The Mighty Nein were being haunted. And it took them far to long to work it out.
Prologue: Mollymauk Tealeaf.
Mollymauk chokes on his own blood, pain firing through every part of him as he sees the terrible grin of Lorenzo go dark above him. Everything goes dark and there is so much pain and fear and anger and who will protect the Nein now…
And then light.
Blinding, all encompassing light.
As the light fades slightly, Mollymauk finds himself nude, lying on his back in some form of void space.
“I’m really very sorry about all this,” comes a soft, gentle voice a few feet away and Molly pushes himself upright. Sat on what appears to be a small dark stone, is a half-elven man. He has long dark hair, with beads braided into it and his face is so sad. But either side of his lithe body are two, huge black feathered wings.
“Who-?” Mollymauk manages to choke out as the man looks over at him, eyes soft.
“I’m just here to make this whole process easier. You can call me Vax,” he replies, seemingly unconcerned about Mollymauk’s nudity.
“Where am I?” Molly gets up, looking around at the space which seems empty aside from him and Vax.
“It’s a little difficult to explain. We’re in a kind of void space between the land of the living and the planes beyond where the gods and souls live. It’s an odd place.”
“I’m… I’m really gone this time, huh?” Mollymauk runs his hands down his chest, remembering where Lorenzo had thrust his glaive into his chest.
“I’m afraid so, Mollymauk Tealeaf.”
“My friends, are they, I have to go back, they need me, are they okay?” Vax gives a little smile and waves a hand lazily.
“See for yourself.” Mollymauk turns around and there, oddly distant as though he was looking at the scene through a veil, are his friends. The slavers are gone, and they are stood around something which Molly realises with a jolt is his own body. Beauregard is crying. Caleb is writing something, his hand shaking as he scribbles something on parchment. Nott and Keg are drinking from Nott’s flask. Mollymauk suddenly feels very cold and exposed. The moment he thinks his, he is clothed again, in a similar style to his own from the road. Vax comes over, stretching one large wing around the tiefling.
“They will go on without you. But they will never forget you, Mollymauk Tealeaf.”
“How, how can you know that?” Molly is not happy to hear the crack in his own voice.
“Because I was part of a group like this once. And I had to leave, but they never forgot me.” Vax sounds so mournful that Mollymauk turns to him and he can see the longing and the lost written into the ageless face of the winged half-elf.
“It’s okay, I had made my decision. And I wouldn’t change any of it for the world. Oh, I was so lucky to know them all.” They both watch quietly as Caleb digs a grave for Mollymauk using his magic, his hands, which are usually so steady when casting, shaking.
“Who will look after them now I’m gone?” Molly asks, not really to Vax but he’s the one who answers.
“They will look after each other. I am sure they are capable of it.”
“Could… could you watch over them? Especially Yasha, she has lost far too much already. Please. Please, Vax,” asks the tiefling quietly, watching his own limp body being lowered into the shallow grave. There is a silence, then a sigh that sounds like the rustling of feathers.
“I suppose I could stay a little closer than I have been. Besides… they remind me of those I have lost. I’d like to hold on to that. But I’m making no promises, Mollymauk. I don’t really want to get in trouble with the Matron of Ravens. Speaking of,” Vax sighs as the grave is closed and he gently takes Mollymauk’s arm. “We should be going. You have to move on.”
Molly lingers for just a moment longer, just to watch his coat be left on its stick as a grave marker before he lets the winged half-elf lead him back into the blinding light.
“Look after them, please…” says Mollymauk Tealeaf as he passes over. His final wish.
Stood in the void space, Vax’ildan, Champion of the Raven Queen, curses quietly.
“Well, fuck.” He really was too soft.
One: Jester Lavorre.
After she is rescued, Jester is quieter than usual. The rest of the Mighty Nein don’t say anything. They’re all just as quiet, regret and fear still settled in their minds. Caleb’s new spell bubble is nice, and she even gives him a little laugh as he pulls her inside, playful in a way he only gets when he has managed to work out a complex spell. But she doesn’t stay inside the bubble long, slipping outside when the others settle down to sleep.
She sits close to the bubble, away from Beau and Keg getting thoroughly acquainted with each other and flips open her notebook.
