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I.

 

The first time, Jo doesn't even remember it.

 

No, the girl was too small. Barely a few hours old, just laid down in the cradle next to the window. Percy and Vex'ahlia spent time with their newest child before leaving her in the capable hands of the midwife to greet the rest of their children who gathered at the door with their many aunts and uncles. It was much too late in the night to allow the children to see the baby, as they had just gotten her to rest, and instead the mixed group of Vox Machina and assorted children were herded to the kitchens for celebratory hot cocoa.

 

"What did you name her, mama?" Their eldest, Vesper Elaina called from the shoulders of Grog.

 

Vex smiled warmly up at her daughter. "Johanna. Johanna Whitney de Rolo."

 

Upstairs, the midwife - who had helped bring all five de Rolo children into the world - watched over Johanna. Unlike the other children, who all had been born bald or with a light dusting of blonde hair that turned the same light brown Lord de Rolo's had once been, Johanna had thick, dark hair, much like her mother's. The midwife smiled down at the sleeping babe and retreated to the rocking chair nearby, pulling out a book and beginning to read.

 

She did not notice the window sliding open slowly, despite the candles in the room flickering. On the window sill sat a raven. It curiously did not caw, but instead tilted its head down to look at the newborn. Johanna's eyes opened then, widening at the sight of the bird standing just above it. The midwife turned her page and hummed a quiet lullaby.

 

A black-gloved hand traced over the baby's forehead. Johanna saw a flash of a smile, long dark hair, and then he was gone.

 

The midwife shut her book the instant the baby began to cry and began to sooth her, pulling the child to her chest. The room was normal, the window closed, and a single dark feather lay inside the cradle.

----

II.

 

Johanna is five years old, and a precocious child at that.

 

She often sends her father into panic when she decides to wander off, usually just wanting to explore the castle or the grounds. She's not as sneaky as Vesper or Freddie, doesn't quite have the dexterity for the toy bows and swords Julius and Oliver fancy. But, she does like to go on her little adventures, with a toy in one hand and a small handkerchief to collect berries with in the other.

 

Today is a beautiful summer day. Because Vesper is a lady she has a dancing lesson in one of the parlors. Mama always tells Johanna that when she is older, she'll have those lessons too, but Johanna sticks her tongue out at that. If turning twelve means you have to become a lady, count Jo out!

 

Freddie and Julius are in the yard, the two throwing a ball back and forth while mama's bear Trinket watches. The bear often looks half asleep, but is a good enough nanny despite his age. Freddie hollers to Johanna as she passes and she yells back, but cuts around them and dips behind a wall. Johanna knows that Papa is likely up in the parlor with Ves, making sure her lessons are going well and making little snide comments the tutor cannot hear. Mama had left a few days ago for council stuff, and would be returning tomorrow. That left only Oliver, who Johanna knew was likely up in the playroom reading a book or something boring.

 

Johanna slipped under the hedge, through a hole she utilized often. It was just big enough for her tiny frame to squeeze through, and she wriggled through it, popping out on the other side. She whispered a thanks to the greenery, remembering Auntie Kiki's lessons and began her trek to the lake. It was less a lake than a really big pond, but Johanna didn't care for semantics.

 

No, Johanna recalled a beautiful blackberry bush near the water's edge she and her mother had found the last time the de Rolo family had a picnic out there. It had been a few weeks back, and the berries had tasted delicious.

 

"Like sunshine!" Oliver had said, face stained with the juice.

 

Johanna wanted to collect some in her handkerchief and bring them back for her mama when she returned. She spotted the pond and quickened her pace, smiling to herself. 'Oh, won't mama be so happy!'

 

She reached the pond in record time and found herself sweating. It was a hot day, this day in the summer, and a long walk with short legs was not as fun as Johanna had been imagining. She walked around the pond, looking for the berries, and by the time she came back around, frustration had set in.

