Actions

Work Header

Undeclared

Chapter Text

Undeclared

 

Chapter 1: Mollymauk, lost

.

.

.

        He was surprised he had made it this far, Mollymauk had always thought he’d drop out of such a prestigious school. And yet his friends had made sure that was not the case. He had somehow managed to impress the faculty of the Solstyce Academy, where he was one of the few non-human students that had managed to get in. Of course, being a tiefling had brought its complications, some humans had not liked him...but he had managed to worm his way into being sought out by one of the most honored Houses on campus. Mollymauk was at the biggest party of the winter currently, covered in ale and tossed outside after having been humiliated in front of the entire Scourger Society (or Vollstreckers), where the smartest magic practicing students went. 

        He had been promised a spot there, that he would graduate with honors, he had slept with almost every member, assisted them in practice, worked hard, sucked up to Trent who was the president of the society. And then at his ‘welcoming ceremony’ they had called him horrible names, pushed him down, poured drinks on him, and laughed at him for being so gullible. 

        “Why would we want a devil-tongued skank in our society?” Molly hissed the words, pushing himself upright on the cobblestone, not nearly drunk enough for this. His hair was disgusting now and he would have to dry-clean his coat. He was freezing too. 

        The door opened and he heard footsteps approaching, he stood on shaky legs, determined not to let any emotions shine through until he was back in his dorm. Molly turned to look at whoever had approached. 

        “What?” He asked, brushing some snow and dirt off his knees.

        “I got the message, I’m not wanted. I won’t waste your time anymore.” Mollymauk huffed, sniffling some as he wiped a bit of blood from his nose. The human put a finger to his lips, and Mollymauk had half a mind to give him a piece of what the Vollstreakers had given him before the man spoke. 

        “Quiet. They cannot know I am out here.” Mollymauk narrowed his eyes, distrusting at first, and watched as the man in front of him raised his hands, mumbled words quietly tumbling from his mouth. Before he could ask what in the hell he was doing, Molly’s coat glowed softly, and he felt warm. His eyes snapped down just in time to see the stains of ale and blood disappearing into thin air, leaving his clothes as clean as they had been that morning. 

        “My...my coat.” Molly whispered, slipping the garment off and inspecting it closely. To his delight he found no stains, everything was in place, including the small tear that had appeared during the havoc. 

        “There. You must have been freezing, you could have gotten sick walking back home.” His eyes raised to the person in front of him. The man was averaged sized, but a bit underweight it appeared. His hair was ginger and he wore a scruffy beard that made him look a little older than he probably was. But his eyes were piercing, blue like the sky or the moonflowers Mollymauk loved to collect when he found himself in Xhoras, which wasn’t often. Slowly, he approached the other, slipping his coat back on and wrapping it around himself for warmth. 

        “This is my favorite coat, I always find a reason to wear it on special occasions. You see, it has quite a good number of religious symbols on it. Made it myself...so it means a lot that you cleaned it, thank you.” He raised a finger and wiped the blood on his face with it, tracing a pattern into his palm and whispering some words in Infernal before an orange rose appeared in his hand. 

        “Here,” Mollymauk whispered, offering it to the other. “It matches your hair.”

        Calloused fingers brushed his own as he let go of the flower, his lips forming a small smile as he saw the man’s eyes soften some. 

        “Danke…” He murmured. 

        “I was freezing...by the way. So...thank you again, I feel much better. You didn’t have to help.”  He turned and shrugged.

        “They were right though, you know. They said I was gullible, I should have known...and I think deep down I did all along. But I held onto that one chance that maybe I’d succeed in something. I suppose that was rather childish of me.” He sighed, looking up into the night sky, feeling a little more calm as he gazed at the crescent moon. 

        “It was not foolish of you at all...they are cruel. Elitist. But they offer what no one else can. A full ride to Cerberus Assembly to train...the hardest grad school to get into. It is that reason why they can do what they do.” Mollymauk nodded solemnly, giving a small sigh. Yes. The Cerberus Assembly, the most prestigious place to train and meet mentors if someone was a magic user. Unfortunately, they did not have any other race but human in their programs. Mollymauk had thought that maybe if he got accepted in there he could change the world, perhaps stop his homeland from more torment. He shook his head, that dream was dead. 

        Mollymauk turned and pat the other’s shoulder, giving him a toothy grin. 

        “Well, thank you for keeping me clean and dry, love. I’m not sure if we’ll see each other again but if you are interested, my friends and I have a special place in the campus gardens. One of them works for groundskeeping as his job, he took a place they were going to destroy because nothing would grow and turned it into his own personal alcove where it’s always spring. So um….yeah! Goodnight!” Mollymauk turned to leave, almost slipping on the ice but thanking his tail for helping him catch himself and keep balance. 

        “Wait…!” He stopped as the human hissed out the word desperately. 

        “What is your name?” 

        Mollymauk turned, blood red eyes travelling from the man’s boots up to his head. He was rather cute...shy and obviously incredibly anxious...but cute. It was nice to know that not every Vollstreaker was a complete and utter asshole. This one seemed good...this one had helped him after he had endured some horrible things. It was such a small gesture, but Mollymauk lived off his instincts, and they told him to step closer to the man. So he did. Leave every place better than he had found it...that was his motto. He could leave this House with the prospect of a new friend perhaps. 

        He strutted back and grinned wide, bowing at the waist dramatically.

        “Mollymauk Tealeaf, a ridiculous name for a ridiculous man. But most just call me Molly.” He winked, straightening up and holding out his hand for the other to shake. 

        “...There are many awful men and women in that building...but you sir, you are not one of them. I won’t forget what you did for me tonight, and if I could; I’d make a House of my own that would make theirs look like utter shit.” He smirked. 

        “Now, what’s your name, love?” Molly purred, leaning closer, tail flicking back and forth. Oh this boy was adorable. He couldn’t let him walk back into the lion’s den! It would be a crime. This sweet natured human had come out and helped him, risking his own safety to do so, and Mollymauk didn’t want to leave him behind. A warm hand grasped his own, giving a little squeeze.

        “Caleb...call me Caleb. Caleb Widogast.” He introduced, Molly smiling. 

        “Mister Caleb~ Hello there.” Caleb seemed to flush some at his attention, and he brought his hand away from his own. 

        “I...am sorry for what happened in there. I only wish I could have stopped them in the first place.” Caleb whispered, looking away from him in what looked to be shame. Mollymauk chuckled, shaking his head. 

        “I don’t blame you for not stepping in. Don’t worry, you’re not the one I hate. It’s them.” He assured. Caleb looked up at him, standing a little bit shorter than him but not much. 

        “It was a pleasure to meet you, Mollymauk. I hate to leave you so quickly, but if they find out I am gone they will know I helped you. Be careful on the way home, ja?” Caleb clutched the rose to his chest, and Mollymauk smiled softly.

        “May the Moonweaver grant you safety in these next few days, Mister Caleb. I would hate for you to get in trouble because of me~” He purred. With that, Caleb disappeared back inside the house, and Mollymauk stood for a moment, the silence of the night surrounding him once more, the only noise being the dull roar of the party inside. 

        He then turned with a flourish and left. He found himself wandering towards Fjord’s apartment that he had off-campus. Fjord was not happy to see what had happened to Mollymauk, fussing over him and helping him get cleaned up and insisting that he stayed the night with him and Jester. He spent the whole night talking to them about the cute Vollstreaker boy who had helped him, who was the one good soul in that house, who had fire blessed hair and sad eyes. 

        “You literally got the shit beat out of you, and yer thinking about some pretty boy?” Fjord deadpanned, sitting on the bed with Jester curled into his side, wrapped in a blanket.

        “I think it’s romantic~!” Jester sighed, looking up at Fjord. The half-orc Warlock rolled his eyes, leaning back against the headboard. 

        “I don’t know. He cleaned your clothes...and that feat makes him a savior? I mean...maybe if he had walked you home, cleaned up the wounds on your face but….he didn’t.” Fjord wasn’t convinced and kept giving Mollymauk his infamous ‘I’m not impressed’ facial expression. 

        “I told you that he couldn’t! He had to sneak out to help me because if the other Vollstreckers saw him helping a tiefling they would have hurt him...he was doing what he could. Don’t judge too soon, darling.” He hummed, laying down and nestling his head onto Jester’s lap. Her fingers thread through his purple curls, and the blanket she was curled up in was soon draped over his chest. 

        “Well...my intuition has never led me astray, and-”

        “Bullshit, Mollymauk.”

        “Fjord! You are interrupting.” He pouted, making Fjord huff.

        “ANYWAYS. My intuition has never led me astray, and I think Caleb Widogast is a good man. Troubled, most definitely...but a sweet soul. And to prove it to you...I invited him to have lunch with us tomorrow.” He smiled, Fjord stiffening and snapping his gaze down at him.

        “I’m sorry WHAT!?” Fjord shouted, making Jester roll her eyes while Mollymauk cackled.

        “I invited him to lunch as thanks!” 

        “I heard what ya said! But why!? You’re lettin’ a VOLLSTRECKER, a fuckin’ SCOURGER into our sacred garden?” He accused. Jester leaned up and grabbed his face, kissing him firmly for a good ten seconds before pulling away.

        “I had to shut you up, you were panicking and that isn’t good for your sleeping habits, especially with Ukutowa...uko…-”

        “Uk’utoa.” Fjord corrected.

        “Yeah, him! Anyways, Molly’s right. Caleb didn’t have to help him, but he did! If Molly wasn’t absolutely sure he wouldn’t invite him. He’s been with the Vollstreckers for months but he never bought any of them back. So I trust him!” She said seriously, throwing an arm over Molly’s shoulders. 

        “Thank you, love.” Molly purred, snuggling closer. Fjord, seeing he was outnumbered, just sighed and relaxed.

        “Fine…”

.

.

.

Chapter Text

Undeclared

Chapter 2: Caleb, Found

.

.

.

        Caleb had never enjoyed being a part of the Scourgers, or more famously known as the Vollstreckers. It was more of a side effect from being one of the most hard-working and intelligent students on campus. And he was not flattering himself. He came from humble origins, barely able to attend even with his various scholarships he had earned from multiple perfectly scored tests and wizarding competitions. Caleb was in the unfortunate situation where if he lost even a few dollars here and there he might not be able to make his tuition. So, when offered a position in the famous Vollstrecker House of Gifted Wizards, he knew that it had been his only chance to finish college. So, Caleb studied hard, and groveled harder. Sure, things with Trent and the others were awful, more often than not, but it kept him enrolled. 

        But last night bad been brutal. With a capital B. Brutal. Caleb had not participated, but he had heard all of it. The sounds of it all had made it hard to study, his readings had been supposed to distract from the violent conclusion he knew would come. But it didn’t work. Astrid had come over and complained that it was childish, she had also been studying in the room across the hall. Wulf, on the other hand, had delightfully taken advantage of the opportunity, stating that he wanted to ‘relax and unwind a little’. It all made Caleb sick to his stomach. He didn’t know what inspired him last night, or what in him snapped, but when he had seen the tiefling’s body thrown into the snow from his window he couldn’t take it anymore. Mollymauk had just laid there for a good moment, the snow soaking into his clothes and hair, it tugged at his throat and made him want to scream. 

        He stared at the orange rose that he had displayed on his little shelf with the small amount of personal belongings he had. Astrid had asked him where he had found the rose when she came to say goodnight, Caleb had not answered her. He stood up, shouldered his bag, and let out a deep breath before heading to class. He already had a plan, during his lunch break he would tell the others he was going to ‘study’...then he would investigate this ‘special place’. Something about Mollymauk Tealeaf intrigued Caleb, and he had to see him again.

.

.

.

        It was not all that hard to find them once he knew what he was looking for in the gardens. A few minutes to cast Detect Magic and he was on his way. The far corner of the gardens was practically pulsing with light and when he arrived he could see why. Every single person that he could see sitting around Mollymauk gave of some sort of magical aura or another. The array of colors was rather beautiful. But having found what he was looking for he dropped the spell quickly, especially when he was noticed by the tall Firbolg near the tree that was sipping some tea. There was a blue tiefling near him, lying on her stomach and studying a flower intensely as she sketched in a sketching pad. 

        “As a Cleric in training, I want to know my plants super well! And since I like art, I find it easier to memorize herbs when I draw them.” The blue colored female chirped. The Firbolg chuckled and nodded to her before tilting his head at Caleb. 

        “Welcome, stranger. We don’t see many new people this far into the gardens...are you lost?” The other asked, making Caleb swallow his nerves so he could speak. 

        “Um, Hallo...I-I do not believe I am lost. I was looking for...for Molly...actually.” All eyes were on him now, and he began to feel even more nervous, fingers playing with the edge of his coat. Molly’s eyes were bright and welcoming, excited even. But the half-orc’s gaze was neutral, but Caleb could tell that underneath the golden stare of the other was judgement and distrust. Not that he blamed him. He began to feel too hot under the eyes of the others, and he tried to look anywhere but at them as he bit his lip. 

        “Um...I-I can go.” Caleb murmured, taking a step back. He felt stupid. Why did he think this was a good idea? The humans on campus never treated other races kindly, why would they even waste their time with a stupid-

        “No! Don’t go!” He recognized Molly’s voice calling for him, and when he turned around the tiefling was bounding over to him. The tiefling took his hand, makin Caleb flich slightly. 

        “Don't mind them, they'll grow fond of you, I promise. We don't have many humans who want us around campus you see, so we stick together is all.” Mollymauk tugged him towards where he was sitting, and Caleb followed easily enough, settling into the grass and still not looking at the curious eyes that were set upon him. 

        “This is Caleb, everyone! The nice man who magicked my coat dry and clean~” He heard Molly chirp, and he raised his head to see reactions. The half-orc didn’t seem very amused by his presence, the single nod and a quiet- “Welcome, Caleb.” Being his only reaction.

        Caleb felt slightly intimidated by his sharp features and piercing eyes. But before he could allow himself to grow more anxious there was another tiefling demanding his attention, a cute blue tiefling who bounded over, shoving her hand out to shake his own. 

        “Oh my gods I’m so glad you came! Molly like, wouldn't shut up about you last night, you really made him happy ~” The woman leaned closer, her nose wrinkling some.

        “Why do you smell weird?” She asked. Caleb flushed, embarrassed.

        “ I-It was probably the party last night, Jester. They were burning incense and other...more illegal, substances, that paired with the alcohol....it made for a strange smell. I'm sure Caleb isn't the only one to carry that on his clothing today.” Caleb was grateful for Molly answering for him, giving a little nod to affirm him. Jester, the blue tiefling, moved back to her spot to munch on her food. And in her place a Firbolg reached out, offering some tea to Caleb, freshly brewed. 

        “We appreciate you helping our friend, we did warn Molly but he isn't known for listening.” Caleb let out a little chuckle, Molly just smirked and shrugged, not arguing. 

        “The tea is lemongrass and ginger. A good pick me up in the middle of the day. I hope you like it. Would you care for some homemade bread, marmalade, and boiled eggs?” Caleb felt a little overwhelmed with all the kind offerings and welcomings, this was not what he had expected, it was nice but...not something he was used to. He murmured a soft ‘danke’ to the pink haired gentleman, allowing himself another sip of tea. It was delicious, it felt almost as if warmth spread through his chest and through his limbs. Another sip and the warmth continued, bringing renewed energy. It was incredible. 

        "This is very good, danke. Really, it is incredible.” Caleb returned, taking the offered bread with a quick, small smile and as he tried to ignore those greenish-gold eyes as they watched his every movement. He noticed the other tiefling, Jester, was pouting at the half-orc.

        "Fjord! Be nice. He is a good man if Molly allowed him here of all places." She said, crossing her arms. Fjord sighed, sipping his tea. 

        "Fine....sorry for starin', Caleb. So what do you major in? I'm in the Warlock Department, Jessie there is with the Clerics, and Molly....well, Molly is undeclared still." He chuckled. Caleb shook his head at the apology, 

        "It is alright. You have every right to be wary. I am a stranger and I am human, part of the Scourgers, who have hurt your friend. Separately all good reasons to be on guard...together, well, I am shocked you have not thrown me out." His eyes went to each person mentioned, taking mental notes of each one. 

        "I am studying arcane magics within wizardry. I have no innate magic, so I must have a spellbook and components." He left out his potential acceptance into the Cerberus Assembly upon graduation. Not only did it feel like bragging, but he wasn't even sure he wanted it.The Firbolg spoke up next, trying to soothe the human’s worries. 

        “My name is Caduceus Clay,” He offered Caleb some butter and marmalade. 

        "Molly welcomed you in...and if Molly thought you were good enough to be brought here, then I trust his judgement." He said simply, looking to Molly who seemed relieved. Caleb gave Caduceus a small smile as he took the butter and listened to the others talk.

        "Ja! I mean...like, NO human has come here. We scare them off with my thaumaturgy! Makes them scream like little babies~" She giggled, looking over to Fjord who seemed to have relented his judgement for the time being and had begun passing some of his hard boiled eggs and some seasoning to Caleb, who was surprised at the offer, but nonetheless accepting of the food given.

        "Yup...welcome, Caleb. Wizardry is an interestin' major. With no innate magic I'd say it's even more impressive when you cast spells quick." He complimented. Jester seemed rather excitable while Fjord looked to be the protector of the group. 

        "Not as quickly as some, but with the right components and dedication I would like to think I can keep up." Caleb murmured. Mollymauk smiled at him, patting his shoulder gently. Even the gentle touch that Mollymauk gave made him tense even if he didn't flinch. He knew the tiefling was just trying to be friendly but Caleb rather wished he wouldn't touch him. Though with his anxiety through the roof he said nothing about it. 

        "I'm not sure what I want to major in yet. I know I’m a third year...right now I’m technically a Magical Studies Major. That way I can take different classes...but really I just chose that because I HAD to put down a major at the end of my first year.” Molly explained next, looking over at Caleb as he spoke. 

        “Caduceus has offered to let me join in on some druid classes he takes, but he is a cleric like Jester. Maybe I'll be a religions major..." He hummed. 

        "Phht...I doubt they'll be acceptin' of the religion you'd wanna study." Fjord chuckled. 

        "Alright then, there must be a major for tarot reading then." The brightly colored tiefling pouted. 

        "When you open your mind and stop conning people, i'm sure you could." Caduceus teased. Mollymauk rolled his eyes. 

        "I could be an oracle! I could, you know! Telling fortunes with my cards and crystals, you'll all be calling on me soon enough~" He laughed, stretching. Caleb sat quietly, more than happy to watch and listen as the others spoke and went about their lunches. However, Jester had other plans. She dug through her bag, tail swishing before she emerged again, holding a bag of goodies. 

        "Look what Nott stole for me today!! The greedy bastards in the rich houses don't ever share the pastries....but Nott has sticky fingers, AND-" She pulled out a bun and handed one to Caleb.

        "Sticky buns~" She winked, passing them around. "To Caleb! Welcome fellow misfit!" She giggled. At the mention of Nott Caleb perked up. 

        "You know Nott? She sneaks me small snacks and things when I see her for alchemy lessons. Master Ikithon thinks it is a waste of my time, but I very much enjoy her company so I insist." He took one of the buns with a slightly bigger smile than before, knowing they were from Nott. She was the closest thing he had to a friend here and she was technically a staff member. But now, he had this...whatever this was. As he raised his sticky bun he felt for the first time in years that he wasn't alone.

        Jester's eyes widened. "YOU know Nott!? That's so awesome! You must be cool if Nott likes you~" She said with a grin, handing Mollymauk a bun. 

        "We call her mom, she's sooo nice! Sometimes, if she has the time, she'll join us here! Or if we're on campus and need a faculty member's assistance we call for her." She explained, then gasped. 

        "Mollyyyy! You should take alchemy!" She squealed. "Then you and Caleb can study together!" Mollymauk finished his bite, blushing a bit. 

        "Ah...I-I doubt I'd be any good at it. I'm barely passing my general education classes as it is. Doesn't help I didn't learn to read until the year before I came here...and maths? Ugh. Numbers give me a headache." He sighed. Caleb munched on the snacks he had been offered and filed away all kinds of information that was exchanged during this conversation. That was part of what he was trained to do; listen, watch, observe and learn. Analyze the people, the situation and calculate weaknesses. That was not why he listened currently, but Trent's voice still lingered in the back of his mind. 

        "You're quite talented with science. You have a good memory and you're good with words too, so memorizing things seems to come naturally." Caduceus said simply. 

        "And history, I hear people from your class muttering about you having the highest marks on tests. Don't doubt yourself so soon, Molly. You have magic in you, you just need to find a way to unlock it." The Firbolg insisted.

        "Y-Yeah.” Molly murmured, and Caleb noticed the soft tinge of magenta on his cheeks. The man must be sensitive about school marks. 

        “Yeah you guys are right. Just gotta...find a way to unlock it." Molly hummed. He turned to Caleb, looking shy for the first time in a while. 

        "...If I joined alchemy class, would you tutor me? I'm new to magic and sometimes I can use my innate powers and sometimes I need components. I could sit next to you in class...pass notes...." He winked, giggling. 

        "Ja, of course. I am no expert, but I can help you." He wasn't sure how often he could get away in order to tutor Molly but he would try his best...His cheeks turned red at the wink and this time he could not blame the weather.

        "So, Caleb, how did you come to know mother? Well...Nott." Molly changed the subject, much to Caleb’s chagrin.

        The true story of how he met Nott was...not pleasant. It could very likely get her and Caleb in trouble. He was not a good liar but he knew he had to try, to keep Nott out of trouble at the very least. 

        "There was a party of sorts at the house...one of the rare times Master Ikithon lets people in and when we are to be on our best behavior." It was all a lie, of course, whether the other professors knew the truth Caleb couldn't guess. All he knew was that they all said nothing. If all the Vollstrecker students wore long sleeves, no one thought it was out of the ordinary. If they came to class glassy-eyed and catatonic then they were just overworked. If Trent kept them from leaving the house unless necessary, he was only keeping them out of trouble. Caleb realized he had been silent for a long while and shook himself out of it. 

        "Um, anyway...she was there and we spoke a little. I started taking her class and we just clicked I guess. She is very nice." Caleb appreciated that no one asked him about his silence. 

        “That's wonderful~" Mollymauk cooed. 

        "We met her when Cad was buying us weed!" Jester grinned, making Fjord almost give himself a black eye from face-palming so hard. Caleb also was a bit blown away by it, sharing a look with him. As his mind was his weapon Caleb was not too keen on substances that would alter or dull it. Though he did not judge others for the use of such things. Not to mention, he doubted he could get away with such things without Trent or one of the other Vollstrecker students noticing. 

        "She was there too! She's not our dealer, but she was like...sooo worried we'd out her or use it as blackmail. But we didn't! Life fucking sucks so like...sometimes you just gotta smoke. You know? Oh! If you ever need some, let me know. Cad is the best at keeping the smell from travelling or sticking to clothes, aren't you Cad?" She sang. The Firbolg nodded, refilling Caleb's teacup. 

        "Mhm. Just a few spells, homebrewed of course, grew up in a home where that kind of magic was necessary. You seem a little stressed, I know exams happened this past week. You must be exhausted." He offered. 

        "That is a kind offer but I think I will hold off on the weed. But don't worry, I will not tell anyone. I am very good at keeping secrets." Perhaps too good. 

        "Mister Caleb," Molly started, pausing to thank Caduceus as he refilled his tea as well. 

        "We do weekly meditations here in the gardens. It helps us stay alert and our minds focused. If you'd like to join us, we do it on Thursday evenings after supper, the walk here from the middle of campus is long enough to let our stomachs settle." He said. Caduceus gave a nod. 

        "Of course, I lead the meditations, and I am always open to new members." Caleb just nodded, but he stared down into his teacup, finishing the rest of it before setting it down.

        "I-I do not want to sound ungrateful...but, you all hardly know me and you are letting me join in on things, you are giving me food and telling me about your drugs..." He trailed off, not sure where he was going with all he was saying. 

        "You are being so nice to me and I have done nothing for you." His eyes flicked to Mollymauk, 

        "Except you...but that was a cantrip, a trick, nothing more. Anyone could have done that. I am sorry to sound rude, I just don't understand." For the past few years Caleb had come to view kindness as a disguise. When Trent was nice it usually meant he was planning something awful. When the other Vollstrecker's were good to him they wanted something in return. Being distrustful was a hard habit to break. Fjord cleared his throat and looked over at Caleb, getting his attention. 

        "First of all, you're not bein' rude, so don't worry about that. Secondly...you helped Molly, and you helped him in a time when he really needed it." Fjord’s expression softened some as he looked over to Molly, who still had a bit of a swollen lip. Caleb still felt guilt knowing that it was his household members that had hurt him. Caduceus spoke up next, voice deep and calm despite the troubling subject matter.

        "You say anyone could have done it and yet no one did. No one but you. Anyone could have stopped them from beating Mollymauk, but no one did. Anyone could have reported them for discrimination, but no one did. Anyone could have walked out and done worse things to Molly, but instead you helped when all anyone else has ever done to him was harm him." 

        Despite Fjord and Caduceus’s words, Caleb couldn't help but feel that he could have done more. The logical part of his mind knew they would have done worse things to him than to Molly if he had spoken out of turn. It was one thing to rough up a stranger, the Vollstreacker's liked that. They reserved harming one of their own for the worst offenses and, of course, the advancement of the arcane. Sure, Caleb could have defended Mollymauk inside the house...but it would have made it worse for both of them if he had. Caleb knew this. He still hated himself for being such a coward. 

        "We...only have each other. And...it's nice to have new friends. You don't have to do a bunch of stuff. Just be nice!" Jester smiled. He was glad when Jester changed the subject. 

        "Besides, Molly thinks you're cute." Molly gasped, shooting a half-hearted glare at the other. Well, mostly glad.

        "Jester!" He hissed, blushing. Her words did make him blush but at least Molly seemed flustered by it too

        "Don't worry! He's veerrryyy sweet~ Anyways, obviously Mollymauk trusted you enough to bring you here...so we want to get to know you better! And to do that...spending time with you is necessary. So like...just chill out with us sometimes, yeah? Nothing big! Bring homework and hang around, you don't have to talk even! Come meditate, eat lunch, whatever! Oh! And if we go to town for drinking we'll totally invite you too~" She grinned.

        "Yeah well we don't get our allowances til the end of the month so that won't be for a few weeks at least." Fjord mumbled. 

        "My mother sends me funds every other week! So maybe next week we can all go! Drinks will be on me~" Jester suggested. 

        "I cannot get away from the house often. Only for classes and things that Master Ikithon approves of...so I'm afraid I will not be able to be around much. I will try though." He highly doubted Trent would let him out for a night on the town when he barely let his out with the other Vollstreckers. Caleb was the quietest and most reserved of them, Trent kept a close eye on him, waiting for him to crack. Molly looked over at Caleb while Jester began to plan stuff with the other three. 

        "It's....been a rough few years. Maybe it didn't mean a lot to you...but...I'm guessing they would have done a lot worse to me had the House President not come downstairs. I think the worst part was his response!" He snickered. 

        "....Stop causing a scene, get him out of here. No 'are you okay?', no 'Why would you hurt him?', nothing. Just a look of disgust and an order to throw me away. Should be grateful I suppose. And then you showed up...and you cleaned my clothes and dried the ale off me....it was a little thing, Caleb but...it really meant a lot. Especially to a devil-tongued skank like me~" Caleb didn’t take his attention off Mollymauk, though what the man said disturbed him in many ways. His brow furrowed and he bit his lip as he tried to process and come up with a response he thought was worthy of the situation. 

        "I guess I wanted to invite you here as a thank you, was all. So...thank you, Caleb. Thank you for being a decent human being, if you hadn't come out I might have just dropped out honestly...gone back to the streets in Xhorhas." He confessed, holding out his hand to shake. Deep blue eyes flicked up to Molly's ruby gaze then to the offered hand. He took it, and in a rather daring gesture for him, Caleb didn't let go.

        "I know the Vollstreckers are shit. I know it more than most. I'm glad I could help you but I do not think you realize how you have helped me." He paused, gathered his courage and continued, 

        "For what it may be worth, I do not think that about you at all. I heard some of the things they said and none of it is true, Mollymauk.” Caleb’s voice was serious and clear as he spoke, and he noticed that Molly’s cheeks were blushing as he looked at him. 

        "Thank you...." Molly whispered with a tight voice. "Caleb, that...that means a lot. It really does." He squeezed his hand a little and let go when Caleb tugged his hand back, ruby eyes watching him as he shifted.

        “I want to show you something. To thank you...my own sanctuary of sorts." 

        With that Caleb pulled his hand back and snapped his fingers. Suddenly a bengal cat appeared in the wizards lap, bright blue eyes staring up at Molly and meowing. 

        "This is Frumpkin. He is my familiar." The cat hopped from Caleb to Molly and began purring loudly and rubbing his head against Molly's arms.

        "Pretty..." The tiefling whispered, picking Frumpkin up and staring at his eyes. 

        "Oh...they match your eyes!" Mollymauk smiled, the smile morphing into a toothy grin when the Bengal cat pressed his nose to his own. Caleb couldn't help the small smile that came to his lips. 

        "He is a fey creature...he just looks like a cat. That is why his eyes are that color." 

        The cat meowed again, Molly mimicked the sound back, and laughed as the cat bat at his cheeks with his paws. Hearing Molly laugh made his heart lurch in a funny way. He wasn't ready to figure out what that feeling could mean quite yet so he focused on Jester, who was scooting over to investigate.

        "He's adorable, love." Molly handed Frumpkin back, Caleb taking him into his lap and allowing Jester to give Frumpkin some chin scratches.

        "No one knows about him. I summoned him when Master Ikithon was away and there was a party...they got in so much trouble. I've kept him hidden ever since...he's lonely though...I thought he could help and get some pampering too...I don't know..." 

        "That is so cool! I should learn that spell...Fjord! I want a dragon familiar!" She gasped, head whipping to look at the half-orc who shook his head. 

        "No. No dragons, tiamat's, goblins, or dangerous creatures. It doesn't work like that and they aren't good familiars." Fjord sighed. 

        "I could train them." Jester smiled. Fjord just sighed and asked for more tea. Looking back over at Caleb, Molly moved a little closer.

        "Well...a familiar is a spirit, usually fey, celestial or fiend. They merely take the form you choose once they are called to this plane. So, you could have a spirit that looked like a dragon even though it would not really be a dragon." He avoided any eyes that were on him, instead choosing to look down at Frumpkin. 

        "I think what you were thinking was a beast companion, one you have earned the trust of somehow that fights alongside you. Familiars are a sort of arcane focus that helps someone cast spells. They do not fight really." Then he looked up and blushed. 

        “Sorry, I talk too much." Though it seemed Fjord and Jester were more focused on their little dispute to pay Caleb much mind. And Caduceus had his eyes closed...was he meditating? Caleb didn't have time to wonder before Mollymauk was talking to him again.

        "So...when are you free? You don't get out much but...I could meet you somewhere. You know? We could hang out..." Molly purred.  As a distraction Caleb sent Frumpkin over to the tiefling to bat at the loose sleeves of his shirt. 

        "Only for classes and my tutoring hours. The Vollstreckers, as the students with the highest GPA, are able to work through the library to offer tutoring. I volunteered just to get out of the house, really. Every night from six to nine. Except weekends. I only have a few students signed up so I usually work on my own homework...you could stop by..." 

        Molly had listened, and he moved over, their knees brushing. Caleb’s cheeks burned red again.

        "You are very informed on the arcane. I might take you up on that tutoring actually....I'm not very good at focusing what little magic talent I have. Seems I might have to change that if I wish to remain here." He said, looking over as Fjord picked up Frumpkin. 

        “Besides...if you tutor me, I get to hear that lovely, soothing voice of yours more~” The tiefling cooed, and Caleb bit his lip as he looked to the side. It wasn't the first time someone had said they liked his voice, but it still made his cheeks flush. Before he could respond, Jester and Fjord’s bickering grew in volume and Caleb turned to see what the ruckus was about.

        "So like, as Caleb said, IF I earned the trust of a dragon, I COULD have it fight alongside me and then it could be my friend and pet." Jester explained seriously.

        "No. Gods above, Jester...you and a dragon would destroy the school." Fjord sighed. 

        "Okay...I'll compromise with you....arcane familiar, giant badger." She wagered. 

        "NO! Do you know how aggressive badgers are?" Fjord sighed. 

        "Giant wasp? OOH a giant spider? Maybe a dire wolf?" She moved closer to the half-orc. 

        "No. No. And no! Can't you have a normal pet?" He grumbled. 

        "I already have you..." She pouted. 

        "SHHHH." Fjord blushed deeply, making Caduceus chuckle, the sound rumbling in his chest. Caduceus looked over to him, and Caleb must have been caught staring because the Firbolg just smiled at him.

        "Mister Caleb," Caduceus’s smile went from amused to gentle.

        "I am also available for tutoring. I am well versed in horticulture and if you find you need anything for components I might be able to be of some assistance. And it would be a good excuse to get out of this house of yours...Molly, does this mean you are considering changing your major to be more specific?" He inquired. Molly shrugged, picking at some dry skin on his cuticles. 

        "Maybe...I don't know. Wizardry or...maybe Sorcery? I don't know...Caleb could maybe help with that. After a few sessions I could...maybe have a better idea." He watched as Molly searched through his bag, the purple man smiling when he found what he was looking for and pulled out a notebook. 

        "I-um, I do not have innate magic so channeling that focus is a little different, but I have taught sorcerers before. Bloodlines aren't so hard...patrons and pacts, that is difficult. As a tiefling your arcane abilities come from Infernal heritage. I may have to brush up on some historical reading, however, I am willing to help you with anything I can." Caleb offered, his mind still lingering on the conversation Jester had been having a moment ago. After a few moments he got an idea. 

        "Frau Jester? I have a favor to ask you. You see, Frumpkin is able to slip into another plane, like so," Caleb snapped his fingers again and the cat disappeared from Fjord's hands and reappeared on Caleb's shoulders. 

        "That is his home, the Fey Wilds. In order to keep him a secret I have been keeping him there often. He gets lonely. I have been pondering a solution, however, I think you have given me an answer. Frumpkin is not a dragon or a giant badger but he could be your pet of sorts...if you wanted." Jester’s eyes widened, they seemed to glow with joy.

        “I would love to have him as a pet! I love cats...I love all animals really, but this one is so cool, he's not a normal cat he's from the Fey Wild! That's so cool. Yeah! If Frumpkin needs some attention you send him to my room. Here~" She tore a page out of her book, writing down her information. 

        "Here is my student mailbox, and the dorm building I am in, and my room number! I'm always in my dorm after sun down so if you send him over then I'll definitely be there." She smiled. Caleb caught movement out of the corner of his eyes, he turned and saw Mollymauk holding out a notebook.

        “Instead of tearing out pieces of paper for him to keep...why don’t we have Caleb join our little spell!” He insisted.

        "You can message me! Write your name in here, and then use the spell Message on a notebook you like. Bring it to us so we can write our names in it too. Then our Messaging Notebooks will be connected. Whatever you write in it..." He wrote down ' hello <3 ;y ' and looked at Jester, who got the notion and dug out her own notebook, showing Caleb. She then wrote ' Hellloooo! ' and Molly kept his book facing Caleb as the messaging appeared on his page with a 'J' next to it. 

        "We're the only ones on campus with it. Caduceus came up with the spell." Mollymauk winked. 

        "Just a little modifications, still don't know how he did it." Molly beamed. Caduceus shrugged, giving a little smile.

        "Molly, it is not Message I cast on the notebooks, it was the work of runes and modifying the shapes to my advantage.” Caduceus informed.

        “Well still, don’t know how you did all those things.” The tiefling hummed.

        “I can do a lot of things when I'm in the zone." He said simply. 

        "You mean high?" Fjord snickered. 

        "Yes, exactly~" Caduceus grinned. Caleb’s blue eyes lit up and a wide smile came to his lips as he turned the book over in his hands. 

        "...tolle...this is...this is incredible...Herr Caduceus, you did this? The modifications alone, from verbal to writing, circumventing a component entirely and replacing a material one..." His fingers ran across intricate rune work on the inside cover and he nearly gasped. 

        "Is this...I've only read of these, I've never seen one... A repeating rune loop triggered by, I'm assuming, the physical component, the writing. Am I right? Casting it through residual arcane energy left over from the original casting then recycled and pushed into the next casting. An everlasting, self-sustaining cantrip..." Caleb looked up to Caduceus and looked a bit sheepish. 

        "Apologies for being a nerd but this is the most amazing thing I have seen in years. May I study it for a moment? I have perfect photographic memory. I can recreate the effect tonight so you can put your names in it tomorrow."

        "Yes, Mister Caleb. That is what I did I believe. I cannot remember it entirely. I...as Fjord said, I was inebriated of sorts. My state was....heightened. But I had been studying runes and had heard of the repeating rune loop, and I figured that if I did it right, it could be done. So I wanted to test it on something simple, so I thought...what about writing? Writing and verbal commands are similar since we write things down to say or to remember. Please, go ahead." He smiled at him sweetly. 

        "You're welcome to study anything we make. And if you're interested in runes, I have a few books my brother sent me over winter break last year. He's a druid~ But he finds wizardry fascinating." Caleb jumped as Jester suddenly stood.

        “Time?" She asked. 

        "Almost one in the afternoon. You have a history lesson to attend, Miss Lavorre." Cad chuckled. She gathered her things and stood, stretching. 

        "Yup! See you all back here at five for dinner?" She went to Fjord first, kissing his cheek. 

        "Bye bye!" She then kissed Caduceus's cheek, and Molly's cheeks, and then she got to Caleb. But she could see the worry on his face so she just kissed the top of his head gently. 

        "Your hair is stinky~" She joked, and booped his nose.

        “See you later new friend!” Jester called. Caleb nodded to her farewell and gave a little wave, putting the paper with her information in his pocket without looking up from the notebook he was studying. Just before she was out of sight Caleb snapped his fingers and set Frumpkin to perch on her shoulders. 

        "He will listen to you. If you want him to come back to me then just tell him so..." He called after her, eyes still on the notebook. He heard Fjord chuckle and shift as well, most likely standing up.

        "She's a lot, but her heart's in the right place. She really does care about us all deep down so...yeah. Frumpkin will be in good hands with her. I should probably get goin' too. Got class by the lake again, better start that trek." He gathered his things, waving to them all before leaving. Caduceus was done for the day, and he laid down on the blanket, stretching out. Caleb continued to scan his eyes over the notebook and the magic Caduceus had put on it. 

        The rune work was beautiful but simple, Caleb's brow furrowed as he studied it closer. He took out his own notebook and started re-configuring the runes. His mind supplied images of books he had read and he puzzled a few things together, jotting down notes. Caleb had all but forgotten where he was, too engrossed in this challenge before him. A little while later he pulled out his spellbook and flipped through it. 

