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with my gaze clear

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Fjord knows that he spends too much time looking for survivors from the Tide’s Breath, but there's a part of him that believes that, if he survived the shipwreck, someone else must have. However, every time he tries to find anyone from the crew in town, it doesn’t amount to anything, and he just ends up with aching feet and a heavy heart.

He tried to go through Vandran’s storehouse a few days ago to search for clues, but it had already been ransacked. The butcher next door told him that he recently saw Sabian, still alive, in Port Damali. Fjord assumes that he’s the one who turned the storehouse upside down, even if he has no proof. He keeps wondering what the thieves were searching for and if they found it. 

These days, Fjord is more nervous than he usually is, but he can’t really tell if it’s because of the shipwreck or because of his newfound powers. One thing is sure, Sabian had a hand in making the shipwreck happen. So, the question is, did he act alone? Why did he do it in the first place? And does it have anything to do with why Fjord can suddenly use magic?

He also tried to find answers about his growing power, but he can't seem to find any practitioner of magic who will agree to speak to him for more than a few seconds. The worst part is that he doesn't really know how people usually acquire magic abilities, which becomes very inconvenient when he tries to find information about what he can do.

There are too many questions in his head, and he’s not getting any closer to finding answers.

The first sign that his fortune is changing comes a few weeks later. Fjord isn’t usually the most perceptive man, but as he’s heading back to the small tavern he has been staying at, he sees a blue tiefling in an alley. Usually, he wouldn't think twice about something like this, but then he sees her wave her hand and something strange happens. For a second, he thinks he's hallucinating and his breath catches, because there's now a perfectly identical blue tiefling standing right next to her. Even if he has never seen anyone do anything like this before, he somehow knows that it has to be magic. Whoever this girl is, she obviously has some kind of magical powers, and so she’s now his best bet at finding out what has been happening to him lately. If he can find a way to talk to her, then maybe she’ll be able to explain why this is all happening to him.

The market is packed today and Fjord is afraid to lose sight of her. The crowd makes it difficult for him to make his way to her, but when he does, he sees that the duplicate is in the process of rearranging the display of a nearby stall. The exotic fruits that had been previously meticulously organized are now all jumbled, and the vendor hasn’t noticed anything yet.

The blue trickster looks so happy in all this chaos that Fjord can’t help but crack a smile.

The calm can’t last forever, and the merchant finally notices that something is wrong when he looks at his display. Fjord panics for a moment, thinking that the woman will have to flee before the zhelezos catch her, but he is surprised when he sees that she’s nowhere to be found. He looks everywhere in the vicinity, but he can’t find her. Neither can the merchant, apparently, because Fjord can hear him complaining about it from two streets away.

His one chance of finding answers is gone, and he has no other leads, no one else to turn to.

That night, when he goes to sleep, he dreams of drowning under the sinking carcass of the Tide’s Breath.

He continues searching for information about the Tide’s Breath the next morning. And the next, and the next, and the next. No luck. He changes his appearance and his accent often because he isn’t sure if he wants Sabian to know he’s alive, but he also isn’t any closer to finding anything. He knows that eventually he’ll have to start working again because he’s running out of money. However, he isn’t sure he wants to stop looking quite yet.

One day, he’s wandering the streets, trying to spot anyone from his previous crew, when he hears a commotion a few streets away. Suddenly, he sees a strangely familiar human girl running down the street, chased by a few zhelezos. It looks like they might catch up to her, but she’s quick, and none of them see her duck into a nearby alley and drop her disguise.

It’s the blue tiefling from the other day. 

This time, Fjord knows that he can’t let her get away.

Before the zhelezos see him, he runs to the alley, blocking the tiefling from their view. For a half-orc, he can be on the small side, but his frame is still much larger than hers, so he knows that there’s a good chance that they won’t see her.

He’s close to her now, and while she hadn’t noticed him until a few seconds ago, she has no choice but to acknowledge his presence now. She looks up at him, and because of his proximity, he notices her freckles and her violet eyes for the first time. For a split second, she seems scared he’s going to rat her out, but when the zhelezos take off running in another direction, Fjord can feel the tension leave her body.