 

Perhaps an animal, or another person had come by and taken all of the berries off the bush. Johanna felt like crying, then pushed that aside. Only dumb babies cried. She wasn't a baby, no matter how much her siblings and cousins teased. Defeated and hot, Johanna stomped over to the shore and sat down. She pulled off her boots and dangled her feet in the cool water. She wished she hadn't worn a dress that day, but she often found that the skirts made carrying things she couldn't fit in the handkerchief much easier.

 

Johanna watched the blue water for a while. There were little waves from the breeze, but otherwise it was as still as a mirror. The cool water splashing onto her feet and ankles gave her an amazing idea.

 

'A swim would be lovely!' she thinks, standing up. She pulls off the apron but leaves her dress on. She figures the water soaking it would help keep her cool on the walk back home. She wades into the water, just up to her knees and sighs happily. She wades a bit further and splashes her arms a bit, kicking the water back and forth and giggling. The last time she went swimming here was with Papa and Ves earlier in the summer. It had been such a fun time - she can't wait to tell them about her swim today!

 

She wades a bit deeper and now the water is up to her chest. Johanna decides to push off the ground and start swimming - kicking her feet and moving her arms just like how Papa taught her.

 

Except, Johanna has really miscalculated how heavy her dress would be in the water.

 

Johanna gasps as she's pulled under by the weight, getting a mouthful of water and panicking. She moves her arms wildly, trying to pull herself up but only managing to tire herself out. The water had looked blue and beautiful on the surface, but underneath was dark and murky, causing Jo to panic even more.

 

Jo tried to yell for help but just got a mouth full of water. She kicked harder and harder, but just wasn't reaching the surface. Her vision began to darken and she cried out in fear, and promptly choked on more water.

 

Strong arms wrapped around her and lifted her up. She coughed and spluttered, clinging to her savior. A strange voice - a man's voice - hummed in her ears as she calmed, taking in deep breaths as her chest shook. She blinked, moving her hands up to her face to wipe the water from her eyes.

 

"There you are, little one. You're alright. Just breathe," the voice said. It sounded like mama's, but deeper, and Johanna couldn't help but snuggle in more firmly against the chest.

 

When Johanna opened her eyes, she was sitting on the banks, soaking wet. Her chest still ached, and she shivered, the warmth of the sun not doing much to warm the chill in her bones. Shakily, she stood up and picked up her apron, handkerchief, and the little toy soldier she'd taken with her. It was a long walk back to the castle, and the second Freddie saw her disheveled state, he yelled for Papa.

 

Two days later, after she'd finally sweat out the fever she'd caught from the water, she was playing with the handkerchief she'd brought to the pond.

 

"What the-"

 

A single sprig of pretty white flowers lay folded inside of it.

----

III.

 

Johanna de Rolo was not pouting.

 

As Mama always reminded her, pouting was not something big kids did. But, Johanna thought, neither was yelling and shoving. And Oliver had done plenty of that.

 

She didn't mean to break his stupid music box. She just wanted some music for her dolls to dance to, and she accidentally broke the lid off. On accident. Which she told Oliver repeatedly. But then he started yelling and threw one of her dolls and she started yelling too and-

 

It had just been... Not a very good day for the two youngest de Rolo children.

 

Mama had separated them and made them both clean up the playroom, before banishing Oliver to one corner while making Johanna sit in the hallway outside of Papa's workshop. Usually, she loved the workshop. If Papa wasn't building anything "dangerous" she was allowed to assist him in there. She had even helped him make new arrows for Mama once. Sometimes, if the forge was burning low and everyone else was asleep, Johanna snuck down there sometimes just to look at all of his tools and projects.

 

But now she sat in a rickety wooden chair, staring at the wall while listening to the mixed sounds of her father working and Freddie upstairs playing the piano. Johanna kicked her feet in frustration and slumped in the chair.

 

"It's not fair," she said aloud to no one. She kicked her feet again. "I didn't mean to."

 

"Brothers can be stupid," an unfamiliar voice said.