There is a long moment of silence as she stares at the page.
Then, in a shaking hand, she writes why didn’t you come? and watches as a tear mars the fresh ink.
And then, just as she’s about to close her book, another message is scrawled under her own, in ink as black as night.
Gods have a strange way of working, Jester Lavorre. Do not blame him. She pauses, sniffling before she scribbles another message out.
You’re not him. Go away! But the mysterious presence doesn’t go away.
I am not your god, no. But I am here to listen. Tell me about your sorrows. And underneath, the words are almost signed with a small scribbled drawing of a black feather. Jester huffs unhappily at the idea, but she writes, more to spite this being than anything.
I got kidnapped. And my god didn’t help save me. And my friend is dead. Her quill nib snaps suddenly as she writes the last word, her hands trembling far too much to hold it steady. She curses quietly in Infernal and as she does, the nib mends itself and the word
Language appears on the page. Then the words continue. I am sorry for your loss. It is always hard to lose a friend. And he was such a bright friend, Mollymauk Tealeaf. As for the other things, your other friends are there to help. Let them in. Jester stares at the words for a long moment.
Who are you? she demands. How do you know who I am, who Molly is? And she swears for a moment, she can hear a soft laugh beside her, but she turns, and no one is there.
My name is Vax’ildan. I was an adventurer like you once. But now, I am, ah, how to put this… The so-named Vax’ildan goes quiet for a long moment. In charge of ushering souls on to the other side. I know who everyone is. I escorted Mollymauk over recently and he made me promise to look after you lot. Jester doesn’t want to believe this stranger who writes invisibly in her book, with ink so black it looks like light has forgotten to shine where they write. But she can’t help it.
He did? I wish I could have saved him.
I am sorry you could not. The death of a friend is a hard thing to accept.
I am strong enough to save him. The Traveller would have helped. Jester scrawls, indignant with this Vax’ildan.
I know, child. I know. I have seen and been on the end of some of those resurrections. I am sorry you were not there to help. Jester mellows at this response, gentle and reassuring. There is a soft, feathered pressure on her shoulder, and she turns, expecting to see something, but nothing is there. I am sorry, should I move? appears on the page at her startling and she smiles a little.
No, it is okay. Thank you for being here. I don’t think I want to talk to my friends just yet. They are sad too.
Well, I can listen instead. I might be a bit rusty; it has been about 25 years since I have had a proper conversation.
Really?! Why? There is a chuckle right next to her ear at that, sad but playful.
25 years ago, I stopped being an adventurer and became what I am now. It is lonelier. But we are not talking about me, Jester Lavorre. We are talking about you.
I suppose. I don’t have much to say. I am sad that Mollymauk is gone but also, I feel betrayed because He didn’t come to save me.
Do not doubt his care for you, Jester. Gods cannot always intervene when they want to. It is the nature of gods.
He was always there for me…
And he still is, insists Vax’ildan. You just have to keep your faith. Jester huffs a little at that.
Easy for you to say. She sniffles, a drop of ink falling on the page.
Let me tell you a story, replies her companion. Once, I had no faith. Then, I gave myself to the Raven Queen to save my family. And I didn’t trust her at all. But she helped me. She guided me. And in the end, I went willingly to her side, leaving a family whom I adored behind. But through all of that, there were times when she wasn’t there, and I had to struggle and strive for myself. But she never abandoned me. And The Traveller has not abandoned you; you just have to trust that he will guide you. Jester doesn’t respond for a little while, staring at the page.
Thank you. I am sorry you lost your family. I will try to keep faith. There is a faint chuckle in her ear and then, scrawling on the page.
No need to thank me. Now, you should go get some rest, Jester Lavorre. You have been through quite an ordeal.
Yes, thank you. Goodnight, Vax’ildan.
Goodnight Jester. And next to the last message, there is a soft sketch of a raven’s feather as the warm presence beside her moves away. Jester smiles, closes her notebook and shuffles back inside the bubble to rest.
Two: Nott The Brave.
Nott has the Itch. They’re back in Zadash after completing the job for the Gentleman which cost them Mollymauk and almost cost them Jester, Fjord and Yasha. And whilst she doesn’t like Fjord or Yasha much, she likes Jester. And she could have liked Molly.