She thanks him, and introduces herself as Jester. Her accent is pleasant to his ears, and now that she isn’t running from the guard, he sees a smile light up her face. He wants to ask her about her powers, but before he can say anything other than his name, she starts talking at a thousand miles an hour.

She tells him about why she was being chased (“This guy was being a dick when I came into his shop, so I decided to put honey everywhere on his floor. Let me tell you, it was pretty funny when he slipped on it”), how long she’s been in Port Damali (“Not that long, you know, so I’m still exploring and stuff”) and where she’s heading next (“A lot of guards in town are pissed at me right now, so I’m starting to think I should leave or something until it blows over”).  Fjord knows that it's not usual for people to be as open as she is, and there's a part of him that finds it very endearing. 

After a few minutes, she starts asking questions about him (where he’s from, what he’s doing here in town, what he does for a living) and he doesn’t exactly know why, but he starts telling her everything. He’s usually a private guy, keeping things close to his chest, but when she looks at him with that glimmer of trust in her eyes, he can’t help himself.

They talk and talk, and she leads him towards the beach. They sit next to the ocean, and she tells him about leaving her hometown (he’ll learn later that she’s wanted by the Zhelezo in Nicodranas), about the Traveler (Fjord isn’t sure if he’s her friend or if he’s her god) and about not knowing what to do next.

It quickly becomes clear that Jester has no idea where his powers come from. Her own divine powers come from the Traveler, but he’s pretty sure he has arcane powers, so it isn’t really the same thing. Jester thinks he could be a sorcerer, someone who's had powers since birth, but Fjord isn't convinced. She suggests looking for a teacher, but the problem is that he still has no idea where to look for one.

He doesn't say it out loud, but he doesn’t want her to leave, because for the first time in a while, he doesn’t feel so alone. She seems to genuinely care about his problems, and it gives him hope.

After sunset, he brings her to the Gilded Esplanade and they watch some performers on the street. There is light and music everywhere, and Jester looks around in wonder. With the last of his money, he buys them a meal from a nearby restaurant, a recipe that comes from Marquet. Fjord has never been to Marquet, but a lot of travellers who dock in Port Damali are Marquesian, and one day he hopes to visit. 

At the end of the night, he realizes that he has been smiling for hours.

He still has one more night at the tavern before he has to leave, and he knows he’ll have to make the most of it before he has to start working again. Tomorrow, he’ll have to look for work on a ship.

Jester walks him back to the tavern, and when she sees his look of worry, he can’t help but tell her about his money running out. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, because in a big town like Port Damali, not everyone has enough money to live comfortably, but Fjord likes to know where his next meal comes from. It turns out that Jester has a lot more money than he does, and she’s even waiting for a package from her mother. She isn’t sure when it’s going to arrive, but she thinks it will probably come tomorrow. Her money is going to run out soon too, so she needs it. 

Something shifts in Jester’s eyes when she sees Fjord’s tavern. It’s very small, probably infested with critters and the roof is definitely leaking somewhere. She refuses to let him stay there, helps him gather his things and almost drags him to the room she rents. 

Fjord’s jaw almost drops when he sees that she’s a client at the fanciest inn in the Crescents.

He lies down on sleeping bag on the floor and she takes the bed. The moonlight from the window hits her eyes and makes them glimmer in the dark, just like earlier. He’s hypnotized by her voice, her enthusiasm, and he falls asleep listening to one of her stories about the Traveler.

He still hasn’t stopped smiling.

He wakes up the next day to the smell of fresh pastries and orange juice. He doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth, but he doesn’t tell her that, and instead just enjoys the look of delight on her face.

He tells Jester that he has to go to the docks today because he needs to find a job. He’s a little bit anxious because some captains won’t hire sailors who’ve been in shipwrecks before.

“A lot of sailors are too superstitious, honestly,” he tells Jester.

That’s when Jester offers to forge papers that will give him a new identity, a fresh start

“I mean, I don’t have anything better to do, so I’d love to help you!” she says while opens her sketchbook. Fjord takes a moment to think about it, and for a while the only sound in the room is the one her pencil makes while she doodles. Her desire to help him seems earnest, and even if Fjord knows it could be a bad idea, he wants a fresh start.

He says yes, and like that, the course of their lives deviates from its path.

