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A Sardine Grows from the Soil

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Beverly curled up underneath the threadbare covers of some random Shell's bed and tried to just drift off. His mind was already doing the thing it did where it took every scary horrifying thing that could happen and cycled through them on repeat. When he closed his eyes he could see Hardwon bleeding out with Scarlett tearing into him, Deadeye watching as they begged for help, his dad apologizing for selling his soul to Akarot, or the imaginary scenario when he finally arrives home and Erlan and his mother are dead.

They spun round and round in his skull, as they always do, and it took at least half an hour before he managed to drift off. When they receded and sleep took him, he could barely remember his dreams. There was a vague feeling of fear and magic and confusion and it was so much all at once.

Beverly woke up, gasping, alone. The small room he was in—not a bed, not with Moonshine within shouting distance, not in pitch dark but instead a soft grey light—swayed in a way that was familiar but distantly so. He took stock of his surroundings, or lack thereof, and grabbed at his weapon.

He paused.

Whoever had moved him hadn't taken his weapon. Note one. Note two: this wasn't his sword. Or, rather, it wasn't the one he currently owned? The blade he found nearby wasn't Hardshine, the blade that Galad Rosell had given him, that Hardwon had defaced and he had cared for during their journey. It was the standard-regulation Green Teen longsword, well-balanced but not great one way or another.

He stopped to take stock of his situation again.

Small room. No Moonshine, Deadeye, Balnor, or JV. His weapon wasn't his weapon, or at least it wasn't one he carried any more. The movement of this room he was in was small and controlled and continued to ping something in his memory.

It was familiar and he hated it.

In this room, where he was not bound or gagged, where he had access to a weapon, there were curtains to the left and right of where Beverly was sitting. So he drew back one of the curtains and blinked away tears and the blinding brightness of the world outside.

And he realized

He wasn't in Shadowfell.

And he realized

Why the movement of this room felt so familiar.

And he realized

He had no fucking clue what was going on, and that was worse than the worst-case scenarios his brain concocted before sleep.

So he sat back in the carriage, eyes still watching the passing greenery outside the window, and kept his hand on his weapon.

Even if he was alone, he wasn't going down without a fight.

They'd taught him better than that.


The carriage stopped moving and the driver got out to open the door for Beverly. It was an older halfling man that he vaguely recognized as someone who ran carriages for the Upper Galaderon folks. He grinned—a smile that Beverly now recognized as forced, thanks to Moonshine's own sincere and heartwarming smiles—and gestured for him to be on his way.

In so many words, or less.

"Have a good time at the Jamboreen," the halfling driver said.

"The Jamboreen is canceled." Beverly replied before he could check his mouth. The halfling gave him a look but didn't move. He wanted him to take his things and leave.

Alright then.

Beverly grabbed the Green Teen Regulation Pack that had been in the carriage with him, slung it over his shoulders, and winced at how heavy it felt. Still, completely confused, he jumped out of the carriage and looked around at his surroundings.

Moonstone. Midday. The sounds of a bar in full swing. The smell of water and plants and fish and swamp.

Nostalgic in the worst way possible. Again.

Beverly took stock of what he knew, what he didn't know, and what he could infer; then he made an enumerated list. He hadn't done that in a while.

  1. He was alone. He hadn't been when he fell asleep. Someone had separated him from his party and he hated it.
  2. He was in Bahumia, on the Prime Material Plane as opposed to Shadowfell. That shouldn't be possible. It had taken so much to even get to Shadowfell in the first place.
  3. He had a Green Teen Regulation Pack and a Green Teen Regulation Longsword and he was in his Green Teen Regulation Armor. All his other things were gone. Also, someone had bothered to do up his feet in the family pattern. That was weird in a kinda gross way.
  4. The carriage driver had dropped him off at Moonstone. He had wished him luck with the Jamboreen. The Jamboreen had not only been canceled, but had also been months ago. Moonstone was a far way away from Frostwind. Too far for a carriage.
  5. Something about this whole scenario made him extremely uncomfortable. He had his hand on his blade the whole time he was riding up. His fur was on end, ears quivering, listening for any noise that meant danger or enemy or attack.
  6. There were a lot of barbarians around, considering what he, Hardwon, and Moonshine did to them the last time they were here.

He felt like he had the edge pieces of this puzzle on hand but he needed a moment to put it together. So, as one does, he entered the Hungry Trout Inn and Tavern to put up his feet.

—and froze like a rabbit before a predator.

At the bar, talking boisterously with a scarred-up half-orc, was a bored looking human next to a nervous looking halfling in a pristine Green Teen Scoutmaster uniform.

The world tilted and swam. The pieces fell into place. He understood and didn't all at once. He felt like he was gonna be sick.