But now, she’s sneaking around in Zadash again, away from where the rest of the Mighty Nein are staying in the Leaky Tap. She had told Caleb where she was going and slipped out of the window.
And now, she’s down in an alley by the Pentamarket. Always an excellent spot for a spot of thievery, but only from grumpy people. And as she remains hidden, a scowling merchant cuts sharply into the alley and Nott smiles. Perfect. She sidles up and slips her hand into his pocket, flicking out a little knife to cut loose his coin purse. She’s so quick, until she isn’t.
The merchant grabs her hand and yanks her off her feet, fetid breath in her face.
“What do we have here? A little thief-a goblin!” He spits and Nott struggles, hissing angrily at him.
“Let me go, let me go!”
“Well, I could take you to a Crownsguard but I think I’d much prefer to deal with such a foul beast myself,” growls the merchant, reaching down for his own dagger. And as he is about to thrust at Nott, there is a loud thwump and the merchant howls. There is a ghostly knife embedded in his hand, making him drop Nott. Then, seconds later, there is another thwump and another ethereal dagger appears in his shoulder. The merchant goes to cry out but his face drains of colour as a sourceless voice hisses,
“Stay quiet and run away or I’ll have to introduce you to the Raven Queen, Rabiam Forans. Go on now.” The merchant scrambled away and Nott spins around, looking everywhere for her saviour. There is a clink on the floor, and she turns to see the merchant’s coin purse.
“Be careful now, young Nott. Don’t go getting caught again, or I’ll start getting into trouble for causing a scene,” murmurs the voice in her ear, playful and silky smooth.
“Who, what?!” she squeaks, earning a faint laugh from the entity.
“Just a helping hand. Promised a friend of yours I’d keep an eye on your little band.” Well, that didn’t answer anything at all. Cautiously, Nott checks the coin purse for traps before taking it.
“Are you a ghost?”
“Not so much, more of a guardian.” And for a brief second, Nott can see an image of a half-elf in front of her, see-through and colourless, but with huge black wings and a playful smile. “Just here to help. Now, go on, Nott. Back to your friends. And if you could not tell them about this, that would be great. I’m trying not to get into trouble.”
“At least tell me your name. After all you know mine.” There a faint laugh which appears to echo around the area.
“I’m Vax. And once, I was a sneaky little bugger like you. Us rogues have to look out for each other.” Nott cracks a little smile, pulling her hood over her head.
“Well, thank you, Vax.”
“You’re very welcome.” There is a rustle and Nott touches her bandages behind her ear to find a single black raven’s feather. She gives a little smile before sneaking back to the tavern. As she climbs back in the window and Caleb looks up from his book.
“Ah, schatz. Anything interesting?” She reaches up to stroke the raven’s feather with a small smile but just shrugs in answer.
Three: Yasha Nydoorin.
Yasha spends time away from the Mighty Nein after Mollymauk’s death. She can’t deal with being there, with being in the group that her best friend had convinced her to join. So, she roams, chasing storms, eating whatever she can find, living by her sword.
But she also collects lots of flowers.
One night, she is sitting under a large tree, using the overhang as shelter as unrelenting rain trickles down, flicking quietly through her book. She pauses, staring at a bright purple flower with red dashes she had picked a few days ago and sighs, her thoughts on Mollymauk. Beside it, there is a black feather and she frowns. She hadn’t put that there. Holding it up, Yasha takes a moment to inspect it. Likely a raven feather, but how had it got into her book? There is a soft sigh beside her and on instinct, Yasha stands, sword in her pointing at… nothing. No one is there.
“Put that down, Yasha Nydoorin, I will not hurt you. And you can’t hurt me,” says a slightly cross voice in her ear and she whirls around, but there is still nothing there. “Oh, honestly.” And for a second, she can see a somewhat see-through humanoid in front of her. He is lightly glowing, and ethereal in the way Yasha had always expected ghosts to look. This half-elf, for those slightly pointed ears give that away, has his arms folded and one brow crooked. But then the vision is gone, and he speaks again,
“I’m really just here to listen. Mollymauk made me promise to look after you especially. Well, the rest of your little group too but especially you.”