        "Ah, ja...there it is..." He muttered to himself as he copied the transcription to his spellbook and then smiled. "Simpler casting trigger conserves more energy for longer distances...useless for campus really but for more practical usages perhaps..." Usually Astrid or Wulf were in the room while he worked, so they would either ignore his muttering or chime in with improvements from time to time. Now, there was silence, but this didn't bother him. 

        "Just a little while longer and I'll have this cast on my notebook. I've made an adjustment, purely for my own benefit. However, should someone else want it I can work it into the existing runes I think. A timing mechanism of sorts. It really works on numbers, how many times you have used the notebook. After a certain number of times it will strip the ink. Clear the notebook. That way if anyone finds it, it is just blank." When he finally looked up from his work he was met with the most awe inspired face from Mollymauk. The tiefling’s tail was swishing behind him like a curious cat, and his eyes were wide. 

        "Caleb, you're a prodigy!" He gasped, looking at the notebook and back to him. 

        "Yes! We would all love that, it'd be so much easier than just burning notebooks when they're full." He snickered, looking to Caduceus, who also seemed rather impressed. 

        "You're so smart...that's amazing, I'm truly in awe, love." He told him, Mollymauk gently leaning over his shoulder and tracing his finger over the rune, trying to commit it to memory. Caleb had been told he was intelligent many times before by people who only sought to use his mind for themselves. To hear it genuinely from Mollymauk brought a flush to his cheeks. 

        "These are fascinating...oh! Would...would runes work as tattoos then?" He asked Caleb, breath tickling his ear as he studied over his shoulder. 

        "Runic magic is possible and a viable source and course of study. It is very old magic though. It requires a physical focus, that's usually a runic circle. Traditionally, the circle must be made individually for the intended purpose of the specific spell. See, here," Caleb shifted so he could show Molly the circle he had adapted from Caduceus' notebook. 

        "The direct specificity makes it ideal for fine tuning enchantments. But for quick casting or short term spells it becomes impractical." He glanced over, seeing Molly’s lips pursed and his eyes narrowed as he seemed to study the runic circle, he looked...dare he admit it, rather adorable. 

        "If I tattooed a few spells I use a lot....perhaps a possibility...and with my... yes !" He stood up and spun around, eyes twinkling. 

        "Caduceus I think I can I do magic! I can do it! Instead of...you know, I can just do the runes, tattoo the spells I use on a regular basis, and...and then use somatic gestures! It'd be great! I could...I could do it! I could do it, don't you think?" He grinned, leaping at the firbolg and hugging him. The seven foot man hugged him back, laughing some as he let the tiefling rest in his lap, turning to face Caleb. 

        The wizard sat back and thought for a long moment. He recalled that somewhere he had read about runic mages, it took him a few moments to remember as he searched his mind. 

        "Nein...not tattoos unfortunately.” Caleb began, speaking slow as he recalled the information.

        “However, there are runic gloves. It would be obvious you were using them but it is a legitimate casting style. One glove has a transfer circle and the other is blank. The advantage to runes, and what would be ideal for you it would seem, is that not only are they highly specialized but they are their own arcane focus. As a caster you simply provide the arcane energy and the runes themselves convert it according to their nature; fire, acid, force, healing, anything really. There is little control required from the caster themselves. I can find more sources and ask around, there must be a class for it here somewhere if you are interested." He looked up to see Mollymauk looking rather serious, taking everything he said to heart. 

        Caduceus looked down to Molly, nudging him. 

        "Mollymauk...can I tell him?" He asked softly. Molly nodded, looking quite comfortable in his new perch. 

        "He uses blood magic. It's part of his Infernal heritage we think, but we’re not sure. But, as you know....highly dangerous and forbidden. Mollymauk uses tricks to let others think he has regular magic. It's all smoke and mirrors. Blood magic leaves scars, but if he could use runes...." Molly squirmed some, seemingly embarrassed. 

        "I...I only tell you because you could help me...not do as much blood magic. I would hate...for there to be an accident one day...you know? Casting quick with that could mean...I mean some have accidentally hit too close to arteries...I...yeah." He rubbed the back of his neck. 

        "I already have some tattoos, the peacock and snake on my arm, but I have quite a lot of room for small little runes, you know?" But then Mollymauk tapped his chin, eyebrows furrowing some. 

        "Gloves...if you can put them in gloves, then this runic circle could be theoretically put into any clothing...correct?" He asked, tilting his head. 

        "Perhaps jewelry...rings I keep on me. Or can you trace them in the air? I am very interested in rune magic. It is something I could study and practice...." He hummed. Caduceus gave a slow nod. Caleb looked to Caduceus and nodded, 

        "Ja, though with something as small as a ring, I don't think a runic casting circle would fit. It has to be big enough to draw the symbols onto it. Perhaps clothing but you run the risk of exposing the fabric to the effects of the runes. Runic gloves are usually tough, sturdy leather that can withstand the force. But, I will research more and see what has been done and what possibly could be." The thought of having something to distract him from Trent's usual assignments was rather comforting. 

        "It is something you should look into. Runes are very useful and when casting you can easily trace them on most surfaces from what I have heard." The firbolg hummed. Moving off Caduceus's lap Molly came and sat by Caleb, nodding to his proposition. 

        "If you happen upon any books, please let me know! I'd love to study up on them, I'll talk to my advisor about classes. In return...since you have been so helpful..." He leaned closer, smiling brightly. 

        "What can I teach you? Perhaps how to have fun? How to cook? I'm quite good with spices...maybe some more...erotic knowledge that you cannot find in the school's library?" He waggled his eyebrows, hearing Caduceus chuckle some. Caleb’s cheeks turned almost as red as his hair as Molly leaned closer. On instinct he wrapped his arms around himself and curled in on himself. 

        "Uh...um, nein. No, that is...no... You do not need to teach me anything, really. You have given me a place outside the Vollstrecker House and people who seem to be nice. Even a place for Frumpkin. Truly, you have done so much for me already." Molly slowly moved again, merely sitting beside him and laying a hand on his knee. 

        "Sorry, I didn't mean to come on so strong, darling." He chuckled. 

        "But I could teach you...if you wanted to learn something outside of magic and studying...that's what we're here for. And friends don't just help each other once and then fuck off, you know? We're all here to help you whenever you need it. Just send a message, ja~?" He grinned at him, tail flicking back and forth happily. 

        Caleb jumped some as Caduceus let out a soft huff from his nose as he stood, the firbolg towering over them. 

        "Right, Molly, I have to go and water my plants before I go to work. There are some finicky mulberry trees on the South side of campus. They just don’t seem to want to stop invading the courtyard...You know how to close up the area right? How to re-do the ward?" He questioned. Caleb smiled just a bit, Caduceus was cute...it seemed that the tall man loved plants almost as much as Caleb loved his books. He reminded Caleb of a monk that taught others how to ‘find their inner peace’. 

        "Of course, I do~! Don't worry, I've got my own way to keeping that thing up and running." Molly chirped, shooting finger guns at Caduceus. The man laughed softly, tucking his long, pink hair behind his ear which twitched at being touch. 

        "Alright then, I'll see you both later. It was wonderful to meet you, Caleb. I hope we can see each other again soon." He smiled, then disappeared through the gardens like everyone else had, leaving Molly and Caleb alone. Caleb decided that he liked the firbolg as he watched Caduceus walk away. He was calm and quiet. Even his size was comforting in a way and he looked so soft. Caleb would bet that Caduceus gave the best hugs. What would that be like?

        "Alright, now that we're alone," Molly withdrew his hand, sitting in front of him now. Caleb swallowed some, feeling nervous at Mollymauk’s more serious tone. 

        "You keep flinching. What's going on? Is someone hurting you? Because I've seen some shit and flinching is usually a sign of that." His gaze was zoned in on him, Caleb felt like a target and Molly was Magic Missile, one he could not deflect nor escape. He bit the inside of his cheek as Molly took his hand ever so gently, like Caleb would break if he squeezed too hard. 

        "We're not going to harm you, Caleb. And...if this is bad touch, just...let me know, okay? I'm pretty affectionate, as you saw, so...I don't want to frighten you off. I tend to be a lot to handle, at least that's what others have said." He chuckled. Caleb answered before he could tell the truth, an instinct, a reflex Trent had beaten into them. 

        "Nein, I'm alright."

         Lie. 

        "I just...My family was never affectionate." 

        Lie. 

        "And I was hurt in an accident when I was young." 

        Lie. 

        "And I prefer to be secluded so I do not get much contact." 

        Lie. The lies slipped from his lips easily, easier than the truth. His own deceit made him sick, sent his stomach reeling. The scars and cuts didn't go past his wrists, so Molly touching his hand should be fine though it still set him on edge. 

        "I'm not frightened of any of you. You have all been nothing but nice to me despite having every reason to hate me." With that he gently pulled his hand from Molly's grasp and took up his now enchanted notebook. 

        "I have to go to class. I'll write to you soon though. Be safe and stay out of trouble, ja?" Mollymauk sighed, letting Caleb know he was not dropping this topic easily. 

        "Well...maybe you need some affection. Touch is healthy, after all. And...I'm sorry about the accident, I had one too. They're never fun, are they?" He chuckled. He stood with Caleb, gathering his things as well. 

        "Stay safe and out of trouble? Where's the fun in that?" Molly smirked, slipping his coat on and looking at the other's incredulous look. 

        "I'll be fine! Promise~ Ja?" He cooed. Mollymauk skipped over, and he leaned close to Caleb. Caleb only raised a brow at the tiefling's words though his lips twitched a little at the mock accent. 

        "Ja," he answered dryly before the smile won out and he nodded. 

        "Stay safe and write to me soon, don't forget to eat. You look pretty thin, darling." Molly kissed his cheek and gave a wave before disappearing into the garden,

        "I will try." Caleb called after him the wizard paused, bit his lip and furrowed his brow and thought for a moment before looking back to Molly. 

        "And...um, I-I have my tutoring hours tonight!" He called after the tiefling,

        “I’ll see you later then!” Mollymauk shouted back, and Caleb watched him wave and then hop over a bush, disappearing. 

        Caleb shook his head, then smiled to himself and hurried to class. 

Chapter Text

Undeclared 

 

Chapter 3: Mollymauk, Pursuing

.

.

.

        The Science of Arcana was dreadful. As usual. And by the end of the three hour lecture Mollymauk was exhausted. He looked at his notes, he had tried really hard...but it just didn't make sense to him. Chemical compounds and how they reacted with human systems and how arcane spells affected the blood and body to create the desired effect of the caster's spell. It was all so dizzying. Molly was content to go back to thinking that magic did the 'thing' and made the person go 'boom' if he said the words right, no understanding needed. He had gone to Jester's dorm afterwards, finding her with Frumpkin and burying his face in the cat's stomach with a dramatic sob. 

        He had taken a short nap with Frumpkin while Jester went to her Cleric Casting 2 class. It was when he was waking up he saw the notebook glow just a bit on the page that had a new message. He yawned and opened the book, Frumpkin trailing across his back and batting at his tail. 

        "Oi...what the hell do you think you're doin?" He asked with a smirk, flicking his tail about and wincing when Frumpkin managed to sink his teeth into the spaded tip. 

        "O-Okay you win! Damn..." He wrapped his tail around his ankle to protect it and looked at the message

 

        I will not be able to make it to dinner. The Vollstrecker’s have dinner together twice a week for 'bonding and promoting teamwork'. However, I have my tutoring hours from 6PM-9PM should any of you wish to visit. Once again, thank you all for being so kind this afternoon. CW

 

        Assuming CW meant Caleb Widogast, Mollymauk summoned his pen and wrote out a response.

 

        That's a shame, love. But I'll take you up on that tutoring! I can't even make sense of my own notes...perhaps you can shed some light on whatever the hell today's lecture was about. MT

 

        It didn't take long for a response to come through. 

~

Chemical compounds and chemical reactions involved with the arcane's effect on the human body. Maybe if you paid attention... F

OKAY. I paid attention today, and I STILL didn't know wtf was happening Fjord   MT

Boys you're both pretty, stop fighting!! D: JL

Aren't you in class? MT

....Yes. JL

Guys, I do not mean to be rude the arguing is dampening the atmosphere I carefully created for my daily meditation and clerical recharging session today. CC

Sorry, the period made that sound angry, I am not angry I promise :) CC

But I am also not happy so maybe... :| CC

Cad you are fucking adorable MT

Thank you? CC

Sorry Caddy! We love youuuu! <3 JL

Aww thank you Jester :) CC

~

        Mollymauk laughed at the notebook, smiling softly to himself as he sprawled on Jester’s bed. She lived in the dorms, although her mother had been trying to convince her to get a house off campus for a while, what with the worry of safety and all...but Jester had insisted she get the ‘full, academy experience’. So, she lived in the dorms that were located in the southwest area of campus. It was the ‘slums’ in Solstryce vernacular, and the only dorms that allowed non-human races. That was fine with Molly, he lived in the building just across the cobblestone road. His neighbor was a kind Air Genasi that would help him get rid of the smell of weed or other drugs so RA’s didn’t make a fuss. As long as Mollymauk shared of course. 

        The notebook glowed again, catching Molly’s attention back from his nostalgic remembrance. He thumbed through the notebook to find the page where they were messaging on.

~

As I am human, I am painfully well versed in that subject. And living with the most 'gifted' students on campus means I have, unfortunately, been through just about every effect of magic you could imagine. It is not good when wizards get bored... CW

~

        The tiefling stared at the message with wide eyes, snickering as images popped into his head. Mostly horny ones, he couldn’t lie. What things did the wizards get up to in that house? Well...his smirk faded, and he looked back down at the book. He knew exactly what those wizards did when they were bored. And with that knowledge...the fun images he had conjured up were probably the furthest thing from the truth. He just hoped Caleb hadn’t gone through what he had gone through. Bored wizards were mischievous. Bored loyalist wizards who had unwavering faith in the Empire? Those were just plain scary...he felt himself curling up on the bed a little more, as if to protect himself. 

        “Mrrrr…?” He shifted, seeing Frumpkin pawing at his arm, tail flicking in concern.

        “Darling, I am alright. You needn’t worry about someone like me.” He said sweetly, reaching out with his hand and scratching the cat between the ears. Frumpkin gave a little ‘bark’ and pushed closer, shoving his head under his chin and curling up tightly, purring. It was oddly comforting...the warm fur of the cat with the soft texture and the regular vibrations of the purring...huh. Maybe this was why Caleb had summoned Frumpkin.

        “Hmm...thank you.” Molly smiled and kissed the cat’s head, opening the book again to reply. 

~

...Now THAT sounds like you have some interesting stories to tell, Mister Caleb~ MT

I will be in your tutelage then! I'll see you at 6PM, it's a date ;) MT

Molly. F

030 no idea what you're sayin' love. MT

-.- F

!!! You remembered the Fjord face!!! JL

It's...it's not me, Jess it's just the 'really?' face. F

Hmmm...not to me. I call it the Fjord face! You make it aaallll the time lol! JL

I'm sorry, lol? CC

Lots of laughs! :D JL

LOL! I love it! Jester you GENIUS! MT

~

        The rest of the afternoon seemed to go by fairly quickly. Molly was more excited than he wanted to admit for tutoring. Dinner was the usual, all four of them in their special garden spot since it wasn't raining outside. Mollymauk and Jester had grabbed some food from the academy cafeteria; PB&J sandwiches, some fruit that was available, and a few drinks. Meanwhile, Fjord and Caduceus brought some viable nutrition. Caduceus had made some noodles with vegetables in a savory sauce to share, and Fjord had brought some roasted chicken for them to enjoy. Well, three of them at least. Caduceus was a vegetarian after all. 

        When dinner was over, Molly took a few flowers from the garden that had popped up around Caduceus. 

        "What are those for?" Cad asked, sipping some tea. 

        "To thank Caleb, he seemed to like the garden so...maybe he can take some of the garden home with him.” Molly said with a smile. With a flick of his tail he was off, and it took him all but ten minutes to find the library. He wandered until he found the wizard on the top floor, in the very back, as far away from people as possible. 

        "Makes sense you'd be here." He teased, walking up to him and shrugging his winter coat off. 

        "Here, darling. A thank you gift~" He presented a few marigolds and a lily that had bloomed, holding them out with a wide grin.

        "They are very nice, danke...you didn't have to..." Caleb set them on the table, unsure where else to put them and gestured to the chair next to him. Mollymauk shrugged. 

        "I wanted to~" He hummed, watching Caleb blush some before the wizard motioned towards the chair. 

        "Please, have a seat. I already found some things to help with your science class, though I will need more time to find the resources for the runic magic. But, I thought it was a good start. So, what are you struggling with most in your class?" Mollymauk grinned and took a seat across from him and pulling out his study materials.

        "Well, it's mostly all the names. They sound the same and I get confused. It's just....so much! I look at the lists and feel very overwhelmed..." He confessed, opening his notes and showing Caleb. 

        "See? I try and keep up but a fire spell can do like....a billion fucking things to the body. And don't even get me started on poison spells! UGh....because then we get into not only the spells, but the KIND of poisonous effect the spell has on the body. Is it cyanide? Arsenic? Wolfsbane? On and on..." Molly sighed, running a hand through his hair. 

        "I don't know how you wizards keep it all up in your head." He chuckled. He felt Caleb lean a little closer to look over his notes, he flushed as Caleb seemed to trace some particular things with his fingers. Doodles. He doodled all the time in his notes just like Jester, after a while the words would blur together and make his head hurt. They always started as actual notes then devolved into drawings and doodles with comments scattered about. 

        "First, we need to find a system of note taking that suits you and use that. Even if you write everything down, trying to study disorganized notes later can hinder you. So, are you a visual learner, a hands on learner, auditory learner...how do you remember things best? From there we can build a system that works for you." Mollymauk hummed and leaned his head on his hand as he thought for a moment, coming to a conclusion with a little snap.

        "Well, I think it's safe to assume that auditory learning is not my thing...perhaps visual? I've always just...bullshit my way through things, not going to lie. I'm good at that. Can't bullshit this though." Mollymauk sighed, looking over his notes. 

        "How should I organize notes? I doodle so...maybe drawing figures or equations? I don't know....Oh!" He pointed to a doodle of Caleb he had made. 

        "He was talking about...what was it what was it...OH! Yes! Ice spells and how the particles expelled from the caster's hand actually seep into the bloodstream via capillaries, hence why victims of ice spells usually lose fingers and toes first compared to full on limbs, and why it's hard to kill quickly with an ice spell if it is an internal effect." He opened his eyes, finger on the drawing still. 

        "And...and this one-" He pointed to a rose sketch. 

        "Psychic spells blocking neurotransmitters...different parts of the brain are triggered for different psychic damage effects." A tiny smirk came to Caleb's lips. 

        "Very good. Visual seems to work." Caleb then showed him how to use drawings to trigger memory, to take a few written notes to prompt him if he forgot. He showed him some shorthand tricks so he didn't have to write word for word and helped him categorize things by topic and relevance. Mollymauk paid attention, usually the tiefling was all about fun and didn't like work but he did want to stay at the school. It was this or back to the streets of Xhorhas to entertain for a few coins here and there. So he was pretty determined to pass his classes. Once he and Caleb found a system that worked for him he practiced by redoing a few of his notes from his last lecture, his head beginning to hurt from all the information but he at least knew he could go to sleep tonight feeling like he had at least accomplished something.

        "That is a lot to take in for one sitting. But we have found a system that works and we will expand on it. You can use this kind of note taking for all of your classes. I would encourage you to in fact. Let us schedule lessons twice a week. Next time we meet I would like to see your notes again and have a calendar of assignments, projects and tests." 

        "Ja ja~! I will do that, Professor Widogast~" Mollymauk winked, sticking his forked tongue out at him. He noticed Caleb looking away and followed his gaze to see a woman popping her head out from behind a bookshelf. 

        "You are late, Beauregard. Lucky for you it was to my advantage so I will not have you doing extra essays today."  The monk groaned from behind a bookshelf and walked over.

        "You're an ass...but thanks." Caleb snickered rather than recoiling from the insult as he usually would. She plopped down at another chair and eyed Molly. 

        "Who's this?" 

        "This is Mollymauk, he is a new student I am tutoring. Molly, this is Beauregard. My problem student." Caleb introduced. Mollymauk smiled and held out a hand towards the newcomer.

        "Mollymauk Tealeaf! Ridiculous name for a ridiculous man, and Caleb's newest problem student~" He grinned. Beau glared at Caleb then turned to Molly and offered a hand. 

        "Call me Beau. He's pretty smart, huh? Not even with the Cobalt Soul and he knows more monk shit than I do. All the history and crap. Not the cool shit, hittin' things and stuff. Told him he should join us but he's pretty squishy." She shrugged. Molly laughed softly, sitting back in his chair after she shook his hand. 

        "Isn't he the smartest!? He's so amazing! I think I might get good marks this semester..." He looked at the wizard, who was looking at some calendars he had taken from his bag. 

        "I happen to like squishy Caleb best~ Besides, who needs to hit and stuff when you got wits like you do?" The tiefling poked Caleb’s side gently, grinning and then leaning over the table to look closer at Beau.

        "....I think we may be in the same history class together....professor...oh moonweaver what's his name? Bald, long ass beard like some wizard from a tusk love novel? Literally could talk for HOURS without breathing?" He snickered. 

        "I sit in the back, people don't mess with my tail then. No one behind me~" Molly winked. Beau gave another exaggerated groan when Molly mentioned their history class. 

        "Fucking Zeenoth...He's literally the worst. And you don't even have to have training with him. He's the most boring monk I've ever met. But one time Dairon let me beat the shit out of him when she was teaching me pressure points. That was a good day. When he's being an asshole in class I just remember that and laugh in his face. Good times." Molly's jaw dropped. 

        "You got to do that!? Oh that's awesome! Knowing that will make history class sooo much more bearable. Fucking prick. Remember that one time he was convinced I was cheating on quizzes because I was doing well? He said it wasn't a tiefling thing but it was TOTALLY a tiefling thing. Why not interrogate the humans in the class? Hmph. Then those stupid jocks behind me started yankin' at my tail and now i'm in the back! Worst class ever." Then again, he said that about every class. Caleb finally spoke up as if he had heard none of this. 

        "Beauregard, you have a paper on the history of the relationship between the Cobalt Soul and the Cerberus Assembly...due...two weeks from now. Do you have your materials for the research? As a Vollstrecker I have several books I could recommend about the history of the Cerberus Assembly, I have a few about your organization as well, however, we are not allowed into your library and I am sure the monks are much more educated about their own history so I would suggest you look there." Caleb turned to Molly, 

        "You are welcome to stay if you like, Beau will be writing until Yasha arrives." Caleb hummed. 

         "I have some homework so I believe I'll stay. This seems like a good time to do it." Molly reached into his bag to pull out his materials for Literature of The Dwendalian Empire when he and the monk perked up.

        "Yasha's coming today? She's back?” Caleb rolled his eyes, 

        "Ja, she arrived yesterday. Do not harass her, Beauregard. Now, start writing."

        "Yasha? Caleb you know Yasha!?" Mollymauk asked excitedly, setting everything on the table and scooting closer. He watched as Caleb leaned back some.

        "Ja, I know her. She is our age but still a freshman in terms of credits because she has to leave so often. I help her catch up when she gets back. I only know she returned because our professor told me this afternoon to prepare a lesson for her tonight." Molly leaned back in his chair, looking happier than before as he spoke.

        "You're her tutor...she has mentioned you then! Never by name, she just said her tutor was very kind and always helped her get back on track, she's grateful." He patted his shoulder gently. 

        "Danke, Caleb~" He went back to his notes, continuing to fill Caleb in on he and Yasha’s history together as he skimmed the notes he had written down earlier that day.

        "We practically grew up together! Well...since my little accident or...I don’t know what I’d call it. Anyways, she worked part time at the Circus with me! Gustav, bless that man, steered the school people to me so I could have a chance to get an education. She taught me how to read and to speak again after...all of that. She...is the first person I remember, actually. Like a sister. You said she came back yesterday? She must have been exhausted if she didn't come to me first. Poor thing..." He sighed, Caleb seemed to agree, giving a little nod in return.

        "She is very smart and very nice for someone who looks so intimidating. I like her, she's quite like me." Beau snorted in response, glancing up from her work to roll her eyes at Caleb.

        "Yasha's nothing like you. She's badass and totally hot. Sorry, Molly if that makes you feel weird, you know, being so close to her and all...but damn." Caleb glared at her, but Molly snickered, finding her comment amusing.

        "Not weird at all, love. She is rather attractive, and I appreciate her own style of beauty, trust me when I say you have no competition from me." 

        He grinned at her. "If you can get her, I'll be impressed~" Especially after her past girlfriend. They had been set to be engaged when a horrible accident took her fiance away. Zuella had been targeted by her ex, whom she had left for Yasha when she had found out Yasha wasn't some tyrannical, toxic, son-of-a-bitch. Yasha didn't tell Molly how it happened, but he did remember her bringing back her body, and she hadn't been the same since that day. 

        "Back to work, please, Beauregard." Caleb’s tired and dead panned scolding brought him out of his musings, and he turned to face Caleb when the wizard’s attention came back to him. 

        “Yeah, Beau. Get to work~" He stuck his forked tongue out at her and felt a little glare from Caleb, giggling and tickling the back of his neck with his tail. 

        "I'm working, professor~" He sang. Caleb pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed, looking through his papers.

        "She should be here in a few minutes actually." He hummed. It wasn't long before they heard footsteps, and he looked up to see Yasha coming up the stairs. 

        "Yasha!" Molly got out of his chair and ran towards her full speed, jumping up and grinning as she dropped her bag and caught him easily. 

        "Must you do this every time?" She asked, though the quirk on her lips told him she wasn't really as irritated as she sounded. He kissed her cheek and hugged her tightly before hopping down. 

        "You're back! How was the travel? Have you eaten? Did you sleep at least this time?" He led her to the table, pulling out the chair next to Beau and sending her a little wink before going back to his seat. 

        "Yeah, I ate. I slept a bit, and travel was fine. Just need to catch up, I can expect a full night of rest in three days if I work hard enough." She hummed, getting her things out and looking at Caleb, who was already gathering materials he had prepared for her.

        "Here, lecture notes since you left. I have two copies so please keep those. And the calendar. Have you been able to work on anything while you were away?" Caleb inquired. Molly was smiling over at Yasha, just happy to have her home again.

        “Not really...studied a few notes. But that’s about it…” She sighed.

        “Well, that’s what I’m here for. We’ll get you all caught up. You have good marks, I wouldn’t worry too much.” Caleb assured her. There were a few moments of silence as everyone worked on their respective assignments before Beau broke the silence.

        "Good to see you again. I, uh, my notes aren't as good as Caleb's but I can help you out. Cobalt Soul and all...I can," Her eyes darted to Caleb before she leaned closer, 

        "I can get into the Soul's library of you need some extra materials. I got your back." With that she went back to work on the outline for this stupid essay. Molly smiled some, Beau had a hard shell but she seemed kind at heart. 

        “Danke, Beau. I’m sure Yasha would benefit from some extra help.” He praised softly. Yasha nodded in agreement, 

        "I wouldn't want you getting into trouble. But thank you, if you want to help...you should review Cobalt Soul with me. We'll compare notes and prepare together." She offered, and Molly noticed the hint of a blush on Yasha’s cheeks. He caught her eyes and smirked, making Yasha pout some, and she turned to look at Molly and Caleb who were sat across the table from her and Beau.

        "So...you and Molly?" She pointed to them both with the end of her quill. 

        "Was wondering how long it would be until he found you. He always asked me about my tutor, didn't want to overwhelm you with his highness." She smirked a bit. 

        "Are you saying I am high maintenance ?" Molly gasped, feigning offense. 

        "Yes." Yasha opened her notebook. 

        "....Well you're right." He snickered, glancing at Caleb who was looking between the two of them and shaking his head, 

        "We just met last night, actually. Molly came to the Vollstrecker House." Mollymauk noticed that Caleb did not elaborate on any other details of the previous night, something he appreciated.

        "We um...we spoke for a bit...Then he invited me to the gardens and it was rather lovely so I told him about my tutoring hours and discussing the possibility of runic casting." He said quietly. Molly watched Yasha raise an eyebrow at the mention of him going to the Vollstrecker House. 

        "Did they finally make you a member, then? Like you said they were going to?" She questioned. Molly's smile was a little strained, and he shook his head. 

        "Heh....no. I don't think they'll ever give it to me. So after the party I just....never went back. Huge pressure off my back." He said nonchalantly. Yasha narrowed her eyes some. 

        "What happened?" She questioned. 

        "Nothing, dear. It was your usual frat party, drinking and drugs and...wizarding shenanigans. I love a good party but this one just wasn't my style." He tried to change the subject, pointing to something in his book, but Yasha pushed it out of her face gently. 

        "What did they do to you, Mollymauk?" The Assimar pressed. Try as he might, he couldn't lie to Yasha. And the more intently she stared the more guilt he felt. 

        "...F-Fine! They...They said it was all a joke and they didn't want some purple skinned skank as part of their house or something like that. Called me the usual slurs, laughed because I had basically prostituted myself to them for the chance to be part of something , then they dumped a keg on me and threw me out in the snow after beating me." He crossed his arms, cheeks puffed out in a little pout as he looked away. Yasha turned to glare at Caleb, and the moment her two-toned eyes landed on the ginger Mollymauk could feel a flare of panic, watching as Caleb’s hand instinctively reached for his component pouch. Beau was faster, she grabbed his wrist, her eyes were still on Yasha while Molly held up his arm between the two.

        "Caleb was the one to save me. He came out, used some magic to dry me off and everything! Very kind...he wasn't even AT the party. He had snuck out of the house to help me even though he could have gotten in trouble if he were caught. He's innocent, Yash." He assured. Molly's words calmed her enough, the tension eased away and Beau let go of Caleb’s wrist. Yasha’s gaze softened some, but she still looked irritated. 

        "Damn bastards..." She mumbled, looking back to her work. 

        "I'm sorry it happened at all. I could hear them from upstairs but I didn't know they had a guest until I saw Molly outside. They are bastards, you're right and I'm sorry they hurt you." His words were aimed at Yasha at first, but by the end of it Molly noticed the man was looking at him. Caleb was curled up in the chair, arms tucked close to his chest and shoulders hunched, he looked very small compared to Yasha in that moment. Molly found himself experiencing worry again for the human in front of him, and he was glad Yasha spoke up.

        "Thank you, Caleb. He gets into trouble, especially if I'm not around." Molly waved a dismissive hand. 

        "Protective sister, that's all. Don't worry about it, I'm not mad at you." He assured, though he hated to see Caleb so stressed. Yasha reached out to him, patting the table a bit in front of him and giving the smallest of smiles to show him she wasn't angry with him. Then she went back to studying, pursing her lips as she compared the notes Caleb had given her to the assignments she had to catch up on. She was in the same major as Fjord, the Storm Lord being her Patron. She was pretty high achieving by her professor's standards, already being called to do her Patron's bidding. But to her? It was not the biggest blessing, she was honored...but she also drew jealousy from her peers because of it, and having a social life was out of the question. Molly scooted his chair closer, his thigh pressing against Caleb's. He frowned as the other seemed to flinch as if just pure touch hurt him.

        "You're tense, love." He whispered, his fingers gently prying Caleb's fingers from his arm, and once he had gotten his arms unwrapped from himself he held the hand closest to him in both his own hands. He squeezed gently, thumb rubbing over the knuckles while his other hand gently massaged his hand and wrist. After a few moments he turned to Molly, 

        "Please, not my wrists or arms. My hands are okay but..." Caleb trailed off, Molly nodded, getting his fingers away from his wrist. 

        "Sorry, love. Just hands, will do." He murmured, ignoring the obvious confused look from Beau. Caleb was hurting, Molly could tell and he wasn’t the best person when it came to figuring out emotions but he knew hurt. He knew that one very well. 

        "I'm sorry I said anything," Caleb muttered, barely a whisper, 

        "I did not mean to...to make you say something you did not want to...but thank you for telling her about what I did. I was sure she was going to come after me. And I tutor her, I know what she can do." He attempted a smile and hoped it came off as a joke.

        "Deep breath now, darling. Everything's alright...you are not an enemy..." He assured, looking up at him. 

        "Would you like a break, perhaps? While Yasha and Beau work together we could go find some resources together, perhaps? For Yasha? I could help carry the books." Walking around cleared his head, and it looked like Caleb needed a distraction. After a few moments he nodded, 

        "Ja, that sounds good. A break." Caleb looked to the girls, 

        "If you need anything Beau knows how to find me. We are going to look for materials." Then Caleb stood quickly, not even waiting for a response before he was walking away from the table. Molly glanced at Beau, who looked after Caleb with her brows furrowed, Yasha snuck a look at Molly but did not do much else. He took that as his cue. He stood and followed Caleb through the library but lost him somewhere in the religious section, and Mollymauk began to look for him in the shelves. He finally heard heavy breathing towards the back, and he saw the other on the ground, head in his hands, shaking. The closer he came, the more he realized that the man was sobbing...he looked so small. Caleb’s knuckles were white from how hard he was gripping his hair, it sent a jolt of worry through Mollymauk’s chest.

        "Oh...Caleb, darling..." Molly said softly, calling out as a warning to not frighten him. He sat in front of him slowly, a hand going to gently caress the side of his head. 

        "Shh...you're okay, love...you're going to be okay..." His fingers gently rubbed the same spot on his head over and over, stroking his hair. Tears were falling down the other’s cheeks and his eyes were distant and scared, Mollymauk didn’t know what triggered it but he had seen this before. He had experienced it before. Full panic, one’s mind working against them. He tried his best, not sure if what he was going to do or say would help Caleb or not. 

        "You're not alone, Caleb...stay with me, okay? Ja?" He moved just a bit closer so he could speak quieter. 

        "Breathe, Caleb...you can do it. Deep breath in...ready? With me, in...." He took a deep breath in. 

        "Out...." Then he exhaled. Caleb didn't follow. But Molly wasn’t about to give up.

        "Let's try again...deep breathe now, I'm not going to hurt you. In..." Another deep breath. 

        "And out...." Another exhale. 

        "Focus on my voice, come back to me, Caleb...just take it slow....don't rush...I'm right here...." Mollymauk had seen many anxiety attacks in his life. He wanted to fully embrace Caleb and hold the other in his lap, wrap his tail around his waist and rock him gently back and forth. But that wasn't an option currently. If it hurt to touch his wrists and arms, what if he only made it worse? 

        "Here..." He gently pried a hand from Caleb's head, intertwining their fingers and squeezing. 

        "Squeeze my hand...this is me hugging you, Caleb...don’t hurt yourself..." He squeezed his hand again. It was easily ten or more so minutes as Caleb sat there, unresponding. He got the other to squeeze his hand though, and every time Caleb squeezed, Mollymauk squeezed back. A reminder that he was there. He murmured soft encouragements, urging him to come back to reality, and he petted his hair. When Caleb finally looked up, face streaked with tears and eyes red and puffy, Molly relaxed. 

        “There’s my boy...I missed you~” He smiled, trying to get Caleb to laugh. 

        "I'm sorry. I should be able to hold myself together. A Vollstrecker stays calm in the face of fear and panic." Caleb croaked, words sounding rehearsed to the tiefling, his heart aching for the other.

        "Now don't give me that bullshit," He said softly, no bite behind his tone. 

        "No one is truly perfect, and Vollstrecker or not...you are just as mortal as anyone else here. You're allowed to feel like that. No matter what those assholes say." He said. He used his free hand to gently wipe his tears away, going as far as to lay a few kisses on his face.

        "Just....stay for a moment longer, yes? You're still shaking...." Molly pulled away, removing his coat and wrapping it around Caleb tightly. 

        "Danke," Caleb muttered, though his voice still sounded hollow. But he nodded, and that brought great relief to the tiefling.

        "You had me worried...I'm glad you're back...how can I help, Caleb?” He asked, searching his face for an answer.

        "I..." The other swallowed hard to clear his throat, 

        "I wouldn't know..." Caleb used his free hand to tug the coat closer to himself, 

        "Could you...would you sit next to me?" His voice came out as a whisper, the request innocent enough but it still made Mollymauk’s heart swell. 

        “Of course,” He smiled, settling himself against the bookshelf with the wizard and leaning back against it, ignoring the way the spines of the books pressed against his tailbone.

        “If you need a place to recharge, I can take you back to my dorm and let you sleep, I'll finish helping Beau and Yasha as best as I can. Oh! Jester! Frumpkin!" He squeezed his hand. 

        “The cat should help? Yes? Summon Frumpkin~ O-Or if not I'll use the notebook and have Jester bring him here for you..." Still holding his hand, Molly shifted his tail to wrap around his shoulders. 

        "I cannot summon him if he is not within three hundred feet of me. I can see and hear through him still but communication is difficult from so far away." Caleb explained softly. 

        “Hmm...inconvenient ...but I suppose every spell has its limits. I’m sure we can get you to Frumpkin somehow, he’s a good familiar. I bet Jester is taking good care of him right now, she loves animals, and Frumpkin really is a cutie. I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s found a way to get a cute bow tie on him already or something.” Molly laughed, then some embarrassment crept onto his cheeks in the form of a blush.

        "I'm talking too much, I'll shut up now~" He chuckled. That was the main complaint he got from people. Mollymauk talked too much. Mollymauk was too confident. Mollymauk was too rebellious. Mollymauk was imperfect. And he embraced that reputation as best as he could. Maybe he was rebellious and talkative and a little headstrong, but he was that way for a reason. He didn’t like to be silent and alone with his thoughts. Talking distracted him, being confident made him forget how insecure about his whole identity he really was. 

        "I like your voice. Talk all you like. It keeps me from thinking too much." He heard Caleb murmur, Molly glanced over, a small smile tugging at his lips. 

        "I like your voice too....and your accent. It's cute, I don't mind you talking either.” Molly offered back. He moved closer to the other, holding up his arm some and making eye contact with Caleb. The wizard took one of Molly’s arms and wrapped it around his own shoulders, placing his own hand over Molly’s. 

        "Just there...don't squeeze too tight and don't go any lower please. The...it doesn't go up that high...to my shoulder. From the accident, it's just my arms and a little on my back, some on my chest...Please talk so I don't anymore." Molly’s heart fluttered as Caleb allowed him to hug him, to offer some physical affection that wouldn’t harm the other. He was so afraid of accidentally hurting Caleb when it seemed that any touch scared him.

        "Of course...I'll be gentle." Mollymauk promised, giving a tiny squeeze. He then took his other arm, wrapping it around the front of Caleb by his collarbone, hugging him gently.

        "Caleb..." He looked the other in the eyes. 

        "You're my friend...and....I want to be here for you. Whatever is going on....I will be here for you...if you need me you just message me. I will sit beside you as long as you need. Talk til my throat hurts. If it helps you...I will do it." He vowed. He gave another gentle squeeze and removed the arm in front of Caleb, holding his hand once again. 

