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The Things That Bind Us

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Pike was born with three marks on her tiny body. Though she later grew into them, at first more of her skin was taken up by their lines than was not. Thus was the life of a gnome with soulmates who were not gnomes, after all. They got shouldered with marks meant for larger bodies, the shapes almost unrecognizable at worst and massive at best. That was if they had just one. Pike, though, Pike had three.

It was not unheard of for someone to possess so many soulmarks, to have so many people that would be important in their life, but for a Trickfoot? They may have been redeemed, but they were still seen as deviants of the community, different than the other gnomes.

“Why would the gods give a Trickfoot so many soulmates? It must be because something’s wrong with her,” the whispers said. “She is different than the rest of us. Have you seen her back? No proper person would have that as a mark.”

Some took issue with what her marks were, others focused on the number present. Regardless, her soulmarks were enigmas to the average gnome who heard the news. Pike’s birth provided more than the usual gossip, especially when it was slipped that one of her marks was a war hammer wreathed in flames.

It was a bad omen, the whispers said. Such a violent mark meant the bearer would die an early and painful death. Or perhaps their soulmate would be violent and deadly, a murderer with no remorse. Pike would have to balance them, perhaps even try to save their soul. That was how the gods worked, after all. What a shame, strangers would mutter, shaking their heads as they crossed the street to avoid her. Her other ones are all right. Such a pity about the last one.

“What are you doing, wearing all those layers?” Wilhand asked one day as Pike tried sneaking out of the house with a scarf and heavy jacket on. It was the middle of summer and she was already sweating, rubbing at her forehead to try to brush it aside. “You’re going to overheat if you go outside in that. I’m surprised you haven’t already.” He started to pull the scarf away but Pike shook her head and stepped back.

“No, I, I gotta wear it,” she cried out, clutching it.

“Why?” Her many-great-grandfather asked, raising a bushy eyebrow. “Is this about your soulmark?” No reply. He sighed; they had talked about this before, but Pike was still a young gnome and she wanted to fit in. That wasn’t unusual for children her age, but it was concerning how far she was willing to go for this sort of a thing. “Pike, you know that your soulmarks are special--”

“I don’t want them to be special, I want them to be normal,” she interrupted, a rather uncharacteristic action for her. “Why do they have to be so big?”

Wilhand hesitated. Was he prepared to lie to a child to get her to feel better? Yes, he decided. The answer was yes.

“Because that is how much love you will have for each other,” Wilhand replied. “The bigger the soulmark, the more love and devotion there is. Usually,” he added as an afterthought. “Your soulmates are going to love you very, very much and they want the world to know. And one day you will meet them and you will realize how special they are.”

Pike frowned and sat down on the floor, slowly pulling the scarf off her neck. She hiccuped and tugged at the jacket. “It’s really hot,” she admitted. Wilhand nodded and helped her out of the extra layers.

“I imagine so, with all these clothes.” He sat next to her and pulled her under his arm. “You are a very special gnome,” he promised. “Not everyone is born with as many marks as you and that is a good thing. It means that you will be loved and you will love more than most people can even imagine. Now come on, let’s go to the market and get you something from the bakery.”

It wasn’t a complete change, but Pike soon learned to embrace her marks, all three of them, because they were odd and vibrant and different than any others she had seen. While Wilhand had a simple cart wheel on his left thigh, a thin of dark green, Pike’s back was a mess of reds and blacks. Her neck was stained blue and gold and her left arm dripped purple.

Gnomes and elves had the most colorful marks, it was said. Only true druids, such as the Ashari, could compete. For the elves, it was due to their close bonds with nature and the magic that seemed to run through their veins. For the gnomes? No one knew. Pike would spend many nights awake, turning and twisting and trying to look in the mirror so she could see her marks. To her, all that mattered was that they existed.

Whether or not others liked her was of no matter. She had three soulmates out there and one day, she’d find them. Until then, she could suffer through a bit of loneliness. Things would get better eventually.