“Molly-Mollymauk?” Yasha asks, not surprised to hear her voice crack on his name.
“Yes,” says the half-elf, sounding tired but not upset. “He was very concerned about you as I guided him over to the other side. Said that you would deal badly with his passing. Which, considering your fleeing from the rest of the group, I would agree.”
“I, just, I miss him,” she admits, sliding back down against the tree. There is a gentle sigh and Yasha feels a gentle brush against her, like a being that wasn’t quite there.
“I understand that. Losing your family can be very difficult,” replies the voice quietly. “But you still have friends, Yasha Nydoorin. They do not abandon you, even if you have left them.”
“You know my name,” she says, ignoring the other statements.
“I do,” murmurs the half-elf. “I know all of the names you have, Orphan-Maker. And those of yours friends. And those of every person on this land, if I think about it. It is something I have the knowledge of, because of my, hmm, being, I suppose?”
“Who are you? What are you?” Yasha asks, not angry, but quietly interested.
“My name is Vax’ildan. I am, hmm, I was, am? the Champion of the Raven Queen. I guide souls to the afterlife, these days. But we are not here to talk about me. We’re here to talk about you. You have lost so much, young Yasha. Your mate?” Yasha goes very tense at the mention of Zuala but sighs a little.
“Zuala. I miss her very much. I collect flowers for her.”
“She misses you,” says Vax’ildan, quietly. Yasha turns immediately to where his voice comes from.
“You have met her?”
“Yes. I guided her to the other side. I still visit occasionally when I can. She talks about you with such reverence. But, my dear Yasha, she wants you to be happy. And move on. And not deny yourself.” Yasha can feel the tears in her eyes and though she cannot see the half-elf to read his expression, she can hear the truth in his voice. She finds herself believing him.
“I do not know if I can be happy. It, ah, not after everything,” she murmurs, sadly. There is a soft, reassuring touch on her shoulder.
“I do not think you should discount the little part of happiness you have found in your little group of friends. Even if Mollymauk and Zuala are more on my side of the veil as it were,” replies the half-elf, his voice soft. “You still have friends.” Yasha sighs heavily.
“Do you think I should I return to them?” she asks, softly.
“Not if you’re not ready. But you should soon. Let them help.” She pauses, looking down at her book, flicking through her notebook and looking over the flowers. The raven’s feather is still there.
“Maybe I will return in time. But for now, I think I want to be alone.”
“That is understandable. I will continue to look over you, as well as the others. It is important to me. I promised Mollymauk.” Gently, there is a cold touch on her shoulder. “Rest now, Yasha Nydoorin. I shall make sure you are safe.” Yasha feels so tired and as Vax’ildan speaks, she feels sleep overtake her, comfortable in the knowledge that she will be safe.
When she wakes, it’s the best sleep she has ever had. And she is covered in a quilt of warm, protective, black raven feathers.
Four: Beauregard Lionett.
Beau really has enjoyed being on the sea for the most part. And she has enjoyed getting to know Fjord a little better. Second mate, she likes that a lot.
It has been an odd journey, from where she was and as she stands at the prow of the ship, keeping watch on the now intriguingly named ‘Ball-Eater’, she thinks. It is late at night, but that is her job as second mate. She has to watch the ship as Fjord sleeps. She is exhausted really and feeling uncommonly prone to reminiscing. It’s not something she has made a habit of.
Mollymauk would have enjoyed being a pirate, she thinks absently and that hurts. It’s sudden and crushing and it hurts.
It’s not like she hasn’t thought about Molly. She has. That idiot had always been there, just invading her mind ever so slightly and it was frustrating. She sighs, stood alone on the deck of the ship, with no one there to see her moment of vulnerability. Well, except for Owl Frumpkin, who is not Caleb at the moment, because his eyes are not weirdly glowing.
She reaches into her pocket and slowly draws out the deck of tarot cards that she had taken from Mollymauk’s body. Beau doesn’t know anything about tarot, but just looking at the cards, she feels an odd sense of comfort. She turns each one over and is surprised as the Hanged Man and the Death card are different. As she pulls them out, there is a single black raven’s feather with them.
