Being technical Krynn agents in the Empire was a mixture of dangerous and a little sad.
Everyone dealt with it their own way.
For Caleb’s part, he stuck to periodic breakdowns.
This didn’t necessarily get old, but it was clearly concerning Caduceus.
Caleb shook his head from where he sat on the back of the cart. The sun was setting and the Nein were spread out over their campsite. “Sorry, my head is. It’s just broken glass.”
Caduceus swept and arm around the smaller man and pulled him tightly to his side. “I know. Soon.”
“Didn’t realize I got so used to Xhorhas.” Caleb murmured into Caduceus’s armor.
“Even the Menagerie Coast is Empire aligned. Xhorhas is free to you, isn’t it?”
“I think it’s having power, little though it is.”
Caduceus brushed a kiss over the mans head. “Well, marry into Den Theylas and this will stop.”
Caleb swatted at Caduceus, wincing at the dull clang of hands against chitin. “I don’t think we’re going to be wed.” He said dryly, shaking out his hand “Besides, it’s not just me.”
“You don’t know a thing about Krynn marriage.”
“And you do?”
Caleb stared over the site, sun sinking rapidly as Fjord started the fire.
Caleb cracked his neck and pulled his legs up.
“So, what’s really bothering you, Mr. Caleb?”
Caduceus grinned goofily as Caleb pointed at him, scolding.
“So what’s really bothering you, Caleb?”
“I’m a bit offended you seem to think I was lying about my mental state.”
“Nah. That was real. You’re just also fidgeting. We’re close to my home. So…Is it.”
Caleb sighed “Yeah. Glory Run. I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to see his grave, or whatever you made his body into.”
Caduceus nodded. “I was trying to help.”
“And that’s why I’m not angry with you.”
Silence fell over the two. Their tents were set up, Jester was cooking tonight, they had nothing more to do.
“So, were you and…Mr. Mollymauk…?”
“Nein! Um…no, we never.”
Caduceus tilted his head, smiling softly. “But…”
“I thought, maybe. For a while.”
“Do you wanna tell me about him?”
They returned to silence. Caleb’s chest and head better at the nearness, despite the topic. He did share a few things about Molly. Mentioning his initial attempts at flattery. Calling him cute, telling him he was magical. Burying him, leaving a note with his body. “I think…You would have gotten along.”
He turned rapidly to see Beau standing there, looking uncomfortable. ‘Beau?”
“Look, I know you don’t wanna. But we all wanna make a quick run up the road. Wanted to give you the option. Say hi, y’know?”
“You don’t have to.” Caduceus murmured. “You can if you want, but you don’t have to.”
Caleb nodded. “I don’t want to, but I will. I should say hallo.”
It was dark and they made their way with the driftglobe. The shining ball trailing by Caleb until they reached Molly’s resting place. The coat, still improbably there. Jester walked carefully to the grave-site and gasped “The card is still here!”
“No.” Beau gasped, walking forward with Yasha, who followed sedately with the rest.
“Yeah, its not even torn up from the weather!”
“Hey Cad, didn’t you, ah, do a thing?” Fjord called, looking at the still dirt grave.
Caduceus wandered forward looking down. “Huh, weird.”
“Caleb, can you cast detect magic?” Yasha asked quietly “The long one is fine.”
“Caleb, this is weird.” Nott hissed, slipping her hand into his for a moment, squeezing.
Settling on the ground and pulling the book from his holster delicately, he was a few seconds in before he head Caduceus rumble “Oh dear.” From the graveside.
‘Oh dear? What do you mean oh dear?” Fjord barked
Caleb’s detect magic snapped into place and he had an idea what Caduceus had seen. A glowing orb of definite magic and maybe undead.
Caduceus lifted a hand to, ostensibly, bap the ghost away when Caleb had an idea.
“Wait!” He called. Caduceus put his hand down, though he didn’t seem pleased. With all eyes on him Caleb kept his eyes on the little orb. It darted to the grave. Okay. Bad. Bad.
