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how many owlbears in a Zemnian night?

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They eventually save their friends. But at what cost.

Beau knows that Caleb blames himself.
She knows that Nott blames herself, too.
And they have traveled with Keg for a very short amount of time, but Beau somehow knows that Keg blames herself as well.
They’re all wrong.
It wasn’t anyone’s fault but hers.

The first night is probably the roughest. They set up camp in silence, licking their wounds, drinking themselves stupid from Nott’s flask.
Molly’s body is covered with his dragon tapestry, and none of them has spoken a word about what they intend to do with it.
No one feels like they are able to talk about it just yet.
Beau’s eyes burn.
She doesn’t know if it’s for tears that she can’t bring herself to shed, if it’s for the blood that was still dripping all over her face until a few minutes ago, or if it’s because of the intensity with which she’s staring at the fire.
She doesn’t feel anything.
Absolutely nothing.
Her chest is weightless and heavy at the same time, but all she feels is hollowness filling every inch over her exhausted body.
Caleb passes out cold after what seems like his third drink, and Nott gently tucks him in with his ragged coat, before settling in herself with her head close to Caleb’s stomach.
Beau takes a long swig of the shorty alcohol Nott always carries around, and hiccups.
“Still aroused by this?” She asks point blank with a dry laugh, gesturing vaguely at herself.
Keg slowly turns to look at her, and there’s a question in Beau’s eyes that has nothing to do with what Beau’s just asked, and yet it has everything Keg needs to know.
She nods, and Beau drags her on top of her, kissing her hungrily, kissing her angrily, almost tearing their clothes apart in the rush of pushing a hand between their bodies.
Keg matches her movements one by one, and Beau stops thinking and starts pretending.
At least for now. At least for some time.
She can pretend she hasn’t almost died today.
She can pretend she doesn’t think she deserves to die.
She can pretend Molly hasn’t.
She can pretend Keg wants her, not because she’s desperate and angry and sad and guilty.
She can pretend she isn’t hurting inside like someone is setting all her organs on fire.
She can pretend she is not in love with another woman, a woman who wouldn’t want her before, and who most definitely will not want her now that she’s let her best friend die.

No one suspects anything in the morning.
Caleb, who usually has the observation skills of a brick wall, is too busy staring into the void.
And Nott, who is somehow sharper than him, is too busy worrying about Caleb to notice anything else.
Beau straightens herself up and doesn’t look at Keg, but she suspects Keg is doing the same.

They don’t move immediately. They need time to think, to reorganize.
Beau moves Molly’s body onto one of the horses, and the corpse is rigid, heavy, cold.
Molly’s hair tickle her face, and Beau does her best not to look at him at all.
But when his body threatens to fall off one side of the horse, Beau darts forward, grabbing him from his forearm, and his face twists in her direction.
Red, empty eyes stare at her with a lifeless cruelty, and the nausea that Beau has managed to squish down remerges.
She makes quick work of the few ropes that are going to keep Molly safe on the horse and she runs toward the nearest rock.
She bends with her hands on her knees, heaving, until her whole breakfast comes out, thrown up with the remaining of last night’s liquor.
She feels dirty, and all she wants is to disappear and never come back.
But as she stumbles out from behind the rock, she sees Nott gently accompanying Caleb to one of the horses, and Keg waiting on top of hers.
Beau realizes with a start that those people would never survive without her.
She almost laughs at the thought.
She doesn’t.
What she does is walk toward the horse where she’d tied Molly’s body, grab the reins and start walking from where they came.