“Huh,” Beau grunts to herself. “How’d that get there?” But really, it is just a statement to avoid the pain she is feeling, to avoid the heartache in her chest. A flicker of movement in periphery catches her attention and she looks over the horizon, but nothing is there. When she looks back down at the cards, there is a note on the Death card. It reads, in silvery-grey ink.
He would have been surprised to see you grieve, Beauregard Lionett. She drops the card, her eyes wide and shocked as the ink slowly dissipates.
“What the actual fuck.” There is a sound, like laughter from far away beside her and Beau watches as a new note appears on the card of the Hanged Man.
I’m not very good at not startling you lot, am I? Apologies for that. Communication with the living can be, ah, complicated.
Beau pauses for a very long second before saying,
“Are these fucking cards haunted?” There is that sound again, far away laughter and the note on the card vanishes, replaced by a new one.
Not the cards, no. I guess you could consider the group to be haunted but seeing as I am not in fact a ghost, that isn’t accurate either.
“What are you then, invisible? Come here, you dick!” Beau takes a wide swing around her with her quarterstaff, scowling. She doesn’t look back at the cards for a response and after a few wild swings, there is a sigh.
“Sort of invisible. You just can’t see me, but not because I’m attempting to be invisible,” replies a voice. It is smooth and yet tired. “Would you stop that with your quarterstaff, you will actually hit someone who is not me.” Beau drops her staff in surprise.
“Who the fuck are you and why are you here?”
“I’m just a guardian. I had come here to help you with grieving,” says the voice huffily. It’s a male voice, Beau thinks, with a gentle accent that could be from Tal’Dorei. “But I shall go away if I am not wanted.” For the first time in a while, she feels a little guilty for her brash response.
“Ah, no, sorry. I’m. I’m not good at people. I don’t want you to go away. You just surprised me, being a disembodied voice and all.”
“I can show you what I looked like for a second if you like. I don’t have a form as much anymore.” And for a split-second, she sees the form, the raven winged half-elf. “I’m a bit odd as a being,” he admits. Beau sighs and leans down to pick up the card.
“Death, really? With wings like those? A bit on the nose, don’t you think?” He gives a soft chuckle.
“Yes, I suppose so. But I also presumed you would look at that card, so it was easy.” Beau gives a slight shrug. Well, he wasn’t wrong.
“What, what did mean ‘he would be surprised’?” Beau asks after a moment of awkward silence.
“Mollymauk? He didn’t think you would be upset. I don’t think he thought that anyone but Yasha would have been upset. Which is fairly stupid if you ask me,” replies the half-elf, sounding exasperated.
“He didn’t think we cared.”
“Oh, I made sure to tell him you did. He needs to know that. And I’ll likely tell him about this conversation.” Beau scowls.
“Damn it, I don’t want to seem weak,” she says, but there is no fire to it.
“Oh, you never could, Beauregard. You would sort someone out before they could ever think that,” he replies with a soft laugh. “Quick note of advice, keep an eye on your friends. They are more fragile than you think.” The half-elf sounds sad, as though he has seen his friends go through similar things.
“How… I mean, I know that. But thanks for the note, I guess?”
“There are difficult things ahead,” warns the half-elf as Beau looks out over a growing storm across the bow. “You need to be careful, Beauregard Lionett.” With a frown, she nods.
“I will try. I, I should go wake Fjord, this storm looks like a bad one.” There is a gentle touch on her shoulder, careful.
“Be careful, Beau. And do not be afraid to mourn. Mollymauk misses you too.” Beau turns to give the half-elf a sassy retort, but it dies in her throat. Of course, she missed Mollymauk. And as she looks down at the cards in her hands, there is one last note, in silvery-grey, spiralling writing.
Trust them with your weakness. They will help.
And there is a raven’s feather on the deck of the ship, inches away from her.
Five: Caleb Widogast.
Caleb feels sick and exhausted. Fighting this huge beast from the Abyssal plane has certainly been uncomfortable, especially considering that he just keeps getting hit and dropping to unconsciousness. The second time it happens, he hears a huffy voice in the darkness beside him.
“Honestly, Widogast, make up your damn mind. Either come and join me or don’t.”