“Caleb?” Jester said quietly, sounding really young. “What is it?”
“Is it Molly?” Yasha asked, a burgeoning hope in her words.
“There’s only one way to find out.” He admitted.
Desecrating their friends grave wasn’t done lightly, but between all of them the hole was dug up, Caduceus, looking uncomfortable, Yasha and Jester heaved the tapestry holding the tiefling out of the ground, settling him as lightly on the ground as they could. Caleb’s detect magic had faded by that time, and he sat again to recast it. Now that the body was out of the ground everyone was determined to look anywhere but there. Once Caleb’s spell was cast, he noticed the little orb buzzing busily around the tapestry.
“Ja, alright, um, I’m going to unwrap him, you should all, look away, if it’s bad, you shouldn’t see.”
Jester hiccuped and turned to Fjord who hugged her without complaint.
Nott and Yasha hesitated before coming closer, Beau shook her head as she walked closer until Caduceus touched her arm “You don’t have to, we’ll tell you.”
“He died for me. Figure least I can do is look at him.”
“Caleb.” Caduceus said firmly “Stand back, I’ll unwrap him. Close your eyes.”
“Was? Why would I-”
“Caleb.” Nott muttered “You should listen. You remember everything. Caddy will check it out, and then you’ll let us know, okay?”
Unhappily, but obediently, Caleb closed his eyes. He felt another hand slip into his free one, and heard Yasha’s distinctive step as she shuffled into place. Beau, ever stubborn, walked up to Caduceus to help him unroll the corpse.
Yasha stifled a sob and squeezed Caleb’s hand tightly. “He looks…like.”
“Caleb open your eyes.” Nott said, bounding away.
He half expected the corpse to sit up at any moment. Mollymauk looked the way he had when Caleb had buried him. But the differences slid in, insidiously. His vibrant skin was ashen, his eyes, still open and red, didn’t hold the spark that drove everyone around to madness, his chest, spattered in gore. Blood streaked down his face and arms.
And the little orb whistling around as if looking for an entrance.
“Jessie!” Beau called, and Jester came over, slowly, tail drooping and eyes full of water trying to avoid looking at Almost-Molly.
“Do we. Do you have Raise Dead prepared?”
“Oh, Beau, it’s been too long.”
“He doesn’t look like he’d been dead for a year.”
Fjord shuffled over “We…We did get some extra diamonds, and we have enough money to buy more outta Shady Creek.”
“I don’t have it prepared.” Jester whispered “Sorry Molly.”
Tight lipped Caduceus stepped toward them. “I do, I can do it, if you want.”
“Oh Caduceus, really!” Jester cried, stepping forward to hug the firbolg. “Please? I’ll get the diamonds right now.”
“What..Did he worship a deity?”
“The Moonweaver.” Beau answered, still, and staring at the corpse, as if determined to commit him to memory.
Caduceus kneeling next to Mollymauk made Caleb acknowledge how small Molly was, stripped of his larger than life personality. Laying still in the moonlight he was all delicate lines and sharp edges, trim legs and waist, even his shoulders seemed less broad, and they weren’t very broad in the first place. His tail, a narrow spaded lilac banner, strings cut and left to fall to the ground.
He heard Caduceus gasp, saw the orb blink out, saw a flash of blue skin and Molly’s back arch like a bow.
“Oh my god.” Jester murmured, stepping cautiously forward. “Molly?”
The bloodied shirt rose in shallow breaths, the eyes slid shut.
“Is it…Molly, though?”
Caduceus looked confused and worried, but Caleb and the rest tentatively approached anyway. Beau cut over and slid Molly’s card back into his deck, pocketing the whole thing. Jester knelt down across from Caduceus.
“This shouldn’t have worked, Jester, he’d been dead for far too long.”
“But it did!”
“I’m a bit worried about that.” Caduceus paused “But he’s not undead. And the spirit is gone, so whoever is in there…is who was out here.”