 

Johanna sat straight up. A man stood across the hall. He was dressed oddly - wearing all black and a strange feathered cloak. He wore a birdlike mask, but from his tone, Johanna could tell he was smiling.

 

"Who-"

 

"An old friend of your father's. Although he might not like me showing up like this." The man held his finger up, as if shushing Johanna. "Best keep it to yourself, little one."

 

Johanna nodded solemnly. She glanced at the broken music box sitting on the table next to her, then back at the man. His voice was strangely familiar, but she couldn't place it. "Do you have a brother?"

 

"No, but I was one." The man sighs. His strange feathered cape seems to shift as he does. "We got into a lot of fights, my sister and I. But we loved each other."

 

Johanna bites her lip, looking down at the floor. "I love Oliver. I do. But he's so dumb sometimes."

 

"Well, you are children. You'll have time."

 

Johanna looks up, a retort on her tongue (she's eight, not four), but finds the man gone. She looks around, whipping her head back and forth, but the man is nowhere to be seen. Where he was standing, a small black feather. Johanna gets up off her chair and walks over to it. It's strangely warm to the touch and she pockets it.

 

"Jo? Who were you speaking to, darling?" Papa's voice makes Johanna jump nearly out of her skin.

 

"N-No one, Papa. Just myself."

 

Papa removes his heavy work gloves and kneels before Johanna. "Are you telling the truth?"

 

"Yes Papa."

 

Papa hums then stands, offering his hand. Johanna takes it and the two walk into the forge, though not before her father grabs the music box pieces from the table. "Now, let's see about fixing this up, shall we?"

----

VI.

 

Johanna has known for a long time that she's unlike her siblings.

 

Not in a scandalous way, no. They're all de Rolos, through and through. But while her siblings all have the rich, tan skin of Percival de Rolo III and the light to medium brown hair he and Aunt Cassandra had in their youth, Johanna resembles their mother much more. Sure, Vesper has the arch of Vex'ahlia's eyebrows and Freddie has a bit of a point to his ears. Oliver has the texture of their mother's hair and Julius has her more angular nose.

 

But Johanna, even at the age of 15, is almost a carbon copy of her mother. Long dark hair, slightly pointed ears, angular face and narrow eyes. Even her aunts and uncles agree it's a bit alarming how much she looks like Lady Vex.

 

However, looks are her only similarity to Vex'ahlia. Where Vesper is a talented musician and dancer, and Freddie is gifted with the bow - Oliver taking after their mother with his love of animals and nature and the hunt while Julius enjoys the more stealthy side to things - Johanna is none of those things. She can't fire a bow accurately to save her life, can't carry a note or dance without stepping on someone's toes. Her arms shake when she holds blades and her footsteps will never be quiet.

 

No, Johanna prefers a forge to a archery range. Prefers hearing the song of metalworking to the sound of piano keys. Prefers to make armor for animals rather than pet them, and so on and so forth. Father often jokes about just giving her the keys to his workshop, as she's often waiting outside the door for him in the mornings, eagerly bouncing on the balls of her feet.

 

They're just finishing up for the day in the forge when Father places his hand on her shoulder. "Jo?"

 

"Yes, Father?"

 

Father looks as though he's wrestling with something. "I know how disappointed you were that you couldn't join the hunt with your mother and siblings this weekend."

 

Johanna feels disappointment pool in her gut again. It stung to hear them all planning and excitedly talking about the hunt while she sat, staring into her soup bowl at dinner the other night. She tries for a smile that she can already feel doesn't meet her eyes. "It's alright, Father. I... I truly didn't want to go anyway. I'd rather stay home with you than camp out in some forest."

 

Percival Fredrickstein von Musel Klossowski de Rolo III was a lot of things, but a fool was not one of them. He raises an eyebrow and Johanna flounders for a bit.

 

"I just mean... I would have just slowed them down, you know. Freddie and Mother both favor the bow while Julius favors the blade. Plus Ves and Ollie have, like, magic now so-" She sighs, looking away from her father. "I'm no good with weapons the way they are."