That was Hardwon talking to Denny and Mishka. Except Mishka was dead. And Hardwon was a vampire locked up in the basement of some Shell in Grimhawk, Geased to stay put. And Denny was not allowed anywhere near Moonstone after the old folks incident.

And that meant

Well that mean shit was right fucked up.

Beverly let the darkness take him, gravity assisting.


There was a gunshot. One sharp note that fell flat, no echo.

They moved like a swarm of insects, limbs over limbs over limbs, sharp ivory dripping with spittle.

Red painted the ground.

Hardwon stopped moving.

Beverly screamed and sat upright.

"Jesus fucking shit kid!"

His heart hammered against his ribs, wild, a captured animal. When he sat up he had cracked his forehead against something and now, in his moment of need, his eyes were splattered with lights and stars and grawlixes fluttering and obscuring his vision. Beverly reached for the weapon that had been at his waist. It was gone.

It was gone!

Someone tried to grab his hand, words being spoken behind a keening tone that washed out all other sounds. No. No. They couldn't take him! Beverly bit down on the hand around his, clipping his own thumb with his braces. It didn't matter.

Let go. Let go. Let go! His body howled at him to run run run!

He thrashed about.

A voice, one word, cut through the haze of terror and panic. The reedy whine of Denny saying, "Stop."

Logically, Beverly knew he should still try to escape but

The magic in Denny's Command bound his limbs in limp paralysis. His vision cleared, rings of color and pain flickering away until he could see Hardwon with a bloody nose, Denny looking more red in the face than usual and bleeding, Miska frowning down at him, and Moonshine holding a damp cloth to Hardwon, who took it and stemmed the flow of his nose. His hearing cleared more, the screaming of the blood in his ears eking away until he could make out what they were saying.

They were trying to get him to respond.

"It's only keeping you from hurting yourself, uh, Beverly," Denny said. "Your dad would have me excommunicated if I let you get hurt anyway," he muttered as an aside.

"You okay kid?" Pelor, he hadn't realized how much of an influence Mishka had been on him but now

She was there, alive. His vision blurred again, tears this time. Sorrow. He was so glad to see her.

He was gonna save her.

"Shit, uh, you okay?" She asked again. As Denny's spell loosed it's hold, he nodded. It was a small movement but it was enough. She seemed to relax a bit and pulled off to do something out of view.

This was really happening.

He was here.

He was then. Or, rather, now.

Beverly took a shaky breath in, held it, then let it out. He sat up slowly and looked around.

It was the Hungry Trout, that's for sure. The whole place had been cleared out and Beverly was sitting on a table, his Regulation Pack on a chair. Denny was about a foot away and wringing his hands, one dripping blood pretty consistently. Miska was heading back to where he was with a glass of water in her hands. Hardwon, blood no longer spewing all over his shirt, was chatting up Moonshine, who was keeping a wary eye on Beverly herself.

It hurt to see them so...okay.

It hurt to know what was going to happen to them.

It just...hurt

Mishka strolled back to him, the cup of water in her large, scarred hand. His breath caught in his chest as she offered it to him. It sucked, knowing what would be. What had been. What would be.

Time was fucky when you went back in it.

He took the cup with a watery nod and tilted the cup back, drinking like he was in a desert. Every drop was ambrosia. Shitty, stale, tap-based, lightly-alcoholic ambrosia.

It was perfect.

"So, uh, Bev?" Denny sidled up to him, just out of reach of weaponry. Smart man. His face was sweaty and pale, his eyes continuing to dart back to look over at Hardwon and Moonshine, brows furrowed. "I have some, uh, bad news?"

"The Jamboreen is canceled?" Beverly hazarded.

"No, the Jamboreen is—actually yeah?" Denny blinked, surprised. "How did you—?"

Bev pointed over to Hardwon and Moonshine, "You hired them to find the other scouts? The ones you lost?" He didn't want his tone to be so biting but—that was Erlan and Durlin and Cran out there, people he cared about, and this shitheel of a man was gormless enough to leave them to die at the teeth of bullywogs!—so he was a little pissed. He had a right to be.

Denny started sweating harder.

"You know I'm gonna make sure they fire you, right? This is child endangerment." It was fun to see Denny squirm. It was soothing and cathartic to see this lesser villain of his childhood writhe under his scolding gaze. It was a victory without bloodshed.

There wouldn't be a lot of those coming up. Not if things played out like they did before.

"Yeah, I mean, that's fair!" And Denny, the spineless ass, agreed.

Beverly sighed and took another weary sip of water. "So, what now? Want me to go with them?"

"You'd know the others better than they would! Plus you're an exemplary Green Teen!" You're expendable, he didn't say, the true meaning hidden between each word. "And it would put you on the fast track to graduation! You might even pass Egwene!"

