Yasha remembered the day Molly came into her life very well.
It had stormed wildly that day, and though she loved storms, something about this one spoke to her. It made her journey past the gates of the Earth Kingdom city she'd never asked the name of, through the woods some people claimed were haunted, and towards a dark corner of the forest shaded by a very large and very dead willow tree. Signs were posted that warned of dark spirits, for people to keep away. She had ignored them and walked straight toward the single willow.
The storm raged around the clearing, the eye centered right on the willow. The branches of the dead tree whipped back and forth like they were mad snakes. Lightning streaked behind the tree, silhouetting it against the stormy sky.
Something began to move at the base of the tree. Yasha assumed the roots themselves were about to come alive, or maybe the tree was getting torn up from the high winds. She kept her feet firmly planted in any case, ready for anything.
…well, almost anything.
She hadn't prepared herself for the sight of an arm popping out of the ground! It was covered in mud, broken nails clawing at the earth for purchase. Another arm finally broke free, which allowed for whatever was below to haul itself further upwards.
Yasha ran over immediately. She slid on her knees as she dodged the whipping willow branches. When she grasped one of the flailing arms, the buried person paused. She tugged for all she was worth with one hand while scraping the earth away with the other.
Finally, with a massive heave from both parties involved, the person was able to pop out with a choked scream.
Yasha helped them crawl further out of the ground, away from the wild branches. The person was a Tiefling, she noticed. His horns curled around his ears and his spaded tail, which looked like it was bent the wrong way, tried desperately to wrap itself around the Tiefling's leg. Yasha couldn't tell what color they were due to the mud caked into their skin and hair.
The Tiefling doubled over and began to retch. Clods of dirt came up with whatever bile had been in their stomach. Yasha didn't see any blood, thank goodness. She rubbed their back supportively, wincing at how their spine could be felt under her hand. The Tiefling groaned pitifully as they emptied their stomach.
Finally, after a few minutes of silence, the Tiefling turned to look at Yasha. Their eyes were solid red but there was no hint of evil in them. Their nose looked a little bent, like it had been broken recently and had only healed a little. Green bruises decorated their skin, accompanied with a few scrapes. Yasha realized their tail definitely was bent, possibly broken like their nose.
The rain was coming down in sheets now, and the Tiefling was shivering. Yasha scooped them into her arms, lamenting at how little they weighed. The Tiefling moaned a little but ultimately ended up curling inward to allow her to carry them easier. She swiftly trudged away from the clearing, retracing her steps as much as she could in the rain piercing through the canopy. Eventually, she found a small alcove, just big enough for the two of them to sit under. There would be no fire, not with this wetness, so she opted for sharing body warmth with her new charge. The Tiefling didn't even move from her arms, not even after she sat down. They merely shifted to get more comfortable in her lap. Yasha didn't mind; it almost felt as if they were meant to be there all along. Like a missing puzzle piece.
She took this opportunity to examine the Tiefling a bit closer. The rain had washed away most of the mud, though there were still plenty of areas stubbornly dirtied by the earth. The Tiefling's chest was slightly exposed from the rips and tears in their rough tunic, revealing that this person was male…at least male-presenting. She mentally noted to ask his preferred gender when he was in a better headspace.
She tried to brush away some of the twigs and dead worms in his hair, which looked forcibly shorn and uneven. She could see nicks and scabs where whoever had barbered him had gotten far too close.
The Tiefling nuzzled closer to her shoulder as thunder boomed overhead.
“Afraid of thunder?” she asked gently. “It's okay. We're under decent cover. The lightning can't touch us here, and thunder is nothing but a noise.”
“Hm?” Yasha looked at him with a confused expression.
His own face was a blank mask. He stared at Yasha's shoulder, eyes half-lidded. “Empty.”
She furrowed her brows. “What is?”
Yasha put the back of her hand up against his forehead. He definitely felt warm. Maybe a little clammy, but she assumed that was just because he was sopping wet. There was a little to his cheeks, too.
She adjusted her position to better share body heat. “I'm sorry,” she whispered. “I can't do much more. If I was a firebender I'd give us a little fire. Or a waterbender…I'd bend the rain away so we could get somewhere warmer. Best I can do is…”
She whipped up a sharp breeze from below. It quickly dried them both, reducing the risk of pneumonia. The Tiefling didn't react much, which made Yasha worry she'd done that too late.
“Can you tell me your name?” she prodded gently.
He was fading. Yasha tried to keep him awake as long as possible, but after a few more minutes, he closed his eyes and began to snore softly. Yasha sighed when he didn't outright die when he lost consciousness. She hoped the fever went back down as he slept.
As the Tiefling snoozed in her lap, Yasha spent most of the evening watching the rain fall.
The rain had ceased after an hour, but the thunder and lightning remained well into the night. Yasha decided to keep a hold of her new charge and rest a little before dawn. The Tiefling didn't wake when she began to walk the next morning. He stirred a little when clouds returned overhead with a bit of soft thunder, but ultimately didn't wake.