 

"No good with weapons? Johanna, you're a de Rolo. Weaponry is in your blood."

 

Johanna almost scoffs, but manages to stop herself before it can come out. "Forging them perhaps. Designing them."

 

Father just shakes his head. "Come with me." He leads Johanna out of the workshop, locking it behind them, and up the stairs until they reach his study. He opens the door and Johanna steps in. She loves her father's study, the books were always interesting and the chairs comfortable. It was nice to sit in and read in when you wanted company but didn't want to be around other people who were talking. Father steps in behind her and approaches the fireplace.

 

"I've seen you try and wield a bow, swords, daggers... You are, hm, correct that they don't suit you." Johanna's ears burn. Father pulls on one of the decorations on the mantel of the fireplace and Johanna gasps as it opens up, revealing a hidden compartment. "But perhaps you take after me instead."

 

Johanna's jaw is on the floor as she steps forward and Father presents her with a large, long barreled rifle. Jo was no stranger to guns - she knew how her father maintained the de Rolo fortune and had even seen him practicing with them with her mother, aunts and uncles when they came to visit. But she had been forbidden from ever touching one.

 

"Go ahead," Father said gently, offering the rifle to her. The words "Bad News" was inscribed on the side.

 

Johanna took the rifle, the weight feeling... right in her hands. Father stood behind her and helped her aim it (unloaded, of course), and even he seemed to be surprised by how easily she took to it, barely having to offer any corrections to her grip or posture at all.

 

Father took the rifle back and leaned it up against the wall. "Meet me in the front hall in ten minutes. Wear something warm."

 

"Where are we going?"

 

Father grinned, his glasses flashing in the firelight. "We're going hunting."

 

In ten minutes, Johanna was standing in the foyer of the castle, dressed in her warmest leggings, sweater, and coat, as well as the fur-lined cloak Lady Allura and Lady Kima had gifted her for her 15th nameday and a pair of thick fur-lined boots. Father entered then, carrying a case in his gloved hands and a sack slung over his back. He wore a familiar blue coat, as well as a cloak Johanna recognized as well. Winters in Whitestone were no joke, and tonight was no exception.

 

"Ready to go?"

 

Johanna nods eagerly. Father laughs, tweaks her nose, and pulls open the door to the snowy filled yard. They trek through the snow, thankfully no snowfall or strong winds biting at them as they go, and Johanna turns to look at Whitestone Castle as they head north. Her childhood home stands proud amongst a field of white, and Johanna smiles. She walks alongside her father, the two hiking in companionable silence. Johanna loved her siblings, but all the chatter they caused was grating to her ears sometimes. She enjoyed the silence of the snowy outdoors, how everything seemed so muffled, so peaceful.

 

After a bit of walking, the de Rolos end up at a small wooded area near the base of the mountains. Johanna recognizes it as a place where Mother took them to hunt as children. It wasn't a large area, but it held a few small animals that were easy for children to track, and had nice shade on the sunnier spring days.

 

"Here, let me help you set up," Father says. He opens the case and begins pulling the pieces of Bad News out, showing Johanna each step in assembling it, then disassembling it. He makes her assemble and disassemble the rifle fives times until he nods, then teaches her how to load it. Father is a good teacher, Johanna thinks. He doesn't admonish her for stumbling or dropping things, instead points out where she could improve and giving her advice that helps him.

 

Father moves away once the rifle is loaded and walks over to a tree, about 30 or 35 feet away. He hangs one of Mother's smaller targets she uses for trick shots with her bow on the tree and then jogs back to Johanna. "Okay," he says, once he's standing behind her. "Use the scope. Don't rush it."

 

Johanna takes a breath. Then another. She looks down the scope and visualizes hitting the target dead center. She takes one last breath, then squeezes the trigger.

 

"Oh, very close! Well done!" Father says, patting her on the shoulder.

