We open on the office of the Director of the Bureau of Balance. Or, Lucretia’s office, for those that know her as such. Few do, and most of those that did have either died or forgotten. But that Story is for a later time, and this one is rather smaller, a page in a chapter of the long, long book chronicling Lucretia’s own life. No doubt written in the journalkeeper’s own hand.
Lucretia’s office is both spacious and cramped, a large space with high ceilings made of glass, to look up at the sky and the strangely single sun and the distant moon that Lucretia had taken inspiration from. The room is painted in blue and accented with silver trim, and it’s full of enormous bookcases of dark wood, chock full of neat rows of neatly placed journals and spell books. There are a few traces of Lucretia’s personality, if you know where to look. A curious collection of sand dollars on one high shelf, an autographed cookbook from a wizard chef tucked into a corner, and a carved wooden duck hidden in a secret drawer, to name a few. Behind her desk is a painting, of the Director at first glance and hiding something at second. The Director stares outward, formidable with her simple white oak staff and reserved smile playing about her lips.
The subject of the painting herself is occupying the chair behind the desk and is currently nowhere near as stately as her canvas portrayal. Her formal robe is surprisingly rumpled, no doubt from her current position with her legs tucked up on the chair, feet braced against the arm rest. Above that her posture is horrible, with Lucretia hunched birdlike over her desk as she feverishly pores over notes and texts, trying to scrap together some trace of the Philosopher’s Stone and the Temporal Chalice, the two remaining unknowns. The gauntlet, the Oculus, and the sash have been reclaimed by her family, the Animus Bell waits deep within Wonderland, and the Bulwark Staff is leaning against her desk chair even now.
And Lucretia is quite literally feverishly poring over her notes. The silence of the still office is broken only by sniffles and coughs, the wastebasket is full of crumpled tissues, and the tea with extra honey for a sore throat that she’d requested earlier from the kitchen has gone cold in the time that Lucretia has become absorbed in her work.
Lucretia is well aware of the fact that she is ill. But it’s just a cold, she insists to herself, and the end of the world does not stop simply because one person is sick. Especially when that person is the one person who can stop it. So Lucretia keeps going, reading and writing, endlessly working.
At least, endlessly up until there’s a familiar pattern of three knocks that makes Lucretia start in shock before the door swings open and Magnus Burnsides strides into her office, stack of paper in hand.
“Sorry to barge in, Director, except not sorry at all, because I have some, uh, very important papers for you to look over.” And Magnus drops the papers squarely on her desk. “Oh, shit. Oh, fuck.” He mumbles to himself as the impact sends the top few flying. He quickly snatches them up and reorders them, sliding them carefully on top of the rest. “Ta-da!” Magnus says with a flourish.
Lucretia looks down on a three inch stack of paper emblazoned with the title, “Reasons Why Dogs Should Be Allowed on the Moon (And Also Should Vote Because Magnus Got Carried Away).” She looks up, immediately schooling her face into her most unimpressed expression.
“Magnus. No dogs are allowed on the moon. They just run right off the damn thing.” Lucretia clears her throat. Can’t be sounding congested right now.
“Aha!” Magnus raises a finger, voice triumphant. “I knew you would say that! But if you would kindly flip to, uh, page 197 section 12B subsection 24C article 8 paragraph 3.”
Lucretia stares at Magnus, unblinking. “Or, and now hear me out, Magnus: I could not.”
“But Director!” Magnus whines, shooting his patented puppy dog eyes at her. Lucretia is unmoved. That shit hasn’t worked since cycle 12. “I worked really hard on this!”
“I appreciate that, Magnus. But I am also working hard. Specifically, on my work to track down the Relics to save the whole goddamn world.” Lucretia gestures widely to her own stacks (plural, Magnus) of papers and books. She starts to cough and attempts to hide it by taking a sip of nearly ice cold tea. At least the coolness does feel somewhat pleasant as it makes its way down her dry, scratchy throat.
“Now hold on! You have Seekers for that!” Magnus says, indignant. “You don’t have to be working on that! You could work on this!”
“I appreciate your assessment of my priorities, but to be entirely frank, Magnus, I… given the use of the voidfish to redact most people’s memories and my role as founder and Director of the Bureau of Balance, I would consider myself to be one of the few remaining experts on the Grand Relics. I need to get this shit done, Mr. Burnsides.” Lucretia sneezes, once, twice, three times. She grabs another tissue, noting Magnus’s eyes track her hand as it moves from the tissue box up to her nearly dripping nose.