It’s halfway through the afternoon, after hours of walking under the sun, that someone speaks for the first time.
“Where are we going?” 
It’s Caleb, and Beau looks back at him, almost proud of him for managing to use his voice. 
She doubts she’d ever could, if someone wouldn’t have forced her to.
It’s also the first thing Caleb’s said after casting Gentle Repose on Molly’s body, right after…
Right after it’d happened.
“Hupperdook.” Beau answers, and for a moment she doesn’t recognize her own voice.
It’s soaked in anger, and pain, and a pure, dripping desire for revenge.
“Why?” Asks Nott.
Beau tugs at her horse’s reins, and keeps walking.
“We are going to leave Molly to someone who can keep him safe.”
Safe. Again, Beau feels the strange urge to laugh.
But the thought of keeping a dead body safe is almost a paradox.
Yet, that’s what she’s doing to do.
She is going to find a place where she can leave Mollymauk Tealeaf’s body, a place where her friend will be safe.
“And then we are going to find those assholes, rescue Fjord, Yasha and Jester, and go back to revive the bastard who got himself killed.”
Keg pulls the reins of her horse, bringing him to a stop.
“Hupperdook is days of travel away from here. At this pace, they will get away and-“
“First of all.” Beau snarls, turning around to look up at Keg. “You don’t get to decide how and where we want to take our friend’s dead body.”
Nott’s eyes widen comically, and Caleb pales, if possible, even more.
Keg blinks, her mouth sealing shut.
“Second of all, how do you think we are going to take on them, when even with Mollymauk we could barely inflict any sort of damage?”
Keg shuffles uncomfortably on the horse.
“Well, my ass.” Beau growls. She feels fury coming up from the pit of her stomach, and suddenly she finds herself thinking if this is what Yasha feels like during her rages. “I’ll tell you what we are going to do, and if you don’t like it, you can leave our horse and go. If you do, you shut up and do as I say.”
Keg visibly clenches her jaw, her eyes a storm of emotions.
“What do you suggest, then?” She says eventually.
Beau breathes in, trying unsuccessfully to release some of the tension in her body.
“I suggest we rest, for another night. We take it slow. We have injuries that we can’t afford to worsen. Tomorrow, we will rush to Hupperdook, find better weapons. Allies, maybe. I don’t know. But we will come back with a better plan that we will elaborate during these days of travel.”
She turns around, starting to walk again and pulling the horse with her.
“And your friends?” Keg asks, not without challenge in her voice.
“Our friends are tough.” Beau says, and she tries not think of Fjord’s eyes, of Jester’s laugh, or Yasha’s smile. “It will take more than a handful of days to break them.”

That night, Beau pins Keg against a tree during their watch, and swallows her moans in a series of strong, imposing kisses.

As promised, the day after they speed their pace as much as they can, launching the horses at a steady run.
Beau mounts in front of Keg, and she ignores the feeling of hatred that grows inside herself every passing hour.