 

Johanna frowns. "I hit the tree next to it."

 

"Yes, well, it was the tree next to it and not, say... a tree eighty feet to the left. Or the snow in front. A good first shot, I'd say. Now, let's reload."

 

The moon rises above them as Johanna shoots-reloads-shoots-reloads. Out of her ten shots, she only misses two. Father is beside himself with pride.

 

"Excellent job, Johanna! Really!" Johanna doesn't think she's ever seen her father this ecstatic. "Of course, once we get back to the castle we must start building you your own weapon. Can't let Vex know, of course. Not unless-" Father continues to ramble on, walking back to where he set up the case. Johanna hands him the rifle, and walks back to grab the target off the tree as her father continues to plan aloud and disassemble the rifle for her.

 

She reaches for the target and pauses, seeing movement behind the brush. She pushes it aside and steps into the forest.

 

"Good shooting," a familiar voice says.

 

"You," Johanna says, whirling to find the voice.

 

The dark masked man is leaning against a tree, as though he'd been there the whole time. "You really are a de Rolo. Freddie was about ready to piss himself with joy out there."

 

Johanna cocks her head in confusion. "Freddie...? My brother?"

 

"What? Oh, no." The man laughs, a low rumble that shakes his feathered cloak. "Forgot Percy had named his kid after himself. Prick. No, your dad." The man seems to look at her, although it's hard to tell with the mask. "You look so much like your mother," he says, voice soft. "I had thought you would have taken after her."

 

Johanna frowns. "Sorry to disappoint."

 

The man straightens, raises one hand as if to grab her shoulder, but lets it drop back down to his side instead. "Oh, Johanna. You're not a disappointment. Not to me, not to them. Not to anyone."

 

"Johanna? Where did you go?" Father's slightly panicked voice rings out.

 

Johanna turns back. "Be right there! Just grabbing the target!" When she turns back, the man is gone again - no boot prints, no disturbed snow. Just a sprig of white flowers where he had been standing.

----

V.

 

Johanna was exhausted.

 

Weddings were fun, and she was happy for Vesper and her new wife, the two planning on a honeymoon in Dalen's Closet. She had also loved seeing her parent's friends, as well as her aunts and uncles and cousins. Plus watching Mother scold Julius and Freddie for setting up pranks on the officiant had basically made Johanna's whole weekend.

 

But Johanna was tired of being asked to dance, of members of other noble houses asking Father why she had not been wed yet, of potential suitors all but throwing themselves at her. She managed to get away from most of them, asking Aunt Cassandra for a dance or shoving food in her face in an unattractive manner. If they were going by age, Freddie should be the one being hounded by these people, not Jo. After all, he was the one with power - would take on Father's titles when - if - Father ever stepped down. Johanna was the youngest and was clearly not being bred for manners and court and that sort of thing.

 

But they kept offering dances and conversation, and no amount of ducking into a conversation with Aunt Pike and Uncle Scanlan was enough.

 

So now she was hiding out on the balcony, the cool autumn air lifting her spirits slightly. She rubbed at a new callous her pepperbox had left. Three years since she first started training with her father's weaponry and her hands still sometimes came out worse for wear after a practice session. She had forged her own long ago, and they fit her like a glove. But still - her hands were still just not used to it.

 

She watched the sun set over the mountains, the leaves on the trees all the brilliant colors of Auntie Keyleth's cloak. Last she had seen, Oliver was waltzing with her, the druid laughing the entire time. Johanna smiled at that. Keyleth seemed so sad whenever she saw her. It made her happy to see her happy.

 

The sound of wings causes her to jump nearly out of her skin. A raven lands on the balcony next to her elbow, a seashell in its beak. IT places it next to her and she takes her eyes off of it for just a moment to pick up the shell.

 

"Having fun?"

 

Johanna rolls her eyes. "You could just use the door like a normal person."

 

If Johanna could see the man's face, she knows he'd be smiling. "Where's the fun in that?"