Jester placed a small blue hand on the sharp jut of Molly’s collarbone, his eyelids twitched, like he was waking up. She shook him delicately “Molly? Molly? Please wake up, we need to ask you something.”
“J-Jes-ter?” His voice, rough with disuse, was all it took for the Nein to almost simultaneously burst into tears. “I…Where am I?” He went to sit and spasmed in pain, being guided down by Caduceus. “You’re safe? Fjord? Yasha!”
“We’re fine Molly.” Yasha said, kneeling down by his head and dragging fingers through his hair.
“I’m fine.” Though her voice was raspy with tears.
“Y-You’re crying, Nott? Caleb?”
Nott scampered to his side “I didn’t rob you, not once.”
Molly’s eyes were barely open but he seemed so confused and weak, a baby bird fallen from a nest. “Where is Caleb?”
“Ja, I’m here, Mr. Mollymauk.”
Molly sighed “Don’t scare me like that, Mr. Caleb.”
Caleb tore his eyes from Molly to look at Caduceus who wore an expression of someone who had just worked something out.
“And who are you?” Molly murmured, sleepy and weak, with a hint of the purr in his voice. “I’m glad to wake up held by such a lovely person, but I like names.”
“Ah, Caduceus Clay.”
“Mollymauk Tealeaf. Molly to my friends.” His voice trailed off, whispery and weak.
“It’s nice to make your acquaintance, M..Mollymauk.”
“Molly.” the tiefling sighed. “I think we’re friends.”
That was about all Molly had in him, they packed up everything and made their way back to camp. Yasha set up her bedroll and Caleb’s for space, and Caleb bunked in the same roll as Caduceus. Jester combed some of the dirt from his hair, washed his skin as best she could.
Caleb wept into Caduceus’s chest that night. Quiet and relieved and happy and overwhelmed.
“Is that why you didn’t want me to call you Mr. Caleb?”
“Because that’s his.”
“Because it hurt.”
Caduceus nodded, brushing a kiss over Caleb’s hair. “He seems interesting. I like him.”
“Well, wait till he can walk before you try and sleep with him, okay?”
Caleb jerked, looking up, offended and ready to reassure Caduceus, only to see him lax and serene, smiling down.
“It’s clear he cares, and so do you. When he’s better you can fill him in.”
“He can’t travel with us.”
Caduceus tilted his chin up. “Then send him home to wait for us. He’ll blend in.” and kissed him softly.
The following days were a study in patience. Gently feeding Molly, healing him, helping him walk, and slowly his rough voice evened out. He flirted heavily with Caduceus, who was kind enough to throw him a bone on occasion, in his dopey sweet way.
He flirted a bit more gently with Caleb, who tried to indicate that was fine without making a fool of himself.
“So…You and Caduceus?”
Caleb pulled his waterskin out of the river, handing it to Molly who sat on the bank. “Ja.”
“I’m. Happy for you.”
“Thank you.” He was so focused on filling the skins he didn’t turn.
“Guess I missed my chance with the pretty wizard, and cleric at once.” The tiefling joked, a brittle note underneath.
Caleb waded back with the rest of the skins, and sat, tugging Molly down as he rose to carry some back.
“A lot has changed, Mr. Mollymauk.”
“And you can’t stay with us right now.”
Molly tensed, unhappy, tail drooping. “I know.” All bravado stripped from his voice.
“Tonight, Jester is going to send a message to…a friend, and I’ll send you home. You’ll be on your own for a few weeks, maybe a month or two.”
Molly looked miserable, and it broke Caleb’s heart. He reached out and tilted up Molly’s chin, their faces so close.
“Caleb.” Molly breathed “No. Caduceus…”
Caleb smiled. “ I have news for you, if you want it.”
Molly’s breath came is soft pants. “I’ll always want to listen to you.”
Caleb felt warmth bloom in his chest. Molly was chaotic, and sharp, and deadly, and a boisterous impulsive, hedonistic, wildcard. But with his bluster stripped away, Molly was unbearably sweet.