It just didn’t help that the rest of the community felt so… strongly about her. For some, it was the acute sense of jealousy that someone was blessed as PIke existed. To be loved, in many ways unconditionally, by one person was special enough. To have three was a precious gift. But for others it was unease, a sense that there was more to Pike than met the eyes. Even as a young girl Pike was different, and not just because of her marks. There was something else, something almost unnatural about her.

Then again, those rumors were undoubtedly connected to the knowledge that one of Pike’s marks was the symbol of Sarenrae, a brilliant dagger coming down her neck, golden wings flaring out and clasping around her throat like a painted choker. Its colors stood out against her skin and no collar could hide it, had Pike wanted to conceal such a perfect mark. She did not. It only made her decision easier when she told Wilhand that she was going to become a cleric.

A soulmark did not have to be between two mortals, after all.

 

 

Dragonborn did indeed have soulmarks, though theirs tended to be only black in color, except for the black dragonborn who had white marks. No one was quite sure why the difference existed between dragonborn and other races across Exandria, though Tiberius had a few theories in regards to the kinds of pigments various species could produce. But no one ever asked his opinion on it and for once he did not offer it.

What he did offer, though, was his name. This he did as often as possible and as loud as possible, because the symbols that curled around his upper tail were Common for name and Tiberius was certain it meant something.

Well. It had to mean something, as it was his soulmark, but to be specific he was certain it had something to do with his name specifically. Why it was in Common, he was uncertain, but he knew he would understand eventually. Thus, his habit of introducing himself at any opportunity that arose. Even if it was occasionally inconvenient while traveling with a group of interesting characters, many of whom preferred to remain enigmas, leaving only enough information to spark a legend but nothing more.

Tiberius had no time for that. He might live a long and fulfilling life or he might be crushed by a giant in the morning. One week with The SHITS -- who were calling themselves Vox Machina now, because that was a bit more dignified and also Scanlan could say it without bursting out into laughter -- let Tiberius realize that. His death was a certainty and it might happen much sooner than he would wish. And yet he had no wish to leave this family, these people who had adopted him despite every reason not to.

After all, it was better to have company when traveling than to be alone, even if the people were worthy of being legends themselves. Tiberius felt kinship with all of them, even Grog the goliath and Keyleth the Ashari. He would never have met them if not for his urge to leave Draconia, to venture forth and discover and learn, and Tiberius took that as a sign that he needed to trust his instincts. Those told him that he would find the partner to his mark with Vox Machina, so he began to record the marks he encountered. Both for posterity’s sake but also for his own. After all, he was certain to recognize the companion to his if he saw it.

Remarkably, there was a great number of shared marks among the members, something Tiberius took great joy in recording. It took him time to convince Lady Vex’ahlia and her brother to show their twin marks and Tiberius still had nightmares about how Scanlan had dropped his pants to, ahem, cheekily show one of his own, but it was a task that Tiberius embraced nonetheless.

Besides, it brought him closer to his teammates, even if there was unbearable sadness in Percy’s eyes when he scratched at his wrist and a look of longing in Keyleth’s face when she asked if Tiberius had seen any marks like hers.

“I’m sorry, I have not, Lady Keyleth. The shape is rather interesting, if I may say so.” Tiberius snorted out a puff of smoke. “My first thought was that it was in a language besides Common, but I couldn’t recognize it. Is it perhaps something in Ashari elvish?”

Keyleth shook her head. “I looked, but I don’t know. It’s nothing the Air Ashari use.” She gave him a small smile. “Thank you, Tiberius. If I find anyone who has your mark, I promise to tell you.” He smiled back.

“I appreciate that, Keyleth, but the marks are mysterious. But it is very likely that you could see my soulmate and not recognize them, through no fault of your own. Still, I suppose if you do suspect anything, you will let me know?”

“Only as long as you tell me if you suspect anything,” Keyleth teased. He smiled and agreed.

Tiberius was many things. He was a scientist, a historian, a person of some political power among his peers, and a brilliant sorcerer. But even he could not decipher what some of the marks could mean, if he truly was seeing connections between people or if he was just hoping that they were present to help soothe the feeling in his chest. It was not always as simple as Vax and Vex, twins who didn’t need marks to know they were connected. And not everyone could have something as obvious as Pike, whose neck would forever display her devotion to Sarenrae to the world.

