Vex’ahlia sat in the snow just outside the magical door, her fingers tracing the twisting form of the bow next to her. It curled around her fingers, slithering loosely over her wrist and hand as she reached either end, it’s form more fluid than anything she’d ever seen. Fenthras had been at her side since they’d killed Saundor deep within the Feywild. The dark, living wood of the weapon unsettled her, sending awful tremors down her spine, and filling her nights with terrifying visions of it’s previous owner. Saundor himself haunted most of her dreams, the words he spoke to her digging into her core and tearing open the old wounds deep inside. She’d been hiding it for days, still smiling and flirting, the occasional bickering with her brother,
“You shouldn’t worry” She muttered to herself. “You killed a dragon. You made a lot of gold. You’re silly for worrying.”
“Vex’ahlia? Why are you out here?” Soft though it was, Keyleth’s voice startled her. Her muscles spasmed as she twisted, finding her druid friend creeping out of the door. “I thought you went to bed”
“I couldn’t sleep” Vex’ahlia waved her hand, returning to her position. Her breath was still quick and panting, her pulse racing beneath her skin. “The wine and all that.”
“Did something happen with Vax?” To her dismay Keyleth stepped further out, pulling the door to Scanlan’s mansion shut behind her. The light that had spilled out vanished, leaving the two half elves in darkness and snow. “Is that why you’re out here talking to yourself?”
“No, no” She shook her head. “Vax said nothing he shouldn’t have said. He was right, anyway. And besides, he was drunk. We’re both drunk. Well, he’s drunk.”
“Vex…” Keyleth lowered herself into the snow next to her, holding herself against the cold. “Why are you really out here? It’s cold....”
“You should go back inside. I’m sure you’re tired after the elephant incident” Vex’ahlia said quickly, her fingers halting their movement on the bow. The wood shifted again, relaxing with it’s ends curling in on themselves. “I’ll be in shortly. I just...feel better outside”
Keyleth touched her hand to Vex’ahlia’s shoulder, her face full of concern. “I’m not leaving you out here. Tell me what’s wrong. Please”
She sighed. Keyleth had always been full of compassion and empathy. She took every wounded feeling, every small offense, even if she’d had nothing to do with it, to heart. There was no limit to her concern and even if she left it that night, Vex had no doubt she’d try to continue it the moment she could.
“It’s...It’s a lot of things, Keyleth. I can’t explain” Vex shook her head, tossing her bread from off her shoulder to fall over her back. Her fingers gripped Fenthras, squeezing it tightly.
“Is it the bow?” Keyleth’s eyes fell to the weapon in her hands. “I know what he said bothered you. Vax told me some, and I can just tell. You were really shaken by it”
The truth of her friend’s statement shook her. Much as she knew it, she hadn’t been willing to face the idea that a rotting, husk of a fae who was lying dead in a swamp could shake her so thoroughly. “I...Keyleth.” Keyleth’s eyes met hers intently. “I just….everything. Saundor….Percy...Vax and the Raven Queen. It’s all so much in just a few weeks. Everytime I stop to catch my breath something else comes up. Vax and Pike and Scanlan got so close to the edge today. Percy died a few days ago, Keyleth. He’s just barely come back to us and we’ve already gone fighting another dragon! And Saundor...the bow. How am I supposed to face everything that comes at us when I haven’t even caught up to the present”
“I..I know what you mean. I wanted to wait and let Percy get his bearings and spend some time to relax while we could before running off to fight another dragon. Or make deals with another one” Keyleth sighed, Vex watched her breath escape her and curl around her face before dissipating into the cold air. “I could have died there with Ripley too, and so could you and Vax. I’d say Grog too but at this point I’m not convinced Grog can die to something that isn’t eating his soul”
“I could have lost my brother today. I could have lost him yesterday. And I could still lose him next week. I still have no clue what this stupid bow wants from me, and I don’t know how I’m supposed to ‘Grow and be a Protector’ when I can’t even figure out why Saundor wanted me in the first place. Or what he saw in me that could be twisted into his shadow.”