“Hello?” Caleb calls, unable to see through the darkness and he is absolutely sure that he was alone. It’s his own head after all, right? “Who is there? How are you here?”
“You’re on the brink between life and death, Caleb Widogast. Which allows me to be here,” says the disembodied voice again as it slowly gains a form. Caleb watches as the void space curls around a form which becomes a humanoid, arms folded, large wings outstretched either side of his seated form. “Honestly, this is the second time you’ve been knocked unconscious in less than 30 seconds,” accuses the winged half-elf. “Look after the Mighty Nein, they said. It’ll be fine, they said. They won’t keep DYING, they said.” Caleb blinks at the dry tone that this being has.
“I’m sorry, who are you?” The half elf waves a hand, scowling.
“Just a guardian. Name’s Vax. But you are doing terribly at deciding whether or not you are coming to over to the other planes. I am here to guide the dead across, and you keep dropping, but not quite dying.”
“Sorry?” tries Caleb but before Vax can say anything else, there is a warm wash of healing magic through his chest and he is conscious again. Jester is staring down at him.
“Come on, Caleb, we need you!” she squeaks, moving to help him up. And he barely makes it a few more seconds before the fiend slams into him again and he collapses, darkness filling his head once more.
It’s fairly tiresome.
Vax is there again, and he looks frustrated but pitying as well.
“Back again so soon, Widogast? Are you going to stay this time? Not that I really want you to, but I don’t have much say in that.” Caleb manages a faint groan.
“Would prefer not to die, all things considered. Still got friends out there who need my help,” he says weakly. Everything hurts, all over. Vax’s face softens and he sighs.
“Oh, I remember that feeling. I hope you can go back to them. There isn’t much I can do aside from support you through the movement through the veil. I’d get into lots of trouble. But you lot seem to be fairly good at that. Honestly, I’ve had to help most of you out at this point.” The half-elf doesn’t sound angry; he sounds sad more than anything.
“The others?” Caleb asks, holding his pounded head in this odd void space.
“Yes. I have been there to try and care for them as much as possible. Helping Yasha with her grieving, Jester with her faith, Nott with her theft, Beau with her gruffness and well. I guided Mollymauk onwards.” Caleb blinks.
“That, that day in Zadash, when she got the raven’s feather. That was you?”
“Yes. You remember that? Wow.”
“Perfect memory,” grumbles Caleb, not bothering to move from the position he is laid out in.
“Yes, I gave her that. Got her out of a spot of trouble, but very nearly got myself into a lot of it. I’m not really meant to interfere as it were,” says Vax sheepishly, giving a shrug. “I’m really bad at obeying that particular order too.” Caleb blinks, a little thrown by how honest and almost playful this being is.
“Why?” is all he can think to say. The half-elf looks confused.
“Why? Why do I help? Oh… Well, I was asked to, by Mollymauk. And I like helping.” Vax smiles and Caleb feels the void begin to slip as he starts to regain consciousness. Vax apparently also feels it too as his smile grows. “Excellent. Stay alive now, Caleb. You hear me? Stay alive.”
“Thank you,” Caleb manages to gasp out as he opens his eyes. The battle is still raging around him and he grunts in pain. It’s not over yet.
Fjord is dreaming again. The dreams have been so much worse since they have been in Xhorhas, with creepy patron very unhappy at not being freed from its bonds. It had been difficult to drift off tonight in the Xhorhaus and even as he does manage it, he feels like he is drowning. The dream starts the same as usual. Drowing, drowning… And then as he inhales, he can breathe the water. But then the huge, unblinking, all-encompassing eye of Uk’otoa appears and Fjord trembles.
Just as the darkness surrounds him and Fjord can feel the serpentine body crushing him, something changes. Suddenly, the darkness is not water but feathers and the dream changes. The void space becomes comforting and warm in its darkness.
“I can’t hold this for very long, Fjord, but hopefully it will help you sleep better for the rest of the night,” gasps out a strained voice into the swirl of black feathers. Fjord frowns, looking desperately around for its source, but seeing nothing.
“Hello?” he calls, his voice breaking in worry.