Alas, such was the life of a scientist.

 

 

 

Few people were born without soulmarks, without someone else destined to tether them to the world and provide that little extra something to their life. Some said they were already complete, that they needed no others. Others claimed the markless were also soulless, mistakes by the gods and doomed to die young and tragically. Regardless, the number was low and Percy knew he was fortunate he was not one, but that did not make his actual circumstances any more welcoming.

It was not that people did not lose soulmates, their marks going a faded grey until they were barely visible on the skin, but that most were old when that happened, having already lived a life together. There was great pity, of course, for those who lost a soulmate they never knew, the mark one day going from vibrant hues to almost translucent in a matter of minutes. Percy found himself one of those in between, the person who knew his soulmate and lost them at a young age.

There was no stigma against having a family member’s mark on your body, the bond was not inherently sexual or romantic, but in many ways those were the worst to lose. Not only did one have to lose a parent, a sibling, a cousin, but one would also lose a soulmate. For those lucky enough to live long lives with their soulmates, the pain was lessened by the memories that had been forged.

Percy was not that fortunate. He would forever be haunted by the screams, the streaks of red, the mind-numbing chill of the river, and the little grey seal on his left wrist. His gloves covered it and his sleeves fell low, the only bit of poor tailoring that he allowed, but at nights he would trace the symbol with feather-light touches that burned hotter than Tiberius’ fireballs.

The rest of Vox Machina had not seen it and only Tiberius was brave or foolish enough to go around asking to look at people’s soulmarks, so Percy was able to keep his little secret. He knew they would be sympathetic; they had lost people, after all. But none of them, as far as Percy knew, had lost a soulmate.

It weighed around his neck like a stone, dragging him down, and he knew that its presence had made him all the more vulnerable to be consumed by revenge. The only thing that had saved him, Percy was convinced, was the barely-visible mark that lay right above his armpit. Rather undignified, perhaps, and something his siblings had liked to tease him about, but Percy had always loved the way it elegantly curved, the gold edges darkening to black in the center. That childish fascination had not disappeared as an adult, but he had been hampered by having not the slightest idea of what it could possibly be.

He would have to wait until he was cleaning the barrel of one of his guns, the chill of winter once more around him, eyes distant as he thought about reclaiming his birthright and bringing justice for his family. Concerned, one of the others would come looking for him and approach right as the sun set against the horizon. Then, and only then, would Percy see that the small circle encasing a star had been waiting to point to his True North all this time.

“Tiberius was going to check on you, but he just remembered something in one of his books and he thinks it’ll help,” Vex called out as she walked over. Her cloak and long hair made it seem like Vax had come, but Percy was familiar enough with the two of them to recognize the subtle differences. “How are you doing?” She asked, voice softening.

Percy blinked, well aware that staring was rude and that he was doing just that. Then he turned away and looked back at his gun, the glistening barrel the same color as his soulmark. He was in shock, that was the only way to explain how he felt.

How long had he been traveling with Vex’ahlia, marveling at her combat prowess but never thinking, never presuming that she could be his second soulmate? And it was just his luck to discover it when they were mere days away from attacking the people who had killed his first soulmate.

“Percy?” Vex’s voice drew him back to reality, out of his mind and away from his thoughts. He looked up at her and nodded stiffly.

“I am alright, Vex. Please, take care of yourself. I could not… I do not want to lose you.” Vex gave him a small smile that sent warmth flooding through his body.

“It would take more than vampires to pull me away from your side, darling.” They sat there together, Vex watching in silence as Percy continued to clean his already sparkling gun. For now, the cold did not seem so close and Percy felt that maybe, just maybe, he could be whole.

He never would fully be able to shake the thought that he was missing something in his life, a sense for adventure and knowledge that permeated his entire body and soul.

Unfortunately he did not let Tiberius examine him, for if he did then Percy would have learned that the lines nestled around his thigh, pale white and assumed to be birthmarks, were in actually letters language spoken by few and recognized by fewer. And, of all things, they meant a single word: name.

