As the circus made its way closer to the edge of the Dwendalian Empire, Gustav made an excuse to break off from the group for a few days.
It had been over a decade since he first left Shady Creek Run. It was a despicable place, one he had hoped to never see again if he could help it, but as the Quannah Breach grew closer, he found himself inexplicably drawn to return.
Well, not quite inexplicably, per se. He did have some things he needed to do that he had been putting off for quite some time.
“Go on to Nogvurot without me,” he told the group as they finished packing up their camp. “I have a few things that need taking care of, and I will meet you there soon enough.”
So he packed a few days’ worth of supplies, saddled up Winter’s Crest, and headed north.
The beginning of the ride was uneventful. It was nearing the beginning of winter and the air held a chill to it, but there was no sign of snow yet. He slowed at the gates to the empire, paid off the guards, and continued on his way, hoping the latter part of the journey would be as unremarkable as the former.
His hopes were dashed when, in the gray light directly after sunset that even with darkvision was hard to see in, his horse nearly trampled someone.
He quickly pulled Winter’s Crest to a stop and hopped down to the dirt road.
“Are you alright there?” he asked as he jogged back. “My apologies, I nearly ran you over.”
The figure in the road did not respond, or even make any effort to move.
Gustav crouched down to the ground next to them. “Do you need any assistance? I’m terribly sorry that I almost hit you—“ But as he got closer to the tiefling—he was now close enough to tell it was a tiefling, and a rather young one at that—he could tell something was off.
The tiefling was breathing quickly, nearly hyperventilating. Eyes screwed shut, hoarsely muttering one word over and over: “Empty.”
Gustav sighed. “I sincerely hope you really do need my help and that I’m not about to accidentally kidnap you.” He gently nudged the tiefling up, grabbing them by the wrist—their hands were bloodied and coated in viscous mud, so it was perhaps best not to touch them.
He helped them onto Winter’s Crest in front of him and guided the horse back south. “I suppose I’ll be saving the Run for another time, since you seem to need me more than they do,” he sighed. “Ornna will probably not be happy with me about this.”
It’s another two and a half years before Gustav Fletching is anywhere near Shady Creek Run again. It has been a few months since the Mighty Nein paid the debt he had been hiding from, and, well, there is another debt that he has been hiding from for even longer.
As he passes by Nogvurot, he thinks back to the last time he was this far north. Back when he found Mollymauk Tealeaf, before he was Mollymauk Tealeaf.
The world truly is missing out on a magnificent individual, he thinks. The Moonweaver should be grateful to have him.
This far north, there is still a layer of snow on the ground, even in the early spring. He almost doesn’t notice the ever recognizable coat lying a dozen or so yards off the side of the road, half covered in white.
He slows the horse that he rented back in Trostenwald before he left. So this is where it happened.
He hops down, boots sinking slightly into the damp road. As he gets closer, he notices something especially peculiar: growing out of the snow is a decently-sized patch of wildflowers.
With his gaze locked on the brightly colored flora, he almost doesn’t notice the coat shift slightly.
He jumps back with a strangled yelp. “Is someone—is someone there?”
There is no response, so he inches closer.
“If someone is hiding under this coat, I can perhaps help you acquire another one. But this one is rather special to me, as is this… site. So if you could perhaps…” He trails off as two hands, scraped raw and caked with dirt, push clumsily upwards off the frozen ground, revealing a figure as the fabric falls back.
Gustav’s mouth falls open. “Molly?”
Mollymauk Tealeaf grins hysterically, teeth chattering and entire body shaking in the cold. “G-Gustav. I am... I am so glad to see you.”