 

Johanna sighs and looks back at the party, still in full swing. No one seems to have noticed her when she slipped out, and no one was looking for her out here now. "Any advice on how to get rid of unwanted suitors?"

 

The man chuckles. "Beat them off with a stick?"

 

Johanna snorts. "Bet Mother would love that."

 

"Oh, she had to do the same. Although siccing a bear on someone does seem to do the trick."

 

Johanna actually laughs at that. She can picture it - Vex'ahlia and Trinket, going up against annoying, unwanted attention. She turns back to face the man. "It was a nice ceremony," she says quietly. "The reception is fun but... I think I'm just done with people-ing today."

 

The man hums. "This might be the longest I've spent at a wedding." He turns his head slightly, motioning towards the window with the beak of his mask. "How are they?"

 

"Who?"

 

"Vox Machina."

 

Johanna turns and looks towards the window too. "They're... fine. Mother and Father are well, still doing council stuff and hunts and all that. I don't see Uncle Grog a lot, but when he comes to visit, he's usually alright. Aunt Pike and Uncle Scanlan have a temple to Saerenrae they maintain together, and I see them and my cousins as much as I can. Auntie Keyleth..."

 

The man stiffens at the name. Johanna turns her head to look at him. "You know her?"

 

"I know all of them. Knew. I don't know."

 

Johanna nods, then continues. "Auntie Keyleth is okay. She's usually with the Air Ashari. Her mother returned a while ago, did you know that? Apparently she had been brainwashed on some island. It was crazy!" Johanna looks down at the stone floor. "She's... sad. She hides it, but I've always been pretty good at reading people. I thought it was because she was missing her mom, but she's back so... I don't know."

 

The man hums. He turns to face Johanna. "Work's calling. I have to leave. Have fun tonight, alright?" Johanna nods. The man reaches and tucks a lock of her hair behind her ear. She glances back at the party, and when she looks back, he's gone.

 

Johanna picks up the shell and turns it over in her hands. She isn't as exhausted anymore.

----

+1

 

Jo von Musel is making a name for herself.

 

She left Whitestone behind a few years back, with a couple hundred gold, the clothes on her back, and every weapon she had crafted stuffed into a bag of holding. The name de Rolo came with expectations, with judgements, and legacies Johanna felt as thought she was drowning under. Even her first and middle name came with those too, the feeling of drowning under expectations. Her father's family hadn't been very old when they died, and though no one said it, Jo often felt like she was living her life for them rather than herself. Were the things she did things that the original Johanna or Whitney would do? Was she disappointing their memories? At what point did she stop being Johanna Whitney de Rolo and start being Johanna Whitney de Rolo?

 

With Freddie working closely with their father, Julius with their mother, Vesper and her wife working at the Bard's College, and Oliver training with Aunt Keyleth, Johanna Whitney de Rolo had felt the urge to spread her wings and get the hell out of dodge, so to speak.

 

Her parents knew where she was, of course. She wasn't cruel. Mother had insisted she take an earring with a charm on it that allowed for messages, and she checked in when she could. Her first few months out on the road, she found that calling herself by her real name only brought trouble - so she took one of her father and brother's many names and used it as an alias. Whenever someone in a town got suspicious or compared her looks to the famed member of Vox Machina, Vex'ahlia, she left.

 

She saw more of Tal'Dorei in four years than she ever did before. Teleportation circles were useful, but actually walking or riding carts? Tagging along on caravan rides as a guard? Part of Jo wished she was better at writing, like Vesper, because she could fill several books with her adventures.

 

She did keep a journal, though, and often added pages to it to keep up with her travels and discoveries.

 

Jo von Musel was slowly becoming known - a gunslinging wandering woman who will clear out your undead or other pest problems for cheap. Unless you were someone she had a soft spot for, then it was for free.

 

She saw the place her mother grew up, places her aunts and uncles talked about - deep scars in the terrain from dangerous and crazy battles. She explored deep, dank dungeons and found treasures and artifacts. She attended festivals and danced until her feet bled in her boots.