 

 

 

There were not many things that Vex’ahlia could rely on as a child. Even as an adult she still could count on her fingers and toes the number of people she trusted. But when she was young, she needed only two. One for her mother, a human woman caught up in a world too cruel for her, and one for her brother, a reckless idiot without whom Vex would be a worse person.

So it made sense that she had two marks on her body and one, of course, belonged to Vax. One of the benefits of being so close, being twins, was that nothing was hidden between them. The second mark, however, did not belong to her mother.

I never found them, Vex’ahlia remembers her mother saying, one quiet fall night. But I have you two and that makes everything worth it. Young Vex accepted that answer. Now, knowing how close she was to Vax and how mere the idea of losing him was devastating, Vex was not sure her mother was telling the truth. She didn’t know a lot of things about her mother, though.

But the tutors at Syngorn had taught the twins many things, including extensive lessons on soulmarks.

Almost every person on the planet had at least one mark. Some were large and colorful, others were not. Occasionally the bonds were of romantic inclinations but it was just as common for them to be between family members or even friends who grew close enough to consider one another family. However, mere trust and loyalty were not enough to signify a bond. Simply put, the exact mechanics of a bond being formed were unknown. There were too many variations, not enough consistency, for anyone to try to understand.

It was possible, though unlikely, that one would never meet a soulmate. When learning that, Vex shivered and promised herself that she would do whatever it took to meet her other soulmate, even if that meant traveling across all of Exandria.

The marks themselves were rarely the same even between soulmates. One could have a compass and the other a pumpkin, but it would always make sense to the two. Visual confirmation, most argued, was the only way to know someone was your soulmate. Others thought that there was a deeper way of knowing, a kind of gut instinct left over from primal stages of life. Vex thought that both had merit and told herself that she’d always ask if she thought someone might be her second partner.

Vex’s first mark was, to put it simply, obvious. A simple circle that glowed silver under moonlight complimented the circle on Vax’s shoulder blade, one that shone gold when exposed to sunlight. Neither twin had much of an attraction to the arcane, but that did not stop the magic that ran through their bodies to touch their soulmarks. In all honesty, even without marks Vex would have considered her brother one of her soulmates. She didn’t need an emblem on her body to prove that.

The other, though, that was tricky. Vax considered herself well-educated, though it was under circumstances she disliked talking about, and her skill with numbers and logic were not unimpressive. But she did not find any attraction in tinkering, in taking things apart and putting them back together. As long as something worked and it was cheap, she would take it. So it didn’t make much sense for her second soulmark to be a series of circles with rectangular bumps, each a different shade of blue.

Their centers were a deep gold, not unlike the sun on Vax’s body, and if one looked at them a certain way it looked like they were buttons. But they were unmistakably cogs from some kind of a machine, perhaps one similar to the engine Vex had once seen on display in Syngorn when she was younger. Vex, objectively, supposed they were beautiful, but she felt no connection with them.

“They don’t even glow,” Vax mumbled one day when they were in an unknown forest, camping beneath the stars because they didn’t have a tent to lie under. Vex’s second marks, the cogs, trailed down her arm and curled around her elbow. The middle one lay against her elbow, bending and stretching whenever she moved. “Ours are cooler.”

“Vax’ildan, are you competing with my other soulmate?” Vex teased. Her twin just mumbled something and poked her in the side. For once, his attempt to dissuade her from the topic was halfhearted at best, which was how Vex knew he didn’t mind talking about it. “You know that they won’t mean the same to me as you do,” Vex promised, poking her brother back. “I don’t care if they’re a king or a god or whatever. You’re my brother and no one is going to replace you.”

“You don’t know that.” Vex sighed. Leave it to her brother to have a deep emotional conversation in the middle of a forest where they could be attacked by rabid animals or worse at any moment. She propped herself up on one elbow and pulled at Vax’s side, trying to get him to meet her eyes. He wasn’t moved, too strong for her to brute force into place like she could when they were children.

“Hey, look at me,” Vex said, deciding to ask instead. Vax let out an exaggerated sigh but did so, peering at her from the folds of his cloak. “You’re my brother, Vax’ildan. My twin brother. We’ve been together since forever.”