“I’m sorry, can’t appear right now, too busy trying to get a giant fuck-off sea serpent godling to stay out of your head,” replies the voice, grunting with exertion. “Gods, I’m definitely going to get into trouble for this one. Honestly, the things I have done for you, Mighty Nein.” Fjord tries not to panic. This being is clearly trying to help by not allowing his very grumpy patron to not let him sleep, but it is somewhat odd to be in a void space, talking to a disembodied voice.
“Thank you?” he tries weakly and there is a laugh from the being.
“You’re welcome. I hope you can, ah thank fuck…” There is a heavy exhale and all the feathers appear to settle, revealing a half-elf. He looks exhausted, sweeping long black hair out of his eyes. “He’s given up for now.” Fjord blinks, as the half-elf straightens up and gives him a crooked smile. “Honestly, Fjord. Couldn’t you have easier issues for me to try to deal with? Preventing dream incursions is really not my specialty. Wasn’t even aware I could do it.” Fjord almost asks how the half-elf knows his name, but this is his dream so, he supposes anyone who could get in probably knows a lot more than he does about magic and things.
“Sorry?” he tries, blinking over at the half-elf, who chuckles.
“I’m messing with you. It’s fine. I could have just, not have gotten involved so don’t worry. Completely my choice. You do look worse for wear though, how long has fuck-off serpent back there made it difficult for you to sleep?”
“Since we got to Xhorhas?” responds Fjord, far too confused by this turn of events to actually ask who or what this being is.
“Ah… I’m sorry about that. As I said, really not my specialty. But I shall try and keep him out from now on, if you want? At least help you to sleep.”
“Ah, I would appreciate that?” The half-elf nods and sighs a little.
“Don’t go telling anyone alright?” he says. “I’m already in enough trouble after the stunt I pulled in Zadash.” Fjord is about to ask who the fuck he is, what stunt did he pull in Zadash, how the hell did he get here?! When there is a familiar voice in the back of his head:
And the half-elf curses. “Fucking, damned by all the gods beyond the Divine Gate, unearthly serpent!” And the feather storm kicks back up again as the half-elf holds out his hands, trying to prevent Uk’otoa from getting back into his mind. “Go, sleep, Fjord of the Mighty Nein. I’ll make sure you sleep calmly. Go, now!” And Fjord is thrust out of sleep, gasping. He is quiet for a long second as he lies there in his bed.
“Well shit…” Slowly, the half-orc rolls on to his side and is surprised to find that sleep comes much easier this time and is completely peaceful and uninterrupted.
Seven: Caduceus Clay.
Caduceus had known since he met the Mighty Nein that they were being haunted. He had a sense for these sorts of things. At first, he had thought it was the spirit of their recently departed friend Mollymauk, but that was ruled out when they went to his grave and he couldn’t feel any presence. It is odd, Caduceus muses. The presence is not permanently there, like it is focused on the small group. It appears and disappears, sometimes stronger around one member of the Nein than others, but it doesn’t often remain for a significant period of time.
Also, oddly, the presence does not feel ominous, or dangerous. So, mainly, Caduceus lets it be. Every now and again, he’ll catch movement out of the corner of his eye or find a different member of the group with some odd raven-based iconography from nowhere. But he never catches a good look at the thing haunting them until they were travelling through the Barbed Fields. He takes watch by himself, his observant nature a great asset to them in this dangerous place.
That’s when he meets the spirit. The group are sleeping under Leomund’s Tiny Hut and Caduceus is sat awake with a cup of tea when he catches the shift out of the corner of his eye and on instinct casts Eyes of the Grave. He had been expecting some terrible undead creature creeping around the outside of the hut, but instead his spell reveals the ghostly form of a half-elf, sat opposite from him across the fire. The half-elf startles as Caduceus looks right at him.
“Oh shit, you can see me,” he blurts out and Caduceus tilts his head. It’s odd. The half-elf is not alive, but he is not undead either. He is an odd mixture between the two.
“I can. What are you? You’re not alive. But you’re not undead.” The half-elf snorts.
“I’m the guide, sort of, between the boundaries of life and death. I suppose you, Cleric of the Grave, would be aware of these kinds of things. I am the Champion of the Raven Queen. Or I was? It’s a little unsure these days.” Now, Caduceus is not a well-learned man, but he does understand religion and The Matron of Ravens lies in the same areas as the Wildmother. He trusts this odd, spirit-like being if he is related to Her.
