that Darktow Isle wasn’t exactly a place in the common vernacular for most people. ‘The Swavain Islands, yes, but not Darktow. Need I ask what you know of that place?’

 

I’m sort of...banished from there,’ Beau admitted, and then remembered she was supposed to be playing coy. Still, the news that they were in the Swavain Islands was troubling. She couldn’t see how the Mighty Nein would be able to trace that trail.

 

Not to mention, depending on how far they actually were from Darktow, the Mistake’s presence would clue the Plank King in to their whereabouts. If they could even manage to track down Orly and the ship in the first place. Either way, it wasn’t good news for Beau. Not that any location would have constituted “good news.” Even if she did manage to escape, there was no way she could leave the island.

 

There was another thing that bothered her, though. The fact that she had apparently been unconscious for an entire goddamn boat trip. The thought was worrying.

 

You’re worried,’ Amaril said. She had closed the distance between them, half-finished glass of Thistle Branch Dark Blood wine in her hand. Amaril stroked her cheek, like a collector examining a prize specimen. Or a hunter examining their prey.

 

Worried is a strong word,’ Beau said. It wasn’t entirely a lie. She couldn’t say that she wasn’t worried. But she wasn’t about to be tortured and executed, which was something. Plus, a beautiful woman trying to court her wasn’t exactly a burden.

 

Still, there was a little bit (okay, let’s be honest, a not so little bit) of Beau that was kind of turned on. She felt a weird sort of tingle through her body at Amaril’s touch.

 

Leylas Kryn , Avantika, Ophelia Mardun; she’d always kind of been attracted to the sorts of women that could crush her like an insect. Amaril was no different. Beau could tell that behind that golden chain was a powerful sorcerer waiting to be unleashed. Perhaps she’d even been to the Soltryce Academy, though Beau suspected her training had been Elvish in nature. Beau knew there were places – like Syngorn – where elves trained in the magical arts. Which would explain the accent.

 

There was absolutely no question as to Amaril’s intentions. Beau could have walked away. That much was clear. She could go back down to her cramped room, and her lumpy mattress, and blank ceiling, and wait to fight tomorrow.

 

Or…

 

Or, she could stay in this pretty nice suite, let herself get seduced , and get as much help in whatever bullshit endeavors this place was going to throw at her.

 

There was a beat of silence, and Beau – a little reluctantly – pulled away. Amaril looked disappointed, and if she was honest, Beau was a little disappointed too. But this wasn’t the sort of encounter where she could just let herself get railed by Amaril and go back to her life. And, to be frank, it seemed like a shitty thing to do to fuck her, and then say no anyway. The sort of thing that the Beau of two years ago might have done.

 

Let me think about it,’ Beau said. She wasn’t just talking about the patronage.

 

Amaril gave a small sort of bow. ‘Of course,’ she said.

 

It seemed a little awkward to stay after that, so Beau made her goodbyes, promising that she would consider her options and come to a decision.

 

What that decision was, she had no fucking idea.

Chapter Text

When she returned to her room, Beau spent a long time thinking. She had never quite been the person to explicitly write out a “pros” and “cons” list, and in any case, they had taken her journal (which, come to think of it, probably had a lot of incriminating stuff on a lot of people). Instead, she went over what she knew in her head, and thought of the questions that still needed answering.

 

Is the Tyrant the one in charge, or will I have to go higher?

 

Out of all the islands in the Swavain Islands, which one am I on?

 

How many people do I have to kill to get out of here?

 

That was just a few of them.

 

There were also the more immediate questions. Or, moreover, one immediate question, like:

 

Which idiot am I gonna have to fight tomorrow?

 

Beau knew she was expected downstairs at noon, which, when she considered it, was a pretty generous sleep-in. As far as she was aware, slave-masters weren’t exactly known for their generosity. Of course, she would have much preferred being woken at two in the morning by Caleb for final watch, sitting and admiring the sun as it crept up above the horizon throwing radiant orange light out into the world.

 

Unfortunately, the sunrise wasn’t something she could see from her room. As far as she knew, all the rooms in the compound – at least the fighters’ rooms – faced inwards. When she woke, judging by the light she could see, it was well past dawn. Though the day had well and truly started, things seemed unnaturally quiet.

 

Beau supposed that everyone took advantage of the times that they weren’t forced to their potential deaths. She should probably do the same.

 

Quietly and carefully, she dressed, and shut the door behind her. While she didn’t think there would be too many of the fighters around at this hour, the guards definitely were.

 

Now, where had the Tyrant lived?

 

Her mind had been a little fuzzy when they taken her from his chambers to the Pit’s waiting room. She knew she had been at the top of the spiral staircase. Or at least a spiral staircase. The building encircled the entirety of the pit, which meant there was probably more than one staircase.

 

Beau turned the corner, and came face to face with an armored guard. He looked like he’d come of worse in a fight with a bugbear.

 

‘No wandering, scum,’ the guard growled. His hand shot to his longsword. ‘Stay in your quarters until it’s herding time.’ Herding time. Beau raised an eyebrow. Like they were all cattle. Charming.

 

‘Hey, yeah, is there anywhere I can like...get my clothes washed. They’re absolutely covered in blood.’ Beau rambled, trying to find some reason for him to let her keep wandering around. It was a long shot, and she knew it.

 

‘You’ve got a bath, don’t you?’ he grunted. Beau sighed. Apparently, looking around was going to be harder than she had anticipated. Maybe if she had a patron, or if she made her way up the ladder… ‘Now get back before I start stabbing.’

 

Geez. Edgy much?

 

The shitty thing was, Beau was sure she easily could have taken him. Not so much the dozen or so other guards that would have followed once the screams started. She wouldn’t be able to fight her way out of this.

 

Not that she didn’t have to anyway.

 

Barely an hour later, she was back downstairs, waiting to go out into the Pit, possibly to her death. It was getting kind of old.

 

In the waiting area, most fighters kept to themselves. Beau was a little surprised when a tall man in silver half-plate armor came over and sat next to her.

 

‘You’re Beau, right?’ the paladin said. He was kind of attractive, objectively speaking. Beau wasn’t sure about these things, but she knew all the things that Jester swooned about, like chiseled jaws, and well defined figures (as far as she could tell under the half-plate. His skin was a couple of shades darker than her own, and his dreadlocked hair was pulled into a ponytail.

 

‘Yeah,’ Beau said. ‘Who wants to know?’

 

‘Ric.’ He offered a hand for her to shake. She took it, warily. People coming up to say hello unprompted always wanted something.

 

‘You’re not thinking of taking up the Wild Mage as your patron, are you?’

 

Beau frowned. ‘The Wild Mage? You mean A—the redhead in the tower.’

 

‘That’s the one,’ Ric nodded. ‘Legend has it she went crazy and killed all her fighters a few years ago. Hardly anyone’s fought for her since.’

 

‘Oh, wow.’ Beau tried to make it sound like that didn’t unnerve her. ‘Weird.’

 

‘Take it from me, let all of them wine and dine you, and then at the end, at least you’ve had a fun week. They’re all as bad as one another.’ He looked over towards Emerson. ‘Don’t trust anyone here that doesn’t have to fight to stay alive. Even then...’

 

‘Thanks for the tip,’ Beau said. For one of the few times in her life, she decided to try and follow someone’s advice. Partly, at least.

 

She met with four other patrons, all of them men, and all of whom seemed to be in much better standing than Amaril was. They, for one, were allowed out of the tower, and she suspected that they weren’t even prisoners. They didn’t wear the collar. For some reason, that made Beau uneasy. At least with Amaril, she knew that the mage had been through the same experiences.

 

Not to mention that they all treated her like a piece of meat, rather than a person. Somehow, Beau preferred her chances on the ladder than with one of these shitheads. Still, the food had been pretty good.

In that time, she had ten more fights, winning all of them handily. She got the feeling they weren’t exactly trying to challenge her yet; all of the fights had been over in less than twenty minutes, and the damage that she took, while nothing to sneeze had, hadn’t exactly been debilitating.

 

How lucky they must have thought themselves when they found her on the road to Nicodranis. She wondered if her friends were still there. How long had she been here? A week, maybe. Plus unconscious for however long…

 

All told, it had probably been at least five or six weeks since she’d seen them. They could have been anywhere. They could have been in Tal’Dorei, or Marquet, or Vasselheim.

 

Of course, there was also the possibility that Amaril was full of shit. That they were nowhere near the Swavain Islands. Either way, though, it made little difference, considering how impossible even getting out of the building seemed.

 

For now, Beau was on her own. The only person she could count on to get her out of this was herself.

 

A difficult prospect, when there were guards at every corner. Watching, and waiting, and, she assumed, reporting back to the Tyrant.

 

Her mind kept going back to Amaril.

 

Not for the reasons most people would have considered, though, Beau would be the first to admit she was a pretty big fan of meaningless sex.

 

Having a patron would give her access to things that being on the ladder would not. And, well, Amaril was the least objectionable of all the patrons she had met.

 

There was a contrary voice in her head, which, for some reason sounded exactly like Mollymauk. “Are you sure it’s not just because you want her to rail you?” the voice said. Beau ignored it. Though, she reasoned, in a place like this, Beau was certain she could use some of her meager winnings to pay for a companion for the evening.

 

Only that wasn’t how things seemed to shake out. At least not straight away. It started with Beau asking Emerson to get a message to Amaril, asking to meet.

 

‘Made a decision?’ he asked, and Beau shrugged. ‘Worse things you could do,’ he told her. Beau, remembering Ric’s words, said nothing. The paladin did manage to catch her eye, and give a look that quite plainly said “what the fuck?”. Beau ignored it.

 

She was perfectly capable of making her own bad decisions without people giving her shit for it. Sometimes rattling trees was the only way to get the information you needed. It didn’t hurt that the tree was pretty hot and seemed interested in taking things to the next level.

 

So, that was how Beau found herself dressed once again in fancy clothes (this time complete with a royal blue waistcoat over the charcoal shirt). Beau checked herself over in the mirror, deciding that she didn’t look half bad. Certainly better than she did in her bloody and ten-times mended Cobalt Soul vestiges. There wasn’t much left of them that was still Cobalt blue, in spite of numerous washings.

 

‘Going to see a patron,’ Beau said, when she ran into a guard on her way to the spiral staircase. He moved his hand back from his sword, but eyed her suspiciously just the same. It kind of felt good to be able to walk through and not get sent back with her tail between her legs.

 

When Beau knocked on the door, this time Amaril was there to open it. She looked just as stunning as she had last time; silken black dress that barely hit her knees, and not a whole lot else.

Definitely a seduction outfit, rather than a business meeting outfit. Beau wasn’t sure how she felt about that.

 

Amaril reached over, and kissed Beau on the cheek.

 

‘I would have brought wine,’ Beau said. ‘But, well, y’know.’ She let Amaril lead her over to the couch, where candles had been lit. Yeah, definitely a seduction.

 

‘How have you been?’ Beau asked, a little awkwardly. This was the sort of small talk that you were supposed to ask on a second date, right? Not that she’d ever been on a second date. Hell, she’d technically never even been on a first date.

 

‘Not bad, all things considered,’ Amaril said. She poured two glasses of wine – this time from a winery in Tal’Dorei that Beau didn’t recognize. ‘Certainly better than you, I’m sure.’

 

‘Eh.’ Beau shrugged. The last week had sucked, but it was a kind of suckage she could deal with.

 

‘It’s certainly easier when you’re already broken,’ Amaril commented. Beau’s hand was halfway to her glass when she realized that the comment had been about her.

 

‘Wait, what do you mean, broken?’ she demanded, forgetting about the wine entirely.

 

‘Well you certainly don’t have any compunctions about killing people.’

 

Beau frowned, not sure if she was supposed to be insulted or not. She’d gone out of her way to not kill any of her opponents. One or two of them had died, but they had both been Revivified pretty quickly. There was no sense in losing fighters to something as petty as death. Not when there was coin to be made.

 

‘I’m trying to keep my own ass alive,’ Beau said. She could hear her voice rising in anger.

 

‘And you’re doing an admirable job of it,’ Amaril agreed. ‘But let it be known. If you’re broken, you’ll last much longer.’ She grinned, and it was a sad sort of grin. ‘Why do you think I’m still here?’ Amaril leaned in, and her lips ghosted across Beau’s. Beau could feel her heart beating like a drum. It wasn’t that she didn’t want this. Amaril was fucking hot, and she needed the release. The sort of release that punching people in the face didn’t quite bring.

 

‘Tell me about all the fighters you lost,’ Beau said, before she could stop herself. It had the desired effect; Amaril pulled back furiously, a look of anger and betrayal on her face.

 

‘Who have you been talking to?’

 

‘It’s not exactly a secret,’ Beau said, perhaps a little more defensively than was wise. Once word had gotten around that she was even considering accepting Amaril’s offer, veteran fighters came out of the woodwork to warn her off. Somehow, it made Beau even more curious to find out what had happened. ‘Every single person I’ve run into found out I met with you last week, and warned me away.’

 

Beau had expected Amaril to get defensive in return, for her eyes to flare up, and for Beau to be kicked out of the suite. Instead, the other woman sighed, and sat back onto the sofa, looking defeated. It was the first time in their admittedly brief acquaintance that Beau hadn’t seen her looking put together. ‘I thought they might do something like this,’ Amaril said.

 

There were a few questions in there: They “who”? for one. Do what? for another. The first she could probably infer from context. The second was the question she actually asked.

 

‘Do what?’

 

‘Try and turn you against me.’

 

Beau almost chortled. ‘No offense, Amaril, but I’ve met you a grand total of once. I can quite easily turn myself against you without any help.’

 

Amaril smiled at that. Perhaps not at the words, but at the fact that Beau was still there, talking to her. Not sure why she was doing it, Beau sat down on the couch next to her.

 

Maybe to undercut the tension, maybe because she really just wanted to, Beau let her hand drift up Amaril’s back, to where her shoulder straps were. Amaril’s head jerked up slightly, and she leaned forward. This time, Beau didn’t pull away.

 

‘It’s a really funny thing,’ Beau said, after they had kissed. It was a nice kiss; not groundbreaking, or spectacular, but neither sloppy, or wet. ‘Any time someone tells me not to do something, it only makes me want to do it more.’

 

Amaril kissed her again. ‘Don’t take off your pants,’ she said, looking Beau in the eye. Beau grinned. She took off her pants.

 

The first time was a little hot and a little awkward, with fingers and tongues and bodies moving all over the place. Fast enough to quell the initial desire, and muted enough that they were both ready to go again almost immediately. All of the clothes that Beau had so carefully put on were now strewn across the floor.

 

‘Can we move this to the bed?’ Beau asked. As much as it was a comfortable couch, even pinned underneath Amaril, she felt like she would fall off at any second. The bed was a little more stable, but a little more “making love” than it was just “fucking.” Beau let herself be pushed back into some very comfortable pillows.

 

Amaril’s knees pressed into the side of Beau’s thigh, and Beau winced slightly. The bruises there were not fresh, but they were not less tender for their age.

 

‘For such a fierce fighter, you’re suddenly very complacent,’ Amaril breathed.

 

‘Hey, I know what I like,’ Beau said.

 

‘And what is that?’

 

‘Uh, when attractive women throw me against a wall and have their way with me?’ Amaril’s long fingernail curled along Beau’s cheek, down to her chin.

 

‘Good answer,’ she said, and began slowly unwinding Beau’s chest wrappings. ‘Though I’ll admit, I would prefer not to do anything that might damage your chances in the Pit tomorrow.’

 

Oh, yeah. Beau had forgotten about that whole “fighting” thing. Or she had tried to forget. Those few hours during the day that she tried to just have a complete mental blank about. How ridiculous it would be to tell her past self that one day, she’d be sick of fighting.

 

‘I’m sure there are plenty of things you can do that won’t leave bruises,’ Beau told her. But where’s the fun in that? At those words, Amaril made her way down the bed, towards Beau’s legs.

 

‘Are you trying to bribe me with cunnilingus?’ Beau murmured, her hands gripping the sides of Amaril’s head.

 

‘No, this is just for fun,’ Amaril admitted, and Beau’s back arced at the sudden sensation of a tongue where there had been none before. It had been a really fucking long time since someone had bothered to do this for her. Companions generally didn’t do it unless you paid extra, and the only non-companion she’d been with recently was Keg, who, while not a bad lay, was more of a fingers and implements sort of person.

 

It was okay.

 

Certainly not the best sex Beau had ever had. Certainly not the worst. Amaril didn’t quite anticipate her needs the way previous lovers had. Beau wondered if it had been her first time with another woman. Probably not; while the tongue action had been uninspired, it was not the hesitant or overachieving uninspiredness of a newly-minted clit licker.

 

Still, sex was sex. Even bad sex was better than no sex, and if all else failed, Beau usually went back to her room and took care of business. Thank Ioun that Jester was a light sleeper.

 

Beau realized that she didn’t need to think about things anymore. She had already made her decision. In fact, she had probably made it a week ago. She didn’t know what had happened to all of the fighters that had died, but it didn’t really matter.

 

‘Okay,’ Beau said, into the darkness. She didn’t even know if Amaril was awake.

 

‘Okay, what?’

 

‘Okay, I’ll fight for you.’

Chapter Text

 

Beau’s hand rested on the doorknob.

 

It was the only thing to be done, really. To go back downstairs and sleep in her own quarters for the night. It was the way most of her one-night-stands had gone so far. Leave before they could kick you out.

 

‘Where are you going?’

 

Beau swore.

 

She hadn’t noticed Amaril’s footsteps padding out to the living area. She turned, and saw the other woman in a purple robe, the same color as the shirt she had given Beau to wear for their introduction. ‘I—’ Beau started. She considered how to finish that sentence. I’m so afraid of getting hurt that I strike first so at least it’s in my hands?

 

I’m afraid of commitment because every single person in my life has left me behind.

 

Yeah, those weren’t gonna fly. This wasn’t the sort of person Beau was quite ready to admit deeply ingrained personal flaws to. Not that they were really relevant in this situation.

 

‘I thought I left something behind,’ she said, which was a blatant lie. They’d taken almost everything she owned.

 

Or maybe something a little closer to the truth:

 

I know we just banged pretty hard, but I don’t trust you as far as I can throw you, and I don’t really want to fall asleep next to you in case you slit my throat.

 

‘You don’t have to lie to me, Beauregard,’ Amaril said, and for some reason, Beau felt vaguely annoyed. When Dairon, or Caleb, or Yasha used her full name, she took it for a term of endearment. Here, it was more like when Zeenoth used her full name. A sign that Amaril didn’t really know her at all.

 

‘I just think we need to keep a reasonable distance is all,’ Beau said, and for some reason, it was starting to feel like all the one-night-stands she’d ever had, where instead of running the risk of the other girl getting attached, she’d gone ahead and dashed their hopes right then and there. Either that, or ghosted away in the night. ‘Don’t want any of the other fighters getting the wrong idea.’

 

There was a slight pause. ‘Of course,’ Amaril said. ‘Once the details of your patronage are finalized, you will have one of the other suites in the tower. You won’t have to...’ She paused. ‘Stay here.’

 

Amaril came to the door, and gave Beau a soft kiss on the cheek. Beau didn’t pull away; not because she didn’t want to, but because it seemed like the right way to play the situation. When – if – she ever got back to her friends, the first thing she was going to do was apologize to Fjord for that time he’d been semi-coerced into sleeping with Avantika.

 

The first thing Beau did when she got back to her room was run a bath.

 

Not because she was ashamed, or disgusted by the events of the evening. She’d had a pretty good time, even if the jury was still out on Amaril’s motivations. If she was the sort of person that equated sex with love, it might have been a different story. She found the hot water relaxing, and sitting in there a while would help her mull things over.

 

It was a pity she didn’t have her journals, because this would have been the perfect time to write things down, get them out of her head. Dairon had always been a little iffy about the way Beau took notes, and Beau was starting to get an idea of why. Whoever had her journal now had a treasure trove of information about the Mighty Nein, about the war, about the inner workings of the Kryn Dynasty and the Cerberus Assembly.

 

One more thing she’d have to sort out before getting out of this place.

 

While training at the Cobalt Soul, she hadn’t found the time to keep up with her hair maintenance. It had grown out considerably in the last few weeks, enough that she could pull all of her hair into a ponytail, albeit one of mismatched lengths. For some reason, she didn’t think there was a hairdresser on site, so she strongarmed Emerson into doing it for her.

 

‘You know,’ he said. ‘Most people would have a little more sympathy for a man with one arm.’ Beau had, quite honestly, forgotten about that part. She felt shitty about it, now. Still, even with all sides even, it was just barely long enough to braid, which, thankfully, she could do herself. All those lessons of etiquette and personal care that her parents had put her through were finally paying off.

 

The morning of her first fight under Amaril, Beau woke to find neatly folded clothes on her dresser. Emerson must have let himself in.

 

The outfit was, as Beau had expected, charcoal grey. It seemed to be Amaril’s favorite color, or at least the color she was known for. Beau herself had been wearing blue for so long, she didn’t know how to feel about wearing another color. It would probably hide the blood a little better, she thought. The robe was almost mage-like in design, the sort of thing Beau supposed she would have worn if her parents had sent her off to the Soltryce Academy, instead of the Cobalt Soul. An unpadded doublet, with buttons that fastened right to the neck, and intricate embroidery down the shoulders. It didn’t restrict her movement, but it felt a little weird, the same way it had felt really weird the first time she’d put on her Cobalt Soul garb. The pants were similar to the ones she usually wore, if not quite as loose. The whole ensemble was...well, not quite her. For good measure, she tied her dark blue sash (mended and cleaned) around her waist.

 

With her hair braided, she looked like an entirely different person. Different enough that they had changed the name on her fight card. No longer was she just “Beauregard.” Now, she was Beau the Brawler. It had a ring to it, and it certainly wasn’t inaccurate. Beau imagined that it had been Amaril’s instruction. On the bottom right hand corner of the card, it read Patron: Amaril Elahorn.

 

Then, she looked at her opponent card, and her stomach roiled. Two opponents. Not that it was her first time fighting two people. Two goliaths, however was a different ballgame to two halflings. The Bonecrusher and the Bloodspiller were two of the most brutal fighters in the Pit, as if the names didn’t give it away. Alone, they destroyed almost every opponent they fought. Together, well...Fuck.

 

Clearly declaring her patronage for Amaril had been enough to ruffle some feathers. Beau had thought that ruffling feathers had been one of her specialties, but this was a bit much, even for her.

 

Beau felt nauseous. She left the board, and found a bench to sit on.

 

Ric was sitting at the end of the bench, cleaning his sword. He’d run a half dozen goblins through with it during the first fight of the day. He looked bored more than anything.

 

‘Interesting look,’ he said, clearly referring to her brand-spanking new clothes. Probably not about the way she looked like she was gonna throw up all over the place.

 

‘Yeah, yeah,’ Beau said. ‘I know, you warned me.’

 

‘I did warn you,’ he agreed. ‘But you’re an adult. I trust you’re capable of making your own stupid decisions.’

 

‘Well they are always incredibly stupid,’ Beau agreed. ‘Fuck. They’re gonna kill me.’

 

He didn’t even bother denying it. ‘Probably.’

 

‘Like, kill me, kill me.’

 

‘Yeah,’ he agreed. This time, he had the good sense to look a little empathetic. ‘Look. It probably sounds trite coming from me, but trust me. First death is the hardest.’

 

It wasn’t exactly a comforting thought. On the whole, Beau would have preferred zero deaths, but that clearly wasn’t on the agenda. The fact that Ric, too, had died made her spirits lift just a tiny bit. ‘I feel so much better,’ she said.

 

‘Beau,’ came Emerson’s voice, from the other side of the room. He looked about as nervous as she felt. ‘You’re up.’

 

Beau swallowed the little bit of bile that threatened to burst from her mouth. She didn’t even look at Emerson as she grabbed her staff and made her way out into the Pit.

 

The crowd were cheering, but it wasn’t her name. Out of all of the fighters, Bonecrusher was the most popular. His fights (massacres?) were always a sell-out crowd.

 

Beau cast her eyes across the stadium. There wasn’t a single empty seat.

 

Not exactly how she would have chosen to die for the first time, with a thousand people watching.

 

Two enormous goliaths stood on the other side of the Pit, each wielding a greatsword taller than Beau was.

 

They were stronger, and tougher, and bigger, but she was faster. With the lightning gloves, she could pick them off before they closed the distance, but they looked hardy enough that it wouldn’t be nearly enough to take them both out at once. Even one of them was a stretch.

 

The bell rang, and Beau lit up the gloves. Before either of the Goliaths had even lifted their swords, she had shot a lightning punch at each of them, and strafed around to the side. What she could do was let one get behind her. If she got flanked, she was fucking done. She would have to get in, staff, staff, punch, punch, and get out, ready to dodge anything they threw at her

 

It worked okay in the first instance. Like Yasha, neither of them were well-armored, and her hits landed easily. Also like Yasha, though, they didn’t go down easily, and not even her fast dodges were enough to stop their strikes from hitting.

 

The problem with greatswords, was that it was all or nothing. There was not much in the way of tiny nicks and cuts.

 

The first cut hit her arm as she swung around the with the staff. It stung, but she could still move, so she kept moving. The next two strikes, she managed to void, before the third attack, where she took a pommel to the face.

 

Nose broken, eyes watering, she couldn’t give up. Her punches seemed like they’d barely done a single bit of damage. They might have some bruises in the morning, but that was about it. Three times, she tried to stun the one in front of her, before realizing the other one had moved around to the back.

 

And that was it.

 

Beau couldn’t help but let out a pained scream as the sword carved an arc down her back. She brought up the staff to counter, but the other goliath parried with his sword, slicing her weapon in two. There was a beat of silence. Beau could feel something wet around her stomach; something trickling. She looked down and realized that the sword had ended its journey by piercing straight through her.

 

Oh shit.

 

She fell backwards, screaming again as the sword was pulled from her body.

 

There was that roaring sound again, that same blood pounding in her ears, only this time, the pounding seemed to be getting softer and softer, slower and slower. The crowd were screaming, whether in delight or in disappointment, she could not tell.

 

Things went dark for a little while, after that.

 

Beau had always heard stories, of the Raven Queen waiting to escort souls to the other side. She had half expected to see the dark matron, or perhaps an older woman in blue and white robes. Ioun acknowledging her silent worship. Instead, there was just that utter darkness.

 

And then, all of a sudden, a searing light. The light of the sun bearing down on the bloodied fighting pit. They hadn’t even bothered to drag her out of it to heal her. She gasped as though she had just been pulled drowning from the ocean.

 

But hey, they had healed her, which was something. A tall, robed man that she assumed was the cleric stood, grimacing distastefully at the blood that now stained his garments. Her blood, she realized. Her brand new fighting clothes, once grey, were now soaked red. So much for not being able to tell.

 

‘We’ll send you the bill for the diamond,’ the cleric said. The words didn’t quite sink in straight away, then Beau realized what a diamond meant. She had died. She had died, and the cleric had brought her back to life.

 

It wasn’t necessarily a surprise. Even without Ric’s warning, she had sort of seen it coming. Since Molly’s death, since she had been knocked out in battle so many times, she had always assumed that one day, death would follow. She’d kind of hoped, though, that she would been with friends when it had happened. Not trapped in some Gods-forsaken hellhole somewhere off the Menagerie Coast, for all intents and purposes, alone.