“Between the two of us we’ll protect Vax, I have no doubts” Keyleth breathed. “And I don’t want you to forget that you are nothing like Saundor.”
“Nothing?” Vex scoffed out loud, rolling her eyes. “I don’t see much of a difference.”
“Vex’ahlia” Keyleth’s voice was scolding, her face twisted into disbelief. “Saundor was cruel and awful and mean. He just wanted to hurt people, tear them apart, all because someone else harmed him. You are nothing like him. You’re beautiful and passionate and you’re so willing to let other people be happy over yourself. You may flirt and tease and coerce but people leave conversations with you feeling better about themselves than they ever have before. Saundor could never dream to be as wonderful as you are.” Her friend paused before continuing. “I watched you when Percy...when Percy died, Vex. I saw the pain, and how you didn’t want to leave him even though we were about to kill Ripley for him. You love him, more than anything, except maybe Vax. He’s made mistakes, he killed you, but you still love him unconditionally. Saundor could have never done that.”
The words were heavy, sinking into her skin as they were spoken. Vex felt uncomfortable again, awkward, something she rarely had to cope with. It wasn’t like her to be without words. “Thank you, Keyleth.” She hesitated before moving, standing up and brushing the snow off of her clothing. She slung Fenthras over her shoulder and straightened the quiver on her back. “I’m going to take a walk, I’ll be back in a few hours. You should go check on Vax and make sure he’s not dying of a hangover.”
“Vex, wait!” Keyleth said loudly. “I don’t think you should..”
“I’ll be fine Keyleth. We’ll talk later, don’t worry” She held a hand up as she stepped away.
The sun was just starting to show itself, peeking over the horizon. She figured she’d maybe hunt something for the hell of it, let Trinket run, plant a few more trees with the killing blow Fenthras would deliver; and then she’d return and go back to pretending everything was fine. The snow was thigh high in places, clinging to the very top of her boots as she slogged through it. It reminded her of Whitestone, way up in the mountains, the walk to it as they were preparing to face the briarwoods.
A blow to her back knocked the wind out of her, sending her sprawling forward in the snow. She twisted onto her back, just in time to see a large, white, tiger leap forward and onto her chest. Keyleth’s shift in form had been silent, more attuned and precise than before, possibly due to the staff she’d bonded with that night.
“Get off of me” Vex’ahlia hissed, wiggling her legs up between her in the cat. She shoved with every ounce of strength she had, sending Keyleth rolling off to the side. The tiger sprang up to her feet once again, getting low for a pounce. Vex got to her feet, the snow on her front melting with her body heat, soaking her clothes. She narrowed her eyes. “What was that for?”
A series of growls and purrs left the cat’s mouth, completely unintelligible. Keyleth remained in her low stance, tail swishing behind her.
“Oh for gods sake, Keyleth I can’t understand you like that” With a snap of her fingers and a soft spoken word a spell was cast. Vex’ahlia felt the familiar tremor in her ears as they attuned with magic. “What is wrong with you” She hissed in her new voice.
Keyleth didn’t respond, just jumped forward. She slammed into Vex’s chest, sending them both tumbling back into the snow. Vex’ahlia gave a shrill screech as the coldness raced up her spine again. “You’ll pay for that” she grabbed a handful of snow, smashing it against the tiger’s nose. Keyleth sputtered, hissing as she stepped back, sneezing as she tried to shake the snow from her face.
“That was a good shot” She’d never get used to being able to understand Keyleth’s normal babbling nonsense coming from some animal or another. Her druid friend stepped back, using her new paw to swipe upwards, sending snow spraying across Vex. “You’re so insufferable when you’re moody. We already have a Vax, we don’t need another one”
“I take offense to that considering you’re the one dating him” Vex packed more snow in her hand, hurling it forward. It smashed against Keyleth’s back as she ducked, earning another shake and a low growl of annoyance. “Don’t dish out what you can’t take, Keyleth” The tiger in front of her laughed loudly, lowering herself for a challenge once again.