“Madame Director… are you sick?” Magnus seems less concerned by the noise Lucretia makes blowing her nose and more by her general state of being. “You don’t seem… honestly, ma’am, you don’t seem like you should be out of bed, let alone working on this whole saving the world business.”
“Magnus, I am your employer, and this conversation is highly inappropriate.” Fuck, shit, and balls, she sounds even more congested after blowing her nose now. How is that even possible? Should she invest in an industrial size pack of cold medicine from the Fantasy Costco? Badger Leon for a gachapon token and see if magical tissue falls out? Her head is starting to swim the longer she looks at Magnus and away from her papers.
“Now hold on.” Magnus crosses his arms, and fuck, Lucretia knows that look in his eyes. He’s not going to let this go. This is going to be worse than dogs on the moon. This will make dogs on the moon look like Magnus angling for the bottom bunk in their dorm with Robbie (of course Lucretia knows about that). “Madame Director. You are clearly in no state to be working. You can’t do your best work if you’re sick. And you’ll only get worse if you don’t take the time for a long rest, do you know what happens? Exhaustion happens. Do you want disadvantage on all your rolls? Don’t you want your HP and spellslots back? Please. Just… a teeny tiny little ol’ nap?” Magnus holds his index finger and thumb together, indicating a teeny tiny amount.
Lucretia slides her legs down to the floor and stands up, hands on her desk, and letting out a deep exhale. “Magnus. I understand your concern, but I-” Lucretia pauses. Magnus is swaying. The room is swaying. The moon is swaying. “I need to sit down.” Lucretia doesn’t so much as sit down as drop, sinking into the chair. It’s supportive for her work, but has it always been so uncomfortable? And when did her robe get so hot? Wasn’t she cold moments ago?
“Director? Director!” Lucretia blinks. Magnus has come around to her side of the desk. “Director, are you- actually, fuck that, you’re clearly not. I’m… Director, is it okay if I pick you up to get you out of here and get some help? Please. You’re scaring me.”
You’re scaring me. Magnus has said those words before, worlds and worlds ago. They’d been out in the middle of a jungle then, hotter than Lucretia feels even now and so humid that it had felt less like walking and more like swimming between the trees along their winding path home. Lucretia had been injured, nearly lost a fight with some particularly vicious fanged plants. They’d been two days away from the Starblaster at least, with no way for the ship to penetrate the thick canopy overhead and Lucretia without the energy and wherewithal to cast Message. Two days, and neither of them had been sure if Lucretia could wait that long.
Magnus had made the journey in one, carrying Lucretia the whole way. They’d made it, both of them.
And unconsciously, Lucretia goes back to the words she’d responded with then, breathlessly whispered to Magnus as he’d marched unflaggingly.
“Magnus, please. It’ll be okay. Don’t worry. I’ll be-” And Lucretia cuts herself off, the cursed words “back soon” viciously silenced and squashed back down. They wouldn’t make sense now, anyway.
“Yeah. It’ll be okay. Please, let me help make it okay.” Magnus, this Magnus, the one who does not know her and who she scarcely knows, is gentler than Lucretia has ever seen him, near as gentle as he could be during that fateful century.
“…Okay.” The word feels like broken glass across Lucretia’s throat as it rises, and she nearly coughs the word out.
Immediately, Magnus scoops her up, easily. Lucretia doesn’t so much as rest her head on Magnus’s chest as not fight against it falling. He is warm, so warm against Lucretia’s cold, and her brother’s heartbeat is just as steady as it should be. She spares half a thought, maybe less than half, to wrap a hand around the Bulwark Staff.
“Oh, shit. Uh, Madame Director? Where do you live? Like, actually sleep and shit?” Magnus doesn’t comment on the staff loose in her grip.
After some vague sort of directions and some distant part of Lucretia fretting that something will happen, that this will somehow destroy her plans, Magnus deposits Lucretia on her bed. “Okay. Now, uh… I’m gonna… okay, I’ll get some tea, with extra honey and like… two squeezes of lemon. Maybe lavender? That sound good?” Magnus has kept his traditional solution to every kind of illness even across time and space and forgetting both. “And I’m gonna… get some help.”
Lucretia nods. When did she close her eyes? After what seems like a very short time but could have been much longer, Magnus is back. She can tell even with her eyes closed. He walks the same. And he’s not alone. Lucretia forces her eyes open.
Magnus is placing a cup of tea on the nightstand, fragrant and steaming and quite possibly as hot as Lucretia feels, and in the doorway stand Carey and Killian.
“Uh… hi, Director.” Killian says, half awkwardly. Carey waves, finding the other half of the awkwardness.