 

‘Told you,’ Ric said, and Beau gave an ineffectual sort of shrug. Ric smiled sympathetically, and Beau kind of felt like hitting him. She didn’t though, because that would have really fucking hurt. Beau wondered what the hell he was doing out there. Then, she remembered he was fighting next, and was waiting for her to get the hell out of the fucking Pit.

 

Beau obliged. She went to stand up, but her body did not respond to any of the commands that she sent it.

 

Emerson knelt down and put an enormous hand on her shoulder. Beau hadn’t realized he’d been so close to the pit. Then, she figured, there had probably been enough time between her dying and the resurrection for him to get there.‘Can you walk?’

 

No , was what Beau wanted to say. They hadn’t done anything beyond the stock standard Revivify, leaving her still bleeding and aching and all of those other fun things. Then, she saw the cautious, almost afraid look in Emerson’s eyes. ‘Yes,’ she said.

 

Even still, the orc helped her to her feet, and put an arm around her shoulder as they made their way upstairs to Amaril’s tower. Or to their tower, now, she supposed. Pretty big fucking price to pay.

 

One small favor about dying was that you didn’t have to fight again for the rest of the day. How fucking considerate of them. Of course, they’d be taking the cost of the missed fights out of her purse. Good thing she’d done so well those first couple of weeks.

 

‘So that fun little party,’ Beau said, wincing at the pain in her ribs as she did. ‘Was it a warning for me, or a warning for her?’

 

‘Little bit of both,’ Emerson said. They paused on the landing while Beau caught her breath. ‘Warning to her to remember her place, reminder to you that they choose which assholes you get to fight.’

 

‘Well that’s fucking great.’ Beau leaned against the wall, and slid down to the floor. She did not particularly feel like going up to see the disappointed look on Amaril’s face. Instead of the fifty-thousand gold they could have gotten, Beau had only managed one thousand, minus whatever the diamond had cost.

 

Not really much of a net gain, in her eyes. Since, by this point, it was clear that the Mighty Nein either had no idea where she was, or didn’t care enough to come and rescue her, she needed as much of that gold as possible if she were to buy her freedom. Hopefully it was the former, but there was a nagging possibility in the back of her mind that it could have been the latter.

 

The mere thought of it disgusted her; she would rather take the entire place down with a few well-placed Fireballs from Caleb, an Eldritch Blast or two from Fjord, and to top it all off, Jester playing whack-a-mole on those stupid guards with a giant spectral lollipop. Maybe even Dairon would be there, punching alongside those people she so disdained.

 

It hurt to even think about it. Beau had wondered if she would get a message in her head from the Cleric, “Hey Beau, we haven’t heard from you and want to make sure everything’s okay….Oh hey, guess what Nugget did the other day, Fjord threw a—

 

Or something like that.

 

But no, she supposed the same anti-magic field that stopped them from casting spells within the confines of the living quarters also stopped magical messages from coming through. The only time she’d ever be able to receive a message was when she was down in the Pits. Once a day, for an hour or so. The odds weren’t great. Even if a message did get through, she might’ve been too distracted to hear it.

 

Surely they would be worried, surely they would be looking for her, but Wildemount was a big place. For all they knew, she could have been anywhere. It wasn’t as though anything had preceded her kidnapping. It had sort of just happened. Just her luck.

 

Eventually, they made it up to the tower, where Amaril was waiting at the open door. She looked worried, and Beau hated her for it. She wasn’t sure why. Maybe because things would go a lot more smoothly if no-one cared about anyone in this scenario. Then, they couldn’t be used to hurt Beau, and Beau couldn’t be used to hurt them. Easier all around.

 

‘I’ve run a bath for you,’ Amaril said, quietly. Her voice was subdued, and a little bit distant. ‘Emerson, if you could help tend to her wounds, it would be much appreciated.’

 

Beau thought that Emerson would refuse, that he wasn’t her personal assistant, but to Beau’s surprise, he acquiesced readily. She wondered if something had happened between them.

 

Emerson led Beau to the door to the left of Amaril’s. Her suite, she realized. It seemed nice enough, she thought, but her mind was not really at the point of picking out details.

 

Beau sat down on the bed (nice, comfortable mattress, way too many pillows, and really expensive looking sheets) and let Emerson cut away her shirt. It was easy enough, given than the swords had already torn it to shreds. Even her chest wrappings were in shreds, and she realized that she must have come all the way up to the tower with her tits half hanging out. It seemed unimportant, considering.

 

She bathed quickly, wanting to get it done, and just sleep. Emerson cleaned the enormous gash in her stomach, and the even bigger gash that ran down her back. The wounds were closed, but still oozing blood. ‘You a healer?’ Beau asked him, through gritted teeth, as though he hadn’t cast Cure Wounds on her just a week ago. It was just a way to start a conversation.

 

‘Yeah,’ Emerson said. ‘Not that that’s much help here when I can’t use magic.’

 

‘I dunno,’ Beau shrugged, and regretted it immediately. ‘You’re doing an alright job now.’

 

He reminded her of Fjord in a strange sort of way. That gentle dependence that she had come to expect from the half-orc Warlock. Maybe it was an orcish thing; people expect you to be a brutish thug, so you have to go in the opposite direction to compensate.

 

He wrapped what seemed like her whole torso in bandages, starting at her shoulder. He was doing a fantastic job for someone with only one hand.

 

‘Was she your patron?’ Beau asked. Emerson paused in his bandaging.

 

‘No,’ he said. ‘We were – are – just...friends. My patron was killed by the Tyrant. That’s how most of them end up leaving. The ones that wear this, anyway.’ He gestured to the collar at his neck.

 

‘So really, the only way to escape is to die,’ Beau surmised. Actually, no. Not even that was enough; the events of today told her that much. The only way to escape was to die permanently.

 

‘You haven’t figured that out yet?’ Emerson almost laughed. ‘How long have you been here?’

 

Beau didn’t say anything. She was still holding onto the hope that she’d be able to find out enough about the place to find a weak point. Waiting for her friends? Well, that was like waiting for a miracle to happen. No sense hanging around when you could get up and do something.

 

Already, Beau knew that she would not sleep. She needed someone – something – to take her mind off of things.

 

Not sex. Well, yes sex, but not just sex. Not tonight. It felt weird to admit it, in a way that she’d never really admitted it before. It was easy to fuck someone and never see them again. It was harder to admit that you needed them for something more. Especially when so many of them just decided she wasn’t worth the effort.

 

Tonight, she didn’t want to be alone, and she hated – fucking hated – admitting that, so she did what any respectable, non-weird person would do and decided to hire a hooker.

 

It wasn’t that the sex with Amaril was bad. It was more that there was an ever-growing emotional connection that was so fucking confusing, and some nights Beau really, really just wanted a good, hard fuck.

 

‘I have an...awkward question,’ Beau said. She glanced furtively back towards the door. She had never seen Amaril leave her own suite, so it was unlikely that they would be overheard. ‘If I wanted to blow off steam, is there a way...’

 

Emerson got the drift very quickly. ‘Oh, for sure,’ he said. ‘You tell me what you want, and I’ll have someone sent up. Remember, though, the cost gets taken from your purse.’

 

‘Yeah, yeah.’ Beau rubbed the back of her head, still unused to feeling anything other than bristles. She told him what she wanted, and he seemed to think about it for a moment.

 

‘Yeah, I can think of someone you’ll like.’

 

Less than fifteen minutes later (shit, she really needed to start tipping Emerson) there was a knock at the door.

 

‘Anything you like, for a price,’ the woman said. Layla was her name. Layla was a half-elven woman, with dark hair, and dark eyes, and bronze skin. She kinda reminded Beau of Vorsah, the last companion that she’d hired. Shit, maybe she did have a type. Hot, dark-skinned elves. For a brief second, her mind flashed to Dairon. There was no collar around her neck. Beau wondered what she might have done if there had been. Without the collar, at least, it seemed she was there by choice. Or the money was good enough that she didn’t ask too many questions.

 

Beau didn’t know what the cost was, but she trusted that Emerson had found her something within her budget. She let Layla hold her down and fuck her hard, with fast and efficient fingers. It was clinical, but no less fun for it.

 

‘Do you want to talk?’ Layla asked, when she was finished. It wasn’t an emotional “are you feeling okay?” sort of question. It was a “what are you paying me to do?” question.

 

‘No,’ Beau said. She settled into the other woman’s embrace, and closed her eyes. While the touch was warm, it also felt clinical, which, she supposed was the hazard of hiring someone to comfort you. The last time Beau had paid for sex, there had been no cuddling. She wasn’t sure whether or not that was progress.

 

‘Yes,’ she said, after another few minutes. ‘Maybe. I don’t know.’

 

‘Well, you know the breakdown.’

 

Beau did know the breakdown. Emerson had provided it to her, with only the slightest trace of embarrassment. Funnily, sex was the cheapest thing on the list.

 

‘How long have you been doing...this?’

 

‘Couple of years.’

 

‘Seen a lot then?’

 

‘Well I don’t usually watch the fights,’ Layla admitted. ‘Kinda tough watching people die every day.’

 

‘Even tougher being the one that dies,’ Beau pointed out. Layla didn’t disagree.

 

‘You ever see anyone leave? Like, earn enough to pay their way out?’

 

A pause. ‘I can’t really answer that.’

 

‘Can’t answer because you don’t know, or can’t answer because they won’t let you?’

 

Another pause. Beau suspected the latter. The easiest way to control the people was to control the flow of outside information. It wouldn’t do them any good if one of their employees kept running their mouths off to the fighters.

 

In spite of the day’s events, Beau’s mind was still active. Not as much with questions, but with twisted, waking nightmares. She let Layla fuck her again, just to try and tire herself out enough to fall asleep.

 

Beau closed her eyes. It took a long time for darkness to come, and when it did, she dreamed of death.

Chapter Text

Beau had thought, perhaps, that by being under a patron meant that she might be afforded a little more freedoms, at least in her wanderings. It soon became patently clear, though, that she was no freer than she had been on the ladder.

 

At most, she didn’t get a sideways look when going to the tower, but that didn’t mean she could wander off looking for other things. The few times she tried, she was sent swiftly packing by the guards. The third time, the guard, clearly frustrated at her attempts, drew his sword and held it to her neck. Beau leaned her head back slightly, and stared at the blade. It looked about as sharp as her staff.

 

Next time,’ he growled, ‘we’ll see if any of these clerics can make it up here in time.’

 

You really think your job is worth killing me without permission?’ Beau asked, eyebrows raised.

 

I guess we’ll both find out.’

 

Hands up in mock-defeat, Beau leaned over to whisper something in the guard’s ear. ‘You forgot to put your cod-piece on this morning.’ She gestured to his crotch, and without even stopping to think, he looked down. His hand went for the sword again, and Beau stepped back.

 

No more trespassing,’ she told him. ‘Pinky swear.’ He shot her a death-glare, but didn’t move as she backed away.

 

Instead, Beau spent her time asking questions. As many questions as she thought she could possibly get away with, which, admittedly, was not a lot.

 

Everyone knew a little bit, but no-one knew everything. Some people – especially, for some strange reasons, people that she’d killed – refused to talk. Even Ric got a little cagey when she asked him something about the guards one day.

 

You’re treading on thin ice,’ he warned her.

 

What do you mean?’

 

You know the best way to stay alive here?’

 

Be a kiss-ass?’ He gave her a patient sort of smile. The sort you gave a kid that was doing something particularly stupid, but trying their best anyway.

 

Don’t rock the boat,’ he said. ‘The moment they think you’re trying something, deaths start getting permanent. If you want to stay alive, just...keep doing what they want you to do.’

 

Beau had never been particularly good at doing what people wanted her to do. She was even worse at being complacent trapped under the thumb of a system designed to oppress people. This whole fucking setup seemed tailor-made to press the buttons of everything she hated the most. Except fighting. The fighting was the one thing she kind of liked. Even that, though, she admitted was getting a little tiring.

 

Some days – and these were Beau’s favorite days, as much as you could have favorite days – there were exhibition fights. Exhibition fights meant that Beau didn’t have to go in trying to kill another person. Instead, she got to fight an enormous monster that wanted to eat her alive. A couple of them almost succeeded, and one with near disastrous results that meant she spent almost a week in bed recovering. That alone had eaten a fair chunk of her purse; the Tyrant didn’t like it when they couldn’t fight.

 

That was the way things worked. Ostensibly, it was possible to buy your freedom, but practically, there was always another reason that you didn’t have enough. Even the people that had been here years were perpetually short.

 

You know,’ Beau whispered, under her breath, to Ric one day. They’d been forced to fight each other the previous day, and his Smite had knocked her on her ass. He’d pulled his punches a little bit, and just knocked her out with the butt of his sword, but she knew he had gotten grief for the mercy. ‘If we all fought together, it wouldn’t mean shit that we can’t use magic in here. We could take these assholes down.’

 

Ric shot her an angry look. The sort of look that said “don’t make me regret not killing you.” Or “don’t get me involved in things that’ll get you executed.” Maybe both.

 

Eventually, he spoke, and it was in a very hushed tone. ‘You might think that, but then, remember the people like Bonecrusher that love it here. Things go south, they’re the ones you’ll be fighting.’ Bonecrusher, who had never been knocked off the top of the ladder, who probably had enough to buy his freedom ten times over, but was perfectly happy with his penthouse suite, and his unceasing line of lovers that were damn near begging just to spend a single night with the legendary Bonecrusher.

 

Alright,’ Beau said, more than a little disgruntled. ‘Fine. No revolution.’

 

It was in that moment Beau realized what the situation had come down to. She would quite literally rather die than spend the rest of her life in chains, under the thumb of the Tyrant. If she could escape – and she was sure she could, no matter what anyone else said – then she would, but if she couldn’t. Well…

 

In an ideal world, her friends would be there to help her. The friends that, up until even just a few months ago, she’d thought of as a temporary thing. Now, though, or at least until she’d come to the Pit, she realized that they’d become an intrinsic part of her life, that she didn’t – couldn’t – make any decision without considering how it would affect them.

 

Now, though, there was no Mighty Nein to be affected by the choices she made, to say “Oh, what a good idea, Beau,” or “that was foolish, Beauregard.” When a voice kicked up in the back of her head, saying things like this, it was usually Dairon’s voice. The voice that Beau had come to associate with words of reason.

 

Including the time she’d spent training at the Cobalt Soul, it had been two months since she had seen them last. So many things might have changed since then. Shit, even during the time she’d spent in the Pit, the whole power structure on Wildemount could have changed. The Bright Queen, or the King, or the Cerberus Assembly could all be dead, and she would never know.

 

After all, it wasn’t as though they had a town crier to go through the daily news updates before the fighting started.

 

Without something to do with her mind, though, Beau was going a little stir crazy. She was loathe to take notes about the things she had found out (sadly little), just in case they were found. She couldn’t imagine that going down particularly well.

 

At best, she could read, and think, maybe learn to play the lute or something like that.

 

Thinking, of course, was the easiest one of these to achieve. While she had never been any good at the meditation side of monkiness, she could now manage about half an hour of it before her brain got overactive and decided it had had enough.

 

Lute playing, she decided against, but reading, she could probably do.

 

Is there anything to read?’ Beau asked Emerson, one day. Amaril had a few books in her suite, but Beau had read through them in a matter of days. Caleb would hate this place.

 

To read?’ Emerson asked, blankly. He gave Beau a once over. She was drenched in the blood of her last opponent, a wizard that had taken one of her throwing stars to his jugular vein at close range.

 

Yeah, like a book,’ Beau said. ‘You know, those things with words, pages, numbers...’

 

I know what a book is.’ Emerson sounded faintly annoyed. ‘It just seems like a weird thing to want.’

 

Well, you know, my main hobby is killing people, but they only let me do that for a couple of hours a day.’ He did not miss the liberal sarcasm that dripped from her voice. ‘I’m getting bored,’ she told him, trying not to let her voice sound like a whine. ‘I need something to keep my mind busy that doesn’t involve doing something they might kill me for.’

 

Emerson raised an eyebrow at that, but for some reason, “keeping Beauregard out of trouble” seemed to be the excuse that worked. The next day, Beau found a large stack of books at her door.

 

Not the books she would have asked for – nothing historical, or strategical, or anything non-fiction at all, really. It was, for the most part, harmless fluff that could keep her entertained and nothing more. There wasn’t even any smut.

 

Every now and then – hopefully not often enough to be weird – Beau spent the night with Amaril. Whenever she wanted a night that didn’t involve thinking about things, she asked Emerson to call for someone who could give her something a little more mindless. When she was lucky, she got Layla. If she was unlucky…well, the others were fine. Not great, but fine.

 

Tonight, though, Beau had had an unusually good day in the Pit. No-one had died, least of all her, and the majority of her injuries were superficial. There was a long cut on her arm that was a few days old, and no small number of fresh scars, but relatively speaking, that was nothing.

 

You asked me,’ Amaril said, drawing lazy patterns on Beau’s back, paying close attention to the long, thin scar that now spanned from her neck to her ass. It didn’t hurt, and Beau was surprised to find that she liked the intimate ritual. ‘Why all of my fighters died.’

 

Beau stiffened slightly, and Amaril could hardly fail to notice, the way her hands were pressed against Beau. ‘Yeah?’ Beau asked, hesitantly.

 

I asked too many questions.’

 

There was a beat of silence. ‘Huh,’ Beau said, eventually. It wasn’t the answer she had expected, but it was an answer that she had feared. That she didn’t even know she had feared. After all, asking questions was one of the few things Beau was kinda good at. Punching her way out of things wasn’t going to cut it this time. ‘Has someone said something?’

 

Well, yes, that’s the problem,’ Amaril said. ‘You’re not exactly being...subtle about it.’

 

When your version of getting the truth out of people involved beating them up, subtlety was a secondary factor.

 

I just...’ Beau started, and then realized she was getting awkwardly close to being emotionally vulnerable with someone she still wasn’t quite sure if she trusted or not. ‘I hate being stuck in a cage.’

 

You think you’re the only one? We’re all in the same boat here, Beauregard.’

 

Not really,’ Beau argued. ‘I haven’t seen you out there fighting.’ She wondered if that had been a low blow. Sometimes she wasn’t really sure about these things. Like how choking a Dwarven girl with her staff was apparently not an appropriate way to get her to stop singing.

 

No, I’m just a vulnerable old woman, confined to a tower.’ There was an edge of bitterness in her voice.

She wasn’t even that old. Older than Beau, of course, but that wasn’t saying much. Amaril might have been forty if she was a day. Certainly not old.

 

You’re not vulnerable,’ was what Beau actually said. She hadn’t meant it as a particularly seductive sort of comment, or even a necessarily complimentary one. It was seemed like a pretty clear fact that Amaril had survived the Pit, had survived the Tyrant, and would survive whatever else life threw at her. Beau would have preferred that that survival took place outside of the Pit, but, well...It seemed strange to her that no-one else seemed to care whether or not they got out of this place.

 

Amaril’s hand reached around to Beau’s front, seeking, she knew, the wound that had killed her. Though it had healed reasonably well, the nature of the wound meant that the scar tissue was thick, and very, very noticeable. The sort of scar she would have to spend the rest of her life explaining to anyone she happened to share her bed with.

 

Are you still having the nightmares?’

 

Beau felt her face go red. She hadn’t meant for Amaril to find out, hadn’t meant for anyone that wasn’t paid to keep quite about these things to know just the sorts of dreams she had been having. The dreams of being killed, being impaled on a greatsword, over and over again. One night, though, she had accidentally fallen asleep in Amaril’s suite, instead of going back to her own room like she usually did. She had awoken, not screaming, but breathing heavily, and drenched in sweat.

 

No,’ Beau lied.

 

 

When Beau woke the next day, it was in her own comfortable bed, alone. After Amaril’s soft snores had reached her ears, she snuck out, having done so often enough that it wasn’t really awkward anymore. At least, she thought it wasn’t.

 

She supposed Amaril might have been upset, but if she was, she never brought it up. There were not a great deal of heart-to-heart conversations about feelings between them. If there were, well...Beau probably would have spent a lot less time there.

 

On the third day in a row of Beau spending the night – or at least half the night – there, Amaril told her. ‘I’ll be leaving for a while,’ she said. Eyes half shut, Beau didn’t parse the statement straight away, nor did she notice the strain in Amaril’s voice. She had noticed the strain, of course, while they fucked; while direct eye-contact was rare, Beau still occasionally got a tiny half-smile when her fingers hit the right spot. That said, it was short, and a little lackluster, if Beau were to admit it. Still, even bad sex was still sex.

 

‘Leaving?’ Beau repeated, when her brain finally caught up with her. ‘What? Why?’ It was a little suspicious. Everything Beau had found out, for example, led her to believe that Amaril was a prisoner in the tower. There was something a little fairy-tale about that.

 

‘Nothing to worry about,’ Amaril said. She was smiling, and Beau couldn’t quite tell whether it was fake or not. ‘They’ve been very pleased with your fights recently. It reflects well on me as a patron. I’ve been granted some...dispensations that have been denied me in the past.’

 

Beau considered her words, still not quite sure whether she believed them or not. Amaril seemed forthright, but there was still something nagging Beau a little. She wasn’t even sure what.

 

‘So I do something good and you get the reward? Seems a little fishy,’ Beau said, eventually.

 

‘Oh, don’t worry. Once I’m held in a higher favor, you will be too. Until then, though, make sure you enjoy...what’s her name again? Layla?’

 

‘Yeah,’ Beau said, wondering how it was Amaril had found out what she was doing. Then, she remembered she wasn’t exactly...well, quiet.

 

True to her word, though, Amaril left the following morning. Beau almost wished she’d been there, when both of her fights ended in a knockout, and Beau sustaining only minor stab wounds.

 

Minor stab wounds. It was ridiculous that her mind had starting thinking that way about injuries. That said, though, she had sustained no small number of minor stab wounds when traveling with the Mighty Nein, so maybe blasé wasn’t the worst way to go.

 

Still, Beau had gotten used to getting praise or commiseration at the end of the day, at it was a little harrowing when it didn’t come. She spent the night with Layla and woke up the next morning considerably poorer.

 

It was a little bored that she made her way down to the waiting room, at what she supposed was around ten o’clock. Even at that time, there were still fighters milling around, some off in the training area adjacent to the pit.

 

Ric was talking to Emerson, and they both looked over as she entered. Then, they both looked away.

 

Huh? Beau shook her head. Fucking weirdos.

 

People were cagey with her all morning; usually Beau knew well in advance who her opponents were going to be, whether by an official announcement, or by scuttlebutt. It was nearing midday, and she hadn’t heard anything.

 

The match on the board read Beau the Brawler vs. “To be advised,” which was never a good sign. It was in the prime spot, which was an even worse sign. Usually “to be advised” meant that they had found a really good one time opponent, the sort that they wouldn’t even have to advertise to bring in the crowd.

 

So, Beau did the logical thing, and went to ask Emerson.

 

Can’t tell you,’ he said.

 

Can’t tell me, or you don’t know?’

 

Can’t tell you,’ he said, shortly. From his tone alone, Beau could tell that it was bad. Worse than two goliaths bad.

 

She had a sudden, horrible thought, that the Mighty Nein had come looking for her, and inadvertently tipped their hand. That she would be going out there to fight Yasha, or Jester, or Caleb. It wouldn’t have been the first time that a plan had gone horribly wrong. Maybe that was why Amaril had left, to make sure that things went according to plan. It was a sickening thought, one that she couldn’t quite help but be convinced of as the clock ticked torturously closer to midday.

 

How had they found her, she wondered. What took them so long?

 

Though she was – irrationally, perhaps – upset with them, Beau immediately knew what her course of action would be if she walked out there and saw one of her friends. She would throw down her staff, and take whatever consequences came her way.

 

So, when Emerson called her name, it was almost with resignation to her own death that Beau stepped out into the Pit.

 

She was vaguely aware that all the stands were full, that the crowd was cheering, though she couldn’t quite make out any of the words.

 

A single figure began to emerge from the other side of the Pit, cloaked in shadow. Then, they stepped into the light.

 

Beau’s stomach dropped.

Chapter Text

Amaril was at the other gate.

 

For once, she wasn’t wearing a figure-hugging dress, or a nightgown that hid nothing, or even nothing at all. She was wearing the sort of robes that those assholes from the Cerberus Assembly wore. The kind that Caleb could have worn, but didn’t. The golden chain around her neck was gone. In one hand was a quarterstaff that Beau got the impression was probably much more dangerous than her own. It sparkled with a purpleish light.

 

The crowd went fucking nuts when they saw her. Beau imagined that they probably knew a decent amount of the history. Enough to know that Amaril had once been a favorite in the pits, that she had been a patron – had been Beau’s patron – and was coming back to fight. It was almost poetic in its perfection.

 

Of course they’d done this.

 

Of fucking course.

 

If Beau had bothered to fucking pay attention to what was going on around her, she would have figured it out, but no. She was too busy trying to figure out everything else to notice. After all, Beau wasn’t the only one trapped here.

 

A brief moment of doubt crossed Beau’s mind. Enough time for Amaril to cast a spell. She certainly didn’t seem to be showing any doubt.

 

The Fireball erupted inches from Beau’s head, and she just barely managed to roll out of the way in time. Even still, her entire left side was singed, red hot pain from her shoulder to her feet. Beau groaned as she patted out the flames that were still flickering on her pants.

 

The crowd cheered – whether at the Fireball, or at the fact that Beau had managed to evade the majority of its fiery radius was unclear.

 

Alright.

 

Patience was overrated. Beau gripped her staff, and sprinted across the pit, full tilt. The crowd gasped. She’d never quite had need to go the full dash, use her impressive (if she did say so herself) speed.

 

Amaril threw up a Mage Armor , but even that was not quite enough to deflect the furious blow Beau aimed at her head. She followed it up with two lightning punches, kind of wishing that Caduceus was here to give her a nice Holy Weapon boost.

 

‘What the fuck are you doing?’ Her words punctuated each strike, and her last blow glanced off the armor.

 

There was a look of deep-seated guilt in Amaril’s eyes, though she said nothing. Maybe it wasn’t guilt. Maybe it was fear. They must have offered her something, Beau decided. She wondered what they could have offered that was worth risking her life in the pit. To them, of course, it was a no-brainer. A fight like this would pull in a big crowd.

 

Freedom, of course, was the obvious answer. It was what they all fought for, after all. The chance, however slim, to leave the pit and return to their normal lives. Beau wondered what Amaril’s life had been like before this.

 

That was a problem for another time, though, Beau decided, as Amaril raised her hands to cast another spell.

 

The question remained, what was Beau willing to do for her own freedom?

 

Fight? For sure. Kill? Not on purpose. But then, she’d certainly killed for less.

 

Beau recognized the somatic gestures of a Slow spell, and was utterly relieved when she seemed to resist it. She could not afford to be slowed down in this battle; her speed was her greatest asset.

 

Amaril seemed frustrated by the failure, and Beau didn’t blame her. In the heat of battle every second was precious. A failed spell, or a missed punch, or anything that didn’t quite work out the way it was supposed to was just another opportunity to get killed.

 

While Amaril was distracted, Beau brought her hands up to get in four more punches. They struck with furious precision, lightning arcing down on her opponent like the Stormlord was at her side.

