The first cycle was hard. Everyone had their own lives and needs, and having to learn a new language from scratch put a damper on that. Oh, and their whole universe being brutally murdered had something to do with it, too.
The second cycle was better. They communicated more, helped each other out.
By the third cycle, Taako was talking to Lucretia more with every passing day. It was, admittedly, not much, but it was still something.
At the end of their journey, they were practically brother and sister. All of them were.
Their relics brought immense suffering. In the middle of this, Lucretia tried to do something terrible.
"Lucretia, what is this?"
"I- it's a brief description of all the- the cycles- and the relics and- I'm- I'm sorry, I'm-"
"What were you trying to do here?"
Lucretia only sobbed. Magnus put his arms around her, not caring about the tears dampening his shirt. Davenport flipped through the journal.
Lucretia had a cup of hot chocolate placed in her hands as quickly as humanly possible, and soon the whole crew was in the common room of the ship. Pillows and blankets lined the walls as Lucretia began to talk, detailing her plan.
Grim looks spread through the room one by one. Davenport softly told Magnus to fill a pitcher with Fisher's tank water in order to inoculate the team.
They ended up feeding the journal to Fisher anyway, thinking that it was better for the knowledge of them to be erased for good.
They tried to look for the relics (and the sister) they lost, deciding that they were best kept in the hands of the people who made them.
To do this, they needed to leave each other. That was the hardest part. No matter how much they kept in touch, the people that they had spent a hundred years with would be gone.
They did what they had to do, though.
Taako had joined a traveling circus in the hopes of finding both Lup and his Stone, searching frantically in between the practice and the shows.
His act was a show of the finest magic, doing big, flashy displays that to him were nothing but cantrips. After one particular show, he was doing a sweep of the outside grounds, acting as security since the previous one left earlier that day. Any sound rang out loudly in the silence of night, and so a baby's crying being abruptly cut off caught his attention pretty quickly.
Bursting into a clearing, he saw a group of figures surrounding a child, who was about to be torn open. The area was still for a moment before Taako started firing off spells, using mage hand to carefully lift the baby out of the cult's grasp.
As he backed them into a corner, a sudden tear in reality came about. Through it stepped a young woman wearing a long, black cloak. She looked at Taako, looked at the necromancers, and nodded.
Soon enough, the necromancers were captured and rightfully thrown into the Eternal Stockade. The half-elf woman walked over to Taako, who was holding the baby, and spoke.
"You know, I came here to grab these necromancers. What I didn't expect was Taako Taaco!" She waved her hand, summoning a pristine book. Flipping to a page she read, "Taako Taaco, guilty for eight- eight! Eight counts of death! You haven't even escaped from the Astral Plane or anything, it's instantaneous!"
Taako winced. That was more than he'd thought. As the Reaper continued to rant, the baby in Taako's arms stirred. It was miracle how he managed to stay asleep, what with all the fighting and necromancy. He probably had a sleep spell cast on him, the poor thing.
"Hey, are you listening to me?"
"See, that's just the thing, Darling. Taako only listens to those he deems worthy of his time. So unless you have something better to do...?"
The Reaper pinched the bridge of her nose in exasperation. "Look, it's been a long day and I can't handle this. Just- come with me and we can sort this out directly. The Raven Queen is calling me back anyway, she wants an audience with you."
She opened a portal to a place that looked like a glorified waiting room, and once she wrangled Taako in there it really felt like one.
The Reaper glared at Taako as he lounged in a chair, examining his nails. Taako met her eyes and raised a singular eyebrow. She scrunched her nose and returned to whatever she was scribbling in a stack of paper.
"Look, if you don't want me here im willing to go," Taako quipped.
"I'm only keeping you here because I have to, I don't want to be here but before you see The Raven Queen a Reaper must be with you at all times."
He looked down at the baby, who was playing with one of his cheaper bracelets. "Well- yeah, that's fair. But do you have to do it while glaring at me?"
"I have a headache and paperwork to do, and you certainly aren't helping," the Reaper hissed. She angrily moved a paper to the bottom of the stack and began working again.
They sat in silence for another few minutes, and then a heavy door opened. A mousy halfling Reaper poked her head around the corner and looked at the first one.
"Alice?" She asked, her voice tinted with a southern accent. "The Raven Queen wants to see you and the bounty now."
Alice stood up, her paperwork vanishing into the ether somewhere. "Thanks, J. Do you mind watching this child while we-"
"She wants the baby too, actually." She took a step, opening the door a little wider for the three of them. As they passed, she looked at Taako. "Good luck," she whispered, letting them pass before going into the waiting room and shutting the door behind her.