“I’m twelve minutes older,” he reminded her, his usual reply whenever their age came up.

“Not the point, darling.” Vex tapped him on the nose and he made a face. “You are family and no one comes between family. I know your soulmate won’t come between us.”

Vax shifted, uncomfortable with the sudden mention of his other mark, but he nodded. Vex could read him too well, though, and knew he was still nervous about whoever else would be such a major part of Vex’s life. “Do you remember what we promised each other when we left Syngorn?” She asked.

“That we’d be together forever, no matter what,” Vax replied without a pause.

“I meant it and I know you did too. Now go to sleep, we have a lot of walking tomorrow.” Satisfied, Vex placed a kiss on her brother’s forehead before getting more comfortable and falling asleep.

 

 

 

Vax’ildan hated his marks. No, that was a lie. He loved the one he shared with Vex. He would stare into the mirror and twist and turn his body so he could see it from every angle, every stroke on his back appearing different every time. Vax wanted to trail his fingers over it, see if it burned when touched or if it chilled his fingertips or anything. His mark with Vex’ahlia was special, Vax knew, because it glowed bright whenever sunlight hit it.

If that had been his only mark, Vax would have proudly worn no shirt while working in the fields with their mother or when training with the elves in Syngorn. The whole world already knew that Vex was the most important person in his life, he might as well display the mark that made that even more true.

Of course things could not be so simple, not for a half-elf brat. As if Vax wasn’t enough of an oddity, his pointed ears set against a human face, he didn’t just have two normal soulmarks. No, one of them glowed and the other took up almost all of his torso, wrapping around his stomach and upper chest to his back, the very edges trailing a few centimeters away from the mark that tied him to Vex.

Of all the races, only gnomes and halflings had such large marks and even then theirs tended to be proportional to their bodies; the only reason they would have something larger would be if their soulmate was literally a bigger person. Most humans and elves had small marks, easily hidden ones as if the gods knew that few would want to display something so intimate to the whole world. Some even claimed orcs and goblins had marks, though that was not a popular opinion, but the point was that having marks was normal.

Having such large marks was not.

There were a number of theories just about why a person would have a mark of a certain color or size, but none of them agreed. Even his tutors at Syngorn would pull him aside and insist that he was blessed, that he was cursed, that he needed to find his soulmate, that he could never meet them -- all Vax knew was that he had two soulmates and one of them, if the mark was anything to go by, would consume him. Because the mark that engulfed his body was one of flames, deep red swirling into orange and yellows. They seemed to dance whenever his body moved, curling around him in their strong tendrils.

It was easy enough, really, for Vax to agree when the Clasp told him that they would need to brand his back before he gained entry into their midst. “This will harm your soulmark,” they warned.

“Will the circle be touched?” Vax asked.

“No.” That settled it.

“Then do it.” Later, he wondered if his soulmate knew what he did. He hoped they didn’t. It wasn’t their fault he was terrified of meeting them, this person who had such a hold over him without a single word. Vax just didn’t like being vulnerable, not when he couldn’t hide it.

Gilmore was a gem. He shone bright and it hurt to look at him, but Vax found it impossible to look away. There was the urge, every time, in his fingers to touch. To just reach over and trace faint patterns over that dark skin, to feel how soft his hair was, how sweet his lips tasted. Vax was no stranger to lust but this, this was more than lust. He was almost certain that Gilmore was his soulmate but something stopped him from asking. From being certain.

Keyleth was quiet and soft and comfortable but when she burned, oh god did she burn. Vax’ildan saw her fight as an elemental, as a tiger, as herself with the powers of a druid coursing through her fingertips. And yet he saw her in other moments, the times when she murmured to plants and laughed at something Scanlan said, and he felt like he was seeing two different people. That hardly mattered, Vax loved both.

But he could not love her and Gilmore. Nature had dictated that he have two soulmates and one of them was Vex.

Unable to possibly pick between the man who lit up his whole world and the woman who warmed his heart, Vax did what he thought was best.

He walked away.