It’s the night of their fourth night of travel, when the owls are hooting loudly in the nearby forest, and Beau and Keg are going over another not-yet doable plan, that it happens.
Beau doesn’t notice, at first.
Caleb and Nott have been awfully quiet since Molly’s death, and she is kind of getting used to being surrounded by silence.
As she combs her fingers through her loose hair, though, her gaze falls on Caleb.
His eyes are empty, as they’ve been more and more often over the past few days, and the man is rocking back and forth from his sitting position on one of the rocks.
“Caleb?” Beau calls out, trying to be as gentle as possible and yet sounding way too harsh for it to be considered friendly.
Caleb doesn’t hear her. He doesn’t give any sign of having heard anything else besides what’s happening in his head.
His eyes are trained over the fire. And the shadow of the flame dances over his pale and tired face.
Beau is standing before she realizes what is happening.
Slowly, careful not to spook Caleb out of his trance, she approaches the man and crouches in front of him.
“Caleb?” She tries again.
Caleb looks up, but whether he sees her or not, Beau is not sure.
He murmurs something in a language that Beau doesn’t understand, and she looks around for Nott, only to find her fast asleep next to one of the horses. Frumpkin is nowhere to be seen, and Beau realizes that this is on herself.
She wouldn’t have to deal with this if Fjord was there. If Molly was there.
Hell. Even if Yasha was there.
Anyone would be better than her.
Beau looks back at Keg, who shakes her head with a “Gonna go check the perimeter.”
Huffing a breath, Beau turns again to look at Caleb, who keeps staring at her with the same, empty look.
“I don’t understand what you’re saying, man.” Beau sighs. “Gotta help a girl here. Can you talk to me? In Common?”
Caleb keeps talking, his soft murmuring desperate and lost like it was a second ago, but he manages to stumble into a couple words in Common.
Beau catches “House” and “mother” before Caleb stops talking and starts breathing heavily.
Instinctively, she grabs his face between her palms, forcing him to keep his eyes on her.
“Caleb. No. Hey. Stay with me, man.” She almost snaps, somehow managing to sound encouraging.
“I can’t fucking lose you, too, Caleb. C’mon.”
Caleb keeps breathing a series of ragged breaths, and Beau keeps her hands on his face, her eyes trained into his, making an effort to breathe in and out as loudly as she can.
She has no idea of what she’s doing, except that when she is the one having panic attacks, refocusing her breathing is the only thing that she forces her mind to do.
Slowly and painfully, Caleb’s breathing goes back to a normal, steady pace.
Beau nods, with a grin that is probably more tired than enthusiastic.
“Good fucking job, man.” She says, and she’s sincere. “You scared the shit outta me, for a moment, there.”
Caleb swallows, and the haze in his eyes gives room to a strange kind of awareness.
“I’m sorry, Beauregard.” He says.
Beau shrugs, letting herself fall backwards with her ass on the hard ground. 
“No need.” She sighs. “It happens. It’s all good.”
Caleb nods, somehow uncertain, but more present.
“I’m tired.” He says, looking at Beau like she might have the right answer to his statement.
Beau sighs again.
“I know, man. Me, too.”
Caleb nods, looks around the camp, and nods again.
Slowly, he lowers himself on the ground, using his sack as a pillow.
Gute Nacht, meine liebe .” He yawns, closing his eyes.
He is asleep in the span of a few seconds.
Beau stares at him, waving a hand in the air.
“Whatever the fuck that was. You, too, I guess.”

After rolling away from Keg’s body, that same night, Beau manages to stumble away, fixing her clothes as best as she can, and wake Nott up before Keg can even think of starting a conversation.
Nott blinks into consciousness, and briefly glazes over at Caleb.
“Don’t wake him.” She murmurs, sleepily. “I can take this.”
Beau nods and unrolls her sleep mat, without casting another glance to the dwarven woman behind her.

Beau is in front of Lorenzo again.
He stares at her with a cruel, manic grin, his weapon still embedded in Molly’s chest.
Beau can’t tear her eyes away from the scene. She sees it happening over and over and over again, almost in slow motion.
She doesn’t understand why it doesn’t stop.
She can’t understand.
All she can do is remain there, not moving, waiting for Molly to be hit, waiting for his body to fall.
Even as he dies, Molly makes a big show of himself, spitting blood on Lorenzo’s face.
Beau can’t move.
She can only watch.
Then Lorenzo turns, looks at her again, and smiles a sickening sweet smile.
“For Molly and Yasha, you said?” he asks. “Well. Maybe my next blood could be hers.”
Beau lunges forward, screaming, her throat burning in anger and pain and tears, but her fist passes through air.

She wakes up with a start, jolting upright.
Her clothes are stuck to her skin, cold sweat covering every inch of her shaking body.
The first lights of the day greet her rough awakening, and Beau presses her palms against her eyes, drawing long, trembling breaths.
Nott doesn’t notice her, and by the time Caleb and Keg wake up, Beau’s walls are up again.