        "I think you're really amazing. You're kind, you're smart, you're really cute too. You care a lot, I can tell. Tiefling stuff~" He winked. 

        "Smart I will grant you but I'm not sure about all that rest. You are very kind though, to help me when I barely know you. To offer me so much when I have given so little. People like you are rare, Mollymauk." Caleb’s words were so genuine, his tone soft. It took Molly a few seconds to recover.

        "No need to thank me, good people are rare, I agree with you there...but...often times, good people don't realize the good inside them. I wouldn't consider myself a great person, darling." He chuckled. Mollymauk let his tail wrap around Caleb’s hips so it could drape over his lap comfortably, the appendage not wanting to be crushed by a bookshelf any longer.

        "I have a good feeling about you. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be sitting here with you now.” He watched Caleb blush with a little smile.

        “I think you're very handsome, with that fire blessed hair and your bright blue eyes....they have a lot of soul in them, dear." Molly purred, laying his head on his shoulder. 

        "Why don't we find some notebooks we can enchant for just you and I...? Hm? And...if you ever feel overwhelmed, you can tell me all your thoughts there, and no one but I will see it. And then, no matter where I am or what time it is, you have a way to speak with me privately." Caleb was hurt, someone who had gone through a lot, and although Mollymauk was dying to know what exactly had happened to him, he knew Caleb was not ready to give him that information.

        "I think I would like that. The notebooks...I could work on those tonight. I have plenty of extra journals and things. Wizards use a lot of paper compared to other casters. Paper and ink are some of the few things Master Ikithon allows us without questions. I will bring them tomorrow at lunch, to the garden." Caleb seemed to relax a little more, and although Mollymauk was curious as to why Master Ikithon interrogated students on why they needed certain materials, he didn’t pry.

        "How are you feeling, love?" He murmured, head still on his shoulder as he sat there with him, an arm around his shoulders and his tail lazily draped over Caleb’s lap. There was no response for a few moments, and Molly didn’t mind. But finally the wizard uttered his answer, quiet and sounding touched.

        "Better, danke. Und...danke-thank you for not crowding me, I suppose. Wulf will ask endless questions and Astrid just stares at me like I'm...it doesn't matter, just thank you." Caleb took a deep breath and sat up a little straighter. 

        "Beauregard has not come looking for us so I assume she has left. Still, we should return to check on Yasha and gather our things." Caleb stood slowly, untangling himself from Mollymauk, and the tiefling followed. But they didn’t start walking yet. 

        "Danke, Molly. It means more than you know. Coming here, to this academy, sometimes I wonder if it was a mistake." Caleb confessed, not facing Molly as he spoke. 

        "Oh, Caleb. No need to thank me. But you are welcome~ I am always here for you. No matter what you need to speak about. Whatever you want, I’ll listen.” He promised. Mollymauk moved to stand in front of Caleb, reaching down and taking one of his hands in both of his own. He held it for a moment, then leaned forward and kissed Caleb’s forehead, a hand raising to gently pat the man’s cheek.

        "Alright then, back in the game? Let's go get our stuff. I'll buy us something from the cafe, it's open until late, right? You can get a relaxing chai tea to take back with you. My treat." He offered, Caleb blushing again.

        "You do not have to do that. Besides, I will be awake for much of the night anyway. I have spells to transcribe and Master Ikithon cycles through private lessons with all of us. Mine is tomorrow and I need to be prepared." Caleb didn’t wait for Molly again, and the tiefling walked after him as they both headed back towards the table where Beau and Yasha were. Once they were back at the table Caleb gathered his things and answered a few questions for Yasha. 

        "I apologize for keeping you waiting, Yasha. I hope Beauregard was at least mildly helpful in my absence. I will be here tomorrow at the usual time should you need more assistance."

        "Thank you, she was actually really helpful. She has her own special way of teaching...lots of 'fucks' but you know...got the message across." She stood and gathered her things, shaking Caleb's hand. 

        "I'll see you tomorrow probably, hope you have a good night. Molly, we should grab coffee tomorrow morning. I got some cool stories to tell you." Molly nodded, hugging Yasha again. 

        "It's so wonderful to have you back, dear, go get some rest. Okay? I don't care about the work, your health is more important. Now go sleep." He ordered. She rolled her eyes with a small smile, just a tug of her lips, but she nodded, patting his head between his horns. 

        "Will do. Don't keep Caleb up too late either. He's on a strict schedule." Mollymauk waved his hand.

        “Yeah yeah, I won’t. I know.” He chuckled. Yasha rolled her eyes and ruffled his hair before walking out of the area with Beau on her heels. When Mollymauk turned, he saw Caleb sprinkling some dust stuff over the bouquet and his mouth fell open as it shrunk. 

        "Woah!" He gasped, running over and looking at it. 

        "Oh my goodness it's like a little corsage now! That's adorable! Caleb you're so adorable!" He grinned, watching him put it away. 

        "Nifty trick though, great for packing I bet." He joked, offering his arm. Caleb gave a little huff of a chuckle, shaking his head.

        "Sadly it only lasts for a short time. Long enough to get to the house and find a more permanent solution. I would hate to see the poor soul who packed all things that way, their luggage would explode everywhere when things turned back to their original size." The man looked to the offered arm, raising an eyebrow.

        "I insist on getting you some chai tea. It's good for relaxing you, and it will clear your mind for studying. I know you'll do great tomorrow." Molly cooed sweetly, Caleb sighed and nodded, taking the offered arm.

        "Danke, this is very nice of you." Molly made sure that as their arms linked he didn’t put pressure on Caleb’s arms. And they stayed that way until they got to a more public part of the library. Unlinking arms they saw it was already dark outside and Molly smiled at Caleb before holding the library doors  open for him before following his new friend into the cold, winter night air.

Chapter Text

Undeclared

Chapter 4: Caleb, learning.

.

.

.

        The temperature had dropped significantly since the sun went down and Caleb could see his breath as they walked through the quiet campus of Rexxentrum.

        "Reminds me of home," He muttered without thinking. "Winter's Crest will be here soon. Do you have something like that in Xhorhas? Have you ever celebrated it here? We should, it is rather enjoyable." He hummed pleasantly, looking forward to the treats and cider than would be available around campus during that time.

        “Winter’s Crest? That’s...an independence celebration for you all, isn’t it? First day of Winter. Though it honestly feels like winter is already here.” Molly chuckled.

        “Ah...something similar. It’s the same day, but for Xhorhassians and the Kryn it is the Day of Light. But for the Drow, who are always shrouded in darkness, the sky can never return to the blues it once was before the Calamity. It appears purple and red instead, bathing the Dynasty in beautiful colors...there’s a science behind it or some shit I don’t know. All I know is that it’s beautiful to look at, and circuses and performers are well loved during that time as we can perform outside under the sun.” He smiled.

        "Sounds similar in a way, ja. Especially with the performers and celebrations. I don't know if people celebrate it this far south, but Astrid, Wulf and I have our own little celebration to remind us of home. Usually just small gifts and cider." Trent wouldn't allow anything more that would interfere with their studies. He never allowed them to any festivals or campus activities really. 

        "I'd love to celebrate Winter's Crest with you, love." He heard the tiefling coo, and he noticed they were already by the cafe. Mollymauk was holding the door open for him again and he gave a small thanks to him as he passed through the doorway. Once inside, Caleb shrugged off his coat some, grateful for his long sleeved shirts that hid his scars and bandages. Mollymauk immediately ran over to see who was working, and by the time he got into the seating area he saw Mollymauk leaning far over the counter to no doubt scare the shit out of whoever was bent over behind it, organizing things. 

        “Good evening, Fjord!” Molly shouted, laughing as Caleb saw the half-orc almost hit his head as he jumped, standing up and scowling.

        “MOLLY!” He yelled, the tiefling cackled, holding his middle.

        "Oh gods! Your face! Fjord your face was beautiful!" He laughed. The half-orc, Fjord he was reminded, huffed. The action caused his tusks to peek out of his mouth some. 

        "That wasn't funny." He mumbled, looking at Caleb. 

        "If he's makin' trouble you can just yank his tail real hard. Gets him to shut up." He smirked. Molly gasped and held his tail close. 

        "Fjord! I cannot believe you would give away my weakness!" He said dramatically. Fjord rolled his eyes. The wizard chuckled at Molly's antics and shook his head. 

        "I wouldn't dream of exploiting such a weakness. Seems like a low blow." He teased before finding a small table to wait. Mollymauk collapsed across from Caleb, taking his hand and kissing it, which only served to make Caleb blush again . He wasn’t sure if his face could take much more of this. 

        "See, Fjord? That is how you treat a luxury whore like myself~" Molly said, sticking his tongue out. Fjord rolled his eyes and chuckled. 

        "Moollyyy, what have we said about you calling yourself that?" He asked. 

        "What? I AM. I'm not ashamed, darling. Just using the proper label." Molly hummed. 

        "Uh-huh...sure yer are. Whatever, anyways, what can I get ya both?" Fjord asked. Molly stood and came forward, poking his cheek with his tail. 

        "Two chai teas~ splash of cream in mine please." He cooed. Fjord wrote it down, nodding. 

        "Six copper..." Molly dug through his coin purse and put it on the counter. 

        "Thank you, dearie~" He cooed.

        "I did not know you worked here, Fjord. No wonder Jester had that bag of sweets." Caleb gave the half-orc a knowing look but said nothing else. He waited for Molly to join him and stared at his hands. 

        "Y-Yeah~ She comes down here after dinner every night since I work the late shift. She'll hang with me for a while and I usually sneak her some treats or just make her one fresh myself. It's easy work, mostly quiet, and gets me some coin to help me through the month." Fjord explained.

        "I wish I could stay to enjoy the tea and talk with you both. Vollstrecker schedules are awful. I'm only in the stupid house because of my GPA...sometimes I wish I was dumb then I would never have been involved." He shook his head, sighing.

        "Apologies, that is nothing to complain about. I am bringing down the mood.”

        "Nah, go ahead. This is where we come to complain. We call it having a 'tea party'." He smirked, beginning to put the drinks together. "Besides, you seem pretty miserable at that house of yours...i've heard some shit too...can't you just leave? Isn't it optional? If it's just because of your GPA you could say you'd prefer to study on your own time or that your health is taking a hit from their strict schedules." Fjord suggested. While Fjord's words made sense the half-orc didn't understand what truly kept him in that house. 

        “Fjord, how is Jester liking Frumpkin? Any problems?" 

        “Frumpkin? She loves that cat. I actually went over last night and played with him. Don’t worry, he’s getting lots of attention.” The half-orc grinned, the information brought Caleb some relief. 

        "Gut, I'm glad to hear it. He has been lonely trapped in that pocket dimension with no one to talk to." Molly nudged his hand, making him look over at the other.

        “Caleb, you don't need a fancy Vollstekkar title or whatever the fuck they're called to be special. You're amazing, smart, and oh-so talented on your own as just Caleb." He assured. 

        "And trust me, you don't want to be dumb. I'm dumb, and look where that got me. The shit beat out of me and ale making my hair all sticky, and being a fuck toy for Trent’s prized students. And most of them aren’t even good . If I had to grade them in bed, they’d be getting F’s. Especially Lorenzo." He rubbed his temples.

        “Hey hey hey...what are you messin’ around with Lorenzo for?” Fjord asked, his face serious. Mollymauk shrugged, taking his finished drink from Fjord’s hand as the other came over.

        “It was a few months ago. I had come over to the house with a few Vollstrecker’s after classes and I was working on my homework with them when Lorenzo came and asked if I could assist him with some research.” Molly began, Caleb took a deep breath, wanting to stay calm. 

        “And…?” Fjord pressed.

        “And that research was... well, rumors only grow as you know. My own innate arcane energy...how it is triggered. Lorenzo was curious was all. So he studied me a bit, had me cast a few spells on some first years, which I later apologized to I felt terrible, and...yeah. Lorenzo fucked me and passed out.” Caleb felt his head spin some, they had gotten to Molly? They had begun to see what they could extract from him? 

        “Really, Fjord. You all worry too much! It was an awful chapter of my life but I’ve moved on now. I realize that they were never going to give me anything. They just wanted my magic, my ass, and my time. They got all three and then they threw me out. Whatever! I’m dumb and I made a dumb decision. Time to move on. Dwelling on it doesn’t change it. It could have ended a lot worse, and now I don’t have to worry about any of them.” His tone made it clear that Mollymauk didn’t want to discuss it further, and Fjord relented. 

        Caleb found the details rather...disturbing. Lorenzo was not a force to be trifled with. He was the only non-human Vollsteaker in the House. But it was because he truly had no weaknesses in Caleb’s eyes that he was there. He went into Trent’s training with a stone cold face and came out the same. No amount of experimentation seemed to phase him. He couldn’t imagine any time alone with him could be fun.

        "Um...uh, ja...he is something else. I am sorry you went through that, Mollymauk. But I do not think you are dumb. He is manipulative. We have all done things for Trent and his lackey’s that we would not do normally..." He had already said too much. If anyone questioned Trent then all the Scourgers would pay for it dearly. Gods forbid he ever found out who it was...the thought made him shiver. 

        "But he is a smart man. He has taught us all many things." Again the words seemed forced even to his own ears and he wished he could make them sound right like Astrid and Wulf always did. 

        "I-I should really be going or he will be upset that I am back late." Caleb hopped off the chair and plucked the barely finished tea from Fjord's hand, not even flinching when the cup burned his hand. 

        "Danke, Fjord. I will see you all tomorrow, good night." And with that he was out the door. As he walked to the house his mind raced with thoughts about Molly and Lorenzo. He hated it. He wanted to burn those images from his mind and yet they offered a certain hope. Caleb wasn't the only doubting Trent. He wasn't the only one that hated him and the things he forced them all to do. Caleb knew if he ever tried to leave or report Trent he would be the only one, he would be called a liar and thrown out. But...if one other person would stand with him maybe others would as well. This was something he was going to have to think about. Before he went to bed he finished the personal notebooks for him and Molly and hid the flowers in his closet. Then he drifted off to sleep with a burst of hope he hadn't felt since he left home.

.

.

.

Molly, Same Night

        Molly looked up to see Caleb leaving, the swish of his coat being the last thing he saw before he was gone.

        "....I don't like it Fjord, he's being hurt there....I want to get him out...he..." He trailed off, taking a sip of his drink. “Something’s wrong. Trust me on this. Caleb isn’t like the other’s...and he knows it.”

        Fjord rubbed his back, sitting in Caleb's old spot. 

        "I agree. Something isn't right in that house. And everyone knows it...well...sensible people. We need to get more people to come forward, if not to the administration than to us so we can perhaps do something." Molly's gaze snapped up. 

        "US? Fjord if we, a half-orc and a tiefling, waltzed in and tried to dismantle the very house that makes this Academy famous, we would be kicked out. We're lucky we're here at all." He hissed softly. 

        "I know. But our little group doesn't take kindly to abuse of any kind, and if we have any say in it, then we're gonna try and stop it. We're not headin' up there with swords ready now. We're gonna bide our time...Caleb obviously feels a connection with ya, so try and make him feel safe...maybe he can get others to come forward too. At the very least, we can get Caleb out of that house." Fjord said seriously. Mollymauk thought about it, taking another few sips.

        " ...You're right. I was panicking. Focus on Caleb, one person at a time." 

        "That's right, buddy." Molly stretched and kicked his feet onto the table with a little smirk.

        "Need company for the rest of your shift?" He asked. 

        "...That'd be nice, actually. Much obliged." Fjord grinned.

.

.

.

Caleb, The Following Week, Morning

        Caleb woke with a pending sense of dread. Today was his private tutoring with Trent. He was still sore from the training he had endured last week. In the midst of it all it was the thought of his newest friends that got him through it. Knowing that if he survived it, he could see them at lunch the following day, that they would help him and not question, that they would support him. He felt comfortable calling them friends now, as terrifying as it was, he found that he trusted them. He had been asked by Jester to accompany her to a flower shop that evening but he had turned her down, stating that he had private tutoring with Master Ikithon and would be spending dinner preparing for it.

        That was the polite terminology he was supposed to use when anyone asked what he was doing that evening. If there could be polite terminology for torture. For a long time he had convinced himself that he was just weak. The others could endure the same without much complaining, none of them liked it but Caleb seemed to be the only scared of it. This only made Trent more zealous. Caleb had the highest scores and grades of all the Vollstrecker...pretty much the whole Academy. While he should be proud of that all it did was make him a bigger target for Trent. The more he tried to hide away in his studies the smarter he got and the cycle continued. 

        He was shaken from his thoughts when he saw the small bouquet, now full size once more, sitting on a shelf in his closet. The bright colors made him smile. He had been tending to them for a week, they wouldn’t last much longer but they were pretty still. Perhaps there was something to look forward to today. With Molly in mind he got ready and attended his morning classes. Luckily, with Yasha back he had an excuse to leave lunch again, claiming he needed to prepare for her lessons at the library. 

        “She’s been back a week hasn’t she? She still hasn’t caught up?” Astrid asked, her eyebrows raised.

        “Nein it’s not that...I am helping her get ahead now. We don’t know when her patron will be calling her again. As her tutor I want to set her up for success, so I am working hard to make sure she on track with her peers.” He explained calmly. The other two seemed to buy it, so he gave a wave and left the Vollstrecker house.

        Carefully, he made his way to the gardens and made sure no one followed him. 

        "Hallo? It's me, it's Caleb. Um, Molly, I have...what we discussed last week...I got really caught up with training and private tutoring....”

        "In here!" Mollymauk called, waving at him as he approached. They were situated under the tree, Caduceus passing out some home baked bread. 

        "Ah, Caleb. Welcome~ Here," He didn't have time to think before Caduceus was putting food in his hand and he blinked, "Uh, danke...smells nice."

        "I made it last night, we still have some marmalade left over from yesterday. Courtesy of Jester." He smiled. Jester waved, munching on her peanut butter and jelly sandwich. 

        “Und, Jester, do you have Frumpkin with you? I would like to see him?" Caleb asked shyly, raising his eyes to look at the blue tiefling. At the question of Frumpkin, she shook her head, Caleb felt some worry low in his gut.

        "I do not, but he does a cool thing with me! I can fetch him! Look!" She wiped her mouth on the back of her hand and cleared her throat. 

        "Fruumpppkiiiinnn~~~!" She sang sweetly, and the cat poofed into existence on her shoulders, meowing and nuzzling her horns. 

        "You like my singing~" She cooed, kissing his head before setting the Bengal cat on the ground. 

        "Go on! Caleb needs you~" She said, watching the cat bound over and jump into Caleb's arm, purring loudly. Caleb chuckled softly,

        "Interesting...I thought only the original caster could do that. Looks like he took my order to listen to you seriously. That's rather impressive Jester...he goes to a different dimension when he poofs like that. You are very powerful to call him back without a bond." Caleb gladly scooped up his cat and snuggled into his fur. 

        "Could you keep a special lookout on him tonight, Jester?" He didn't say much else, afraid he had already aroused too much suspicion as it was. Jester nodded. 

        "Ja~! I can totally do that. And thank you, I've been working on my cleric magic, but as you said...I think he lets me summon him because you told him to listen to me. So like...he sees me as his babysitter and he has to come when I call him. So it shows how strong your bond is, he trusts you to leave him in someone else's care!" She took a swig from her flask, filled with cocoa. 

        "Hmm...Molly, want a sip?" She asked. Molly nodded and took it, taking a sip and licking his lips. 

        "Damn! Jester that's the best cocoa you've made yet!" He congratulated. She blushed and offered it to Fjord. 

        "Aww thank you! Fjord you try some~" She said, eyes bright. Mollymauk pat the spot next to him, smiling softly as he pushed a ham and cheese sandwich he had made extra for Caleb towards him. He blinked as he looked at the offering, slightly overwhelmed still at the kindness he received. 

        "Here, eat up. You gotta keep that big brain of yours fed, love." He cooed, gently squeezing his knee and looking over to Fjord, Caleb tried not to flinch at the contact and followed Molly’s eyes over to Fjord who was trying Jester’s cocoa as well and praising her softly. 

        "Danke, but I have my own food too, you know." Caleb opened his bag and brought out what appeared to be just a bread roll. "It has meat and vegetables inside too...not just bread," he explained sheepishly.

        "Well, you need strength still. So feel free to share in the banquet~" Molly motioned to the arrangement of food they had all brought. It was sweet...each person had their own taste and brought enough to share. It was like a little community in this garden, separate from the rest of the Academy. Caleb perked up, rummaging around in his bag he finally found one of the notebooks he had promised Molly. 

        "Here...this one is yours." He said, holding out the leather bound notebook towards awaiting purple hands. He watched Molly look at the notebook with sparkling eyes, a grin on his lips that made Caleb’s heart tighten in a pleasant way.

        “Wonderful! This is amazing, thank you, dear.” That smile was directed at him now. Not sinister or plotting...just a happy smile. Caleb found his own lips smiling a bit too. 

        “Ja...no problem.” He responded softly. Fjord spoke up again about some school work he was having trouble with, and Caleb found himself jumping into conversations with these people rather easily now. He offered some tutoring to anyone in the garden who needed it, stating that he only had three students now, including Molly, and that he did not mind taking on more. When there was a lull in the conversation he got the courage to speak up. 

        "Um...I know you hardly know me and many of you are from the south it seems...but Winter's Crest is not far and I was thinking of bringing you all a few things...if that is alright." He stared down the bread he was slowly picking apart. 

        "I was only wondering if there was anything anyone was allergic to or didn't like...Caduceus, you are a vegetarian, correct? And Jester it seems you do not drink alcohol so no special spiced cider...just spiced cider... And there are small gifts exchanged, nothing big or anything but if there is something you would like I can see what I can do...um, ja..." He trailed off and stuffed the bread in his mouth to keep himself from rambling on. Jester spoke up first,

        "Yeah! I'm not a big alcohol drinker. I'll drink on holiday's, but nothing big, I appreciate it Caleb! You're so sweet!" She cooed. Caduceus nodded, a big smile on his face. 

        "Yes, and I am a vegetarian. If you require assistance in cooking some dishes, you are more than welcome to visit me, I love cooking." He smiled. Caleb made notes of everything as they spoke, 

        "Danke, but Astrid is the same, I have been cooking with her my whole life. Zemnian dishes too, so I hope to have something new to you perhaps." Molly wrapped an arm around his back, he physical closeness Molly insisted upon bordered on making him anxious. He stiffened at the contact as usual but eventually relaxed a little. Not as much as he had in the library, they weren't alone now, but more than usual. 

        "Caleb you're so nice! Yes! We'd love it!" Mollymauk pulled away, smiling as he popped a few nuts in his mouth that Caduceus had brought with him. 

        "And what would you like for the gift exchange? OH! I have an idea!" He turned to Jester.

        "Remember the gift exchange we do this time of year? Where we draw names and buy gifts for that person? Keep it secret? We could do that with Winter's Crest!" He turned to Caleb.

        "What do you think, dear?" The suggestion sounded close to a Menagerie Coast tradition he had read about, but based on Jester's accent that made sense. 

        "Ja, we could draw names. Usually with just Astrid, Wulf and I we never bothered. It was only two gifts to buy or make no matter how you split it." He shrugged. Whatever they did, he would just be happy to celebrate...it was the first time in years he had a reason to.

        "I think it's a great idea, Caleb. And yeah, most of us are from the South. I don't know much about Xhorhas or their traditions, but we celebrate a lot of those, and I don't really have holiday's so I stick to theirs and my birthday. Same with Cad. Another celebration is always welcome." Fjord piped up, he turned to the half-orc with a shy, almost-smile, 

        "Danke, Fjord...Um, Molly says it is close to something called the Day of Light If that means anything to you. Just a time to mark the coming of winter and hope for a bountiful year." 

        "Day of Light! Yeah! Gods I always forget the name of it." Fjord said, pretending to smack his own head. 

        "I don't know how, we celebrate it every year!" Mollymauk laughed, leaning back on his elbows, relaxing. 

        "Yeah! The Day of Light is something Molly brought to us, it's like your Winter's Crest it sounds like!" Jester grinned. 

        “Mhhmm...The Day of Light marks the end of Autumn in Xhorhas and the beginning of Winter. We celebrate it to thank the sun for continuing to shine down upon our Dynasty despite us blocking its rays to protect the Drows of the nation. The most powerful spell casters in the Kryn recharge the age old spell that keeps the sky dark after two days. But with the red and purple sky it is also a time of romance in Xhorhas as red represents passion~” He wiggled his eyebrows, making everyone laugh. 

        “There’s a whole legend attached to it...that the purple and red skies are the gods telling Xhorhassians to find lovers or something...or it represents the spilled blood of the first star crossed lovers that died on the twentieth day of Duscar...I can’t remember.” Molly's explanation gave him a lot to think about. Perhaps there was a way to mix these two traditions, he would have to give that some thought later. 

        "Oh? So during that time, do Xhorhasians give gifts of affections?" Caduceus inquired. Molly nodded, sitting up fully again. 

        "Absolutely! Berries, homemade treats, clothing if you're rich, poems if you're creative, performances...flowers, chocolates, the usual. Each person celebrates the love aspect differently. Some focus more on the lust part of the color red, while others focus on more pure emotions. Me? It's whatever strikes me that year~" Caleb caught Molly’s eyes and saw him smirking at him, his eyes warm and making Caleb’s cheeks warmer. But he was slowly growing used to being a blushing mess around the tiefling, he tended to compliment and flirt with everyone here it seemed. Caleb didn’t dwell on it. 

        For now, he was happy to enjoy his lunch with his cat and...and his friends. These were his friends. It was an odd thought as he had only known them for almost two weeks now, but they had a way of making him feel at home. Something he hadn't had since he came to the Academy, even with Astrid and Wulf. 

        "I'm excited to see what we mix together. We have quite the collection here; Xhorhas, Empire, Menagerie Coast and so many others. Perhaps we should just make our own holidays that blend everything." While Caleb didn't have money to buy things, he had magic. Time was not on his side but he hardly slept anyways, it would be worth it to see his friends smile when they received their gifts. Another thought popped into his head and he cursed, dropping his food to look through his bag. 

        "Um, Molly, could you give this to Yasha? I forgot to give it to her." Caleb handed over a worn leather book with various holy symbols on it. 

        "I would wait until this evening but she is always so busy I would hate to delay her work any further." Molly turned and he took the leather bound book with a serious nod. 

        "Of course, love. Does anyone know where Yasha is this time of day?" He asked the three of them. Caduceus raised a hand politely. 

        "I believe, what day is it again? It's Conthsen, correct?" 

        "Yeah!" Jester piped. 

        "Yes, I thought so! Yasha usually has sessions with the Campus Cleric weekly to help her with her stress. What with...what happened and then her having to already be on missions for her patron, it's a lot on a young woman. I'm sure if you head towards the Cleric building and wait you'll catch her." He smiled. Mollymauk sighed in relief. 

        "Thank you, Caduceus, that saved me at least thirty minutes of running all over campus searching." 

        "Danke, Molly. I hate to see her work so hard with no break but I would also hate to be the cause for why she is even further behind on her work. If you would like, I have notes from our history class this morning. I did not see her there, perhaps she could use those as well." Caleb dug through his bag some more and pulled out the lecture notes to hand to Molly. 

        "I have a very good memory, she can keep these if she needs them." He explained, and Molly nodded to show he understood as he set those in his bag as well. 

        "Okay! Thank you, darling. I'll let her know! I'll help her study to the best of my abilities too. After all, we're all trying to graduate here." He laughed, accepting some tea from Caduceus and taking a sip. 

        "Mn! Hibiscus? Cad you have outdone yourself, love." He complimented. Caduceus's ears perked at the praise, nodding. 

        "Thank you, Molly. I grew the Hibiscus myself too, they have been doing quite well, especially after I moved them into the pot Jester made in that pottery club she was in last semester." The Firbolg said proudly.

        "I still don't understand why I couldn't make a dildo in pottery club...they said you could make WHATEVER you wanted! WHATEVER! Dildos are a whatever! You can draw dicks all day and night but I wanted to try and sculpt one. Hmph." She crossed her arms. Caleb flushed at the sudden turn of conversation, hearing Fjord attempting to comfort the tiefling.

        "....There, there? I mean...uh...you could...find a store? I don't know where one is, of course but I am sure there is one...I...um..." He blushed deeply, turning away instead to grab a book and pretend to study. Caleb jumped as Mollymauk bust out laughing, holding his stomach and wiping his eyes,

        "Oh, Fjord! Oh that was so precious! Jester, darling, if you want a dildo I know some places we can go and find some. And if you want one custom made I know a guy. Of course, you need funds. But hey, your mother is Ruby of the Sea, I bet she'd make you one herself." He winked. Jester laughed, grinning and shaking her head. 

        "Oh, Molly. You know my mom wants to keep me 'innocent'. Hard to be innocent as a tiefling of course. But you're right! I get my allowance in a few weeks, we can totally go then~" Jester then grinned and stood up.

        “I have an idea!” She cried, and Caleb blinked up at her while Caduceus just hummed and motioned for her to continue.

        "I think we should have another celebration soon then! According to my calendar, two weeks ago was Caleb's Friend Birthday! So next year, we'll celebrate the day you joined us! Fjord's is coming up in a few months." She hummed, making the half-orc blush. 

        "I-I don't think it's necessary to celebrate that I mean-" 

"        You do not say that when we celebrate a Friend Birthday for any other member, Fjord, darling. You are just as important to us as anyone here. So perk up and accept our love." Mollymauk said simply, his tail tickling the other's knee. Fjord brought his knee away, sending a not-so-annoyed glare at Molly. 

        The concern they all had for each other was a nice change of pace compared to the Vollstrecker’s. Things were brutally competitive among them, even with his childhood friends, Trent made it that way. Here, in the garden and among these potential new friends, they truly wanted to help each other and not tear each other down. Out of the corner of his eye he saw his notebook shine a dim purple. Carefully, he pulled it out and blushed as he read the message. 

~

You look happy, it's a very cute look on you. I hope you can be happy more <3 -MT 

~

He considered his reply for a moment or two before writing, 

~

Thank you, it is thanks to you and your kind friends. I hope that as well. CW

And I am looking forward to our future conversations with this lovely piece of magic. CW

~

        Caleb slipped the book back into his bag and gathered the rest of his things. 

        "I have to go, but thank you all for the food and the company. Should you need my help or just want to stop by, I will be at the library this evening. Schönen Tag." Molly had been reading his messages, the look on his face gentle. Caleb began to leave for his next class, catching Molly’s attention.

        "O-Oh! Yes! Have a good day, Caleb! Shoonen Tog!" He called back, hoping he said the Zemnian words right. He then grabbed his notebook, scribbling some messages in it as Caleb walked off. There was a tiny smile on his lips as he left the greenhouse, Molly was kind of adorable and while his Zemnian was terrible Caleb found he liked it all the same.

.

.

.

        Lucky for Caleb, his next class was not with Astrid or Wulf and any of the other Scourger's didn't pay him much mind, especially in class. When he took his usual seat at the back of the class he took out his enchanted notebook and saw the messages from Molly that made his cheeks bright red. 

~

This lovely piece of magic doesn't hold a candle to how lovely you are, Caleb <3 MT

Have a good class! Study hard~ You always do I suppose. Want to meet up later for dinner? Or perhaps somewhere to study? MT

~

        Caleb thanked the gods that he was the unassuming, quiet and completely average looking mage in the corner that no one bothered to look at because for a brief few seconds he was smiling like an idiot. He quickly dropped back to his stoic expression and began to pen out a reply. 

~

You are really too kind to me. I am not so remarkable...not like you. CW

Unfortunately, dinner is usually reserved for Vollstreaker's. Ikithon thinks group dynamics and partnership is important. And I am tutoring this evening. You can stop by again. I have taken you as a student so really no one could say we are not working. Beau only comes every other day and I have not heard from Yasha. I have to stay the full two hours even if no one shows up...so, you could keep me company again? CW

~

        Caleb didn't close the notebook as the lecture began, though he did listen and jotted down a few notes on another sheet of paper. With his perfect memory he could be sure he would remember everything that was said so long as he at least half paid attention. Besides, talking with Molly was much more interesting than dates of historical battles that ended in Dwendalian victories. He looked over as he saw movement, watching Molly’s messages appear one by one. It took a little bit of concentration to not laugh.

~

I would love to keep you company darling <3 -MT

Holy SHIT for once Science of the Arcane got INTERESTING. MT

Okay so, we're learning about Bloodhunters today! Which are totally illegal I learned which is STUPID. Just because it involves blood but it’s so cool! MT

I bet it's a tiefling thing. MT

So far, mostly Infernals have been discovered to be Blood Hunters IT IS TOTALLY A TIEFLING THING. LET ME DO BLOOD MAGIC DAMMIT. MT

These abilities are so cool...I'm Infernal I could DO this but I CAN'T. MT

I'm totally researching this more. This magic is the shit, it’s so fuckin amazing. MT

Also, thank you I am quite remarkable, but you don't give yourself enough credit, love. You are quite wonderful and charming! Very remarkable in my book~ I like being around you....I had a pick up line but it left me. Curses. If I remember it i'll send it over ;)~ MT

The ~ is my tongue, get it? HA, I'm hilarious~ MT

~

        Nott would be upset with him for slacking off in alchemy, but reading Molly's messages was giving him hope that tomorrow wouldn't be so bad. The day after a session with Trent was always bad but this time he had Molly and the others to help. Even if they couldn't know why he was upset, they could still be with him and their company would ease the pain.

~

I'm glad you are enjoying your studies. I believe there is a book on Xhorhasian ancient rites that may be of interest to you. Infernal Histories as well and prominent Infernal bloodline genealogy should be available within the Cobalt Soul's library. I will ask Beauregard. CW

I see you and Jester are creating quite the pictographic language. Joking aside, it is a brilliant idea. Communicating feelings and larger, complex thoughts with only a few symbols. A new language for the little group, entirely new and unique. CW

A cipher of sorts too, I suppose. CW

: ) CW

Exactly! A language just for us! MT

~

        As his class came to a close he moved on to the next one, counting the short hours until he would be at Trent's mercy once more. At least Mollymauk was a good distraction and a good friend. However, his evening was inevitable like a looming cloud on every message he sent back and forth. He wanted to warn Molly that tomorrow would be rough but how could he without telling the tiefling anything? As he sat at one of the little alcoves in the foreign languages building he tried to think. 

~

        Mollymauk, you have been very kind to me and very honest with me. I think I would like to return that. It is difficult however, so all I can tell you is that tomorrow I may be...different. Distant, dazed even. I will not be myself. CW

        I wanted you to know. I would also like to apologize beforehand. I would stay away but...I do not want to be alone either. I'm sorry. CW  

~

        It took a few moments before he got a response, and as he read the first message he found himself chuckling fondly and shaking his head at Molly’s proud declaration. 

~

        Just got thrown out of class HAHA ahhh...worth it. Sooo worth it. The look on the prof's face was priceless! Literature of the Dwendalian Empire, AKA: Racist history my Professors Jack off Too 101 MT

~

        Of course he could not begin to imagine what the non-human races went through and he knew it was unpleasant but he worried about Molly. The professors here weren't just teachers, they were council members and prominent members of society. They could all make Molly's life difficult off campus just as easy and he didn't want that. 

        Really when he thought about it, Molly was his closest friend here. Astrid was cold now, not like when they were kids. Wulf was cruel, always looking to hurt someone. Trent had broken them and was now rebuilding them into the mages he wanted them to be for the Empire. He had broken Caleb too, but putting him back together was turning out to be more of a challenge than either of them would have thought. Without Molly he feared he would succumb to Ikithon as his friends had...he didn't want that and he would fight to keep this shred of his humanity and sanity intact. 

        He saw the notebook glow again from the corner of his eye and looked down, Mollymauk had responded to his previous message.

~

You're forgiven, love. There really is no need to apologize, I appreciate the warning. If you'd like, perhaps you and I can have lunch alone tomorrow so you're not as overwhelmed? You can be close and distant...it's alright. I'm fine sitting in silence with you, and if you need a special hug just let me know! MT

Special hug meaning...the hug where I don't touch your back and only embrace your shoulders, not like...sex. ALthough if you needed that I'd be down to help too. It can release a lot of stress. That's science baby~ MT

Anyways, we have this notebook now! So if you need me, just message me. I'll always be here, and I'm going to do what I can to help you tomorrow, you've made it this far, so you'll survive tomorrow too. <3 MT

That was a heart! See? <3 <3 Because I care about you! Aren't I clever~? MT

Thank you, Mollymauk. You have no idea how much that means to me. I will do my best to let you know when the time comes. CW

But please be careful in class. I know it is not an easy thing to ask of you but... CW

~

        He stopped writing and stared at the page, unsure if he should say what was about to write. Maybe he could dilute it a bit so it wasn't so scary. 

~

But you bring the group together. After all, I would not be there without your kindness. We need you around here so do not get yourself expelled. CW

You're not the first to tell me to tone it down and you won't be the last ;) MT

I'll chill out a bit I suppose...today I just got a little fired up because it was a very personal story. The recount of War Mage Ikithos III victory over the mountain town of Dirc'cduoo. To my people? It is called Tmy Riey ao Nuqmz, The Rape of Night. I found myself mocking the very generals who worship that horrid man before I could stop myself if I'm being honest. MT

I am not telling you to tone it down. I am telling you to be careful. CW

~

        Caleb thought there was a difference. Mollymauk was bright and flashy, it was charming and just who he was. Caleb couldn't imagine him ever toning down. However, there was a time and place. They needed to pick their battles and be wary. Molly's heart was in the right place, he just needed more discretion.  

~

I am returning to the house to do homework before dinner. I will see you at the library? CW

Yes! I will see you at the library, I'll bring my homework to work on so then I'm not being completely useless haha MT

~

        Back at the house he found some peace in his own room. There were so few Scourgers that they each had their own room. The doors didn't lock, Trent claimed it was a safety measure, but still closing the door gave him as much privacy as he could hope for given the situation. Caleb checked on the preserved flower in his pocket with a smile before he sat down to work. About an hour in there was a familiar knock on the door. Astrid and Wulf and their secret knock. He tensed then sighed and answered, 

        "Komm herein." 

        The door swung open and Wulf flopped onto Caleb's bed, followed by a much more put together Astrid. 

        "Caleb, you've been gone from lunch for two weeks. We were worried, are you alright? I know midterms are coming up but I doubt you are busy with that much tutoring." Wulf chuckled, 

        "I told her you were fine but you know Azzy." Ice blue eyes glared at Wulf but she continued, 

       "You have your session tonight and I wanted to make sure you were feeling well enough to proceed. You know Master Ikithon is already eyeing you. Do well tonight and he may back off for a little while. Here, I had one of the others make this," Astrid held out a small vial, 

        "It is herbal, not magical so it will not interfere, but it will give you strength. We will leave you to your studies. Come on, Wulf, he needs rest." The other man groaned and got up, patting Caleb's head, 

        "Good luck, Cay-Cay." Before she closed the door Astrid looked back, 

        "Be careful, Caleb. Remember where you belong." He wasn't able to study much after that. He did slip the vial into his coat before he gathered his things for tutoring. He nearly bolted out the door, needing space from everything in that horrid house.