 

 

 

It was common, though not certain, for the Ashari to find their companion mark within their tribe. For those who were chosen to go on the AraMente, their soulmate tended to be found on the journey. That was not the main reason Keyleth was so excited to go on her AraMente, but it certainly encouraged her. She might find her mother and she might find the person she was destined to be with for the rest of her life. Even all of the danger and uncertainty around the AraMente paled in comparison to what could be.

For an Air Ashari, it was not unusual for her mark to be a symbol of the air. The three lines that rested on her hip, curling one edge, merged to form a point at the other end. She did not recognize it among the symbols her tribe used, but that was what it had to be. With the dark blue tinge, she wondered if she would find the companion among the Water Ashari.

If not, she had time. Her time with Vox Machina, while not strictly part of her AraMente, allowed for more adventures than she had ever imagined. Keyleth did not think that she would ever be in the Underdark, for one, or that she’d fight a demon with members of the Slayer’s Take. And while it was dangerous, coming close to death and seeing her friends die and come back to life, Keyleth knew she would not trade it for the world.

Many times she wondered at the fact that she didn’t have more soulmarks, with how close she was with the other members of Vox Machina. Certainly Scanlan was a bit much at times and Grog could be a bit scary when drunk or enraged, but Pike was sweet and calming and Vex seemed to know everything about everything. Percy was brilliant, Keyleth thought, with his strange machines and guns but also how much he cared for the others. Keyleth didn’t think that others saw, but Percy was one of the most kind-hearted people she had ever met.

He was also one of the most broken, but she supposed he had the right.

Tiberius and Percy were very similar, Keyleth thought on more than one occasion. They both were thinkers and they both came from backgrounds of power. She knew they got along well and that they traded stories and information like Vex haggled in markets. Keyleth was glad that they had each other; everyone deserved a chance for friendship.

There was only one member of Vox Machina who regularly evaded study and that was, understandably, the rogue. It was not that Vax fled Keyleth’s presence. Rather, the opposite happened. They would spend time together but every moment Keyleth thought she would have a breakthrough, an understanding about some deeper aspect that ruled the half-elf, he would shut himself away and she would be lost once again. She talked to Vex about it once, a girl talk between the two last female members of Vox Machina.

“My brother is complicated, darling. He doesn’t like to admit that he needs people. Neither of us do, but I think that Syngorn was… harder for him.” Vex smiled almost apologetically at Keyleth. “I’m afraid that you’ll have to ask him if you want more of an explanation. It’s his story to tell.” The only thing that could possibly be so secret that Vex didn’t even know had to involve soulmarks, and Keyleth understood why someone would want to keep theirs hidden.

She also grew determined to discover what Vax’s looked like and, with all of her power, find the other person or people he was connected to. Everyone deserved a chance for happiness and Vax’ildan was no exception.

It was, simply put, damn difficult to try to befriend him, but one could only fight next to someone for so long before deciding that they were trustworthy and worth spending time with. Keyleth would always remember the first time Vax laughed at something Scanlan said. The way his eyes gleamed in the firelight made them seem to dance with joy. Even though it was an illusion, Keyleth would start comparing him to fire before realizing that was wrong.

Vax was much more like air, almost intangible and impossible to grasp, but a force beyond measure nonetheless. His daggers would fly out of nowhere and leave marks that would never heal. No door was beyond his measure. He jumped through, over, and around traps like he was walking through a field, though there were occasions where he was almost crushed, poisoned, burned, or suffocated to death.

And every time that happened, Keyleth could not stop herself from pulling him into a tight embrace, feeling his heart pound against hers, reassuring herself that he was alive.

“You’re my soulmate,” she told him one night. He looked at her and then looked away.

“I love you, Kiki,” he replied, “but I don’t think we are.”

It hurt but by then Keyleth was used to watching the people she loved walk away.

 

 

 

Love was complicated for a gnome without ties, a free spirit who didn’t want anything to do with family or being held down. Scanlan preferred to play his music, to sing and dance and bring joy to others. The whole fighting, almost dying while saving the world things was… different. And not necessarily what he learned to play the lute for. But he did enjoy it, because if he didn’t he wouldn’t be doing it. Duh.