They speed up the pace as much as they can. Beau agrees to ride with Keg, one hand holding her own horse, the other one dragging Molly’s.
The ride is mostly silent, but Beau can’t shake off the feeling of uneasiness that the nightmare has left over her.
She turns to check on Caleb and Nott, almost as a reassurance that they are still there, with her.
After losing four people in the span of a few days, her need to make sure that the only two left are always by her side becomes almost as important as breathing.
She pays less attention to Nott, who is still too entranced by Jester’s journal to give a shit about anything that’s happening around her, and more attention to Caleb.
Beau does her best not to make him notice that she’s studying him, but the man seems so out of it that she doesn’t think he’d realize it even if she’d tell him directly.

They keep a steady pace, and they talk the bare necessity, but it’s by her constant checking in on Caleb and Nott that Beau starts to notice a pattern.
Caleb’s eyes become more unfocused, at moments, and when it happens, the man’s breathing quickens, and his body stiffens.
Beau doesn’t know if she’s the only one to notice, but considering how Nott is trying to keep herself busy with the journal and how Keg is anything but observant, she figures that she might as well be the only one awake in this forsaken group.
“What’s the weather like where you’re from?” she finds herself asking, her eyes trained over Caleb.
The man confusedly looks up at her, his unfocused expression almost trying to figure out what Beau is asking him.
Nott briefly looks up from the journal, curious to hear the answer more than the reason behind the question.
If Fjord was there, he’d shake his head at the terrible topic of conversation.
If Molly was there, there wouldn’t be a reason for her to choose a topic of conversation.
But they’re not.
Beau is left alone to make every decision, and she tries her best not to spook Caleb.
“In the Zemni Fields?” he asks, slowly, almost like he’s trying to re-route his brain into speaking an actual language.
Beau nods.
“Those. Yeah.”
Caleb purses his lips, then shrugs.
“Hot, I guess.” He says, looking away into the horizon. “Warmer than here, anyway. It’s fairly cold in these parts of the Empire.”
Beau nods, already uncertain on how to keep the conversation going.
“I was born in Kamordah.” She says. “Ever been there?”
Caleb shakes his head, sadly.
Nein.” He answers. “But my father had. He used to tell me of his travels.”
Beau is not a conversationalist, but she can see an opening when there is one.
“Where had your father been?” she prompts, and Caleb answers.
He talks quietly about places all over the Empire.
He stops often to breathe in and out, but he keeps speaking.
Beau half listens and half zones out, but she keeps an eye always trained on Caleb.
And Caleb keeps talking, and he doesn’t space out.

They get drunk.
They get really, really drunk.
Nott has decided that she doesn’t care if other people touch her flask, and she just passes it around the campfire.
“To our friends.” Caleb hiccups, his eyes locked on where Molly’s body is, covered by the tapestry and invisible to the sight. “And to those who were more than that.”
Nott belches and then nods, lifting her flask.
“To Fjord. And to Jester. And to Yasha. And to Molly.”
Keg snatches the flask out of Nott’s hand and takes a long swig, her eyes already drooping.
Beau half registers the topic of conversation, and nods together with everyone else.
“Tell me about your friends.” Keg demands, and Nott is more than happy to oblige to her request.
She launches into a very detailed description of every single missing member of the Mighty Nein, and Beau relaxes into a half crouched position, barely listening to what is going on around her.
Alcohol numbs her mind and body.
Maybe, if she drinks enough of it, maybe the nightmares will leave her alone.
“And Yasha!” Nott yells into the night. “Beau is so in love with Yasha.”
Beau kicks Nott in the stomach, not hard enough to hurt her, but with sufficient force to tip her over.
“Fuck off.” She hisses.
Her heart is tight in her chest, and she realizes that no amount of alcohol in the world will ever manage to loosen that.