Chapter Text

Undeclared 

Chapter 5

Molly, in the gardens

.

.

.

        Molly was curled up in the grass, penning out a response to Caleb so he had something to look at when he got to his next class.

~

This lovely piece of magic doesn't hold a candle to how lovely you are, Caleb <3 MT

Have a good class! Study hard~ You always do I suppose. Want to meet up later for dinner? Or perhaps somewhere to study? MT

~

        "You totally like him." Molly almost threw the book as he startled, gasping. 

        "JEster! Warning!" He scolded. The other tiefling grinned, her eyes mischievous. 

        "You like Caalleeb you like Caleeebbb!" She sang. 

        "Jester, I am pretty sure we all knew that." Caduceus hummed, packing up his own things. 

        "Exactly. Now let me flirt in peace? How am I supposed to kiss a cute wizard with you talking about dildos? You know he is shy!" He sighed dramatically. Fjord raised an eyebrow. 

        "Is this a 'I want to fuck him' crush or a 'I want to bring him into our weird group relationship' crush?" He asked. Molly held a hand to his heart, feigning offense. 

        "You make me out to be some harlot! Which I am. But..." He let his hand drop, taking a deep breath. 

        "I'm not sure...of course I want to fuck him, or have him fuck me, I'm not picky. But...I don't know. I just like him a lot. I feel some kind of pull, you know? Like...if he said he didn't want to have sex, it wouldn't be a turn off. I wouldn't walk away. I just want to make him happy...I just want to be close to him. He needs our help, and even if we don't stay close after the Academy I at least want to give him some good memories." He tried to explain. 

        "Yeah, I understand that. We should try to see him more! Leave him little gifts! I think notebooks are a good start!" She said. 

        "Might I suggest perhaps moving off campus? Lots of people rent homes right outside the area and walk to campus, it is such a short distance after all. He could get out of that horrid house and then stay with us...he could be safe." Caduceus suggested. Molly's eyes lit up. 

        "Cad you're a genius!" He cried, hugging the tallest member of their group. Caduceus laughed and patted his back, smiling down at him. 

        “Well, I have a strong feeling that we are all going to stick together when we leave this place. We might as well be ahead of the game.” He offered. Fjord nodded in return, catching Molly’s eyes and blushing. They all had a serious relationship with each other, it ebbed and flowed easily, 

        “...Before we do any of that, I cannot bring another person into our group without the approval of all of you.” Molly said, sitting back in the grass. He looked to each person, a nervous look in his eyes. 

        “...I mean, I don’t think any of us love him like we love you, Molly. But those feelings take time. So, if you feel an attraction there, I am okay with you exploring it and I am very okay with Caleb exploring his own feelings with us.” Jester explained seriously. Caduceus offered a little hum in return. 

        “I agree. We have not known him long but I cannot deny that he fits in well, if you want to have something with him, go ahead. We know you care for us, if Caleb wishes to share that love he has with you with us too then we will welcome him.” He stood and gathered his things, Fjord being the last one to give his consent. 

        “Yeah...I mean...it works well with us. And we’re not all like...head over heels or anythin’ for each other. We just care deeply, there’s a mutual trust and understanding between how we work. Sometimes you an’ I need our time, and sometimes Jessie an’ I need our time, Cad needs time with us. So...like how any of us pair off, Caleb could learn to adjust and so could we. I say go for it.” 

        Molly smiled widely, hugging each of them tightly and planting little kisses all over their faces. “Thank you!” He whispered. 

        “Yeah yeah...now, don’t you have something to deliver to Yasha?” Fjord smirked. Molly gasped, standing quickly.

        “Yes! You’re absolutely right! I’m off to find Yasha~ I’ll see you all later!” He called, waving before dashing off.

.

.

.

Yasha, Revelations

        Yasha was sitting in the Head Cleric’s office, she felt too big and too cramped despite the room being more than spacious. She sat on the couch that Cleric Mavxik had, her knees pressed tightly together as she sat ramrod straight, hands clasped over her lap, head facing the cleric but her emerald and violet eyes looking anywhere but where the other wanted them to. 

        “Yasha…” The woman said softly. She was an elf, tall with red hair and an angled look. Her gaze was soft, she was always patient with her. “Yasha, you know that you do not have to uncover the meanings behind these missions alone, yes?” 

        She nodded slowly, still quiet as she tried to process everything still. Her missions were always different, a lot of the time she was working in the Storm Lord’s favor. Often times the missions were simple, to fight beside fellow worshipers against a common threat, or to defend temples and places of worship, and on the rare occasion...punish worshipers or priests that went against the Storm Lord’s commandments or used the Storm Lord’s word to take advantage of others. Bravery above all. The first commandment was one that Yasha always whispered to herself. 

        Bravery was all she had left. But even with the commandments so deep in her psyche she still felt cowardly. She tried so hard to be brave, to be an example of what the Storm Lord stood for. with a deep breath she let her shoulders stop sitting up by her ears and she raised her head, elaborate braids tumbling down her back as she readjusted her position. 

        “I killed someone.” Yasha murmured. Cleric Mavix, or Velrali as she asked to be called, sat up a little straighter, her head tilting to one side just a few inches as she rolled her wrist and got her enchanted quill ready to write. 

        “And the Stormlord asked you to do this?” She inquired.

        “Yes.” 

        “Do you know why?” 

        “Yes.”

        “What is the reason?” Velrali crossed one leg over the other, relaxing once more against her chair as she studied Yasha, who seemed to be okay being more vulnerable now. 

        “...The man, someone I used to know, had used the Stormlord’s blessings to bring harm upon those who could not defend themselves. He used his powers for his own benefit, for selfishness, to take over a rebellious faction that I once had been a part of. The Stormlord came to me in a dream, the usual...he sent me there, told me to confront him.” Yasha began, her heart already beginning to pound in her chest as she relived the memory. 

        “And did you confront him physically or verbally?” Velrali asked. 

        “He didn’t specify at first. Usually when my missions involve punishment, I have to warn them first. I give them warning and then if they do not change their ways I go and punish. So I took that route. I found him and...he recognized me.” 

        “Have you two ever been in conflict before?” 

        “Absolutely.” The word came out in a growl like fashion, and she blinked. 

        “Sorry.” Yasha murmured.

        “No, don’t. What was that in there? The emotion behind that...it’s not often you let anger show...and you have a lot of it, dear.” Velrali hummed, making Yasha flush a little. 

        “...He’s the brother to the man that killed ...that killed someone very dear to me.” Yasha whispered, clenching her fists. 

        “Ah...so a very striking reunion I suppose, not anything fun.” Yasha shook her head. 

        "I went to him, and I approached him. Bǫlverkr was his name. It was...I don’t know. He knew why I was there and he wanted me there. He wanted the Stormlord to send me…” Her voice had grown quiet, her eyes distant. 

        “And why was that, Yasha?” Velrali spoke softly. 

        “...Because I had yet to be punished by my people, and he wanted to end it for good. Before Zuala and I’s influence spread any farther.” Yasha felt her voice beginning to shake, and she found she could not remain in her place any longer. She stood, moving to the back of the couch and leaning over the back of it, leg bouncing. She just had to stand, sitting felt too restrictive. 

        “What happened then?” 

        “I ran.” Yasha clenched her fists. “I ran. I was a coward. Bravery above all fled my mind and I ran just like the first time!” She heard footsteps and looked up to see Velrali approaching, the elven woman setting a hand on her shoulder.

        “It’s okay...keep going.” She whispered. Yasha nodded, letting out a deep breath again.

        “H-He wasn’t impressed. The Stormlord...I ran from my mission. I was so upset with myself and...and I asked him how I could prove myself and I was told to follow the commandments. To be brave and to use my strength responsibly...to do what I originally came here to do no matter what.” Velrali moved from behind her, the barbarian grateful because it made her nervous to have the other close. The Cleric sat on the couch, looking up at her. 

        “You don’t like running, why is that?” She hummed.

        “Because I ran once, and it was the worst mistake I ever made.” Yasha stated quietly. “Perhaps if I had not run, if I had stayed...it would have ended differently.” 

        “Why did you run back then?”

        “I was scared.”

        “Of what?”

        “Of who. Of him .”

        “Who’s him?”

        “I dare not speak his name.” Velrali nodded, writing down some things before glancing at the clock on her desk.

        “We have about ten minutes left, just a warning.” Yasha nodded, closing her eyes.

        "I spent the next few days tracking Bǫlverkr, memorizing his schedule...seeing when I could catch him alone or vulnerable. I trained, I took the time to watch how he moved...where he carried his weight. Fight smarter, not harder. After three days I approached him at the end of the day, before he went to bed. I told him to let the rebels go, to return to his patron and ask for forgiveness. But he refused. Bǫlverkr then charged me, we fought, and I drowned him. We were by a river. I was so overcome with rage because he was one of them. He was one of those who hurt us and…” She trailed off, feeling light-headed.

        “And…?” Velrali prompted softly. 

        “And I presented his body to the Stormlord, he told me I did well...that I punished a man who would have used his blessings for evil...but even though I did well I...I don’t know…” She looked away, walking away from the other and hugging herself some. Velrali again approached, a gentle hand on her middle back. 

        “Death is something all of us must face. But none of us can prepare for causing death...for facing it in that light. You might feel off for a little while, I recommend lots of meditation and rest. Okay? No burning yourself out. Take time to forgive yourself and to ask for what you need.” She said, patting her shoulder blades. Yasha nodded, letting out a deep breath.

        “Thank you…” She whispered.

        “It’s what I’m here for...now, I know you have that little tiefling of yours to go and find. Your...brother?” Velrali grinned. Yasha chuckled some, shrugging.

        “Not biologically. But yeah...my brother. I haven’t seen him much since I returned a week ago...I’m sure he wants to see me again. Thank you, Cleric Mavxik.” The elven woman held up a hand.

        “Please...call me Velrali. You spend enough time here.” Yasha nodded, her smile growing some.

        “Will do...should I come in for another session soon?” Velrali moved to her desk, taking out her schedule book and murmuring softly as she paged through it. “I have an opening in about...a week? Ten in the morning?” Yasha shook her head.

        “Patrons in Arcane History II at that time. I’m free after four?” Velrali nodded and looked closer at her book, murmuring more and looking up again.

        “Next Whelsen at four-thirty in the afternoon?” 

        “Perfect. I’ll see you then. Thank you, Velrali.” Yasha gave a little wave and grabbed her fur lined cloak, wrapping it around herself before slipping from the room. Therapy sessions always helped, she had been told to take them after her third mission from the Stormlord. The stress of it all...interpreting dreams, submitting a ‘patron leave form’, leaving, trying to catch up...it had driven her to isolation and constant anxiety. Mollymauk had been deeply troubled, but her professor had found a Vollstrecker who could help. Caleb had taken away a good deal of her stress just by helping her with her classes. 

        Velrali led her out the door of her office and down the hall into the main area. Yasha’s eyes caught familiar purple skin and a gaudy coat the tiefling clung to like a security blanket.

        "Oh, Molly. I didn't expect to see you here. Usually you wait in our spot..." She said, turning to the Cleric and giving a little smile. "Thank you, Miss Velrali." She murmured. The elf nodded, patting her back, she was easily two feet shorter than Yasha.

        "It is not a problem, thank you for the progress you made today! Rest up, and remember the breathing techniques to help you relax. You're doing great!" Velrali smoothed out her pants and gave a little wave before leaving to go and prepare for her next appointment. Molly stood, walking out with Yasha and then handing the notes over to her. 

        "Caleb has these memorized already because he's a genius. So, he's giving these to you! Said you could keep them...if you have any questions he has his tutoring hours so we can help you." Yasha took the notes, putting them in her bag and nodding. 

        "Thank you, Molly. I appreciate it." Yasha reached over and ruffled his hair some, chuckling as the tiefling gawked and made a point of stopping his walking to fix it. 

        “Really, Molly?” 

        “Yes! How dare you!” He pouted. Yasha rolled her eyes and ruffled it again, laughing out loud as Mollymauk let out a defeated groan. 

        “Sorry~” She smiled.

        “No you’re not!”

        “I’m not.” Molly laughed too, throwing an arm around her as they continued to walk. 

        “How are things going?” She asked, leaning her head against the other gently, she had missed this. She had missed the other so much. Molly must have sensed it because she found herself being led to a bench where they sat down. Mollymauk pulled her close and Yasha settled against him, her body melting under the fingers that began to stroke through her hair. 

        “Hmm...they’re going. Tutoring with Caleb has really been helping though. I go every day! He doesn’t tutor me everyday but I go to keep him company, I get my homework done and if I need help he’s there and if I don’t we enjoy each other’s company.” Yasha hummed, closing her eyes.

        “That’s nice, Molly...I’m glad you two are getting along, and that you’ve finally found a way to get your school work done properly.” She smirked. She felt a flick on her forehead and laughed, reaching up and tugging one of his horns.

        “Hey! No touchy the horns!” Molly whined. Opening her mismatched eyes, Yasha reached up with both hands, grabbing his horns like he was a bull teasingly. 

        “What are you gonna do about it?” She smirked, Molly grinned devilishly.

        “This!” Yasha let out a yelp as clawed fingers found her sides. She squirmed and laughed, tugging at Mollymauk until they fell off the bench, ignoring the unamused looks of passing students as they laid on the ground laughing. She hugged the other tightly, nuzzling into his hair. “I missed you…” 

        “I know~ Who wouldn’t miss me?” Molly’s arms wrapped around her too, Yasha was too relieved to be back still to really tease him about his confident attitude. Neither of them had even noticed a student who had stopped and watched them. A shadow appeared over their heads and Yasha tilted her head back to see Beauregard upside down, the monk from the tutoring lessons she had slowly grown fond of over the past few years.

        “Well, this is something.” Beau chuckled. Yasha blushed at being caught in such a position. She cleared her throat and sat up, fixing her hair as Mollymauk laughed.

        “I um...I just got out of my appointment with Miss Mavxik so I was taking a little time with Mollymauk and-” 

        “You know I don’t care right? You guys are family or something right? You just don’t see that kind of dedication here is all.” Beauregard shrugged, offering a hand towards Yasha. She reached out, taking it and pulling herself up. Beau was a source of stress she welcomed...because despite the guilt that plagued her whenever her name left her lips on lonely nights, she found herself looking forward to seeing her often. 

        “How are you, Beau?” Yasha asked. The monk smiled some, hands on her hips.

        “Guess who passed her history test? A solid B! Hah!” Molly gasped, clapping.

        “Beau that’s wonderful, dear! Congratulations!” She watched the other fist bump Beau and she smiled softly, nodding.

        “Yeah, congrats Beau. You worked hard for that.” Yasha hugged the other, ignoring the shyness in her heart. Beau’s strong arms returned the embrace, and she found she couldn’t pull away even after her mind had decided that she had most definitely crossed the time limit for an acceptable hug. 

        “Aww….how cute.” Molly smirked. 

        “Shut the fuck up, Tealeaf.” Beau griped.

        “Hmm...I think I’ll leave you two lovebirds alone~ I have class anyways! Bye darlings!” Yasha snapped her head up, catching Molly’s eyes. They were squinted in mischief and his grin was bordering on a smirk, but beneath all of that was a look that said- I got you. Go for it, love. Yasha hoped her own facial expression expressed her thanks. She wasn’t the best with expressions, but she was trying. Pulling away, she cleared her throat, Mollymauk disappearing around the corner of a building. 

        “You um...you on your way somewhere?” She asked. Beau nodded, rolling her shoulders. 

        “Yeah...History of the Cobalt Soul II in about fifteen minutes.” She muttered. Yasha gave a little chuckle, crossing her arms.

        “You’re doing pretty well in that class though, I’ve heard.”

        “Really?” 

        “Mhm...second in your class. You could easily become first soon though.” Yasha encouraged. She loved the way Beau’s eyes lit up when she complimented her. How the blue in her eyes seemed to swim like peaceful oceans whenever she was happy, the usual stiffness of her face seeming to soften around her. It almost made her think she had a chance with her…

        “Skip class.” She found herself saying.

        “What!?” Beau laughed, her eyes widening. Shit. Yasha was too deep in now. Might as well keep going. 

        “Skip class. I don’t have anything until two. You can pull it off. All it takes is bravery. What are they going to do if you walk in late? Dock you some points? Scary...your grades are still top notch.” Beauregard smirked, her tongue pushing against her left cheek, the expression she got when she was thinking of something wicked.

        “What did you wanna do for an hour?” She asked. Yasha shrugged.

        “I don’t know...I mean...no one’s in the gardens...right? I know how to get in, Molly showed me how. Have you been in there?” She asked softly.

        “I haven’t.” Beau responded.

        “Then...come with me to the gardens.” She whispered, holding out her hand now. Maybe Zuala was guiding her. But she felt something guiding her, a bravery in her heart that was different from the Stormlord’s influence or her own. Either way, she thanked it internally as Beauregard’s calloused hand slipped into her own. 

        “You’re badass Nydoorin. Caleb would have a stroke if he knew what we were doing.” Beau grinned. 

        “Then I guess we can’t let Caleb know, can we?” Yasha smirked, the sound of Beau’s laughter ringing in her ears and sending bells chiming up her back. Beautiful. Beauregard was beautiful. 

        WIth Beau’s hand in her own, Yasha led her across campus towards where the gardens were between the southern dorms and the east campus. They ducked into lesser traveled paths to avoid familiar faces from Beau’s classmates, and Yasha came upon the back entrance of the garden after about ten minutes. She stepped forward towards the gate and held her hand against the iron, whispering softly the incantation that Caduceus had put onto it to allow only them into the garden. Should anyone else unlock or open the gate, it simply switched their direction to go into the north end of the garden away from their special spot. The lock glowed for a moment before clicking open, and Yasha held the door open for Beau before following her inside. 

        “This is their special spot...private and away from prying eyes. Really, Caduceus is the one that takes care of this entire garden so other groundskeepers don’t mess with it. They don’t see a reason to. Oh, you might want to take off your coat. It’s warmer here.” She warned, pushing open the bushes to let Beau sneak into the back entrance of the garden. They arrived in the main area where the oak tree was and the grassy area they all sat in. The shade from the leaves covered almost all of it, giving a cool space to relax and stay comfortable. Yasha looked to see Beau’s reaction, her heart skipping a beat at the monk’s expression. Her eyes were wide and her gaze soft, lips parted and shoulders lax. 

        “Wow…” Beau breathed. “How did they even DO this?” 

        “I’m not sure. Caduceus and Jester did it...it’s a modified Hut spell, so it’s like ...something they recharge, but it’s basically that.” Yasha smiled.

        “That’s so fucking cool.” Beau went over to the tree, plopping under it and leaning against the trunk. Following, Yasha rolled up her fur lined cloak on the grass and laid down, patting the soft spot next to her. Beau was quick to move, her head lying beside hers as they looked up into the green leaves of the oak tree. It felt like the cold, dreary weather of the Druscar months was far away now...in this area, the pleasant warmth and breezes of Dualahei surrounded them at all times. 

        “Thanks man...for not judging me for skipping. I mean I know it was your idea and everything, but I needed a break like this...school is killing me.” Beau sighed, closing her eyes. 

        “It’s not a problem Beau...trust me, I know. School’s killing me. I’m so tired…” She sighed, Yasha wanted to close her eyes but feared if she did she would fall asleep. 

        “Have you been sleeping better, at least?” She heard Beau ask. Yasha loved spending time alone with Beau. She wasn’t as reserved or ‘tough’ when she was alone with her. Beauregard trusted her enough to be vulnerable and softer around the edges...it was so nice to have that trust. Yasha had felt drawn towards her for a while now. 

        “A little bit.” She responded. “A few nightmares here and there, not Stormlord related or anything, just the usual.” 

        “Ah...her?” 

        “Yeah…” There was silence for a few moments, and then a warm hand took her own. Yasha had not been expecting it, and she stiffened for just a few seconds before relaxing. 

        “I’m sorry…” Beau murmured, her hand giving Yasha’s a gentle squeeze. Yasha returned the squeeze, keeping her eyes up at the coagulation of leaves dancing above her in the afternoon sun. 

        “Not your fault.” If it was anyone’s fault, it was her own. She should have known Zuala’s ex would have hunted her down. Both of their betrothed had been incredibly angry at their decisions. She shouldn’t have let Zuala go out alone that night, she should have trusted her gut that told her to beg her to stay inside, that her errand could wait, that it wasn’t safe. 

        “I know…” Beau’s voice brought her back to the present, “It’s just shitty. You’re too young to know that grief and yet here you are...it’s just not fair, but I guess you could nap here though if you wanted.” Beau offered, turning to lay on her side, Yasha turning her head to face her. 

        “Maybe you won’t have nightmares this time…” She offered.

        “Yeah I guess I could...I mean...I don’t want to be rude...fall asleep on you and-”

        “You’re not being rude. You need to sleep. Yasha you look fucking exhausted. I know you’re incredibly pale as it is but damn you’re starting to look sick...I’m worried.” Beau interrupted, making Yasha bit her lip some. 

        “You’re worried about me?” She whispered. Beau almost looked shocked, as if it had been obvious.

        “Yeah…? Dude I’ve been worried sick.” She moved a little closer, Yasha’s heart beating faster. What did she say to that? What would normal people say? Why did she have to be so weird!?

        “Yasha?”

        “You are very nice to me.” She blurted, almost slapping herself at how stupid she sounded.

        “I hope I am...geez.” Beau smirked, easing the tension some. 

        “A-And I appreciate it. You know? You are very nice to me. And I am gone a lot. I know a lot of people envy me for being close to my patron, but it is so hard...you guys are all I have. You and Molly and Caleb...I…” She trailed off.

        “What?”

        “It’s...it’s gonna sound stupid but...I envy that little group Molly has...he has been so happy since finding them. But I am not around enough to find people like that.” She mumbled. She jumped as a hand rested on her bicep, and she flicked her heterochromic eyes up at the monk. 

        “It’s not stupid to want friends. But it is stupid that you think you can’t have them. When do you have lunch?” Beau began to rub her arm gently, it was oddly soothing and Yasha tried not to look awkward when she relaxed from it. 

        “Twelve o’clock, noon. I don’t have anything until two in the afternoon after that.” 

        “Join us for lunch.”

        “What?” Yasha’s eyes widened.

        “Join us. I’ve been meaning to sit with them instead of eating in my dorm alone, so...let’s make a habit of eating lunch with them. Deal? And if you don’t feel like being around many people you and I can just go and find somewhere to eat.” The idea was nice, and if Beau was inviting her then maybe she should consider. They had lunch in the area they were in, Mollymauk had told her countless stories that made her laugh of things he and his friends had said. 

        “O-Okay...yeah.” She smiled shyly. 

        “Awesome!” Beau grinned, moving closer. “Can I hug you?” 

        The request surprised Yasha, but she didn’t necessarily hate the idea. Quite the opposite in fact. She gave a nod and when Beau hugged her she let her arms wrap around her in return, 

        “I’ve always wanted to do this, holy shit I was right...you give the best cuddles with those buff arms.” She swooned. Yasha blushed and pulled way to look at her, heart almost in throat as she spoke. 

        “I-I’ve always...wanted to try something too….” She mumbled.

        “Hm? What’s that?” Beau looked up at her, she was so close ...all she had to do was lean forward and kiss her but that fear within her welled up again, guilt soon following. 

        “N-Nothing.”

        “Nooo don’t pull that bullshit Nydoorin. What did you wanna say?” Beau pressured.

        “It was seriously nothing!”

        “Bull.”

        “Beau!” Yasha whined, covering her face.

        “Come on! What’s the worst that could happen if you speak your mind for once?” Beau asked, resting her head in her hand.

        “Seriously, tell me. What’s gonna happen if you say it?” 

        “You’re gonna think I’m weird?” Yasha tried.

        “That’s stupid. I’m not gonna think that.” Beau deadpanned. Sighing, Yasha nodded.

        “I..I’ve been...wanting to do something else besides cuddle you and…” She trailed off, but Beau nodded towards her, waiting for the barbarian to elaborate.

        “....I wanna kiss you, Beau.” Yasha whispered, sounding afraid. “I want to kiss you, but I don’t know if you like girls and if you do if you like me or would be comfortable with that and I know I’m not like...a typical lesbian but it’s fine and I don’t know it’s just been a while since I’ve done anything with anyone and I’m not sure what I’m doing and-” She stopped as Beau set a hand over her mouth gently.

        “You talk the most when you’re nervous. Just like Molly and Caleb.” Beau smirked, removing her hand and leaning forward.

        “I-I can’t help it I-” Yasha’s words were cut off as Beau leaned down and pressed her lips against hers, Yasha freezing and feeling her whole being seem to explode and freeze at the same time. She began to return the kiss and then… peace. No more explosions, just a sensation of calm washing over her as their lips slowly moved together. Yasha had never thought she’d kiss someone again, and she couldn’t believe her intuition had been right. Beau DID like girls! 

        They both shifted at the same time, Beau to cup Yasha’s face and Yasha to hold onto Beau’s waist. They pressed closer, the kiss becoming deeper and shy tongues engaging in a slow dance to test the waters. By the time Yasha pulled away she was breathless, and she gazed at Beau who was looking at her like she was some prize she had won at a festival. 

        “B-Beau…?” She whispered.

        “That was fucking awesome.” Beau breathed, her lips splitting into a grin. Yasha laughed and hid her face in the monk’s neck. 

        “Yeah...yeah it was.” She laughed softly, hugging her closer. “So, does this mean you like me?” 

        “Oh my gods…”

        “I’m serious!” Yasha whined. Hands gently tugged her face up so she could look into Beau’s eyes, and Yasha knew her cheeks were still red from blushing.

        “ Yes . Yasha I really like you. In the lesbian way. I think you’re really cool and I just want to continue doing cool things with you.” Beau maybe wasn’t the most eloquent with words but hey, she knew what she meant. 

        “...I like you too… Beau you’re so smart and… and you make me smile with your no bullshit attitude. It’s so refreshing to see someone as dedicated and durable as you.” Yasha pecked her lips again.

        “So...you wanna….you know, date or something?” As much as Yasha loved the idea, she knew she wasn’t ready. Just thinking about it made her heart clench in unresolved guilt. Beau must have seen her expression fall some, because the monk was sitting up slowly.

        “Sorry...I didn’t mean to pressure you or anything I was just-”

        “N-No! Beau that’s not it I just…” Yasha sat up quickly, holding Beau’s shoulder. Beau laid her hand atop of her own, looking up at her. 

        “....I really like you, Beau. I really really like you. And...I-I want to see you… privately… and kiss…. And other things. But i’m not sure if my heart is ready to call it dating yet. If that makes sense.” She tried to explain.

        “Soo…. we date but we just don’t call it that?” Beau suggested.

        “Yeah, pretty much. I’m not ready for the g word, girlfriend, or the d word, dating, yet.” 

        “I can live with that.” Beau shrugged, an easy look on her face. 

        “...Really?” Yasha was a little shocked. She half expected the other to want an answer. 

        “Yeah. You like me...don’t you?” She asked. Yasha gave a firm nod.

        “Then take your time. I know where I stand. I want to date you, but you need to figure that shit out still. No big deal, I’m here when you’re ready. In the meantime...if you need someone to make out with, I’m your girl.” Beau winked. The immediate understanding and patience had thrown Yasha for a loop. Not because she believed Beau to be opposed to her request, but because she had not expected Beau to like her in that way at all

        Moving closer, Yasha shyly laid her head on the other’s shoulder, her strong arms winding around the monk’s waist. She towered over Beau, and she felt awkward being the one requesting affection but she needed it. Beau’s arms wrapped around her, fingers splayed over the middle of her back. 

        “Thank you,” Yasha whispered. “You don’t know how much this means...everything is just so much and…” 

        “I know...it’s tough.” Beau murmured. Yasha nodded again, closing her eyes. 

        “Is everything alright? With the Stormlord I mean...you seem pretty tense...this last mission must have sucked…” Beau didn’t even know how right on the nose she was. Sighing, the barbarian felt her eyelids twitch a bit in stress. Great. Stress twitches. She loved those. Just meant things were about to get a lot worse.

        “Yeah...it...it sucked pretty bad. Murder wasn’t even the worst of it.” She huffed.

        “Holy shit you had to kill someone!?” Beau held her a little tighter.

        "Yeah...it was my mission. He was an asshole anyways, kinda deserved it. Would have continued hurting a lot of people if I hadn’t…” She mumbled, shrugging. 

        “If it wasn’t that then...what was it?” What had really eaten away at Yasha had been the messages and warnings the Stormlord had given her on her return to the Academy. Dreams and visions that plagued her. They had stopped about a day out from her return, but one thing had been made clear: her most trying mission was yet to come. 

        “Yasha…?”

        “I was sent dreams and visions. I...didn’t talk to Velrali about it yet but…” She trailed off, Beau going quiet for just a moment before speaking up once more.

        “...Well, you can tell me.” She said. Yasha considered it, usually she spoke to Mollymauk but the other was pretty occupied at the moment with the Caleb Issue. She felt bad dumping so much on the teifling as well, he had his own issues too...Beau was offering, it would be rude to turn her down when she obviously needed the assistance.

        “The man I killed was the brother of the man who murdered my late wife. The man who was to kill us both for rejecting our tribe’s tradition...our little stunt apparently influenced enough people to start a little rebellion, others in tribes doing the same...he was going around and killing them all, using the gifts the Stormlord had bestowed upon him for evil. I killed him. But...that’s not all.” She sighed. Beau’s arms tightened around her, holding her steady which Yasha appreciated. 

        “In my dreams...I see him . Not...the guy I killed, his brother. He is coming towards me, and no matter how fast I run or where I hide he finds me. In some dreams I am already in his grasp, and all I can feel is pain and hear Zuala’s screams. He’s always right behind me...it’s terrifying…” She breathed. 

        “Holy shit...and the Stormlord sent you those dreams?”

        “Yes.” Yasha confirmed.

        “In them...he tells me he is coming, that he wants revenge, that he wants to finish what he started, that my past is not done staying there. What I ran from is coming back, Beau. I...I need to be brave but I’m not sure that I can be.” She confessed, squeezing her eyes shut. For a while they were quiet, Beau just letting Yasha sit there in silence, taking the time she needed. After a few moments Beau shifted, her calloused hands caressing her face so Yasha had to look at her. 

        Beau’s face was concerned but still gentle, and her thumbs rubbed at Yasha’s cheekbones as she spoke.

        “Yasha...you are one of the bravest people I know. You can defeat this guy just like you did with the last asshole. What’s the difference anyways?” She chuckled. Yasha raised a hand and laid it atop of Beau’s, leaning into the hold on her cheek. 

        “...Because the man hunting me, as the Stormlord showed, is the man I was betrothed to before I eloped with Zuala.” She murmured, the words seeming to echo off the bushes around them. Beau’s figure stiffened in front of her, the tips of her fingers twitched against the skin on her face, wanting to grip something. 

        "Your….your fucking ex is hunting you down?” She asked lowly.

        “Yes...Zuala and I were engaged to a pair of brothers. And...we fell in love and ran away. The brothers were outraged. One brother killed Zuala and exacted revenge as our tribe traditions states...now the other brother, my ex, is coming to find me.” Yasha explained.

        “Gods you make it sound like he’s hunting prey…” She muttered.

        “He is. He’s hunting me down and he is going to kill me.”

        "You’re saying it like there’s no stopping it!” Beau pulled away, leaving Yasha cold. She frowned as Beau leaned back, studying her. 

        "Maybe there isn’t a way to stop it, Beau. His brother killed my wife . After so many years he has managed to track my trail. I don’t know if I can stop him.” Yasha felt her voice rise in slight panic, her heart began to beat faster. 

        “If he tracked us down once...and now he is tracking me down still. He never let it go. He’s going to finish what he started and he’ll take out anyone who gets in his way.” She took a deep breath, the urge to run tickling the back of her mind. 

        “Maybe he won’t kill you. Maybe he’ll just try to make you his wife, in that case we can use a memory spell to wipe his memory of you.”

        “I don’t know if that would be better or worse, Beau.” She shuddered. Being forced to be his wife? She had been under his control once. Never again. She had promised Zuala that at the very least. 

        “...I don’t know. Maybe it’s not safe here. Or if he DOES find me I don’t think I'd forgive myself if he hurt any of you…” She lay on her back and looked up at the leaves in the trees. The sun was approaching three in the afternoon, the only sound on campus was the occasional laugh or shout of a student in the distance, or the birds that stayed for the colder months. 

        “You’re not thinking of leaving, are you?” Beau asked, leaning over her. Yasha averted her gaze in shame.

        “I-I don’t know I mean...if it means keeping you all safe and…” She trailed off.

        “And what, Yasha? What if he DOES find you and KILLS you? How are we supposed to know? How are we supposed to help you if you aren’t here?” Yasha blinked and turned to look at Beau directly.

        “You don’t want to do that. You have no idea what he’s like. What he can do .” 

        “I don’t give a fuck who he is! I’ll kick his ass!” Beau growled.

        “Beau please!” Yasha fretted. “I...I don’t want anyone to get hurt because of me. Just...let me speak about it with Velrali and a few of my professors...see what my options are…” She said, sitting up and laying a hand on her knee. 

        “...Promise me you won’t run. Okay? Promise me you’ll exhaust every option before coming to that conclusion.” Beau said, a hand gently caressing her face. Yasha blushed lightly and nodded, leaning against the hand and sighing softly. 

        “....I promise. No more running. Not unless there is no other option.” She whispered.

        “You’ll be brave?” Beau challenged.

        “I’ll be brave.”

        “And you’ll kick this guy’s ass?” Yasha chuckled.

        “Yeah...I’ll kick his ass.” She promised. Beau nodded and gave her a pat on the shoulder.

        “Good! That’s my girl.” Lips pressed to hers again and Yasha flushed, chasing those lips when they pulled away. She couldn’t help but stare at Beauregard...she was so nice...everything she did for her was so nice. She accepted her, never judged her, let her rant or let her be completely silent. She was one of her best friends here on campus next to Mollymauk. 

        “What?” Beau tilted her head, her thin eyebrows furrowing together in a way that just made her look more adorable in the woman’s opinion.

        “Nothing...I just...thank you.” Yasha pulled her into a tight hug, the monk’s arms making their home around her waist easily and giving a gentle squeeze.

        “Um ...you're welcome? What are you thanking me for? Being awesome? Because in that case I was just born with it baby.” Yasha rolled her eyes and pinched her side, laughing at the high-pitched squeal Beau gave. 

        “Tell NO ONE I am ticklish!” She demanded, Yasha laughing.

        “My lips are sealed!” She giggled. “No I was just...thanking you for being around. For seeing me...and understanding me. I don’t think I could have told anyone about my ex Obann without completely panicking…but you made me feel a lot better.” Beau reached out and brought her back in for another hug, Yasha pressing close and nuzzling against the side of her head. 

        “I’m not one to judge. Especially since I’m pretty much a hot fucking mess. Anyways...you know you can tell me anything. Thank you for helping me skip class and for...you know...kissing me and...liking me.” Beau mumbled, Yasha could feel the way her cheeks heated up against her skin. She pulled back to see the blush, cupping Beau’s face before she could hide it.

        “Let me see your blush!” She gasped, Beau blushing harder and whining.

        “N-No! I look stupid!” Oh god now she was pouting, that just made her look irresistible. 

        “No, you look beautiful.” Yasha corrected. Kissing her lips she heard the bell toll three, and she pulled away with a sigh. 

        “We should either continue this in your dorm or get ready to go to our next classes.” Yasha stood, brushing any grass off her before putting her cloak back on. Standing, Beau reached for her hand and a devilish smirk similar to Mollymauk’s graced her rose tinted lips. 

        “Wanna go back to my place?” She asked, her eyes saying that Beau was not planning on studying with her. Yasha felt a tingle of excitement run up her spine as she nodded.

        “Absolutely.” 

Chapter Text

Undeclared

Chapter 6

Mollymauk, Realizing

.

.

.

        Molly didn't think much of the classroom incident at first, he was known for causing trouble every now and again in Dwendalian Literature. He got back to his dorm and lit some incense, keeping the window open a crack. He was in the housing the academy really didn't give a shit about. No humans were housed in the apartment like complex, and they rarely sent over any RA's, and when they did it was just to make sure they weren't being loud. Usually they weren't either, the humans kept to themselves and all the other non-human races were perfectly okay with that.

        As he lay in his bed he stared up at the ceiling, incense swirling around his room as the scene replayed itself in his head against his wishes. Caleb had told him to be careful, to say that he was paranoid now would be an understatement. After all, Caleb was even deeper in the Vollstrecker shit than he had been. If Caleb was warning him...maybe he should take it seriously.


 

        "Would you care to recount this story then? Since you seem to know more about it than I do?" The professor said irritably, having had enough of Molly’s whispered comments to the students beside him who were giggling. Molly grinned, standing up. 

        "Certainly!" He strode to the front of the classroom, clearing his throat. 

        "You see, long ago there was a nation called Xhorhas, it's still here, just different. The Krynn Dynasty ruled over us and we were happy. No one bothered us and we were happy, we lived peacefully! We had our Dynasty and everything! There was no fear of the outside because we kept to ourselves! We enjoyed our “sexual”  holidays celebrating fertility and pleasure and life was wonderful! Then you all came to visit, and you didn't like what you saw. We were different! Oh! And different is bad." He pouted. 

        "Then the Dwendalians invaded us. You sent your war mages and raped our women and murdered our children~ You invaded our villages, claiming to 'civilize' us when in reality you just wanted us to conform to your standards because you fear what you cannot understand. It's quite pathetic really, and now here I am, a Xhorhasian Tiefling in your precious, human school. Oh, did I forget to mention your so called 'renowned leaders' jack off to these rape fantasies every night before bed so they can rid themselves of the guilt? Because no sane person would look at what your Empire has done and think it is right. So...jack off to it, suddenly you’re a big man~ Aren’t you~?" He winked, making a jerking motion with his hand. Laughter erupted from the class, save for the few extreme loyalists who were scowling and pretending to bare their fangs at him, a common mockery towards Tieflings. The professor grabbed his ear, yanking him closer. 

        "That is enough disrespec-" Molly grabbed his wrist, yanking it from his ear. His eyes narrowed dangerously and he let his claws prick at the skin of the older gentleman who just stared in slight shock at him. Molly was not violent, but he did not tolerate needless disrespect to his boundaries.

        "Let's get this straight. Your kind may have slaughtered my brothers and sisters and "won", but that does not mean you can pull me around like some kind of dog. Do not touch me." He hissed a small curse in Infernal, stepping away. The man ripped his hand away from his touch as he was letting go, anger was boiling beneath the human’s skin and Mollymauk could see it.