Jester is glad to practise her forgery skills, and she creates a new identity for him under the name “Fjord Tusktooth”. He tries to argue about the last name, but she looks so happy at the idea that he eventually lets it go. Fjord Tusktooth has never been in a shipwreck, but he’s an experienced sailor who would be an asset to any ship he works on (“Technically, you’re an experienced sailor, so it’s not all lies, you know”).

They go to the Larboard Light, the massive harbour in Port Damali, and Fjord starts looking for a job. This time, he doesn’t change his appearance, but he does change his accent. He debates for a few second about which he should use, but Vandran’s voice comes to him easily when he starts talking with the other sailors. Jester waits until they’re out of earshot to compliment him on his mimicry skills. For a moment, Fjord wonders if she likes Vandran’s voice more than his.

A few captains seem interested in taking on a new crewmember, but none of them are leaving soon. Fjord tries not to seem too disappointed, but it’s clear that Jester is sad about their lack of success.

When the sun starts to set, they go back to the inn to get some food. 

There, a few nobles turn up their nose when they see Fjord. It takes him a moment to figure out what their problem with him is, but they eventually realizes that he doesn’t fit in at all in his outfit. His well-loved leather armour and his scratched bracers set him apart as someone who has lived a hard-earned life, which is not common in this type of establishment. The nobles eventually walk past them, and when they’re out of sight, Fjord uses his illusion magic to change his outfit to something more discreet. Jester is confused for a second, but she tells him he looks nice and they continue walking to their room.

Later in the night, Fjord still feels awful about the way those people looked at him. It reminded him of the orphanage, when the other kids used to look down on him for how he looked. He can almost hear their voices taunting him, and can almost taste blood on his tongue from when he started filing his tusks.

When he explains everything to Jester, she says that he would look very handsome with tusks. He doesn't say it, but he decides to let them grow back when she gives him a genuine smile.

The incident with the nobles gives him an idea. He’s not sure it’s a good one, and he’s not even sure it’s going to work, but he wants to try it anyway. Jester, of course, is in immediately.

They disguise themselves as two of the nobles from earlier and head down to the restaurant of the inn. They know that only the wealthiest clients can afford a meal at this place, but because of their illusions, the staff doesn’t even give them a second glance. Some of them even seem to recognize them, which is a good thing if their plan is to work correctly. They treat them like royalty, the food is excellent, and Jester looks happy about this nice evening. They ask the staff to put the meal on their tab, and go back to their own room without anyone being the wiser. Fjord has to admit that there is a certain thrill to it. There’s a little part of him that feels bad, but it fades quickly when he sees Jester’s overjoyed expression.

After that, they decide to use their combined talents to pull similar cons. There’s a human merchant in the Beaded Alley who slapped Jester when he caught her stealing, and she wants to get payback (“You’re super good at pretending to be other people, so you could totally help me with this! We could even steal some of his stuff and a lot of money because he looked rich”). Jester has already done so much for him, and Fjord has to admit that a little money wouldn’t hurt, so he says yes.

They pull it off too easily. While he’s distracting the merchant as a rich human client, Jester pockets anything valuable she can see. Fjord's persona is so magnetic that the merchant never even sees Jester enter his shop and steal his wares. They sell most of the things they stole (Jester is very good at forging papers to make them seem like legitimate), and now they have enough money to stay at the fancy inn for a few more weeks.

Fjord tells Jester about the shipwreck, about the terror he felt when he realized that he wouldn’t make it to the surface. He shows her the sword, and admits that he doesn’t know why, but it feels special. She holds his hand, and listens.

They continue this routine for a month, always stealing from people they don’t like, and in a town with over 80,000 people, it’s easy to find people who fit this description. They make more money, they get more confident, and they decide to start stealing from bigger targets.

They hear about the Dwendalian Empire declaring war on the Kryn Dynasty, but they’re not sure they care.

Jester tells Fjord about her mother, about Lord Sharpe and about hiding in the Lavish Chateau for most of her life. She tells him about being sad that she doesn’t get to see her mother more, but that she loves exploring the world. He gives her a kiss on the cheek, and listens.

They start making a name for themselves as the “Tusktooth crew,” and with their magical abilities, no one actually knows that a half-orc and a blue tiefling are creating all this chaos. They never use their real faces when they’re working, and as they get more powerful, they stop worrying about their illusions dropping in the middle of a job.