“I, uh, asked them for help. And a few others. But, well, figured that robe probably was none too comfy and pajamas are and… I’m gonna… go now.” Magnus quickly exits the room, squeezing past Carey and Killian.
Lucretia laughs breathlessly. “I appreciate the arrival, but I don’t need the assistance.”
“Director.” Carey says, more seriously than Lucretia often sees the Dragonborn about anything besides successfully pickpocketing Taako (she doesn’t even try with Lucretia herself anymore). “Can you even stand up?”
Lucretia considers. “Hm. You have me there.”
When Magnus comes back in some ten minutes later, Lucretia is dressed in her softest blue pajamas, tucked under a downy blanket in bed, and sitting against a mountain of pillows, most of which had to have been stolen by Carey. She’s holding the cup of tea, now half empty.
“Hi, Director.” Magnus says, looking surprisingly sheepish. Lucretia tilts her head to the side, already feeling more alert for the tea and sitting comfortably. And not being a full Bulwark Staff’s length deep in paperwork. That might have something to do with it as well, yes. “Oh. Uh. Well.” Magnus scratches at the back of his neck and then tugs at his sideburns. “I was thinking you might be… annoyed with me now. For rushing in and getting involved. And getting other people involved.”
Ah. Makes sense. Lucretia tilts her head to the other way; there’s an awful lot of banging coming from the small private kitchen in her quarters that she only ever uses for tea and cereal. “Magnus. I’m not… angry. It’s hard for me to admit, but your actions were entirely reasonable. I was and am in no state to continue my current work, and it’s to no one’s benefit if I continue to press on well past my limits until I collapse. If I’m not here to run shit, who knows? You’d probably bring a dog on the moon.”
“Shit! I could have gotten a dog!” Magnus says, snapping his fingers as he settles into the chair in the corner of the room, pulling out his carving knife and a currently roughly hewn block of wood. “I’m just joking though. I would not trade your health for a dog on the moon. Probably.”
“I’ll take the probably.” Lucretia declares solemnly. And continues listening. “What is that noise?”
“Oh! That’s-” And Magnus’s question is answered as the door opens, a purple Mage Hand grabbing the handle. The reason for this Mage Hand is clear as Taako passes through, both hands holding a tray with a bowl, a glass of juice, and what Lucretia would estimate is approximately a gallon of water.
“All right!” Taako states as he approaches, carefully placing the tray across her lap. “Soup’s not entirely homemade for, uh, personal reasons, had to make due in your shitty tiny kitchen. Full offense there, ma’am, can’t do shit in there. But it’s food and it’ll go down easy. Juice has a ton of citrus and vitamin C in it, which won’t actually help medically, unless you have scurvy, learned that from a podcast, but it’ll taste nice. And water.” Taako points an accusatory finger straight at Lucretia. “Hydrate that shit. Dehydration is bad.”
“Yes, Taako. Lovely to see you, too.”
“Cool. Now, uh, feel better and all that, Madame Director. Get some sleep and shit. Spoiler alert: humans need that.”
“I’ll be sure to keep that in mind.” Lucretia watches Taako. The affect is there, the careful nonchalance and the practiced levity, but Taako is concerned, from the tips of his perked ears to the white knuckles of his hands on the tray. The soup is likely a result of his experience with Glamour Springs, the pain of which courses like poison through Lucretia herself. How could she let this happen? How did she let any of it happen?
“Hey, uh, Director. You… don’t die, okay?” Taako says, and Lucretia nods. Taako looks to Magnus, and Magnus looks to Taako. Taako nods, and then he’s gone. Lucretia misses her brother already.
Carey and Killian return and chat with Lucretia as she finishes her tea, making her laugh and causing them both to exclaim with worry and Magnus to quickly look up from his carving as tea very nearly comes out her nose. There’s several shavings at his feet. But after blowing her nose with a series of honking noises, Lucretia is fine.
Johann is next, too casually playing snippets of songs he’s composing and thinking of feeding to the voidfish, but maybe not, you know. Lucretia puts down her juice and closes her eyes, feeling the music swell and wrap around her much as her blankets do. She doesn’t even put in a token protest when Johann leaves a rough draft of his mixtape on the stack of books on her nightstand.
Brad comes in briefly, and Lucretia thinks he might actually cry in relief when he sees that she’s actually resting, considering the number of times over the years that Brad has tried and failed to get her to do exactly that. When Brad asks Magnus how he’d managed, Magnus shrugs and simply says, “Guess she just has to be tired enough.” Brad also nearly shrieks with dismay when Lucretia attempts a joke about him bringing in some of her paperwork while Magnus just shakes his head. Finally, Brad’s visit comes to an abrupt end when Avi ducks his head in to wish her well and just happen to have the cannon blueprints with the proposed updates on hand, and Brad nearly chases him out.