But even Scanlan wouldn’t ignore the pull of a soulmark. For all of his pessimism about love, about family and relationships, Scanlan had not quite reached the stage of defying fate. That would could later, certainly, but even fighting gods would not stop him from looking at his mark from time to time and marveling that he even had one.

He wasn’t a fool. Well, he played one and he was a bard, whom many people considered the best of fools, but Scanlan wasn’t actually a fool. He was clever with words and quick on his feet, though not in the way Vax was, and he was intelligent. Scanlan knew that scamps like him didn’t get happy endings. They wandered around, drinking and screwing until the end. And, for a while, he was ok with that being his future.

Meeting Vox Machina changed that. His soulmark had a purpose now. What he previously disregarded as something on his body was now a sign that someone cared. Cared about him, Scanlan Shorthalt, a gnome bard who really was nothing special.

Now, in theory that was all fine and dandy. After all, he’d like them back. Even if it wasn’t romantic or sexual, which Scanlan had always wanted it to be because, well, y’know, his soulmate would be perfect. He wasn’t really sure what perfect would be, but he was confident that the powers that be would know.

Scanlan understood the companion to his seven-pointed silver star was a purple harp, the lines taking up almost the entire arm it lay on. He was a bard, he played instruments for a living. And the color purple fit him. So that made sense, just like the way his mark had started to itch when he first met her. He just didn’t think his soulmate would be so… religious.

A cleric of Sarenrae, the goddess of redemption. Really, it was like the world was trying to tell him something.

Well Scanlan had received the message loud and clear and he wasn’t going to change at all. The gods had enough pull over the whole world, they weren’t going to fuck him over too. This was him pulling a Vax, flipping the bird to the sky. Scanlan wasn’t going to stop sleeping at brothels or drinking his weight in ale. He wasn’t going to put his life at risk without serious gold on the table. Nothing would ever get him to go to the Underdark, or venture through city sewers and lie to a guild of thieves.

Dragons? Beholders? Vampires? Evil demons who possessed one’s friends? More dragons?

Hell. Fucking. No.

There was definitely no chance that Scanlan would go into danger for other people. Saving the world? No, nope, never.

Ok, he might have changed a little. But only because his soulmate seemed to enjoy inspiring people into being better. Even a gnome who had long since given up on loving anyone and being loved back.

 

 

 

One of the largest arguments about soulmarks was why some species had them and others did not. Dragons were sentient and intelligent and, for the most part, rather sane. Yet they did not have marks, at least as far as explorers and the like could tell. Orcs and goblins had marks, but they were not confirmed for soulmarks since no one had ever gotten one to talk about them. Dragonborn had marks, as did tieflings, but theirs were different than the kinds that appeared on humans and elves.

Goliaths did not have soulmarks, they had soullines that wound up and down their bodies, dark black lines They were harsh and jagged on some, smooth and twisted on others, but there was no denying their presence. Unlike humans or elves who could have marks that gleamed in darkness or changed color, goliaths always were black. Their lines were always black and they covered their entire body, head to toes, growing as the goliath matured.

Young goliaths began life with small lines on their back, the basis for all the rest. As they grew older, the lines would expand, shifting and slowly but steadily making their way across the goliath’s body. This happened to every single person in Grog’s herd, from his uncle to his cousin, to his cousin’s uncle.

And unlike other species, who saw soulmates as someone with whom you would live with and support and generally love in some capacity forever, goliaths believed that soulmates existed to make you a better person.

Sometimes that was from supporting you in battle, allowing you to leap headfirst into danger while knowing that your brethren were there by your side. Other times, it involved challenging the other to fights and pushing them to improve or be left behind. Love did not factor into life when you were a goliath. That was an emotion for other, softer species.

So no, love and soulmates were not equated for goliaths.

Which was why Grog found his relationship with Pike so confusing. They fought, sometimes, but never to really hurt each other. Pike called it sparring, which Grog soon learned was just like any other fight, except you didn’t want to really hit the other person, just pretend to. He didn’t understand why that was supposed to help you fight, but Pike liked it so he sparred with the others too. Grog didn’t even crush Vax into the dust too often; that, he knew, would upset Pike.

