For the entire time Fjord has been with the Nein they’ve never heard his true voice, and that comforted him. For the longest time only Jester knew it, and that was another sort of comfort.
He’s slipped up once, maybe twice, but every time he’s had a choice he adopted the deep, self assured tones that belonged to his Captain, the closest he’d ever had to a mentor, a father… Vandren’s voice soothes him as it rumbles in his chest. A gentle reminder of the man he’d lost, the man he knew before the Sword of Fathoms entered his life. Before he had arcane power at his fingertips and a yellow eyed serpent whispering in his ear, turning dreams into nightmares and weakness into strength. This voice is safe and warm and commands attention, threatening when it needs to be, familiar to him in his very soul.
He enjoys the persona that he wears with that voice, the way confidence finds its way into his stride and the curve of his brow. The way his friends view him as a leader and decision maker and stalwart ally. (Well, most of them anyway. Nott is a special case.)
He’s glad to be with these people who’ve become like a family to him, to fight beside Beau and have quiet moments with Caduceus. To know Caleb has his back, that Jester will make him smile, that Nott will be there to contradict his every word just to press his buttons. To see Mollymauk’s memory stick with them and make them want to be better , knowing that if he could see them now he’d likely laugh his purple ass off at the messes they’ve landed in. Fjord isn’t ready to think about Yasha yet, that mockery of a grin on her face as she cleaved into him making her betrayal burn and smolder deep in his chest, the wound still too fresh to face head on. It’s too much like Sabien, too much like the ship exploding with flame and bursting into splinters as he is thrown to the unforgiving sea, at the mercy of lashing waves and howling winds…
Fjord fears that if his old self were to peak out for even a moment that their trust in him would crumble. The version of him who is an orphan, a too large kid with green skin and tusks that mark him as other , who files down his orcish teeth just to give the other children one less thing to laugh at. The version that stumbles over what to say in a soft voice, nervously using eloquent words that were too big for his young mouth when he first learned them but was still eager to work into daily conversation.
This Fjord fidgets and mumbles and avoids eye contact, keeps his head down, follows orders far easier than he gives them. He doesn’t know magic, or how to wield a sword if it isn’t bound to his soul by an ancient serpent. Not at all like “Captain Tusktooth”, who led his motley crew of fuck ups into the farthest reaches of the Lucidian Ocean. Nothing like Fjord the adventurer, treasure hunter, monster slayer, hero of Alfield, savior to the Krynn Dynasty. He’s just… Fjord. Unremarkable, useless Fjord.
But something changed last night, after Uk’otoa plucked the stars from the sky and made the moon his own eye, wrapped him first in darkness and then in massive tendrils that carried him helplessly to his maw, tearing his body into shreds and crushing his bones before he–
WAKES UP. His powers siphoned away again, a punishment from that old, endless beast for staying far from the sea and searching for solace in the warm embrace of the Wildmother. The falchion resting, as if in warning, behind Beauregard’s sleeping back.
(“I can take away more than just your powers,” it seemed to say, “I can hurt who you love and take away the fleeting happiness you felt in disobeying me.”)
No. No, he couldn’t let that happen.
The kiln was silent save for his companions’ measured breathing, lit only by the molten magma that centuries of legendary craftsman had forged weapons over, as he tiptoed out of the room with bare feet that didn’t leave even a whisper in their wake. (But he’s certain they could hear his rapid heartbeat, beating against his ribs as if it can escape the confines of his chest.)
The voice that left him as he spoke to the air, that damned sword in his hand, was not Vandren’s.
It was his voice, clear, crisp, and yet low and terrifying as he walked to the edge of the magma pool without disturbing a single soul around him.
“You need me more than I need you . Give it back.” Fjord had threatened, holding the point of the falchion to his unarmored chest and sinking it into his skin, risking his life to make Uk’otoa squirm. To force his hand and bring his powers back. He gritted his teeth and forced the blade deep, deeper , daring Uk’otoa to threaten him and his fucking family again while what was likely his last disciple bled out, precious blood dripping and bursting into steam on the magma’s surface.
Silence . No answer came curling into his ear through the pact.
Then he extended his arm and held the falchion out over the magma, that Sword of Fathoms which had been transformed over his journey by the Waste Hunter Blade and Summer’s Dance, mixing the aspects of each blade into an exaggerated form unique only to it, his reflection just barely visible in its golden sheen as he’s lit from below by the molten rock. The crooked tip red from the viscera of his chest.