“Hello,” Caduceus says warmly. “Would you like some tea? And what’s your name? It feels awfully rude to refer to you as ‘the being’ in my mind.” Said being blinks several times.
“Ah, ah, I’m Vax? Vax’ildan. Vax for short. I’m not sure I can drink the tea? Interacting with things on the material plane can be tricky,” he explains and there is such sadness behind his eyes and in the way he holds himself that Caduceus frowns.
“Well, let’s try,” Caduceus rumbles, being to brew another pot of tea for his new friend. “You’ve been following us a little while, haven’t you?” Vax gives a soft laugh.
“Yes. I’m surprised you didn’t try to banish me or something before.”
“You were not dangerous and often not around for very long. I was happy to let you be,” replies the firbolg as he pulls out leaves for the tea.
“Thank you. I made a promise to watch over you,” replies Vax solemnly.
“To Mister Tealeaf?” The half-elf nods, drawing his large raven wings around himself.
“Yes. But also, I wanted to do it… You, ah, you remind me of what I have lost,” he says, his voice barely a whisper. Caduceus leans over the fire to pass his companion the tea and his hands clench around the cup. “Oh… I can hold it.” A single tear trails down the face of the half-elf and Caduceus holds his gaze gently. Vax’ildan gives a wet laugh, not bothering to wipe away the tear as he speaks. “You know, the last time I had tea was nearly 30 years ago.” He takes a sip of the tea.
“You have an expression of such loss, Mister Vax’ildan,” is all Caduceus says, but he knows that his calming demeanour will help the other open up.
“I lost my family,” chokes out the half-elf, clutching at his mug, which is odd considering his somewhat ethereal form. Caduceus melts a little and moves around the fire to sit next to the spirit. He reaches out, unsure whether or not he will be able to touch Vax, but he is surprised to find there is a solid nature to his form. Immediately, the cleric gently embraces the other, holding him gently as Vax sips his tea, almost compulsively.
“Tell me about them?” asks Caduceus gently. And so Vax’ildan does. He tells him about his sister, how beautiful and sharp she was and how she deserved the world. He tells him about his brother-in-law, a man whom he trusted with his life and even more importantly, his sister’s. He tells him about his best friends: the goliath with a heart of gold; the bard who was willing to fight two gods for him; the cleric who had guided him through lonely hours of faith. He tells him about his friends, the apprentice he never got to say goodbye to, the lover who didn’t believe he would go until it was too late, the bright young man who had set up a new band of adventurers who never knew why he didn’t come home. And he tells him about his love, about her fiery red hair, about her gentle adoration, about her naivety and her growth throughout their relationship. Vax’ildan pours his heart out to Caduceus in a way that the firbolg knows he has not had the chance to do so since he had passed on over to the service of the Raven Queen. His tea is cold, and the half-elf is crying earnestly by the time he stops speaking. Caduceus takes the cup from his hands, sighing.
“You have had that pent up for a very long time, haven’t you?” he asks in his rumbling tones. Vax nods.
“It’s been rather lonely,” he admits, his voice faint.
“That’s why you’ve hung around us.” Vax gives another, almost tired nod.
“You reminded me of my family,” he whispers as though saying it will cause it to disappear. Caduceus pulls him into a gentle hug against his chest, which is an odd sensation. Vax doesn’t have a form, so hugging him feels like hugging a group of insects which are held together. “I, I miss them so much. I would likely get into trouble if I spent too much time with the remaining members, so… so I clung to you.”
“Thank you for being here. You have helped us in so many ways. So, you should not dislike yourself for that, Vax’ildan.” The half-elf rubs at his eyes with the heel of his hand, sniffling quietly.
“Well, thank you for helping me, even if you weren’t aware you were doing it.”
“I can be more aware now, Vax’ildan. I can be here,” promises Caduceus and Vax’ildan smiles. A promise in return for fulfilling his own.
Yes, the Mighty Nein were haunted. But really, their ghost wasn’t really a ghost. He was more of a guardian angel, with wings as black as night and a sorrow which is reflected in his existence. But he was there for them as much as he could be.