 

But, like all good things, it came to an end.

 

With one last visit to Whitestone, to meet her new nephew, and Freddie's new wife, Johanna left Tal'Dorei - on a ship headed to the Menagerie Coast.

 

She heard good things about Wildemount, especially now that the war between the Kryn and the Empire was well and done by now. The ship she had bought passage on (not with gold, the strange tiefling captain had insisted, but with story and labor - two things Jo was willing to provide) was full of a lively crew, and Jo even learned to be a powder monkey. She was grateful Julius had given her a few new journals, because she had already filled half of one of them on the ocean voyage alone.

 

Her favorite place to write was up in the crow's nest. No one bothered her, unless they needed a lookout, but the ship and her captain seemed to have a bit of a reputation, so not a lot of ships bothered them on the open seas.

 

Jo had just finished scribbling down the day's events when a caw took her right out of her flow. Her eyes widen as she looks up and sees a raven perched on the edge of the nest.

 

"You know they call this the crow's nest, right?"

 

The raven is gone, and then suddenly the man appears, sitting cross-legged in the crow's nest with her. It's not a spacious area, but they both manage to fit comfortably.

 

"Don't they teach you to respect your elders anymore?"

 

Johanna shrugs. "We're near the same age, now. A few more years and I'll have caught up to you."

 

He shrugs. "Time is different for me. You know that."

 

Jo shrugs back at him. She closes her journal and sits up. "Why come out all this way? We're a long way from land."

 

"Had to make sure my favorite troublemaker was safe. The seas are a dangerous place."

 

Jo hums. "Your favorite troublemaker? Thought that would be Julius. Y'know, rogue shit."

 

The man goes very still. "How did you-"

 

Jo sighs. "I'm not stupid, Vax'ildan. I grew up on my mother's stories, on stories about Vox Machina. Just because you're dead doesn't mean they don't mention you."

 

Vax remains still. "Why didn't you say anything before?"

 

"I... I thought if I recognized you... You wouldn't come see me anymore."

 

They sit in silence for a while. Then, Vax slowly reaches up and pulls the mask away. Johanna stares into the near mirror of her mother's - of her own - face. It's... unnerving to say the least.

 

"Why didn't you go see them instead of me?" Jo asks, keeping her eyes on Vax's face.

 

Vax cracks a smile. "Someone had to look out for you, little one. Plus you... you remind me of them. In a way that doesn't hurt." He sighs. "Plus, I don't want to hurt them. We all said our goodbyes. I wouldn't want to tarnish those."

 

"So you'll keep showing up for me?"

 

"Of course I will, Johanna. Plus, I rarely go to Wildemount. It'll be fun to pop in on you there."

 

She watches him relax a bit, the tension in his shoulders fading away. Vax'ildan. Her uncle. The man she had heard so much about. The man her brother got his middle name from.

 

How horrible, Jo thinks, not for the first time, to be named for the dead.

 

How awful to have to live two lives at once.

 

Johanna pulls Vax into a hug. He's stiff at first, then melts into it. He's freezing cold to the touch. "Thank you, Uncle Vax."

 

Vax's breath hitches slightly. "Y-You're welcome, Johanna." He pulls away, keeping his hands on her biceps. "No harm shall befall you."

 

Johanna nods, and smiles. "I know. It never has."

 

With one last smiles, Vax'ildan disappears. A raven caws at her from the railing of the crow's nest and takes off in flight. Johanna stands up and watches him fly off into the distance, the moon reflecting off the waves. Johanna watches until he's out of sight, then sits back down, opening her journal. She looks up, briefly and snorts, disbelieving.

 

Johanna reaches and grabs the strange belt her uncle left behind. It was black and bulky, but had an aura about it that she;s sure will come in handy. She gingerly places it next to her and then puts pen to paper. With a smile, she gently touches the raven feather she keeps braided into her hair and begins to write.