He held there for several minutes, shaking at the… the finality of what he was considering. Hoping Uk’otoa couldn’t feel the fear that nearly drowned his resolve in icy salt water. Was he capable, truly capable, of throwing away the one thing that truly belonged to him? It’s all he had of Vandren, this sword and his voice...
“I don’t know how long I can hold this.” The steam of his blood on the magma rose up, surrounding Fjord, blocking everything else from sight until it was only him and the falchion, everything seeming to come to a slow, agonizing crawl, his mind racing, breathing shallow, the falchion unnervingly heavy in his grip, until—!
Fjord pulled his arm back and threw the falchion, fear still gripping his heart. It spun in the air, landed unceremoniously, and sizzled in the heat, the magma warping, melting, consuming the metal, the cloven crystal at the hilt staring into his soul. The steam around him cleared as he took a slow, shuddering breath.
What did I just do , he thought, hands trembling still. Freed himself, yes, or at least he desperately hoped so as the falchion continued to melt and sink. No longer a hostage to the whims of an ancient serpent that thought only of domination, that drove people like Avantika mad with zealotry and the promise of power. And now he… had no power at all.
Finally, he pressed a hand to the still bleeding wound in his chest. Almost numb to it. He woke Caduceus, and was healed by the Wildmother through his hand, the self inflicted gash closing completely beneath his stained shirt. Even bleary eyed it felt like he knew exactly what to do, and his half conscious muttering helped to calm Fjord’s nerves. As they spoke in hushed tones away from the rest of the group, Fjord was conscious of how he hadn’t pulled that comfortable facade back up, his mannerisms meeker, lacking confidence, but… Cad didn’t say a word about it. He seemed glad . Proud, even, of what Fjord had done.
“Caduceus, I may be a liability now.” He admitted after recounting what had happened, self conscious and ashamed, staring at his callused hands. The knicks and scars that marred his flesh.
Cad smiled at him in that way that meant he was ready to dole out sage advice, his voice a rumbling purr. “ I entirely disagree . I think you’re quite the asset. I think we’re going to need you. I think if you were a liability, this thing wouldn’t be fighting so hard to keep you.” He leaned to catch Fjord’s gaze with his droopy firbolg eyes that crinkled at the corners underneath white fur, pink hair tumbling over his shoulders. His sincere, knowing smile grew when Fjord looked up at him. “I think you’re valuable , and I think there are powers at play that know that.”
It surprised him how much he needed to hear just that. Fjord blinked, then smiled. “Well let’s hope that we have an extra sword in the bag somewhere.”
“I think we’re gonna have one soon.”
A careful nod. “Good.”
When the two of them went to bed down for the rest of the night in their crowded room, Fjord’s mind still raced. His hands still shook. Every possible consequence taunting him in Uk’otoa’s earth shattering voice. But he fell into a mercifully dreamless sleep nonetheless, the tang of metal and blood still lingering in his nose.
Morning came as it did most days, aside from the fact that they were inside a sacred volcano with writing on the walls in dedication to the Raven Queen, Allhammer, and Wildmother… The Mighty Nein slowly wake up around him, chattering idly and shooting the breeze while wondering what they’ll eat for breakfast, and being delighted when the Dust family offers to make more for them.
Fjord hangs back, listening to the overlapping conversations and opening his mouth, closing it, and repeating as he tries to work up the nerve to just say something, to leave his imitation of Vandren behind and speak in his own voice.
Things are different now. He is different. The sword is gone, his connection to Uk’otoa severed (for now, at least). Maybe they can accept the real him despite all his shortcomings, the way Jessie and Caduceus already had. Fjord shakes all the buts and what ifs out of his head. It’s time to come clean.
“Fjord, do you want some of my bead?” He wasn’t paying close enough attention to know what, exactly, Jester is referring to when she turns to him.
“Yes, please.” Fjord says, almost under his breath, answering automatically as he forces down the urge to hide his real voice again. Jester eyes him curiously as she goes to hand… whatever it is she’s holding over to him. Something round. He’s too nervous to really look at it. Across from where they’re sitting Beauregard gladly takes one of the skewers of meat and bundles it into her bag for later.
Nott raises an eyebrow at him. “Uh, I think you have something caught in your throat, Fjord. Something, like a little bubble.”
“You’re–” Jester sputters, leaning over and whispering conspiratorially, “Fjord, Fjord, you’re not,” she shakes her head and turns a little further away from Nott, “ doing the accent . You forgot it today.”
