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Ein Giftiges Gift

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The longer Caleb sits in that gods-awful chair in the 7th floor chamber, the more often the gramophone of Caduceus' parting words to Trent playing on repeat starts to skip. A word here, a phrase there, until the words "pain" and "love" appear side-by-side, and then mashed together, and then as far apart as words can possibly exist. The record scratches back and forth until he realizes that the scratches are playing out in the scars on his arm.

He barely sleeps enough. The chamber is cold, and the chair is hard and never warms under his backside. Somehow (a side effect of the magic, he suspects), he awakens with little issue, with no cramps or soreness.

And oh, of course the magic he manipulated, shaped to his will until it manifested in a nigh-impenetrable haven for these people he loves dearly, of course that magic would take care of him too. He's a learned man, the metaphor comes to him as quickly as summoning Frumpkin.

The words are clearer, cleaner in the morning. It's love that makes people. It's love that saves them.

And truer words have never been spoken. Even in last night's reliving of the torture he, Astrid, and Eodwulf had endured, he'd not felt scared, not even for a moment. He would love to lay the credit on time and his own capacity to compartmentalize. But he can't. Because every time his arm would burn and his heart race, different images would intrude: waltzing with Jester, crafting a never-before-seen spell to help his best friend find her proper skin again, the vulnerability in Essek's eyes as he welcomed him into the Mighty Nein. Receiving that accursed invitation and the dawning realization that he was ready. Veth stealing Eodwulf's first chair, then Yasha stealing his second.

It's love that saves them.

It's the moments where Beauregard, the callous and gruff and utterly beloved asshole, is grasping his shoulder after he's burned something to ash and gone catatonic. It's Fjord rejecting Uk'otoa (Uk'otoa) and the rest of them pouring as much care as possible into making him understand that he is so much more to them than his fighting abilities. It's peace-loving Caduceus saving his family and home and still choosing the Nein over a cushy, quiet retirement. Yasha sprouting radiant wings to catch Beauregard mid-freefall. Veth's multiple safe and happy reunions with her family. Holding Jester after Traveler Con.

It's LOVE that saves them.

They've all saved each other innumerable times. Caduceus of all people would know this. Hell, he's practically the group's counselor, the one they inevitably find their way to when they're in the deepest pain. And Caduceus, for all his country bumpkin-ness, he always seems to know exactly what to say. It strikes Caleb, as consciousness takes him full-on at breakfast the next morning in the Tower, that Caduceus knows quite a bit indeed. 

But Caduceus doesn't know Zemnian. None of them do, except now perhaps Beauregard. But Caduceus' lack is the most significant.

Because Caduceus is the one who said he would give Trent a gift. And that is without a doubt what happened. He gave Trent a gift without knowing the monumental double-speak he'd pulled in the shaping of the words.

Caleb stares at Caduceus that next morning at the breakfast table, eating his kitty-prepared meal with his usual quiet smile and knowing eyes. And for not the first time, he marvels at just how lucky they were to have stumbled upon that Grove not so long ago. Without even his healing spells and magical beetles, Caduceus has sewn shut old wounds and protected them from reopening a thousand times over, and it would seem he has no intention of stopping any time soon.

In Zemnian, Gift is "Poison".

Caduceus offered Trent a Gift. A Poison. One that is at this very moment assuredly seeping into Trent's bloodstream and becoming one with each of the cells in his body, ensnaring his mind, as insidious as Trent wanted his own words to be as he insinuated his influence upon all of Caleb's accomplishments with the Nein. The doubt he wanted Caleb to feel after dinner in his hall will be rebounding, tearing away at him, until all he can do is rebuke Caduceus' words in defensive anger in the late hours of the night and wee hours of the morning. He will do so until the day he dies, for there is no antidote to the kind of poison Caduceus has gifted him. 

And that truly is Caduceus' gift, both in Common and Zemnian alike. A Cleric of the Wildmother is instinctively as kind, gentle, and comforting as nature herself. But as Caleb has seen firsthand so many times, nature also kills. It displays colorful, extravagant leaves and plumage and scales to both belie and proclaim danger. And to add insult to injury, it grows atop your skeleton as a reminder not to become too prideful, that you too will feed those you once crushed underfoot.

Astrid had said, "Race you to the top." And race, they shall. But if Astrid were to make it there first, Caleb's sure she would find not the man who had strapped them down and inserted Residuum beneath their skin, who had whispered words of treachery and tidings of treason in each of their ears, who had seemed so goddamn untouchable not a year ago; instead she would find a husk, a putrefying corpse of a man more fiendish than the literal devils the Nein has slain, utterly destroyed from the inside out by words of love from a man who drinks the tea of dead men.

Yes, Trent Ikithon is dead, whether he realizes it yet or not. He is as dead as Bren Ermundrud. But unlike Bren, no one will carry on his legacy.

Because Caleb Widogast of the Mighty Nein will live on, long after Trent is gone. He will continue to perform great deeds and craft reality-breaking magics. He will fight to root out the corrupt seed from his country with his sibling-in-all-but-blood and sew peace in its place. He will find happiness and unconditional love, the likes of which Trent could only imagine. And he will go to his deathbed having never worried about waking up with a knife in the back.

All of this remains to come. But for now, he's going to take another stack of pancakes from a magical cat and share them with the only gifts he will ever need: his friends, his compatriots, his family, his Love.