No matter how many times the tiny gnome sat in his lap, Grog never got over the fact that she was quite possibly the most fragile thing he had ever held. Pike was a brawny fighter, a monster, but her daughter was built more like Scanlan. No more than two feet tall, brown tresses nearly the same length when it wasn't tied into two fun-buns atop her head. She had her mother's kindness and bright blue eyes, her father's wit and charm. A heavenly symphony, the joining of music and light. Celeste.
They sat on the porch of Wilhand's old home. The Westruun sun burned the back of Grog's neck as he hunched over, but he didn't notice. All his focus was on the book he was struggling to read aloud.
"The sor...sar...the sock?"
"Sorceress," Celeste gently corrected. At six, she was already a far better reader than Grog was, but she liked to listen to him tell the story.
"Uh, right. I knew that. The sorceress spoke an ink...an incantion? In-can... Fuckin A, the sorceress did a spell and killed the king. Then the princess was like, 'Oh, you saved me!' and then they got married. The end."
Celeste giggled and clambered out of Grog's lap up onto his shoulder.
"Be careful up there. Did you like the story?"
"It's not as good as a story about Vox Machina. The princess should have just kicked the king in the FACE!" Celeste demonstrated and nearly lost her balance. She held onto Grog's neck for support, her short arms barely making it halfway around, as he grinned in approval. "But I liked the part where they got married. Have you ever been to a wedding, Grog?"
"I been to a couple. I went to Vex and Percy's wedding, it was on a beach. They didn't have any ale, only wine. Tasted like flowers. Then everyone passed out because the wine was so shitty, and we got to fight vampires. Went to your parents' wedding too. No one died at it, but it was still nice. I got to walk Pike down the aisle and I didn't cry one bit."
Celeste rolled dreamily off Grog's shoulder and into his waiting hands. "What did she look like?"
"Like a little ball of light. All gold and shiny."
"Wow. I want to go to a wedding. Can I come to yours, Grog?"
He frowned, bemused. "But I'm not getting married."
Celeste looked up at him. "Don't you want to? Isn't there someone you love?"
"I love Scanlan and Pikey and you. And Kaylie, Keyleth, Vex, Percy, and all their kids too."
She rolled her eyes. "I mean a special kind of love."
"That's what a whorehouse is for."
"What's a whorehouse?"
"Ah fuck, don't tell your parents I said that."
Celeste sat back down on Grog's lap and crossed her arms. "So you're telling me you never want to live happily ever after? Like in the books?"
"I haven't read that many books and I'm not all that smart, but I know what makes me happy. I like spending time with my friends. I like to fight. Real fuckin good at it too. And I like protecting people. So I'll just do that."
Celeste nodded sagely, seemingly satisfied with that answer. "You protected my mama and papa."
"And now they don't need me to protect them anymore. So I'll protect you."
He tickled her stomach with one giant finger, making her erupt into a fit of giggles. She was so gentle, so delicate. Just like her mother all those years ago. Pike got strong on the outside, but on the inside, she kept a kind of softness that made her his best friend. Strength isn’t just about being bigger or tougher, it’s found in friendship and kindness and aid.
"Until you can protect yourself. Then I'll find someone else. The world's got lots of people that need protecting."
"And I'll protect you!" Celeste said with determination. "We'll make our own party and we can fight and protect people. We'll call ourselves," She put her fists up and made the fiercest face she knew. "Cocks Machina"
"Celeste Trickfoot Shorthalt, WHAT did you just say?”
The pair turned to see Pike, more amused than angry. Scanlan leaned against the doorframe, doubled over in laughter.
“I didn’t teach her that.” Grog quickly said, cowering in fear of Pike’s wrath.
Scanlan pauses his hysterics to squeak out, “I did!”, before collapsing into his wife’s side. She good-naturedly pushed him aside and held out her arms. Celeste jumped up out of Grog’s lap and into her mother’s embrace.
“Come inside for lunch,” she instructed, and Grog and Scanlan dutifully followed.
Maybe books didn’t tell the story of a Goliath and a houseful of gnomes living happily ever after. But he didn’t remember them telling the story of how three half-elves, two gnomes, a human and a Goliath saved the world and became a family either. Books didn't seem to ever make much sense. He’d stick to the stories right in front of him. The ones in Scanlan’s songs and Pike’s warm words. The legacy of Vox Machina and journeys left to take. The life Celeste would make for herself. Hopefully, it would be a story with smaller words.