        "Get out of my class."

        “Gladly.”

        He knew this was a mistake waiting to come and bite his ass. The professor, Master Doolan Tversky, was well known for his knowledge in Dysology. Though the current class focused on accepted literature of the Dwendalian Empire, Master Tversky taught students not only the history of the piece of literature, but how they related to the current social climate of the Empire. Mollymauk had snatched his things up, skillfully avoiding a leg that had been stuck out to trip him, and gave a bow before leaving the class with a pointed look at the Cerberus Assembly Master.


 

        Mollymauk scowled and huffed, curling up and hugging a pillow. Fucking loyalists and their stupid fucking stereotypes. This was why the circus was so much better. Gustav had promised him that this school would get him a good life, a stable life; but so far all he was learning was that he never stood a chance because he was a Tiefling who was from Xhorhas, and therefore unworthy. If education made him aware of all the bad in the world, he didn’t want it. Ignorance was bliss and he preferred his bullshit. His bullshit was honest, his bullshit made people happy. His bullshit didn’t involve half of the pain he had suffered since coming to this school two years ago. 

        He knew Gustav had his heart in the right place...the man was like a father to him now. He had come from somewhere bad considering Gustav and Yasha had found him climbing out of what had apparently been his grave over ten years ago. Whatever had happened to that person was proof enough to Molly that life was worth much more than people thought. And if his last life had put him in the cold ground at such a young age, then he wanted to live this life to the fullest. Pleasure, happiness, and sharing those things with others. 

        A child...the body he had awoken in was a child’s. A thirteen year old tiefling. Who in their right mind would have murdered them? What killed him? WHO killed him and why? He wasn’t sure if he wanted to know those answers. If asked, he always said no. He didn’t want to know. He didn’t care. That person was dead now and he was in this body. It was his now. He would have none of it. But lately...since coming to the school….he had begun to wonder if his past soul had been a victim in the very stories he was being forced to read in classes. Was he a child murdered by the Empire? Had he been alone? Or had his mother tried to protect him? Was his father there? Where was his family…? 

        Mollymauk shook his head, a hand wrapping around his right horn and holding it tightly, the pressure of being pulled into the soft pillow comforting him somewhat...he had always done it. Holding onto his own horns like some kind of stronghold, he only did it when he felt particularly overwhelmed, nervous, or panicked.


 

        Before Mollymauk could make it too far from class, he was stopped between the main academic property and the dormitories, the road was empty ahead of him save for two figures approaching him. He recognized the two boys as the ones from his previous class who had barred their fangs. The tall one, lanky and with slicked back brunette hair, had an egotistical air around him. While his shorter but more built friend seemed like the quiet, judging type, one who didn’t need to speak his mind. He looked like the perfect Dwendalian soldier. As they got closer, Mollymauk recognized them as two members of the Vollstrecker house. 

        Both of them had laid their hands on him before, and his jaw was tightening to stop himself from spitting Vicious Mockery at them. They had overcome him once in that House, and Molly refused to let it show that the Vollstrecker’s had left their mark on him mentally.

        "Afternoon, gentleman." He said simply, moving to slip past. The brunette, Heinrich, motioned towards his friend, Niklas. Before Molly could continue on his way, Niklas had grabbed his horn and yanked, pulling him down and forward while Heinrich threw a punch into his stomach. It pushed the air out of his lungs and the ground raced up to meet him as Niklas drop him, he growled lowly, tail twitching in the urge to show these men their true place. Under him. But he knew how to pick his battles, and this was one he did not need to fight yet. So he chuckled, letting his form relax as if he hadn’t been phased at all by the hit.

        "Well now, that wasn't very nice, was it?" He said, looking up at them. 

        "Oh, you both are the odiz zyyzm from class~" He grinned. 

        "What the fuck did you call us?" The Heinrich grabbed his collar, yanking him up. 

        "Flat teeth." Molly said. 

        "The whole barring your fangs? Yeah...you kind of have to have fangs to do that. Like this-" He bared his own fangs and hissed, the boy dropping him and wiping his face in disgust. Molly stood, tail wrapping around his waist tightly to prevent it from being yanked. 

        "Dirty blooded Vollstrecker slut!" Heinrich shouted. Molly just flipped him off, 

        "Coward worshipers! If you all really cared about civilizing people, you'd start with your own!" He grinned, and avoided a Thunderclap as he ran off.  


 

        Mollymauk had examined where he had been punched, finding a bruise forming that was fist sized. He shrugged, not really minding it. He had suffered worse. After taking some time to meditate with his cards and work on slowing down his racing thoughts, Mollymauk cleaned himself up and began to make his way towards the library. He had been going almost every day to hang out with Caleb, Beau, and Yasha. Even if he didn’t have a lesson with Caleb it was nice to sit somewhere quiet with people he liked and do his homework. The garden was wonderful too but it didn’t have the study vibe that he needed to stay focused. The library kept him on task, and with Caleb there he felt a little safer, a lot of Vollstrecker roamed the halls for materials and studying. They never stayed long, barely even casting glances at them as they hurried past, grabbed books, and made their way back down the stairs. 

        Molly had even dressed for the occasion; donning tight, striped leggings that were black and red along with a dark, purple-magenta like colored, flowing blouse. He left the top three buttons undone, allowing his chest to peek out some, and he at last put on his coat and knee high boots, nodding in the mirror before gathering his things and strutting to the library. 

        When he got there he found Caleb as far away from human life as possible. The top floor, not the top floor as in the last floor of books...the actual top. Caleb was in one of the towers where study rooms were, the sign on the door simply said "Widogast - Tutor, knock please". So he did, he knocked a few times then peeked in, smiling softly. 

        "Hey there, handsome." He winked, coming in and shutting the door behind him. 

        "What are yer doin' all the way up here, eh?" 

        "Studying." Caleb muttered. Mollymauk opened up one of the windows in the far corner of the room, allowing the tower to not feel as stuffy. 

        "There we go...everything alright, darling?" Mollymauk came over and sat next to Caleb, setting a brown paper bag in front of him. 

        "Ja, I'm fine." Caleb’s voice sounded dead...Molly frowned, concern furrowing his brows.

        "Muffins, leftover from this morning. Jester baked them for the week, blueberry. Absolutely delightful, the woman knows her sweets." He smiled, grabbing his homework.

        "Danke, but I am not hungry." Caleb sighed, guilt evident on his face. Mollymauk didn't take offense, he just pushed the bag to the middle of the table. 

        "That's alright! Take it with you then, have it when you do get hungry." He offered, looking through his homework. Another two page response to another stupid story. He knew what the professors wanted to hear too so he just had to write down some nationalist bullshit and be on with it. He had the outline for his paper...he needed to write his draft. He could work on that he supposed, and- he looked up as Caleb spoke, Yasha’s name falling from his lips.

        "Yasha will not be here this evening. She is resting.” Caleb informed.

        "Oh? Ah, that's good then. She needs her rest. Poor thing almost works herself to death. Like someone else I know~" He teased, poking Caleb's hand gently and chuckling.

        "She is doing well and I thought she deserved a break. So...we are on our own.”

        "All alone, hm? My my, Mister Caleb. If you wanted a room to make out with me in all you had to do was ask~" He winked, leaning on the table with his arm, Caleb’s face going red and his eyes widening.

        "Kidding! Well, not really. I'd kiss you in a heartbeat, love. But you know what I mean...I'd never force someone into anything." He leaned back in the chair, looking over at him. 

        "You look distant already, I don't mean to pry but...are you really alright? You can tell me...I won't do anything or go to anyone if you don't want me to..." 

        "I, um, ja, I'm fine. There is nothing to tell. Even if there was, it is my problem. I cannot expect you to fix it." Caleb’s voice was quiet, hopeless. Mollymauk wanted to call bullshit. There was everything to tell, 'nothing' didn't make someone shut down like that. But pressuring wouldn't help the situation. 

        "I may not be able to help...but I can at least lessen your burden by listening. Sometimes to find a solution, or just to feel better, you need to vomit up all those words that are clogging up your head. Consider me a confidant...~" He smiled. Molly’s eyes brightened and he grabbed the notebooks. 

        "Here!" He opened his own, smiling at Caleb. 

        "Why don't you write it down, takes some of the pressure off? You don't have to talk then...and I'm right here next to you~"

        "You have enough trouble here as it is, I can handle this on my own." Molly sighed as Caleb pushed him away again, but he knew these things took time. 

        “...Try?” He asked quietly, pushing Caleb’s enchanted quill towards him. Caleb seemed to stare at the quill as if it were a poisoned dagger. They fell into silence after that, and every so often Molly would let his tail gently drape across Caleb's lap. He worked on his homework, writing responses to stories he didn't care about and studying for a test in his Science of the Arcane class.

         He was about to pull out his scroll to look at some material for the paper he had to write for his Magical Ware and the Empire class when he noticed the notebook glow for a moment. Saved by Caleb yet again. He gladly put that scroll aside, pulling the notebook closer and opening it to see the words-

 

~

Not strong enough. CW

~

 

        The air around Caleb was thick, and his aura was both reaching out to be held and pushing him away at the same time. Conflict. Molly plucked up a quill and thought for a moment, wanting to give a serious response. After a moment he let his heart speak, knowing it had helped in the past. 

 

~

You don't have to be strong enough, you just have to survive until tomorrow. Just make it one more day. MT

Strength isn't necessarily being able to take hit after hit, or having the endurance of a Minotaur in rut, strength is also surviving and confiding in others or asking for help. Strength isn't pretty Caleb, true strength is what most people look away from. MT

~

 

        He wasn't sure if that helped, and he took another moment before writing again. 

 

~

Try doing a stream of conscious for me, just put everything you are thinking on this page, and when your mind is clear and you can think productive thoughts, tear the page up...and we're going to burn it~ MT

~

 

        Glancing over at Caleb, he very carefully laid a hand on his shoulder, not putting too much pressure on him. 

        "Do you think you could do that? It doesn't have to make sense...but I can almost see how crowded that mind of yours is." He murmured, gently rubbing his thumb over the curve of his shoulder. Molly watched as Caleb seemed to take his idea to heart, staring at the page. The air around him was still thick but Molly wasn’t at as much of a distance as he had been before. Slowly, Caleb lifted his hand took the enchanted quill in his hand. Molly smiled softly and took his hand away after giving his shoulder a gentle pat.

        He partly wished he could read what Caleb was writing, and he knew he could simply lean over and do so. It wasn’t like Caleb was trying to block anyone from seeing anything. He was hunched over, sure, but that was it. Hunched over, focused, his hand writing furiously. Molly wouldn’t betray the trust Caleb was giving him right now by being vulnerable. So, he watched him write. His hand scribbling, his breathing heavy, Mollymauk even spotted a few tears sliding down Caleb’s sallow cheeks and dripping onto the paper. As much as the tiefling wanted to reach out and wipe those tears, he stayed put, not wanting to break his concentration. Wherever Caleb was, it was not in the present with him. And if that was what he needed, then Mollymauk would respect that.

        He began to write as well, something for Caleb to see when he got home. He opened to a new page and began to write in earnest, speaking his heart usually helped others...maybe it would help Caleb too.

 

~

        I know you're in pain, and that you are suffering so much, and it hurts me a lot to see you trying to fight alone...when you are ready, I hope you will let me fight with you, or at the very least let me be the one to wrap your wounds and hold you when you're down. It doesn't hurt me when you're distant, or anxious, or worried about the others and I...but it does hurt me when you are hurt. Physically or mentally. I care about you too, darling <3 So please don't suffer alone if you don't need to. There is power in numbers, and I know you don't believe yourself to be strong enough, but I'm going to tell you what I see...

I see a man who has obviously gone through a lot. Someone who has made it this far and is just trying to make it a little farther, a man put into a house where he does not belong because he is not heartless or awful or violent. You are a man of heart, Caleb. You care so much, anyone can see it in the way you try to keep others away. You're smart, sure...but people only focus on that aspect of you and it's wrong. You are so much more than the books you read and the tests you pass, you are more than some stupid grade point average. You are Caleb Widogast, a talented wizard, a caring human being, and most importantly; my friend. 

A friend who would gladly spend many hours just kissing you breathless because you really are that cute, dear. Honestly it should be illegal. 

Truly yours, 

Mollymauk Tealeaf~

~

 

        He closed the notebook when he was done, seeing Caleb furiously wiping at his eyes and looked up to Molly. 

        "Danke...that was...I think it helped at least a little. Though I'm sorry we wasted so much of your study time on this..." The wizard crumpled the paper and held it in one hand, the other gesturing as he muttered a few words. The parchment began to smolder, not an open flame but a gentle ember as it burned. Molly watched the man set the paper ablaze, the paper smoldering gently and curling at the edges, his heart jumping the closer it got to Caleb's skin. The second it was gone he shook his head, taking Caleb's hand and blowing the ashes away.

        "I went somewhere dark there...I'm sorry you had to see that. All of it." Caleb whispered. Mollymauk gave a little chuckle, shaking his head. 

        "Caleb, darling...this was not a waste. I got a lot of my homework done! Any time spent with you is not wasted. I'm just happy it helped...you released a lot of emotions there." He let go of his hand once he was sure he hadn’t burned himself.

        "Don't apologize, I didn't mind it one bit. Caleb, I'm proud, you went somewhere dark...but you came back, now that is strength." He smiled at him softly, moving closer.

        "Caleb...would you be okay if I hugged you? Would that help?" He asked. Instead of answering Caleb turned his hand to take Molly's hand, he slowly brought the tiefling's hand to rest at the back of his head. Then he took the other hand and moved it to his back. Slowly, silently, he leaned in and let his forehead rest against Molly's shoulder. It wasn't quite a hug, but it was a comforting embrace. His own hands rested on Mollymauk; one on his thigh and the other at his waist as he took deep breaths. Just as slowly as before the hand at Molly's waist began to curl around to pull the tiefling just a tiny bit closer. 

        "I wish I had met you sooner," Caleb whispered. And this was where it happened for Mollymauk. This moment, this exact moment, was the moment he would later remember first truly falling in love with Caleb Widogast. But presently, the tiefling simply moved his chair closer, allowing the man to pull him ever so gently closer until they were practically sharing the same seat. His chair was flush against Caleb's, and he held him in the embrace the other had silently requested. He laid his own head against Caleb's ever so gently, being careful as to not bump him with his horns. The hand on Caleb's back gently rubbed circles before going still and just holding him, while the hand in his hair massaged his scalp and played with ginger strands. 

        "Only two weeks and you have given more than I could have hoped for...danke, Mollymauk. I can never repay you for your kindness. But I-" Caleb swallowed more tears and took a deep breath, 

        "I must ask more of you. Be my tether. I need something to hold onto in that house or it will consume me completely. Be my tether to remember what things are like here...now. Be my tether of hope, bitte." 

        "Caleb..." Mollymauk breathed, nuzzling him softly as he closed his eyes. The man was so vulnerable right now, they were in a glass house that was cracking, and Molly was made of stone. He had to be careful where he threw his words. 

        "Caleb, I will be your tether, love. I will be here to gently hold you and bind you from harm, I will be here to support you. You are a dear friend already, as you said...two weeks and we have already given each other so much. It is not often that two souls twine together so easily, my dearest Caleb, let us not fight it and see where it leads. But I cannot tether someone who is unwilling...so, all I ask in return is that you be truthful and honest with me. A fair exchange.” He hugged him a little tighter. Caleb had given him a lot today, maybe not in words but in action. He had shown him how trapped he really felt...he could give some vulnerability in return.

        "...Had you not come out to check on me...I-I am sure one of them would have drug me back in and...forced themselves on me...like.... he has done in the past. You coming out there saved me more pain, and I can never repay you for that kindness either. Something in you that night called out to me, maybe it was the Moonweaver guiding me...but I knew I wanted to see you again." He had never told anyone else of the things that had gone wrong in the house. Yasha would rage if she found out, he couldn't have that. 

        Of course there was the question of why he hadn’t fought back as well. Molly didn’t know how to explain it to his friends...he was always the confident one, the man with the smiles and charm, the one who lived life with no regrets. But when he had first walked into the Vollstrecker’s House he had not been in the best place mentally. He had been uprooted and taken away from all he had known. He had just learned how to read and was trying to pass as a normal student, Yasha was gone a lot so he was also dealing with feeling vulnerable and alone. 

        The Vollstrecker House offered a temporary fix to all those negative feelings swirling inside him. A place to meet new people, to train his arcane abilities and learn about his magic that he had been so in the dark about. It was supposed to be a place of opportunity and growth. And it had started simple enough, the trap was sweet and simple. Of course he couldn’t join training yet he was new, he can help out first. Oh well of course he can’t have tutoring yet he’s just in training, he should continue with training and assist the Vice President of the House. Oh well of course he can’t become a member yet he’s not initiated, he’d have to have a certain amount of service hours. The excuse list went on. 

        Becoming a member of that House had become almost an obsession to Molly. If he became a member he would be the first tiefling to do so, he would make Gustav proud, he would have something substantial to put the name he had given himself. He would no longer be the boy who crawled out of the grave, he would be somebody . Molly had never seen it coming...and he hated himself when he thought about all the times from assisting to intitian that he had been taken advantage of because fighting back meant losing more than just his sanity. He knew better than to fight as well. Not when he was outnumbered. When outnumbered he learned to just take it, only fight if one’s life was on the line. 

        “I was such an idiot...such a fucking idiot.” Mollymauk found himself mumbling. He blinked and flushed when he realized he had spaced off. “Ah...sorry! I guess I went to a dark place as well. I’m back, sorry to say I didn’t get a chance to bring you a postcard~” He grinned, hoping to deflect any further conversation on the topic. 

        "I'm sorry." There was a long pause before Caleb continued, "I'm sorry that you had to endure anything in that house. I'm sorry that he got to you too."

        "He told me what he would do if I told anyone...like I'm sure he told you. All the Scourger's know what he is capable of...I can't tell you, Molly, I'm so sorry." More tears slid down Caleb’s cheeks. 

        Despite all the anger that was radiating off Caleb as the man realized what he had confessed, Mollymauk felt...calm. He had already gone through the anger. He had missed three days of classes, forcing himself to be sick in the Cleric's building so he could get permission to rest. It took months for him to be himself again when he was alone, but he had done his best. He wasn't close to being healed, but he had focused on one thing: Not everyone was Lorenzo. Not every person who touched him would hurt him. And he had had his friends to help with that, the hugs and gentle kisses to his cheek, all of those had been reminders that kept him from thinking that touch was bad. He shook his head softly to Caleb's apologies, rubbing his back. 

        "It's alright...it's not your fault...I was the naive one that actually hoped that if I did as I was told I'd have success. I'm not mad at you, Caleb, I'm mad at Trent. That awful man. He takes advantage of so many people with his empty promises of glory and truth… He's a real dick." He scoffed. 

        "He told me...oh he told me what would happen if I squealed...trust me. But I hadn't planned on ever telling anyone. Who would believe me? I'm just the Scourger's Slut. I'd be told I was lying, or that I was just saying it because I wanted to cause trouble. It's not worth the frustration, he'll get his judgement one day and there will be no stopping his punishment." He hummed. The bruising grip on his waist didn't startle him, he didn't wince, merely took the pain and breathed deeply. Caleb wasn't meaning to, he was in a bad place. 

        Molly kissed his head, and startled as Caleb screeched away, the sound from the chair seeming to echo in the small room.

        "Sorry...I-I, schiesse, you just scared me is all, I didn't mean...I'm not used to...I, just, I'm sorry." 

        "I-I'm so sorry, Caleb." Mollymauk said hurriedly, his own face flushed in shame. 

        "I-It was instinct, honestly. That was my fault, sorry, I'm sorry I didn't mean to scare you." Mollymauk reached for him again, taking his hand and holding it. There were large pillows in the back corner on a soft rug, he stood and gently tugged Caleb with him. He sat down and leaned against the pillows, opening his arms. 

        "Come here..." He murmured. 

        "No kisses this time, just hugs." He promised. 

        The wizard seemed to nod as he slowly approached, and Caleb brought one of Molly's arms around his shoulders and leaned into the warmth of him. 

        "Just not my arms," He whispered, giving the tiefling permission to place his other hand wherever he wanted that wasn't over the scars he was hiding. 

        "Not your arms, got it." Mollymauk murmured, keeping one arm around his shoulders and wrapping the other arm around his waist, carefully sliding his hand under his arm to not bother it. 

        "I wish we had met in that House sooner, Caleb. I think both of us would have gotten out with less bruises if we had." The tiefling offered a small smile. His tail wiggled behind Caleb and then draped the rest of itself over his lap, and the tiefling laid his head on Caleb's as they sat in comfortable silence for a few moments before Molly spoke up again, quietly.

        "But at least we met at all, I'm grateful for that. Even if the path I'm on is rough and often times confusing, I don't regret going to the Vellstecker House...because if I hadn't we wouldn't be here now. There is so much bad in the world, so I try to leave every place I see a little better than I found it. That House is pretty fucked up...but I can leave it better...I can be with you...and maybe we'll inspire something in others...who knows. And if not, well I got one Scourger on my team~ That's better than none~" He winked. Caleb didn’t respond at first, he seemed to be considering his words and thinking deeply. His eyes weren’t distant though, and Molly was grateful for that. So he allowed them to fall into another comfortable silence, Molly putting more energy into controlling his tail since it tended to wander. He didn’t want it to explore Caleb in curiosity and end up scaring him. Caleb had boundaries, Molly respected those, he was just happy that the trust between them seemed to be flourishing and growing like the gardens Caduceus tended to. 

        Caleb shifted, causing Molly to shift as well, and soon he felt chapped but sure lips on his cheek without warning, placing a kiss there before as quickly as it came it had gone. Mollymauk's whole face flushed, and his heart fluttered, that was a new reaction...he had done some kinky things...but Caleb's simple gesture had made him blush like some virgin. 

        "Now we are even for that. Und, I agree that things would have been different had we met sooner. But we cannot change the past. You are not stupid for listening to Trent. He is charismatic and manipulative. You want to believe him...it is what makes him dangerous. It is not until you are already caught that you realize he is a monster. Every single person in that house has fallen for his lies as you did, myself included. So do not blame yourself for believing him, ja?" 

        Mollymauk was grinning as he spoke, still happy from the kiss. 

        "Oh, I don't blame myself entirely. It is his fault, tieflings are taught many things about humans as we grow. The tricks they can pull and the prejudices they carry, but I like to see the good in people. And perhaps I was trying too hard to hope that maybe those in the Vollstrecker House were good despite my gut telling me to run. So I blame myself for not following my intuition, but I do not blame myself for the pain I suffered. That was all him and the people he has influenced." He squeezed his shoulder, gently rubbing it. 

        "You shouldn't blame yourself either...as you said, you want to believe him. He offers success and a comfortable life...something many people would kill for. Evil deeds reap evil consequences, Trent will get what is coming to him. I have no doubt of that. And those like yourself who realized their mistakes and tried to be better will be gifted with forgiveness. Remember, Caleb...you are not evil like him, you are a victim. And that is nothing to be ashamed of." Mollymauk leaned closer, catching his eyes. 

        "I'm going to kiss your forehead, okay?" He warned. 

        “I know I said no kisses, but then you kissed my cheek and...well, I like winning~” He grinned. Mollymauk pressed his lips to the man's forehead, keeping them there for a few seconds before pulling away and smiling gently down at him. 

        "If you ever need to just sit like this...I don't mind taking the time to do so with you...you're squishy~ Perfect for cuddling." The tiefling giggled, the arm around his waist moving to instead gently run his fingers through his hair. The tension around Caleb didn't fade, but it did lessen to some degree. Molly was happy to sit there and relax with the other, his arms holding him and Caleb allowing himself to lean against him. He breathed deeply, taking in the silence and pressing close to Caleb somewhat. 

        He allowed himself to imagine a world where he and Caleb could be normal, not victims of abuse. A world where instead of hiding in towers to combat anxiety, they would hide in towers to kiss and make love instead. A world where Caleb would climb up the balcony to his dorm and sneak into his room, where they could be young and free. He even dared to imagine that maybe in this world, Caleb could come to love him. 

        He knew it was too early to decide if what he was feeling was actual love, but Mollymauk knew attraction like a lover. He danced with the emotion often enough. He was attracted to Caleb physically, but he was also attracted to his mind and his words. He loved talking with him, he was sweet, and he was one of the few people who didn't immediately want to try and get him into bed just because he was an 'exotic species' as some humans called him. Caleb was different, he would swear up and down on that. He was not awful, he was not terrible, he was not evil. People could do evil things, but sometimes good people were forced to do evil acts. 

        Mollymauk nuzzled his hair gently, closing his eyes and breathing in the man's scent. Slightly smoldering, like a campfire he decided. Caleb smelled like a campfire, warm and welcoming, a place for friends.

         "I know the House holds bad memories for you...but....could you, maybe, if it is not any trouble...could you...walk back with me?" Caleb's fingers were picking at the edge of his worn coat as he avoided the tiefling's gaze, the question breaking Mollymauk out of his thoughts. 

        "Just to the street, not all the way there," Caleb added quietly. The tiefling smiled into his hair, continuing to play with it. 

        "Darling, I would walk you directly into your room if you asked me. I'm not scared of some Vollstrecker’s.. Of course I'll walk you back." He cooed, reaching down and holding his hand. 

        "Even if I was scared, it still wouldn't stop me." He added, tail lifting to tickle Caleb's stomach gently before laying back on his lap. He glanced over to the notebooks on the table, seeing the page in Caleb's that was glowing slightly to indicate there was an unread message in it still.

        "Are you feeling a little better, love?" Molly asked quietly.

        "Much better, danke." Caleb replied, and once more, the wizard fell quiet. He tensed a little before asking the next question, and Mollymauk allowed himself to pull his head away to look at him.

        "I'm not the first, am I?" Caleb stared at their joined hands and the colorful ink that ran across Molly's skin. He squeezed Caleb's hand back, smiling softly at the question. 

        "Depends...what do you mean by first?” Molly hummed, watching Caleb worry his lower lip.

        "The first that you have brought back...from something terrible.”

        “You're the first I've really worked on bringing back, on saving. Yasha saved me, and Gustav...he's the parental figure I have. Jester hopped into my life, I kind of saved Fjord I suppose. He's got his own issues but we all support each other. The fact of the matter is this, when someone saves you and brings you back from literally nothing, you want to give the world back everything you can in return. Because I was given a second chance, for some unknown reason, I was granted that opportunity...I am not wasting it.” Mollymauk smiled at the other, blowing him a kiss as to not overwhelm him. Caleb rewarded his little gesture with a quirk of his lips.

        “You are very good at it. Patient and calm. Better than the Campus Clerics. Thank you for grounding me. For waiting..." Caleb murmured, and Molly nodded.

        “Of course...I’m not very patient in other aspects, but with people I care about? I’d wait forever if needed.” A few minutes later Caleb heaved a heavy sigh and looked up at Molly. 

        "I have to go. If I am late it will make things worse." Mollymauk simply nodded and stood, giving Caleb another hug when the other was up. He squeezed his shoulders tightly, holding him close. 

        "You'll be okay tonight." He whispered in his ear. 

        "And when you are finished...I have written something for you in the notebook...message me if you need, I tend to stay up." Molly ruffled his hair and pulled away. 

        "I will read it after...I think I will need it more then." Caleb’s face may have been sad, but the gaze Molly saw was soft and grateful. He let the other pull away and gathered his own belongings while Caleb gathered his. The tense air was back, because Molly knew what was coming. Every week Caleb would apologize for being distant, for the worry he would cause due to the harsh lessons with Trent. Molly knew Caleb didn’t want him to do anything...so he wouldn’t for now. As long as he was sure that Caleb could continue surviving. 

        As they made their way to the door, Molly used Thaumaturgy to make the window snap shut, leaving the room how they found it. He offered his hand to Caleb, and when Caleb accepted and slid his hand into his own, he felt their fingers lace and Molly knew in that moment that Caleb belonged here...with their funky little family. He would fight for him.

Chapter Text

Undeclared

Ch. 7

Caleb & Molly, Breaking

.

.

.

        Caleb and Mollymauk walked together down the seemingly endless stairs, and Caleb couldn’t help but notice that Molly let go when they reached the main lobby and it actually hurt. In truth it was to protect them both but to know they had to hide their friendship hurt nonetheless. He thanked Molly for holding the door open for him, chuckling as the tiefling sniffed and wrapped his colorful coat around himself a bit tighter,

        “Damn cold…” He hissed softly.

        "Not so cold in Xhorhas? It is colder where I am from.” Caleb chuckled.

        “Y-Yeah, not so cold in Xhorhas. Coldest it gets is spring weather here. It's often times like summer. But there is no daylight in Xhorhas either...so it is not so bad since the sun does not heat it up as much. It only snows closer to the Dwendalian border near the mountains." Molly explained, looking up at the array of stars. 

        “Here..." The wizard muttered a few words and concentrated. His whole body began to heat up, steam rising in the cold air. Then he touched Molly's coat and let the warmth flow into the garment. It had a faint magical aura so he hoped it would retain the spell for a little while at least. He watched Mollymauk’s eyes widen, their usual almond shape shifting into a more round form.

        "You're so sweet~ Thank you, Caleb!" He sang, running a few feet ahead. 

        "It won't last...but it should help." Caleb followed him slowly, his eyes following to see Molly gazing up at the moon. His eyes were so gentle and full of awe, to Caleb...it was just the moon. But whatever Molly was seeing that Caleb did not, it made the tiefling happy, and Caleb wanted to see that content look on his face more. So he gathered his courage and slipped his hand into Molly’s, not missing the slight flush on his cheeks. He knew he was blushing too, but he felt a little proud...he had initiated contact with Mollymauk for a second time that night. Molly squeezed his hand, and his ruby jeweled eyes slid closed as he began to murmur softly.

         " Bdywwyv maalsyijyr, edyiwy qfuvy zmuw mfpil za wioyzh vorv tapoarz...myde mup zaluqmz vorv siztm ajyr mup ul ph lipy...qujy mup ph wzrylqzm...vorv ypkrity mup suzm afr dajy.. ." Caleb knew that the words were Infernal, but he had no idea what the tiefling was saying. This Infernal was different though not the harsh, cutting words he had heard of, this was soft and sweet. It was odd to hear the guttural words spoken with reverence, however Caleb liked the sound of the growls and purrs. It was apparent that Mollymauk was praying, his form was relaxed and he held one hand over his chest where Caleb spotted a pendant swinging gently from his grasp. Molly finished and turned to face him, the wizard was surprised to see that his expression was a little shy.

        "It's not...a full blessing, I don't have the materials. But any prayer is a good prayer as long as it is said in earnest. I've asked the Moonweaver, blessed be, to watch over you tonight." He confessed,

        "I-I...I hope that is alright...I um...I know she is not a well...liked deity...well...illegal, actually. I have no idea why...." The tiefling sighed, Caleb felt touched that Molly had felt pressed enough to ask his deity for protection and blessings. He gave a slow nod of thanks.

         "I do not know what you said...you are right though, any prayer is well meant. The sentiment is sweet and I thank you for it." Caleb could go on and on about the banning of certain worships and how it was all just imperial control but now was not the time. 

        "I know of the Moonweaver...she is traditionally an elven deity," He smirked as he remembered his readings and the things she represented, 

        "She suits you well. I hope she is good to you and that you find what you are looking for in worshiping her." His own faith was limited to the Knowing Mistress, what little faith he had anyway. Growing up, his mother and father prayed to her and Caleb found her fascinating. A woman of infinite knowledge and wisdom. He rarely prayed anymore, he didn't see the use. 

        “Yes! I find many deities fascinating, and I find myself reading about them often. But...my heart does lie with her. I don't know...in my time of greatest need she just seemed to call out to me. An elven deity calling to a tiefling. Hilarious, really. But I feel pretty content when I see her..." Mollymauk pointed up at the moon, Caleb’s eyes following.

        "They say if you free your mind and gaze at the moon, you can see her profile in the shadow of it, smiling down at her followers." He whispered, squeezing Caleb’s hand. He looked closer, trying to imagine the elven woman smiling down at Mollymauk. 

        “Hm...I can see her if I squint.” Caleb joked, a small laugh and a grin escaping as he was elbowed. 

        “It’s not that easy!” Molly snickered, and Caleb rubbed his side, shaking his head with a fond smile. It did fit...and when he looked back to the moon he swore he saw her. It was his imagination, but he imagined he saw a beautiful elven woman with hair as white as the moon and eyes as black as night with galaxies swirling inside them. He imagined her soft lips smiling down at Mollymauk, arms outreached to the tiefling as if he were her son. 

        They didn’t exchange any other words, Molly squeezed his hand and Caleb squeezed back. Together they continued away from the library and onto the cobblestone road that went to the West side of the Rexxentrum campus. As the shadow of the Vollstrecker House loomed in the distance Caleb felt his body grow heavy and his heart beat faster. 

        "You do not have to go further...I do not want you to get in trouble by being seen with me.” 

        "I understand. Remember my words, Caleb." Mollymauk said, turning and nuzzling his shoulder. Caleb let his head tilt to press against Molly’s.

        “Thank you, Mollymauk. For everything tonight. I look forward to reading your message. A tether of hope." Caleb smiled, pulling away and reluctantly untangling their fingers.

        "Be strong, my darling. Write me as soon as you're comfortable doing so." Molly called softly. 

        “I will. Please...get home safe.” He urged, and as much as he didn’t want to leave he knew he couldn’t prolong it any more. He turned and continued down the road, leaving Mollymauk behind. 

        The last bit of the walk back to the house was miserable. Caleb felt the absence of Mollymauk like a void. Without his bright personality and calming words everything seemed darker, the shadows longer and the task ahead all the more daunting. He tried to remember Molly's words, tried to carry the tiefling in his mind even though they were apart. With a deep breath he stepped inside the house. He went about his normal routine, put away his things, changed into his training gear and unwrapped the bandages from his arms. The cuts from the last week hadn't healed over yet. Due to their arcane nature the wounds reacted differently to healing processes. Trent found it fascinating. This also meant that in the name of experimentation he never cut them in the same place, so he could study the effect of the healing wounds and the new ones as well. As a result Caleb's arms were littered with wounds of various stages, some already scars and others still oozing blood even from last week. Caleb fought back the tears, calmed himself and steeled his mind with thoughts of Mollymauk and made his way to the training room. 

.

.

.

Molly, Breaking

Fjord, Sheltering

.

.

.

        Molly took his time going back to his dorms, enjoying the slow but fading warmth from Caleb's spell. He knew the spell didn’t work that way, but Mollymauk swore the farther away he was from Caleb the colder he became. He knew exactly what was happening to that boy now, well...not the details. But he knew that Lorenzo and Trent would be in that room, they would be pushing Caleb, they would keep pushing and pushing and hurting him until he broke. He saw it in other students. He saw the bandages, he saw the blood, the distant look in their eyes. He was stupid in many aspects, but Mollymauk was not stupid when it came to observing. 

        Residuum, he had seen so many students with books on it and heard the name muttered like a curse or a blessing. He didn’t know what that type of crystal had to do with anything that was happening to those students, but it left a sour taste in Molly’s mouth. Especially since he knew Residuum only came from Xhorhas, his home . The place that the Empire constantly hurt and took advantage of. What did Trent want with it? What was he using it for? And why did he need young, wizarding students to achieve it? 

        More importantly, why did he need to train these people to be cruel? What use was it? Molly simply couldn’t wrap his mind around it. He knew the supposed benefits of acting that way...of being feared instead of loved. Power was a very addictive drug. Still, how many people needed to be hurt before someone did something? How many times did Caleb need to get hurt before he found the courage to leave like Molly did? 

        He swallowed a lump in his throat and took a deep breath.

        Mollymauk decided to go to Fjord's dorm last second, taking a sharp turn and heading to the campus apartments nearby where Fjord lived. The east campus dorms were so much different from the southern ones. They resembled apartments Mollymauk had seen in nearby cities such as Hupperdook or Zadash. They stood five stories tall, mostly made of stone, but they had some wood architecture in it for looks he supposed. The roofs were pointed and painted, the shingles a dark brown. Most of the windows were dark, indicating that most students within had gone to sleep. 

        He felt oddly exposed as his boots click-clacked against the clean cobblestone. Everything here was so clean and organized. Every bush was neatly trimmed and there wasn’t a single stray leaf it appeared. Molly was used to the lived in look of the southern dorms. Where dead leaves were scattered about and the streets were dark at night and everyone lived on their own schedules. The street lamps here burned too bright, it felt regimented...restrictive. It reminded Mollymauk of a similar place that he had just left his friend in, he was glad when he came to the door that housed Fjord’s dorm. 

        He slipped inside and climbed the stairs to the third floor, giving three, sharp knocks on the dark, wooden door. 

        "Fjord?” Molly called,

        “Are you awake?" He called, biting the inside of his cheek. 

        "I was uh...I was wondering if you wanted to chill out for a bit maybe...still have some homework to finish and all." He heard a startled sound a soft curse, which made Molly chuckle a little. 

        "Yeah, come in," Fjord shouted back, Mollymauk opened the door, coming in and shutting it behind him quietly. He spotted the half-orc rubbing his face at the desk set up in the living area, obviously trying to stay awake. He suffered intense nightmares from Uk’otoa that resulted in Fjord waking up to cough up sea water. Most people chose their patron, or prayed for a patron to choose them. Fjord had done neither, he had almost died in a shipwreck when he was apprenticing with his father, a captain, when the patron chose Fjord and saved him. Fjord had no choice in the matter, and the man was here to try and learn how to cope with his newfound ‘destiny’. Unfortunately, that ‘destiny’ involved those nightmares, and Fjord often tried to pull all-nighters when he was alone to prevent them.

        Fjord gave Molly a tired smile, giving a small wave.

        "Duce left some tea for me, to help with the dreams. Says it's calming, looks like you might need it too."  

        "Tea? Please..." Molly sighed, coming over to grab the tea bags Caduceus had left. 

        "I need it. Caleb just went for...training." The word came out with a tone of disgust, his stomach curling as he traced the sigil on the kettle on the counter, watching as a fire erupted beneath the kettle, beginning to warm the water. He set the tea bags aside, away from the flames, and leaned against the counter, arms crossed and tail twitching anxiously as he looked out the window. 

        “I’ve got a vague idea of what they’re doing in there...but nothing detailed. They’re hurting those students, Fjord. Caleb’s got bandages all over his arms...I-I can’t touch them. I can only hug him if he’s not sore. What kind of training is that ? It’s tortue! Training wouldn’t put your students into absolute bloody panic at the mention of their mentor’s name.” He took a deep breath, trying not to get angry. 

        "And I know the school won't do a damn thing about it. The Vollstrecker House has produced some of the most influential, dangerous, and powerful wizards known in the Dwendalian Empire. To try and defame their name would bring nothing but complications on my end. No...they have to fight from within." He rubbed his temples, looking over at the half-orc who gave him a sympathetic look.