 

Seemingly inspired, Amaril pulled something that Beau couldn’t quite see from one of the pouches at her belt. The words she spoke and the gesture she made were unfamiliar, but the bolt of lightning that burst forth from the sky and surged through Beau’s body made it very clear what the spell was.

 

Motherfuck.

 

She’d never seen Caleb cast that one before.

 

‘Amaril,’ Beau breathed. The other woman looked terrible. Nose bleeding, face bruised and bloody. She seemed as though she was barely holding herself up. ‘Please. We don’t have to do this.’

 

‘Of course we have to do this, Beauregard.’ When she spoke Beau’s name, there was pain in her voice. A pain of someone that had nowhere else to turn. ‘Please forgive me.’

 

With that, an enormous Wall of Fire burst forth out of nowhere. Beau tumbled to the side, avoiding the searing flames. The heat of the fire bore down on her.

 

If she closed her eyes, she could pretend that it was a campfire, that she was going to bed after coming off watch, that the rest of her friends were around her.

 

But no. She had no friends here. That much had suddenly becoming abundantly clear. Everyone had their own best interests at heart, and she didn’t begrudge them for it. After all, a place like this, sometimes the best you could do was survive.

 

Amaril stood, unmoving, just watching. For a moment, Beau was reminded of Caleb, and his own reaction to the fire.

 

Beau steeled herself against what she knew needed to be done.

 

With a single, sharp kick, Amaril fell backwards into the Wall of Fire. She did not get back up. For a brief second, Beau thought about closing her eyes, but then decided that she deserved to see this happen, for what she had done. If she could have shut her ears against the screams, though, she would have. Worse still was the sound of the crowd cheering her name, as though it had been some honorable victory.

 

Beau dropped her staff – the staff she hadn’t even gotten to use – and fell to her knees, retching. When there was nothing left to throw up, she slid down the walls of the pit and stared at the still-smoldering body that lay there. While the fire had disappeared the moment Amaril died, there was nothing that would undo the damage that had already been done.

 

She was vaguely aware of an orcish figure coming out towards her. Emerson. He put an arm around here shoulder, and helped her to her feet. Together, they limped back in towards the waiting room. There was a free bench near the back, onto he which he lowered Beau gently, before sitting down beside her.

 

He had a grim sort of look on his face. ‘I guess that’s it,’ he said. There was a sort of finality to his tone that Beau didn’t like.

 

She frowned. ‘They aren’t bringing her back?’ Every fighter that she’d seen die in the Pit, they’d had the clerics bring back. Sometimes the spell didn’t work, but Beau had never heard of someone that they refused to bring back. Now that he’d said it, she realized she hadn’t seen the clerics rushing out there.

 

Emerson laughed, and it was a bitter sort of laugh. ‘The whole point was to get rid of her – why would they bother bringing her back?’

 

‘To get rid of her?’ Beau asked. Why? ‘Why?’

 

‘Why do you think?’

 

Beau considered the point, considered the blood on her hands. ‘For not stopping me from sticking my nose into things?’ A whirlpool of guilt was bubbling inside of her.

 

‘Bingo. Ostensibly, they tell her that if she wins, she gets her freedom, but really, it’s another warning shot.’ There wasn’t any heat to his words, but Beau still felt slightly ashamed.

 

‘Fuck.’

 

‘Yeah, that about sums it up.’

 

Would she have done anything differently, if she had known that was the case?

 

Beau didn’t know the answer to that question.

 

If it was her life, versus someone she’d known for less than a month...In any case, Amaril hadn’t had any of the same hesitations. The moment she saw an escape, she took it, knowing that it could result in Beau’s death.

 

Beau couldn’t let herself feel guilty. Not guilty, but still upset at how things had played out. Upset that her actions had gotten someone else killed. Though again, admittedly, not for the first time.

 

‘I keep thinking back to something my friend used to tell me,’ she said, then considered her words. ‘Actually, no, he wasn’t my friend, I hated him. Another pause. ‘Well, he was my friend and I hated him. Anyway, he used to say: “leave every place better than you found it.”’

 

‘How did that work out for him?’ Emerson asked.

 

‘Pretty well,’ Beau admitted, ‘Until some evil shitstain stabbed him through the chest on Glory Run Road.’ She ran a finger across her own stab-wound scar. If only Mollymauk had had a team of indentured and indifferent clerics at his service. ‘This certainly doesn’t feel like leaving things better than I found them.’

 

‘Well,’ Emerson said. He gave her a knowing sort of look. ‘You haven’t left yet.’

 

...

 

Beau grabbed her staff – the only thing left that she really seemed to own – and found the guard with the rooming assignments.

 

‘Room 102,’ he grunted. Beau stared at him. It made sense, she supposed, that without Amaril around to fund her, she would no longer be granted any sort of access to the living quarters of the tower. Back at the bottom of the ladder.

 

Room 102 was a small, pokey sort of thing that was tucked past a storage closet. There was a bed, and a table, but not much else. A far cry from the lavish apartment that she’d been living in the past weeks.

 

She was a fighter without a patron. It wasn’t unheard of – there were fighters in the Pit that took their chances with the ladder, rather than give away their purse. Whether or not Beau wanted to brave the ladder was immaterial; none of the other patrons would take her. It was like Fjord and Uk’otoa all over again.

 

Killing Amaril in the ring might have had something to do with that. Not that she’d had much of a choice. There was no way to guarantee they wouldn’t have just let her stay dead if she’d lost.

 

Beau didn’t think they would do that. General disdain of Amaril from the rest of the pit aside, Beau didn’t think it was a boast to say that she was pretty popular with the crowd. They liked to cheer her name, and they liked it when she punched people with lightning, and they got upset when she lost.

 

She would be the first to admit that she had something of an insecurity regarding what people thought of her, and that to have so many people at her back every day was kind of nice. Nice, but not quite worth the downsides.

 

Beau laid back on the twin bed, and stared at the blank ceiling. She wasn’t sure how long she could keep doing this. Now that it was clear just how far the Tyrant would go to keep her in line; no amount of asking questions would ever get her where she needed to be, and yet, she wasn’t quite ready to give up.

 

Not yet.

 

But, maybe a nap wouldn’t be such a bad idea. Amaril’s spellcasting had been top-notch; Beau was burned all down her left side, and the charcoal grey fighting clothes she’d been wearing were beyond repair.

 

Just as well. It seemed crass to continue to wear Amaril’s colors after killing her.

 

Then, there was a knock on the door. Beau jumped. She’d been falling asleep in her tiny, cramped bed. Whoever was at the door better have had a good reason for being there.

It was Layla. Wearing a thin, black nightdress, and a sultry sort of look.

 

‘What the hell are you doing here?’ Beau asked. She certainly hadn’t ordered anything. Most of the better consorts – and especially Layla – refused to come anywhere near the first floor rooms. They were dingy as fuck.

 

‘Gift from a friend,’ Layla said. Beau wondered whether it was Emerson or Ric. Two friends out of the hundred or so fighters that were enslaved here. Gods that was pathetic. It seemed more Emerson’s style, but Beau doubted he had the coin. Instead of worrying about it – instead of asking stupid questions – she decided not to look a gift horse in the mouth.

 

Layla had come with a Healer’s Kit, and an eager tongue. Beau was still sort of out of it, to the point where she spent almost the whole time Layla was between her legs continuing to stare at the ceiling.

 

When she came, it was with wracked, heaving sobs that quickly devolved into a fit of tears. Pretty fucking embarrassing.

 

It wasn’t the first time Beau had cried in the past few weeks, though she had generally tried to do it while alone. She didn’t need everyone else around this place to see how much it was truly breaking her.

 

She expected Layla to leave her to her mourning, but Beau was surprised once more. She supposed that this was part of whatever mysterious deal had been struck. Warm arms wrapped around her from behind, and Beau could almost imagine that they belonged to someone else entirely.

 

They stayed that way for a long while before Beau’s curiousity inevitably got the better of her.

 

‘Can I ask you a question?’ Beau said. Layla didn’t say anything, and Beau took it as permission to continue. ‘Why do you do this?’

 

Layla laughed. It was a surprisingly musical sort of sound that Beau had never heard before. In fact, she’d barely heard the other woman speak. The word “beg” didn’t seem to count. ‘How much have you spent on me so far?’

 

It was a pretty good point, Beau conceded. The last time she’d paid for companionship, in Shady Creek Run, it hadn’t cost nearly as much. She’d just figured it had been a supply and demand sort of thing. There was a world of difference between five gold and a hundred gold. Still, in the wake of Mollymauk’s death, she’d enjoyed the elf’s company.

 

‘I mean, you could always work at the Lavish Chateau, right?’ Beau continued.

 

Layla snorted. ‘And compete with the Ruby of the Sea?’ she snorted. ‘Yeah, right.’

 

‘I mean, I’ve met the Ruby of the Sea,’ Beau told her. ‘I’d definitely rather sleep with you.’ She didn’t mention that the reason was because the Ruby of the Sea her best friend’s mother. Well. Had been. Since she wasn’t sure yet if she’d been abandoned, she didn’t know if Jester was still technically her best friend.

 

‘You won’t get a discount for sweet-talking,’ Layla told her. Beau grinned, but it was a sad sort of grin. She didn’t expect a discount, but it would have been nice for Layla to pretend just a little bit that this was about more than money, even though it wasn’t. Beau wondered if she’d mentally been checking the clock every time she had to hold Beau while she cried.

 

Beau slowly drifted off to sleep while held in her grasp, and when she woke, Layla was gone.

 

Okay. Beau ran a hand through her hair. It was getting a little too long for her liking. Okay, okay .

 

What’s your next step?

Chapter Text

Every night before she fell asleep, Beau stared up at the ceiling, and tried to figure out what her next steps would be, and every day when she woke up, she dragged herself out to the Pit to find out whether she was going to live or die.

 

Time didn’t have much meaning anymore. At least with Amaril, she had a vague understanding of its passage; spending time with someone meant that she had conversations and interactions that were about more than just fighting.

 

Right now, she would have given anything for a conversation with Jester, or Caleb, or even Nott, who she didn’t have a great deal of deep and meaningfuls with, but loved just the same. Hell, at this point, she would have even welcomed the sight of her parents, who she hadn’t seen in almost five years now. Perhaps they’d have a snooty nosed toddler with them, the perfect image of everything she was supposed to be. Then, she thought about how her mother would criticize how filthy she was, and her father would give her shit for not winning every fight, and she decided that alone was probably preferable.

 

At least alone, she could plan out the best way to do this without having to worry about who else was going to die for her to escape. At least now, most people thought she was a heartless bitch, which, really, was not altogether too far from the truth.

 

The rumor that seemed to have gotten around wasn’t exactly favorable towards Beau. The rumor being that she had murdered Amaril for threatening to rat her out to the Tyrant for her misdeeds. Never mind that that didn’t explain why Amaril had ended up in the Pit. Everywhere she went (so, from her room to the Pit to the mess hall) she saw people muttering in her direction.

 

Some, to Beau’s surprise, were sympathetic. They had been there long enough to know the ways the narrative got twisted, to know that her current position was a punishment for previous transgressions.

 

The few nods that she got in the hallways were cautious, curious, almost...hopeful. If Beau were smarter, she might have let it go, might have resigned to the fact that this was her life now.

 

Here was the thing.

 

Beau was stubborn. At least she was according to...well, all of her friends, all of her family, every single member of the Cobalt Soul, and pretty much everyone she’d ever met. She didn’t lie down easily (Jester would have had a lot of fun with that comment). Killing Amaril had only put fuel on the fire of her rage.

 

Just add her to the list of all the people here that didn’t deserve to die, that didn’t deserve all the horrible things that had happened to them. After so long of shades of grey between the Empire and Xhorhas, it was almost a relief to finally be in a situation where there was a definitive, correct answer. This was a bad place, and it deserved to go down in flames. Questions were no longer enough.

 

It was time for direct action. Or, really, indirect action.

 

The Beau way of doing things, of poking a tree until something fell out, wasn’t really working. It was just making them more and more angry, and would get more and more people killed. She didn’t really have the skills or the fortitude for doing to Fjord way of things, which was charming the pants of off everything in the vicinity, or magic to be able to pull a Caleb and just set everything on fire.

 

Beau was not the sort of person you wanted to run a revolution. Not that you could even start a revolution with just one person. Most of her life people (including the people that were supposed to like her) were telling her how obnoxious or unpleasant she was, how she ruined everything. As Dairon had said all those months (years?) ago, that sometimes you needed to be an asshole to get shit done.

 

It wasn’t quite the time for that just yet. Beau figured that the only thing being an asshole would do was lose her the few friends that she’d managed to make in this place (though, after what had happened to Amaril, maybe that wasn’t such a bad thing).

 

For now, she decided she would take a try at the Dairon way of doing things. Take a step back. Look, listen. Be patient. Don’t make any waves. All the things that the other woman had wanted Beau to be that she wasn’t. All the things that, if she’d been, she wouldn’t have gotten stuck in this situation.

 

Beau was sure, over the next few days, that Emerson at least, thought something was wrong with her. She didn’t say a word to anyone, but kept her ears open as she sat on the bench waiting to fight. If there were mutterings, this was where they would happen. It wasn’t strictly banned for fighters to congregate after hours, but Beau had seen a couple of lower level ones sent to fight a goristro after they’d had one too many whispered conversations in the mess hall, or the hallways.

 

Still, the Tyrant didn’t seem inclined to stop his onslaught against her. Twice more that week she went up against fighters, or monsters, or things that were well above her level, and the clerics had to Revivify her again. After the third one, there was a low, blurred buzzing sound in her head that wouldn’t go away.

 

She was tired.

 

That was the problem. She was listening, and watching, and waiting, trying to put the threads of everything together, but every day she fought, her mind got a little more blunt, and it was a little harder to join the dots of what was happening. She wished that she was a little smarter. That, like Caleb, she could remember everything that had ever happened to her. Then, she’d be able to pin down the movements of the guards, the pattern of the fights, and all those other things that were just...slipping away.

 

‘Are you alright?’ Emerson asked her, after the last fight of the day one...Yulisen? Beau didn’t know. The days of the week were arbitrary enough that they didn’t matter anymore.

 

‘Peachy,’ Beau muttered, wrapping the arrow wound that had pierced her shoulder. The arrow lay broken on the bench beside her, still dripping with blood.

 

‘I know you didn’t care about her as much as she cared about you—’ Emerson started. Beau’s head shot up. Did he think she was still upset about Amaril? This was one course of actions Beau hadn’t considered. Be so pathetic that people couldn’t help but feel bad for you.

 

Well, technically she was still upset about Amaril, but maybe not quite in the way he thought. She had liked Amaril, in one way or another, and was still having nightmares about having murdered her, but that had nothing to do with her quietness.

 

‘Look, I appreciate the sympathy talk,’ Beau said, in a not entirely fake sarcastic tone. ‘But if it’s all the same to you, I’m gonna go bleed on my bed in peace.’

 

Her bandaging skills had gotten good enough that that wasn’t a concern, but Beau wanted to lie down all the same. It had been a rough week in the Pit, and the intermittent, nightmare interrupted sleep that she got was clearly not enough. She didn’t think she could stand another month of this, let alone a year, or five years, or ten years. The thought that maybe one day soon, a Revivify might fail was a welcoming thought, and Beau absolutely fucking hated herself for thinking that way.

 

There had always been an out, always been an answer, always been something that she could do. Now, though, there was no light at the end of the tunnel. The best she could hope for, save a miracle, was a quick death. Painless was probably a bit too much to ask.

 

There was another half hour or so of these useless, self-pitying sort of thoughts before Beau gave herself a metaphorical kick up the rear, and decided that it was pointless to feel sorry for herself. Just as that thought crossed her mind, there was a knock on the door. If she was lucky, it was Layla.

 

Beau wasn’t feeling very lucky.

 

It was Emerson.

 

‘Are you supposed to be here?’ Beau asked. She had been on the verge of going to see him anyway. Things had got her a little wound up, and with a still bleeding shoulder wound, it was more pain that it was worth to try and get herself off.

 

‘The fun thing about being a gopher is that I get to do things that they won’t let you do,’ he said, a little grimly. ‘Like wander the halls at night, or speak to people about things you wouldn’t want the guards to hear.’

 

Beau sat up, wincing at the pull on her shoulder. Was he saying…

 

‘A few people have come to me,’ he said. ‘For some reason thinking that I can be trusted, or that I’m the sort of person that can get things done. I mean, I can get you a companion, but most people go to Stevie for the contraband.’ Stevie, Beau remembered, was a dark-haired (sadly straight) woman who fought with an enormous battle-axe. She had an in with one of the guards who brought her cigarettes, and suude, and shit like that. In her quest for books, Beau had put a request in, but apparently books weren’t one of the things you could sneak in in uncomfortable places. Beau lost her appetite for contraband after hearing that. The Tyrant, she figured, probably knew, and let it happen, just to keep the fighters complacent.

 

That was the sort of rebellion people liked, Beau knew. The quiet, harmless rebellion that made the oppressed people feel like they had the smallest semblance of freedom. The kind of rebellion she wanted...well, that was a little more dangerous.

 

Emerson continued, and Beau was only half distracted by the throbbing of her arm. ‘But you know, I guess you beat people down long enough, they eventually want to fight back.’ He didn’t sound convinced.

 

If anything, he sounded reluctant. At least as much as a seven foot tall, heavily muscled orc could sound reluctant. Beau knew Emerson used his race to throw people off the scent, that he was much smarter than he looked. Which meant he didn’t do things the Beau way, and rush in without thinking.

 

Emerson didn’t stay long. Too long, and the guards would get suspicious, regardless of his status. There was a brief discussion had in vague terms, but the main reason he was there was to set the ball rolling. The next step – the actual planning part – was in her hands. All Beau had was a number.

 

It wasn’t a big number. Twelve out of more than a hundred was pretty poor odds, but Beau knew they could get that number up. Once word got around, once people realized that it was more than just a pipe dream, more people would join.

 

Whatever plans they made, Beau would just have to make sure she lasted long enough to carry them out.

 

 

The answer to whether or not things would go her way was answered the next day, and just like everything in this stupid, fucked up place, it wasn’t the answer that Beau was looking for.

 

Before she even set foot out into the Pit, she knew something was wrong. Not because Emerson was quiet, or because he refused to tell her something, but because he wasn’t there. It was a tall (relatively speaking), rough-skinned dwarf that called her to her first fight.

 

‘Where’s Emerson?’

 

‘Go fuck yourself,’ the dwarf said, which was about as nice an answer as Beau had expected. She shot him a rude gesture as she swung her staff around walked into the Pit. Then, she saw the guards that were waiting there.

 

There were four of them. The crowd was cheering their stupid fucking hearts out. Then, she heard the shift of footsteps behind her, and turned to see four more. Not fighters. Not monsters, or beasts. Guards. This wasn’t a fight, it was a fucking ambush.

 

So much for a rebellion.

 

They could have taken her in the night, could have had the guards waiting in her room to drag her away, but no. They wanted everyone to see. The crowd, the fighters. Anyone who might think of acting out.

 

She put up a pretty good fight, she thought. Knocked at least one of them out, gave a couple more a good headache, but eight guards was eight guards, and holy fuck she really wished these guys would stop fighting so unfairly. As though fairness was something she should have expected from a dickhead named the Tyrant.

 

One sword nicked her across the back of the legs, and must have hit an artery, because the blood flowed pretty freely. Another one sliced across her shoulder, across the arrow wound from the previous day. That was enough. Not to take her down completely, but enough for her to know that finally it would all be over.

 

...

 

Beau woke up in the cold, and the dark.

 

Bleeding, aching, shivering, all of the above.

 

They’d had her in the dungeon – this place had a dungeon?! – for two or so days now, without food, or water, or anything beyond pain. Small wounds designed only to inflict suffering covered her arms and her legs. The arrow wound that had been throbbing at worst was freshly bleeding from all the times they had jabbed an elbow or a fist into it.

 

The rope rubbed her wrists raw. She knew, now, where they took the fighters that didn’t cooperate. That got a little too nosy for their own good. The ones that took it just a bit too far. Well, Beau had always been a pain in someone’s ass. She was glad she could be a pain in the ass for that fuckwaffle Tyrant.

 

The cigarette burns all over her legs? The knife wounds over her arms? Every things else they’d done? Well, that she could have done without.

 

In all that time, they hadn’t asked her a single question. She suspected that one of the guards might have asked the Tyrant if he could have some fun, and, well…Yeah.

 

‘You have heard,’ the torturer said, ‘Of what happens when people try to escape.’

 

‘Fuck off,’ Beau spat. ‘I wasn’t trying to escape, I just wanted to know what the fuck was going on.’ And then try and escape. She wasn’t sure exactly how much they knew already, and how much they were hoping she would tell them. They had clearly decided that she was the ringleader, which was a ridiculous thought. Beau had never been the Ringleader of anything. There had barely even been a conversation between her and Emerson, let alone a plot.

 

‘To the Tyrant, those are one and the same.’ He gestured to the door, and Beau watched as two shadowy figures dragged in a hooded, green-skinned prisoner. Her stomach roiled.

 

They threw Emerson to his knees, and ripped the hood off. Beau wondered why they’d even bothered with a hood. The orc spat at the torturer’s feet, and got a backhand to the face for his efforts. It was the most courageous thing Beau had ever seen him do, and hardly the time for it. He looked like he’d been tortured as much as she had. She wondered whether he had said anything. She wondered whether it mattered if he had or hadn’t. It was the same outcome either way. Though, she supposed, if he hadn’t, it would save a few lives.

 

‘Beau, don’t—’ Emerson started, and got another backhand.

 

‘You draw the crowd,’ the torturer told her. ‘We don’t want to kill you just yet.’ He grinned. ‘But this bastard’s expendable.’

 

‘Don’t you fucking dare,’ Beau said, through broken teeth.

 

The torturer swung his sword before she’d even finished the sentence.

Chapter Text

Three Weeks Later

 

Fjord stared up into the sky, watching the stars twinkle. It was a moonless night – one of the rare times of year that neither celestial body was in the sky. On nights like these, they kept the fire going until morning, so it was easier to see anything that might sneak up on them. Darkvision could only do so much.

 

He listened intently to the constant snores that permeated the otherwise silent night. The snores were a little quieter than usual, on account of the fact that their loudest snorer was absent.

 

They were all bone-tired. Beyond that, they were completely, and utterly exhausted. The sort of exhaustion that came from spending four weeks trudging up past the Cyrios Mountains to the Ruins of Sepesca, at the behest of the Gentleman.

 

It was bad enough that they had been down one party member; Beau had said goodbye in Zadash almost three months ago, in order to fulfil her training requirements with the Cobalt Soul.

 

She had been a little pissed, to say the least, when she received the letter, making grumblings about having to drop everything at their beck and call. Underneath all of that, though, Fjord could tell that there were some parts of the trip that she was looking forward to.

 

Since then, though, they had heard nothing. Beau had warned them that this would probably be the case, that she could be gone months, that she probably wouldn’t have much time to be able to reply to any messages. In fact, when they dropped Beau off in Zadash, Dairon had specifically pulled Jester aside.

 

I know that you especially are wont to make sure that Beauregard is safe, but I would ask you to please limit the interruptions of her training.” Fjord stood, listening from a distance, and interpreted what Dairon was really trying to say - “please don’t Send Beau pointless messages while she’s trying to punch shit.”

 

Beau looked as though she wanted to disagree with that order, but didn’t, which went to show just how seriously she had come to take her training.

 

Still, three months was a long time to go without hearing from someone, and the messages that Jester did eventually Send got no response. It was enough for the rest of the party to think that something was absolutely definitely not right. While they had been otherwise distracted in the North-West, now, a few days out of Nicodranis, Fjord was not the only one that was starting to get a little worried.

 

One month, he could understand. There was a lot of training that needed to be done, and not a lot of time to do it in. Two months, a little long, maybe, but still understandable. Three months, though…Three months was definitely a problem. The group had made a decision then, to go North to Zadash, to see what the problem was.

 

In the time since they’d left Nicodranis, Jester had sent half a dozen messages, with no response. She’d even tried to Scry , and that, even more worryingly, had no result either.

 

You know,’ Jester said. She was sitting next to Fjord on a wide, flat rock. They were ostensibly on watch, but Jester kept getting distracted by new thoughts that popped into her head. ‘I still haven’t tried Sending a message to Dairon yet.’

 

It wasn’t that they hadn’t thought about it. It was just...they were on their way to Zadash anyway, and Fjord didn’t trust Dairon anywhere near as much as he trusted Beau. Didn’t trust that any answer they got wouldn’t be colored by her own agenda.

 

The next morning, they put it to a vote. Not a serious vote, mind you. The same sort of vote that they always did. The “hey, is everyone cool with this,” vote.

 

Ja,’ Caleb said, at the same time as Yasha said, ‘Yes.’ Caduceus and Nott quickly followed with their agreement.

 

Okay, okay,’ Jester said. She closed her eyes, and rubbed her temples.

 

Hi Dairon, it’s me Jester, I’m a friend of Beau’s, remember we fought in the Four Corners. Is Beau with you, because we haven’t been able to—’ She stopped as Fjord cleared his throat. She opened her eyes, and he held up a hand.

 

That’s twenty-seven,’ he told her. He would have been slightly amused, if not for the circumstances.

 

Jester twiddled her thumbs a little as she waited for a response. When it seemed to come, her brow furrowed, and her expression became a little confused. ‘She wants us to meet her in Trostenwald.’

 

That’s all she said?’

 

Jester shrugged. ‘That’s all she said – I could send her another message and try and get more information.’ Then she paused. ‘ But what if we get attacked on our way to Trostenwald?’

 

I think we’d be better suited making our way north,’ Caleb said, grimly.

 

What do you think happened?’ Jester asked. ‘Do you think Beau’s in Trostenwald, and she’s hurt?’ Jester clutched at her horns in panic. ‘I should have Sent a message to Dairon weeks ago.’

 

Fjord put a comforting hand on Jester’s shoulder. ‘I’m sure if something had happened, Dairon would have gotten in contact with us weeks ago.’ He didn’t let on that he felt just as uneasy as Jester did. The fact that Dairon hadn’t contacted them could only mean that she didn’t have any idea what had happened to Beau either, or that nothing had happened, and Beau just wasn’t responding.

 

If he had to put gold on it, Fjord would have guessed that something had happened. Beau had come a long way from being the grumpy yet direct kid that he’d fought a giant snake with in Trostenwald. She wouldn’t just go incommunicado for no reason. Either that, or he didn’t know her as well as he thought he did.

 

When they made it to Trostenwald, it was still early morning, on what Fjord thought was a Folsen. Early enough that most of the townspeople had not yet risen, and the ones that had were working; shifting boxes, or pulling carts, or getting shops set up for the day. What might have once been an arduous journey was made trivial by Caleb’s Teleport spell. It was unfortunate that he couldn’t use it to get them everywhere.

 

Dairon, who, as far as Fjord knew, didn’t have access to any kind of teleportation magic, might take at least a few more days to get there.

 

The party made their way to the Nestled Nook Inn to find rooms for the indeterminate future.

 

The Nestled Nook Inn, where they had first come together, and spent some time after first meeting in Trostenwald. So long had past since they’d met, since they had started their journeys. So many things had happened. The inn looked exactly the same as it had all those months ago, a sort of ramshackle, two story building, that was seeing the effects of the war as much as any other place in the Empire.