A vast hallway stretched dauntingly before them, a simple pattern on the tile floor. Alice walked, confident and headstrong, while Taako trailed behind her. Another door awaited them at the end, taller than the eye could see. Alice drew a small breath in, and then she pushed it open.
Entering The Queen's throne room was, to put it lightly, breathtaking. The edges of the floor seemed to fade into an inky void, causing the room to have an ethereal, unending feeling. The throne on which The Queen sat was ornate, but not so ornate to outshine The Queen herself.
The Raven Queen was tall, easily twenty times Taako's height. She was dripping with silver, radiance spilling off of her in waves. If Taako tilted his head back, he could see a raven skull where there should be a face. Dark hair cascaded down her shoulders gracefully, and her dress looked like it came out of, well, a Queen's closet. It was lined with raven feathers, and there were black pearls and diamonds littering the skirt of it, growing into a simple pattern at the top.
Alice knelt almost immediately after entering the room. Beside her, Taako was enthralled.
"I have to say, my expectations were low, what, for you being a death godess and all, but I have to say- your presentation? It's perfection. I love the aesthetic you have going on here, it's very fitting. 11/10 from me! You're the first fashionable person I've seen here and you're gorgeous! Not to mention your hallway and doors, those totally invoked a feeling of intimidation and a fear for my life. Where do I sign up for this position? 'Cause it seems like it would be perfect for me!"
There was a heavy silence that draped over the room. Then The Raven Queen lifted a hand to where her mouth would be and let out a small chuckle.
"You may rise, my Reaper."
Alice stood up, keeping her head bowed. "My Lady, I apologize for Taako's behavior."
"It matters not, what's done is done. Please depart for now, you may come back in once I finish with Taako."
"Y- Yes, My Queen." Alice bowed and turned to leave, placing a hand upon an ornate door handle.
"Oh, and Alice?"
"Yes, My Queen?"
"Congratulations on your relationship with Jessica. You passed her on your way in, did you not?"
"Yes, My Lady."
"You two are a good fit for each other."
"Th- Thank you, My Queen."
"Go to her."
"Right away, Your Majesty." Alice bowed and walked briskly out of the room.
The Raven Queen shifted her gaze to Taako and Angus.
"You two have had a long day, have you not?"
Taako snorted. "If you could call it that. Me and this kid here almost got killed and we actually are in a meeting with The Raven Queen but it's happened in a thirty-minute span of time so I could hardly say it's been a day."
"His name is Angus. McDonald."
There was a pause.
"Taako, do you know why you are here?"
"I committed laws against life and death itself?"
"Well, yes, but also no. You are here because Lady Istus made a plea for your soul to be saved."
"Wait, she what?"
"It surprised me, too, but she has made herself clear. You are to carry on with your life as you were, and your compatriots as well. Your strings are important in the scheme of fate, and Istus does not want me to tamper with such things."
Taako blinked. "Then why am I still here?"
The Raven Queen lifted a silver fingernail and pointed at Angus.
"Him? He's, like, two! You can't hold anything against him, can you?"
"I can. His Soul was tampered with, the Necromancers that assaulted him tried to alter it and left a negative side effect. I will need to remove it."
"What, his soul? Is this some dementor's kiss kinda bul-"
"Only for a moment, Taako, and then he will be yours to rear. Please, would you give him to me?"
She outstretched her hand, and her excess power came off of her forcefully. It was enough to make Taako's eyes prick with tears, and though he blinked them away he still felt all but suffocated.
Gently, he took Angus and placed him in The Raven Queen's palm.
In a flash of blinding light, Angus was gone. His body had disintegrated, leaving behind a glowing mist. The Raven Queen turned the mist over in her hands, as if looking for something. A pause. She dipped in her long fingernails, which really looked more like claws at this point, into the mist. She pulled out a dark crystal of some sort, looking carefully at the encased fog within.
"So that was why his soul was so unstable. This is his personality core, you don't see these every day."
"These necromancers manipulated his sense of self, his very essence."
"Well, can you fix it?"
"Of course. But it will take time."
"How much time are we talking?"
"Years. It will be a careful and delicate process."
Taako took a step back. "Hachi machi"
The Raven Queen gently lowered the blackened crystal back into the mist of Angus's soul. She waved a hand over him, and he flashed a bright orange light. He quickly reformed into a corporeal being, tiny and laughing in The Raven Queen's massive palm.
"Aren't you a lively one?"
She said this with amusement clearly shown in her voice. She waved a hand, and Angus was back in Taako's arms.
Taako looked down at Angus. "I... what did you do to him?"