While before, the promise had been tempting, now it was just hollow. Hollow and bittersweet. Cheap, too. "Sure. Let me get my things and we can head out." He hopped off of the table and grabbed his things, sword first and foremost. Then he turned to Hardwon and Moonshine and offered up his free hand, "Beverly Toegold V. You can call me Bev though! Scoutmaster Denny says you're going to help find my friends?"

He had to play along for now. He wasn't sure if he was in an alternate past or if he was just repeating his memories. Either way, to deviate too far from the original path could mean death or worse. He'd rather know what was coming than not. He was tired of not knowing what was going on.

Moonshine grabbed his hand and pumped it up and down eagerly, "Moonshine Cybin! Pleased t'meetcha! And this one here is PawPaw!" She gestured to PawPaw in her overalls. He snarled at Bev, who grinned at him.

He'd forgotten how scrappy PawPaw had been back then. Now. Back now? Tenses...

"And you, sir?" It was easy to slip back into polite honorifics when these were so dissimilar to the people he knew. It tasted bitter in his mouth, sure, but he could do it with little trouble.

Hardwon eyed him up and down, then looked over his shoulder to Denny, "I'm pretty sure this is illegal, making a child do your dirty work?" From the stifled snort behind the bar, Mishka thought so too.

"Don't worry! I'm going to make sure he isn't allowed to work with children again after this! And I highly doubt the Green Knights accept spineless cowards in their ranks! Though the Chosen might like you if you grovel hard enough." Chipper and cheery, he hadn't meant to bite so hard but...out of all of the bad guys they met, Denny was the most frustrating. Him and his whole family. "I'm sure your dad would love to have you back home anyway!"

Hardwon smiled, "Fuck kid, I like you. Hardwon Surefoot."

"Glad to hear it! Now let's go! We're wasting daylight and I don't think bullywogs will wait for daybreak to eat my friends!"


He tried to save her. It hurt worse this time around. While he didn't go too hard one way or the other when it came to the middling bits of this adventure—after all, there were no casualties that mattered the first time—he tried to save Mishka this time.

He tried and he failed.

So, like last time, he took to a quick, sorrowful drink and suggested they try checking out Ezry. Both for the item identification and to help out Stunkbug—though the latter was more of a supplementary thing. Duttle would get his in the end anyway.

He was gonna make sure that Hardwon stayed away from the drugs this time. He had the answers to the mystery of Ezry and their corrupt system. He just needed to figure out how to help them draw the right conclusion. It shouldn't be too hard, right? I mean, he outsmarted—

He outsmarted

He

He outsmarted someone terrifying, didn't he? Not Thiala or Duttle or anyone like that, but someone scary. Someone important.

Why couldn't he remember who he had one-upped? He remembered the satisfaction. Something in the north. Something to do with a mystery. A murder. But—

Who?

Red eyes and...cold and...blood and...Hardwon crying.

It kept him up that night, the first night of travel. What was he forgetting? Why was he forgetting?

So he wrote down all he could remember. Details as far back as he could pull. Details and guidance for the events to come.

Ezry:

  • Stunkbug is being manipulated by Duttle
  • Skullis isn't the bad guy
  • Don't let Hardwon do R. Cane

The Watchtower:

  • Don't eat the berries
  • Don't goof the Watchman
  • Thiala and Ulfgar are on their way to Galaderon. Alanis is on the Faewild, but the Watchman doesn't know this (???)
  • Don't goof the Watchman
  • Hardwon's parents are Elias and Lydia Stormborn
  • Don't goof the Watchman
  • The Crick Rot is fiendish in nature
  • Don't goof the Watchman

Galaderon:

  • Merrick High Hill is getting promoted and also assassinated by the Chosen
  • Galad Rosell is a traitor and also killed Lydia and Elias
  • The Widow is Lydia Stormborn. She's a revenant. Let her deal the killing blow to Galad.
  • Ol Cobb is great.
  • Red and Gunther are at the docks. Seek them out. They'll help Hardwon.
  • The Chosen will try to frame and/or kill dad. Don't let them.
  • Thiala is coming and she will burn the city down.
  • Ulfgar isn't doing this coz he wants to.

The Crick:

  • Draw from the Deck.
  • The Rot is because of Maribelle, Jolene's sister. She isn't in her right mind.
  • The Elemental Chaos is fun, but dangerous. Maybe necessary.
  • If we find that book, keep it but don't write in it. (???)
  • Maribelle has to die and it sucks but she'll be at peace.

Smuggler's Bounty:

  • Don't let Moonshine and Balnor off by themselves with the tieflings. They're succubi/incubi.
  • Ulfgar is in Snot's Yacht. Don't bother with the turrets.
  • Watch out for guys in red. They're bad. They work for that guy (???)