Yasha let him sleep. He didn't seem strong enough to walk very far.
After half a day of walking, Yasha heard music. The forest wasn't as dark as it had been, and birdsong had accompanied them on their journey. But this music was man made. It sounded like someone playing an accordion or the box with a handle on the side. While a little eerie given the setting, Yasha found that the music itself was joyful and inviting. Even the Tiefling seemed to rouse as they got closer to the source.
Yasha exited a bit of brush to discover a quaint carnival setting up their big top. A few smaller caravan carts were parked in a small semicircle off to the side. An older elven man was directing some of the carnies as he helped raise the tent.
Yasha carefully exited the woods and approached the semicircle. A couple of carnies were milling about, setting up a cooking lean-to and various other things in the common area between the carts. One of them, a dark-skinned woman with bright fiery hair, looked up at Yasha's approach, her amber eyes widening as she gazed upon the Tiefling.
“Oh, spirits,” she exclaimed. “What happened?”
Yasha was led to one of the finished tents just outside the cart semicircle. There were a couple of small cots inside, along with a few first aid kits scattered around. The woman swept one of the kits off the nearest cot and gestured for Yasha to set her charge down upon it.
The Tiefling's fever was steadily growing worse, and he still hadn't shown Yasha much emotion beyond the blank stares. He also still hadn't said much beyond Empty, which was deeply concerning.
Another carnie stuck their head into the tent, this one a man with severe scars on one side of his face. “What's going on, Ornna?”
“Get Gustav,” Ornna snapped.
The man left.
Yasha remained by the Tiefling's side, staying out of the way of Ornna, who was attempting to clean him up and bandage what she could see.
“How did he get like this?” Ornna asked, her voice not as sharp.
“I don't know. I found him trying to crawl out of the ground yesterday.”
Ornna looked ready to ask for more information when the elven man burst into the tent. “What happened?” he demanded breathlessly. “Did one of the twins break something? Rogue bending accident?”
Ornna showed him the Tiefling and Yasha. “These two just showed up out of nowhere. The Tiefling apparently burst out of the ground like a zombie. He's got a fever and spirits know how many injuries.”
The elven man strode forward and knelt to get a better look. “What's his name?” he asked Yasha.
“I don't know,” she answered. “He didn't tell me. Just kept saying ‘Empty' over and over again.”
“Can you do anything for him, Gustav?” Ornna asked nervously.
“I can try. Though, if I'm honest, I've never tried healing a zombie before,” he joked.
“I don't think he's a zombie,” Yasha mumbled.
Gustav ignored her and began to wave his hands slowly. Water appeared out of a flask at his hip, enveloping his hands like clear gloves. As they hovered over the Tiefling's body, they glowed a little. The scabs and bruises gradually disappeared, and some of the broken cartilage around his nose and tail fixed themselves. The Tiefling winced at every snap.
Gustav finally bent the water back after a few minutes of this. He looked to Yasha with an unreadable expression. “This is the best I can do for him. I can't sense internal injuries without him being submerged in a pool or bath. Not unless he tells me where something could be wrong.”
“Thank you anyway,” Yasha said gratefully. “What about his fever?”
“Not something a waterbender like me can cure, I'm afraid. Can't heal everything, and a fever is the body's own way of healing. Whatever I didn't catch, his body is fighting in my stead.”
“Is he strong enough?” Ornna asked. “I mean…he doesn't look like he can do a lot right now, much less fight off the flu or whatever he caught.”
“I mean, he crawled out of the ground,” Yasha pointed out. “That's gotta account for something, right?”
“Out of the ground or out of a grave?”
Yasha hesitated. She hadn't considered that spot to be a grave. If it had been the Tiefling's grave, it was unmarked. Maybe he'd been buried alive by someone who didn't want him to be found?
“Well, in any case, why don't we let our new friend sleep?” Gustav suggested.
As he moved to exit the tent with Ornna, Yasha spoke up, “Do you need any help setting up your big top?”
“Oh, you don't need to worry about helping us,” Gustav said happily.
“Well, you didn't need to help us, but you did. The least I could do is help you set up.”
Gustav and Ornna glanced at each other. Gustav shrugged and said, “Well, your friend isn't in critical condition. He should be fine unsupervised for an hour or two. Sure, we could use your help dragging some of the masts over. Kyrle usually does it solo but I'm sure he'll appreciate the extra muscle.”
Yasha would always remember her first day with Molly. Even though he hadn't been truly Molly yet, and wouldn't be for a while, he was still someone she cared dearly for from minute one. And he had cared for her, too, once he was well enough to walk.
Molly, before even finding his own voice, had managed to convey he had no memory at all. And then, when he finally did discover his voice, he never expressed curiosity at how he'd ended up in the ground in that awful, spooky clearing, nor did he seem particularly interested in who he'd been before that day. That was fine with Yasha. And it was fine with the rest of the carnival. Who cares about the ghosts of the past when the future holds much more promise of happiness and excitement?
Molly was her dearest and closest friend. And that was all that mattered.