The following night, when Beau inches closer to Keg and tries to push her hands under her clothes, the woman shakes her head and mutters: “No.”
Immediately, Beau’s hands drop, and she tilts her head.
“No more of this, Beau.” Keg continues, and she doesn’t look at Beau, whose stomach drops in front of another rejection.
Her last comfort, the warmth of another living being’s body pressed against her, reminding her that she’s alive and somehow making her feel something, is now being taken away.
“Why?” she asks, and she doesn’t know what to expect, but she certainly isn’t prepared to hear Keg’s answer.
“Because you’re in love with another woman.”
Beau frowns, and barks out a dry, unamused laugh.
“That’s dumb.” She says, while her heart constricts at the sole thought of Yasha.
Yasha, who is not there.
Yasha, who won’t even want to see her again.
“It’s not.” Keg says. “Or maybe it is. But I don’t want you to regret this more than you already will.”
Beau stares at the dwarf and doesn’t know how to respond.
Keg places her hand on Beau’s arm and smiles a sad smile.
“I still want your friendship, when all this is going to be over.”
Beauregard swallows a sudden rush of tears, and she is grateful for the darkness, because she is not sure of what her face looks like, right now.
All her friends have been either kidnapped, killed, or are losing their mind.
Everyone around her would probably be better off without her, so she can’t really blame Keg from stepping back.
“Whatever.” She ends up saying, her tone flat and emotionless. “I’m gonna go patrol around camp.”
She stands without another word, and Keg doesn’t stop her.

Beau realizes how tired they all are once they reach the outskirts of Hupperdook.
She can’t believe they’ve actually managed to reach the town without getting killed in the process, so she considers it a victory in and on itself.
As they walk through the Lower Tier of Hupperdook, trying to be as inconspicuous as they can, Caleb shudders violently.
“Caleb?” Nott calls out, turning to watch at the man closely.
Keg and Beau stop the horses and look back at the two.
“Caleb?” Beau repeats, when he doesn’t answer to Nott’s call.
Caleb shakes, his eyes trained over the waterfall that cascades from out of the center of the mountain.
“Mollymauk would have loved to be back in Hupperdook.” He says.
The group falls silent.
Beau tries to force her own heart to stop hurting so fucking much, but the more she tries, the harder it is to breathe.
She closes her eyes for a brief moment, and when she reopens them, Caleb’s gaze is already lost somewhere in front of him, unfocused.
Beau curses herself and jumps down of her own horse.
Together with Nott, she helps Caleb dismounting, and she hooks an arm around his shoulders.
Both the movements and the physical contact seem to shake Caleb out of his trance, and he looks down at his steps as Beau prompts him to walk.
“You were telling me about some Zemnian children’s song, yesterday.” She starts, trying to find something –anything- to keep Caleb in the present.
“Wanna try to see if you remember it?”
Beau quickly glances behind her, where Nott and Keg have dismounted and are now dragging the horses behind them.
Beau catches Nott’s big, yellow eyes, and she notices how soft they seem to be.
She decides that she doesn’t want to think about what it could mean, and she focuses her attention back on Caleb.
“It’s dumb.” He is saying. “But my mother used to sing it with me, when I was a child.”
Beau nods, putting one step in front of the other and trying not to look around, trying not to see the same places they’ve visited when their party was whole, together and alive.
“Wanna teach me?”
Caleb sways on his feet, and his eyes dart from Beau’s face to the road, and back.
For a moment, Beau fears that her technique has failed, that Caleb will prefer the darkness of his own mind to her company, and she panics.
But then, Caleb starts humming.
Ten little owlbears in a Zemnian night, away from their mother and full of fright.
One finds the road back, hugs mama and sings,
Oh, mama, mama, how I wish I had wings
Nott giggles from behind them, and Beau finds herself almost smiling at the simple rhythm of the song.
Nine,” Caleb takes a deep breath, then starts again. “Nine little owlbears in a Zemnian night, away from their mother and full of fright.
One finds the road back, hugs mama and sings,
Oh, mama, mama, how I wish I had wings
Beau listens to Caleb’s deep, low voice, already enamored with the silly song that her friend is gifting them.
By the time they reach the entrance of the Upper Tier, all four of them are singing the tales of the lost owlbears.