That's all he could remember but not all of it, right? Something happened after Smuggler's Bounty. It had to, right?

Why would he know the guys in red were bad? Why would he want to keep the book? Why would he feel like drawing from the Deck was important? How does he know Alanis is in Faewild when the Watchman doesn't? Who is Balnor?

Something was wrong. What was wrong?

But he didn't have time to think too hard about that. Instead he had to focus on the now. The future. Not the past.

Later. He'd deal with it later.


They stood in front of the Watchman's tower, necks craned upward. Answers at last. Moonshine, smiling, cast Spider Climb on all of them—Tonothan included—and scuttled up the wall. Beverly just took the stairs. It gave him time to think over things.

He'd forgotten things again. More than before. That had to be why he had looked down at his notebook and not recognized half of what he'd written about his past—the future. Who was Maribelle? What did a deck have to do with anything? Snot's Yacht? What does that even mean?

It was worrying. Moreso than the fact that his advice and memories had been spot on so far. The berries made Moonshine vomit a bit. Beverly politely declined with a smile and only pocketed a few in case he wanted to give Galad Rosell one or two.

Why would he want to hurt Galad Rosell?

He continued up the stairs, absently trying to sift through the mud of his memories. It wasn't until he bumped into Hardwon's back that he realized he was at the top, right in front of the god himself.

"You have come to ask Me questions! I shall answer only one per person, so don't waste it on something stupid like idle small talk!" The Watchman boomed. His voice filled the top of the tower, almost deafening everyone there. "I will take it as your question and I will answer it, no take-backs!"

"Fair." Tonothan nodded and Beverly joined him. "Any of you wanna go first?" Moonshine stepped forward, eyes fixed ahead, brow narrowed in pensive thought.

"What plant would cure Crick Rot?"

"Crick Rot is demonic influence and you cannot cure it with a plant," the Watchman said. Confused but understanding her turn was up, Moonshine stepped back.

Of course it's demonic. It's being caused by—by—?

Why did he know Crick Rot was demonic?

Tonothan stepped forward. He steeled himself and took a breath. "Great Watchman of the world, where have the Legendary Heroes gone?"

"Alanis is not on this Plane. Thiala and Ulfgar are headed for Galaderon." Tonothan's eyes lit up with excitement. Still, he bowed and backed up so Hardwon could have his turn.

The thought of Thiala in Galaderon made Beverly's blood run cold. Why? She was his hero! She was—?!

Hardwon picked at his beard and asked, "Who are my parents?"

"Your parents are Lydia Stormborn and Elias Stormborn." The elation and relief on his face was palpable. This was the lowest his walls had ever been. He stepped back.

They were dead though, right? It wasn't just that Hardwon was an orphan in that he had been abandoned, but also they had died? Were killed?

Who killed them? Why did he feel like Lydia was important?

Beverly stepped forward, into the Watchman's many-eyed gaze. He tilted his chin up at the god and made direct eye contact with a couple central eyes. The Watchman's gaze narrowed, confused and slightly in pain.

"Why am I here, back where I started?" Wait. Why had he asked that? What did that even mean?

"I don't—?" The Watchman began, then backtracked, eyes flitting in pain. "That's not what you—what you're going to—?"

"Please!" Why was he yelling? What was going on? He was here to ask a question, wasn't he? He was here to figure out— "I need to know what I did. What I'm here to do!" —not that? Not that. What did he mean by that?! Why was he panicking? What was wrong?

The Watchman's eyes rolled wildly. No one else seemed to see anything strange. No one else seemed to even hear what was going on. "I don't know?! I don't—I don't—?!"

What had he even asked? What is it he wanted to know? Had he asked a question?

As soon as the confusion came, it passed.

In fact, it had never happened in the first place.

Beverly stood in front of the Watchman, filled with awe. A god! And he knew everything there was to know!

He knew what he wanted to ask.

"What has caused this amulet of Pelor to crack; this holy artifact which can be mended by magic but returns to its cracked state, what has corrupted it so?"

The Watchman opened his mouth as if to tell him off and then closed it again, brows pinching in confusion. Then he answered, "Thiala has broken her pact to Pelor."

Beverly was much less surprised than he thought he'd be. Instead, he felt more angry than surprised. Angry at Thiala. Angry at the Watchman. Angry at himself.

Channeling this anger and frustration into a single, foolish idea, Beverly dug around in his pockets and closed his hands around one of the berries Uku had shared. "Before we go, mighty Watchman. Would you like a berry?"

(In the back of his notebook, ruined by potions shattered in his fall from the Watchtower, the ink ran on a list of suggestion and memories. It was no longer needed. Time marched on, untouched and correct as it had always been.)