Before he can lose his nerve Fjord turns to Caleb and says, accent no longer long and drawling but crisp like a fresh ocean breeze, “I’m sorry.” His gaze is downcast as he turns back to Jester. “I’m sorry.”
Beau frowns. “Are you trying to convince someone of something again?”
“I’m sorry to all of you. You caught on, and you’ve known me the longest.” He continues, pointing to Caleb and Jester in succession. His cheeks flush as the entire group turns their attention to him. Even the Dusts are looking, though they’re polite enough not to intervene. “I haven’t been entirely forthright with you, I… I sound like this.”
“Well yeah I know!” Jessie answers, grinning wide.
Fjord chuckles shyly. “I know you know.”
Nott gapes at him. “What do you mean? Like sometimes, all the time, really?”
“Well, most of my life, yes, like this.”
“So what was that other thing you were doing?”
Jessie scoots closer to Nott to whisper, “ His Vandren ” into her big goblin ear.
“What do you mean he’s Vandren?” Nott wrinkled her nose in confusion.
“My captain, Vandren, was a man of great renown and respect and I wanted to emulate him.” He swallows. “I wanted to be him.”
Nott nodded. “So you were talking like him.”
“Yes.” He said, feeling the way he shrank back into himself, keeping his hands closer to his body and holding his head not quite as high.
“Well I liked it,” Caduceus adds pleasantly. “I thought it was fun.”
“Yeah, it was charming.” Jessie agrees.
“Had a night.” Fjord smiles briefly, nodding in thanks. “Caduceus will tell you. Had another dream, Nott, I’m sure you’ll be thrilled.” A pause, uncertainty creeping back in. “I’m swordless today.”
Jester knows what he means immediately, and he’s glad he finally told her last night about losing his powers in Rosohna for the first time. “Like you can’t summon it or something?”
“No.” He holds his hand out to demonstrate just how powerless he is as the falchion doesn’t appear in his hand. “I, um. I threw the sword into the liquid steel last night.”
“It was valuable, wasn’t it?” Caleb pipes up over Nott asking, “Why?”
“Why? I thought you loved that sword.” Jessie asks, concerned.
“Were you just over it, or…?” Beau prods.
“I talked to Jester just before we went to bed and I said I felt like a change was needed, and I– I didn’t like being a pawn or a puppet.” The memory of Uk’otoa nearly makes him shiver. “And I didn’t know where it was going to lead. Also if that’s the last key before this thing is unleashed why not just destroy the…” Fjord ducks his head again and breathes deep, “ fucking key. So, I threw it in.”
“Do you still feel like you have the balls inside you?” Beau asks with her usual dry humor, her smirk making Fjord chuckle. “Or are those gone too?”
“Well, let’s see.” And he waves a hand over himself, attempting to disguise himself as Caleb and failing, as he knew he would.
Nott and Jester gasp in unison, and Jester asks, “What were you trying to do?”
“Uh, let out a fart? No.”
“You’re powerless?” Nott asks.
“I think so.”
“Nonsense, he’s not powerless.” Caduceus smiles proudly. “He’s just discovered a new power.”
“It happened once before. I was having dreams of Uk’otoa commanding me to return and to do things, and I can’t do that.”
Jester’s brows knit together. “But you said it came back before.”
“It did, but that was without throwing it into a pool of lava.” Fjord answers with an absent scratch at his cheek, and for just a moment his mind is occupied with the thought that he should shave before they leave, the beginning of stubble itching his fingers.
Jessie blows out a long breath. “He’s gonna be real pissed”
Beau agrees in a measured tone. “Yeah, he’s gonna be really mad.”
“Wait a second, so you’re weaker than before now?” Nott asks, and Fjord softly says yes. Her big yellow eyes go a little gentler. “But do you feel better?”
He frowns, shrugging and gesturing vaguely. “I feel… I don’t-- I don’t know.”
“Do you feel pure?” Nott urges. “Free? Cleansed?”
“I feel different. I feel less weight and at the same time a bit less…” Fjord tries to shove down the web of insecurities that sticks in his throat. “ valuable . Rare. Different. All of those things. And I know what you’re going to say, I know you would disagree, but I enjoyed the abilities that I had.”
“Yeah no, abilities are dope.” Beau says flatly.
“You’ve done something almost nobody here has done. You just--” Cad turns a big grin to him, and Fjord feels a surge of admiration for the cleric once again, “You changed. That’s amazing.”