He never uses a fake accent when he’s alone with Jester.

One night, before they fall asleep, Jester tells him that she’s very glad she met him, and when she looks at him with her usual smile, Fjord feels his heart skip a beat. He smiles back at her, and realizes that he must look enamoured with her.

He is, but he would never say it out loud.

Fjord dreams of a cold ocean and of piercing yellow eyes, and he wakes up vomiting salt water. He doesn’t really understand it, but something is offering him more power and he isn’t going to complain about it. Jester doesn’t know anything about dreams like this, but she tells him that as long as he’s happy, she’ll have his back.

With their new powers comes a desire to trick more powerful people, people who deserve it more than the usual assholes they steal from. They try to plan a big con, but neither of them can pick a lock or disable traps, so they abandon their plans.

They meet a gnome named Twiggy, and everything changes.

They steal from the Exalted Collection Auction House on Twiggy’s suggestion, and they have more wealth than ever before. They end up with a lot of magical artifacts, and they know that they’ll have to go to a powerful magic user to find a buyer, but the Zhelezo is actively looking for them in Port Damali, so they decide that maybe it’s better to wait.

Eventually, Jester starts missing her mother, and she convinces Fjord and Twiggy to go to Nicodranas. She becomes more excited as they get closer to her hometown, and Fjord finds her enthusiasm contagious. He realizes that there is a lot he would do to keep this smile on her face. 

His tusks are starting to grow back properly, and he knows that he would never have had the strength to do it without her encouragement. His heart still skips a beat whenever he looks at Jester, and if Twiggy notices it, she doesn’t mention it.

The Ruby of the Sea has the voice of an angel, and she seems to love her daughter very much. She asks Fjord to keep protecting Jester, and he blushes so much that he is sure all of them notice.

They don’t tell Marion about the stealing and the lying.

Fjord notices the Tidepeak, a magical tower in the Open Quay, and his curiosity gets the better of him. He wants to talk to someone skilled in magic about what is happening to him, but he also wants to know why the tower shrinks and grows. Somehow, they con their way into the tower, and meet Yussa. They try deceiving him at first, unsure of his loyalties, but they quickly figure out that he doesn’t want anything to do with the Clovis Concord.

Yussa buys all of their magical artifacts, and they become richer than ever before.

While they stay in Nicodranas, all three of them share a room at the Lavish Chateau. Twiggy doesn’t mind sleeping on the floor, so Fjord and Jester share the bed.

Fjord resists the urge to push back the strand of hair falling in front of her face while she sleeps.

It’s getting harder to resist the urge to hold her hand.

Fjord dreams again, and this time, the vision is clearer than the one before. He’s still not sure he understands everything, but he knows that he has to meet someone near Urukayxl. When he tells Jester, she seems excited at the idea to go on a trip. She starts making plans for when they’re on the sea, bouncing around the room, and Fjord is sure that he has never met anyone more wonderful than her.

When Twiggy isn’t there, Fjord holds Jester’s hand for the first time. She smiles, and for once, he can see that she’s the one who blushes at the sight of him. He never imagined that he would feel something like this, but he considers himself lucky that he does.

It’s getting harder to resist to urge to kiss her.

They have a lot of money, so they buy a ship and hire a crew. Fjord hires a tortle named Orly as the navigator, and Jester seems delighted with his choice when Orly starts teaching her about magical tattoos.

Fjord truly becomes Captain Tusktooth when they set sail for Urukayxl.

At night, during one of their watches, Fjord and Jester see a jellyfish bloom. They talk for a while on the deck of the ship (“Do you ever get sad?”), and Fjord keeps thinking how pretty she looks with the purple-pink light shining on her skin. All those months in Port Damali made her freckles more prominent, and it just makes her more beautiful to him.

He can’t look away.

Fjord tells Jester that her mom is proud of her, and this time, when she gives him her signature smile, he doesn’t resist the urge to kiss her.

He barely feels her hand reach for the back of his neck because his heart is pounding, and he can only concentrate on the woman against him.

She kisses him back, and he can’t think of anything but Jester, her lips on his and her smile against his.

There’s only Jester.

She tells him that she likes it when his tusks bite into her lips.

He kisses her again.

It only gets better from here.