 

Fjord thought that they would have time to spare, that they would be able to ask around town after Beau, but to his surprise, Dairon arrived just before noon the same day as they had, whether by foot, or by horse, or by teleportation, Fjord didn’t know, and Dairon didn’t care to reveal.

 

She took off her traveling cloak to reveal worried looking expression. The words that came from her mouth were among the most troubling Fjord had heard. ‘Where is Beauregard?’

 

The last we knew, she was in Zadash,’ Fjord said. He had the sinking feeling that Dairon confirmed in the next words she spoke.

 

Beauregard left Zadash almost two months ago,’ Dairon said. There was a line furrowed across her brow. Fjord couldn’t read her. The only thing he’d ever been able to read from Dairon was “what a bunch of idiots.‘She advised – against my recommendation – that she was returning to your company in Nicodranis.’

 

There was a long, panicked sort of silence. ‘She’s not with you?’ Jester said, as though Dairon’s words hadn’t quite made it past her ears.

 

No,’ Dairon said. There was a quiet sort of anger in the elf’s voice that Fjord didn’t like, as though she was about to blame them for Beau being missing. ‘When did you leave Nicodranis?’

 

Uh, it would’ve been maybe a week ago,’ Fjord said. ‘But, we left directions for her with a, uh...trusted ally, if she came in the meantime.’

 

I’ve Sent her so many messages and she hasn’t replied to any,’ Jester said, mournfully. ‘God, you guys, what if she’s dead?’

 

There was an awkward silence in which no-one seemed to want to say anything. Fjord was glad as hell Caduceus didn’t make a comment about the natural order of things.

 

Our first step should be to go to the Wyoun Gates,’ Dairon said, cutting the tension, ‘And ask the Guards there if she passed through.’

 

I...’ Fjord started, and looked around guiltily to the rest of the party. ‘Can’t believe we didn’t think of that.’ He scratched the back of his head. In teleporting to Trostenwald, they had bypassed the gates entirely. Whether they were looking in the Empire or on the Menagerie Coast changed the dynamic of their search entirely. While both were somewhat dangerous places, the type of danger was different.

 

She might have made a detour to Kamordah,’ Nott suggested, weakly. None of them thought that that suggestion held much stock. Beau had been perfectly clear regarding her thoughts of returning “home.”

 

There weren’t a great number of places between Nicodranis and Zadash; at the very least, it narrowed down the number of places that they would have to look.

 

I saw her here in Trostenwald last,’ Dairon said, when he mentioned this. ‘Which narrows our search area down a little bit.’

 

Fjord frowned. Given Dairon’s disinclination for traveling in groups, he couldn’t think why she would have been in Trostenwald with Beau. He didn’t think it was for the ale, though admittedly, he didn’t know Dairon well at all.

 

Can you Teleport us again, Caleb?’ Jester asked. Caleb was frowning, which was not a good sign.

 

Nein, not to the Wyoun Gates. I could take us to Yussa’s tower, in Nicodranis, as I am familiar with the circle, but I have expended too much energy today for something of a higher level.’

 

Then we will walk,’ Dairon said. Fjord couldn’t quite read the expression on her face. Every time he’d met the Cobalt Soul elf, her main – or heck, even her only – concern in the world had been Beauregard.

 

They had the gold for horses, but there were none for sale in Trostenwald. Fjord wished that they still had the moorbounders, even as smelly, and disgusting, and frankly, dangerous as they had been. Still, it wasn’t a long walk to the gates – they could make it most of the way by nightfall, and finish off the journey in the morning.

 

For safety’s sake, they spend the night in Caleb’s bubble. Fjord saw Dairon look at it hesitantly before following Jester inside.

 

Fjord watched, as, one by one, the rest of the party fell asleep. Dairon hadn’t so much as shut her eyes, and they looked across at each other, silently.

 

‘Look,’ Fjord said. ‘I know you don’t trust us—’ Fjord started. Before he could finish, Dairon had interjected.

 

‘That’s not true. I trust Beauregard, and Beauregard trusts you, therefore, I trust you.’ She paused. ‘I may not agree with every decision your little group has made, but trust me when I say I have Beauregard’s best interests at heart.’

 

That, Fjord definitely believed. It was with slightly less trepidation that he settled down to sleep between Jester and Caduceus, knowing that both Frumpkin and Caleb’s Alarm spell would alert them to any strange happenings in the night.

 

They woke early – before the sun had even risen – and kept walking.

 

‘Let me take the lead on this,’ Dairon said, when they approached the Gates. Fjord didn’t disagree. As an Expositor of the Cobalt Soul, Dairon had a legitimacy within the Empire that the rest of them lacked. She would be more likely to get an answer without having to turn up the charm.

 

Still, Fjord and the rest of the Mighty Nein kept a close distance behind her as she spoke with the guard, a young, barely out of his teens human that introduced himself as Ferren.

 

‘I wonder if you have, by any chance, seen a young woman wearing clothes similar to these over the past few months.’ Though Dairon’s voice was steady, Fjord could see that their fist was lightly clenched. ‘Her skin is a little lighter than my own, and she carries a staff.

 

Ferren seemed to consider the question for a moment. ‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘A while back. Maybe two months? I dunno, time gets a little blurry out here. She was pretty quiet. Didn’t say much, ‘cept that she was going to Nicodranis.’

 

‘That’s an awfully good memory of someone you saw almost two months ago,’ Fjord said.

 

‘Well, I remember the outfit,’ the man said, sounding slightly embarrassed. ‘I asked her what someone as pretty as her was doing going south, and she gave me the finger.’ Fjord suppressed a chuckle. In another circumstance, it might have been funny. ‘I wasn’t trying to be creepy or nothing,’ he said, noting, at the same time Fjord did, the look on Dairon’s face. ‘A lot of travelers have gone missing on the road south.’

 

They all perked up at those words. ‘Missing,’ Dairon said, angrily. ‘What do you mean, missing?’ Her hand twitched, and she seemed on the verge of grabbing the young man by the throat.

 

People traveling from the Gates to Nicodranis or Port Damali. Experienced travelers and adventurers disappearing without a trace.’

 

That sounded both promising and worrying at the same time. Promising because multiple incidents meant there was a path they could follow. Worrying because it meant whoever had done this was organized.

 

We thank you for your time,’ Fjord said. He’d noticed the clenching of Dairon’s fist intensify, and worried that they were about to start an incident. ‘We would be much obliged if you would let us through the Gates in order that we can continue to look for our friend.’

 

Fjord suspected that the young guard’s fear of Dairon was the main reason that they made it through the Gates so quickly. The elf surged ahead of the group quickly, and waited until they were out of sight of the Gates to stop.

 

‘Dairon,’ Fjord started.

 

I should have traveled with her,’ Dairon was saying. She looked as distressed as Fjord had ever seen her, pacing back and forth, running a hand over her smoothly shaven head. ‘This wouldn’t have happened.’

 

Do you trust in Beau’s ability to take care of herself?’ Caduceus asked, in a gentle, calming sort of voice. Dairon seemed to eye him curiously.

 

Yes,’ they said, finally.

 

Then trust that your presence wouldn’t have changed anything.’

 

Dairon didn’t look like she agreed with that sentiment, but nor did she argue with it. Instead, she continued her pacing. She had the same sort of look that Beau always did when she was thinking, trying to piece together bits and pieces of information that they had gathered in their travels. Fjord decided to let well enough alone, and to his relief, Caduceus seemed to agree.

 

You know,’ the firbolg said, musingly. ‘I might Commune with the Wildmother. See if I can’t figure out where our girl has gone.’ He wandered off to a nearby tree without even bothering to wait for an answer. He was a bit like that sometimes, deciding that he was going to do something, and then doing it without consulting the rest of the party. This time, Fjord didn’t argue. Any divine power on their side would have been welcomed at this point.

 

In any case, it was probably a good time for a rest. Let Dairon cool down a little bit. The problem was, none of them knew her well enough to be able to talk to her about the situation. Not that Jester didn’t try. Fjord could hear her what she clearly thought were reassuring words, given in a loud whisper.

 

Caduceus returned after five minutes or so, looking as triumphant as a seven-foot-tall pink haired cowman could look.

 

‘Well?’ Fjord asked.

 

I asked three questions,’ Caduceus told them. ‘Is Beau alive, is she safe and Do you know where we can find her.’

 

And?’ Jester asked, frantically. She looked as though she wanted to grab Caduceus by the shoulders and shake him until he answered.

 

The answers were, “yes.”’ A small sigh of relief, ‘Then “no.”’ An intake of breath. ‘Then, “surrounded by water.”’ A confused pause.

 

Surrounded by water?’ Dairon repeated, brow furrowed.

 

That’s right,’ Caduceus said, pleasantly.

 

So,’ Fjord surmised. ‘She’s alive, she’s not safe, and she’s surrounded by water. It could be worse.’

 

It definitely could have been worse. The first answer could have been “No.” The second two answers didn’t exactly bode well, though . “Surrounded by water,” well the logical answer to that would have been somewhere on the Lucidian Ocean . Unless the Wildmother had meant it more literally, like “stuck at the bottom of a lake.” Given their proximity to the Islands, Fjord was banking on the first.

 

Which meant only one thing.

 

The Mighty Nein were going to need a boat.

 

Chapter Text

All told, things could have been worse.

 

They had a direction and a course of action, which was more than they’d yesterday. Hell, even a couple of days ago, they hadn’t even realized that something was wrong.

 

The news that Dairon hadn’t seen Beau in two months, compounded with the status of her safety from the Wildmother did not bode well. A lot could have happened in two months; a lot that the Mighty Nein had been blissfully unaware of as they trudged through mountains and fought trolls, and bitched about the weather, all while Beau was potentially in real danger.

 

‘I will Send a message,’ Jester announced. ‘To see if Orly can meet us with the Ball-Eater in Nicodranis.’ Dairon raised an eyebrow at the name of their former pirate ship, but said nothing. ‘You can get us to Nicodranis, right Caleb?’

 

‘Certainly,’ the wizard agreed. Without any hesitation, he pulled out his spellbook, and began drawing a large circle in the ground using some fancy looking chalk.

 

‘What is our plan once we reach Nicodranis?’ asked Dairon. Everyone looked at over at her, curiously. A look of dawning comprehension crossed Dairon’s face. ‘You do…make plans, do you not?’

 

‘Funny thing,’ Fjord said, scratching the back of his head. ‘Every time we plan, it turns into a disaster, and whenever we don’t plan, things go really well, so sometimes we just kinda...wing it.’ Even as he said the words, he felt like an idiot. Saying that they flew by the seat of their pants to someone that Beau greatly respected – her mentor.

 

He had been expecting – perhaps some kind of dressing-down from the elf, that she would tell them they should consider their actions more carefully. Instead, after a few moments, Dairon only said, ‘That explains a great deal.’

 

Jester got very excited all of a sudden. ‘Dairon!’ she said, her purple eyes shining. ‘Can I give you a tattoo?’

 

‘No.’ There was a short pause, but Fjord could have sword that they were smiling slightly. Jester had that effect on people.

 

Jester looked a little upset at the answer, but did not seem to dwell on it. She went and sat on the ground next to Caduceus while they waited for Caleb to finish the Teleportation Circle. Yasha was over at a cluster of wildflowers, picking some to add to her collection.

 

Once Caleb had finished painstakingly drawing the circle, they all clustered together on top of it. Fjord was glad now that they didn’t have the moorbounders, because there was no way they would have been able to fit inside the circle.

 

Yussa was surprised to see them arrive without notice (‘Oh, yeah, I probably should have Sent you a message too!’) and knew nothing about any mysterious islands in the Lucidian Ocean where people could have been held prisoner.

 

‘I know this may not be something we want,’ Fjord said, as they walked into the town. He’d been thinking about the possibility for a while. ‘But if the Wildmother says she’s in danger, she may be on Darktow.’

 

‘That’s crazy,’ Jester said, immediately. ‘Why would the Plank King have come all the way to the mainland to kidnap her when he said he never wanted to see us again?’ There was something of a horrified look on Dairon’s face that Jester did not even notice. Fjord winced. He hadn’t been sure if Beau had told Dairon that they’d ended up on Darktow Isle, the notorious pirate enclave. Now he knew that she definitely hadn’t. ‘Hey, you know, my Momma knows a lot about what goes on around here, maybe she knows what happened to Beau.’

 

The horror turned quickly to skepticism, which Jester did notice. She leaned in towards the elf, and whispered loudly, ‘She’s the Ruby of the Sea.’ Dairon, to her credit, looked impressed. The Ruby of the Sea was pretty famous in some parts of the world, and Dairon was clearly well-traveled and had an ear to the ground enough that they’d probably heard of her.

 

They made their way cautiously (with Jester in disguise) through Nicodranis to the Lavish Chateau. The tiefling had Sent her mother a message advising of their return, with the Ruby being surprised, but delighted at their swift return. She was less delighted when she heard the reason for their return.

 

‘Of course you can stay here while you wait for your ship,’ she told them, warmly. Fjord knew that, more than anything, she was just glad to have her daughter back for a little while. The separation was hard on both of them. ‘If there’s anything that I can do to help, please let me know.’

 

Nott was thrilled to be reunited with Luc and Yeza, and was immediately carried away to their room in the Pillow Trove. Though it had been no time at all, in the grand scheme of things, since they’d last been in Nicodranis, Fjord knew that Nott missed her family every second that she was away from them.

 

‘Do you know anything about anything weird going on in the Swavain Islands, like if maybe there was some sort of place where some really bad guys might take a really cool monk who’s been missing for like...three months.’ Jester’s words were as run together as everything she ever said, but Marion was clearly experienced at interpreting these – to Fjord – sometimes incomprehensible questions.

 

‘I have heard rumors,’ Marion admitted. ‘Of an uncharted island off the coast; its master paid very good money for its location to never be revealed, except, of course, to those who are also able to pay.’

 

‘What kind of an island?’

 

Marion shook her head. ‘I do not know; there are some contacts – former proprietors – that could possibly bring more information. Suffice to say that no small amount of illicit activities must take place there.’

 

‘Of course, if greasing pockets is required,’ Fjord said, voice dropping a tone. ‘Money is no object.’

 

Marion gave a tired sort of smile. ‘Perhaps it will not be necessary. My influence is such that I can often get people to talk about things they might not otherwise talk about.’ It was a polite way to put it. Fjord knew some people would do crazy things in the name of love, or even lust. ‘Give me an evening, and I will find out what you need.’

 

Even with her reassurances, Fjord was still surprised the next morning when Marion handed him, written in the neatest handwriting he had ever seen, coordinates to a hidden island off the coast of Nicodranis.

 

‘I am told,’ Marion said, ‘That a number of prisoners are enslaved there, forced to fight for the approval of large crowds.’

 

Fjord took in the words. Fighting. Well, it could have been worse. He had been expecting maiming, or torturing, or...any other kind of thing that could leave permanent scars. Fighting, well, Beau was pretty good at that.

 

‘I don’t know how we can repay you,’ Fjord started. Marion put a hand to his shoulder.

 

‘Just keep my Jester safe,’ she said.

 

Three days later, they were well on their way. With Orly’s help, Fjord had charted a course to this mysterious island, having added its position to their navigational maps.

 

Part of him was glad to be back on the open ocean. Now that the business with Uko’toa was (hopefully) finished, he didn’t feel anxious at the thought of what lay in chains at the bottom of the ocean.

 

‘Guys!’ Jester came running up the deck excitedly. ‘Guys! I Sent a message, and this time she responded! She said “Jester, what the fuck?” and then kind of gasped.’

 

‘Gasped?’ Fjord repeated. Jester nodded.

 

‘Yeah, like she was in the middle of something strenuous.’ An amused look crossed Jester’s face. ‘Do you think she was having sex?’

 

‘Given the circumstances, I don’t think that’s the case,’ Caduceus said, and Fjord agreed. More than likely, she was being tortured or – if Marion Lavorre’s client’s words held any grain of truth – fighting.

 

It was another day or so before they saw the island in the distance, well west of Bisquel Isle. Even at this distance, he could see a large stone building, the size of what Fjord imagined a castle to look like, not that he had seen many castles in his time. Far, far bigger than the Victory Pit, which was what Fjord had imagined when Jester’s mother had described exactly what went on there.

 

They anchored Ball-Eater well away and took the rowboats ashore. Fjord didn’t want the ship anywhere near the island in case something went down. They would keep Orly and the rest of the crew update, and if they didn’t return or contact them within the week, the Ball-Eater would get the hell outta dodge.

 

Even still, Fjord was impressed by the security measures that had been put in place. They were met at the dock by a pair of guards who immediately wanted to know who they were, and how they had found this place.

 

It could have been worse. There could have been cannons bombarding them from a distance.

As usual in situations like this, Fjord took the lead. ‘We heard tale of a place of magnificent feats of strength and martial skill, fighters the likes the world has never seen before, and we just had to come and see for ourselves. We’d be happy to pay any requisite entry fee.’ He gave his most charming smile. ‘Plus, of course, a little for yourself for any inconvenience our arrival might have caused.’

 

A little more coin than Fjord was comfortable with changed hands, but still, he got the impression that bribery was an accepted practice on this island. It was good to know; he figured it probably wouldn’t be the last of the payoffs they’d need to make. The fact that it wouldn’t necessarily draw any untoward attention.

 

One of the guards escorted them along a winding path, towards the enormous building. ‘You just here to watch, or are you interested in making money? There’re some amazing betting opportunities. Who wins, who gets decapitated, shit like that.’

 

‘Well, we’ll see what the day brings,’ Fjord said, but he felt a slight jolt of panic at the word “decapitation.” Was that the sort of thing that happened here? He was apparently not the only one that was concerned.

 

‘Do lots of people die?’ Yasha asked.

 

‘Oh, for sure. I don’t get to watch a lot, but the battles with deaths are always way more exciting than the ones without. Gives a real sense of danger to the situation, y’know. But I mean, they all get—’ He stopped as they reached an enormous set of doors, which opened into a lavish lobby.

 

A tall, dark-haired elf stood behind a fine marble counter.‘Welcome,’ said the elf. He was finely dressed in silken robes, and had a smarmy sort of look on his face that Fjord didn’t like at all. ‘So wonderful to have new patrons to our humble establishment. My name is Mayleth.’

 

‘A pleasure to meet you, Mayleth. My name is Captain Tusktooth, and these here are members of my crew. We heard tale of a place of magnificent feats of strength and martial skill.’ He used the same line that he had on the guard, hoping that it would work once again. Fortunately, Mayleth did not need to be bribed.

 

‘Oh, but of course. Watching the fights is just one of the few forms of entertainment that we offer. There are also a number of fine dining and drinking options, not to mention gambling. We like the guests here at the Ironlock Arena to be as content as possible.’

 

The Ironlock Arena. Fjord couldn’t deny it had a ring to it.

 

‘Forgive me for being so inquisitive,’ Fjord said, smiling. ‘One of my compatriots—’ he nodded towards Caleb, ‘—is a little concerned at what will happen if the fighters escape.’

 

‘Not to worry,’ Mayleth said, with an almost condescending sort of laugh. ‘The fighters are all wearing obedience collars, controlled by the Tyrant himself. Any funny business, and they’ll regret it. Not to mention within the fighters’ quarters themselves, there’s an anti-magic field up, so they can’t riot.’

 

Fjord made a mental note of everything that Mayleth said, knowing that Caleb would be able to recall the information in much greater detail. Things were certainly start to piece together a little more clearly. Obedience collars didn’t exactly sound like a good thing, nor did an anti-magic field. It would make any rescue attempts difficult.

 

‘Here is today’s agenda,’ Mayleth said, and passed Fjord a scroll of parchment with a neatly printed schedule of times, and what he gathered were fights. ‘You’ll have a little bit of time to freshen up before the fighting starts.’ Jester peered over Fjord’s shoulder, as they both scanned the parchment for the only name that mattered.

 

It was near the top, next to “Oric the Outraged,” and only seemed to appear on the card once. Small favors.

 

‘Beau the Betrayer,’ Jester read aloud, almost wonderingly. Fjord knew that there was more than one “Beau” in the world, and he didn’t care to think what the “Betrayer” moniker might have meant, but this was the most promising thing that they’d found so far. Beau was alive, and, if she was supposed to be fighting today, then he had to believe that she wasn’t hurt. He looked over at the elf, who was watching them curiously.

 

‘My friend,’ Fjord explained, ‘A veteran patron of this fine abode. Told me I simply must see Beau the Betrayer fight.’

 

‘Oh, for sure,’ the elf agreed. ‘She’s a popular one. The crowd loves her. Now I expect you’ll be wanting rooms for your stay?’

 

They paid an exorbitant rate for four rooms; Dairon insisted on having her own room. Even on the ship, she’d been reticent at the idea of sharing a dormitory, but did so out of the sheer lack of any other option.

 

She had stood back and bristled while Fjord spoke to Mayleth. Each word the elven employee said seemed to make her angrier and angrier and when Fjord was finished, he saw that Caduceus had put a calming hand on their shoulder. A reminder of what would happen if they showed their hand too quickly.

 

They left their things in the expensive – but admittedly pretty freaking nice – rooms, and followed the signs through the hallways to the stadiums. The tokens that they had purchased allowed for seating in the lower balcony. They wouldn’t have the greatest view, but then, they didn’t need a great view to make sure that their friend was alive.

 

On the way through they saw an ominous looking iron door, with a sign above that read “Fighters Quarters.” That would be useful later.

 

The first fight was a little lackluster, at least from what Fjord had come to expect. There were a lot of missed strikes, and easy hits. Judging by the boos from the crowd as one of the fighters finally fell unconscious, this was not the usual caliber of the Ironlock Arena.

 

The second fight was a little better, though “better” seemed not the best word to use. An elven druid got in the way of a Paladin’s longsword, and the Mighty Nein watched as a group of clerics rushed out onto the field to Revivify her.

 

‘Holy shit,’ Fjord muttered. Okay, that was a little worse than he’d expected. Apparently the guard had not been exaggerating.

 

The third fight was Beau. Or at least, it was supposed to be. At first, Fjord didn’t recognize the woman that came from the gates on the left side of the arena. After a few seconds, though, he realized.

 

It was Beau, but it was Beau as they had never seen her. Lithe muscles had become even more defined, and what was once a soft sort of undercut was now something of a short, sharp mohawk. Instead of blue, she wore blood red.

 

The long-sleeved tunic hit her mid thigh, and a black sash was tied around her waist. Her pants were the same loose style that she usually wore, covered from the knee down in foot wrappings.

 

Next to him, Dairon gave an almost imperceptible intake of breath.

 

The fighter that came from the other side, Oric the Outraged, was an ax-wielding dwarf that also looked like he was wielding a grudge. When the bell run, he ran full-force at Beau, ax ready to split her skull open.

 

She dodged it without even trying, and then countered with two swift strikes of the quarterstaff. Though armored, the strikes hit heavily, a loud clang reverberating through the stadium. They traded swings back and forth, but it was abundantly clear who was going to win this fight. As far as Fjord could tell, Beau hadn’t take a single hit from that deadly looking ax. She was just too fast for him.

 

When it came time to deal the final blows, Beau didn’t even bother with the quarterstaff, she ran along the side wall of the pit, gave a leap into the air, and aimed two flying punches at the dwarf’s face, gloves crackling with lightning. The dwarf was still standing, if barely, so Beau gave one last strike; a headbutt to the face. Sometimes when she fought, Beau had a grin on her face as she took down enemies. There was no grin here, just cold, hard fury.

 

It was a sight to behold, and Fjord was almost taken in by the crowd around him chanting, ‘Beauregard!’

 

Jester and Nott had both joined in on the chanting, but the whole situation made Fjord feel uneasy.

 

‘I don’t like this,’ Yasha murmured under her breath, but loud enough that both Fjord and Caleb heard it.

 

Fjord was inclined to agree.

 

This was not the Beau he had met in Trostenwald, so long ago, or even the Beau that had left for Zadash to complete her training. This was a Beau that had full confidence in the measure of her abilities. A Beau that could conceivably kill a man with a single punch. They watched, then, as she did exactly that, taking her still crackling fists, and bringing them down heavily on the unconscious man’s skull. There was a sickening crack, and Fjord felt his stomach roil slightly.

 

How long had she been here that she had changed so much?

 

After the fight, they congregated back in one of their rooms. His and Caleb’s, Fjord thought, not that they were planning on getting much sleep.

 

‘The first thing we need to do,’ Caleb was saying, ‘Is find Beauregard and talk to her.’

 

There was a general murmur of agreement. Whatever had happened in three months was clearly enough to turn her into a merciless fighter that would kill without a second thought.

 

‘I don’t think all of us should go, though,’ Jester said. ‘That’s way too many. Fjord, how about you and I go?’ Fjord didn’t disagree. Jester could make them quieter with her magic, and if things got too out of hand, he could Misty Step them out of there.

 

‘What should we do?’ asked Nott, gesturing to Yasha, and Caleb, and – staring off at a picture of a horse on one of the walls – Caduceus.

 

‘Perhaps, you should do what you do best, and uh...draw attention to yourselves,’ Dairon said, though it clearly pained her to not be part of the group that was going to talk to Beau. She had been remarkably quiet since they’d left the arena, though, Fjord had to admit, he’d never really heard her talk that much to begin with. ‘While I see if I can find out a little more about what is going on here.’

 

Nott looked annoyed at the insinuation that they drew attention to themselves, but it was a fair point. A firbolg, an aasimar, a half-orc, and a tiefling...they did tend to draw attention to themselves more often than not.

 

Fjord and Jester quietly made their way downstairs to the iron door, letting Nott ahead to pick the lock. ‘Good luck,’ she whispered, and ran off to rejoin the rest of the group. Dairon had already left to sneak around the upper floors. Fjord wondered if they should have sent Nott to go with her, but then, Dairon probably would have refused.

 

They continued along the hallway quietly, before turning the corner and running smack bang into a guard.

 

‘Halt,’ the guard said. ‘What are you doing here? This is a fighters only area.’

 

‘We were hoping to see Beauregard,’ Fjord said, following up with a whispered Charm Monster spell. The guard blinked, and he looked at Fjord, confused. Then Fjord realize that the spell had not taken effect. Too late, he remembered about the anti-magic field that Mayleth had told them of. So much for being able to Misty Step out. Well, he would have to rely on his own natural charm.

 

‘I...I can’t do that,’ the guard said, frowning.

 

‘But we’re great friends of Beauregard,’ Fjord assured him. ‘She would be most upset if you didn’t let us up.’ A pause. Then, Fjord pulled out his money pouch, and handed the guard five platinum. The guard hesitated, but, seeing the money in his hand (probably more money than he’d ever gotten in his life) stepped aside to let them pass.

 

‘Top floor,’ the guard said, as they started up the spiral staircase. Fjord and Jester made their way up the stairs, stopping ever few minutes to check for guards. Fjord didn’t want to have to bribe anyone else. It was getting expensive.

 

There was only one door at the top of the spiral staircase. A pretty fancy looking door. Fjord moved forward, and knocked.

 

There was no answer.

 

‘Say that it’s you!’ Jester insisted. Fjord hesitated, so Jester took the opportunity to move forward and knock again.

 

‘Beau!’ she yelled. ‘It’s us, we’re here to...’ she paused, mouthing ‘Rescue?’ to Fjord.