        "Best we can do is show him he has a place to run to when he's ready. You can't pull him outta there if he ain't willing to go." Fjord reminded him, making Molly bite the inside of his cheek. He tried to change the subject, worrying would get him nowhere.

        "How are the nightmares, love...? Any worse? I can stay the night if you'd like. You know I don't mind. I think we both need a distraction." Molly sighed, coming over to the desk and gently petting the man's hair. He kissed the top of his head and peered over his shoulder, his chest tightening in gratitude when Fjord’s hand took his own and gave it a gentle squeeze.

        “I’m just as frustrated as I was when we first met...I felt helpless and angry because I couldn’t fight your patron who was, and still is, hurting you. And...and I can’t fight the people hurting Caleb either.” Molly sighed.

        “I know it takes patience, and I have plenty of that...but I don't know if Caleb has the time for patience...how much longer can he take it? He’s been suffering through that hell for two years now…” A little hiss left Molly as his tail slapped on the desk, proving his agitation. He lifted his tail and rubbed the spaded tip in his hand, muttering a soft apology to it.

        “I just...he fits in well...and if we can give him a second chance then...then I want to give it to him.” 

        “He’s strong,” Fjord reminded him.

        “He’s made it this far and now he has you, and he has all of us when he’s ready.” Fjord took his hand again and gave it another gentle squeeze, lifting it to his lips and kissing the back of it briefly before turning back to his books. The action brought a slight flush to Molly’s cheeks as well, the heat making him look away for a second, it wasn’t like Fjord to be openly affectionate. He was a man of his word, preferring to tell rather than show. He felt Fjord’s hand tap his hip to get him to look down at him again, and Fjord’s eyes were fixated on his own, making Molly feel exposed.

        “You have us too, don’t forget that. You’ve always had us. And you always will. Molly, if there’s somethin’ on your mind, you should say it.” Fjord said seriously, his intention clear: Molly was upset, Molly needed to spill it. Mollymauk didn’t get anxious often, he was good at controlling himself. But when it came to those he loved? He often lost himself in the worry. He worried over Yasha and her missions, he worried over Jester just because she was a sweet tiefling girl in a horrid human school, he worried over Fjord and his patron’s plans for him, he worried for Caduceus and his own path with the Wildemother. And now he worried for Caleb too.

        The Mighty Nein really were a band of misfits. And a band of misfits who did not open their doors to newcomers easily. So once that door was opened for someone, they expected them to come through it. Right now, Mollymauk was holding that door open for Caleb, and the human was lingering at the doorway, too scared to come through yet. Like a stray cat.

        “On the surface it’s Caleb.” Molly stated, arms crossing loosely as he looked ahead of himself, eyes focusing on the decorations Fjord had set up in his home. He had sketches and paintings of the Nicodranis ports, his home. He had scented candles too he had lit, ones that smelled like the sea and the beach, it made Molly want to lay down and relax. They were probably suggestions from Caduceus to help Fjord relax. He had his books piled on a table near the window where he could look out and enjoy the view as he did some work. The couch was old and there were blankets over it because none of them trusted the cleanliness of the ‘free furniture’ any of the dorms had.

        “Okay...but what’s beneath the surface?” Fjord asked simply, turning in his chair and abandoning his work. 

        “I don’t know if you want to dive that deep, sailor man.” Molly half-smirked, glancing over at him. A small swat to his arm made him chuckle.

        “Okay! Okay...gods Fjord I don’t even know how I’d begin to explain it. It’s a lot of shit. Shit I don’t want to deal with because I figured I had already dealt with it.” He clenched his jaw, brows furrowing some as the thoughts danced on the edge of subconscious and conscious.

        “But you haven’t dealt with them…?” Fjord pressed.

        “....No. More like...I’ve only skimmed the surface.” He mumbled. 

        “Does it have to do with the Vollstrecker House?” Molly looked over at the other, an eyebrow raised.

        “It’s not hard to guess it’s that considerin’ you brought book boy from there. You’ve been gone from there for a few weeks...they haven’t contacted ya?” Molly shook his head. 

        “They didn’t give a shit about me, Fjord. I wanted something that was never going to be mine. It was my own insecurities...wanting to prove something to myself. I don’t need them. I’m lucky I got out with what little damage I had. Who knows what would have happened if I stayed.” He mumbled, looking down at his chest and taking a deep breath.

        “But you’re worried, because you know shit Molly. I know you do. You always know shit. They’re not gonna let you just walk away...are they?” Fjord sounded shocked. Molly was not sure...he did know shit. Maybe nothing in full detail, but he knew enough. He had the puzzle pieces, all he had to do was sit down and put them together. That was enough to be a threat. 

        “...No. They wouldn’t. And that’s what terrifying, Fjord. Have you ever heard of someone just walking away from Trent and Lorenzo?” He scowled at the floor, tail twitching, his clothes suddenly too tight and constrained as heat seemed to burn him from within.

        Fjord offered no response.

        “Exactly. And I don’t know if they know about Caleb and I’s friendship. If they know he helped me or not. But it’s risky. And it’s the thought that they could be hurting him because of me that is driving me crazy. It might even make me go BACK there to stop them! I don’t know...I don’t….I don’t know, Fjord. It’s a lot of shit. Just...a lot.” He pinched the bridge of his nose.

        He didn’t need to be panicking. He wouldn’t know what state Caleb was in until later tonight if he was lucky. But Mollymauk took the bonds between the Nein very seriously. He loved each of them dearly; platonically, romantically, or in some cases he loved the members in both ways. He took love and life seriously, because he never wanted to wake up alone, back in that grave, with dirt pouring down faster than he could fight it. 

        He shook his head, a sharp breath coming into his lips, making his throat cold and causing the tiefling to cough some into his elbow before he heard the kettle go off. He began to make his way towards the kitchen, taking the kettle off the sigil-activated burner and then pouring the hot water into two cups once he placed the tea bags in them. He set the kettle aside and then leaned on the doorframe of the kitchen, waiting for their tea to steep.

        "What are you working on? Homework? Have you eaten dinner?" Molly asked, pulling his coat a little tighter around himself. Fjord had gotten up from the desk now, and the half-orc was organizing his belongings and putting his books away for lessons the following day. Molly noticed the way he was not looking at him.

        “Fjord…” Molly pouted. The man stopped and sighed, shaking his head to answer his question.

        “Fjord! You need to eat!” Molly scolded, crossing his arms. 

        “I-I know that! I will. I just got distracted. We’ll make something, promise.” 

        Pushing off the doorframe, Molly’s hand swept down to collect the last book that was on Fjord’s desk, holding it up to examine it.

        “What’s the assignment? Looks like your patron communications course…” Fjord nodded in affirmation.

        "More about learning and watching. Professor wants me to do something, I just don't know what yet.” The half-orc shrugged, taking the book from Molly when it was offered. For a few moments they were quiet. Fjord continued cleaning up and Molly stepped into the kitchen to check on their tea, he stirred their cups and let himself think on everything, the knot in his chest slowly becoming heavier and heavier.

        Fjord’s voice broke the silence as he stared into his own cup, stirring it methodically.

        "You can stay, if you want. I've got some stuff to cook if you're hungry. Nothing special but it's something to do to keep us both busy." Fjord was setting his bag by the couch where he usually grabbed it from in the morning. Molly, making his way back into the living room, nodded.

        “I’d appreciate that...just staying for a bit. Need to clear my head. Sorry I...I’m having trouble putting it all into words. I’ve never been good with words” He mumbled, he sensed the other near and looked up to see Fjord had approached him. The half-orc took his cup of tea from him and set it aside on the desk, pulling him into a hug silently. Molly, eyes wide and blinking, took a second before hugging him back tightly, hands curled into the fabric of his tunic and gripped while his head buried itself in Fjord’s shoulder. It had been too long...too long since he and Fjord had embraced and spent time together.

        "You're doin' everything you can and it's a good thing you're doin', trying to help him. We'll give him a second chance, we'll make him as welcome as possible and show him we'll protect him as best we can.” Fjord murmured softly, Molly blinked hard, eyes betraying him by becoming wet.

        “...Thank you, Fjord.” 

        “As for you,” The other pulled back and cupped one of Molly’s cheeks,

        “I think for once, someone needs to take care of you. So, let’s get some food goin’, and we’ll relax as much as we can.” 

        "Thank you..." Molly whispered, tail wrapping around Fjord's waist in appreciation. He was doing his best, and that was all he could do. And as frustrating as this was, Fjord was right. He looked up at the other, the half-orc wasn't much taller than him, but enough that he had to physically raise his head a bit. He leaned closer, pressing his lips to the others for a moment before pulling away. 

        “I would like to stay with someone...being alone sounds terrifying at the moment. We can cook something simple together...have a few drinks? I don’t know…” He laid his forehead on his shoulder again. A large hand laid between his shoulder blades, rubbing slowly. 

        “You alright…?” He heard the other murmur. All Mollymauk could manage in response was a shrug. 

        “I...I don’t know...everything feels heavy...and foggy.” He finally confessed, taking slow breaths.

        “I’ve had this feeling all day...since my last class. It’s one of those moods where one thing just triggers a shit-load of other things. What started as me getting kicked out of class for calling out the Empire ended with me wanting to curl up somewhere and hide. It’s crowded in my head, Fjord...I can’t imagine how Caleb functions if this is how he feels all the time.” His tail flicked in agitation, but fell limp against Fjord once more. 

        “It’s because you bottle up all your feelings. I know I do it too but people expect me to do it. It doesn’t help you have a lot of heart. So...why don’t you just pick something from that fog to focus on, and we’ll ease the worry one issue at a time. Think you can do that for me?” Fjord moved so Molly had to raise his head and look at him, the tiefling nodded his head eyes downcast as he focused on the first thought that came through his head. 

        “I feel like I’ve been neglecting you all as of late. We took the time to discuss and plan how this...thing between us would work...and now i’m all focused on Caleb. I don’t want you and Jester to think I-I wasn’t serious when I said I love you both because I was . I….I feel bad.” He reached down and took Fjord’s hand in his own, fingers intertwining. There was a hand gently cupping his chin and making him look up, 

        “You’re not neglecting us at all, we take care of each other in the Nein. That’s why we share, right?” Molly nodded. 

        “Exactly. We share. You have been a wonderful boyfriend to Jes and I...and we feel like letting you in was a good decision. And you make Cad feel comfortable enough to experiment with us, even if he’s not fully on board with calling it ‘dating’ yet, he likes that he can be affectionate with us all. You’re focusing on someone who needs help. Don’t beat yourself up about that, if we felt neglected, we would tell you.”

        The tight coil in his chest slowly began to unravel, allowing Mollymauk to breathe just a bit deeper. 

        “Thank you, love.” He smiled tiredly and laid his head on his chest as best as he could, melting into the fingers that ran through his curls. 

        “What else?” Fjord pressed gently.

        “...I keep telling Caleb to reach out and ask for help when he needs it. But...I should probably take my own advice, shouldn’t I?” 

        “Probably.” The other’s chest shook some as the half-orc rumbled a chuckle. 

        “Then...I need your help, Fjord.” Molly glanced up at him again, and as he looked into the deep set, squared eyes of the man he had come to call a close friend and lover, he had a realization. He had only insinuated to Caleb what had happened to him in the Vollstrecker House. He hadn’t gone into detail. In fact, nobody in the Nein knew the truth of what he had suffered, and it was beginning to take an emotional toll on him. Biting his lip, Mollymauk worried his lower lip and hugged Fjord a little tighter.

        “I’m more than happy to help you, Molly. And you know what? I’m proud of you for askin’ for help. Usually you whine until someone guesses what’s wrong so this is much more effective.” Fjord gave him a teasing smirk, to which Molly rolled his eyes and stuck out his tongue in response. 

        “I think I just need to not be alone tonight...I’ve been doing a lot, and I’m beginning to burn out...I can’t keep up with everything if I don’t take care of myself.” Being empathetic was fucking exhausting. 

        “Then...how can I take care of you?” Fjord asked.

        “A kiss from a green-skinned prince would certainly break this spell of sadness I am under~” Molly smirked, watching the other’s cheeks darken. Fjord shook his head with a fond smile and leaned in, pressing a soft kiss to his lips. It wasn’t anything deep, simple and sweet. They moved together lazily, just enjoying the closeness. When Fjord pulled away he smiled softly down at Molly, the tiefling already feeling a little better. 

        He and Fjord had not expected to end up together, Molly had been content to see Jester so happy with him. But glances became flirtatious comments and it all tumbled down from there, and Molly was grateful that their group was open to sharing partners. Mollymauk cared for Fjord, he cared for Jester and Caduceus as well. He couldn’t imagine not having the Nein with him. He couldn’t ever go back to being alone.

        Mollymauk wanted to break out of the funk he had gotten himself into, he leaned up on his toes and draped his arms over Fjord’s shoulders, grinning happily up at him. Distractions. That always worked. If he talked about it he would just slip further into this mindset of feeling trapped and conflicted. He could touch. He could do that.

        “Hmmm…please take care of me, Fjord~” He swooned, putting some of his weight on the other, feeling strong arms hold him up. 

        “I love it when you use those strong muscles to take care of me…” He saw Fjord smile at him with that gentle look, the one that said he understood and that he was going to show him the Fjord no one else outside the Nein got to see. The one who loved, the one who cooed and sighed endearments to him and treated him gently, the one who defied every stereotype this damn school had put on him. 

        “Course I’ll take care of ya, darlin’. Let’s go see what we can cook up.” He drawled, making the sound thicker because he knew it made Molly grin and feel weak. But as much as Molly liked the show Fjord put on for The Academy, he liked another version of him better.

        “Could you...could you use your real voice, then?” Molly trailed a hand up the man’s chest slowly, his own cheek slowly dusting magenta. Muscles twitched and stiffened under his hand some, a sign of the other’s reluctance. He rarely dropped the persona he had, just to be safe. 

        “Please?” Molly asked again, voice quiet. 

        Fjord was quiet too. 

        And then, “I think I could manage that for you.” 

        The deeper, more resonating voice rumbled from Fjord’s chest. The Damalian accent distinct. Molly’s lips curved into a more relaxed smile, knowing that he had the real Fjord here to help him through the night. 

        Fjord took Molly's hand and led him to the kitchen. Molly took his stance leaning against the other as they both looked through the pantry to get ingredients out. As the more athletically inclined of the group, Fjord’s pantry was usually filled with healthy snacks. However, since dating Jester it had become stuffed with junk food as well. 

        "I could make some creamy pasta, roasted chicken and some veggies then we can steal a few of Jester's pastries? How does that sound?" Fjord began gathering the ingredients and laid them out. Mollymauk looked at the options,shrugging after a few seconds. 

        "I like that idea...I'm fine with whatever really, I'm not picky with food." He chuckled, eyeing some of Jester's bakery cupcakes. Oh, he was definitely stealing one of those. He’d get an earful when Jester found out, but that could be dealt with later.

        Mollymauk looked at the spread of ingredients, going through on how to prep a kitchen to better help Fjord, but before he could do anything he was being lifted by his hips and set on the counter, making him blush and giggle. 

        "F-Fjord!" He squealed, a blush tinging his cheeks. It wasn’t often that Fjord was so...fjorward. 

        "There, now you can stay right here and talk to me while I cook. Tell me what's got you wound up. I'm not Caduceus but I'll try to help...unless you don't wanna talk about it, that's fine too. But...I really think you should talk about it" Fjord opened a drawer near him, taking out some utensils to chop and mince the vegetables. 

        “Something has been on your mind for a while now. I don’t want to force you, but...if it’s affecting you like this...maybe you should let someone share that burden with you.” Mollymauk’s grin slowly melted into a forced smile, and then into a more gentle one. No longer forced.

        "No...you're not Cad...but that's why I came to you. I didn't need Caduceus right now I-I need you." He brought one knee up onto the counter, kicking his shoes off so it was just his sock covered foot touching the counter as he hugged his knee. 

        “It’s...Fjord this is something not even Yasha knows about.” Molly confessed softly, his eyes focused on a spot on the wall across the kitchen. He heard the rhythmic tapping of the knife on the cutting board, the earthy smell of freshly cut vegetables wafting into his nose.

        “Not even Yasha?” Fjord sounded shocked.

        “Not even Yasha.” Molly affirmed, voice serious. 

        “If she knew...Fjord she would rage. She would destroy the Vollstrecker’s. We’d get expelled. I can’t...it’s not even a big deal. It was awful but...I’m still here, aren’t I? It could have been worse.” The cutting stopped, there was silence. Fjord’s whole existence seemed to fill the room like a rock, dense and heavy. 

        “What did they do?” He asked slowly, each word articulated. Molly let out a breath, he couldn’t do this. Nope. Nope. He shouldn’t have said anything. He just should have kept it to himself and-

        “Mollymauk. What did they do ?” Fjord’s voice was a low growl, and Molly swallowed, bringing his other knee up onto the counter, hugging them both. 

        “Please don’t growl. Please just...just wait it’s...it’s a difficult thing to say.” He got out, his mind already racing, the thoughts not even clear. It just felt like he was moving too fast and he couldn’t stop. Immediately, Fjord stepped away from the food he was preparing and came to stand in front of him, looking at him with a concerned expression. 

        “I-I’m sorry, Molly. I won’t again I just...you know how I feel about them all...I’ve heard the rumors and...people say things.” He mumbled. Molly raised his eyes, looking at him. 

        “Oh? Like how I’m a slut? I’m their little purple flesh light? That I was stupid enough to think taking their dicks and doing whatever they said would get me somehwere? Is that what you heard?” He said, a scowl making his lips twitch. Fjord almost looked guilty as he nodded, eyes looking anywhere but his own. 

        “...Yes. And...and hearing those things makes me worried about what they’ve done to you in there. You already mentioned Lorenzo and...and him looking at your blood hunter magic.” He knew it was a sensitive topic. 

        “I’m not stupid, Fjord! I know what they want! It’s what they want from every person in that House! They wanted to see if it was anything worthwhile, anything they could take from me and put into their little soldiers. But they couldn’t. I don’t know how it works, I couldn’t progress because I didn’t have any information. The only thing I was ever good for in there was a good fuck.” He hugged his knees tighter. Fjord approached Molly more, the tiefling did not move away. 

        “Molly...you are more than that. They took advantage of someone who was obviously hurting...who was lonely and had potential...and they wanted to use that potential for their own gain. It wasn’t right. And this just makes me sure of my suspicions...of the hurt they have caused you.

        I-I know you want to be a part of something important. That it’s important for you to belong to something. Especially after...well, the not so great past you came from. But Mollymauk, you belong to something much more important than some rich Academy organization...you know that, right?” 

        Mollymauk nodded slowly, some guilt rising up in his throat like acid, making him burn in shame.

        “...I realize now that I’m already part of something big and important. The Mighty Nein. We’re not a House, but we’re a family. And my yearning for importance and belonging wasn’t coming from a good place...it was me trying to appease the part of myself that can’t remember who I was before I woke up...that me doesn’t matter anymore. What matters is who I am now, and right now I have the most wonderful boyfriend, and girlfriend, that anyone could ask for.” He wanted Fjord to know that before he got into the nitty gritty. He wanted the other to know that he had thought long and hard about why he had gone there in the first place. He knew why all this had happened, but it still hurt to accept the truth.

        “Good,” Fjord’s form relaxed some, shoulders returning to their correct place. He stepped forward and laid a hand on Molly’s cheek, the man leaning against the warm hand. 

        “You belong to our little party...this weird family of ours...and you are so important to us. This is big progress...I know you tend to hate bringing up Lucien but...I’m proud of you, Molly.” He pat his cheek and then stepped to the side of Molly, passing his hand over the hot plate to activate the rune that would get the cooking stone warmed up. He filled a pot with water for the pasta and began cutting the chicken. 

        Maybe Fjord wasn’t looking at him anymore, but it made this much easier, and Mollymauk appreciated the space greatly. His silence and occasional glances telling him that the half-orc was giving him his full attention as he worked on preparing dinner for the two of them. It was now or never, Mollymauk had kept his secrets long enough.

        What Lorenzo had done to him on that one night he had come to ‘train’, what Trent had given students permission to do to ‘test’ him, it was all intimidation tactics to overpower Molly. It was to break him. Trent was expecting the tiefling to be scared and to stay quiet, to come crawling back and work harder, to say that the end justified the means. 

        He would not go silently. 

        Mollymauk was going to scream and fight. 

        And he was going to do it for Caleb. He was going to do this to inspire Caleb to do the same. To let him have bravery. He was going to brave. No matter how much it hurt. 

        If I can crawl out of the damn grave and get this far? I can go farther before going back to it. 

        Molly’s little motivational motto echoed in his head and he felt a warmth spread from his heart to his head, making his head look up as he fixed his stern gaze on the wall across from him. 

        “Fjord, love, I haven’t been honest with you all about what was actually happening in the Vollstrecker House. And it’s my fault for not telling you all, but I didn’t want to put anymore worry on your minds than you already had. There’s only so much one man can hold in, you know? I’ve made my peace with a lot of shit I’ve gone through, but I think for this particular brand of bullshit? I’m going to need you all…”

        He bit the inside of his cheek, his grip on his knees becoming a little tighter. It felt like there were hands all over him that were not his own that wouldn't stop touching him no matter what he did. Molly felt like he needed to take control over his body again, he felt like something was taken away from him in that encounter and he needed to take control of what he did with his body to almost prove Trent wrong. To show him that no matter who the old man sent to him to harm him, he would not surrender. 

        Mollymauk kept staring at the wall ahead of him, face pinched with worry. It was harder than he thought, but the first person he had thought of was Fjord. They were all good friends, and all would know eventually, he just couldn't do it all at once. Now or never. Spit it out. 

        “They hurt me in that house. Trent let them hurt me. Ordered them to hurt me. Lorenzo hurt me. They told me I was going to join them in on a lesson about...what...almost a year back? I thought I was going to be witnessing a lesson. That wasn’t it. 

        I was the one being taught. There’s a reason I’m so fucking worried about Caleb and it’s because I know what they do. I know what kind of lessons they teach. I got the worst end of the stick because I fought back. But I know they’re still hurting Caleb in there. And I know what they’re doing. And it’s awful. It’s wrong.” He took a deep breath, slowing down his words that had begun to come out at a mile a minute.

        “It wasn’t the first time they heard of my blood-hunter magic, but they had never had a student who possessed it before. The story I told you in the cafe? That was a lie. I bullshit that. I couldn’t say it then. But I will now. They asked me what magic I knew. What I had. So I showed them what I could do. My cantrips, my sword-fighting skills, and then Trent asked me if I had anything...worthwhile. So I relented and I brought up my swords and I asked for someone to be a target. They brought someone in, and I cast a few spells...Blood Maledict, Blood of Purgation, things like that.” He let one of his legs fall from his hold, hanging off the counter limply. 

        “I explained that I didn’t know the details of it. That I was born with this magic but no one knew how to train me with it. That I was looking into maybe using tattoos or runes to cast it instead of having to use blood. Trent found my ignorance of my magic fascinating and promised he could help me if I got through the lesson. 

        And so, the training began. And he had me cut and cut and cut myself over and over and over-” He raised a hand and held onto his right horn, pulling it and making his head lean against the knee he had on the counter, taking slow breaths to keep himself centered and grounded. 

        “Then...then he had me fight Lorenzo with it. I was bleeding out, I was so fucking tired, Fjord. I begged him to let me just take a rest, get some water. Trent told me if I could not endure this, how would I endure anything he had to offer? He said I was weak, that I didn’t have what it took. So I challenged him, told him he should come and slice himself to fuckin’ ribbons. I told him where to shove it, and that this training was torture, that it wasn’t benefitting anyone, that he was a fraud, that I was done. 

        And...well he didn’t like that. He told me I was done when I was dismissed. Lorenzo grabbed me, and...and I spit blood at his face…” He glanced over, Fjord was staring intently at the pasta he was stirring in the pot, the water boiling. 

        “Told Trent that I dismissed myself and that an old bastard with a limp dick couldn’t tell me when I was done. That I’d train myself, I didn’t need him. And...then he just looked at Lorenzo and said two words-

        Break him. 

        I...won’t go into details. But there was a reason I didn’t let you all see me for three days after that. I...I was beaten and bloody and…” Molly hated the word. He hated using it. But nothing else explained it. It was what happened.

        “He beat and raped me, Fjord. Lorenzo tried to break me, and he even let other students in on it. The more advanced ones. The ones past hope of saving. I let them think I had broken...just so they’d stop. Apologized, said I’d try harder, I’d do what it took, that I was weak, whatever it was. When they tossed me out and said they’d see me again, I gathered myself and just limped home. I only walked away officially because...because of Caleb.” Molly blinked, the realization dawning on him. 

        “...It...it was Caleb. It was because he had proven to me not every Vollstrecker was like Lorenzo...that there was hope...that I could leave that House better than I found it...that I could still do something . I could save him. I could get him out with me. It...was Caleb. Caleb inspired me to finally walk away and never return.” 

        Somewhere during Molly’s rant, Fjord had abandoned the dinner prepping entirely and had come to stand next to him, reaching out and tucking a stray curl behind his ear. He was silent for a long while, there was a storm behind his eyes as he looked at Molly. Knowing that someone had hurt him like that enraged the warlock, it made Fjord want to go and start some shit that very moment. But he also knew that right now Mollymauk didn’t need his anger...he could save that for training with Beau in the morning. Right now, Molly needed understanding.

        "Mollymauk, you are a great many things...brave being the word I’m thinking of right now. People like us...we struggle for a lot of things in life. It isn’t stupid that you wanted a chance at a better life. I can understand why you went there...why you stayed even.” Fjord stepped forward again and pulled Molly into a gentle hug, 

        “Saying all of that out loud? That’s a big step. You’re so strong...okay? You’re strong for telling me this. And...i’m sorry. It doesn’t change what was done to you, but...I still feel like an apology is in order for some reason. I mean...I could go and kill Lorenzo for what he did. I think the only proper response to this is to burn that House to the fucking ground. But for now? You tell me what you need and consider it done, yeah? 

        Cuddles, snacks, a walk, a massage, anything at all.” Molly hugged Fjord back tightly, nuzzling into his neck and blinking away a few tears in vain before a few began to slowly dribble down his cheeks. Being brave, being strong...it was a lot. He swallowed and tried to keep calm, but now that he had said all of this out loud for the first time, all he wanted to do was scream and mourn whatever it was he had lost.

        "I think..." Molly began. 

        "...I-I think I just want to be surrounded with as much love as possible...to be with my family...and to help pull Caleb in with us too." He whispered, feeling his heart ache for the first time in a long time about the assault. It was okay to hurt, it was okay to feel scared and upset and angry...Molly really hadn't let much of that out. Those three days afterwards had been him feeling numb and him trying to hide any and all evidence, taking care of the inside and outside himself. He had to put up the front that nothing had phased him, he hadn’t wanted Trent and Lorenzo to win.

        Mollymauk let himself cry for the first time in what felt like years, Mollymauk did not cry, he just wasn't a weeper. But right now it just felt like he couldn't stop the tears even if he wanted to. He just sat there on the counter, hugging Fjord and crying into his shoulder until he felt too dried out to cry anymore. Fjord stroked the tiefling's hair, he rubbed circles on his back and tried to be a reassuring presence. And when Molly finally pulled away, his eyes were puffy and the corners of his eyes were irritated and dark red from the bloodshot. 

        "...Fjord?" He asked, voice small. 

        "....Will anyone ever wanna have sex with me again if they find out about that? I-I'm clean...I made sure I just...it's a stupid worry I just...I-I'm a sexual person and I didn't deserve that but I'm afraid I'll be forced to be chaste now because of it...and...." Molly reached for his hand, holding it in both of his own and forcing himself to breathe. It was a stupid fear. Molly knew that. But he felt like his comfort with physicality had been ripped from him, and that if anyone knew, they would find him too fragile and broken to be intimate with.

        “No. Don’t you ever think that, Mollymauk. That’s not what is going to happen at all. It doesn’t matter what has happened to you, you are still Molly. You’re still my Molly...Jester’s Molly...Cad’s Molly...this doesn’t change how I feel. It doesn’t change my own attraction to you. So you put that worry from your head. Alright?” Molly sniffled and nodded, a small hiccup escaping.

        “O-Okay...I...sorry...ugh I-I look awful now. Now you won’t wanna kiss me…” Molly whined, wiping his eyes and seeing eyeliner come off on his hand. 

        “Fuck! I spent seven minutes on that this morning.” What a stupid thing to sob over, but Molly did. He let out a sob and let his head fall back onto Fjord’s shoulder, his heart was raw and vulnerable. He would cry over spilt milk, he’d cry if the sky was cloudy right now. 

        He felt a little tap on his neck and he lifted his head, about to apologize again when the half-orc leaned in and pressed a kiss to his lips. Molly’s breath hitched and large hands cupped his face, holding him gently but firmly. Fjord’s hand caressed his face and he said more without speaking, and Mollymauk heard what the other was trying to say. 

        I love you, you’re not broken. We all love you, and it will be okay one day. You’re not alone.

        Molly pressed into the kiss, returning the message that it was alright, that if it was someone like Fjord, like Jester, like anyone in the Nein touching him...then he was safe.

        Fjord didn't want to push too much, he wasn't sure if Molly was ready for anything too physical, but he flicked his tongue over Molly's lips before pulling away. Molly pouted at the tease, but Fjord immediately wiped that pout from his lips as he kissed his cheeks, then his forehead, the tip of his pointed nose, and down to his jaw where he followed the dip into his neck where he began to kiss the lavender skin there softly. Molly all but melted at Fjord’s affections, he reached up with a hand to cup the back of his neck, his clouded mind slowly clearing to blue skies with each kiss laid upon his skin.

        “Molly...I know you’re not feeling like yourself after spilling all of that but...you are surrounded by people who care about you...and you don’t have to be okay, and you can feel however you want, so...yeah. I’m gonna take care of you tonight...and then we’ll help Caleb together. It’s okay to not be okay.” Mollymauk leaned into the hand cupping his face, looking into his eyes and nodding.

        "...It's okay to not be okay..." He repeated, voice a little hoarse.

        "And for the record, I don't think you could ever look awful. Come on..." Fjord picked up Molly again, one arm under his knees and the other behind his back, cradling the tiefling to his chest; it made Molly’s heart thump against his sternum.

        “F-Fjord~” He smiled, eyes filled with adoration.

        "We'll get you cleaned up. Then tea, then dinner, then junk food." 

        "I like that plan a lot…” Molly smiled, some of the light that had been lost before shining back. 

Chapter Text

Undeclared

Ch. 8

Mollymauk & Fjord: Chrysalism

“Save Me” - Majik

.

.

.

        Molly was set on the bathroom counter, overlooking Jester's things. They were a mess. 

        "Jester says you shouldn't sleep with makeup on so she insists I have all her face stuff here...I don't know what's what but I'm sure you do..." 

        "Yup. Those are Jester's things. This, right here-" He picked up a bottle that had oil and water in it, showing it to Fjord. 

        "Made for tieflings, our skin is different than humans after all. The oil is slightly acidic and helps eat away at dirt and grime and makeup. But the water hydrates and soothes, there's a lotion too...hmmm...aha! Here!" He picked up a bottle with a white cream. 

        "Helps repair skin~ Keeps it soft. You shake the bottle like so-" He shook the makeup remover, mixing the oil and water as best as he could. 

        "Then you grab a soft towel..." He did so, pouring it on there, 

        "And viola...!" He began to rub it on his face, the foundation and mascara and eyeliner coming off to reveal his usual face, which was also quite nice in his opinion. He then splashed his face with water, pat it dry, and rubbed on the cream. 

        "That already feels better...water is very purifying..." He sighed, looking at Fjord. The warlock reached out and tucked a piece of hair behind his ear, untangling it from his horn.

        "Still look pretty just the way you are," He muttered.

        "Come here..." Molly murmured, pulling him closer and cupping his face. He pressed their lips together again, moving them languidly and with intent as he memorized the shape of Fjord's lips with his own. He let his tongue sneak out, teasing the upper lip of the half-orc and he let his tongue rub against the tusks peeking out some before pulling away, looking into his eyes. 

        "As long as it's you...or any one of us...I will always be okay...and I will say if I am not...I am not ashamed of my sexuality, or in wanting to share it with others...I am not ashamed in how I feel towards any of you....this will not change me. They won't win." He murmured, kissing him again for a few seconds and then pulling away. 

        “There’s nothing about you that you should be ashamed of, darling. I know you’ll get through this...just like everything else.” Fjord whispered, pressing their foreheads together sweetly.

        "Thank you, Fjord....Jester was right when she brought you into our little group, she told us you were the sweetest thing she'd ever met...gods you are, Fjord. You are amazing..." He patted his cheek and then hopped back into his arms, legs going around his waist and cuddling him. Fjord’s cheeks turned an odd brownish color as he blushed and he shrugged. 

        "Nothing special. Just treating people right like I was taught." The half-orc grunted when Molly jumped back into his arms but he caught him and headed back to the kitchen. He set him down so he could go and pour them some more tea.

        "Well...your mama raised you right, and I hope I can meet her one day to thank her." Molly grinned, watching Fjord get the tea bags ready after pouring the hot water into two mugs.

        "You can't be comfy in those tight pants and such. Feel free to rummage through my clothes and find something you like. Jester does all the time. I’ll pour us some more tea while you change." His eyes brightened and he ran into Fjord's bedroom, taking off everything but his briefs. He looked through Fjord's things until he found what he was looking for, a sweatshirt with Fjord's initials on it. It went down about half way down his thighs, and he didn't roll up the sleeves, flapping them a bit and grinning. It was nice to enjoy the innocent pleasures of life. Wearing a sweatshirt that was too big, feeling small and protected, taking in the scent of someone you cared for deeply. 

        His tail swung side to side sweetly as he padded out, standing in the doorway and watching Fjord get tea ready, when the half-orc turned around he winked and leaned against the doorway. 

        "Want to see if I have anything underneath?" He purred, letting his hands peek out so he could hold onto the bottom of the sweatshirt. Fjord’s cheeks turned that faint brown and he shook his head with a chuckle, 

        "I think it's a safe bet to say you ain't got much under there." he hummed. 

        “That tea smells delicious, by the way." Molly felt a lot better, and he pushed some of his curly hair out of his face before strutting over to Fjord and nuzzling into his neck sweetly. 

        "Thank you, again...for tonight. For listening...not judging...just letting me talk. I appreciate it, love. You really are a wonderful man." He said, planting a few open-mouthed kisses along his neck before pulling away to grab his mug, blowing at the steam and letting it steep. Once Molly had his tea he let Fjord continue preparing dinner while Molly kept talking. 

        "You all mean the world to me," Molly began, looking into the mug and smiling softly.

        "Before Solstryce, I-I only had Gustav and Yasha...our little entertainment business in Zadash. But ever since being with you all, I feel like I truly belong for the first time in my life. The first time! I'm cared for a-and I care so much for you all in return...this family is all I have, and that's why I show you all so much love, why I love you all, all of it...without you guys, I would literally have nothing." He set it down and put a little bit of honey in, stirring and then smiling over at Fjord.

        "You're a smart man, Mollymauk and very resourceful. I know you would have found a way...but I'm glad you came here. And I'm glad Jester decided to drag me into the gardens. We're an odd little family but we work well together. We've all been alone, we know how horrible it is, so we stick together. Pretty simple." Molly was sipping his tea as Fjord cooked and responded to him, humming in agreement.

        "Yes...that is true. We've all come from lonely backgrounds, now that we've found a group to love and care for I don't think we'll ever split. Not willingly at least." He chuckled, taking another sip of tea and setting the mug down when Fjord came over. Everything was simmering for dinner and he had a moment to turn his attention back to the tiefling. It was unfair of Molly to look better in his sweatshirt than him, but it was too cute. The sight made his grin, and Molly soon felt strong hands on his waist, holding him close.

        "How come you're so pretty, huh? Inside and out. You've got a heart of gold and looks to match." Fjord leaned in to give a quick kiss, the tiefling easily returning it. Molly felt at home, the breakdown from earlier now just a distant memory, the energy released and swept away.

        "Not sure why I was blessed with such good looks, but you know I wonder the same about you, dear." He purred, setting his cup on the counter and wrapping his arms around his neck. 

        "Why are you so handsome? Why are you so cute? You're wonderful inside and out, it's so beautiful...you're beautiful." Molly sighed, leaning in to kiss him again.

        "What're we doing' after dinner? Cards? Cuddles? Mmm, I don't know what else but if you think of somethin' we can definitely do whatever you want." 

        "Hmm...I know I want to check my notebook after dinner, see if Caleb has responded yet or gotten back from training, but after that...." He found himself blushing now, closing his eyes as he pressed his forehead to the other's. 

        "....I just want you, I believe. Cuddling, kissing, whatever. I just...want closeness. Maybe we can light some incense and relax, see where the night leads. Hopefully get some good sleep." Mollymauk leaned against the counter, watching Fjord stir the pasta and begin putting everything together. The food smelled delicious, and although his stomach wasn’t really feeling meat right now, he knew he needed to eat a meal. 

        “Fjord, I’ve been thinking about you…” Molly started, hopping onto the counter again to sit. 

        “Hm? In what kind of way?” Fjord teased, stirring the cooked pasta into the saucy mixture with the vegetables and meat.

        “Sexually of course.” He winked. 

        “But no, really. Um...about your finances, actually. You’re working very hard to afford your stay at this school. And we all know this dinky dorm apartment is overpriced. But you know… all of us have some sort of income.” Fjord spared a glance at Molly while he added a bit of basil to the sauce.

        “You work in the cafe at night, I sell fortunes in the school newspaper and help edit and distribute the papers about campus, Jester gets money from her wonderfully rich mother, Caduceus is in groundskeeping, Caleb does tutoring…” Fjord stood up a little straighter, beginning to grab plates to dish up the food.

        “What are you gettin’ at, Tealeaf?” He chuckled.

        "...I'd like to start looking at houses with Caduceus when we're able...I like the idea of us all living together. Splitting the rent between us all will be lovely, and then we'll have some more freedom and it will save us some money on tuition since we won’t be paying room and board. We all get paid at different times I think too so there should be a steady flow of coin coming in." He smiled.

        "It'll have to be a pretty big house to fit all of us but it's a nice idea. I'd be alright with that." Fjord set the plates on the counter and traced the sigil again to deactivate the warming stone. 

        "Dinner should be done soon. Mind gettin' some silverware while I finish up?” Mollymauk nodded and pecked his lips back before going to the other side of the kitchen, pulling out some forks for them. He set the table and helped get drinks while Fjord dished it up, adding some final touches. Then he plated the food and set it on the rickety and rather small dining table tucked in the corner.

        "It ain't much but it's healthy and it'll fill you up. I'm sure Caduceus could do better, but this is what I've got." At least it had meat in it. Fjord loved the firbolg's cooking but he was a man that needed meat, he was half-orc after all.