Nor, however, did Pike wrestle with Grog. To put it simply, all Grog would have to do is sit on his gnome friend and that would be that. It wouldn’t be much of a match, so Grog amused himself by wrestling with Trinket whenever Vex wasn’t around. She was awfully protective of her bear, for reasons Grog wasn’t quite sure he understood.

The biggest thing Grog didn’t understand about Pike was that she was very much upset whenever he got hurt. She would make him sit down so she could examine him, even if she or Scanlan or someone had already healed him. Grog would have to sit there and wait for her to look him over, every bit of exposed and blood-covered flesh up for scrutiny.

When you were as big as Grog, that was a lot of flesh.

“I’m not hurt,” Grog complained once. “I can keep fighting.” It wasn’t like he couldn’t stand up, but Pike was giving him A Look that promised that she would be disappointed if he disobeyed and Grog wasn’t quite feeling up to that. His vision was spinning a little and there were three Pikes in front of him, which was apparently unusual and concerning.

At least, that’s what the others told him.

“Oh, everything’s already dead, Grog. Tiberius got the rest of them with a fireball,” Pike told him. Instead of comforting him, Grog pouted. He had wanted to kill some more goblins. “Now I want you to lift your arm up like this, ok? And don’t put it down until I tell you so.” Grog let out a groan.

“Of course Tiberius gets to kill them,” he mumbled, doing as Pike said. “I ran into their camp wearing nothing but a kilt.”

“And you were very brave,” Pike replied. “Can you tell me more about the fight?” She asked, as if she wasn’t just as covered in dead goblin bits. Before Grog could even say anything, Pike stretched and ripped out the head of a javelin that had stuck itself in Grog’s underarm. He let out a bellow of pain and surprise and fell back. Anyone else probably would have been swatted with hands the size of small windows.

Instead, Pike just patted him on the side and smiled. “All done with that side. Now onto the next!” Grog didn’t really understand why she felt the need to check up on him, certainly no one had back in the herd, but it made her feel better.

It made his soulmate feel better and that was all Grog needed. He was starting to understand a bit more about these strange people and their weird way of doing things. Soullines and soulmarks were not the exact same, after all. Pike’s brilliant warhammer was much more artsy than the lines and patterns up and down Grog’s body and, yes, the meaning behind the two were different.

But that didn’t stop Pike from reminding Grog that he could be more than just a weapon, that he could be sweet and kind and that he was loyal and brave and would die for his friends. Even though he was brash and bold, that was not always a bad thing. He enjoyed life to the fullest, drinking and making merry with his friends and any others whom he might spend time with. And when he drank, he would feast; Grog ate like a bear. Well, to be accurate he ate more than Trinket, who was actually a bear, so really Grog ate more than one.

“‘M sorry,” Grog said one day as he looked down at Pike, seeming small and vulnerable without her armor. Her loose shirt did nothing to hide the warhammer that was forever stamped against her back. “It’s really big.” Pike looked up at him and smiled.

“Oh, buddy, I don’t mind. It lets everyone know I have such a good soulmate,” she told him. Grog frowned, crossing his arms.

“But you have Sarenrae and Scanlan,” he pointed out. “And nobody else has three soulmates.” His frown grew deeper. “What if I‘m a mistake?” Pike shook her head, eyes wide at the mere idea that Grog could think that.

“No one says there’s a limit on how many soulmates you can have. And besides, having so many soulmarks makes us special.” Pike wouldn’t lie about something like that, Grog knew. He didn’t think Pike would ever lie.

So he nodded and smiled at her, big and frightening to anyone who didn’t know him. She didn’t resist as he dragged her under his arm and held her close, feeling her small body so vulnerable but so tough next to him.

“‘M glad you’re back,” Grog mumbled. “It was boring without you.” Pike scooted closer to him, resting her head against his stomach.

“I missed you too, buddy.” The two of them looked out the window, the broken glass jutting out and bending the light as the morning sun rose.