“I..I’m in an interesting relationship Molly. And I don’t want you to decide now.”
Molly blinked, “My how the tables have turned.”
“I’m with Caduceus.”
“And a drow, named Essik.”
Molly blinked rapidly. “I suppose you’ve been to Xhorhas to meet him.” He teased weakly to coat his surprise.
“Molly. We live in Xhorhas. That’s where the house is.”
“Is…Is the Empire still at war with them?” He asked, voice small, shrinking as Caleb nodded.
“Do you want to hear more right now?”
Molly bit his lip, fangs visible. “What did you want to tell me about…about you?”
Caleb moved back, giving him some space. “Essik, Caduceus, and I, we would be willing to see you too. At least, Caduceus and I already decided.”
“Conversations need to be had before stuff like this.”
Molly nodded, hesitantly.
“There..would be no more hired bed friends. I think you three are all I could handle anyway. Just us four. In this, at least.”
“I…Caleb, I need to think.”
“I’ll think about it…in Xhorhas.”
“If you decide to, you can probably convince Essik to show you around, whatever happens there happens, I won’t judge you or be angry Molly, if you start something with him before you answer me.”
Molly exhaled shakily “I never expected you to be the one proposition me like this.”
Caleb smiled simply. “Let’s go celebrate your last day with us for now.”
Molly, still looking heavy with sadness, stood to follow, scooping up some waterskins. The silence between he and Caleb was comfortable. He was in no way ready to make life choices so soon after hearing the option. But… “Caleb.” the words burst out without him truly meaning to say them.
‘He called me Molly!’ trilled through Molly’s head for a moment as he approached the wizard. “I’m not saying yes. I need a day or so to think.”
“I thought as much.”
“But I died without kissing you and I really want to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
“Molly.” Caleb sighed.
“Just. A yes or a no, one kiss.” Molly stated, setting the skins down and walking closer.
“You’ll have as many as you’d like.” Caleb sighed, leaning down a little to press his lips to Molly’s.
When they separated Molly felt short of breath. It hadn't been an intense kiss, but he still couldn’t breathe. “Alright. Yes, it was a shame to die before that.”
And they retrieved the waterskins and returned to camp.
Molly got hugs. He loved it, of course. Molly loved hugs, and touching and closeness and affection.
He didn’t like goodbyes, or being alone.
“Alright, so, Essik is by the teleportation circle waiting on you Molly, and don’t worry. He seems like a dick, but he’s actually really nice! And he likes Caleb a lot so I mentioned you were a friend so he’ll take good care of you.” Jester babbled, patting him down as if he were a wayward child prone to forgetting his lunch. He fixed the sleeves on his coat, patted a pocket for his tarot cards.
“Molly, we don’t know how long it will be, so here’s 300 gold, alright, there’s food growing by the tree, please don’t break anything.” Yasha fretted in her own way.
“I’ll be fine, we’ve been apart for a year, I didn’t die or anything.” The joke fell flat and Beau punched him in the arm.
Another round of hugs. He nodded to Caleb, he returned Caduceus’s smile, and stepped into the teleportation circle, staggering on the other end, off balance in a stone room with no windows and his heart beating hummingbird fast.
“And you must be Mollymauk.”
Molly startled and turned around. A shock of white in the dark, and oh, okay, there were windows, it was just…night.
“That’s me!” He chimed, taking a dainty step out of the circle, trying to affect a brave face. “You must be Essik.” He held out a hand to shake.
The handsome drow gently took his hand, lifting it to his dark lips. Brushing a kiss over the knuckles that made his knees weak. “Essik Theylas. Please, call on me if you need anything.”
“Allow me to host you for the night, you’re in a strange place, Mollymauk, it wouldn’t be right of me to leave someone so enchanting to flounder.”
Molly found himself mouthing the word ‘enchanting’ quietly to himself.
“Molly, to my friends.” and he could feel his quicksilver smile coming back. This would be an interesting few weeks.