 

‘We’re here to see you!’

 

They waited with bated breath. Fjord heard distant, angry-sounding footsteps getting closer and closer.

 

The door swung open, and Beau was standing there, dressed in a hastily tied bathrobe. There was an annoyed sort of look on her face, as though their presence was a burden. Fjord didn’t like that. He didn’t like it at all.

 

For a long while, nobody said anything, and then, just as Fjord opened his mouth to speak, Beau gave a slight twitch of the head, and ushered them inside.

 

The room was lavish, to say the least. Dark red wall hangings, and silken curtains, and dozens of knick-knacks with no apparent purpose. Fjord was kinda glad that Nott hadn’t come along, because he had no doubt she would have been looking to pocket them with sneaky fingers.

 

The door clicked shut behind them. Beau’s face was as impassive as Fjord had ever seen it; usually, she was pretty good about wearing her emotions on her sleeve.

 

There was a long beat of silence. Finally, Beau spoke. It wasn’t with joy, or relief, or anything like that. It was anger.

 

‘What the fuck are you doing here?’ Beau said.

Chapter Text

There was a moment of pained, awkward silence.

 

‘Beauregard,’ a voice said, coming from one of the many doors. Fjord looked over to see a half-naked elvish woman standing there, a sheet wrapped around her. There was an even more awkward sort of pause.

 

Beau gave the woman a look. A sultry, longing, sort of look. ‘Come back in an hour,’ she said. ‘You know I’m good for it.’ The woman – a gorgeous, bronze-skinned, dark-haired woman – nodded, and left without a backwards glance.

 

‘Why are you here?’ she demanded, again, given that neither of them had answered the first time.

 

‘We...we came looking for you,’ Jester said, as doubtfully as Fjord had ever heard her speak.

 

‘Well that would have been helpful two months ago,’ Beau said, brusquely. She had always been brusque, but this was a different sort of brusque – unpleasant and unendearing. A lot could have happened in two months.

 

‘We thought you were still in Zadash with Dairon,’ explained Fjord. ‘By the time we went there and spoke to her, the trail was a little cold.’

 

‘You saw Dairon?’ Beau said, and Fjord couldn’t quite parse the expression on her face. Was it still anger? Or was it the face of someone that had put up a lot of barriers to survive in a terrible place.

 

‘Oh!’ Jester said suddenly, as if only just remembering. ‘I need to Send her a message so she knows we’ve got to you.’ Beau held out a hand to stop her.

 

‘No, not yet.’ She shook her head and took a deep breath. ‘Let me...explain some things first. Like how it’s really fucking stupid for you guys to be here.’

 

‘What do you mean?’

 

‘Well you’re not exactly inconspicuous. How do you think you guys waltzing up here to have a chat is gonna play out for me?’

 

‘Play out for you?’ Fjord asked. ‘What does that mean?’

 

‘I’m not exactly here by choice,’ she told them, which, Fjord had put together. Still, it didn’t seem as though she was having a rough time of it. The quarters were nice enough, and she wasn’t being tortured. ‘They think I’m trying to rock the boat, bad things are gonna happen.’

 

“Rock the boat” was the sort of thing that Beau had always done. To not want to rock the boat, well, that was troubling.

 

Seemingly out of nowhere, or perhaps because of the conversation they’d been having, Jester ran forward and gave Beau a hug. Fjord half expected Beau to pull away, for an angry sneer to cross her face, but to his surprise, she leaned into it, robed arms pulling Jester in tight.

 

‘Has it been really bad?’ Jester asked, her words muffled against the robe.

 

Beau didn’t answer straight away. ‘Yeah,’ she said, finally. ‘It’s been really bad.’

 

Fjord couldn’t help but raise half an eyebrow at her surroundings. Beau noticed.

 

‘You know what they call this? Survival. They give you a chance to spend a night in a nice room because you won a fight, and you fucking take it.’ She pulled backwards from Jester’s grasp, and sat on the edge of the sofa. Fjord noticed her eyes were dark and sunken, and a long scar traversed from her eyebrow to her lip.

 

‘So you’ve just been pit fighting all this time? Jester asked, words still a little uncertain.

 

‘Well, you know, I do sleep sometimes,’ Beau offered. ‘It’s not like I spend all day, every day fighting people. I get...downtime.’

 

‘But I mean...you haven’t been tortured for information, or, or...mistreated, or anything like that.’

 

‘It hasn’t exactly been a picnic,’ Beau told her. She was holding something back – it didn’t take a genius to figure that part out. What it was, though, Fjord couldn’t quite put his finger on. Maybe that she had been tortured for information, or mistreated. Though, the room was nice enough that the latter might not have been the case.

 

Jester looked down to her arms, but they were covered by the robe. Noticing his eyes, she tugged the sleeves over her wrists.

 

‘Look, I appreciate that you’re here...’ Beau started. ‘But if they figure out what you’re doing, it’s going to end really, really badly. You need to leave.’

 

‘When can we see you again?’ Jester asked, and Fjord saw Beau falter. She had, he knew, meant that they should leave this island altogether. To leave her here. Well that was something that just wasn’t going to happen.

 

‘Tomorrow,’ Beau said. ‘I think I might be able to find some time between fights. There’re always people coming in and out of the holding area.’

 

Jester ran forward to hug Beau again as they left. This time, Fjord thought he might have seen tears in her eyes. ‘We love you,’ Jester said. ‘And we’re going to get you out of here.’

 

 

A half hour later, the Mighty Nein – minus Beau – were once again squeezed together in Fjord and Caleb’s room. They were all slowly coming to terms with the situation that their friend was in. Dairon was still sulking around, as far as he knew, and he decided to trust in her ability to keep a low profile.

 

‘I guess she’s found something that she truly likes doing,’ Nott said. ‘Spending all day punching people.’

 

‘I don’t think it’s that simple,’ Fjord mused. ‘This seems like a pretty shady sort of place. It’s definitely taking its toll on her.’

 

‘Plus, she had that collar on,’ Jester added, almost nonchalantly. The words took a few seconds to sink in.

 

‘The what?’

 

Jester looked at Fjord, confused. ‘The collar? Around her neck? Like the ones that elf-guy told us about.’

 

‘I can’t believe I didn’t notice that,’ Fjord muttered. He remembered what Mayleth had told him, and then completely forgotten to look. There was a chance, then, that her actions in the Pit had been coerced. Even if they weren’t, the dwarf had been Revivified, so...small favors.

 

‘You know what she’s like under stress,’ Caduceus said. ‘The worse things get, the more she pushes people away. We can’t let her do that now.’

 

‘Right,’ Fjord agreed. He had recognized the signs of Beau trying to do that, and failing under Jester’s...Jesteriness. ‘And based on what we’ve seen so far, it’s gonna be real difficult to pull her out without making some waves, so we’re gonna have to scope the place out a little longer, see if we can’t find some weaknesses.’

 

With that, everyone retreated back to their own rooms, leaving Caleb and Fjord alone.

 

Caleb had been strangely silent since they’d arrived at the Ironlock Arena. Fjord wasn’t sure he’d heard more than two words from the man. Once everyone had left, though, he looked to Fjord.

 

‘We have to be prepared for this to not go the way we want it to,’ he said. There was a dark sort of look in his eye. Fjord wondered if he was remembering his time in the Soltryce Academy. Still, he couldn’t deny that this was not an ideal situation to be in.

 

Dozens of guards, dozens of fighters. No magic in the fighters quarters, and that was all without even thinking about those control collars. Either they were going to have to be very stealthy and very underhanded about this, or…

 

Or, the complete opposite.

 

 

The next morning, when Yasha woke, Jester was already up, drawing in her sketchbook.

 

Her body was still used to flat and hard and rocky surfaces – the wooden floor had been sufficient enough to lull her into an uneasy sleep.

 

‘Morning, Yasha,’ Jester said, when she noticed Yasha sitting up. ‘Did you sleep well?’

 

‘No,’ Yasha admitted. ‘I’m worried, about...’ She let her voice trail off.

 

‘Me too,’ Jester told her. ‘I got up really early so I could try and talk to the Traveler about what we should do, but he didn’t answer.’

 

‘Oh no,’ Yasha said, in what she had tried to make a sympathetic voice, but it had come out very flat. She wasn’t always good at sympathy.

 

‘It’s okay,’ Jester said, either not noticing, or not caring. ‘He doesn’t always answer, but I know he’s always watching.’

 

Yasha considered the point. Was the Stormlord always watching? If she tried to speak to him, would he answer, would he help her figure out what they should do? A fortress on an island in the middle of the ocean did not seem the sort of place that the Stormlord would come to her. In any case, the skies were a clear, bright blue that morning, with no sign of any kind of storm on the horizon.

 

They breakfasted in one of the attached dining establishments to the fortress called Morningtide. They didn’t serve rat or spider or any of the things Yasha liked to eat, so she satisfied herself with the sausages and eggs that they did have.

 

They had made an agreement to not talk too loudly in mixed company, but then, everyone was a bit quiet anyway. They were all, Yasha thought, still working through yesterday’s events in their mind.

 

‘Anyone see Dairon?’ Fjord asked. They had not spoken to the Cobalt Soul monk since separating the previous evening.

 

‘She came in very late,’ Caduceus offered. ‘And left again very early.’ While the rest of the party looked a little worried, Yasha was unconcerned. She had gone off on her own enough to know that it didn’t have to be a problem. Plus, Dairon made no secret of her preferring to work alone.

 

She did not show up all day, not even when it came to twelve o’clock, and the fights were due to start. This time, Beau was first on the card, and from what Yasha could tell, it seemed like a big fight.

 

‘Baron the Bonecrusher,’ Jester read off of the schedule. ‘That sounds scary.’

 

They didn’t realize how scary it was, until the fight started. Beau walked out from her side of the pit, gloves on, staff in hand. From the other side came the biggest goliath that Yasha had ever seen. He had at least four feet on Beau, and, more to the point, had an enormous, fiendish looking greatsword.

 

‘She can take him, no trouble,’ Fjord said, in what was an attempt at being dismissive, but there was no small hint of disbelief to his voice. Beau was strong, and fast, and agile, but she knew what damage her own greatsword could inflict even to strong, and fast, and agile people.

 

One thing was for sure, it would certainly be a more dangerous fight than the one they had seen yesterday.

 

Things started off okay. The goliath was swinging wildly, but slow enough that Beau managed to get out of the way in time. She got a few solid punches in, and it was clear that the goliath didn’t particularly like the lightning, because he roared every time she hit him. As the battle continued, though, his swings got faster, more erratic, until one of them struck a glancing blow across Beau’s torso. She gave a guttural yell of pain, but was still standing. Blood dripped onto the sand, but its color blended so well with the tunic that from this distance Yasha couldn’t see how bad the wound was.

 

Jester, who was sitting beside Yasha, gripped her hand so tightly, she was afraid it might fall off. Beau countered with an angry yell, bringing the quarterstaff down on the goliath’s head. He laughed it off.

 

While every hit seemed to make the goliath angrier and more powerful, every hit seemed to be slowing Beau down. Yasha could see what Fjord meant now, about this place taking a toll. Every moment that passed, Jester’s grip got tighter and tighter. Nott, her skin usually a dark green, was looking sickly pale.

 

The fight dragged on for another few minutes, by which time Beau was gasping for breath, and the goliath had taken a dozen or so more punches. He was moving slowly too now, but fast enough to get the drop that he needed to. He thrust his sword this time, and Beau wasn’t fast enough to get out of the way.

 

The sword pierced her chest, above the ribs, and there was no doubt in Yasha’s mind that it was a killing strike.

 

Before she had even processed what had happened, she was on her feet, and rushing down to the Pit proper, the rest of the Nein at her heels. One of them – Yasha couldn’t quite tell which – had yelled, ‘No!’ She decided that it had probably been Jester.

 

Yasha had seen the doors that led to the holding area. They had been locked when Nott gave them a tentative pull the previous evening, but now, Yasha didn’t bother with finding the rogue. She gave a single shoulder charge, and the door splintered underneath her. She kept running through.

 

A guard moved in front of them, tried to stop them from getting past. Yasha pushed him out of the way and kept walking without even turning to see that the guard had pulled his sword.

 

They got there just in time to see Beau lying on the bloodied sand, surrounded by a team of clerics as they finished up their Revivify. She gave a choked gasping sob, and her eyes opened, blearily. Yasha’s heart skipped a beat.

 

Jester was still clutching the diamond in her hand.

 

The clerics left the room, barely giving the Mighty Nein a second glance.

Chapter Text

Beau was alive.

 

There was still a great, ugly stab wound in her chest, and she was in need of full, proper healing, but she was alive.

 

They were all still out in the open of the arena, and Caleb didn’t like it. He shared a look with Fjord, who nodded to Yasha, who took no hesitation in picking Beau up and carrying her back into the waiting area. The guard standing there with his sword out looked like he wanted to do something about it, but stopped at the look on Yasha’s face. Fjord stepped back to smooth things over.

 

Yasha set Beau down gently on one of the wooden benches. Beau gave her a weak smile.

 

Tough luck,’ laughed one of the fighters waiting off at the side. ‘Back at the bottom of the ladder, Slowregard.’ Beau shot the man a rude gesture, wincing as she straightened up. Caleb could see the pinkish scar against her chest, as though it was weeks since the wound, rather than minutes. Her breath was slow and labored.

 

The sound of heavy footsteps jerked them all from the conversation.

 

Caleb turned.

 

The goliath walked up to them, looming a couple of feet over even Caduceus. His sword was still stained with Beau’s blood. Caleb’s hand went to his pocket, in case things were about to go south quickly. He could have a Wall of Fire up in six seconds. But that probably wouldn’t help matters. He pulled his hand from his pocket.

 

The goliath softened a little, seeing Beau sitting there, newly revived, and when he spoke, his voice was surprisingly mellow. ‘No hard feelings, yeah?’

 

Nah, man,’ Beau said, holding her hand out for a fistbump. The goliath tapped her fist gently with his own.‘I’ll get you next time.’

 

The goliath grinned, clearly believing the words as little as Beau herself did. She was good, but he was on another level entirely. ‘Good luck on the bottom of the ladder,’ he said, and then left.

 

Bottom of the ladder, what does this mean?’ Caleb asked.

 

Beau looked at him like he was stupid, which, surprisingly, she didn’t often do. ‘You fight until you get beaten, then once you get beaten you start back at the bottom of the ladder. The higher up you go, the better perks you get.’

 

So, yesterday, you vere near the top of the ladder, and then...’ He gestured towards the wound on her chest.

 

Yeah, knocked right back down to the bottom.’ Beau resettled herself on the bench. ‘Fourth time that goliath has beaten me,’ she said, disgruntled. ‘Second time he’s run me through with the sword,’ she added, in a very casual way that Caleb did not like.

 

Do they get paid more,’ Fjord said, having returned to the group. ‘For kills?’

 

Yeah, but I mean...there’s not exactly anywhere you can spend your gold. Only thing you can buy here is freedom.’

 

And how much does that cost?’

 

Funny thing,’ Beau said darkly. ‘The price keeps going up. Best you can hope for is maybe one of your richer fans decides they want to pay for a few nights of companionship, and you get to rest for a couple of days.’

 

Nothing happened,’ she said, rolling her eyes at the horrified look on their faces. ‘Not like that. Funnily enough, they don’t like it when people damage their fighters. So there are...consequences if they do anything dodgy. But they still like to try and woo.’ She had been expecting, Caleb knew, for their horror to be somehow quelled by this revelation. There was nothing that wasn’t horrible about this situation.

 

Are you going to stand around with thumbs up your asses, or are you going to help me up?’ Beau muttered. She winced, and clutched at her barely healed chest wound.

 

Let me...’ Caduceus started to put his hands on Beau’s shoulder, presumably to cast a spell, stopping suddenly when she yelled:

 

No!’ Caleb stared at her; they all were staring at her. ‘Not here,’ she muttered. ‘Follow me.’ Beau made to walk ahead, but almost collapsed on the first step that she took.

 

Do you want me to carry you?’ Yasha asked, and Beau seemed to consider the option for a moment.

 

No,’ she said, softer this time. ‘Just...help me walk.’

 

Here,’ Jester said. She walked forward purposefully, and slung one of Beau’s arms around her own shoulder. ‘Now put your other arm around Yasha.’ Yasha was tall enough that Beau couldn’t quite reach her shoulder, and settled for putting her arm around the barbarian’s waist.

 

They hobbled to the exit of the holding area, and instead of directing them towards the spiral staircase, towards the room she had spent the previous night in, Beau gestured towards the right-hand passageway.

 

There were a number of doors along the passageway, and Beau took them to the one right at the end. Strangely, there were no guards in this part of the building.

 

The room was...well a little bit klein in Caleb’s opinion. Small enough that, while they all fit in there, Caduceus had to duck, and there wasn’t a great deal of breathing room.

 

It was sparsely furnished; certainly nothing like the luxury they had found her in the previous night. Losses, it seemed, came with consequences. There was a bed, and a single table and chair, and not a whole lot else. Even the walls were bare.

 

Yasha and Jester lowered Beau to the bed. She winced again.

 

Caduceus put a hand to her shoulder, and cast Cure Wounds ; or at least, he tried to. The spell didn’t quite take, so he frowned and tried again. ‘Don’t bother,’ Beau said, dully. ‘They have anti-magic fields up all around here – they like us going in bleeding.’

 

Her voice was laced with utter, broken defeat. It was a tone that Caleb had not yet heard before in his friend, filled with a strange sort of emptiness to her voice that he didn’t much like. Caduceus, ever insightful, also seemed to pick up on it.

 

Maybe that’s why it didn’t work,’ Jester said. ‘I tried to Send you a message, I asked the Traveler, I even tried to Scry for you, but nothing happened.’

 

Beau held up her wrist, revealing a metal band similar to the one around her neck. ‘Bracelet of Shrouds,’ she said. ‘Makes me invisible to any kind of Divination magic. Turns out that’s one kind of magic that does work.’

 

And uh, what about the other one,’ Fjord asked, clearly uncomfortable.

 

Exactly what you’d think it does.’ Beau made a show of tugging at the thing, which did not move or loosen in any way. ‘Gives me a nice sharp shock if I do something they don’t like, which is often.’

 

Caleb was pensive. The others looked at him expectantly. ‘Well clearly some magic works, ja ,’ he said. ‘If the collar is capable of delivering a shock. Unless there are some mechanical means by which it could work.’

 

Quick question,’ Caduceus said, seemingly apropos of nothing. ‘How many times exactly have these here clerics Revivified you besides today?’

 

Beau didn’t answer straight away, which was enough for Caleb to know that the answer was definitely more than once.

 

I dunno,’ Beau shrugged. ‘Three or four?’ There was a long sort of pause.

 

And how many times were they too late for Revivify?’ Caleb added. Again, Beau didn’t answer straight away.

 

Couple of times,’ she muttered.

 

So, in the space of two months...’

 

Yeah, I died a few times. No biggy.’ Beau brushed off what Caleb – and the rest of the Mighty Nein – considered a sehr groß biggy.

 

You died?’ Jester whispered, any trace of joviality gone from her voice. ‘They let you die? What would have happened if one time they couldn’t bring you back?’

 

Then I guess I would have stayed dead,’ Beau said. Her voice was void of any kind of emotion – not that she she had ever been the most emotional person to begin with. ‘That’s how it works when you don’t have any friends around to call your soul back, right?’ The words were intended to hurt, and they did.

 

Beauregard,’ Yasha said, gently. ‘You know we would have been here if we could have.’

 

Beau paused. ‘I know,’ she said. ‘But let me tell you, your mind goes to some dark places.’

 

I know,’ Yasha said, remembering her time with the Iron Shepherds. Beau’s head jerked slightly, and she looked a little embarrassed, as though she had forgotten what had happened to Yasha, and to Fjord, and to Jester.

 

That had been a week, though. This was considerably longer.

 

So,’ Fjord said, almost hesitant. ‘Elephant in the room – how the hell do we get you out of here?’

 

I mean, it’s not like I haven’t tried,’ Beau said, a little defensively. ‘Any time I got close to doing anything, they killed someone I cared about.’

 

Who would they—’ Nott started to say, but then stopped when Caleb put what he thought was a subtle hand to her mouth. It was a fair point – the only people in the world that Beau seemed to care about were in the room with her. Plus Dairon, but then Dairon was far too cautious to ever let herself get taken hostage.

 

Funnily enough, I am capable of making friends.’ It wasn’t often that Caleb had heard Beau sound guilty. Even when she felt it, she layered her words with defensive aggression.

 

So what I’m hearing is the best way to do this would be to take out the whole damn operation,’ Fjord mused.

 

Yeah, good luck with that,’ Beau said, darkly. ‘Shit’s locked down pretty tight. It’d have to be a pretty good plan, and let’s be honest; we’re not great with plans.’

 

She wasn’t wrong. Caleb could count on one hand the number of times that a plan they’d conceived had gone the way it was supposed to. Somehow it was always the stupid, unimportant ones that worked right.

 

Look,’ Beau said. ‘If they realize you’re down here for something other than...you know...things aren’t gonna go well for any of us. ’

 

Do you want one of us to stay with you?’ Fjord asked, seemingly realizing too late exactly how that sounded. Instead, of a grin and a wink that he would have expected, Beau’s response was somewhat muted.

 

I think I kind of just want to sleep,’ she said.

 

Are you sure you’re okay, Beau? You sound kind of pissed,’ Jester said. It seemed those words were the catalyst for everything to suddenly snap.

 

Of course I’m pissed, it’s been two fucking months,’ Beau yelled. ‘Almost every single fucking day, I’ve had to go out there and fight. After a while, I kind of figured you weren’t gonna bother coming for me. That you’d given up the same way everyone else has.’ She sniffed, and turned away so they wouldn’t see here wipe the tears from her eyes. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said, shaking her head. ‘It’s just been...It’s been a really fucking shitty time.’ With no warning whatsoever, Jester went straight up and hugged Beau. Perhaps it was a measure of how serious the situation was that Beau did not resist.

 

Don’t be sorry, Beau,’ Jester said. ‘We tried so hard to find you. I’m sorry it took so long.’

 

S’okay,’ Beau grumbled, but there was still an emptiness in her eyes that Caleb thought would not go away for a long time.

 

Dairon was so worried,’ Jester told her, in a stage whisper. ‘They threatened to disembowel like...six people while we looked for you.’

 

Only six?’ Beau asked, with a sly sort of smile. ‘I must be on her shitlist.’ Caleb’s spirits were lifted slightly. In the hours since they had seen her again, she had started making jokes, if somewhat macabre ones. It was a good sign, Caleb knew. It meant that she hadn’t fully been consumed by the darkness of being in a place like this. She paused. ‘Hey, that uh…offer of someone spending the night? I might take you up on that.’

 

Who should stay?’ Nott asked. Beau seemed to look them over, one by one.

 

Yasha,’ she said, finally, and Caleb wasn’t exactly surprised. If anything happened during the night, Yasha was best suited to taking care of any threats. Not to mention, he thought she was probably the least likely to start asking questions.

 

The rest of them, if a little reluctantly, made their retreat. ‘We’ll rendezvous with Dairon,’ Fjord told her. ‘And try to figure a way out of this.’

 

‘Let her know...’ Beau started, and then seemed to change her mind. ‘Don’t worry about it,’ she said, ‘I’ll tell her when I see her.’

 

 

The door clicked shut, leaving Beau and Yasha alone in the small room.

 

Beau was wrecked. Completely and utterly wrecked. It was always the way on the days that she died. As if it wasn’t bad enough her soul almost crossed to the other side, it needed a twelve hour nap as well.

 

I uh...brought you some flowers,’ Yasha said, and Beau felt her expression soften just a little bit. The corners of her eyes were wet with tears, and she didn’t resist as Yasha pulled a wooden box from one of her pouches, and pressed it into Beau’s hands.

 

Thanks,’ she said, opening the box. They weren’t pressed flowers, like she had expected, the sort she knew the barbarian was collecting for Zuala, but bright purple wildflowers, maybe a few days old. They had started to wilt a bit, but it was the nicest thing that had happened to Beau in weeks.

 

‘You should get out of those bloody clothes,’ Yasha said. Beau looked down, and realized that her blood had turned a rusty, dark brown against the blood red material. Probably not even worth washing.

 

Usually, Beau slept naked; not out of comfort, but because she didn’t have many other options. For Yasha’s sake, she decided that probably wasn’t the best idea.

 

‘Should’ve gotten Jester to Mend this,’ she said, as she stripped off the ruined tunic. Yasha turned around, politely. Beau couldn’t help but grin. The guards had been nice enough (petty enough) to move her half dozen or so identical tunics to the table. The only other piece of clothing she still had was tattered bathrobe that she thought must have been Amaril’s.

 

She put the bathrobe on over her bare chest, and threw the chest wraps and the tunic in the corner of the room. Whoever was in tomorrow to clean the room would deal with their disposal.

 

There was a knock on the door. Yasha’s hand went straight to her sword. Beau shook her head. ‘Let me deal with it,’ she said.

 

It was one of the guards. Beau couldn’t remember his name. Nor, frankly, did she care. ‘Who’s the giant?’ he asked.

 

Beau stared at him. ‘One of the new ones that Seris sent over,’ she told him.

 

‘She doesn’t look like a hooker.’ Beau grimaced inwardly.

 

‘Isn’t that the whole point? Now unless you want to watch me get spanked, I’d probably leave.’ He seemed to consider staying for a moment, causing a wave of nausea rise in Beau’s stomach. After a few awkward seconds, the door clicked shut.

 

Embarrassed, Beau turned back to Yasha. ‘You don’t have to spank me,’ she said, staring at the floor rather than daring to look Yasha in the eye.

 

‘I mean, I can if you want,’ Yasha said, reasonably, and Beau, for the first time in weeks – maybe even months – laughed. Properly laughed. She dropped to her knees, and was shaking with laughter. Yasha’s expression was a combination of concern and relief.

 

‘Are you okay?’ she asked.

 

‘I—’ Beau started. She’d been about to say “I’m fine,” but wasn’t sure if anything was further from the truth. ‘I’m coping,’ she decided on, which was a little closer to the truth, but still questionable on some days. Some days she didn’t feel like she was coping at all.

 

Yasha put a hand on Beau’s shoulder. ‘You’re a survivor,’ she said. Beau appreciated the vote of confidence, especially coming from Yasha, who she had a, well...complicated history with.

 

Commitment had never particularly been Beau’s forte, but it was something that she had been slowly working on over the years. Even still, when it came to relationships, her first instinct was “hit it and quit it,” which obviously didn’t work so well with someone she knew she’d be spending a reasonable amount of time with. It was why her crush on Yasha had faded once she realized that the barbarian was someone that would be hanging around for a while (even if she did leave every now and then).

 

Now, there was a friendship that she wouldn’t give up for anything in the world

 

Hey, Yash?’ Beau smiled. It was a sad sort of smile. It felt so fucking good to finally have a friend by her side, and yet freedom still seemed just out of reach. If things were to go sideways, she wanted to make sure she’d said all the things she needed to say. Just in case she died tomorrow, or the next day, or the day after that.

 

Yes, Beau?

 

I never really apologized for how…creepy I was towards you when we first met.’

 

Yasha seemed slightly surprised. ‘I thought you were just trying to flirt.’