“You’re going to regret this” Vex took another handful of snow.
She threw it quickly, but Keyleth saw it and ducked. The snowball went sailing over her head, narrowly missing her head and spiraling toward the magical door behind her.
“What in the name of- KEYLETH” The two of them watched in horror Kima frothed, reeling back from the now opened door and wiping a slushy mess of snow and earth out of her face. The woman furiously clenched her fists, stomping outside the door she’d thrown open. She left it hanging as she went. “JUST YOU WAIT TILL I GET MY HANDS ON YOU”
A new snowball hit Keyleth square in the jaw as the halfling threw it. She reverted back to her half-elf self, shaking snow from her hair with a gleeful laugh. Vex smiled despite herself as their smaller friend went charging after Keyleth, sending the druid into a laughing fit as she was pelted with more snow.
“Don’t think you’re escaping either!” Vex’ahlia had just enough time to duck as Kima threw a snowball her way, just barely missing the top of her head as she danced away.
She scooped her own snowball into her hand, tossing it in the paladin’s direction as she ran toward the door. “Hold on, hold on!” Vex laughed, pulling the crystal necklace from her shirt and tapping it twice. The familiar magic escaped, depositing a grumpy grizzly bear onto the ground before her. Kima’s next snowball missed, hitting Trinket as he grumbled loudly.
“Oh you’ll pay for that” Vex smiled, giving Trinket a pat on the head. The bear licked her hand, shaking the snow off of his shoulder. “Go get her Trinket. Show her who’s boss”
Trinket took off, bounding toward Kima and Keyleth and throwing snow in his wake. Vex laughed again, high and loud as he reached them, bowling the two of them over and sending Keyleth sprawling in the snow once more. Kima took the brunt of the hit, but stayed strong, wrestling him as he attempted to paw snow in her direction.
“When Kima said she was going to find the two of you, this isn’t exactly what I expected” Vex’s attention was turned toward the door, finding Percy and Vax standing there with Grog behind him, a gnome perched on each shoulder. Amusement danced across Percy’s face as he took in the sight before him. She was suddenly very aware of the state she was in, hair coming loose from it’s braid, cheeks flushed and red, soaked to the bone and covered in ice and snow. A snowball hit her in the chest, distracting her from the heat that had risen to her face
“What’s the matter, Stumpy? Cat got your tongue” Vax was kneeling near the door, rolling another snowball in his hand.
“I’m going to get you for that” Vex’ahlia grinned, ducking out of the way of her brother’s next shot. “You’re going to regret being born when I’m finished with you”
“I look forward to it” Vax smiled back, tossing another snowball in her direction before turning and running off in the direction of Keyleth. She let him go, watching the redhead turn and greet him happily as she tried to avoid the tangle of fur and limbs that was Kima and Trinket.
“Ah what the hell” Scanlan shrugged. He hummed a tune, his fingers drawing a symbol in the air.The familiar purple energy formed in front of him, collecting into the large mage hand they knew so well. “Grog, want to see how big of a snowball we can make to throw at Vax?”
“Hell yeah!” Grog set both gnomes on the ground, happily beginning to gather snow for their project. Pike joined in, rubbing her hands together in anticipation.
Suddenly she shivered as snow fell against the back of her neck and shoulders, sending a chilled down her spine. She turned, snowball in hand, only to find Percy next to her. “I haven’t seen you smile like this in a long time.”
“I haven’t had a reason to smile in a long time,” She answered quietly. “With all the dragons and assassins and potential death..” Her voice faltered as she remembered his body, leaning limply against that petrified tree. “I don’t..”
“It’s alright” His hand met her shoulder, squeezing it lightly. “It’s lovely. You should find more reasons”
“Yeah, I should” She took the opportunity to smash the snowball against him, running away just as soon as she’d pressed it. Vex’ahlia laughed as Percy protested behind her, dodging off to join her brother and Keyleth in the bulk of the fight.
This was home. And this was right where she wanted to be.