        "It's delicious, darling. You both have your own talents in cooking, and your meats are always a treat." Mollymauk said, popping some chicken into his mouth and savoring it. They ate happily, enjoying the closeness and warmth, and when they finished Mollymauk took the plates and rinsed them off for Fjord while he packaged the rest as leftovers. He then went and made a nest in Fjord's bed with as many soft things as possible. He spotted his bag and curiosity overcame him, he grabbed it and dug around for his notebook, tugging it out to see it glowing with a new message. 

        He made a b-line for the bed, plopping down on it and hearing footsteps come down the hall. Fjord was quick to follow, and he looked up as he opened the notebook, worry written over his features.

        "Caleb's back."

.

.

.

Caleb, Shatter

“I Don’t Care Much” - Alan Cumming, Cabaret

.

.

.

        Caleb stepped out of the training room with fresh cuts, blurry vision and a splitting headache. Trent had left five minutes earlier, disappointed and angry, tossing curses over his shoulder as he stalked down the hall. Caleb had taken some time to pull himself together enough to walk back to his room. All of the doors to the other rooms were shut. He knew behind those doors his peers were pretending they heard none of what had happened. It was the thought of reading Mollymauk's message that gave him the strength to stumble his way back. 

        He should clean himself up, he should bandage himself...he should be doing anything besides reaching into his bag to see the dull glow of his notebook. He sat on the bed with a thud. Shaking, bloody fingers opened the book to see Molly's writing. 

~

I know you're in pain, and that you are suffering so much, and it hurts me a lot to see you trying to fight alone...when you are ready, I hope you will let me fight with you, or at the very least let me be the one to wrap your wounds and hold you when you're down. It doesn't hurt me when you're distant, or anxious, or worried about the others and I...but it does hurt me when you are hurt. Physically or mentally. I care about you too, darling <3 So please don't suffer alone if you don't need to. There is power in numbers, and I know you don't believe yourself to be strong enough, but I'm going to tell you what I see...

I see a man who has obviously gone through a lot. Someone who has made it this far and is just trying to make it a little farther, a man put into a house where he does not belong because he is not heartless or awful or violent. You are a man of heart, Caleb. You care so much, anyone can see it in the way you try to keep others away. You're smart, sure...but people only focus on that aspect of you and it's wrong. You are so much more than the books you read and the tests you pass, you are more than some stupid grade point average. You are Caleb Widogast, a talented wizard, a caring human being, and most importantly; my friend. 

A friend who would gladly spend many hours just kissing you breathless because you really are that cute, dear. Honestly it should be illegal. 

Truly yours, 

Mollymauk Tealeaf~

~

        As he read tears flowed freely in silence, he was too exhausted to sob. What did he do to deserve this? To deserve a caring friend like Mollymauk? With equally as caring friends like Fjord, Jester, and Caduceus? He had known them for two weeks and yet they were willing to help him, to be by his side, to support him. Caleb wasn’t sure what to do with this kind of love and care from others, it was not something he was used to. He blinked hard, eyes stinging from the tears and he pressed his palms to his eyes, lip trembling. When he looked down he saw tears on the page and sighed, he leaned down to try and wipe the tears away, grumbling when he just made it worse with his bloody fingerprints. 

        It wasn’t ink though...it wasn’t like it would show through in Molly’s notebook. Right? Right. Of course. Caleb shook his head, and his arms stung as he reached out to grab a quill. 

~

I'm sorry I am in no state of mind to properly thank you for your kind words...but the thought of you got me through tonight. I hope that means something. CW

~

        Words began to appear on the page mere seconds later, Molly had obviously been waiting for him. Although the gesture was sweet, it just sent guilt rising in through his throat like bile. They all had much better things to worry about, Caleb was a lost cause. He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t be saved, but he couldn’t become a monster either. 

~

I'm very glad I was able to help! Even if it was just a little. If you need to get out of that house let me know, I can sneak you out without being caught. I have people with spells I know. We can get you out and back in by morning if you need. -MT

~

        Caleb’s heart almost stopped, and he had to grip his sheets to stop himself from panicking. That would be the worst thing they could do. If Trent caught them...if ANY of the Vollstecker’s caught them. He grabbed the quill again, ignoring his body’s cries of pain. 

~

No. Too dangerous, don’t come here. CW

I can’t leave. I am trapped even if the doors and windows are unlocked. CW

There are wards. A perimeter, anyone steps in or out, he knows. CW

~

        For a moment, Caleb swore he saw tear drop stains forming on the paper by his last message...but that couldn’t be. He shook his head, he was going insane. Well, more insane than he already was. More words began to appear, Molly had really been serious when he said he would stay up and wait for him. 

~

How bad are the injuries Caleb? Jester is a cleric...I'm sorry I don't mean to overwhelm you, love. -MT

Not bad. CW

Had worse. CW 

I have herbs to help. CW

I'll manage tonight. The worst is over. CW

Lunch tomorrow? Just you and I? Or would you prefer it with the whole group? -MT

Lunch tomorrow. CW

Alright, darling...sleep well. We'll get you out of there one day, I promise. -MT

Eat something in the morning, it might help. Hydrate too...I'm sorry I can't be there...I wish I was.... -MT

~

        With that he closed the book and fell back on his bed, not bothering to get under the blankets or change his clothes or wash up. All of that could wait until morning. For now, he imagined that he was with Molymauk back in the library tower and they were just holding each other as he fell asleep. 

.

.

.

Molly & Fjord, Restore

“Save Me” - Majik

.

.

.

        Mollymauk was silent as he awaited for each response, and when Fjord came closer (noticing that Molly was shaking) he held up the notebook to see, eyes shined with unshed tears.

        "Fjord there's blood on the paper." He said, voice shaking as he held the notebook up to let him see. And sure enough, the half-orc spotted bloodied fingerprints smeared on the page where Caleb must have been trying to turn the page or something. 

        "He's hurt and I can't do a damn thing. He's bleeding in that fucking house and I can't...I can't do anything I...." Molly took a deep breath, frustration settling over him. 

        "I want to go and get him, Fjord. I-I don't want him to be alone anymore, it's not fair he can't....I-I want to save him so badly." Fjord settled on the bed next to Molly, wrapping his arms around the tiefling tightly.

        "Alright, not the best news but he's alive, Molly and nothing' else is gonna happen to him tonight. We can't attack that place. We'll get kicked out or worse. I know it hurts, darlin' but we have to wait until he's with us. Convince him not to go back. If we assault the Vollstecker’s head on they'll just say we were trying' to corrupt Caleb or some shit. But if he refuses to go back on his own we may have a chance of getting him out of there." Fjord pulled the tiefling into his lap.

        "I know it's hard, I know and I'm so sorry...but I'm right here, I'll be with you all night." Mollymauk nodded stiffly, leaning into the arm that was wrapped around him.

        "....I know what they're doing in there, that's what hurts the most...knowing what they are doing and not being able to do shit." Molly whispered. 

        "I know that whatever training these students go through...it always ends up with the students fucking injured and looking like catatonic. I was there one morning...after....yeah. Um...but I was done cleaning up and I was heading out when I saw someone stumbling down the hall towards the showers and of course I asked if he was okay and if I should call the Cleric but he just slapped my hand away and said he was fine, it was training, that if he couldn't handle that much he was worthless to the house. Fuck Fjord...he had a gash in his arm...it was open and raw.... he was limping...eyes bloodshot. That's not training, that's fucking torture." He rubbed his head, recounting what he had seen. 

        He closed the book, setting it aside and pressing into Fjord's chest, trying not to burst into tears again. 

        "C-Cleric..." He got out. 

        "I-I'm taking him to the Cleric when he’s ready. We can vouch for him....get him a pass to....to not go to the House. He just needs somewhere to stay..." Molly wiped his eyes, face in his neck. 

        "Nott. Her and her husband have a house off campus he could hide in while he does his work and recovers. Cleric can get him out...first step is just getting him away from the fucking Vollstecker’s. N-Nott hates Trent just as much as anyone...she’s been hurt too...she’d help us.” Fjord took a deep breath as he processed everything and tightened his grip on the tiefling. 

        "Just get through tonight, darlin' and we'll be there for him the moment he's out of there." He ran his hand through Molly's hair and tried to calm him as best he could.

        "We'll figure it all out tomorrow. I know telling' you to get some sleep is kinda pointless, but you gotta try at least. Caleb's gonna need you tomorrow." Fjord was right. 

        "Not pointless at all. We need to start actively working to get Caleb out of there....to do that, I need energy. We got help for you, we got help for Yasha....we can help Caleb as well. We just need a plan." It was hard to get to sleep, terribly so. But he managed eventually, he had requested that Fjord keep the curtains open so he could sleep bathed in moonlight, he needed that boost. He felt like he prayed to the Moonweaver for hours before he simply passed out, and before he knew it Fjord was waking him up as he was leaving for the gym. Molly thanked him, gave him a kiss, and gathered his things before heading back to his own dorm to get ready for the day. He showered, brushed his teeth, got dressed, and made it to his class only a few minutes late, which his History of Arcane usage professor was used to. 

        The morning seemed to drag on, Mollymauk was anxious to see Caleb. The moment his second class ended, he rushed to the gardens, seeing Jester approaching as well. 

        "Family meeting love, tell Fjord I need him to fill you guys in on Caleb. I'm going to wait for him here, okay?" He said. Jester blinked, looking worried. 

        "Why? What's wrong? Is he okay?" She pressed. 

        "No he's not. But we'll talk about it, okay?" Molly kissed her forehead. Jester hesitantly nodded and went into the gardens, Mollymauk had awoken that morning with determination. When he saw Caleb, he was going to make sure he knew that he was not trapped. He had allies now, this was no longer some cute crush Molly wanted to date, this was someone who was making his home in their garden being hurt. And if someone hurts one member of the Nein, they hurt all of the Nein. He wouldn’t stand for it. Not if he could do anything about it.

Chapter Text

 

Caleb, Shattered II

Theme: Holy Dove by Civil Twilight

Theme: Unsteady by Erich Lee & X Ambassadors

.

.

.

        As morning came Caleb realized that it wasn't his usual internal alarm that woke him, instead the streaming sunlight pierced through his window. He didn't move for a long while. His whole bodied ached, covered in dried blood and sweat. More than that, his mind wasn't thinking correctly...not his usual thoughts...he couldn't put his finger on it, he was exhausted despite his sleep. 

        Eventually, he dragged himself to the showers and started undressing. Whatever Trent had done last night was more intense than usual, he had lied to Molly, this was more than the mage had ever made him go through. Caleb did his best to ignore the stinging of the hot water, after he wrapped his arms he took the herbs Astrid had given him and prayed he would make it to lunch. 

        As usual, his other professors though little of his dazed state. Probably thinking he was up late studying or whatever lies Trent told them. Regardless, his morning went by in a haze and soon he was walking to the gardens without even giving Astrid and Wulf an excuse. His only thought was seeing Mollymauk again and being somewhere warm with friends. 

        His steps were heavy as he trod through the gardens, the dead branches and leaves crunching beneath his boots with the snow. He was cold, but it was honestly the only thing keeping him awake at this point. He raised his gaze as he approached the gate that led into the gardens, noticing a plaque on it that said this part of the garden was private property of groundskeeping, tended to by Caduceus Clay and not available for recreation. It was probably what Caduceus had used as an excuse to keep others out.

        He opened the gate, and was immediately greeted by Mollymauk, who had been waiting for him. His heart ached at how loyal the other was already. Molly knew nothing about him, knew nothing of the horrible things Caleb had been forced to do to other students, he said he was a victim but to Caleb he was just as much a monster as any other person in that House. 

        “Hallo, mein freund…” He murmured, trying not to look him in the eye lest he break down. He saw an offered hand, purple and painted with lovely tattoos, and he did not hesitate to reach out and grab it, knowing Molly would be gentle. 

        "We're getting you out of there, Caleb." Molly murmured, making Caleb shut his eyes tight, shaking his head. 

        “N-Nein...it is not possible.” He breathed. 

        “It is possible. We’re going to have a talk...and it might not be today, or this week… or next week. But we’ll get a plan rolling. We have connections that we can use, professors who hate Trent as much as we do, careful planning and stealth will be our ally. You cannot give up hope, Caleb. You’re going to be free of that place by semester’s end.” Mollymauk told him. 

        He began to reach for his arms. Caleb's thick coat hid his bandages from anyone not looking for them. Though Molly seemed upset enough to look and he didn't stop the tiefling. His words meant little to Caleb at the moment as his mind was still clouded with whatever Trent had done to him. Mollymauk was gentle in lifting Caleb’s arm, using his elbow to put pressure on instead of the more padded skin where the wounds were. His red eyes narrowed as he inspected the wrappings, Caleb knew he hadn’t done the best job this morning. 

        "Tsk tsk...these need to be changed. We can help with that. Get you some new wraps. The others are waiting in our area, if there is a silencing spell you can cast to prevent anyone from eavesdropping, I'm sure that would help too. Or, to be doubly safe, we all use the notebooks. I'm happy to see you, love. I'm so proud of you for getting through last night...and i'm glad my words helped you." Molly murmured, trying his best to get through to him. 

        Caleb blinked a few times, unresponsive for several moments before he simply nodded and went into the large greenhouse. The wizard stepped into their little alcove and dropped to the ground, pulling one of his spell books from its holster. Slowly, he began casting a circle and the pain in his arms mounted the more energy he focused through himself. Searing fire and slices like daggers crawled up his limbs as he finally finished the ritual casting. A small dome of green light began to surround them all, the moment it was completed Caleb tucked his book to his chest and curled up on the ground. 

        "Eight hours...no sound or light can be seen or heard...no one but us can get in." He didn't notice the tears that tracked down his cheeks or that he was shaking. All he knew was that for the next eight hours he could be free and there was nothing Trent could do about it. 

        "I'm sorry that you all are involved in this...I'm so sorry..." 

        "Darling...oh no..." Molly whimpered, crawling close and gently pulling him into his arms, apologizing as he bumped the man's injuries. Caleb let whatever was happening to him, happen. He was too tired to fight Trent and his friends at once, he was only one man. There was some pain as he was jostled around but it was all noise at this point. He was moved into a position where he could rest his head against Mollymauk’s chest, arms resting on his lap in front of him. Molly shuffled so he was leaning against the tree, giving Caleb a little more support.

        "There you are...it's okay...it's okay...." He whispered, wiping his tears. Caleb let his eyes shut as his face was wiped clean, the pads of Molly’s hands were soft...so much softer than his own.

        "Cleric, now." Molly ordered. When Jester came over he shied away automatically, but Molly was holding him so he couldn't get far. Jester was kneeling by Caleb and looking into his eyes. 

        "It's alright, Caleb. I'm really glad we're involved with this, because now you don't have to suffer alone, and we can help you!" She said with a soft smile.

        "It will be hard, we will be worried and sad at times, but it's because we care about you. You fit in well! We're a party! Just like Vox Machina! The Mighty Nein stick together~ You're one of us now!" Jester booped his nose, making him suck in a breath.

        “I love how that fucking joke has become an actual thing we call ourselves.” Molly snorted.

        "You don't even have nine people." Caleb pointed out quietly. Jester just laughed.

        "Not nine! NEIN! As in Zemnian for no? Mighty Nope! Because we see bullshit and go NOPE! Mighty Nein~" The blue tiefling chirped. Caleb’s body moved some as Molly’s chest rumbled with his chuckle.

        "You sure you want to get mixed up with these loons?" He winked, petting his hair. Jester carefully helped Molly get Caleb's coat off, and she unwrapped the bandages slowly.

        "Caduceus, I have bandages and my Cleric pack in my big bag, can you get them out for me?" She asked, inspecting the wounds and biting her lip. 

        "....Molly I don't know if I can heal these...these have some major arcana coming off them. But I'll try, we'll still get him new bandages at the very least, and some ointment to hopefully dull the pain." The wizard nodded at her concerns, 

        "The crystals slow healing...don't know how..." Which would have bothered him if he weren't so exhausted. 

        She drew in a deep breath and set her hands on Caleb's arm, closing her eyes and focusing her energy in casting Cure Wounds. The spell stung and though it helped he still hissed at the pain, his skin not wanting to be near the crystals that had become embedded in his body. The skin shifted a bit, but the spell ended after a small moment. He looked down saw that not much had changed, much to Jester’s chagrin as well.

        “Why don’t we just take the crystals out? I mean, they’re hurting him.” Fjord interjected. 

        “Nein!” / “No!” Caleb and Jester gasped at once. Fjord held up his hands defensively. 

        “I-I don’t do that cleric stuff, I was just askin’.” He mumbled. 

        “Taking them out would be the best solution...but unfortunately they have been embedded for too long...it’s like a drug almost it looks like. His body wants the crystals out but it craves the energy the residuum is giving him. It’s already being absorbed by Caleb’s body...the slices of the crystals are small enough that they can be dissolved into the bloodstream if they are in his arms long enough. To take them out now would cause him immense pain...more than he can handle, I fear.” Caleb nodded frantically, Jester’s explanation right on the nose. 

        “D-Don’t take them out...he’ll know...Trent will know he’ll put them in me somewhere else please don’t-”

        “Shh...it’s alright...we’re leaving them, love...it’s okay.” Molly murmured, fingers carefully carding through his hair as he hugged him a little closer. 

        Caleb took a shuddering breath and nodded, letting his eyes wander down to the wounds Jester had been trying to heal. A few of the smaller wounds had closed, but the bigger, more fresh gashes? Those had only shrunk a few inches. 

        Jester sighed, looking to Molly before digging through her Cleric pack. 

        "Here..." She showed Caleb the ointment. 

        "It might burn a little, but then it will feel cold. It soothes muscles and wounds, and it has infection fighting properties too." She undid the cork and began to rub it along Caleb's wounds. 

        The ointment didn't seem to be magical so prolonged exposure wouldn't hurt more than normal. His body reacted on its own as Jester began touching him more, he felt overexposed and overstimulated but he knew it was necessary. Still, he fidgeted and flinched, twitching away from the contact. Then his arm was wrapped back up with a fresh bandage, and the same process was repeated with his other arm. Jester stepped back when she was finished, and Caleb curled into Molly as best as he could, head buried in his chest, a hand shyly gripping the lapel of his coat.

        "We don't leave this garden until we know how we're saving Caleb. I don't want him in there for much longer. He cannot flourish or even begin to heal properly if he is under constant stress and panic." Jester’s voice was serious, her usually happy demeanor falling. 

        "Jester, I wanted to take Caleb to a Cleric at some point and file a case for him there...get him a pass to take a small medical leave or something, have all his work done outside campus. They grant students those kinds of things if they need it...I can speak with Nott...see if we can have him stay with her and her husband. 

        But I agree...it is not safe for him to stay there much longer, getting him out of the Vollstrecker’s officially will be difficult....but if we can get Caleb to a safe space in the meantime that could help immensely." Caleb let out a little whine as Molly tugged his coat away from him, but the panic was soothed when he figured out that Molly was draping it over him instead, having taken it off. He was surrounded by Molly’s scent; incense and sweet pea. 

        Try as he might, paying attention was becoming difficult, he wasn’t in the best state of mind, and he was clinging to any and all comfort he could find.

        "Clerics is okay…” Caleb murmured, getting the attention of the other’s as they planned.

        “If you think it will help to file the complaint then fine. All I know is that I cannot go back to that house. I can’t...I can’t do it anymore I fear I will break soon a-and that is exactly what Trent wants. I-I can’t....” He took a deep breath, eyes screwed shut, heart still hammering against his chest.

        “Then we’ll do it today. We’ll find Nott, and we’ll-”

        “I cannot stay with Nott either, he has hurt her enough. Maybe..." He looked around to each of them and hated what he was about to suggest but it made sense.

        "I could switch who I stay with each night, it will make it harder for them to track me. It would mean less danger for just one person. I can make do with a few blankets and a pillow on the floor. I am not much trouble." 

        "I like your idea Caleb, my only concern is your belongings. Your school supplies and scrolls, your homework...either way, we'd have to find a way to get those.” Caduceus spoke up, and he frowned as a croak that was meant to be a chuckle left the wizard’s throat. 

        "What belongings? I have my spell books, my cat, all my school books and what little personal belongings I have are on my person. Everything else I would be happy to leave there if it meant I never had to set foot in that place again, accompanied or not." Caleb purposely had few belongings for this reason, for if the chance to run came, he could do so.

        “But, Caleb's idea is a great transition to my next suggestion." Mollymauk looked up at them all.

        "When we're together, we are strong. We all want to help Caleb, we all want to be successful here and show those mother fuckers how wrong they were about us. Caduceus, you and I should go and spot some houses, I think all of us should share a home. We find a three to four bedroom house, split rent between us all, and it will be fine...we all make money. If we all move in together, Caleb can come with us...then we can protect him together." He said. 

        "I like that idea, Molly. But moving takes time. I think that is a definite long term goal. Something we work towards. But right now? In this moment? I think Caleb's idea will work better. And your place is probably the safest since it is the farthest from the Vollstrecker’s house and close to the wall surrounding campus. And every week we can rotate, never the same order either. Random every time.” Jester piped up, her knowledge on Clerical practices on campus useful. 

        "He's more than welcome to stay with me as long as he likes too. I’m in the East Campus dorms. Well guarded, Beau’s there too so she could offer some protection." The half-orc consented, giving a firm nod.

        "As for the housing you mentioned, Molly. I believe I can ask around to some of my regulars who come in from off campus to purchase my teas and herbal remedies. I have quite a few higher class patrons who might be able to point me in the right direction for a house. So I will start gathering information on that." Caduceus offered, coming closer to Caleb. The wizard raised his eyes almost fearfully as the firbolg sat down in front of them, his racing heart not even slowing when the man didn’t reach out to touch him. 

        "Poor man..." He murmured, digging through his tunic until he found a bag. 

        "Aha...here, Caleb." Caduceus handed him the soft, cotton-threaded bag. 

        "Lavender, breathe it in and close your eyes, it helps calm the mind and relax the body naturally." He patted his knee and moved away, meanwhile Caleb let his eyes fall onto Jester with a slightly pleading look, beginning to feel his heart pound from being overwhelmed.

        "My cat? Do you have Frumpkin?" 

        "Don't worry, Caleb! I can get Frumpkin for you!" She smiled, stepping away so she could call out his name and sing it. The cat leapt through the bushes and into Jester's arms, purring loudly before the Bengal's eyes caught sight of Caleb. Frumpkin leaped to the ground and ran over, meowing loudly and pawing at Molly's leg almost desperately, ears flat and ready to bite the tiefling if necessary.

        "My hands are full, kitty. Come up, it's alright." Molly urged. Frumpkin jumped onto Caleb, curling up on his chest and pressing his head under his chin, purring loudly. The moment he saw Frumpkin he relaxed a lot more and freed one hand from the coat to scratch the familiar's head. A bond between spirit and caster was strong, having that energy and positive force around him was improving his mood greatly despite the lingering pain. He glanced over as a shadow covered him, noticing it was Fjord had joined to sit closer as well.

        "Look, I know I wasn't the most welcomin' and all...but you're different. Molly was right. If nothin' else, Molly thinks you're great and that's good enough for me. So, guess I'm tryin' to say I'm sorry." Caleb nodded, 

        "Accepted, danke. I understand your distrust, I do not blame you." Frumpkin looked over to the warlock and meowed, making Caleb smile. 

        "He says you are alright by him. That is good enough for me too, Mister Fjord." The cat then pawed at the bundle of lavender Caduceus had given him, making the scent stronger. The wizard thought for several long moments. 

        "I cannot thank any of you enough for the risk you are willing to take. I have no money and few possessions, nothing of value to give. I can offer my gratitude and the promise that should the day ever come, I will repay this kindness to the best of my ability.”

        "You can repay us by living for yourself and learning to love the Caleb that we all see." Caduceus spoke up, reaching over and gently scratching Frumpkin's back before bringing his hand back. 

        "Exactly!" Jester agreed. 

        "Don't repay us in money or favors just...be happy!" She smiled at Caleb softly.

        "I couldn't agree more...we welcomed you here a few weeks ago, Caleb. We don't take that welcome away so easily. You're a part of us~ And you'll always have a home here. It's not a burden to help you, it's not irritating or annoying...we want to. I think I speak for all of us when I say that lunch wouldn't feel quite right if you weren't with us." Mollymauk smiled down at him too, blowing a kiss. 

        Whatever bit of energy Caleb had was fading fast now, the lavender, his cat and the promise of safety all washing over him. After so long frightened and anxious, running on nothing but fear and coffee he was starting to crash. 

        "Would it..." Caleb paused, having trouble asking for help at this point seemed stupid, but old habits die hard, 

        "Would it perhaps be possible if I could...if I could stay somewhere this afternoon? I think I have reached my limit, as embarrassing as that is to admit."  At his request, Mollymauk smiled wider at him. 

        "Of course! Okay, Mighty Nein listen up!" He announced, gaining the other's eyes.

        "Caleb will come back to my dorm with me. I live on the opposite side of campus from the Vollstrecker House. As far as he possibly can be from them. In the meantime, those who have time tonight need to erect protection around their rooms. Sigils, runes, spells, whatever. We don't want Trent tracking this boy down. 

        We'll switch him around weekly, never keeping to the same order." Molly re-iterated the plan from earlier, Jester’s suggestion the most stable they had, and with all of them being magic users here the research on protection barriers would prove useful. Caleb felt something flutter in his chest at the sound of Mollymauk being commanding...he was serious and confident, Caleb dared to admit to himself that he was starting to feel some hope for himself. Maybe he had finally found somewhere he belonged. Maybe he could one day take the “Mighty Nein” back to the Zemni Fields and introduce them all to his parents. They could sleep in the barn with him and he could show them how he turned the upper part into a wonderful little hideaway, he could show them his cow...Frau Niedlich. 

        "Will do. Keep in mind, everyone, that these barriers we erect should focus on hiding the people within the rooms. Don't make it seem like the rooms are abandoned, that will make us stand out even more. Make it so every life form in your room is hidden but you." Caduceus offered wisely. 

        "Yeah! Check cloaking spells and such, or even something that we could put on Caleb. That's it! I'll go research that!" Jester said excitedly. 

        "Wonderful! Lastly, everyone: when Caleb wakes up I will take him to the Cleric with Jester to get him looked at. I’m not sure if we can get that medical leave for him today...but we can make the Cleric aware and perhaps start the process. 

        If she tells Trent to leave Caleb alone, we get at least a month where he can be safe. And in that month we can find out how Caleb can officially quit and leave the Vollstreckers. Am I clear? Are there any questions?" Molly asked. Jester shook her head, Caduceus too. 

        "Good. Alright..." Caleb’s heart was swelling with something he hadn’t felt before, his eyes were on Mollymauk, wide and vulnerable, as if he were looking at a savior. He closed his eyes briefly as a lavender hand came down and gently brushed some hair out of his face.

        "Let's go, love. I have a soft bed you can sleep in, and I'll light some incense for you. One step at a time." Mollymauk gently pushed Frumpkin off and helped Caleb stand, putting his coat on for him and handing him the cat. Caleb whispered thanks to him, holding Frumpking to his chest and letting out a slow breath as the cat purred and nuzzled into his neck. The fey creature had been his only rock up until recently, but now he had people to hide behind. He had people who didn’t care if he was a coward, or selfish, or scared. 

        “Caleb?” He looked up, realizing he had spaced off.

        “Ready? We’ll get your things set up at my place, I’m not letting you go back there tonight. Let them come, I know for a fact the entire South Campus would join me in protecting you if we made a scene.” Molly smirked. Caleb’s vision blurred with tears and exhaustion, and through his foggy mind he nodded.

        “O-Okay…” He went to take a step and felt the world spin, vaguely registering Frumpkin leaping onto his shoulders to try and steady him. There was another hand on his shoulder, and when his vision cleared there was Molly and Fjord. Molly had a hand on his shoulder and lower back, steadying him, and Caleb’s own hand was holding onto Molly for support. Fjord set his hand atop of Caleb’s on Mollymauk’s shoulders, thumb brushing his knuckles.

        “You’re in good hands, Caleb. Molly, if you need anythin’ you just let me know. Okay? Jessie an’ I will head to the library and update you on our research.” The half-orc informed. 

        "Thank you, Fjord. Thank you, Jester." Fjord’s eyes fell to Caleb, 

        "Sleep well, you've earned it, survivin' that shit...you're really strong Caleb." Fjord then gathered his things and left with Jester. After a moment Caleb shifted and wrapped one of the tiefling’s arms around his waist to steady him, taking the hand off his shoulder and holding it instead. Caduceus’s shadow covered him and Caleb blinked, looking up at the tall firbolg.

        "I will be heading as well. I'll do some research and ask around as I can, in the meantime I will prepare some teas specifically for Caleb. Ones to assist in soothing stress, promoting rest and recovery, and clearing the mind." Caduceus smoothed some of Molly's hair back, kissing the top of his head briefly and then patting one of his horns. 

        The affection confused Caleb some, was Caduceus...and Molly? He didn’t know what was going on between the Nein. Perhaps they were just really affectionate. The displays between Mollymauk, Fjord, Jester, and Caduceus bordered on romantic in Caleb’s mind. And he began to wonder if his own growing attraction towards the tiefling was even worth anything. Molly seemed to have three people who showered him in love and received the same kind of attention from each other. Then again, he had never seen such a relationship before, he knew they existed but he had been taught that only...those with little respect for themselves committed to such… heinous activities.

        Maybe it was his own prejudices, which he was working hard to overcome. A year ago, he would have ignored Mollymauk in the snow, wanting to stay out of the lime-light. He had quickly learned that it did not matter how small and insignificant he made himself, everyone in that damned House was a tool for Ikithon to train and widdle into the perfect, merciless, Scourger. Once he had figured that out, it had become his mission to become stronger, but not in the way Trent had wanted. He wanted to keep his mind, he didn’t want people to use it. 

        The Nein didn’t care for his mind, they cared about Caleb. They wanted his heart, not his wits. He wondered briefly what it would be like to be in such an arrangement where love and support was given freely. In the two weeks he had known them, he had already seen Jester give Molly a goodbye kiss on the lips, and Mollymauk grab Fjord’s ass with some whispered comment that made the half-orc blush up to his ears. Even Caduceus was close with everyone, letting Molly sit in his lap or Jester braid his hair, he sometimes even meditated with his head in Fjord’s lap. Caleb found himself a little jealous, willing himself to be normal so he too could join in the peaceful relationship his friends had formed.

        The snap of cold air against his face brought Caleb back to reality, he and Molly had left the gardens, the tiefling having taken it slow for Caleb which the wizard appreciated. Caleb glanced up at Mollymauk, and he willed his teeth away from worrying his lower lip before speaking.

        "You really took charge there...I appreciate all you are doing. All of you." He held onto Molly and reached into his component pouch, his paranoia and anxiety incredibly high considering that his friends were planning on keeping him from the Vollstrecker House tonight. Casting Disguise Self, Caleb gave himself short, sandy blonde hair and made his cheeks not as hollowed out, the last thing he needed was for a Scourger to see him with Mollymauk and report back to Trent and Lorenzo before their plan even went into action.

        They made it across campus without a fuss and soon they were approaching Molly's building.

        "Danke...for last night...really it was you who got me through that last session." He saw those purple skinned cheeks become stained with magenta, and Caleb was beginning to want to see that look more on Molly. He was cute when he blushed.

        "I was worried sick...but I was so relieved to see you writing to me last night. No matter how small the message..." The other confessed.

        "I spent the night with Fjord...upset and stressed...Caleb, darling; all I wanted to do was run across campus to that house and break you out. I wanted to run in headstrong and just go feral...sweep you into my arms and break you out. But I knew that wasn't wise, and Fjord had to calm me down honestly~" Caleb felt guilt rise in his throat. His mind kindly supplied him with images of Molly, curled up with tears flowing down his cheeks. Molly, hugging himself and shaking. Molly, being taken into Fjord’s arms and being held as he cried for him

        “I’m sorry….” He breathed.

        “No. Don’t apologize. I was worried because I care about you, and that’s what friends do...we worry for each other.” Molly told him, his arm tightening around his waist. They got into the building easily, but the stairs were intimidating. Caleb bit the inside of his cheek and supported himself the best he could as Molly helped him up the stairs. His body was so tired. All the injuries were on his arms but every training session took more and more energy from him. 

        Molly pushed open the door to his little dorm apartment, it was so much different than Caleb’s room. The dull browns and greys of the painted walls and wood were made vibrant with bright tapestries hanging on the walls and from the ceiling, giving the space an almost tent-like feel. The lanterns were kept from any tapestries to prevent fires, there were a few paintings that were obviously from lands Caleb had never visited. Knit blankets were draped over the leather couch provided by the campus. He stopped as Molly took off his shoes and prompted Caleb to take off his own, his eyes finding a book shelf near the door.

        On it were a few books, mostly school ones. The other books were thin, and he caught sight of multiple tarot card decks, an incense holder that looked like the Moonweaver, a few candles of various colors. 

        “It is very colorful.” He murmured, taking slow and steady steps.

        “Hm?” Molly looked back at him, and then smiled. Gods that smile was pure.

        “Your home. I have not been here...it is...nice. I like the art.” Caleb offered, feeling a little out of place. Everything about Molly was so beautiful, from his looks to his place of dwelling. Did he really belong here? The window let in the afternoon light, bathing the room in a dull, white light. 

        “Ah, thank you! I...I tried to make it look like my tent back home.” He grinned.

        Ah, so the tent resemblance was not a mistake.

        “You...live in a tent? I am not judging, merely curious.” He assured. Molly shrugged, pulling the curtains across, Caleb noticed embroidery on the curtains. 

        “Mhm. Gustav has an entertainment business. Theatres, circuses, carnivals, you know. So...sometimes we’d travel with a group he was assessing. He has a home in Xhorhas, Asarius specifically, near the border, little more sunlight.” He chuckled. Caleb took the information in, this was much preferable than thinking on his own issues. He wanted to study Mollymauk, read his story, learn about him instead of how to harness the energy from the crystals in his arms. 

        “And...what is this business? Have I heard of them?” He moved to slowly sit on the couch, body sobbing in relief as he stopped standing. Molly joined him, crossing one leg over the other. 

        “Fletchling and Moondrop Traveling Carnival of Curiosities. Great grandfather started as a single Carnival. Eventually he had picked up enough talent that he couldn’t fit them all in one show. So, he took his stage manager and made her the Ring Master, told her to set up shop in Rosohna. She did. The tradition continued across Wildemount until Fletchling and Moondrop Traveling Carnival of Curiosities had entertainment in almost every main city. 

        Grandpa took care of entertainment in Xhorhas, while Gustav took care of the entertainment in Dwendalia. Uncles and aunts take care of business further away, Nicodranis and stuff. I...was um...picked up by Gustav near Shadycreek. Yasha was with him. I give fortunes and readings.” He smirked, wiggling his hand with all the rings, and it was then Caleb noticed that each one had a symbol on it. Tarot symbols. 

        Wait.

        “Oh, so you are Moon Leaf in the school paper? I admit I always found your...ahem, fortunes rather…-”

        “Predictable? Bullshit?” Molly offered, no offense registering on his face. Caleb looked away some, nodding.

        “J-Ja…”

        “That’s because it is bullshit.” He snapped his head back up, Molly was grinning. 

        “I’m sorry?” 

        “It’s bullshit. I can’t give a reading through a fucking paper. I need someone in front of me. I need to touch their hands, look into their eyes, people simply submitting questions isn’t enough for me to reach out to the cards and the deities behind them. Doesn’t work like that. But I get a gold piece for every five fortunes I publish. It’s good coin. So...I ‘predict’ advice they may take.” Caleb leaned forward some, intrigued. 

        “Someone is having relationship troubles? Moon Leaf tells them the cards predict a sense of conflict deep in their hearts, and uses the ‘future’ card to tell them to get off their asses and talk to the person. I can give people hope through my fortunes in that paper, a sense that someone up there is looking out for them. It’s bullshit. But it’s my bullshit. It’s good bullshit. It doesn’t hurt anyone. And if my bullshit helps people? Then good on me.” 

        Caleb took that in. He found himself giving a little huff of a chuckle.

        “Mollymauk, you are chaotic.” He said, the smallest smile on his face.

        “Thank you, love.” Molly grinned. 

        “You ever want a reading, Caleb, just let me know.” The tiefling winked at him, and Caleb’s cheeks flushed a bit. Molly stood, offering his hand. Caleb slowly took it, and he was pulled up, they made their way to Molly’s bedroom and Caleb slowly sat on the bed, grunting in pain. He was so sore.

        Molly’s hands went to his coat, and he was about to protest when he saw the determination on his face. There was a glint in his eyes that Caleb felt he couldn’t argue with at the moment with the limited energy he had.

        "There we are...for sleeping do you keep your pants on or off?" Mollymauk hummed, fluffing one of the many pillows in his nest of a bed, the mattress covered with soft things. Caleb’s hand flew to his waist at the question as he shook his head, 

        "I'm plenty comfortable like this." He breathed, blushing darkly. Molly chuckled and he shook his head, patting his leg.

        "They stay on then...as long as you're comfortable." He grinned. 

        The wizard shifted to lay in the bed and pulled a blanket over himself, his form sinking into the bed further when Mollymauk carefully lifted his head and added another pillow for him, this one softer and more supportive of his neck than just the one. Frumpkin chirruped and jumped off his stomach where he had been laying and onto the nearby window ledge to curl up in the sun. 

        "Frumpkin, stealth," Caleb muttered and the cat seemed to almost nod, his form shifted and phased until he was almost invisible.

        "Talented familiar...just like his owner." He heard Molly murmur. Caleb smiled and settled into the bed.

        "There we are, love. A soft, warm bed for you to rest in. I'll stay with you, okay?" Molly was suddenly very close, smoothing his hair back and pressing his forehead against Caleb’s, and while his heart beat faster he didn't feel scared. 

        There was a voice in his head, a voice placed there by Trent, that whispered to him that this was his only option. He wasn't trusting anyone, he was using them to survive. It was partly true but he wanted to believe he had made real friends...not just allies or pawns to be used.

        "You're safe. You're okay now...you did so well, I'm so proud of you...thank you, Caleb ...thank you for trusting us..." Molly whispered, and Caleb gave him a little nod to show he had heard him and wasn’t asleep quite yet.

        "Danke, for letting me rest here..." 

        "Of course...you deserve some rest." Molly pulled his forehead away from Caleb’s, laying beside him more comfortably. It was quiet for a long while.

        "I have never missed a class before. I'm sure it is already causing a fuss. I cannot rest long before we go to the Clerics." He heard Molly snicker and cracked an eye open to glance at him. 

        "Of course you've never missed class, Mister Caleb." He teased, pressing a little closer. Caleb rolled his eyes and settled down once more, but just as he was about to try and rest his eyes flew open again, 

        "Und please, no incense later… bitte...no fire or smoke. I can explain later. The smell is nice, I just don't do well seeing those things..."  