"I gave him some help. Of course, it's not all I will need to do, but it is a start."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"I cannot heal his soul alone, nor can I do it all at once. It must be slow. I will not need to see him often, as he will need time to adjust."
"That's great and all, but what does that have to do with me?"
"You will raise him."
There was silence. Even Angus stopped babbling for a moment.
"You will raise him."
"No, no. Taako doesn't do kids."
"You must. You are the only person who knows about Angus. You are the only one who can help him through it."
"You can't just- dump a kid on me!"
"I have a job I need to do, I can't drag a toddler with me!"
"You must. We can accommodate to your job, but you have to raise him. You are the only one who knows about this who is still mortal."
Taako looked at the baby in his arms. He didn't deserve a life alone. Even if he was around other people, he would be the only mortal soul.
"What is your job, anyway? Perhaps I can help."
Hesitantly, Taako spoke. "Are you familiar with the Relic Wars?"
Taako looked carefully around what used to be a great city. Buildings littered the area, and plenty of people were out and about, enjoying the nice, cool night.
Of course, it was all gone now.
Carefully picking his way through the town, he tried to find the center of it all. What made matters worse, this was recent. Very recent. Twenty minutes ago recent. The gold that now covered the city was still warm recent.
Angus was babbling on his back. Taako would have never brought him here, under any circumstances, but no one in The Raven Queen's court seemed to know how to take care of a child. Taako wasn't that competent himself, but he at least knew the basics of mortal life.
He avoided the eyes of the people who had been turned. Their faces were still an image of terror, a permanent reminder of what his Relic had done. He flinches, seeing a group of horrified kids and forces himself to go through the streets.
His shoes left small indents on the gold below him, whether that was from the force he was walking with or the still soft metal he wasn't sure. He didn't want to know.
Taako placed a hand on his wand as the metal around him grew warmer and warmer. The familiar wood handle comforting and familiar in his hand. He opened a door very carefully and peered into the dark inside. Taako cast both Light and Detect Magic, looking around for any trace that his Relic may have left, besides the obvious.
The wave of recognition almost swept him off of his feet, making him stumble back a few steps. Upstairs. It was upstairs. Practically flying up the steps, he looks at the sight before him.
It’s a loft area, with what were once valuable artefacts strewn about the room. There was one person in the center, kneeling over a small table that was inscribed with various sigils. The rock was in front of them, and they were clutching it, hunched over. What could have been tears were streaming down their face. There was a small child in the corner of the room, playing with a teddy bear and a stuffed bunny.
Taako grabbed his stone before he could see anything else. He didn't want to see anything else. He wanted to leave, to never come back. He put his Relic in his bag, deliberately keeping it out of reach of Angus, who was reaching for it. Dumb kid. The kid would probably be dead before the sun rose, thanks to him.
Returning to the spot The Raven Queen dropped him off, he pulled out the Summoning feather she gave him. He cast a quick burning spell, and he was transported, yet again, to the throne room.
Another Reaper was discussing something with her, but they stopped almost immediately after Taako appeared. The Reaper turned to face him, surprised. He was handsome. That didn’t matter, but for the record. Very handsome. 10/10 would smooch. Internal monologue cancelled, The Raven Queen was saying something.
“Taako, welcome back. Did you find your Relic?”
“Yeah, who’s this?”
“This is Kravitz, one of my best Reapers. He will be the main Reaper assigned to your case- well, you and the boy’s case, that is.”
Kravitz gave Taako a small nod. “My Queen, about the lingering souls in-”
“Alice and Jessica can handle it, do not worry. The souls will be safe.”
“Thank you, my Queen.”
“As for you.”
The Raven Queen turned to Taako.
“You will have a residence set up in Phandolin, where Kravitz can access you and vice versa. At most, I can only see Angus once every two weeks. In the meantime, you will still be able to search for your sister while also taking up a career in whatever area of skill you choose.”
“But what about the kid?”
“You will still have to raise him. Kravitz will help, of course, on days where you are searching or working, but there is only so much the dead can do for the living.”
Kravitz looked uncomfortable at this notion. He didn’t seem much like a dad either, which was very reassuring, all things considered.
“So, is that it?”
“Yes. Almost everything is already in order, but you will still need to choose a career path. I cannot provide you with money, as that is out of my jurisdiction.”
“What about the paperwork for the place?”
“One of my Reapers will take care of that, do not worry.”
What could he do that would bring in enough money? His only constants in his life were Lup and cooking, and he- Hold on. There was a thought. If he couldn’t bring Lup to him with his magic, maybe he could bring her to him with their recipes. The ones from their home world, the ones they made on the Starblaster, the ones they picked up from the cycles, the ones that were theirs .