“May I ask a question?” Beau waits for him to nod. “Why the choice to drop the accent? Is it--”
“Was it tied to the sword?” Nott interrupts.
“Or did you just feel the events coincided?”
“Everywhere Vandren went,” Fjord begins slowly, “he was heralded as a leader, respected. People quieted as he spoke without raising his voice. That was never quite the case when I talked, it was different. And the first time I adopted that speech and changed the way that I looked, everyone listened. Everyone was quiet. That felt better. So I figured, no Vandren, might as well fill that void and maybe it would suit me. Serve me. I think it did, for a while.” He feels raw at the revelation. But if he can tell anyone about this, it’s them. “Jester sent a message for me last night. Vandren seems to be just fine, not looking for me or searching out anything on his own... he seems to be at peace. That is not how I felt, I don’t feel at peace. That seems wrong. If what we had was the key to a great horror or evil, burying it, hiding it, I think this thing would just point the next poor bloke in it’s direction when it falls into the ocean and he would, or she would, so…” An awkward laugh to break the tension. “Lava, right?”
“All your powers came from that sword?” Nott asks between bites of pocket bacon.
“Well, let’s find out.” Caleb moves closer to Fjord, peeling the glove of blasting from his left hand and reaching out for Fjord’s. The zemnian man slides it onto him with a pat and a nod of his head towards the magma pool. “Here. Aim at the lava.”
Fjord stands up uncertainly, staring at the bright red glove, Jeramis Dust directing him outside so he doesn’t fling molten rock everywhere and set their home on fire. The Nein trail behind him through the tunnel leading out of the mountain. Their surroundings are covered with a fine layer of powdered snow, turning the world soft at the edges.
Right outside the entrance Fjord aims, taking a deep breath (prepared to be disappointed), and flings a firebolt into the cliffside. “But… that’s the glove.” He says with a waver in his voice, turning to where Caleb stands close by.
“Well, but it’s on your hand, so you hold onto that.” Caleb says simply, leaving no room for argument as he looks to Jester. “Where’s that whip?”
(Fjord finds himself tracing the line of the blood pact scar across his palm, losing his voice for a moment as he remembers Caleb’s promise to him in Dashilla’s cave beneath the sea, their blood mingling together as they grasped one another’s cut palm: I'm following your lead here. This is your quest. I have things that I need to do that are not here, and I am going to need help. )
Jessie unhooks the whip from her belt and passes it to Caleb, who nods in thanks. “Ja. You have things that are more useful than this, but for now .”
“I mean you can also have my axe.” Jessie adds without a second thought, holding her handaxe out in front of her.
Nott taps his arm and holds one of her daggers up hilt first. “Here, take this dagger.”
“I have a shield as well,” Caduceus says as Caleb takes the handaxe as well, dumping both it and the whip into Fjord’s waiting arms as he grips Nott’s dagger.
“We will outfit you with them.” Caleb says and even without a clear smile on his face, the fact that he had been the first to share his meager armory with him doesn’t go unnoticed by Fjord. The generosity and-- and care his friends are showing him brings the sting of a tear to his eye.
Beau steps further into the semi circle surrounding him. “Caduceus, do you have Mollymauk’s sword?”
“No, he uh…” He points to Fjord, and Beau finishes the thought with a smile. “Oh, you had it.”
Jessie snickers. “He ate it.”
“I ate it,” Fjord concedes, sighing out a laugh.
“You ate it, that’s right.” Beau chuckles.
“I do have a shield though, if, uh-”
Fjord waves Caduceus off, muttering. “This is more than enough, please--”
“It’s really not, you’re very weak.” Nott answers with a cheeky grin.
“Okay .” Fjord says loudly, nailing her with an exasperated look. “Um, no, I- I appreciate it, I really do.”
“I don’t have anything to give you other than drugs.” Beau states plainly, a little unsure.
Fjord’s eyebrows raise. “I don’t need any drugs.”
“It could, actually, maybe like-”
“If you do drugs you’ll think you’re magical.” Nott teases.
Beau perks up excitedly. “Exactly! Maybe it’ll open something!” Fjord ignores them with a good natured snort.
“You have also talked us out of a good number of scrapes and that has nothing to do with any sword or ball or what have you.” Caleb seems to examine his bare hand, turning it over to eye his own scar from the pact, then looks back to Fjord with the slight curve of a smirk.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with utilizing tools to get you where you are, you know?” Beau says. “Maybe you’re just at a place now where you don’t need those things.”