 

Well, I mean, yeah,’ Beau shrugged. ‘But like...I kinda just wanted to get laid. Once I got to know you...’

 

Once you got to know me, you didn’t want to sleep with me anymore?’ Yasha sounded vaguely amused, and Beau realized just how accidentally insulting her words sounded.

 

No,’ she said. ‘I mean, yes, I mean…gah...My go to move has always been to sleep with someone and then never see them again. That didn’t seem fair to you. Now...She waved a hand. ‘Being in a relationship with one of you guys would be like...why ruin a good thing, y’know?’

 

Oh,’ Yasha said. ‘Well, for my part, I’m sorry if I ever made it sound like...I was uninterested.’

 

Well, I mean, you were,’ Beau pointed out, fairly. ‘But that’s not your fault.’ She got up from the ground awkwardly, and settled into the bed. The bed was big enough that they could both fit on it, if not entirely comfortably. Maybe she should have asked Nott to stay, instead.

 

‘I can sleep on the floor,’ Yasha said. A pause. ‘Unless you...want me to sleep in the bed?’ She sounded doubtful.

 

Beau hesitated. The only reason for having Yasha in the bed with her would be to calm her down if she had another nightmare, which, admittedly, was more than likely. They came more often than not these days, nightmares of fire, and of darkness, and of swinging swords. Nightmares of her friends abandoning her to her death.

 

Of course, part of her was thrilled that they were here, thrilled that they had managed to track her down to a tiny island in the middle of nowhere, even if it had taken a while. And Dairon – Dairon was with them too, though Beau was yet to see her.

 

There was another part that knew just how dangerous it was. Not for her – Beau had come to terms with the fact that she was more than likely going to die here. But if the Tyrant found out she had friends from the outside coming in…

 

Losing Amaril and Emerson had been bad enough. Beau didn’t want to lose the rest of her friends, too.

Chapter Text

The next day dawned far too quickly for Fjord’s liking.

 

Nott and Jester tried to sneak down to the Fighters Quarters in the morning, but instead got themselves sandwiched between two sets of guards. It took a distraction from Fjord and Caleb to get them out of there, by which point Yasha had returned.

 

‘How is she doing?’ Jester asked, getting right up into Yasha’s face. Yasha took a step back.

 

‘She is...okay, I think,’ Yasha said, slowly. ‘I mean as okay as can be expected.’ She hesitated slightly.

 

‘There’s something you’re not telling us,’ Caduceus deduced, without even stopping to think.

 

Yasha hesitated again. ‘She made me promise not to tell you,’ she said, and would not budge any further on the matter. Fjord suspected that nightmares were the culprit. If it was anything really serious, Yasha would have told them no matter what she had promised. After the sort of things that had happened here, nightmares were the least of what Fjord had expected. He remembered what his mind had gone through after he had been rescued from the Iron Shepherds. He’d had nightmares for weeks, not to mention all the dreams about Uko’toa.

 

Breakfast was a sullen affair, and once again, Dairon was missing.

 

‘I can’t believe she could still manage to avoid us in a place like this,’ Fjord muttered.

 

‘I Sent her a message last night,’ Jester said. She was making a tower out of her scrambled eggs and toast.

 

‘Good idea,’ Fjord nodded, and gave Jester a wink. ‘What’d she say?’

 

‘Oh, you know, the usual Dairon thing, “I’m still gathering information, I’ll rendezvous with you later, blah blah blah.” I’m not sure if she’s even been watching the fights.’

 

As suspected, Dairon did not show up to that day’s fights. They watched as Beau muscled and sped her way through three opponents, one after the other. The final one, she looked dead on her feet, but powered through.

 

The crowd was cheering; injured or not, Beau was surprisingly good at rallying them, at gaining a following. It was certainly her strange brand of charisma.

 

It was a good fight, all things considered. Good in Fjord’s mind, meant that there were no swords, no magic, no things that could kill Beau in an instant. Just fists and fury.

 

The other fighter was not a monk, and clearly not as experienced at unarmed fighting as Beau was. Still, she managed to get some good hits in, including a couple of kicks to the ribs, and a blow to the head that almost took Beau to her knees.

 

She held on, and took out the other woman with a kick to the face.

 

The crowd cheered her name.

 ...

 

‘No healing,’ Caduceus promised, as they congregated in Beau’s new – much fancier room – an hour later. He cleaned the wounds, and bandaged them with a care that the Pit’s clerics had obviously never shown. Her ribs were the color of a Prismatic Spray, from all the hits she had taken. Fjord couldn’t help but notice some fresh scars.

 

‘Thanks,’ Beau said, through gritted teeth. She shrugged her shirt back on, wincing as she did it. ‘Kinda wish these were the fights you saw yesterday,’ she added. ‘Y’know, one where I didn’t...die.’

 

‘Yesterday’s fight was still really cool,’ Jester reassured her. ‘Even if you did die.’ There was a strain in her voice that she couldn’t quite hide. ‘Anyway,’ she said, hastily. ‘We saw the one the day before, when you lightning punched that guy and then headbutted him into unconsciousness.’

 

‘Oh yeah,’ Beau grinned, but it was a half-hearted sort of grin. ‘That was awesome.’ She sat up, wincing. The scar from the previous day’s battle was looking a little better, but evidently still hurt. ‘So, ale all around?’

 

When they arrived, there had been a pretty nice basket of treats waiting for her in the room, including ale, and cheeses, and fancy fruit paste. It wasn’t nearly as extravagant as the room that they had found her in on the first night there, but it was nice enough. Small comforts for the ever-looming threat of death.

 

‘Do you fight again tomorrow?’ Jester asked, nervously.

 

Beau shook her head, and gave a long, loud burp, having downed a bottle of Trost in seconds flat. ‘It’s my weekend,’ she said, with a harsh sort of laugh. ‘One day off a week. Man, I’m glad it wasn’t yesterday. Always sucks to be at the bottom of the ladder on a weekend. Can’t get the good hookers.’

 

Fjord raised an eyebrow. Beau made no secret of her preferences, but in his memory she had never been so blasé about it. He realized suddenly who the woman that had been there the night they had arrived must have been.

 

She scratched the back of her head – Fjord noticed that her hair was unevenly shaven, still healing cuts from where a razor blade had nicked. As someone who had spent years filing down his own tusks, he was very familiar with accidental self-inflicted wounds.

 

Twenty minutes or so was the length of time Fjord thought they might be able to get away with hanging around, but even that was pushing it. For a brief moment, it almost felt like old times, drinking, and laughing, and generally having a good time.

 

‘Could tell ‘em we’re having a gang-bang,’ Beau said, but it was half-heartedly, as though she knew it was a long shot.

 

‘You want company tonight?’

 

Beau shook her head, and this time Fjord believed her. From her earlier words, he got the impression she had other...plans.

 

‘We’ll come find you tomorrow?’

 

‘Sure,’ Beau said.

 

Fjord thought she almost might have been smiling.

 

 

Once the Mighty Nein left, Beau stretched her whole body out, trying to ease some of the kinks and bruises. Without even thinking that they would, of course, follow her upstairs, Beau had managed a quick conversation with Seris about companionship for the evening.

 

She had put in a request for Layla – the half elven woman with clever fingers, and a clever tongue. It was pretty likely that one of the other victors had already snagged her. Layla was a popular companion for the fighters in the Pits. Beau wanted to think that she was special somehow, but she knew that she wasn’t.

 

As the unpowered human in a group of magic users, she was the furtherest thing from special. She could punch things pretty well, and that was about it. It was why she had been so afraid in the first weeks that they would have just straight up abandoned her, the same way her parents had when they’d finally got what they wanted.

 

When the knock on the door came, Beau swung herself off the sofa, half-finished ale in hand, and hoped for the best. She hadn’t even undressed yet. Maybe she should have undressed.

 

It wasn’t Layla, or even any of the other companions. It wasn’t a member of the Mighty Nein.

 

It was Dairon.

 

For weeks, Beau had steeled herself against the horrors of this place, refused to feel sorry for herself, to feel like a victim. When she saw Dairon, though, she couldn’t help but choke out half a sob.

 

She was, surprisingly enough, in her own form, and even more surprisingly, not wearing her Cobalt Soul garb. Beau supposed that would have been a dead giveaway, showing up in the same uniform they’d first found her wearing.

 

‘Come with me,’ the elf said. Beau hesitated.

 

‘It’s not that simple,’ she said. ‘I have to-’ Dairon slapped a red ribboned medallion into Beau’s hand – a token that the other fighters jokingly referred to as a Rental Token. Meaning that she was absolved of her fighting duties for however long Dairon had “rented” her for.

 

‘Come with me,’ Dairon said, again. Beau didn’t argue. She grabbed her bag and followed Dairon out of the fighters’ quarters, and to the Whorish Chateau – again, another name that the fighters had given, because it was the place where they effectively whored themselves out. Beau supposed that they’d all heard of the Lavish Chateau; some of them had probably even partaken of its services.

 

It wasn’t part of the Fighters Quarters, but nor was it part of the accommodation for regular guests. It was its own little thing in an island of suckage.

 

The room was way nicer than anything Beau had stayed in so far, including the time she’d spent with Amaril. This room was well-maintained, well-furnished, and all of those things Beau had expected it would have been.

 

Without waiting for permission, she sat down on the – much nicer – sofa. ‘There’s not much we can do in one day,’ Beau started. Dairon interrupted her.

 

‘I didn’t pay for one day,’ she said. ‘I paid for ten.’

 

Beau stared at her blankly. ‘You spent ten thousand gold just to keep my ass from dying?’ Dairon said nothing, but the answer was in her silence. ‘No-one’s ever spent that much gold on me,’ Beau muttered. She paused. ‘Thank-you.’

 

‘Show me what they’ve done,’ Dairon said. It wasn’t a command, but the tone of Dairon’s voice was such that Beau didn’t refuse. She stood, taking off her tunic jacket, and started unwrapping the bindings around her chest. This wasn’t exactly the way she’d wanted to strip in front of Dairon.

 

There was a slight intake of breath from Dairon, barely perceptible if Beau hadn’t been listening for it. Tunic off was not a pretty sight. Chest wrappings off was even worse.

 

There was something that happened in this way of life, the life that at one point or another, you were bound to see each other naked. It had happened with the Mighty Nein in Zadash, and it had happened with Dairon more than once after a few hard training sessions and they’d ended up in the Cobalt Soul baths together. Not together, just...together.

 

It had never been a sexual thing (though Beau couldn’t deny that at first, she’d probably stared a bit more than was polite), but the point of the matter was, Dairon knew exactly how many scars there had been on Beau’s bare chest. There were at least a dozen more, now.

 

The second killing wound intersected the first, resulting in a lopsided cross at her sternum. There was a still healing burn across the side of her torso from where she hadn’t quite been quick enough to avoid Amaril’s Fireball, and a bite wound on her clavicle from an Otyugh that she had fought. Ironically, it was the bite that had been the most damaging of all the non-fatal wounds; the wound had become infected, and the clerics forced to intervene to avoid removing her arm entirely. Consequently, the skin of her left arm was mottled and pale – at least as pale as Caleb, and a stark contrast to the healthy brown it should have been. Amaril had been very worried at the time.

 

Beau made to remove her pants, but Dairon held up a hand. ‘That’s enough,’ she said. It was just as well. She didn’t want really want Dairon to see what else they had done.

 

Still, Dairon was a little too perceptive for Beau’s liking. ‘Why did they torture you?’ she asked, and Beau froze. She had thought that she’d gotten away with it, that somehow Dairon hadn’t noticed the uniform cuts, or the lightning scars that marred her arms. If the Mighty Nein had, they certainly hadn’t said anything.

 

‘They didn’t like me asking so many questions,’ Beau said, flatly. Dairon stared at her. After all, the Cobalt Soul’s whole thing was “ask questions.”

 

Beau could have sworn she’d almost seen a tear in her mentor’s eye, but realized that it was probably just a trick of the light.

 

Beau waited for the dressing-down, the “you should have been more careful” and all of those other things that Dairon usually said. Instead, the elf did something she had never done before, and pulled Beau into a long, tight hug.

 

Stunned, Beau could barely think to do anything except return it. Standing, half-naked in the middle of a room that had probably had more fucking in it than sleeping. Usually, she had been the instigator of any kind of emotional contact. Dairon, who wouldn’t even name a pet, seemed to accept them begrudgingly.

 

‘You were worried about me,’ Beau said. It wasn’t a question. She didn’t think there was anyone in the world that wasn’t a part of the Mighty Nein that would have worried about her, and even them she sometimes had her doubts about. The way they had sauntered in after six weeks, thinking that she was somehow there of her own free will.

 

Dairon pulled away, somehow looking more composed than when she had gone in for the hug. ‘I always worry about you, Beauregard,’ she said, and Beau had a weird sort of feeling in her stomach that she’d never quite been able to put a word to before today. Perhaps because she had so rarely felt it; the feeling of being wanted. Usually she just mistook it for horniness.

 

‘Thanks,’ Beau muttered, awkwardly. She paused. She was uncomfortable with any sort of talk that was focused so intently on her. ‘So,’ she said, changing the subject completely. ‘Fjord thinks the only way to get me out of here without causing collateral damage is to take the whole place out.’

 

Dairon seemed to consider the point. Beau wondered if she would perhaps even be okay with collateral damage. ‘For all that I think your friends are reckless and foolish, in this instance I think he may be right.’

 

Beau raised an eyebrow. Dairon didn’t seem the type to go for the “scorch the earth” option. She was definitely more of an “in the shadows” operator. ‘However,’ she continued. ‘This is not the way I would have gone about it.’

 

‘Isn’t this what the Cobalt Soul is all about?’ Beau asked. ‘Seeking out the secret evils of the world and exposing them to the light? Twist the arm of the unjust until they spill their mysteries?’

 

Dairon raised an eyebrow. ‘You have quite a memory for my words.’

 

‘I listen to what you say, is it really that much of a surprise?’ Beau retorted. ‘Maybe just consider this...an extended undercover mission to take down an illegal and unjust institution.’

 

‘This is not how the Expositors would ever operate. I would have failed as a teacher if I let you believe that it was.’

 

‘Why do you care so much?’ Beau asked. She hadn’t meant to blurt it out so much, as though it was completely unexpected that anyone in the world would care enough to bring down a dangerous slave-fighting ring to save her. It was unexpected, to say the least.

 

‘Because you are my...’ She paused, and Beau was sure that she was about to say “student,” even though that wasn’t technically true anymore. She was surprised then when the word was, ‘...friend.’ She put her hand to Beau’s shoulder, and Beau was suddenly very aware of the fact that she had not yet put her shirt back on.

 

There was a beat of silence.

 

‘Now,’ Dairon said. ‘There is a very large bathtub in this suite, which I suggest that you make use of. I have requested a meal sent up at seven o’clock, which I daresay will be nicer than many of the other meals you have had to endure here.’

 

For a moment, Beau considered telling Dairon about Amaril, but decided against it. There was something so intensely personal about the experience that she didn’t feel ready to share how much the first few weeks in the place had rattled her. Plus, she didn’t want Dairon to get the wrong idea about why she was sharing the story.

 

Instead, she found the bathroom, and the enormous bathtub that Dairon had described, and filled it with the hottest water she could stand. Then, she thought about asking Dairon to join her, but maybe that was sending the wrong message, too.

 

It wasn’t until Beau sank down into the water that she realized how filthy she was. While she managed a bath most days, there was a general air of filth in the place – from the dirt and the blood and all the other bodily fluids – that it was so easy to lose sight of just how filthy you really were.

 

Once clean, and relaxed, a little bit pruned, Beau dried herself and dressed carefully so as not to exacerbate her wounds.

 

‘That’s much better,’ Dairon said, when Beau stepped out into the main suite. She wasn’t talking about the fact that Beau was clean. She was talking about the fact that Beau was wearing her Cobalt Soul vestments. It seemed like the right thing to do. She had mended them, and kept them in her bag for the time when she would need them.

 

‘Well, home comforts,’ Beau shrugged. Though her red fighting robes were not uncomfortable, she still got a jolt in her chest every time she put them on, knowing that she was going out there to either kill or be killed.

 

‘Sit down in front of the mirror,’ Dairon told her. Beau frowned.

 

‘Why?’

 

‘Because I’m going to fix up that hair.’

 

Beau ran her hand along the uneven cut. Since Emerson died, she’d taken to shaving it herself, more often than not. Since she didn’t have access to a razor, she had to use a dagger. ‘You good with a blade?’

 

‘Who do you think shaves my head when I’m deep in enemy territory?’ Dairon asked, patiently. Beau grinned. Once or twice, she’d been on the receiving end of one of Yasha’s Magician’s Judge shaves.

 

‘I would’ve thought you’d have a bird trained for that.’

 

‘You know, I tried, but the talons, they are just no good at holding a razor.’ There was a beat of silence before Beau realized she was joking. Her frame of reference for humor had been skewed wildly over the last couple of months. Things that she used to find hilarious no longer held any appeal, whereas things that were horrifying somehow made her laugh uproariously.

 

Perspective.

 

Dairon lathered Beau’s scalp with soap; she could not fail to notice the still-healing scabs and scars, some from a quite honestly dire skin and haircare routine, some from slips of the dagger.

 

‘Do you want to keep the style?’ Dairon asked, and Beau was suddenly overcome by the ridiculousness of having her once mentor standing there with a straight-edge razor, asking how she wanted her hair done.

 

‘Yeah, sure, why not,’ Beau said. There wasn’t exactly much hair to work with; the only alternative would be a full shave, like Dairon’s. Now that there was some semblance of hope for escape, maybe it was time to start growing it out again.

 

Dairon carefully moved the razor against the scalp, much more smoothly than Beau herself usually did. There was silence between them for a few moments, the only sound being that of hair being sheared off.

 

‘Can I ask you a question?’ Beau said. She didn’t normally ask before being nosy bitch; kinda just went in there swinging, but this was a sensitive enough question that she wanted to tread lightly.

 

Dairon clearly noticed this, the way she stopped her slow, methodically shaving, and pulled the razor away from Beau’s head. ‘Of course,’ she said.

 

‘Who did you lose?’ Beau was glad, then, that Dairon had moved the razor away, given the slight jerking motion that their hand made. They laid the razor down gently on the dresser.

 

‘The better question,’ Dairon said, ‘Would be who did I not lose?’

 

There was a long pause. ‘To the Kryn?’ Beau asked. She remembered just how awkward things had gotten in Xhorhas, how much hatred Dairon had harbored for the people that they had kinda, sorta allied with briefly.

 

Another pause. ‘Yes.’

 

‘I’m sorry,’ Beau said, then. She was sure she had said it before, but she needed to say it again. ‘For what happened in Ghor Dranas.’ She knew that Dairon would probably not take kindly to her calling it Rosohna.

 

‘I know,’ Dairon said, simply.

 

‘Can I ask another question?’

 

‘You don’t have to ask every time you want to ask me a question,’ Dairon said. Not impatiently, though.

 

‘Why don’t you let yourself get close to people?’ For a long time, Beau had expected the answer to be something about not being able to do the hard things when you had people close to you. After the past few weeks though, she had come to something of a realization.

 

‘Because when people are close, they can be used to hurt you.’

 

‘Like the Kryn did?’

 

Dairon didn’t answer straight away, but seemed to be considering the question.‘Yes.’

 

Anything else, Beau knew, was too much. She didn’t need to know the intimate details of the horrible things that had happened any more than Dairon wanted to give them to her.

 

Unprompted, though, Dairon continued. ‘However, it seems no matter how I avoided trying to get close to people, it sometimes seems to happen anyway.’

 

Beau frowned, confused. Then she realized that Dairon was talking about her.

 

‘You know,’ Beau said. ‘Even before I met you, I tried not to get close to people.’ Her own reasons were different again still. If she didn’t get close to people, they couldn’t leave her. ‘Pushed them away, so they thought I was an asshole.’

 

‘And how is that working out for you?’

 

Beau didn’t know how to answer that. She thought about her friends, about the Mighty Nein. She thought about Amaril and Emerson, not friends for very long, but no less victims of this fucked up place. She thought about Layla, and Ric, and all the other people that were still living every day the best way they knew how.

 

Before she even realized she was doing it, there were tears spilling from her eyes. Tears that she’d been trying, and failing to hold back for the last month. In mixed company, she kept it well enough together, letting it out only when alone, or with someone who was paid well not to spread rumors. Layla had seen Beau cry more times than she was comfortable with, and had held her through some of the worse panic attacks. There was no passion behind it – simply business – but Beau appreciated it nonetheless.

 

It seemed a bit tacky to tell Dairon that a hooker had been the last person to comfort her when the elf put her lithe arms around Beau and held her close. ‘It’s alright,’ she murmured into Beau’s half-cut hair. ‘It’s alright.’

 

It took Beau almost twenty minutes for the tears to stop, for her breath to ease, and for things to start going back to normal. It was one of the longer episodes she’d had, and she was mildly embarrassed that Dairon had seen it. After all, this didn’t seem befitting of a monk of the Cobalt Soul.

 

‘Where in the directives I gave did I ever say you weren’t allowed to cry?’ Dairon asked, when Beau mentioned this.

 

It was as if that was the catalyst for all the things Beau had been thinking, had been feeling over the last few months. Not just in her time here, but before that, since Dairon had grown from being her mentor to...to something else.

 

By way of an answer, Beau took a risk. She leaned in, eyes closed as though she could not bear the thought of watching when Dairon inevitably pulled away. She jerked, suddenly, when warm lips met hers.

 

The kiss was not long, or hard, or passionate. It was filled with the sort of desperation that only intense worry could achieve, and the hesitation of not knowing how your actions were going to be taken.

 

For a long while, Beau simply rested her forehead against Dairon’s, simply taking comfort in her presence there.

 

‘How long have you been holding that in?’ Dairon murmured.

 

‘How long ago did we meet?’ Beau asked, though admittedly, it wasn’t an entirely accurate presentation of the situation. Like all the women she flirted with, she’d seriously wanted to fuck (or, well, let’s be honest, be fucked by) Dairon when they first met. It wasn’t until recently that the thought of something lasting longer than a single night wasn’t met with abject horror.

 

Dairon smiled, but said nothing.

 

‘What now?’ Beau asked.

 

‘What now, Beauregard, is we get you the fuck out of this place.’

Chapter Text

Beau slept for almost eighteen hours, give or take; probably more in one night than she had in the previous week put together. There was something about knowing that she wouldn’t have to go into the Pit to fight that put her mind a little bit at ease.

 

When she came out into the living area the next day, it was well into the afternoon, and Dairon was not alone. The rest of the Mighty Nein were sitting around the dining table, clearly in mid-conversation about plans.

 

How did you guys get up here?’ she asked, yawning. There was a platter of meats and fruits and cheeses on one of the sideboards, which she partook from liberally.

 

Fjord had to trick them into thinking we were coming up here for group sex,’ Jester said, in a faux-scandalized stage whisper. ‘They were very embarrassed.’ Beau snorted. She was feeling better than she had in weeks; there was something about getting beat to shit every day that messed with recovery times. The fact that she would have to go back to it in a few days was a looming darkness in her mind.

 

Of course, it didn’t hurt that her friends were here. Shit, that every single person in the world that she cared about was here, save for a few that she would probably never see again. People that had decided that risking their lives to save hers was a worthwhile sort of trade.

 

How’re you feeling?’

 

Eh,’ Beau shrugged. Still sore in most places, but it could have been worse. ‘I’ll live.’ She sat down next to Jester, and pretended not to notice the tiefling’s tail snake around her waist in what she assumed was supposed to be a stealth hug. ‘Just so you know,’ she said, waving her wrist in their direction, ‘They could be watching.’

 

Das is why we are packed so close together,’ Caleb said. ‘My necklace will protect us from Divination magic.’

 

Beau was hesitant. She’d been caught off her guard by these assholes more than once. She had no doubt that the Tyrant was aware of the Mighty Nein’s presence here. It wasn’t as though they were subtle.

 

I agree,’ Dairon said, when Beau mentioned this. ‘But perhaps we could use that to our advantage.’ Beau didn’t ask how they were going to use that to their advantage, and Dairon didn’t elaborate. Judging by the look that Dairon and Fjord shared, there had been no small amount of discussion before Beau had woken up. Beau wondered if Dairon was ready to commit murder yet.

 

So what exactly is the power structure here?’ Fjord said. It seemed that he was taking the lead in the planning session. Because no decision of Fjord’s had ever landed them in trouble.

 

Beau shrugged. ‘Honestly, I don’t know that much. Us bottom-feeders don’t exactly get to see the inner workings. I know the Patrons, and the Tyrant, and that’s about it.’

 

What are the Patrons?’ Fjord asked, just as Jester said, ‘Who is the Tyrant?’ She had clearly heard the hitch in Beau’s voice that she had tried so hard to hide.

 

Beau addressed Fjord’s question first. ‘They’re like...sponsors, I guess. Take some of your winnings, but help negotiate good fights for you, and give you a good place to stay. Without a Patron, you’re stuck on the ladder.’

 

And you don’t have a Patron,’ Fjord surmised.

 

No,’ Beau said, after a few seconds of awkward silence. Caduceus and Caleb both gave her a sideways glance, which she ignored. It was too long of a story to tell them what had actually happened. ‘As far as I know, the Tyrant’s the main asshole that’s running the show.’

 

They looked a little disappointed, and Beau didn’t blame them. Dairon had probably already given them that much. She had always been the one that was painfully curious, sticking her nose in places that it didn’t belong. ‘Look,’ she said. ‘I tried finding shit out, but they don’t exactly take kindly to that here.’ She let them draw their own conclusions from the statement, drawing her sleeves over her wrists to cover the scars. ‘Consequences for your actions and all that shit.’

 

Well first off, we’ve gotta get rid of the thing that stops magic from working,’ Fjord said, cutting through the tension. ‘Secondly, we’ll need to find a way to deactivate those collars.’

 

I don’t know if there’s a way to deactivate them all at once,’ Beau said, immediately. She’d only ever seen them taken off one at a time. ‘I think it’s a mechanism in the collar itself.’ Surely, though, there was a way to take them all off at one. Even as a failsafe, in case they malfunctioned. It wouldn’t be good for business if a hundred or so fighters all died at once due to some faulty hardware.

 

Nott, vhy don’t you take a look?’ Caleb said. Beau lifted her head slightly. Why hadn’t she thought of that before? It was, after all, nothing more than a mechanism to stop people from opening it. Why shouldn’t someone with as much experience at picking locks as Nott take a look at it. Nott leaned in, yellow eyes fixating on the iron collar.

 

Well it is locked,’ Nott said, eventually. Fjord shot her an impatient sort of look.

 

Well, yeah, I coulda toldja that.’

 

It’s also trapped,’ Nott added, her own expression one of annoyance. ‘That one you would’ve had to wait until it blew Beau’s head off to find out.’

 

Can you disable the trap?’ Dairon asked. She had been strangely silent so far, letting Beau speak, rather than showing her own hand. There was something about old habits there. Nott gave the collar another look over.

 

No,’ she said, eventually. ‘It’s very intricate; I’m sure I would probably set it off by mistake.’ Beau was sure that Nott probably could have done it, but appreciated the caution. She certainly didn’t want her head blown off by an errant finger.

 

There may be a way to deactivate the collars, the same way we can deactivate the magic field,’ Fjord said, and then froze.