“Do you think you could find me a restaurant to run?”
The Raven Queen nodded.
“There is a place where there is a restaurant on the ground floor and a residential area above. I will be able to put you there. There will be an accessible area to regularly portal in and out, and you will be able to raise Angus as well.”
“Thank you,” Taako said, his senses finally coming to him. He was in the presence of a goddess , what good was he if he wasn’t at least a little polite?
With a final wave of her hand, The Raven Queen looked over at them.
"Go. Live your life."
The Raven Queen snapped, and Angus and Taako were in front of their new house.
“Well,” said Taako. “Seems like it’s just you and me now, kid.”
The next eight years were spent getting Angus to his appointments, fixing up the old diner he was sent to, and trying to look for his sister. He had one too many dates with the hot reaper man he saw, and he thinks he let Angus join a cult? He still wasn’t sure about that one.
No one else had seen Lup. Barry, having gone lich while looking for his relic, was working tirelessly to find her. Lucretia had found her relic, and had made a second moon to look for the others from aboveground. The others were still searching.
It could be worse, though.
Someone could be looking to kill him.
Killian looked over the map. There was a large black circle drawn on it, and a smaller, more recent, red circle was over a small town.
Carey looked over her shoulder. "Phandalin, huh?"
"Yeah, The Director said that it was where she was going to look before she started the Bureau."
"Well, if The Director was going to look there we might as well."
"Might as well."
Carey nodded. "Let's go, then."
Taako looked at the clock. 10:30. It was late enough that Angus would have gone to bed, however late he might have stayed up reading. He double checked, and sure enough, the kid was out like a light.
He could finally work with his masterpiece.
Being a Relic, it was very tempting to outside forces to use for anyone outside of the people who had managed to harness The Light.
Taako had solved this by getting a blood-sealed safe.
It was intricate in design, but still plain enough that no one would suspect it anything more than an old jewelry box. There was a sigil to keep it sealed, if course, but many assumed that it simply held family heirlooms. It was able to keep everything inside of it, no matter how powerful the object or determined the person.
Taako took his Stone out of the safe and went about transmutating his old, unused silverware. Perhaps something for Angus, he thought. A new magnifying glass? Some gemstone bookmarks? A set of Caleb Cleveland lollipops? Maybe that would give him something to chew on besides his nails. Yes, he decided, that was the best course of action.
His task was going smoothly, the wrappers not hard to create and the flavors being much better than the typical store ones.
He hummed to himself as he placed the stone down and collected the lollipops, setting them aside in a bowl for when Angus woke up.
Cautiously, he took his Stone and put it back in the safe.
Taako set about cleaning up. The dishes, however few, still needed washing, and it gave him something to so with his hands.
Of course, this caused him to let his guard down. Who would attack a man doing the dishes in his own household?
Carey and Killian, that's who.
They came bursting in, weapons drawn and teeth bared. Taako barely had time to grab his wand as they barreled into his kitchen, causing him to drop a plate. Taako cast hold person, effectively freezing them. He took a step back, inspecting their figures while they watched, unable to do anything about it.
Two women: an orc and a dragonborn. Interesting combination, but their movements, however little he'd seen of them, were fluid and they fit together perfectly. There was one thing about them that he noticed, though. It was the bracer that the two wore, engraved with a symbol. He realized with a jolt that Angus had an identical one.
Another thing he noticed was a scroll that had dropped out of one of their bags. Taako picked it up and immediately recognized Lucretia's handwriting. He softly swore in confusion and set the scroll down.
He turned back to his more pressing problem, though, as he remembered that he had two other people in his house.
He cast mending on the plate he had dropped, the shattered pieces flying together. He put down his wand in favor of the plate, and that's when his spell wore off.
Carey snapped back into motion, tripping a little as she caught herself from falling. She shoved Taako up against the wall, causing the plate to fall and shatter again.
"Where is it?" She yelled, flecks of spit flying into his face. "Where's the relic?"
"I don't know what you're talking about! Who are you?"
"Why don't you answer us truthfully, and we can tell you," the orc woman said, shifting into a relaxed, threatening position. "No one has to die tonight."
"I sure hope not, my son's asleep upstairs!
"Your son's going to be blown to bits if you don't give us the relic right now!"
"I told you, I don't know what you're talking about!"
Carey furrowed her scaly eyebrows. "You still seem sane... Killian, maybe we should ask The Director about this?"
"Maybe - are you sure that you can-"
"Hey, can we go back to the part where you tell me why you’re looking for the Relics?"