Fjord clears his throat before addressing the group. “Perhaps. But you have saved my skin and I will be here if I can to save yours,” And smiles at Beau, “First mate.”
She smiles back, warmth in her eyes. “Captain.”
“ So , enough about me.” Fjord interjects, eager to change the subject before he makes a fool out of himself after such a heartfelt exchange. “Let’s go to a city where elves and dwarves mingle, shall we?”
“Before we go,” Nott says, already looking mischievous, “can I just ask, out of morbid curiosity, could you, could you just-”
He sighs heavily. “If you make a comment about my strength, I might throw you into the lava.”
“Well, you couldn’t .” The entire group cracks up at that, barking laughter echoing off the mountainside, and even Fjord can’t help but smile at Nott’s quip. “But, could you, just ‘cause I’m curious, how would you say the words that are spelled e-l-d-r-i-g-e b-l-a-s-t? How- how would you pronounce that, how would you say those words?”
Choosing to disregard her blatant misspelling of eldritch , Fjord says in his cool tone, “Eldritch blast?”
She looks immediately offended even with her grin, holding out the flat “a” as she repeats, “ Blast ? No!! Well, hell!” She drawls, making everyone laugh again at her imitation. “I miss the old way you said it!”
He laughs and humors her with the deep, almost lazy accent, drawing out and emphasizing each vowel. “Eldritch blast.”
“Yes! That’s better, you just drew it out a little longer.”
“You do know I can’t- I can’t do it though, right?” Fjord replies haltingly, back to his real voice.
“The blayst? But you could say it the way I like it?” Nott asks hopefully.
“I’ll say it just for you.” He says with a smile, and Nott seems satisfied.
“And you are very good with accents.” Caleb says encouragingly. “That’s a skill.”
Fjord winks a golden eye back at him. “Some are better.”
“What else you got?” Caleb smirks before Fjord finds him glancing away (embarrassed?), orange hair hanging in his face. “Maybe later.”
Beau interrupted the moment with a quizzical look as she leaned heavily on Fjord’s shoulder. “Since you’re using your fake accent as your real accent and your real accent as your fake accent when you talk to people, does that mean you’re gonna like switch it up now and we’re gonna hear like old-school Fjord? Or I guess technically like middle-Fjord before we knew Fjord, and we got Fjord--”
Nott gave her a flat look. “Should we go?”
“Oh,” Beau blinks owlishly at her as she’s pulled from her train of thought, giving a quick nod. “Yeah let’s go.”
And that was that. (Thank the gods.)
The Nein went about gathering the rest of their things, stopping back inside to bid the Dusts farewell and thank them for breakfast. Almost as quickly as the line of questions began they sputtered out, their minds occupied with the usual hubbub before a day of travel. Jester gave Fjord’s arm a squeeze on their way back in with a twinkle in her eye, her plump cheeks looking even rounder with the way she beamed at him. Caduceus gave him such a look as well, looking more relaxed and pleasantly happy than usual. Beau patted his shoulder supportively, and while Nott and Caleb didn’t do anything specific after that he could still feel Frumpkin winding around his feet to headbutt his shin.
Fjord felt his chest swell with affection and-- and loyalty for the group. This band of chucklefucks who he met by chance not even a year ago thanks to a circus passing through a town in the heart of the Empire, and look at how far they’ve come. How far he has come. Only weeks ago the thought of taking off his mask had been nothing short of terrifying. He could have gone a long time, maybe even the rest of his life, without revealing what lies beneath the facade. Too afraid of rejection and losing what little respectability he had to even consider the possibility.
But the Mighty Nein had accepted him, and it was more than Fjord had dared to hope for in a long time.
Uk’otoa isn’t done with him yet. There’s no way to know for sure how to break free of those bonds, or if throwing his sword away was more symbolic than anything else. Maybe he’ll wake up the next day with powers again. Maybe the sword is still connected to him and he’ll be holding it back in his hand before too long, that crystalline eye still following his every move. But with Caduceus’s guidance, perhaps by the grace of the Wildmother, Fjord feels… lighter. Like breaking free of Uk’otoa’s grip isn’t such an impossible goal.
As they trek down the mountain, chatting and joking and irritating one another, Fjord thinks for a moment that if the Nein can accept and care about the real him, maybe-- just maybe-- he isn’t all that bad after all.