 

They’d kept that one quiet. Beau guessed that Dairon must have found it when she was doing her super secret reconnaissance.

 

You want to share with the class?’

 

For all that Beau found it difficult to read Dairon’s expression sometimes, the other woman looked distinctly uncomfortable.

 

We’ve been talking,’ Fjord said, before Dairon even opened her mouth. ‘Maybe it’s best if you don’t know the whole plan, in case they decide to question you.’

 

You really think it’s going to matter whether or not I know the plan if they decide to torture me again?’ Beau retorted, and then winced at her slip of the tongue. She hoped like fuck they’d missed it. No such luck.

 

Again?’ Jester asked. ‘What do you mean, again, Beau?’

 

Never mind,’ Beau muttered. ‘How about you guys finish your oh so secret discussions while I go and eat some breakfast?’ she suggested, no small amount of bitchy sarcasm in her words. They looked like they felt bad about the situation, and Beau was glad of it. She filled a plate with more of the meat and fruit, feeling their eyes burning the back of her neck. When she slammed the door to the bedroom, it was with a little more force than was probably warranted.

 

They were trying to protect her, she knew that. She was also kind of sick of not having the freedom to make her own fucking decisions in life.

 

Every godsdamned day she spent in this place, her emotional state got a little more frayed. Some days, in the space of an hour, she’d run the gambit from righteous fury, to deep depression, to unassailable apathy. Still, she wasn’t going to let this one be her fault. She wasn’t the one treating herself with kid gloves.

 

The bedroom, she discovered when looking it it without fatigue-colored glasses, was filled with all manner of things, including a bookshelf. So, Beau ignored the knock on the door, and munched on more bacon than was healthy by reading a treatise on the history of silk production in the Dwendalian Empire.

 

Strangely, the deeply boring book calmed her, instead of making her antsy, like it normally would, to the point where, when the knock came again ten minutes later, she grunted, ‘Come in.’ She wasn’t sure who they would send.

 

In the Mighty Nein itself, she was probably closest to Jester and Caleb, though Fjord and Caduceus were more the sort that tried to smooth these sorts of things over.

 

She was almost surprised, then, that they let Dairon take the lead. Shit, even Beau was a little surprised when the elf was the one that opened the door. While they had admittedly gotten deep the previous night (at least deep by Dairon’s standards) Beau wasn’t sure they were quite at the “comforting through a tantrum” stage.

 

‘Did you know,’ Beau said, ‘That there’s a fucking shit-ton of silk smuggled out of Xhorhas into the Empire? Like, way more than I ever would have guessed.’

 

‘Well I suppose having such large spiders is a point in their favor,’ Dairon said.

 

Beau stared at her. She almost commented that silk was produced by silkworms, before she realized that Dairon was making a joke. They sat down on the edge of the bed, where Beau was sitting cross-legged.

‘Your friends care about you,’ they said.

 

‘I know,’ Beau said. She swallowed the chunk of bacon she was working on. ‘I guess I just don’t like being kept out of the loop.’

 

‘I never would have guessed,’ Dairon said, drily. ‘An admirable trait for an information gatherer.’

 

‘I don’t know many information gatherers that let themselves get kidnapped.’ Beau’s voice was darker than she would have liked, and yet a perfect representation of what had been bothering her. That lingering thought that her friends didn’t think her strong enough to deal with whatever the consequences of their actions were.

 

And yet you have survived more hardship than any person should ever have to endure. For that, you should be proud.’

 

Beau didn’t feel very proud, and nor did she feel very talkative. She felt like a bitch for shunning her...friend? Mentor? Whatever it was that Dairon was to her now. The shittiest part about the whole situation was that she knew they were right. If the Tyrant got any indication that a revolution was being planned under his nose, then the first thing they would do would be to bring Beau in for “questioning.”

 

The last time they’d done it, they hadn’t even been asking her any questions, and she’d broken like a cheap wooden sword. So she continued to read, and snack, eventually giving up on the book about silk production, and moving to one about the Calamity, which was much more her speed. She heard the murmurings of their plotting in the living area, and tried to ignore them.

 

They stopped planning around dinner time, by which point Beau had gotten thoroughly bored, and was trying to meditate. Even after having been a monk for so long, she had never quite gotten the hang of it. Especially now, there were always too many thoughts rushing through her head, trying to overwhelm her. She ate in silence, ignoring the furtive looks they all kept throwing at each other.

 

I’m fine,’ she told them, through a mouthful of chicken. It came out a bit like “mifne,” but they seemed to get the idea. Beau swallowed. ‘Seriously, I get it. And as much as it pains me to say it, you’re right. If they take me in for questioning, we’re all fucked.’

 

In spite of her protestations about being fine, they decided that it would be best if one of them stayed the night once more.

 

It was harder to pretend that everything was okay, with an inquisitive Jester lying on the fancy sofa at the foot of the bed. Beau was torn between being miffed that they thought she needed babysitting, and relieved that they cared enough to even consider something like that.

 

Unfortunately, it being Jester meant that there were a lot of awkward questions. Beau loved Jester, she really did, but sometimes the inquisitiveness was just a little too much. Maybe it was hypocritical of her, someone who never stopped asking questions, to say that.

 

But did you like...have to kill lots of people?’ Beau went to answer with some brusque words, but found that words didn’t come. They were caught in her throat with a choking sob.

 

A few,’ she said, finally, though it was not what she had wanted to say. ‘Most of ‘em got brought back, though.’ Most, but not all.

 

There was another long silence. Beau knew that Jester was regretting having asked the question.

 

Hey Jes,’ Beau asked. There was a question that had been plaguing her for sometime. A thought in the back of her head that might one day come to fruition. ‘How many diamonds does it take to bring someone back without a body?’ She didn’t know if Amaril’s body was intact or not, but after those flames...

 

Oh, so, so much,’ Jester said, either not noticing or purposefully avoiding the reason for the conversation. ‘I asked the Traveler one time, and he said it was like...almost a hundred times more than it cost to do a Revivify.’

 

Beau baulked. She had known it would be expensive, but that...That was like...thirty thousand gold. She had never even seen thirty thousand gold, let alone thirty thousand gold in diamonds.

 

And,’ Jester continued, ‘It’s a really hard spell. Like...the hardest. I won’t be able to do it for ages.’

 

Oh,’ Beau said. She supposed she should have been sad about that. Amaril, after all, had deserved better. Emerson had deserved better. All of the people that had died in these Fighting Pits deserved better. The least she could do was burn the place to the ground.

 

Hey Beau,’ Jester said again. Her voice sounded hesitant. ‘Did you—I mean, did someone die that you want to bring back?’

 

No,’ Beau said, a little too quickly, a little too sharply. Jester didn’t ask any more questions after that.

 

Sleep, when it came, was fitful, as it had been for weeks now. Every night she saw Amaril die in the fires of her own making, heard her scream in agony, beg for mercy. Beau recalled the times that the mage had awoken in cold sweat the few nights they had spent together. Was this what she had seen? Had she been forced to relive the deaths of her fighters, even in sleep?

 

Thankfully, at this stage in her life, Beau was getting pretty good at waking silently from nightmares. Jester didn’t even stir when she sat up, breathing heavily.

 

Out in the living area, Dairon was awake, writing in her journal. Beau frowned. It had to be well after midnight. She didn’t think she had ever seen the other woman sleep. Even those few days between Zadash and Trostenwald that they had traveled together, Dairon had always been awake when Beau went to sleep, and awake when she rose in the mornings. At first she thought it might have been a weird elf thing, but even Layla had slept.

 

Do you ever sleep?’ Beau asked. Dairon looked up.

 

Not here,’ Dairon said. ‘Not while...things are still so dire.’ There was a slight hitch in her voice, and Beau was sure she’d planned on saying something else. She shut the journal with a definitive sort of sound.

 

That reminded Beau. ‘Oh, hey,’ she said. ‘In your whole “planning the super secret thing that we won’t talk about,” if you happen to find my journal anywhere in this hellhole, can you grab it for me. It’s got some stuff in there that, well...’ She let the words trail off, knowing their implication would be understood. There was stuff in there that even Dairon didn’t know.

 

Of course,’ Dairon said. She didn’t make a note. She didn’t need to. Like Caleb, she generally seemed to remember what she needed to remember.

 

There was a slightly awkward pause.

 

I just wanted to say,’ Beau started, nervously. She wasn’t sure why she was so nervous. ‘Thanks for having my back. You’re the first person in my life that’s ever given a shit.’

 

Dairon looked questioningly towards the bedroom, where Jester was still asleep. She didn’t mean Jester specifically, Beau knew.

 

Oh, they care, sure,’ Beau nodded. ‘But that whole “found family” thing happened by accident. I’m sure they didn’t care about me at first. You’re the first person that specifically chose to care about me for no other reason than—’ Beau stopped suddenly, realizing just how emotionally deep she was getting. ‘Never mind,’ she muttered. Dairon pushed her journal away, and stood. There was a pained look in her eyes. She seemed to hesitate, though Beau didn’t realize it at first. She had never seen Dairon hesitate before. Not like this.

 

Then, she had leaned in, and was kissing Beau. At first, Beau was too surprised to do anything except kiss back, and it felt good. More than good, it felt amazing. Then, she closed her eyes, and had an immediate, horrifying memory of the last time she had kissed Amaril. Dairon’s hand lifted to brush Beau’s cheek, and she flinched. Dairon pulled her hand away, as though it had touched fire. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said, immediately.

 

No,’ Beau said, shaking her head. ‘No, it’s fine. Just...stuff, you know.’

 

Of course,’ Dairon said, softly. She didn’t ask questions. She didn’t need to.

 

Should’ve said something before I left Zadash . Even though the thought was of her own making, Beau wasn’t quite sure if she meant herself or Dairon making a move.

 

You remember what I keep telling you.’

 

Be patient, listen, don’t die,’ Beau counted off the commandments on her fingers. ‘Did I miss any?’

 

Don’t get too close,’ Dairon said. They were still inches apart.

 

How’s that working out for you?’ Beau murmured.

 

I should have stayed with you.’

 

And then you would have ended up in here, too,’ Beau retorted. ‘And then where would we be?’ A part of her was a little miffed at the thought that she mightn’t’ve been in this situation if only she’d had Dairon with her. It wasn’t how the words had been intended, though, and Beau knew it.

 

‘Well, we would have been in this together, for one,’ Dairon said. Beau considered the point. Things probably would have turned out completely differently. How, though, she couldn’t say. Some people might not have died.

 

But, dwelling on the past wasn’t going to do shit. Dealing with the present was the main problem, and the present told Beau that Dairon really needed to sleep.

 

 

Come here,’ Beau said, pulling Dairon towards the lounge. ‘You’re no help to me if you’re dead on your feet.’

 

Since when were you the one giving advice?’ Dairon demanded, but she came and sat next to Beau on the lounge just the same.

 

Since you’re getting irrational.’ Once upon a time, Beau never would have dreamed of calling Dairon irrational, but now, there was something a little more casual to their interactions.

 

I should have left you under Zeenoth,’ Dairon grumbled, but there was no heat to it. She adjusted her body until she was curled into the Beau’s body. Beau gave a half grin. It’d been a while since she’d been the big spoon.

 

Then you would have been responsible for Zeenoth’s murder,’ Beau said. Dairon laughed.

 

Don’t tempt me,’ she said, though her words were starting to slur with the speech of someone that was finally giving in to the exhaustion that had consumed them.

 

Once Beau could hear the soft, steadfast breaths coming from the elf, she slowly extricated herself from the lounge. Dairon needed a very long rest, without anyone there to disturb it. Beau walked quietly back to the bedroom, knowing that the sleep was still light enough that any sound would wake Dairon up.

 

Did you kiss?’ came a hissing whisper from the sofa as Beau slid back into bed.

 

Beau grinned. ‘Goodnight, Jester.’

Chapter Text

As the short span of freedom Beau had trickled away, she found herself getting more and more anxious. The pit of despair in her stomach seemed to engulf her some days, and she found herself lashing out at her friends more and more, and retreating to her room for long periods of staring at the ceiling, and ignoring whoever they sent in to talk to her.

 

They seemed to take it in stride, not reacting, or even arguing with her outbursts. Instead, they treated her with kindness, and compassion, which made Beau even more frustrated. For years, that had been her strategy to push people away. Just be a bitch until they decide they can’t stand you anymore. After all, they were going to leave anyway. If they left because she was being a dick, well, at least that was in her control.

 

At least, that had been how she’d done things up until she’d met the Mighty Nein, who had somehow resisted all of her attempts to push them away. Now, here they were, doing it all again.

 

After the latest outburst, the day before her last day with Dairon, Caduceus brought her tea. She considered for a moment, throwing it in his face, but then decided that that would be an incredibly childish thing to do.

 

Instead, she took it for the gesture of peace that it was, the indication that no matter how pissed she got, how much her scars, and her nightmares, and everything that happened were breaking her, they weren’t going anywhere.

 

The thought that anyone in the world, let alone seven people, would care for her so unconditionally was utterly unfathomable.

 

Thanks, Deuce,’ she murmured, taking a sip from the steaming mug. It sent a welcome warmth through her cold body. ‘Who am I drinking?’

 

He frowned, as though trying to remember, and the expression looked utterly ridiculous on his Firbolg face. ‘I think this might be from my grandfather, Colton Clay. He’s a more soothing flavor. Not harsh, like my grandmother.

 

I’m worth grandparents,’ Beau said, impressed. ‘I guess I haven’t pissed you off after all.’

 

Caduceus waved off the idea that she’d pissed them off. ‘You’re going through some stuff,’ he said. Understatement of the year. ‘It’s perfectly natural to be angry, or sad, or scared. We’re here for you no matter what.’

 

Beau liked that he didn’t tell her not to be angry. That it was okay to be angry. All her parents had ever done, all Zeenoth had ever done was try to make her less angry. It wasn’t until she’d met Dairon that someone had told her to just use the anger. Sad or scared were things that she wasn’t quite ready to admit that she was feeling.

 

Instead of telling him this, Beau just said, ‘Thanks.’ She went back out into the living area to spend a few precious minutes of time with her friends.

 

If she died tomorrow, she’d regret not having done it.

 

At least, she thought, she still had her friends. The friends that, for so long, she’d been so sure had abandoned her. The first real friends she’d ever had. Except now they were off fuck knows where, planning and preparing without her.

 

She understood the reason for it, but it still kind of hurt.

 

All things considered, the conversation could have been more uncomfortable than it actually was. Beau could tell they were all feeling the same anxiety about whatever plan they had put together, and the consequences if it failed. They could all end up dead, not just Beau.

 

Fjord looked uncomfortable. Like he was about to ask her a question that she wasn’t going to like. ‘I hate to say this,’ he said. ‘But the best way for us to get a distraction...’

 

Is if they’re distracted by the fighting,’ Beau finished, dully. She’d sort of put that together herself, that the fight that would draw the biggest crowd, be the biggest distraction, would be between her and that stupid godsdamned goliath.

 

She didn’t want to do this. She didn’t want to fight anymore. She just wanted to lay down, and go to sleep. She’d spent her whole life fighting, whether it was her parents, her enemies, herself...Once, it had given her a sense of pride and accomplishment. It was thing that she’d ended up building her whole life around, being able to punch things really well.

 

What the fuck was she going to do after this? Join a book club? That wasn’t her. She thought she’d figured out the sort of life she wanted, and now even that had been stripped away from her.

 

If you can,’ Beau said. ‘A lot of the people here – especially the fighters – they didn’t do shit. They don’t deserve to die.’

 

Jester started to say something, (‘Actually—’) but was interrupted by Fjord putting a hand on her shoulder. ‘We’ve got it,’ he said.

 

And if you run into a half-elven woman named Layla...I mean, I don’t know what side she’ll take, but give her a chance.’

 

Okay,’ Fjord said, sounding a little confused about that particular request. ‘If we, uh...run into her, we’ll give her a chance.’

 

And—’ Beau continued, and then stopped. ‘And, don’t die,’ she finished, lamely. The words seemed hardly sufficient to describe the terror and the anxiety that she was feeling. Beyond that, though, there was a strange sort of calmness. Like whatever happened, it would all soon be over.

 

We sure could use your help,’ Fjord said, to Dairon, with a look on his face like he already knew what the answer would be. Beau raised an eyebrow. She’d sort of just assumed that Dairon would be involved with whatever the plan was.

 

Dairon did not even consider the matter for half a second. ‘No,’ they said. ‘I will not leave my charge.’

 

Beau raised her eyebrows at the use of the term “charge,” as though Dairon was her bodyguard, rather than a former mentor, or a friend, or something else entirely. The idea of Dairon staying close by in case things went south was kinda comforting , and that scared Beau .

 

Not that she was helpless, but she knew he was getting weaker the longer she stayed here. In her most recent fights, she’d taken hits that she normally would have laughed off, missed punches that normally would have been a perfect stun. Every day that she spent in this place, she was getting more tired, and more resigned to her fate.

 

It must have shown in her face, because when the Mighty Nein left (after like, sixteen hugs from Jester), Fjord stopped in his tracks.

 

‘Whatever happens,’ he said, putting a hand on Beau’s shoulder. ‘Do not worry. We will get you out of here.’ He was trying to mollify her, and Beau felt a little insulted by the suggestion that she couldn’t handle it if bad shit went down. Still, she recognized that he was just being a good friend and decided to let it slight.

 

Huh. Maybe that was growth.

 

 

The next morning, Beau was back in her shitty bed in her shitty room on the first floor. The goodbye with Dairon had been just as painful as the goodbye with the her party. There hadn’t been many words said, but that in itself said more words than Beau ever needed to hear. There was the touch of skin on skin, Dairon’s warmth pulsing through her.

 

‘Listen,’ Dairon said. ‘Be patient. Stay alive. I will see you soon.’

 

Beau’s lips quirked. That last one had taken on a darker meaning for her. The ghost of Dairon’s touch lingered as she sullenly made her way back to the fighters’ quarters. The whole feel of the place had changed.

 

She felt like a ghost walking through its halls.

 

As she grew closer, there was an air of commotion, and Beau felt a sinking feeling in her gut. Something was wrong.

 

‘What’s going on?’ she demanded of a guard that rushed past. He ignored her entirely, drawing his sword.

 

Beau ran after him.

 

The commotion was, as she had suspected, in the holding area. There was a pain like a knife to the gut as she saw Caduceus getting knocked to the ground by one of the guards. Yasha, and Fjord and Jester were already down.

 

What the fuck?

 

How had her friends been taken out by these cut-rate losers that had probably failed out of the Crownsguard Academy.

 

Beau lunged in their direction, but something – someone – was holding her back. She was surprised to see Ric, grabbing onto the back of her tunic. ‘You can’t do anything,’ he whispered. Beau whipped around to stare daggers at him. What did he know?

 

Who did you speak to?’ she hissed at him.

 

Who do you think?’ Beau was at a loss to that answer. Clearly the Mighty Nein hadn’t just spent all of their time here braiding each others hair. As she’d feared, they had done enough to get the Tyrant’s attention.

 

If they knew that much, then they knew exactly who it was the Mighty Nein were there to help. Sure enough, in a matter of moments, Beau found herself surrounded by guards. They shoved Ric out of the way, and pushed Beau to her knees, half a dozen swords at her neck. As if she even had the slightest hope of trying to escape.

 

‘You have been a thorn in the side of the Tyrant for long enough,’ sneered the guard directly in front of her. He was the guard in charge, Beau thought, but she didn’t even know his name. Some intelligence gatherer she was. ‘Now, the Bonecrusher will slaughter you, and the friends you so foolishly brought here will get to watch.’

 

Beau was numb. How the fuck had things gone to shit so quickly? Then, she remembered some of the other things that had gone to shit during their career as adventurers. Then, she saw the look on Jester’s face. Not panicked, or scared, or worried. To an outsider, it might have looked like she was in shock, but Beau saw concentration.

 

She realized then, something that she had missed, something that, once upon a time, would have been the first thing she’d noticed. Something that made her feel a little less horrified about the situation.

 

Fjord and Caduceus and Jester and Yasha were all there, chained and on their knees. Nott and Caleb weren’t . Which meant one of two things; either they hadn’t been there when shit had gone down, or this was all part of the plan.

 

Beau had to hope it was the second one. After all, Nott and Caleb were probably the least noticeable of the group, at least when it came to non-magical methods of disguise. They tended to sort of tuck themselves away in a corner, and let people ignore them.

 

Beau felt her mind glaze over. She had to believe that they knew what they were doing, that they were safe. She kept telling herself this as her friends were dragged away, upstairs, no doubt, to the Tyrant’s quarters, to watch her downfall. A guard pulled her to her feet roughly.

 

‘We finally get to say goodbye,’ he sneered, shoving her towards the door.

 

Sorry,’ Beau murmured, as she accidentally bumped against someone standing in the doorway. A lithe, Drow figure that was about her height. Beau started. Not least of all because she hadn’t seen too many Drow around before. More because she had seen this particular Drow before. It was the disguise that Dairon had adopted at the Four Corners bar in Xhorhas.

 

It was Dairon.

 

When she spoke, though, it was as though she was speaking to a stranger. ‘It’s Beauregard, isn’t it?’

 

Yeah,’ Beau said, getting the hint, and showing no signs of recognition. ‘Who wants to know?’

 

Dairon put a hand on her shoulder. ‘Good luck out there,’ she said.

 

Beau took the words to heart.

 

She had to believe that this was all part of the plan.

 

Chapter Text

Beau’s heart hammered in her chest. Her breath came in short, fast gulps. Her hand was slick with sweat.

 

She had never been more scared in her life.

 

Not for herself, for the most part. Death was just another one of those things that happened. She was more scared for her friends, who would have taken all of this risk for nothing if she ended up dead.

 

Even if she didn’t, well...the Beau that they had left in Zadash all those months ago was not the same Beau that stepped into the Pit. She felt a little older and a lot more serious than the veritable kid that had rocked up in Trostenwald thinking she was hot shit for killing a snake, or the idiot that had gone rushing after a Venom Troll and almost died, or the dumbass that had tried to tank a Hydra.

 

That kid hadn’t been particularly patient.

 

The kid that had been the kid abducted by the monks of the Cobalt Soul, who spent the entire first week at the monastery crying herself to sleep, who had lashed out at all the monks, and refused to crack open a book except in the dead of night when no-one else was watching. That might as well have been someone else’s memory.

 

Beauregard Lionett had long since been replaced, by Beau the Brash, Beau the Bitch, Beau the Betrayer. So many different personas, none of which had ever quite fit the way she wanted them to. Now, she was just Beau the “sick of this shit,” or Beau the “can I please get out of this fucking place?”

 

Clutching her staff, Beau stepped out into the Pit. The sound of the crowd was fuzzy in her ears. They could have been screaming her name, but she doubted it. More likely, they were screaming the Bonecrusher’s.

 

She supposed if she had a nemesis here, it would have been him. Like her, though, he was just doing what he had to do to survive, so she didn’t hold it too much against him. Out of all the fighters, though, he probably had the easiest time of it, being an enormous sword-wielding barbarian, and all.

 

At least there was only one of them this time.

 

Still, that sword, and by extension, the motherfucker wielding it, were no joke. She would have to take her time, would have to not rush into this blindly.

 

Be patient, said Dairon’s voice in her head. She looked back over towards the gate, but could not see Dairon standing there.

 

She wondered if her friends were up in the Tyrant’s quarters yet. Whether they had put into play whatever madcap plan it was that they had hatched on those long days in the Whorish Chateau. Or maybe Beau had just been kidding herself. Had tricked her mind into thinking that something was happening, when really, they were watching her in horror.

 

The Bonecrusher stepped out into the Pit, and the crowd cheered. He didn’t encourage them along like she had on a few occasions. Once he was in the Pit, there was nothing else in the world except him and whatever else it was that needed to be killed. Still, he seemed to revel in their cheers. They pumped him up, gave him an adrenaline beyond that of his standard rage.

 

Be patient, said the voice again. Stay alive. Don’t get too close.

 

Not bad directives for a fight as well as life. Close was the last place she wanted to be when there was a big dude with a sword trying to fucking shish-kabob her. The problem was, her whole thing was “get close.”

 

At least she still had her dope-ass lightning gloves. She activated them with a touch, and electricity arced between them.

 

Before he’d even managed to start his charge, she’d shot two lightning punches in his direction, followed by two more for good measure.

 

As the goliath charged, Beau moved to the side. If she kept dodging, kept moving out of his way, then he might tire out. He swung his sword in her direction, and it slammed uselessly into the sand.

 

Her next punch missed entirely, the strike of electrical energy creating an admittedly pretty fucking cool pillar of glass. Distracted by this, she almost didn’t notice his sword coming back at her. She barely ducked out of the way in time, taking a rough hit to the face with the pommel, and the smallest edge of the sword nicking a line along her collarbone. Dazed, and head spinning, the second strike hit a little more true, a deep ugly slice down her thigh.

 

Her head pulsed. Blood dripped down to the sand.

 

There was a brief moment where Beau almost dropped to her knees, letting him finish it off.

 

But no.

 

That wasn’t her.

 

She wasn’t going to lay down and die. At least, that’s what she told herself most days. Her feelings on the matter were liable to change by the second, as her mood changed. This whole godsdamned thing had done a real number on her psyche. It was going to take months of meditation and punching inanimate objects to sort that shit out.

 

Instead, she ducked under the swing of the greatsword, just in time to hear an enormous explosion from the tower. There were screams from the crowd completely unrelated to the fight in the Pit.

 

Beau grinned, but did not take her eyes away from the goliath.

 

Caleb, maybe. Or Jester and Nott.

 

Either way, it was good news. She was sort of coming around to their way of thinking, that the less she knew the better. Though she had vehemently disagreed at first, whatever their plan was, it wouldn’t have worked if she hadn’t thought they were in danger. Even still, she didn’t like being left in the dark.

 

No, that was an understatement.

 

She hated being left in the dark. Especially when it meant not knowing how much danger her friends would be in. It went against every core of her being as a Monk of the Cobalt Soul.

 

The danger they were in seemed to be quite a lot, judging by the sounds coming from the tower. The crowd’s attention was split, wanting to know what was going on up there (was that a scream?), but not wanting to miss any of the fight.

 

Fucking vultures.

 

So engrossed in his own rage, in the battle, the goliath hadn’t even noticed the explosion. Beau wasn’t even sure if he would have noticed a meteor coming down from the heavens.

 

He narrowly dodged a swing from Beau’s staff, but couldn’t quite duck out of the way of the lightning fists that followed. They struck pretty fucking true, sending Bonecrusher reeling backwards, stunned.

 

Beau took the opportunity to hit him half a dozen more times, a blaze of quick strikes before the stun wore off. Even with that, though, he was still standing. Bloodied, and bruised, and furious beyond measure, but still standing.

 

Beau stepped backwards as he swung wildly with his sword. She didn’t step back quite far enough, and a line of blood splashed from her abdomen. It wasn’t deep, but it stung like a bitch. Clutching her wound, she gave a roar of frustration, of frustration at the battle, at the situation she was in, at every single fucking bullshit thing that had happened to her over the last few months.

 

It was almost as though she went into a rage herself, laying into him with punch after punch. It took several seconds before she realized that he was unconscious. Her red-wrapped fists were soaked in blood.

 

In fact, she realized, blood soaked her entire body, dripped from her mouth, her ears, from the cuts that covered her body, some of which she didn’t even remember taking. She was down to her last drops of life, but she had won.