Carey huffed in irritation."They were created by the Red Robes who unleashed them into this world, bringing nothing but destruction with them. We’re looking to stop that destruction. You got all that?"
Taako nodded carefully, all the colour completely gone from his face. Killian shook her head in confusion, unfurling the scroll that Taako had put down on his table.
"The Director says to contact her at the confirmation of a Relic, which we don't have. Do you think she would be appreciative of an elf who knows things that were Redacted without being inoculated?"
Carey shook her head. "It's better to call her anyway, before we start to-"
"Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I got it. What will we do to keep him quiet, though?"
"That'll do it."
"Hey- I'm not some random guy who happened to stumble on a rock in the woods, I made that thing with my two hands!"
"You- you're a Red Robe?" Carey faltered in her grip, giving Taako enough leverage to wriggle out and cast a spell.
"Hey! Don't move!" Killian yelled, pointing her crossbow at Taako. He had Blinked and had made his way over to the counter, reaching for his Stone of Farspeech.
"Carey, why'd you let go of him?"
Taako held up his hands and fixed the women with a determined stare. "I'm just going to make a call. I have no ill intentions, but I'm not above fighting back if you attempt to harm me."
Killian nodded once, stiffly, and Taako picked up his Stone. He waited as it connected to the person on the other end.
"Yes?" came an exasperated voice.
"Lucretia. Darling. Light of my life-"
"What do you want, Taako, I'm in the middle of something."
"Rude, much? I've got a question for you."
Lucretia sighed. "What is it?"
"Have you, by chance, created an entire secret organization that I don't know about?"
She paused. "What gave you that idea?"
"Oh, I don't know, maybe it was the two people waving their weapons in my face claiming that you're their Director?"
"Wait, who's there with you?"
Taako looked at the bewildered women in his kitchen.
"Carey. Carey and Killian," Carey supplied.
"You two had strict orders to keep away from civilians, what made you come here?"
"Our scanners detected a relic here, and we thought it might be the gauntlet-"
"Luce, you know where the gauntlet is?"
"I think I do, it wasn't an exact estimate, that's not the point here."
"This could help me find Lup, and you never told me?"
"Look, we need to find the Relics so we can-"
"Does it matter what you need to do with them? I'm still hung up on the fact that you've created an ENTIRE ORGANIZATION and you didn't tell any of us!"
"You took in my LITERAL SON and DIDN'T TELL ME!"
"I didn't KNOW that he was your-"
"Lucretia this could have HELPED ME FIND LUP! Why didn't you tell us about this?"
"This is getting out of hand-"
In the doorway of the kitchen, there was a little ten-year-old boy detective. Taako rushed over, ignoring the confused outbursts of Carey and Killian.
"Angus, what are you doing awake?"
"There was yelling, and I wanted to see was going on. Hello there, Miss Killian, Miss Carey! Why're you here? If you don't mind me asking."
"You know them?"
"Yeah, they're from work!"
"Angus, he knows The Director on a first-name basis, I think you can tell him who we work for," Killian grumbled.
"Look, Angus, your dad? Here? He's a Red Robe. We don't know how he manages to keep himself sane, but he does. We need to-"
"I know that."
"I've known you were a Red Robe for a while now, sir."
"Angus, why didn't you report him to The Director?"
"Yeah, I'm actually with them on this one. If you were told to look out for me then why didn't you report me?"
"Please, Sir, if you were evil I would know."
There was a pause.
Then Taako swore. "Guess that means I'm finally gonna get to see where you work, kid. Bring your mentor to work day, how does that sound?"
Angus lit up. "Really? Aww man, I gotta show you around!"
Taako chuckled. "Sure do." He turned back to Carey and Killian, who were standing there in slight awe and confusion. "You said something about finding a relic before you came bursting in, what was that about?"
Carey narrowed her eyes. "We were supposed to go looking for the gauntlet and we got it down to Wave-Echo Cave. We were supposed to find a place to stay so we could do it in the morning, but now's a good time as any."
"Great!" Taako grabbed his wand. "I'm coming with."
"Killian," The Director's tired voice came through the call. "Let him."
"Fine, but I won't like it."
"Ango, you good staying here for a few hours by yourself?"
"Oh absolutely not," Lucretia said. "You're all going to get some rest and get at it in the morning. It's almost midnight!"
"Lucretia, sweetie, I'm going to do whatever I please. Ango, answer the question."
Angus nodded."I think I'm going to go back to sleep."
"Alright. Sweet dreams, kid."
As Angus crept up the stairs, Taako turned to Carey and Killian and clasped his hands together.
"How about we go find that Relic, hm?"