        "Hmm...okay, no incense and smoke, no fires...I can do that for you. Explain when you feel up to it." Molly snuggled up to the human, his warm skin meeting Caleb's clothing. 

        "Now, rest...close those pretty eyes of yours and let your body heal." The tiefling murmured. Caleb bit his lip, shyly nudging Molly once more.

         “Wake me in an hour, please?” He requested. Molly nodded, and glanced over to Frumpkin.

        “Frumpkin?" He called, watching the cat's eyes appear by the window. 

        "Blink once if you understand this plane's time..." Molly said, Frumpkin blinked.

        "Wonderful! Can you wake us in an hour? Just come over and start patting at my face or something, dear." He cooed, the cat's eyes disappeared again and Caleb knew that the other had understood the request. 

        He hadn't expected Molly to stay here with him, the bed was big enough for both of them, barely. As Molly got comfortable Caleb shifted back.

        "I won't touch your arms." Mollymauk promised, placing a hand on his waist. 

        "Do you want me to hold you? Or would you feel better holding me and having more control? I can always just stay close...we don't have to touch if you're not okay with it." He said softly. As much as Caleb yearned for that touch, to be held and taken care of, his body was alight with hurt, his senses were still too raw, too overwhelmed.

        "Could we, um, could we just stay close..." After everything that had happened he needed a break from physical touch for a little while, just to reset. The tiefling nodded, letting Caleb shift back as needed.

         "Of course," Mollymauk smiled softly, and Caleb wiggled back a little further to reach out a hand to take Molly's. 

        "This is okay though..." He murmured, anything more and he wouldn't be able to sleep. Caleb dared to glance over at the other, and he saw Mollymauk’s cheeks tinged magenta once more. The tiefling settled his head into the pillows and blankets, their fingers lacing together. Molly squeezed gently, and Caleb squeezed back. 

        Caleb was overwhelmed, he was scared, he was nervous, but he was also excited. He had never felt so welcomed before in a group...so cared for...so loved. These were his friends, and Molly was so willing to work with him, to be patient, to give him the space he needed. The tiefling could be a little pushy at times with affection, but the wizard knew that he wasn’t doing it with ill intent, it was just how Molly was. He was physical, he liked communicating through touch. Pats on the back and kisses to the cheek, he did that with everyone, and Caleb was not to be excluded since he was considered a part of the group. 

        It took awhile for him to fall asleep. Despite knowing he had some time he kept thinking that Ikithon was going to come through the door at any moment. Even when he did fall into a fitful sleep his dreams were unpleasant. He hoped at least his body would feel better after a somewhat safe and peaceful rest. 

 

Chapter Text

Monochopsis

Songs:

A Whisper by Coldplay

Wide Eyed by Billy Lockett

.

.

.

        Getting to the library seemed to go by faster when they all had a mission. Jester had an hour until her next class, Fjord and hour and fifteen, and Caduceus was finished until work at three. Between the three of them, she was sure they could find some protection and barrier spells for Caleb and the rest of them. 

        She didn’t know Caleb well yet, but he needed help, and he always looked hurt and distant, something that weighed on Jester. They were so young, not even thirty yet, and yet their little group had already endured so much since coming to the Academy. Soltryce was supposed to be her escape. This place would redeem her, let her go back home, bring honor to her mother’s name and the small amount of tieflings that had the privilege of being in the Nicodrani higher classes.

        They pushed open the doors and ignored the people who raised their heads to look at the newcomers. Fjord led them to the stairs, taking them to the third floor where most mages studied. She reached forward and let her hand brush against his, watching the half-orc stop for a second before he shifted and reached back, taking her hand in his own. With a gentle squeeze she continued up the last flight of steps and onto the third floor.

        The windows were tall and tinted to help spare the ancient tomes from too much sunlight, the stone that built the library reflected the lantern lights, making it appear smaller than it actually was. Shadows cast by bookshelves allowed for students to hide away from prying eyes with ease as they studied. 

        “What’s the plan?” She quipped, earning a shush from a student at a nearby table. Jester frowned and shushed them back obnoxiously, earning a glare. She stood taller in triumph when the student gave up and just moved away from them. 

        “Well, not getting kicked out is part one.” Fjord mumbled, earning a small smack on his arm from Jester. He didn’t flinch.

        “I think we find a space to sit first.” Before any of them could object, Caduceus was leading them through the main hall and to the left where a few empty tables and couches sat. He took to the couch, sitting cross legged on it while Jester sat next to him and Fjord on the floor in front of the little coffee table. Caduceus spoke first;

        “Alright...I propose that each of us focus on one area of study. Like a group project. Jester you said you wanted to look at cloaking spells, right? For clothing?” The blue tiefling smiled and nodded, her tail swishing behind her. 

        “Yes! I think that may help him in the long run, clothes are something we always wear, so if we give him something to wear that can hide him, he can feel safer!” She whispered. The idea was perfect. He always had on that ratty coat or scarf, she could easily enchant one of them, hell she could enchant his shoes, something the Vollstreckers’ wouldn’t think of!

        “Good. That’s going to be...Cad where is that?” Fjord furrowed his brows as he tried to think.

        “I don’t know. Why would I know?”

        “...Caleb would know.” Fjord muttered.

        “I know where it is!” Jester giggled, waving her hand dismissively. She then turned towards Fjord and leaned forward.

        “I think maybe your patron could help with-”

        “No. Absolutely not.” Fjord interjected. Sighing, Jester moved onto the floor with him, on her knees as she leaned over the table and took his hands.

        “Fjord...you will never learn to overcome him if you do not work with him.” She murmured, eyes serious. The half-orc glanced away, and she reached up, bringing his face back by gently grabbing his chin, meeting his gold filled eyes. 

        “You know I’m right.” 

        “...I do.” He sighed, hanging his head and squeezing her hand. Smiling softly, Jester gently ran her thumb over his knuckles and let him pout for a moment. 

        “Why don’t you go look in the Warlock Studies section? I’m sure there is a way for you to raise a barrier with your falchion...or by asking him or...something. What you need is to just harness his energy, that’s all. So maybe look into spells that could do that?” She suggested. After another moment of silence, Fjord nodded. He stood, Jester following. She leaned up on her tip-toes and kissed him briefly, watching some color paint his cheeks and that small, happy spark return to his gaze. 

        “There he is~ My handsome man.” She cooed, patting his cheeks. Chuckling, Fjord gave her a brief hug before going to find the books he needed. That just left her and Caduceus. 

        Turning to face him she went and plopped back on the couch with him. 

        “What are you going to research, Caduceus?” The firbolg hummed and smiled at her.

        “Potions. Teas are very useful. I am sure there is a way for me to fuse the two. Something to boost his stealth, or a protective potion I can make.” He shrugged. Jester’s eyes widened.

        “That’s so cool!!”

        “SHHHH.” Jester winced, looking over to see the librarian of this floor.

        “Sorry! Group project…” She whispered. The librarian rolled his eyes and continued on, when the footsteps faded, she looked back over at Caduceus.

        “That’s so cool~” She whispered. He stood, Jester following suit. 

        “It is, isn’t it? I’ll need to go to the Cleric section on the fifth floor. So I’ll be back.” He gave her a kiss on the top of her head and walked off, leaving Jester alone. 

        She stood alone and watched the area where her boyfriend and friend had been, her smile seeming to fall. Why did good people always get hurt? First Fjord, she had found him so upset and jumpy. Then Molly, she still didn’t know what happened! One day the brightness in his eyes was just gone. Dulled. It came back occasionally but it was never the same. Yasha was always hurt, she always had some shadow following her. And now there was Caleb. She reached for the pendant in her dress pocket, the one she couldn’t wear in public. 

        “Guide me, Traveler...please...I need to help one more friend.” She whispered, feeling the arcane energy seem to pulse in her hand. She squeezed it and decided to take it out of her pocket, the chain wrapped around her palm, the pendant pressed into her palm as she walked. 

        She made her way to one of the bookshelves that was near the entrance. Abjuration. As she roamed the shelves, she let the hand with the pendant roam over the binders, her eyes reading the titles but not focusing unless that familiar warmth in her palm reached her senses. 

        When it did, she stopped and removed her hand from the binder, looking at the title. 

        Cloaking, Vanishing, & Invisibility: A Study into Deceptive Spells 

        It was perfect.

        “Thank you, Traveler!” She whispered under her breath, taking it off the shelf and all but running back to the table and couch. It was a start. If this didn’t have the answer, she’d know where to go from here! 

        Jester sat on the couch and brought her legs up to her chest, the book propped up her legs and the end of it resting on the swell of her breasts. They were useful, people used to say she had a shelf and she figured...well...they weren’t wrong. With her hands free she clasped her pendant and gave it a gentle kiss before continuing to hold it in one hand while the other one flipped through the pages. 

        Pass Without Trace...she knew that one. She could learn it with ease. It looked wonderful, an hour of no detection and silence. But the person under the spell could still be tracked by magical means. 

        Damn. 

        She kept going through different spells. Each one disappointing her either in duration or in the fact that Caleb could still be detected. Sighing she lowered the book, seeing Fjord returning with a small pile. 

        “You already look frustrated.” He smirked.

        “I got nothing from this!” She whined.

        “Did you get nothing? Or did you get a clue that maybe you need to look somewhere else…?” Stopping, Jester sat up straighter. 

        “Fjord you damn genius.” She set down her book and got up, walking off without an answer to his confused and quiet call. She held her pendant close to her chest, whispering softly for the Traveler to help guide her. And as usual, he responded. She followed her instincts and the warmth of the pendant until she found a Vollstrecker student. He was young, curled up in the chair. And as she walked behind the chair she glanced over at the spell they were reading up on. 

        Mordenkainen's Private Sanctum

        This might be of some use to you. Be wise in how you retrieve it. The Traveler’s voice rang in her head smoothly, and she made her way to a bookshelf, going through different books for a few moments until the Vollstrecker was back in their own world. With that she glanced at him, and she looked over to the kerosene lamp on the table near them. 

        Wise doesn’t always mean the most quiet. She smirked and walked towards the lamp on the opposite side of the bookshelf, hidden. With a flick of her wrist, she quickly cast Thaumaturgy, watching as the lamp was pushed to the edge of the table. She made her way back to where she was, continuing to read through books, putting them back and picking new ones. She just had to wait for gravity now. 

        C R A S H.

        She jumped, sticking her head out. The lamp had fallen, it was now burning into the rug. The Vollstrecker was cursing softly and had gotten up. Jester ran over and snatched the book before ducking into the bookshelves again and putting it in her cloak. 

        “What is going on!?” The librarian from earlier was rushing over to help the Vollstrecker, and Jester wove through bookshelves to avoid detection. When she made it back to the main walkway she was standing ramrod straight and she had her tail wrapped tightly around her calf. 

        “Jester! What in the hell happened?” Fjord hissed as she returned. Jester sat back down calmly, keeping quiet as she opened the book. 

        “A lamp fell over. That was all. It’s taken care of it.” 

        “A lamp fell over? Or-”

        “Yes. good thing it’s taken care of. A fire would be very inconvenient. Wouldn’t it?” Caduceus looked at Fjord, his eyes boring into the other’s a silent plea for the other to not question. Fjord must have gotten the message, because he didn’t ask anything more. 

        Opening the book, Jester began to look at the spell quickly. Mordenkainen's Private Sanctum was perfect. It gave the caster a space of one-hundred and fifty feet to play with, able to shape the sanctum to their will. No one could see into it, even with dark-vision. No one could detect them with magic. All sound stayed inside. It was the perfect safe space for them all. It was the perfect safe space for Caleb!

        “I wonder if Caleb is powerful enough to cast this...I can’t cast it...but...it could be useful for him...maybe not for our current predicament, but in the future!” She whispered, showing the other two the spell. Fjord read it in more detail, humming in thought. 

        “Now that’s somethin’...” Caduceus took it next, studying it. 

        “Yeah...I think that’d be worth something.”

        That was enough for Jester. She got out her notebook and began copying it down as quickly as she could. As long as she could read the writing that was all that mattered. Then it hit her as she finished. 

        “....I could just find something to cast Invisibility on...give Caleb a cloak of invisibility.” She snickered, closing the book and setting it on the coffee table in front of her.

        “What have you found, Fjord?” 

        “Well...there’s always Alarm. Pretty sure Caleb knows that one though.” 

        “Really now? What makes you think that?” Caduceus drawled, making the half-orc grin.

        “Sass? Really?”

        “Yes. Anyways, please continue.” Caduceus chuckled.

        “Yeah...so, like Jester, I can’t cast this. But Caleb possibly could. Nondetection. It lasts eight hours. Not even scrying could find him. So I think that’s a good start. What about you, Cad?”

        The firbolg gave a shrug. 

        “There wasn’t much, I was surprised. Might have to just start testing that on my own. What I could do is give him a stealth potion though...then both of your ideas combined with the potion would help him. And if those spells require components we should collect those for him, help him out.” Caduceus explained. Jester nodded, looking to Fjord. 

        “I think we can do that. What do you think?”

        “Yeah. Seems simple enough.” He shrugged.

        “Then it’s decided. We may not be able to cast things ourselves right now, but we give Caleb the tools he needs to cast what he needs.” Jester said, the other boys nodding. 

        A commotion from near where the lamp incident was got their attention, and Jester was the first to get up to go and investigate. Fjord and Caduceus followed, gathering their books. 

        “Come on! This is ridiculous! Are you kidding me right now? Respect your professor!” 

        “Oh gods…” Jester looked at Fjord, trying not to laugh.

        “Nott…” She snickered.

        The goblin was standing by the bookshelf, her braids frazzled and her eyes squinting as the Vollstrecker student Jester had stolen the book from held Veth’s planner out of reach. 

        “Come on, professor Brenatto! Aren’t you always telling us to push ourselves, to see what heights we can achieve if we be brave and trust in our instincts?” The student was maybe eighteen. And he grinned down at her.

        “WHY YOU LITTLE-”

        “Thank you so much for grabbing that for her. But I think I’ll take it from here.” Caduceus snatched the planner from the student’s hand with ease, and when the Vollstrecker went to growl at him the firbolg just grinned down at him, using his height to his advantage as he quite literally loomed over the young Vollstrecker.

        “Who are you, anyways?” He asked.

        “My name is Hans Bruner, and I am a proud member in training to the Vollstrecker House!” He announced.

        “Wow, and he’s harassing a professor. How lame.” Jester yawned.

        “It’s just Nott-”

        “Okay stop right there. Only WE get to call her that. So why don’t you just go back to studying and leave her the fuck alone. Got it?” Fjord growled.

        “Fjord!”

        “Not until the goblin brat gives me my book back.”

        “I told you I didn’t steal shit!”

        “HERE.” Jester shoved it at the Vollstrecker, the young man stumbling some from her strength, he held up the book and his eyes widened.

        “YOU!” He hissed.

        “Yeah yeah whatever. I was curious and I borrowed it. I was gonna sneak it back anyways, shit’s boring.” She rolled her eyes, crossing her arms. Hans scowled at her and stepped forward, Jester stepped forward too, looking up at the human who was a few inches taller than her.

        “You would do well to know that stealing from a Vollstrecker has consequences.” 

        “Oh? And you’ve been initiated? You said member in training. Sounds like you’re just some Vollstrecker wannabe right now.” Jester smirked. Hans’s eyes flashed with offense, the envy-green orbs narrowed as he moved forward, shoving her against the bookcase.

        “JES-”

        “Enough!” Nott stomped forward and climbed up the boy’s body with ease, gripping his hair tightly and yanking it back, making him whimper.

        “Hans Bruner you have crossed a line! Assaulting a student? It’s bad enough you insult me in my class! And now-”

        “Seriously!? What is going on up here!?” The group turned to see the librarian. An older human by the name of Zelah, he was almost six foot and had a scraggly beard. His eyes were wrinkled around the edges and his lips were dry. He clutched a staff in his hand, frail body wrapped in Sol```tryce red robes. 

        “Zelah!” Nott hopped down, Jester spit an insult in Infernal at Hans, casting Vicious Mockery as she slid from beneath his grasp. Hans grabbed his head, cursing softly as he stumbled away from them and glared death from his belongings a few feet away. 

        “Hans, a usual disruption in my class, attempted assault on this woman!” Nott screeched. Zelah brought a hand up to his temple, rubbing it. 

        “Mrs. Brenatto please…” He breathed.

        “Sorry…”

        “That blue skinned skink lookin’ little shit stole my book!” Hans barked.

        “I gave it back! I admit I snatched it but I knew you wouldn’t share the knowledge I so craved even if I asked!” Jester laid a hand on her forehead dramatically. 

        As the group squabbled, Zelah pounded his staff on the ground, the bang echoing around the chamber. Silence fell over them all and he pointed to the students.

        “You,” He said to the Nein.

        “Out. Come back tomorrow when you are better behaved.” He growled. Before Hans could celebrate, Jester watched as Zelah grabbed the student by his ear.

        “And YOU,” He growled.

        “You and I are going to the Vollstrecker house, you get to explain to Master Ikithon why you were kicked out of the library. Assaulting a student...my goodness...even if she has no business learning such advanced arcane usages you do not raise a hand against another academy member.” Jester stuck her tongue out at Hans as he was drug past, not missing the fear that sparked behind his eyes once it was known that he was being taken to Ikithon himself. 

        Silence came over the group and they stared at where Zelah and Hans had been. Now just an empty chamber of a library save for the few students still staring at them. 

        “Um...w-well, we have been asked to leave so I suggest we-”

        “Go to the sixth floor where tutoring happens and we can avoid Zelah?” Nott said, heading towards the stairs. Jester grinned and ran over to catch up, Caduceus sauntering after them.

        “What?” Jester looked back at Fjord and grinned.

        “Come on! Let’s go!” 

        The party made their way up the stairs, coming to the sixth floor where tutoring was held. It was brighter colored than the other floors, with untinted windows to allow more natural sunlight in. At night, large lanterns hung from the ceiling to provide students with ample lighting. The walls were a grey stone as compared to the darker stones from below, and the floor was a white marble. Tables were dark oak and shined with polish. The bookshelves lined the left and right sides of the long chamber, with lots of tables in the middle. Every five rows there was a break in the bookshelves and little nooks with couches and lower coffee tables for more relaxed student group work. There were doorways near the windows that led to the staircases into the towers of the library, where private rooms could be used for tutoring or studying.

        Jester reached down and pat Nott’s head with a smile, earning a grin back from their older friend. They followed her to one of the nooks towards the back. 

        “I’m pretty sure this is where Caleb teaches Molly and Yasha.” Caduceus added, sitting on the floor by the table. 

        “Really?” Jester looked around, her eyes bright.

        “...I like it! It’s nice up here~ No wonder Molly hangs here with Caleb every night!” Fjord was last to sit, taking a spot on a soft chaise while Jester and Nott sat on the couch. 

        “Nott! We missed you!” The blue tiefling threw her arms around their professor, hugging her close. Laughing softly, Nott hugged her back just as tightly, her clawed fingers then found Fjord’s hair, ruffling it and making the young half-orc grumble as he fixed it.

        “How are my favorite misfits?” She asked, fixing the flower crown on her head.

        “We’re doing okay, if we’re honest.” 

        “Is that a new flower crown from Yeza?” Caduceus inquired.

        “It is! He made it this morning for me before work...isn’t it sweet? He’s been so nice...I really thought he’d...I don’t know...not like me after the accident but...he’s just the same.” Her green cheeks were tinted darker, making Jester squeal softly.

        “So romantic!! Has he found a way to change you back yet?” Pierced ears drooped.

        “...No. He hasn’t.” 

        “Oh Nott…”

        “It’s fine!” She straightened up, looking up at Jester with a determined look.

        “I’ve made it...what? Almost seven years now as a goblin! So, it’s fine! Besides...our marriage is just fine.” She gave a nod of finality. 

        “Oh~? So you and Yeza are definitely fucking then?” Jester purred. She squeaked when the goblin began to slap her hands at her wildly.

        “ShHHH! JEster! Vulgar!” She whispered.

        “Jester, really?” Fjord sighed.

        “What!? It’s a valid question! Nott is our friend and I want to make sure her man is taking good care of her! Because if he’s not, then I’m gonna have to go and use Message to scare him.” She huffed. Nott rolled her eyes, blushing a little.

        “...Yes. We are. It’s fine. It just took some getting used to on both ends. But this body is still mine. Even if I don’t like it much...it’s mine. I miss my old one. I miss my real self. But...Yeza is right, i’m still Veth. Same one he married. So...it’s fine. And what better revenge to have than to live happily?” Nott settled back down on the couch, feet dangling off the edge.

        “You still want to bash Ikithon’s face in though, don’t you?” Caduceus piped up calmly.

        “Oh hell yeah. I want to see fear in that fucker’s eyes as I use the very form he gave me against him.” Nott growled.

        “Good. We want to see the same thing.” It surprised them all that Caduceus of all people said it. Jester and Fjord turned and looked at the firbolg with wide eyes. Caduceus simply looked at them, face as calm as ever, but Jester could see the storm behind those petal pink eyes, the flashes of anger well secluded flashing every now and again.

        “Oh? You’ve never wanted to take him on before...what did he do?” Nott’s voice was serious as she looked at them all, and there was a tense silence before Fjord spoke up, much to Jester’s relief.

        “He’s hurt more than you think. Not just the students...those outside of it too. Like you, like Mollymauk.” Nott’s eyes widened, and she leaned closer.

        “What?”

        “He wanted to be a Vollstrecker! He felt bad because of his past and his magic and thought they could help him and...I don’t know. He was in a bad place but they hurt him and ...yeah.” 

        “But what did they DO?” Nott hissed.

        “I don’t know! One day he just wasn’t the same anymore! His eyes weren’t as bright and...and he gets pensive sometimes and spaces off and he thinks we don’t notice but we do!” Jester looked at Fjord, frowning.

        “Right?”

        “...yeah. Yeah that about sums it up.” He mumbled.

        “What really triggered it was the Vollstreckers saying they would make Molly a member, and then at his ‘welcoming ceremony’ they beat him, poured booze on him, and threw him into the snow. Luckily, Caleb felt pity and helped him get out, and got him home safe. In return, Molly brought Caleb to us. Thanks to Caleb, we know a little more of the atrocities happening in that place, and we want to stop it. But first thing is first, we’re getting Caleb out.” Caduceus raised his hands as if he had a cup, Jester giggling when the firbolg froze and realized he didn’t have anything in his hands. Habits. 

        “You’re...you’re getting Caleb out?” Nott’s voice was quiet, traveling between the three like a breeze. Nodding, Fjord laid a hand on her shoulder.

        “Yeah...we’re getting him out.” He promised. Jester nodded next, her tail wrapping around Nott’s waist some.

        “We have a plan and everything! He’s not going back there.” Jester could see how it was affecting Nott. The woman’s shoulders became tense and she brought a knee up to her chest, hugging it.

        “Do...do you know how long I’ve been begging him to get out of there?” Heartbroken yet relieved. That was the only way to describe her voice. None of them spoke.

        “A year.” Nott supplied.

        “I’ve been begging him for a year . Caleb, they aren’t good for you. Caleb, you’re worth more than a degree. Caleb, you look like you haven’t slept. Caleb, why are there bandages on your arms? Caleb, have you slept!? Caleb you aren’t the same anymore!” Jester moved closer and hugged Nott, bringing her close and hearing her suck in a breath.

        “Shhh...Nott it is okay...we got him, okay? He’s okay. He’s...well, he’s not okay. He’s pretty fucked up right now. But he will be okay. And you just gotta keep saying that! Okay? He’s gonna be okay!” She leaned back some when a smaller head pushed against her chest, accepting the affection.

        “I-I’m sorry I just...he’s-”

        “Like a son to you.” Caduceus once again hummed.

        “Y-Yes! Luc can’t be here...w-we sent him to a school in Nicodranis instead. Thank the gods he wants to work in textiles and art….he would have gotten a free ride here but...but I’m not risking him in this place. I can take this-” She motioned to her form. 

        “But he won’t get my son. He won’t get my son .” 

        “He won’t get him. And we’ve got your other one. Okay, Nott? Caleb’s gonna be just fine. He just needed a little more support. You did your best, and he really admires ya, he was happy to hear that we knew you.” Fjord offered. Wiping her eyes, Nott pulled away from Jester, who gladly let go and let the goblin get comfortable.

        “I haven’t seen Caleb outside of class in months. I’ve been so worried for him. Usually we ate lunch together! He’d bring his lunch to my office and he’d eat while I worked...w-we would talk...he would ask questions on any material I taught…” She trailed off, Jester reached forward and laid her hand atop of Nott’s. 

        “It’s okay, Veth… we’ll save him. Okay? Maybe we can even get him to a different school and-”

        “No!” The outburst made all of them stop and stare at Nott. Jester glanced down at Fjord, who had sat up to look at her. 

        “...But wouldn’t Caleb be safer somewhere else?” He asked slowly.

        “W-Well yes! He would! But… I… I can’t let him leave I…” Nott fiddled with her dress, eyes like dinner plates.

        “You what, Nott?” Caduceus stood and came over to the couch, sitting on the other side of her. 

        “You can tell us…” Nott was quiet, her eyes downcast. 

        “....I need Caleb to stay in this school.” She whispered, voice tight. Jester took her hand and held it, gently rubbing her little knuckles.

        “Why do you need Caleb to stay, Nott?” The woman raised her head and looked at Jester, then at Fjord, then Caduceus. Her hand squeezed Jester’s, asking for support silently. 

        “I need Caleb to stay in this school so he can save me…” It was Fjord who reacted first, rearing back and holding up a hand.

        “Woah woah woah...save you? I thought you were good with...with your body.” He said, avoiding his eyes from hers when Nott glared.

        “Do you think I mean that!? I just say that so I don’t go insane!” She griped, grumbling as Jester pulled her close. 

        “I’m okay with it. But not good! Caleb has potential...great potential..and had not Ikithon gotten to him first...maybe I could have brought him to another field of study. Caleb is very powerful, and every professor here knows it. If he reaches his full potential, I believe that Caleb Widogast can turn me back.” Her voice didn’t stutter this time, it was confident in her explanation. The three looked at Nott, and soon judgement melted into understanding. Nott meant no harm. She loved Caleb, he was a son to her. And she wanted his brains to help her and not to be a soldier for the Empire. 

        “...Nott, we all love you the way you are. But if Caleb can change you back and make you happy , then we’re gonna try to keep him here with us and protect him. Okay?” Jester nuzzled the top of Nott’s head and smiled, the tension between them all seeming to dissipate. 

        “Thank you…” 

        “Ah, how did I know the noise was coming from these hooligans?” Jester snapped her head up and saw Beau, her eyes widened and she all but pushed Nott off as she ran over.

        “BEAUREGARD~!” She threw her arms around the monk, hugging her tightly and making the monk almost fall over. Almost. Yasha was behind her so Jester’s plan to knock Beau over and claim to be the stronger woman was once again foiled. Nott had made her home leaning against Caduceus, pulling a flask from her jacket and sipping from it.

        “Coffee?” The goblin cackled.

        “Rum.” 

        “A-Ah...of course…” Jester found Nott’s alcoholic affliction both endearing and worrisome at times. She had heard from Yeza that she had never used to drink as much before the change happened. But she wasn’t an awful person...sure she got drunk a lot, but she loved her husband and son. She didn’t hurt anyone...well...unless they gave her reason to hurt them. 

        “Uh, Jester?” She looked over, she was still clinging to Beau.

        “Oh! Sorry!” Jester got off her and smiled.

        “Beau it’s been so long! Where have you been? We haven’t seen you at lunch in FOREVER! You used to come and see us all the time! Then you got into the big Monk classes...what, are we not cool enough anymore?” She pouted, crossing her arms.

        “Okay, first of all, you all were never cool enough because I’m the coolest one here. Secondly, I’ve just been...busy. Mostly studying honestly.” Beau shrugged, glancing at Yasha.

        “Ooooh, I get it.” 

        “What? What is there to get?”

        “You and Yasha finally did it! So you’re making out during lunch hour!” Jester gasped. Beau’s face went bright red and she began to stutter and try to put sentences together.

        “I-I uh y-you wh-n-we-well I-...”

        “Not every day. Just sometimes.” Yasha walked past them and took Jester’s spot on the couch, booting her to the floor. Jester’s jaw dropped and she covered her mouth to stop a scream as she looked at Beau with bright eyes.

        “No. Do not.” Beau growled.

        “Oh, come on! This is so exciting!” Jester whispered.

        “S-Shhh! We’re still figuring it out so...just keep it on the downlow...please?” Jester’s teasing gaze softened, and she nodded.

        “Yeah...I can do that.” She pat Beau’s cheek and then went to sit by Fjord, hugging him and perching her chin on his shoulder. Beauregard walked over and sat in Yasha’s lap like it was normal, the boys now having noticed.

        “Wooahh now, when did this become a thing?” Fjord smirked.

        “Shut it six second sucker.” Beau stuck her tongue out.

        “OKAY look that was one time you caught me off guard!”

        “Still took you down in six seconds.”

        “S-Shut up.” 

        “Children, behave.” Caduceus sighed. 

        “Lemme guess, hiding from Zelah because he kicked you out?” Caduceus nodded to Yasha’s question, the barbarian giving an amused smirk. Now perched in Fjord’s lap, Jester sat up and grinned.

        “Look at that! The Mighty Nein is all together again! Almost.” She giggled, reaching for her bag. She checked the notebooks, no new messages as of yet...she hoped Molly messaged soon. 

        “Yeah, almost. Where’s Molly?” Yasha’s voice piped up from its usual quiet tone, obviously worried. 

        “He’s with Caleb at his dorm.” Jester said without looking up from her bag, digging out her sketchbook.

        “Oh my gods he’s at Caleb’s dorm ? You guys let him back in that fucking House ?” Yasha’s voice lowered, Jester realized her grammatical error and snapped her head up.

        “No! No! No! Yasha no!” She waved her hands.

        “Caleb is with Molly at Molly’s dorm!” She assured her, watching the dark storm clouds slowly retreat from Yasha’s eyes. Most people were afraid of the barbarian, that or jealous. But the Mighty Nein loved her. She was just very protective of Mollymauk, the tiefling she saw as a little brother. 

        “Oh...okay. That’s okay.” She watched as Beau laid a hand on Yasha’s hand, squeezing it.

        “...Why is he there? He’s always with you guys...i-is everything okay with him?” Yasha asked, her gaze finding Jester’s. Before she could say anything Beau snickered,

        “Oh I’m sure everything is dandy if Molly got Caleb in his room.” The monk grinned, earning a little pout from Yasha.

        “Look, you know they’re-”

        “Actually I...I think that’s the last thing they’re doing.” Jester coughed.

        “Bro, I was joking. Well...sort of. You know what I mean.” She crossed her arms. 

        “Nah, you’re alrigh’ Beau, we understand what ya mean. You just haven’t been here for the past few days, some shit has gone down is all.” Fjord leaned back and pat her knee. 

        “What do you mean by some shit went down?” Beau raised an eyebrow.

        “Well that’s the thing like...so...we’re not in the private garden so...we really can’t go into detail here in public. You know? Oh! Beau do you still have the notebook I gave you like...over the autumn break? The end of the first quarter?” Jester got up from Fjord’s lap, coming over to Beau.

        “What? Oh! Yeah, yeah I got it somewhere. Totally.” She nodded her head, tilting it to the right just so.

        “You lost it, didn’t you.” It was a statement more than question from Fjord, his face unamused.

        “NO!” 

        “SHHH.” Beauregard flipped off a student walking by. 

        “No. It’s in my dorm somewhere. I put it on my bookshelf and you know how fucked up that thing gets. So...I’ll look when I get home.” She promised.

        “I can help you look, Beau.” Yasha offered quietly. Jester looked over at the other, taking note of the little blush on the barbarian’s cheeks.

        “What? No no you don’t have to do that, Yasha. My room is like...such a mess, so like...I’ll clean it up if you wanna come over. I mean...good impressions and all that.” Jester began to laugh, getting glare from Beau.

        “We’ve gone way past first impressions~” She smirked, Yasha just nodding.

        “I’ll come help.” Her tone was final, Beau just nodded, not fighting. 

        “You look nervous, Yasha, come sit.” Caduceus gave up his spot, letting the woman sit down slowly. 

        “What’s up, Yash?” Beau sauntered over, frowning when Nott refused to move. She huffed and instead perched on the couch armchair next to Yasha, leaning against her some.

        “It’s just…” Yasha sighed, leaning forward some, resting her elbows on her knees and holding her head up. 

        “I don’t like this.” 

        “Don’t like what?” Jester tilted her head, going back to curl up with Fjord. 

        “The Caleb thing…”

        “What’s wrong with Caleb!?” Nott sat up, glaring.

        “Nothing! Nothing no! That’s not what I meant I just-”

        “My boy is wonderful and he is in trouble! He’s-”

        “Nott! She means she doesn’t like the Vollstrecker shit.” Beau griped. The goblin surrendered, muttering an apology as she went back to her flask. 

        “None of us like it...and Caleb seems especially hurt by the Vollstreckers...we need to get him out. There’s got to be a long term disguise self spell, right?” She looked to Caduceus, who just shrugged, her gaze then went up to Fjord.

        “I mean...there are. But the Vollstrecker are all wizards. They know magic. That’s kinda their job. So I think they’d probably know if Caleb tried to disguise himself. It wouldn’t take much to undo it either. It might be better to just...fight the Vollstrecker’s head on. Expose them at the very least.” He suggested softly.

        “That’s the thing,” Yasha’s voice shook softly.

        “Everyone knows . Trent doesn’t try to really hide anything. He brings up some bullshit excuse and everyone turns a blind eye...they have the power here...it’s not that we need to expose them, we just need to get everyone else to stand up against them.” 

        The Nein were quiet as Yasha’s words sunk in. Jester knew she was right. She herself had seen professors simply wave dismissive hands at Vollstrecker students who passed out in class, or had bloodied bandages on their bodies, who looked catatonic, or had outbursts of anger. 

        Ah, must be studying hard. This is what it means to be a Vollstrecker, there’s a reason they are so highly respected at Soltryce.

        Looks like the party this weekend got a little rough, or did you cut yourself shaving? 

        We’re not reporting them to Headmaster Da’leth. It is simply stress, something you could not understand. We teach forgiveness here. Don’t we? 

        All of those bullshit excuses made Jester frown. They excused everything the students did because of the power Ikithon had. Did Da’leth actually know what was going on? She had never seen the headmaster. He appeared a few times a year; to welcome the students at the beginning of the school year, to congratulate them at the end of the first semester, and to bid them farewell for the two month break they got at the end of the second semester. He taught no classes, he did not walk the campus, he was just a figurehead as far as the blue-skinned cleric was concerned. And if Da’leth didn’t have a clue as to what chaos Ikithon was creating, then that meant the Vollstrecker leader had the Academy wrapped around his finger. 

        “Jester?” 

        She looked up to see Fjord giving her a concerned look.

        “Yes, Fjord?”

        “You’re frownin’...everythin’ okay?” He asked softly.

        “I was just thinking about what Yasha said...that’s all...that everyone knows.” She mumbled. Fjord’s large hand rubbed her back a little, helping her relax some.

        “It’s fucked up, I know.”

        “But it made me think because like...if everyone knows...and they aren’t doing anything...then that means Ikithon has much more power than we realize, and getting Caleb away from the Vollstrecker might not be enough. We need to stop them. Because if we don’t strike first, they’ll hurt us. We know too much already. They know. I know they do. Especially if Ikithon is as powerful as he is!” 

        “Jess...calm down.” Fjord grabbed her face, his thumbs running over her soft cheeks.

        “Sorry…” She whimpered.

        “No, it’s alright...you make good points. Let’s not make any hasty decisions though. We need to help Caleb first. He’s not in a good place. Once we get him out and he’s more stable and confident...we can make our move. Okay? So don’t stress for now.” Jester nodded and leaned into the hands holding her face, raising her own and holding Fjord’s hand to her cheeks. 

        “I think a wise course of action for all of us would be to take Caleb’s studious nature to heart and begin studying. If we need to watch our backs, then we need to be prepared and we need to get stronger. We have the most advanced magical study tools and archives at our fingertips here. Let’s use them.” Caduceus was looking at them all seriously, and Jester’s chest warmed oddly at the prospect of an adventure coming for them. It was dangerous, it was like a story-book! Like the ones her mother used to read to her! 

        “Yeah, and if you guys need books from the Cobalt Soul Archive I can like...check them out and let you guys come over to read ‘em.” Beau offered.

        “That’s real nice of you, Beau.” 

        “Thanks, Cad.”

        Jester looked over to see the librarian coming up the stairs, doing his rounds.

        “I think that’s our cue to leave.” 

        Jester stood and grabbed Fjord’s hand, they waved to Beau and Yasha, grabbing their things and running into the bookshelves. They mirrored Zelah’s movements and descended the stairs when his back was turned and he was halfway down the chamber. They had work to do, they had discovered some interesting tactics and spells, and Jester had never had so much determination in her life to do well in school. But if it meant saving her friends and possibly any future students of the Academy, then her efforts would be worth it. Even if she failed. 

 

.

.

.

        “Hey Beau.” 

        Beauregard stopped, she had been about to go and look at some books for her paper. Yasha’s hand rested delicately on her wrist, fingers twitching and wanting to bring her closer. Turning, the monk looked down at Yasha, who seemed almost stuck to the couch. Her eyes were heavy and she looked very tired.

        “What’s up?” 

        Yasha looked up at her, her hand finally twitching to life and wrapping around Beau’s hand, she laced their fingers together and squeezed, catching the faint blush on the woman’s cheeks. 

        “...Can we talk?” Beau’s heart immediately leapt into her throat. What had she done? Was she too much? Was she taking it too fast? Did Yasha regret having this unofficial thing with her? Was she breaking up with her as her unofficial not really girlfriend? 

        “It’s not about you.” Beau let out a sigh.

        “I um...I wasn’t worried about-”

        “Yes you were.”

        “....s-shut up.” 

        That drew a soft chuckle from Yasha, which made Beau’s heart beat in her throat for an entirely different reason, one that she liked. 

        “Why don’t we head to your dorm? O-Or the garden...I just...I need somewhere private.” She whispered.

        “Like...you gotta confide in me about some stuff so you need a relaxed space? Is it some deep shit?” 

        “Yeah. It’s kinda...it’s some deep shit.”  Beau slowly moved, sitting next to her and laying a hand on her lower thigh. 

        “...I had a dream last night.” Yasha wouldn’t look at her now, her eyes were locked in her lap, her hair obscuring Beau’s view of her face.

        “...it wasn’t about Obann. But it was a warning all the same.” Beau leaned closer, 

        “...What was it about, Yasha?”  The woman let out a soft sound akin to a sob, her hand found Beau’s and squeezed tightly, her voice tight and almost inaudible as she choked out-

        “I-It was about Mollymauk…”