 

The goliath was lying unconscious on the ground. Not dead, not bleeding out, but unconscious nonetheless.

 

She had beaten him.

 

Strangely, it was not a victory that Beau felt eager to celebrate. He wasn’t exactly a bad guy. She had been fighting so hard, for so long that all she wanted to do was stop. If she could have told her past self that one day she would be sick of fighting…

 

There was another explosion from the tower, followed by screams from the stalls around her. She wasn’t sure if anyone had even noticed that she’d knocked the goliath out. Somehow that seemed to be about the flavor of the month. Things happening that didn’t seem to matter anymore.

 

Strangely, though, Beau felt like she didn’t mind. She had taken him out, and that was enough for her. Hell, she had survived, and that was enough. Up in the fiery remains of the tower, she could see the signs of an ongoing battle. She had to get up there and help them.

 

There was a strange, almost separate commotion coming from beyond the gates. She could hear cheering and yelling and a little more screaming. As suddenly as everything had started, the tower went quiet. Either they had won, or they had lost, but it looked like it was all over. At least, up there it was.

 

Beau looked over towards Dairon, who was blatantly ignoring the chaos around them. They were pushing past it to get to Beau.

 

The world, for a moment, went silent.

 

Then, Beau felt the pinprick of needles as they stabbed into her neck. Never a good sign. There was an unbridled pain, as death pulsed into her veins.

 

She dropped to her knees, clutching at her neck. She could hear her own heart beating, faster than was ideal.

 

‘Beauregard!’ She was vaguely aware of a voice in her ears – yelling, but as though from a thousand miles away. Was that the crowd, screaming her name? No, there was fear in that voice. A very familiar voice.

 

An elven figure was kneeling beside her, hands at her shoulders, then, trying to pull the collar from her neck. Gods, she was pretty.

 

This is it.

 

Dairon’s face was panicked, and she was clearly saying something reassuring, but the sound did not reach Beau’s ears. She felt an unfamiliar liquid frothing at her mouth. Poison, she thought, vaguely. Had the goliath’s blade been poisoned? She didn’t think so, but then, it didn’t matter. Dairon looked as afraid as Beau had ever seen her.

 

It’s alright , she wanted to say. It’s over now.

 

Dairon was screaming now, perhaps for Jester or Caduceus. Strange. Beau had never heard her scream before. It was a weirdly harrowing noise. It didn’t matter, though. It was too late. The clerics wouldn’t get here in time. Beau could feel her own life-force dripping away. It was a strangely calming sensation.

 

It was over now.

 

She could finally rest.

Chapter Text

When Beau woke, it was to the bouncing of cart wheels. She couldn’t even remember the last time they’d had a cart, instead of moorbounders, or a teleportation circle, or a fucking pirate ship.

 

She sat up far too quickly, and her head spun like it had been caught in a whirlwind. ‘Easy, easy,’ said a calming voice. Beau didn’t even need to look to see who it was. Caduceus was the only person in their group that could sooth with a single word. He put a hand to her shoulder and lowered her back down.

 

Where are we?’ Beau closed her eyes. The bright light streaming in hurt them. She felt worse than she usually did on waking from unconsciousness; cold, and clammy, and wet with sweat. There was a pit of nausea in her stomach that was bubbling to the surface.

 

She rolled over and vomited on his feet.

 

Strangely, it made her feel a little bit better.

 

The collars were designed to inject poison if the Tyrant died,’ he told her. ‘Yours didn’t come off when the rest of them did – possibly because you were in the Arena when it happened. It was a bit touch and go for a while, but we got it all out of your system. We’re back on the mainland now, heading to Zadash.’

 

Cool,’ she muttered, not quite having the strength to wipe the vomit from her lips. Caduceus, with his ridiculous perception, noticed, and wiped her face down with a damp cloth. Beau wondered why they hadn’t just Teleported. She must have asked this question, because Caduceus answered her. His answer was very quiet, and seemed to come from very far away. She only caught half of it.

 

‘—thought you might be too weak for a Teleport—

 

Zadash.

 

Zadash was good. It wasn’t her favorite place in Wildemount, but it at least had the Archive, and, by extension, Dairon.

 

That was about all the conscious thought she had before passing out again.

 

The next time she woke, everything was clearer still. The cart was no longer moving, and it was Dairon at her side, instead of Caduceus.

 

Beau was a little surprised. She had expected Dairon to fuck off back to Zadash after everything was said and done. They weren’t a fan of traveling in groups, especially not a group as...noticeable as the Mighty Nein.

 

You’re still here,’ Beau said.

 

I did not want to leave before making sure that you were alright,’ Dairon said. Though she spoke with the same, one step removed voice that she always did, she could not hide the relief in her eyes.

 

Yeah, I’m peachy.’ Beau said. She tried to sit up again, and this time did not puke her guts out. Her head was pounding, and her body ached, but all things considered, it was the best she had felt in a while. ‘What time is it?’

 

Almost four o’clock,’ Dairon told her. ‘Your friends are setting up camp.’

 

Awesome,’ Beau said, and meant it. It was amazing how much she had missed little things like spending a night on the road with her friends. Or the grass, and the flowers, and the trees. ‘Can you help me outside?’

 

Once upon a time, Dairon might have said no, that she needed to rest, that there would be time for things like that later. But they didn’t. Instead, they put an arm around Beau’s shoulder and helped her to her feet. Beau squeezed her hand, her own little concession to the fact that there were things they would need to talk about later.

 

The sun was low in the sky, but not yet disappearing below the horizon. In the distance, Beau saw the rolling hills south of Zadash. They were still at least a day or so’s ride away, Beau thought. She must have been out of it for a while, given the last time she’d really been with it had been in the middle of the Swavain Islands. She must have been unconscious for the whole boat trip. Fucking again.

 

She would stay in Zadash for a while, she decided. Follow up on a few things in the library, or drink her way through the tavern. Just...something that didn’t involve fighting for once.

 

Beau!’ Jester’s glee was evident in her voice, and the way she nearly tackled Beau to the ground with her hug. ‘How are you feeling? We’re so sorry we had to trick you into thinking we were in danger, but it was the only way...’ She continued to tell the story of what had happened, of what the plan had been, but Beau found that she didn’t care all that much. The fact that she was out of there, that the Tyrant was dead, that was enough.

 

She was alive, and she was free, and she had almost everyone in the world that she cared about milling around her. Caring about her.

 

Beau stripped the boots and wrappings from her feet, letting her toes sink into the grass. She smiled. It was the first time in almost three months that it had felt truly real. That the world was more than just sand and blood.

 

She lay back in the grass, and stared up at the bright blue sky. A sky that was not overshadowed by ugly stone towers, or obscured by the bars of a dungeon cell.

 

Everything else could wait.

 

They made it to Zadash the next afternoon. Beau had slept well into the mid-morning, which was an earlier start than she had expected. Still, she had slept through another boat trip, plus a night or two in Nicodranis, and another couple of night s on the road.

 

Your body was healing itself,’ Caduceus told her. ‘There was a lot of trauma that it had to process.’ Beau ran a hand along another shiny new scar on her face, in addition to a few more in various places. She thought she must look a bit like Fjord now. Or Molly, from his swords.

 

They had a private parlor in the Pillow Trove. Beau was impressed that they’d all agreed to shell out for the accommodations; her own coin purse was lying somewhere in the ruins of what she now knew was called the Ironlock Arena, its contents lining the pockets of some fortunate soul. Somehow it meant less to her than she thought it would.

 

Nott had made her a new one on the road , sewed together from scraps of leather, and covered in no small amount of buttons. They’d found something of a stash when searching the Tyrant’s quarters, and dutifully gave Beau her share.

 

I mean, I didn’t really help,’ Beau said, but took the gold anyway. She suspected that they’d given her the lion’s share of the spoils, including a pretty sweet Ring of Shooting Stars. They had also managed to find her journal, which, judging by the wear on the pages, had been rifled through extensively. It was what she had feared, but, given that the Tyrant was dead (cleaved down the middle by Yasha, according to Caleb), not as bad as it could have been.

 

Everything else, though, Keg’s letter, the feather than Nila had given her, and, worst of all, Molly’s tarot cards, were gone. She was lucky they’d let her keep all the things she’d needed to fight.

 

The box of flowers Yasha had given her, she imagined, was still there too.

 

It’s alright,’ Yasha said, with a half shrug. ‘I can get you more flowers.’

 

The first time Beau showed signs of real life was when the food showed up; a half-dozen or so platters of meats, and cheese, and fruits. She felt like she hadn’t eaten in days, which, she remembered, was probably true, and immediately gorged herself on the fanciest cheese she could find. It was one her parents had always bought back home to go with their best wines at tasting. Beau had the sudden, visceral memory of sneaking into the kitchens to steal some.

 

While they ate, Beau told them a little of how she had ended up in such a…predicament. It was a conversation that they had never quite had in the ten days they had spent planning, mostly, though none of them would mention it, due to her moodiness at the time.

 

Even now, though, there were some parts that hurt a little too much to talk about. She told them about how she’d been captured on the road to Nicodranis, and shipped off to the Arena. It still felt weird to call it “the Arena.” The fighters had always called it the Pit, and Beau had never thought of it as anything else. She glossed over Amaril a bit, just telling them she’d been forced by the Tyrant to kill someone she’d grown close to. It seemed like a bit of an understatement.

 

Whether or not she’d ever tell them, she didn’t know. She supposed she’d have to, one day. There was all the time in the world for that, though.

 

Oh,’ Jester said. ‘We spoke to your cute Paladin friend.’ Beau blinked. It took a few moments for her to realize that Jester was talking about Ric. ‘He was really helpful, by the way. We told him we were probably going to go to Zadash, and he said he might come by one day, but I think he wanted to go and find his family first.’

 

Sure,’ Beau nodded. She hadn’t even known that Ric had a family. He’d never brought them up. She supposed that they all coped in their own way.

 

We didn’t find any half-elven women, though,’ Fjord said. ‘At least not the one you were looking for.’

 

We didn’t find any half-elven bodies, either,’ Jester added, helpfully. ‘So maybe she’s still alive, probably.’ Beau shrugged. She wasn’t sure that it mattered. It had been a business transaction for the other woman, after all. All of those nights where she held Beau didn’t really mean anything. Not compared to what she had with her friends, what she had with Dairon. Still, she would have preferred that Layla survive the encounter. She, too, had just been trying to navigate a complicated world. Just trying to live her life. Even after all the time they’d spent together, Beau knew nothing about her. She decided, for the moment, she’d just let Layla be.

 

A fter a couple of ales, Beau was feeling a little dizzy and decided to switch to water. While the poison seemed to have run its course, the exhaustion she’d been feeling had not wavered in its presence.

 

It would take a while, she knew, for all the complicated shit with her brain to run its course. She was just glad she hadn’t yelled at anyone today.

 

So,’ Caleb said, in a moment of relative quiet. Jester and Nott were trying to see if they could hit an apple on Caduceus’s head with thrown crossbow bolts. Fjord was trying to stop them. Beau had been watching with amusement, but turned at the sound of Caleb’s voice. ‘How are you feeling?’

 

Beau blinked. She didn’t know how to answer that question. Sure, the nightmares sucked, and she still wanted to find thirty thousand gold worth of diamonds, and every time she wore her Cobalt Soul garb, everyone would see the mess of scars across her body. But, all things considered…

 

It could have been worse.

 

If Beau went to bed a little earlier than the rest of them, they didn’t bring it up, didn’t pressure her to stay, for which she was grateful.

 

The next morning was much of the same; food, and drinks, and laughter at them finally being all back together. Beau hated to spoil the mood, but her hand was forced when Jester asked the question.

 

‘What are you going to do now, Beau?’ the tiefling said. Beau could tell they’d been discussing the matter behind her back, but strangely, it didn’t bother her. She saw it less as gossip, and more as concerned friends wanting the best for her.

 

Dunno,’ Beau shrugged. ‘I don’t want to hold you guys back or anything, but I might stick around here for a couple of months...get my head back on straight, y’know?’

 

Sure,’ Jester said. ‘Sure. But I mean, this time I don’t care what Dairon says about interrupting your training. I’m going to Send you a message every night to make sure you’re okay.

 

‘What about you guys?’ Beau asked. She didn’t even know where they were at at the moment, in regards to the Gentleman, and the Empire, and whatever else was happening in the world. Things seemed to change day by day, and she’d been gone for a long time. ‘What’re you doing?’

 

‘We hadn’t really talked about it,’ Nott said. Definitely lying.

 

‘Maybe stick around here for a couple of weeks,’ Fjord offered, casually. ‘Then maybe tie up some of our loose threads.’

 

The rest of the party seemed to have no urgency to do much of anything, for which Beau was simultaneously grateful, and frustrated. With them around her all the time, she barely got a moment to herself, to be able to process the pounding of her head, and the knot in her chest.

 

Now that she was free, that should have gone away. Now that she was free, she should have been better, should have felt differently than she had on an unknown island in the middle of the sea.

 

After lunchtime, she went for a walk, brushing off all attempts from Jester and Nott at accompanying her. In any case, she told them that she’d probably be a while, but that she’d try to return by sundown.

 

On the way out of town, she bypassed the Cobalt Soul, where she assumed that Dairon still was. In any case, she hadn’t heard anything from Dairon about leaving town.

 

She made her way south, to the rolling hills that the road to Alfield cut through. The road was quiet today; on her way there, she only saw a couple of horses, and a cart.

 

The hills were not tall by any stretch. Certainly not as tall as the Ashkeeper Peaks, or the Cyrios mountains. They didn’t even have names beyond “those hills south of Zadash.” Even still, the climb to the top of the tallest one took the wind out of her a little. Though she’d been doing nothing but fight for the last few months, her endurance for climbing, and walking and all of those normal people things was a little shot. Even her pull-ups, she found, as she started her routine, were a little lackluster.

 

It was frustrating that after all she’d been through, she had nothing to show for it, except a few ugly scars, and some serious mood issues. She had thought that people were supposed to go through traumatic events and come out with greater clarity about things. The only thing Beau was clear about was that she was clear about nothing.

 

It was confusing, and annoying, and she hated it.

 

She finished her pull-ups, and moved onto push-ups. These were a little better, but the still-healing wounds on her body made them more difficult than they should have been. All the things that she’d once been good at were failing her.

 

Then, she supposed she’d just have to work on them. Maybe take the time to work on some things that she wasn’t so good at.

 

At the top of the hill was a cairn. Not a particularly significant one; instead of a pile of rocks, it was a single large boulder, with the height of the hill carved into it (not a particularly big number).

 

Beau hoisted herself atop the boulder, and sat cross-legged. The bright blue sky stretched across the horizon, and in the distance, she thought she might have heard a bird squawking.

 

Beau closed her eyes, and began to meditate.

 

Chapter Text

Epilogue

 

The Mighty Nein stayed in Zadash for two weeks before setting out on their way. They had another contract with the Gentleman to investigate some shady happenings up north that were interfering with one of his supply chains.

 

Beau vaguely wondered if any of those “supply chains” led to an island off the coast of Nicodranis. Either way, it wasn’t her concern. At least not for the moment. She spent her days studying books, and punching dummies, and trying without results to clear her mind of dark thoughts.

 

Ironically, the only time she did manage to clear her head was while in the middle of studying; her eyes would glaze over, and she would stare off into the middle distance for minutes at a time, without conscious thought entering her mind. The things she studied were varied, and she thought, random. A little more interesting than silk production; more geared along the lines of things that would help her in the coming months, help in whatever perils were to come.

 

She felt a little naked without the weight of her bag on her back. She felt like that scared young kid that had come to the Cobalt Soul all those years ago, with nothing but the clothes on her back. They’d thrown those out, anyway, before cutting her hair in the same bald style that all the other acolytes had.

 

At one point, she’d have to start replacing all the things that she’d lost, starting with a new bag. Then maybe with some new goggles. Maybe avoid traveling alone in the dark for the foreseeable future. Or, alternative plan, become a wizard, learn to cast Light .

 

Occasionally, she saw Dairon, briefly, and at a distance, but wasn’t quite ready to have the debrief that she knew was coming. In fact, she almost thought she’d avoided it, until she got the message from Tubo that Dairon wanted to see her.

 

The fact that it came from Tubo meant that it was probably official Cobalt Soul business, which eased Beau’s mind a little bit.

 

Even still, she was more than a little antsy when she approached the main sign-in bench, as though she was a visitor wanting to use the library, rather than a card-carrying member. Zeenoth was manning the desk today, and Beau almost rolled her eyes.

 

He gave her a look, as though waiting for a sarcastic greeting. He seemed almost disappointed when she didn’t give him one. ‘Zeenoth,’ Beau nodded.

 

Uh, hello Beauregard,’ he said, uncertainly. From that alone, Beau was sure that Dairon had not revealed a word of what had happened off the coast of Nicodranis. He didn’t look pitying, he looked as though he was resigned to the fact that he had to deal with her.

 

Dairon around?’

 

Yes,’ he said. ‘I’ll go and fetch her for you, shall I?’

 

Please,’ Beau smiled, and it was almost a genuine smile.

 

Dairon had the same, secretive sort of expression on her face that she always did. Today, perhaps more than most days, there was a little bit more smugness to it.

I’m gonna go ahead and assume you didn’t call to go on a date,’ Beau said. It was a risky way to start the conversation, given that they hadn’t yet discussed the nature of...things. Perhaps their actions on Ironlock had been the product of adrenaline, had not been indicative of any actual feelings on Dairon’s part.

 

Beau wasn’t sure how that thought made her feel. For so long, she’d only ever really had sexual relationships. Nothing she would have gone as far as to call an actual relationship. Nothing that required to her to put the effort in emotionally speaking. Now….now, she didn’t know what she wanted.

 

Not today,’ Dairon said, but she had a pensive sort of look on her face, as though she was thinking about it. To go on an actual date, Beau thought, would be weird. Sitting across from Dairon in some private, candlelit chamber...that wasn’t the way their relationship was, even before. ‘Today I have something else to show you.’

 

Beau frowned. That didn’t sound ominous at all. She followed Dairon upstairs, to a part of the Archive that she’d never seen before. It seemed more an administrative area. Beau was a little amused at the thought that a semi-secretive organization of badass librarians had to do paperwork, but it made sense.

 

The room they entered had nothing but a large, gold-foiled book, resting on a podium. Dairon opened the book to a page about half-way through; there were half a dozen entries there, written in extravagant, but neat text.

 

This book will never be seen by eyes outside of this room,’ Dairon said. ‘So I suggest that you relish the moment.’ There was a small smile playing on her face. Curious, Beau leaned in to read the entry that Dairon’s thin finger was pointing to.

 

‘“It shall be known that on this, the thirteenth day of Thunsheer, in the year 837 P.D., the Cobalt Soul grants Beauregard Lionett the rank of Expositor, in recognition of her work against corruption and injustice.”’ Beau read the curling text aloud, noting the slight hitch in her voice at the sound of “Expositor.”

 

Did you do this?’ Beau demanded. She didn’t want...whatever it was to have some kind of effect on their professional relationship. She wanted to earn whatever it was she did in life.

 

Well, as I told you all those months ago, I put in my recommendations. The final decision was made by the Head Archivist. He thought I might like to be the one to let you know.’ A pause. ‘Given the nature of our work, there’s generally not a ceremony, but I think we could be forgiven partaking in a drink or two.’

 

Beau frowned, suddenly. ‘Wait, it’s the thirteenth?’ Time had sort of run together in the Pit. Days, weeks, months had passed, without her even realizing it. Even after returning to Zadash, she’d sort of stopped paying attention to the passage of time. ‘Shit. I’m twenty-five.’

 

Dairon smiled.

 

What’re you, like a hundred and twenty-five?’ Beau asked.

 

Something like that,’ Dairon said. Beau got the impression she was a lot older. At least two hundred. ‘But remember, time works a little differently for us.’

 

Beau remembered, but at the same time, she felt a little daunted. That was an extra couple of centuries or so of life experience that Dairon had and she didn’t.

 

Does this mean you don’t get to boss me around anymore?’

 

Dairon raised an eyebrow. ‘When have I ever “bossed you around”? And more to the point, when did ever listen to me?’

 

Eh, when it counted,’ Beau shrugged. She winced slightly. There were still a few injuries that hadn’t quite finished healing. Another thought crossed her mind.

 

Does this mean I outrank Zeenoth?’

 

 

They went to the Leaky Tap, and had couple of drinks. It seemed the perfect time to discuss the elephant in the room, but even still, Beau hesitated. She had the distinct impression that Dairon knew exactly what they wanted, and was waiting for Beau to feel comfortable enough to make the first move.

 

For all that she flirted her brains out, Beau was a complete novice when it came to the emotional side of things. Even more so now, after the things that she’d been through. The last time she’d opened herself up to vulnerability, it had literally come back to burn her.

 

So, um...’ she said. Not the most auspicious of starts. ‘I’m really, really not very good at this sort of thing; as you may have guessed...’ Beau trailed off. Dairon said nothing, but the look on her face seemed to be an invitation for Beau to continue. ‘The things that we said – that I said – back in that place. For a while I thought they might have been just me getting overwhelmed by the circumstances, but...’ Another pause. ‘Now that I’m away from there, and my head’s a little clearer...And you’re not, y’know, my teacher anymore.’ Gods, why was this so fucking hard?

 

Beau flustered, unable to put into words what she was feeling. This was why people thought relationships were hard. Sex was so much easier. Dairon put a hand to Beau’s. ‘We don’t have to do anything you’re not ready for,’ they said, and it was as if that was the permission that Beau had been waiting for. She leaned over, and kissed Dairon. Dairon returned the kiss with the most enthusiasm Beau had ever seen from them, as though they had been waiting for this moment for a long time.

 

What now?’ Beau asked, after they pulled away. She wasn’t sure how things like this were supposed to go. It wasn’t exactly a traditional relationship, after all. But it wasn’t even just the relationship, it was everything else, like what the fuck was she going to do with her life? Was she going to just pick up where things had left off before she’d been irrecoverably destroyed by a shithead named after a bird?

 

How were you supposed to come back from that?

 

 

In early Unndilar, Beau got a letter from Ric, or Alaric, as he signed the letter. He had returned to Vasselheim, and found his husband and son, and sounded far happier in writing than Beau had ever seen him in life.

 

I didn’t get the chance to do this properly myself, but if you get the opportunity, please pass on my sincere thanks to your friends. Without their help, we would both still be trapped in that hellhole. Now that we’re free, I’m looking forward to moving on with my life.

 

Moving forward in life. Now that was a fun concept. Still, at least she now had a letter to replace the one that she’d lost. It wasn’t nearly as entertaining, but she cherished it just the same. It certainly made Beau put some things into perspective re: the Dairon issue, and the issue of everything else.

 

They had been navigating things slowly ( patiently ), to the extent of quiet kisses, and long conversations about nothing in particular. Beau wasn’t quite ready for anything more. Every time she thought she was, she had a flashback to a night with Amaril or with Layla. Not from the act itself, but from all the things that had accompanied those dalliances, like dying, and being tortured. The sort of times that she was ready to forget.

 

But, that didn’t mean she wasn’t ready to take a few small steps. The perfect opportunity to do so came just two days later, when Beau got a message from Jester.

 

The first few weeks the party had been gone , Jester had Sent a message almost every night. At the end of the day, just in case she needed to use her spells for something else. After she seemed convinced that Beau was staying in Zadash, not doing anything rash or dangerous, they dropped back to two or three times a week. Beau was a little surprised at how much she looked forward to them.

 

Hey Beau,’ Jester’s voice said. She had the tone she used when she was exhausted, and put up an overly cheerful front to compensate. ‘We’re up in the Brokenveil Bluffs, fighting lots of monsters. Could use your help, if you feel up to coming but you know—

 

The message ended there. It hadn’t sounded desperate, but Beau knew that they were missing her presence just the same. The question was, did she think she was ready to get back into it? If there was even the slightest chance her friends were in danger, she didn’t even need to think about it.

 

Hey Jes,’ she said, feeling foolish talking to the air, like she always did when she responded to Jester’s messages. ‘Let me sort out a few things here, and I’ll be on my way. Love you guys.’

 

The Brokenveil Bluffs. Beau had heard the name before, but couldn’t quite remember where. Her suspicions were all but confirmed by Dairon when Beau asked her

 

Near Bladegarden,’ Dairon mused. ‘That’s a very dangerous place for them to be.’

 

Beau didn’t disagree. ‘Yeah,’ she said.

 

But after all, you aren’t all that close to them,’ Dairon said. It took Beau half a second to realize that she was joking; the tone wasn’t all too different from her normal one. ‘After what they went through to help you, I can see why.’

 

Don’t tell me you’re learning life lessons at two-hundred and fifty,’ Beau said, letting the line dangle. Dairon smirked, but didn’t bite.

 

What do you want me to say? That perhaps getting close to people can be useful? That it doesn’t hurt to have people in the world that care about you?’

 

I’m sure you wouldn’t know anything about that,’ Beau said.

 

No,’ Dairon agreed, but there was no seriousness to it. All this time Beau had learned from Dairon, perhaps Dairon had learned a little bit from her too. ‘When do you leave?’ She didn’t even have to ask if Beau was leaving. It was understood.

 

Not sure,’ Beau said. ‘Day after tomorrow, maybe. Give me a chance to stock up on supplies. It’s a long way.’

 

Of course,’ Dairon agreed. They paused. ‘You’ll need company.’

 

Beau raised an eyebrow. ‘Company, or a bodyguard?’

 

Would you feel more comfortable with or without me?’ Dairon countered, her own perfectly manicured eyebrow arching.

 

Beau sighed. ‘With,’ she said. It wasn’t just a safety thing. Long days on the road got boring as fuck even with a party. Alone was ten times worse.

 

So, they packed their bags, and set off north three days later. The first day was the hardest; Beau found herself gripping her staff tightly, hyper-vigilant at every strange sound, ready to fight if the slightest thing went wrong.

 

The second day was a little easier. She got used to Dairon’s presence at her side during the day, at the warm body curled into hers at night. Dairon didn’t need to sleep, as it turned out; she only needed to meditate for a few hours every night. Even still, they traded off watch shifts, just in case any kidnapping slavers were out there, stalking them.

 

The third day, they were set upon by a pack of wolves that got a little too confident. For half a second, Beau hesitated. Only half a second, but that was still far longer than she was comfortable with. Half a second was the difference between life and death. The world seemed to slow down for a moment then, and the two monks took out the whole pack without taking a scratch.

 

Even still, Beau’s heart pumped a little harder than normal as they bedded down for the evening. It was a cool night, for Sydenstar, and it would get cooler the further north they went. Dairon did not object when Beau lit a fire, and they curled up in front of it.

 

Beau rested her head in Dairon’s lap, while the other woman absent-mindedly (or perhaps not; she didn’t think Dairon did anything absent-mindedly) ran her fingers through Beau’s hair.

 

‘You fought well today.’

 

‘I mean, it was just wolves,’ Beau said, but the words empowered her just the same.

 

‘Yes, but you still fought well.’ A pause. ‘You’re going to be okay, Beauregard.’

 

Beau considered the fingers in her hair, the warmth of the fire, and the steady beat of Dairon’s heart that she could just about hear.

 

‘Yeah,’ she said. ‘I know.’