Angus stops by, and Lucretia carefully encourages the precocious young boy into reading aloud from his Caleb Cleveland novel, privately delighting in her youngest employee taking the time for far less dangerous, far more age appropriate activities as she slowly eats her soup. The base soup isn’t Taako’s, that much is clear, but he’s added some spices to give it more flavor and a few herbs to help reduce fever. And it’s the thing most reminiscent of home cooking that she’s tasted in quite a while. Lucretia is smiling as she puts her tray on her nightstand.
Davenport comes in soon after, concern writ across his face in a way that, right now at least, words fail to express. Lucretia reassures him that she’s fine, just a little sick (after all he’s seen her so much worse in the past ten years), but Davenport carefully studies her until he’s satisfied. Magnus likely doesn’t even realize that he gives Davenport a casual salute as his captain leaves the room again.
There is one more guest, perhaps more unexpected than you’d think.
“Why did no one call me?” Merle’s voice fills the room with irritation and dwarven indignation.
Lucretia chuckles. “My apologies, Merle. I think we all assumed this was too trifling a matter for your vast abilities.”
“Or you just suck at healing, old man.” Magnus quips automatically, and Lucretia hides a smile as Merle sputters, muttering about the audacity of the young and the human and the very likely to take damage what with being a meat shield, Magnus. “Anyway! Allow me.”
“Merle, it’s a cold.” Lucretia points out.
“So those don’t take too kindly to healing spells. I’ll get some bedrest and some fluids and-”
“You’re not even gonna let me try?!”
Merle rests a hand on hers, and for the first time in a long time, Lucretia feels the hum of Merle’s divine magic reach out to her, green and growing and vibrant. It reaches out to her congested sinuses and sore throat and aching, fever-warm head and then retreats. Merle opens his eyes, looking sheepish. “Yeah, well, you know, anyway, it is in fact just a, you know, just a cold. That does not want to be treated with magic. Of course. As we all know! Just like how you can’t treat colds with fantasy antibiotics! Except it’s magic. So, uh, my advice as a very, very talented cleric is...” Merle pauses for dramatic effect. “Bedrest and fluids!” He announces as though presenting some fantastical prize.
But then, some of this, to Lucretia, has been a fantastical prize. Because much of it has been something she thought she’d lost forever. “Thank you, Merle,” Lucretia says, warmly and sincerely, and Merle’s eyes crinkle up with his genuine smile.
“Now, uh, more people to heal, more nature to commune with, you know how it is.”
“Oh, I most certainly do.” Lucretia nods, agreeing, voice dripping with gravitas.
“So! Away! I! Gooooooooo!” Merle waggles his fingers at her as he backs out the door. “Ow!” Lucretia hears from an out of sight Merle, who presumably walked backward right into a table.
“So.” Magnus says, from where he’s been sitting in the corner. Lucretia’s eyes flick to the floor. Where initially there had only been one or two shavings there is now a small pile that Magnus scoops up and unceremoniously dumps in a pocket. Lucretia looks up to Magnus. “Now, uh, I… I haven’t really done this a whole lot, not in… a while, but it’s like riding a bike you know, you never forget how, so uh… here.” Magnus hands her a wooden duck. Lucretia takes it as though it is more delicate than glass and more valuable than gold. To her, it really is. It’s soft under her fingertips; Magnus had even taken the time to sand it somewhere along the way when she hadn’t been looking. “It’s not perfect, but it’s the best I can do.” Lucretia’s heart jumps, somehow finding the room within her swollen throat to take up residence there.
“It is perfect,” Lucretia says, voice raspy, and she thanks Istus that her voice was already raspy from the cold, so she has plausible deniability as to the way emotion colors it now.
“No, no, you don’t have to say that!” Magnus waves a hand. “Just, uh, carving keeps my hands busy and there was a lotta shit to take care of for you, so uh… yeah. Yeah.” Magnus finishes.
“Thank you, Magnus.” Lucretia says softly, and there’s so much more to it, the care and the duck and the friends and the family. The loved ones she thought she’d lost forever even now granting her that love back.
“Don’t mention it,” Magnus says, and Lucretia nods, yawning. “Now, you should probably actually get some rest. You know, that whole thing that all this was about?”
“Probably a good idea.” Lucretia acknowledges with a smile, and she’s still smiling as she’s lying in bed, with the lights off, the door closed, and Magnus’s footsteps fading away. She’s still smiling as she falls asleep.